Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saint by numbers...

Next week’s double pope canonization extravaganza is creating a lot of sainthood “buzz” in the air right now.  Therefore, I thought I’d offer some tips for sainthood. 

First, Catholic dogma says the Communion of Saints includes official canonized and beatified saints, anybody in heaven, and all believers on earth.  So, if you believe in Jesus, congratulations, you’re already a saint!  You can stop reading now and go do something more productive.

However, this common, garden-variety sainthood does not land people on religious trading cards and rarely results in statues being erected in your honor, or churches, schools, and ritzy vacation spots being named after you.  If you’re going for that high-profile, high-revenue type of sainthood, then keep reading.

I’ve been plowing through saint records and building a database to catalog demographic information for well over 10% of the canonized and beatified folks.  If my calculations are correct, the sampling I’ve done so far yields statistics with a 3.5% margin of error for projections across the full canonized / beatified population.  Good news, some of these statistics are so skewed, the 3.5% margin of error is kitten’s play.

My advice if you want to be an officially recognized saint: 

1.  Be male.  Based on my sample set, 84% of canonized and beatified people were male.  You might scratch your head in confusion since 80% of the church’s work is done by women, and women are over 50% of the world’s population.  This might seem backwards to you.  No, no…I beg of you; don’t let facts, equity and reality confuse you.  If you insist on logic and equity, you probably should stop reading now before you injure your brain or sense of righteousness.  That statistic simply reflects church hierarchical members’ value system and helps us quantify it.  They see men as being over five times more virtuous and holy than women…end of story.   

2. Be a priest, monk, or religious brother.  About 60% of all official saints were ordained or religious males.  If we look at only the male saints…that tiny 84% majority of all saints…the number jumps to around 70% who were ordained or religious.  So if you’re going to be male, be a priest too, to up your odds.

3.  Be a bishop. 37% of saints and 44% of male saints were bishops or abbots.  I know the cynics are probably starting to suspect that the beatification and canonization process is simply a ruse for apostles to pat themselves and their own kind on the back…sort of as a self-glorification thing.  Again, let’s not get all hung up on facts.    

4.  Be pope.  Despite many papacies being riddled with scandals including the criminal behaviors of soon-to-be-canonized John Paul II in aiding and abetting child rapists, about 1/3 of all popes throughout the entirety of history have become saints.  To put this in perspective, let’s look at the ratio of saints across the full sea of Catholics.  Since I can’t find a statistic for the number of Catholics throughout all time, we’ll use the number for today’s 1.2 billion Catholics, knowing this will yield disproportionately high ratios.   

Using the number of saints across all history and current number of Catholics, we see that less than one one-thousandth of a percent of Catholics are canonized or beatified and less than 1/3 of one one-thousandth of a percent of laypeople are canonized or beatified.  This is compared to over 1/3 of popes being canonized or beatified.  The decimal place simply shifts five positions to the right for popes…a small factor of 100,000.  If you thought the statistic for bishop-saints reflected a mutual-admiration society, then you now realize it is simply a gentle air-kiss compared to the emphatic bear-hug of self-admiration amongst the popes.  

5. Be Italian or French.  About 22% and 17% of saints were from the geographic regions now called Italy and France respectively.  Again, please don’t be confused by the fact that Italian and French Catholics each represent only about 5% of the Catholic population.  If God evenly distributed saints, Brazil with 16% of the Catholic population would have 16% of the saints instead of the 4 tenths of one percent of saints that it actually has. 

Canonization and beatification are expensive businesses and though Brazil is swimming in Catholics, the per capita income is about a third and a quarter of Italy’s and France’s per capita income levels respectively.  Brazilians seem to be spending their money on frivolities like food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare instead of canonization and beatification…and these skewed priorities really show in their saint numbers.   

The same is true in Mexico with almost 10% of all Catholics yet less than 1% of Catholic saints, as well as the Philippines with about 7.5% of Catholics yet less than one tenth of one percent of saints.  You guessed it: Mexico’s and the Philippines’ per capita incomes are lower than even Brazil’s. 

Let's face it; the popes seem to believe it's more difficult to imitate Christ whilst walking and living amongst poor people. No wonder we have so many bishop mansions...two in my for the active and emeritus bishops each.  They are simply trying to increase their chances for sainthood by fleeing the impoverished.  

I know you might be thinking, "...but didn't Jesus walk amongst the poor...matter of fact...wasn't Jesus one of the poor?"  Yeah, yeah, yeah...but that guy could walk on water, too.  Let's give the bishops a fighting chance and let them live where people can better afford virtuous behavior or at least better afford to pay for creating images of virtuous behavior.

6. Be a Benedictine.  Saints from Benedictine religious orders are outpacing the next most prevalent order at a six to one ratio.

7.  If you insist on being female…which really craters your chances of sainthood…then for heaven’s sake, do not have sex, or if you do, be of royal birth. 70% of female saints were nuns or virgins and only a paltry 5% of saints were females who were neither nuns, virgins, or royalty.  This compares to 25% of saints that were males who were neither ordained, religious or royalty.  Again, we have laymen outpacing laywomen at a 5 to 1 ratio in the virtuous category. 

But you see, many of those virtuous, holy non-ordained men were soldiers who killed in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.  Perhaps this is why we have St. Adrian as the patron saint of arms dealers…who knew we needed a patron saint of arms dealers….  But, I digress.  If you’re going to insist on being a sexually active female, your best chances for canonization might be to carry a weapon.  It worked for Joan of Arc but then she was burned at the stake as a heretic…and I think maybe she was a virgin too.  Oh, never mind…  Let's face it; sexually active women, are pretty much screwed when it comes to vying for sainthood.

Let me paint an even clearer picture as to the value the church hierarchy ascribes to women and their work via the canonization process.  The stats show us the popes believe:

  • Men are 5 times more virtuous and holy than any woman
  • Men are about 17 times more virtuous than sexually active women
  • Popes are over 270,000 times more virtuous and holy than any woman
  • Popes are over 860,000 times more virtuous and holy than sexually active women

Hence, we see John Paul II, a man whose criminal neglect enabled the rape of thousands of children, being canonized next week while Mother Teresa, who merely imitated Christ by caring for the poorest of the poor, still awaits canonization.  At least Mother Teresa was an avowed religious woman so her chances of making full sainthood are exponentially better than those of any mother who actually bore and raised children.

8.  If you can time your death, try to die on May 1st.  There seem to be over 1.5 times more saints who died on May 1st than who died on the next most common date for saints’ deaths.

So, I think the optimal saint profile is this: Italian male Benedictine pope (or bishop) who dies on May 1st.  It also helps to either have a lot of wealth or hang-out with wealthy people who can fund your canonization process.  Oddly enough, aside from the date of death dimension, that bears striking resemblance to the people who canonize and beatify people…hmmm.  Interesting. 

Do you think the list of canonized saints accurately reflects the most holy and virtuous people in history?  Do you care?  Does the heavy skew towards canonizing hierarchy members expose a deep brokenness in them that they feel the need to memorialize their herd in this way?  Do we help fuel the canonization industry?  Should we?

Bonus question for the hierarchy: If you are concerned about the societal devaluation of motherhood, should you perhaps be first examining your behaviors towards women and mothers?  Do you treat them even as good as secular society does?

A little Easter levity for you.  Easter joy this day and always!

Friday, April 11, 2014

"Do you love me?"

A scene keeps playing in my mind similar to when Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof” asks his wife of 25 years whom he first met on their wedding day, “Do you love me?  However, instead of Tevye asking his wife this question, in my daydream it is me asking it of Pope Francis, the bishops and clergy.  And, instead of the touchingly awkward but sincere affirmative response Tevye gets from Golde, his wife, I just get dropped jaws accompanied by terrified looks with eyes darting wildly about in search of an escape route.  This daydream evidently is a musical because at this very moment I hear Earth, Wind and Fire singing the lyric from the song “Can’t Hide Love” that goes, “You turn down love like it’s really bad; you can’t give away what you never had.

What’s wrong with this picture?  The clergy say they are married to me as a member of the Church yet I cannot imagine one bishop, including Pope Francis, looking me or most of their flock squarely in the eye and saying, “I love you” with any degree of depth or sincerity.  I think even my own bishop, with whom I have very amicable relations, would be very, very, very uncomfortable telling me he loved me if, in fact, he does.  And regardless of if he thinks he loves me, I think he’d turn on me in a heartbeat if preserving his esteem with the hierarchy called for it.

I ask you to imagine yourself standing before your bishop, eye-to-eye, asking that question.  What do you envision as the response?  Am I wrong to surmise that most people imagine scenes like the one I do…where men who claim to be the world’s greatest experts on and advocates for love dance around in nervous evasion of it, seemingly incapable of imitating Christ’s passionate sincere expression of it...especially towards women?

The bishops these days sound a little like Dire Straits wistfully singing the line, “so far away from me…” as though their children have abandoned them.  But, they seem to lack the self-awareness to realize that the majority of members are actually singing the same line right back to them, “You’re so far away from me – so far I just can’t see. 

I wonder if subconsciously we know that if like Tevye we asked of our bishops, “Do you love me,” we would hear thunderous silence – a response which would speak louder than their words.  And again borrowing from Earth, Wind and Fire, “Ain’t it funny how the way you feel shows on your face?  And no matter how hard you try to hide it states your case?  I am tempted to ask my bishop this question just to weigh his facial expression.  Without saying a word, it will state his case no matter how hard he tries to hide it.

My daydream continues with me standing in calm serenity waiting for the bishops’ responses when I suddenly hear Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons sing a compelling question at me, “Who loves you pretty baby?  Who’s gonna help you through the night?  Who loves you pretty momma?  Who’s always there to make it right? 

Rather than seeing bishops “always making it right”, scenes dance through my head of bishops paying lobbyists and lawyers to defeat child protection legislation and abuse lawsuits so that they always make things right for church monies instead of church members.  Similarly I recall them paying lobbyists to enact legislation that denies women’s rights as well as their traditional condescending metaphorical pats on women’s heads trying to usher them back into subservient roles.  And I hear myself answering the question, "Who loves you?" with flat, unemotional, realism in my response, “Evidently, not them.”

For the bishops to express their love for me with any credibility, I would need to see them capable of healing abuse victims by doing as Jackson Browne sings, “reaching into the heart of the darkness from a tenderness within…” or mimic the passionate devotion and care expressed by the Proclaimers in the song, “I’m Gonna Be”, “I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your door…  Rather than spend money on their trinkets, buildings, and bling as well as initiatives that harm me and my loved ones, I’d see them live the lyric, “and when the money comes in for the work I do I will pass almost every penny on to you.” Instead of owning one or more mansions, they’d be helping house, clothe and feed those without.  And, before someone sings the praises of Catholic Charities, please note that the vast majority of that money comes from governmental agencies – not the bishops.  And what money does get routed from church coffers to Catholic Charities is a sad, small fraction…far from “almost every penny.”

So here we are with many if not most people disheartened because they feel they pour their love into the Church without receiving reciprocal love from those who claim to lead the Church.  It’s as Dire Straits sings, they’re “tired of being in love and being all alone.” Similarly, they see Pope Francis omit Fr. Tom Doyle from this new child abuse commission despite Tom being one of the strongest if not the strongest advocate for child abuse victims and they hear Big Country singing, “another promise fallen through – another season passes by you.

We see a couple of reactions by the disheartened masses, one being akin to Aaron Neville singing, “I’m gonna love you even if my heart would break.  These folks try to show the hierarchy a bridge to the future, wincing through their shortcomings.  But others feel taking that approach would cause them to teeter too close to co-dependent behavior, working hard in a grossly imbalanced relationship trying to receive the love of men who seem afraid of it or incapable of giving it.  I envision those folks singing along with “Big Country”, “I thought that pain and truth were things that really mattered but you can’t stay here when every single hope you had shattered.  Those folks are already crossing the bridge into the future.  They see the bishops as having strayed too far away from them to pursue them anymore.

So, who is the enemy?  Is it our apathy ignoring abuse victims’ healing needs?  Is it our desire to downplay the abuse crisis because we are too tired to deal with it and want it to be over? Is it our “go along to get along” mentality that sometimes enables injustice or disables love?  Is it our ability to rationalize funding the institutional church despite seeing its many corrupt practices?  Is it our willingness to let men who seem incapable of deep love co-opt authority and declare themselves the supreme discerners and defenders of it?

Let’s return to Tevye for a moment.  He asked his wife, “Do you love me?” because he saw bit by bit that the “Tradition” he once heralded as a life-stabilizing force is incompatible with love.  He realized that to love sincerely he had to depart from Tradition.

The two great commandments are to love God and love God’s people.  If our Catholic traditions are incompatible with loving others, then they must be dropped.  Maybe this is why Jesus asks, “and why do you break God’s commandments for the sake of your tradition?”  And maybe this is why we must never tire of calmly and steadily asking it of the bishops.

By the way, Jesus also asked Peter, “Do you love me?”  Unlike today’s bishops, Peter was able to express his love credibly.  And when he did, Jesus told him to feed (not fire….not excommunicate…not starve…) his sheep (John 21:15-17).

And so to my bishops and Pope Francis I ask, “Do you love me?”  If the answer is “yes,” how would I know based upon your track records?  If the answer is “no” then what are you doing in your positions?

But, on the flip side, are the laity able to love the bishops and pope despite their many shortcomings and knowing full well that this love probably won't be reciprocated?

By the way, this blog post is brought to you courtesy of the shuffle mode on my iPod.