03 April 2014

A saint for the single girl

So, as I might have mentioned in my last post, it’s Lent.  The season of penance and good Catholic guilt and fasting and all that jazz. I don’t give things up for Lent. It seems almost as pointless as a New Year’s resolution, and often leaves me irascible and even more difficult to deal with than normal.  We shall not discuss the Lent I foolishly forwent chocolate.  Suffice it to say, I did not at any point feel closer to God.  And then there was the ill-fated Lent in college when I had intended to give up complaining (what would I ever talk about, you ask?  I have no idea) only to go through my first real heartbreak.  So instead of talking to people about it, I just kept bursting into tears at random and inappropriate moments.  Fun times were had by all.  Instead, now, I generally try to grow in my faith.  And if that seems hokey, well, fair enough.  But be prepared for some Catholic-flavoured discursions in the coming month.

Let’s begin with the one that was sparked in, naturally enough, Paris.  Popping in and out of churches and wine bars as we were, it seemed appropriate to try to determine who is the Patron Saint of Chicks (interestingly, the German equivalent for chicks, in the young woman sense, in snail).  That shouldn’t be so hard, you might scoff – after all, there’s a patron saint of lumberjacks and STDs and necromancers and against enemy plots (this list is not exhaustive, but is delightful).  Someone somewhere must have selected a saint for single ladies.  Ah, but this is the Catholic Church!  An equation of (career + childlessness + reasonably casual sex) x 2-3 mixed drinks on Friday night = a mortal sin (probably.  It’s certainly frowned upon).  We don’t deserve to know who to pray to for redemption when we’re this far gone!  Thus, us poor wanton women are left to our own devices to sort through the some 783 options (and that’s just the ladies!  Who’s to say that the Patron Saint of Chicks wasn’t a gloriously fab fella?).

Some might suggest Agnes or Agatha or Dymphna (or even St. Barbara, which is like the Catholic answer to Rapunzel), but, honestly, wispy child bride martyrs don’t really speak to me as a professional woman who also happens to be looking for romance. I’ve more or less edged out of their demographic, I guess.  And I think we can also nix off the top any angelic mother figures, biological or otherwise.

Who else is does that leave?  Saint Rose?  Okay, so she was the first American canonised, and that’s spiffy and all, but she was also so concerned about her phenomenal beauty distracting people from Christ that she rubbed her face with chili peppers until it blistered.  I…can’t really relate to that.  Maybe I should just go with Saint Rita, who ended up in a loveless and abusive relationship and is now the patron saint of hopeless causes.  That sounds about right for my love life.

But I hold out hope that there are better options for all of the working girls of the world!  Wait – that’s not what I meant.  Off the top of my head and with no real knowledge on the subject, I would like to nominate the following:

Teresa of Avila – the lady was a firebrand who had frequent conversations with God.  When she was being persecuted for being bananas (which was often.  She was also frequently accused of receiving visions from Satan), she was said to kvetch about it to Jesus.  The Son of God apparently answered that this was how he treated his friends, to which she replied that then it was no wonder he has so few friends.  She was also said to have observed that she more feared those who fear the devil than the devil himself.  Basically, St. Teresa was pious but rowdy and driven to action.  She loved her friends and good food.  She seems like the kind of chick who was mad saintly (obviously – she still did get ecstatic visions) but that I still want to get a drink with.  Rock on, TofA.

Catherine of Siena – Catherine seems like a solid choice (she also happens to be my confirmation saint, so I’m a touch bias); she was a mystic, doctor of the church (she was the second woman to be so honoured, behind only Teresa of Avila),  and generally formidable lady who deservedly had the respect and ear of several popes.  She resisted intense societal pressures to either get married and start poppin’ out babies (at least once refusing a suitor via an epic fast and a terribly dramatic hacking off of her hair) or demurely cloister herself in a convent.  She instructed her confessor to “build a cell inside your mind”.  In other words, the lady had herself a mind palace.  She was venerated during her life for speaking truth to power and held a remarkable amount of influence on the global stage for a woman of her, or really any, era.

In the interests of full disclosure, she also professed to have had a vision of her own ‘mystic marriage’ to Christ in which she received, as a wedding ring, his foreskin.  I…don’t really know how to address that.
She also received the stigmata, but requested that it be visible only to herself.  God complied with this wish, which makes her terribly humble, of course, but also makes this mark of divine favour somewhat difficult to verify.  If I walk all over my country and give all my food away and then have raging headaches and pains in my hands, feet, and side, can I also claim an invisible stigmata?  Don’t get me wrong – I love her, but this is a bit on the fishy side.  I suppose that this is where that whole faith thing comes in.  She kicked it when she was naught but 33 and after death her head was incorruptible, so they separated it from her body and encased it in bronze.  As you do. 

Above it all, Catherine a testament to how much a woman can accomplish.  And that makes her a goddess. 

Joan d’Arc – I mean, sparking a religious war (or converting an existing one into a religious war) is maybe not the best thing, broadly speaking, but she’s so cool…and doesn’t every woman wish she could rock a breastplate so well?  Joan was a cross-dressing, premonition having, soldiering (to varying degrees, depending on which historian you read) badass, no two ways about it.

She was also the inspiration for one of the best works in the oeuvre of that champion of women’s rights, George Bernard Shaw.  “Don't think you can frighten me by telling me that I am alone. France is alone. God is alone. And the loneliness of God is His strength.” Amen, sister.

And my last, perhaps best, choice for the Patron Saint of Single Ladies…wait for it…wait for it…

Mary Magdalene – she seems like a logical choice, no? 

Mary has, as you probably are aware, gotten a fairly bad rap in Church history.  Her tarnished reputation, for which we can really thank the supposedly super-learned Pope Gregory the Great, is almost assuredly bogus.  He gave a frankly slanderous speech in 591 in which he took the passage about a Mary possessed of seven devils (which in its own right might have been illnesses and not related to sex work at all) and declared it was in fact Mary Magdalene, though there is ample evidence to suggest that it was in fact a TOTALLY DIFFERENT MARY.  Anyway, the upshot of the speech was that our girl Mary had been in the thrall of the seven Deadly Sins and Jesus saved her and she became Mary the Pennant (this so-called ‘composite Magdelene’ led the Church to declare her the patron saint of wayward women, which I suppose is close to what I’m looking for.  I think my morals are loose enough to probably warrant it, at least by some standards.  I don’t think that I’m nearly as prudish as my image of myself).

But if we put aside the hooker with a heart of gold stereotype and focus on the confirmed Mary sightings in the Gospel, an image emerges of a woman who was loyal, compassionate, and tremendously courageous; alone among the Disciples, Mary was brave enough to stand by Jesus in his hours of suffering, death, and beyond (in all four books, it is Mary that is first to realize that Jesus has risen).  Beyond the cannon scriptures, the apocryphal texts portray her as a visionary and leader of the early Church whom Jesus loved more than the other Disciples.  Indeed, the depth of Jesus’ affection for Mary is so clear throughout the Gnostic texts that there is a suspicion that the Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John was originally Mary Magdalene, before being later redacted in the official Gospel.

If we consider her Gospel (yes, the lady wrote a Book, though most of it is lost to us today), we find a dense text that is strongly reminiscent of Plato in its dialectic construction.  In the few fragments we have, Jesus is having a post-resurrection debate with his disciples about the baser and higher natures of man.  He explains that salvation can only be achieved by discovering within one’s self a true spiritual nature of humanity and by overcoming the deceptive entrapments of the bodily passions and the world  (someday, I’m going to put together a pop quiz – yoga sutra or Apocrypha?).  Jesus vanishes from the locked room, as is his want post resurrection (he’s a bit of a drama queen, that Christ), and the Disciples are scared and confused by his words, as is their want ALL OF THE TIME (not the swiftest armadillos on the highway, those Disciples), so Peter asks Mary to help them understand because he knows how tight she and JC are.  So she does, much to his shock and dismay.  In response to her enlightened teachings, Peter and Andrew question her credentials and Peter actually belittles her until she cries.  A smart, capable woman who gets attacked by the male establishment until she begins to question her self-worth?  I think we have a winner (in the end, Levi stands up for her and all is well.  It’s Levi’s moment in the sun!).

In working on this post, I did discover a few wacky things about Miss Mary (because it’s not authentically Catholic unless there’s something deeply bizarre going down).  In the gnostic gospel of Thomas, Jesus suggests that he will turn Mary into a dude, so that she may become a living spirit like the other apostles (because women, like dogs, have no eternal souls).  How…Freudian.  Other saints have suggested that the Resurrection re-virginized her.  Sweet glorious goodness, didn’t he have anything better to worry about?  Frankly, I have a hard time believing that Jesus was that hung up on her sexual status.  Tells you a lot about the Church, though.

Most notably, many in the Church believe that some 14 years after the Resurrection, the Jews tossed Mary, along with Sts. Lazarus, Martha, Maximin, and Sidonius, as well as the body of Saint Anne into a boat without oars or sails and banished them to die at sea (except for St. Anne, who was already gone, of course).  Instead, as one might expect from a literal boatload o’saints, they miraculously land in southern France, where Mary spends the rest of her life living in a cave.  A nice twist on the guru on a mountain trope, no?  She fed only on the Eucharist, which was proffered to her daily by angles (because who else delivers to a cave?  I mean really.  I hope she tipped well).  Upon her death at age 72 (records were that good back there), she was transported (presumably by the same obliging delivery angels) to the chapel of Saint Maximin, her old boat buddy, where she received the last sacraments (because DAILY DELIVERY OF THE HOST AT THE HANDS OF ANGELS was insufficient to procure her salvation!).  That, or she might have gone on to focus on leading the women of the fledgling church and taking care of that other Mary, the Mother of God.  Which seems a scoosh more plausible, no?

This is part of the problem with being Catholic.  I believe.  I do.  But there is some seriously bananas stuff found in the cannon, when you really start to dig.  I suppose that I can chalk it up to all the weight of history?  Like when you find old laws on the books about not being able to drive in housecoats or wrestle bears or take you pack mule on the second story of a building or get a fish drunk or harass Bigfoot or what have you.  It doesn’t shake my support for the bedrock principals of how laws are drafted in the States, it just makes you appreciate how utterly insane people have been throughout history.  Or gives you context about how much things have changed.  That analogy works, right?