Sinners and Saints

Saints in stained glass.

I am definitely a lapsed Catholic. I just need to put that out there. I talked about it before.

But I am a cultural Catholic through and through. Catholicism was my conduit into faith, and spirituality. It was also my baptism for ethics and morals. I am a big fan of Jesus. Super big fan. For realz.

I was conflicted by my draw to Pope Francis as he visited my fair city. I think I give him too much slack, on the basis that he’s not totally awful. Actually, he is frequently brilliant. No need to pull out that old Catholic guilt. But that’s not today’s story.

To be truthful, Catholic news grabs me and makes me look. Because lapsed or not, it’s my identity. I get it. It made me. I embrace much more of it than  I reject. Even though I’d intellectually like to reject more. But I am not of the majick view of religion. I am of the philosophical bent.

Anyway, today’s big news, the induction of Mother Teresa into the Catholic Church Hall of Fame, also known as canonization into sainthood, stood me at attention.

Being inducted into the club of Saints isn’t like the yearly ceremonies at Cooperstown, Canton or Cleveland. No, there is not a regular rhythm of nominations and voting. But there is a process. And an officiating body, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. This almost sounds like a J.K. Rowling invention. But it’s real. It’s a  department in the Catholic Church that makes recommendations to the Pope on saints. I am not making this up. Seriously, look it up.

There is a five step process to become a saint.

  1. Step one: Wait five years after you die. This is to minimize the emotional push to sainthood. HOWEVER, if you’re super popular–like a recent Pope–you can get a papal dispensation from this requirement. So much for a sober choice.
  2. Step two: Become a servant of God. This means that your local Bishop thinks you’re worthy and petitions the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to open a case. If they say okay, you’re an official Servant of God. But the Bishop has to vouch for you.
  3. Step three: This is where the Congregation for the Causes of Saints does their own legwork to see if there’s proof of a life of “heroic virtue,” and getting the Pope to agree. Passing through this gate means you are now venerable, but not yet a saint.
  4. Step four: This one is called beatification. This is some hocus pocus stuff,  AKA verified miracles. A modern example is someone is miraculously cured of some disease after saying your name in a prayerful way. This somehow proves that you are in heaven. That place in the clouds, just on the other side of St. Peter. Super holy ground. And you are now at stage four.
  5. Step five: This is Canonization. To get there, people dig around to find another example of a miracle that occurs after your beatification. I guess to make sure that you’re still paying attention. This second miracle step may be waived, but only if you’ve been martyred. So if you died a natural death, you need a second miracle and then you get a huge special mass with Latin chants that make you sainted. Tu autem in sanctoTu autem in sancto. Tu autem in sancto. If you say something three times, it’s true.

Now, I truly mean no disrespect to my non-lapsed brothers and sisters, but what does sainthood mean in 2016? What does it mean to modern people? People of science and letters, of the internet and DNA sequencing. Why would an unexplained remission of Parkinson’s Disease be credited as a cure via the intervention of a dead guy or gal? Seems like an incredible stretch, to me anyway.

That all said, there has been more than one occasion when I have lost something precious or something important and I have beseeched St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things, to intervene on my behalf. And to be truthful, he has delivered. Dang, I can’t quit this thing.

What Does the Pope Eat?

Walking up to the small shrine in the hill at Kylemore Abbey, County Galway.

I grew up in a Catholic church filled with banners of doves and peace signs draping the altar and hanging behind the choir of earnest guitarists singing folk versions of psalms. And, once, even bongo drums.

My favorite priest was Father Mike. The other priests were Father LastNames. Mike had a beard and longish hair. He was Jesus-esque. Jesus was a carnie in a play, and his disciples were nice carnie hippies.

This was working class Detroit.

Parishioners were UAW members, many were immigrants from Italy, and most everyone’s last name ended in a vowel. Ventimiglia. Bornkowski. Buscemi. Kozlowski. Lucido.

We went to public school and were threatened occasionally with Catholic school if we didn’t straighten up.

To relieve boredom at a time when you didn’t bring activities for kids to Mass, I poured through my misselette reading next week’s gospel–or The Adventures of Jesus as I thought of them. My favorite stories told of houses built on sand, or the hero saving a woman from a crazed crowd, or the magic feeding of a mountain with a few fish. The ones I that bored me started off, “Beloved…”

I didn’t like confession in a dark phone booth, but we did it as a group and that was easy. I received Confirmation–also known as the sacrament of exit. And I, too, mostly left.

I was indoctrinated, though. I knew the secret handshakes. And I knew that Jesus was love.

I got married in Church and, in the sacrament of re-entering, I had kids. We could afford the parish school and the city schools were mostly sketchy.

My son was an altar server. He wanted me to be a lay minister of communion. The choir director would see me singing and asked me to join the music ministry. I served on the school committee to help in technology, but refused Parish Council. Because I’m a really bad Catholic. If I served during Mass I’m sure that the bigger than life size crucifix would crash onto the altar and it’d be my fault.

I am a cafeteria Catholic. I take what I want and maybe need, but when the Church veers from the Jesus-of-my-youth’s message of love, tolerance, compassion and forgiveness, I leave my tray at the cash register. Even if that means I leave behind community, spirituality and faith.

I really don’t believe in God. Not some old white guy who directs our lives. Really, if you were the Maker of the Universe, would you meddle in the individual heartbreaks of the human-ants? Really?

But we meddle in each other’s lives. And we sometimes do it with love, tolerance, compassion and forgiveness. And we make God when we do that.

And that’s what I placed on my battered cafeteria tray this week as I rapturously followed Pope Francis storming my city.

And he’s right. The Pope that is. God is love. That’s it. All the rest is decoration.

So today, and tomorrow and every day, I’m gonna make me some God.