It is Labour Day, 2016. I am driving to the Hudson ferry when it comes over the car radio – Mother Teresa has been canonized a saint, after a second miracle has been authenticated – that of a Brazilian man who has been completely cured, after he was diagnosed with malignant brain tumors and given little chance by his doctors, of making it.
I am wondering how Mama T could figure in this ‘miraculous intervention’ given that she died in 1997 but I am afraid to ask. Maybe she bumped into him and blessed him when visiting Rio while she was alive and it took 20 years for the man to recover completely. Or maybe she enrolled in Johns Hopkins University after her Brazil visit, got herself an advanced doctorate in neuro-oncology, completed a gruelling internship, did her Masters and wrote a PhD thesis and rushed back to save the guy. As a ghost. She was dead by then, remember?
In case you are confused, Canonization is the process that ends in bestowing sainthood on a mortal, a recognition by the Catholic Church that is the spiritual equivalent of receiving the Congressional Medal of Honor or the Param Vir Chakra or the Victoria Cross.
There’s another recognition that the Catholic Church likes to dole out – beatification. It’s like Canonization-lite. It is the recognition by the church that a guy has entered heaven. Until the mid-1600s, just about anyone, even local bishops, had the power to beatify but in time the Catholic Church realized that complete jerks were being beatified, so much so that soon there were more assholes in heaven than in hell.
Not that one cannot be a saint and an asshole at the same time. In September 2015, Pope Francis canonized Junipero Serra, a Spanish missionary who first brought Catholicism to the natives of California in the early 18th century. “Brought” would be a very charitable use of the word actually. ”Rammed in“ would be more appropriate. Junipero Serra achieved the catholicization by brutally suppressing the native American culture and banning native rituals under pain of torture and even death.
Here’s a few things you need to know in case you fancy the idea of being canonized a saint. The number one requirement is that you need to be dead before the procedure can even begin. Of course there is an oxymoron here – if you are dead, would you give a fuck if you became a saint or you didn’t? It is like winning a posthumous medal. Would it have mattered to Capt. Vikram Batra that he won a Param Vir Chakra at Kargil? Or Navy Seal Michael A Monsoor for his Medal of Honor at Ramadi? Of course it wouldn’t.
The other thing is that you will be among the 900+ canonized guys and gals and you’ll be in haloed company.
The first three Abrahamic saints were male – the archangels Raphael, Michael and Gabriel. While Raphael and Michael were low-key (except when they were required to slaughter sundry non-believers and assorted barbarians), the rock star was definitely Gabriel. He was the one who came down to earth and conveyed God’s messages to Mohammad on a mountaintop cave near Mecca, where he went, evenings, to reflect in peace and quiet. When I did Trichy grass in college and listened to Emerson, Lake and Palmer, I too heard apparitions with wings lecturing me. If only I had been crazy enough to compile those monologues into a best-selling book, I too would be a messiah by now.
Raphy, Mike and Gaby were the only ones who didn’t have to earn their sainthood. They were born with it (somewhat like the Dalai Llama or Nepal’s Living Goddesses). They were God’s way of advertising limited editions, I guess. They were God’s Dick Cheney, Karl Rove and Don Rumsfeld.
Last but not the least, in order to be a saint, you have got to perform at least two verifiable miracles. The most popular way to get to sainthood has been through curing someone of a terminal illness. If you think you’ll be made a saint just because you won a Presidential election, forget it. This is not the Nobel Peace Prize. That’s not the way it works.
Here lies another oxymoron – if one of the basic tenets of Christianity is the principle of ‘as you sow, so you reap’, ie: if Christianity says that we ultimately get what we deserve, then why should someone be miraculously saved without having to complete his suffering? Maybe sainthoods are God’s way of correcting errors he made?… ‘Oops, wrong guy. Mama Terry, go fix the Brazilian guy’s tumor problem, will ya?’
Doesn’t a miracle set a wrong example, send the wrong message? You got tumors protruding out everywhere, tough shit, man, you musta done something wrong and so you had it coming. Isn’t that what Christianity preaches – that we must suffer for our sins, even when we do not always know what they are? There must be millions on earth, suffering the way that the Brazilian was. Why should a few chosen ones be miraculously benefited?
Don’t get me wrong. I hold nothing against Mother Teresa being canonized. It wasn’t her idea, I am certain of that. Left to her I am sure she wouldn’t wouldn’t give a flying fuck if she was made a saint or she wasn’t. She was a great human being and the world already knows it. Does her sainthood change anything, make us revere her more, turn us into better human beings? No, it doesn’t, not one bit.
Or is it just one of those last-ditch efforts by a failing faith that is in it’s death throes, trying to prop itself up by petty self-aggrandizement? One of the things that Hitler started doing at the fag end of the Second World War was to award every (Tom)as, von (Dick)en and (Harry)hausen the Knight’s Cross with the Oak Leaves, to raise flagging morale. If I look hard enough, I am sure I’ll find that Nixon did pretty much the same thing, throwing around Medals of Honor like confetti, after sensing the failing gasps of the American military during the closing days of the Vietnam War.
I believe that if one has done something exceptional, it shall be automatically registered and recognized up above, if at all there exists an all-knowing supreme being. Attaining true spirituality means that one doesn’t care about earthly recognition, like canonization.
True spirituality does not require me to sit up and say, “Wow! Look what a great faith Christianity is! It has so many saints”! Instead, true spirituality shows me the distinction between loving choir boys and the love for fellow human beings. It frowns upon ideas like starting a GoFundMe page “Cardinal George Pell for Sainthood”.
Today, we have a world virtually on fire, consumed on all sides by racism, bigotry and hate and here we have a church that is totally out of sync with reality, busy making someone who died two decades back, a saint.
At this point I am on the beautiful strip of asphalt that winds along the southern shore of the Lac Deux Montagne. It’s 11am and time for “Wait wait, don’t tell me”. I punch the preset on the FM button to 107.9 NPR.
The absurd madness, a.k.a canonization, is behind me.