Three hundred Saints, and One Guy With a Grudge
According to historical records recently uncovered during a secular Google search, there are three hundred and thirty-one calendared Catholic Saints. A number of them are relatively famous both inside and outside the Church. Many more fall into the “vaguely aware of” category, with the rest serving as good answers in a spirited game of Holy Jeopardy. For comparison, other institutions that elevate the best of the best include Major League Baseball, whose Hall of Fame has three hundred and thirty-three memorialized, and Rock and Roll, with three hundred and fifty-one honorees enshrined in Cleveland. Statistically speaking, The Church has the lowest inductee-per-year number of the three organizations, illustrating the high bar for canonization. Given the gift of perpetual life, many of the Saints choose to live a quiet, anonymous existence here, among us mortals.
What is not well known to the souls that roam 6,000-year-old planet earth, or the billions who populate regular Earth, is that before 1969 there were many more official Saints. In a frenzy of calendar clearing, Pope Paul VI and his team deemed over 90 of them no longer worthy of the title. While still considered exceptional, they lost that extra “something” that elevates the pretty good to a top-shelf icon.
Even though these former All-Stars are still included in the fables and lore that blanket the faith, their halos shine a bit less.
Perhaps the most famous and saddest example of this descent is Christopher, of the wildly popular medal and statuette dynasty. How is he coping with his change of fortune?
Catholic Saints Reunion
Saturday, November the First
Garden of Eden Room
At The Ethereal
Pearly Gates Resort and Spa
All Millenia, All Welcome!
Inside an elegant banquet hall, over three hundred saints and near-saints gather to reconnect with old friends and fellow legends to reminisce about their journeys through the centuries. Men, women, and an occasional child float from table to table. Momentary looks of confusion turn to smiles when familiar faces become recognized. Every known language fills the space, yet no one struggles to understand or be understood.
Over in a corner, away from the center of the hall, sits a solitary figure. He nurses a mead and casts baleful glances at the revelers. With his left hand, he absently flips a small silvery object – a medal that bears his likeness surrounded by the simple words “Protect Us.” As the party rolls on, the lonely man’s grip tightens, and he begins to spin the talisman atop the table as if it were a baptized dreidel.
A woman’s voice interrupts his silent stew. Traces of a German accent reveal her as an old friend from a different time when he was one of the most celebrated icons.
“CHRISTOPHER??? CHRISTOPHER!!! It IS you!!!!!!! Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe you came! “
“Hello, Ursula,” Christopher replies softly, “I guess I could say the same about you.”
Ursula doesn’t miss a beat. She rushes past the subtle jab within Christopher’s response and follows up her greeting with, “So, how have you been, I mean, since the terrible day in 1969 when we were….”
“Demoted? Disgraced? Disrespected? Knocked down a cloud or two?” Christopher snaps, his voice tightens, and his focus turns from his visitor back to the happy group filling the hall.
Ursula senses his pain. “Oh, dear Christopher, I feel your heartache clear across this table. I can only imagine how hard it has been for you these past decades. Yes, I suffered the same dismaying demotion, but I was not at your level of celebrity amongst the faithful. I may have been a big deal back in Cologne, and yes, there is still a High School in the Bronx that carries my name. But you, dear Christopher, had it all. The medal. The figurines on every Catholic family’s dashboard. Ford, Chevy, even the Ramblers. You were the real deal. And the paintings! You in your handsome robes, with your staff, carrying the weight of all the world on your shoulder. I am getting chills just picturing it!”
“Well yeah, I have to say that was an awesome picture,” he grudgingly agrees. “I was in great shape back then, before all…this.” He picks up his commemorative reunion mug and takes a long drink before continuing. “So here we are, you and me. Have you seen anyone else from our unfortunate class of ’69? How about George the Dragon Killer? I bet he took it like a true stoic. You’d think slaying a dragon would be enough to keep you in the top tier, but nope. Have you heard from him lately?”
“No, not directly,” Ursula answered. “I read he was doing something with Brexit; I might be wrong about that. But you know who came out just fine from that whole “dropped from the Ecumenical Calendar” episode? Nicholas, that’s who. What does he care? He has the whole month of December, what with that Santa Claus enterprise. Not exactly in keeping with the birth of the savior thing. But hey, it moves the merch and fills the kettles, so whatever. Do you think he’ll show up tonight?” she asked absently.
“I doubt it,” sneers Thomas, who has silently sidled up to the table during the exchange. “I don’t believe he’s all that and a bag of candy canes. If I see him, I will poke him in the belly and say, “Show me some proof, you big bowl of jelly!”
“Thomas,” Christopher sighs, “I see not much has changed. You are proof of the adage of stick with what got you here.”
“Why change?” Thomas sniffs. “I’m doing just fine. After all, I am one of the original twelve.”
It was clear why some lesser saints call him Thomas the Weisenheimer behind his back.
Christopher starts to take the bait but quickly adjusts his upraised finger into the sign of the Trinity. “I might not be a superstar anymore,” the former medalist thinks, “but I still have my dignity.”
Sensing the growing tension, Ursula chirps, “Hey guys, why don’t we take a stroll over by the bar? It looks like Saint Mark is powering up his blender, and the band sounds like they are tuning up for their first set. At least, I HOPE they’re tuning up, or this night could feel like an eternity.”
“Oh joy. I hope it’s a decent band,” Thomas the Snide opines. “Last time they had that Gabriel fellow and his ratty-ass trumpet. I was praying for the walls to come down, anything to get him to stop.”
The band kicks off the evening’s musical celebration with a gospel-tinged rendition of “Hey Jude,” drawing appreciative smiles and a bashful wave from a luminary seated at table six.
“Hey, these guys are not bad. What’s their name?” Christopher asks.
“I can’t believe you don’t recognize them,” Thomas gushes excitedly. “It’s my old running buddies Peter and The Paracletes. Their music is light, but man, the lyrics – deep!” You might remember the original group, Apostle’s Creed. I played bass with them for a while before heading off to India for a more evolved musical experience.”
“Always with the boasting, that Thomas.” Ursula thought.
As the evening wears on, Thomas, buzzed from the mystery potion served up by Mark, is getting a bit loud. “Look at Francis, still with that haircut. Big shot – I knew him when all he had were two small lambs and a gimpy hen.” Loudly – “HEY ASSISI – how’s that chicken doing?”
To his eternal credit, Francis does not strike back at Thomas’s taunts but instead flips him one of the souvenir birds he keeps under his robe.
Christopher, clearly irritated, whispers, “Thomas, you’re being a putz. What do you have against Francis?”
Thomas spins around, furiously rubbing his palms with his fingers. “What do I have against Francis? WHAT DO I HAVE AGAINST FRANCIS, you ask? How about his alleged “stigmata” thing. I mean, come on; I didn’t buy it the first time around, and I sure as heck am not buying it now!!!”
Christopher and Ursula share the same silent thought, “This guy needs therapy, or at least 40 days on a mountain top somewhere to examine his choices. How is he still a Saint?”
The timely announcement of the 50-50 raffle breaks some of the tension and gives Christopher and Ursula the chance to slip away from Thomas, who is pestering the band to let him sit in on a tune. They make their way to a quiet alcove near an open set of French doors, grateful for the evening breeze and the drop in volume from the festivities within.
“So,” Christopher asks, “was that Theresa running the raffle? She was always good at things like that. I only got to know her a little bit before…” his voice trails off.
“Indeed, she is something!” Ursula responds, adding an extra touch of enthusiasm to her words, hoping to keep Christopher from falling back into a dark place. “So much energy, so much spirit. I really admire her.”
“Like you used to admire me, Ursula? With the robe, the staff, the statuettes?” Christopher’s words, surprisingly, carry no anger or bitterness. Just resignation.
Ursula, wisely, does not respond, fearing she might sound condescending or flip. Or worse, patronizing. There are enough Patronizing Saints already. Instead, she stretches her shoulders and says, “I’m a bit parched. How about we grab something to slake our thirst?”
“Ha! Slake! I haven’t heard that word used in decades. Sure, let’s go slake.” Christopher lightly takes her hand and guides them towards the small service bar next to a pair of marble columns. He is not unaware of Ursula’s efforts to keep him upbeat and is grateful for her sensitivity and kindness.
What can I get you two?” the barman asked the couple.
Ursula pauses and then says, “I think I’ll have some water. Christopher?”
“Sure, sounds good. Two Lourdes, good sir. No ice for me.” He retrieves the stylish glass bottles with the light blue and white lettering framing a beautifully etched rendition of a small grotto and a trickling stream.
The two old friends relax and enjoy their waters, feeling a strange wash of peace and health with each sip. No words needed, just the company of a kindred spirit. These two faded icons, scarred by the same sad turn of events, find their spirits lifting in harmony.
After a while, drinks finished, Ursula says, “That water was exceptional. Now I need to visit the ladies’ room.” Christopher concurs, knowing he too needs a pit stop.
“Meet you back here in a few,” Ursula lightly sings. With a small wave, she turns right just past the marble columns and disappears. Christopher follows, turning left toward the gents.
As he stands relieving himself, he begins to think about the evening. Seeing Ursula after all these years kindled a bit of a spark, a fundamental spiritual and physical connection. He smiles, allowing himself to think ahead, seeing all sorts of possible endings to the evening. Christopher, who has been sad for so long, senses the beginnings of hope. He finishes his business and strides towards the row of sinks, eager to wash his hands and meet back up with Ursula.
Everything stops. Christopher grabs the towel dispenser to steady himself. His eyes lock on the face of the man who just walked into the room. The joy of the evening has opened small cracks in his armor, leaving him vulnerable to the cruel crush of despair.
No! Not him. Not here, not now. The cause of his misery, his humiliation, his downfall. Him.
Staring back, with a dawning recognition of the individual clutching the towel dispenser, stands Saint Pope Paul VI. The Great Decider. The Holy Presider over the worst day of Christopher’s life.
They face each other, separated by a few terrazzo tiles. One, now a Saint. The other one, no longer.
Saint Pope Paul VI speaks first – softly, matter-of-factly. “I had to do it. It was nothing personal, just a decision made on the facts.” His soft Italian accent makes his words sound both threatening and romantic at the same time. “Your case, well, it was one of the hardest to decide. The statues, the medals, and that robe painting all weighed heavily in your favor. Sadly, though, we – I –could not find enough hard evidence to back your tale of forging a raging river carrying The Child. It had to be done.”
He bows his head, makes the sign of the cross, chants something in Latin, and breathes deeply, ready to deflect the angry words he is sure will come.
But Christopher has no answer. He is struck silent by a feeling of freedom, a spiritual transfiguration of sorts. A miracle? Perhaps it was the Lourdes, perhaps not.
All the hurt, the rage, and shame evaporate. The darkness has gone, replaced with a lightness he’s not felt since before his rise and fall.
Christopher slowly smiles, then begins to laugh softly. His laughter grows louder, his smile wider. Thomas and Francis come through the door, somehow friends, after a rough start to the evening. They take in the scene before them, notice the smile, and hear the laughter. Thomas, true to form, waves dismissively and says to Francis, “Let’s find another bathroom. Who needs all this drama!”
Christopher walks past his former nemesis and offers a lilting “Bless your heart” as he lightly touches Saint Pope Paul VI’s sleeve.
A small crowd gathers in the vestibule, drawn by what will forever be known as the Draining By The Sink. Christopher barely notices them. He only has eyes for one face in the crowd.
Ursula comes to his side, leans in, and softly asks, “You good?”
“I am,” Christopher answers, filled with more happiness than he’s ever felt before. “I am.”
“Good,” Ursula sighs. “How about we head out and see where the night might take us. After a slight pause, she impishly asks, “Do you still have that robe?”
“Hmmm,” Christopher murmurs slyly. “What do you have in mind?”
“Oh, I have an idea or two. After all, it’s not like we’re Saints.”