Monday, July 18, 2011

Thetheologyofdad: Home of the Ugly Saints

Long, long ago, when I was wise and you were not, when  I was saying stuff like the Legionaries are too into upholding worldly standards (for Christ), you know, way back in the 90s when no one would listen to me...

Okay, I exaggerate. Some of you actually did agree with me.

But I still see some of the fruit of that bad tree elsewhere.

First of all, what do I mean?

I always disliked how in their literature (which showed up at my door, year after year, without having requested it) they would always 'brag' about the priestly vocations they had who 'used to be lawyers, or doctors, etc.' They would boast about their connections with important politicians, business leaders, etc. I even recall one of their friends was the President of Mexico, or some such place.

I don't mind any of that as long as they also tell me about their vocations who used to be garbage men, long-haul truckers and waiters, you know, men who know how to work for a living.

Too often we talk about how lovely Saint X was, that men (often Roman Senators) desired them so severely or some such foolishness. Frankly, whether St. Bernadette was attractive or not doesn't mean anything to me. A blogger recently referred to how beautiful a certain modern saint was. To what end, I ask? Another tells me recently how ugly Blessed Kateri was. Okay, fine. But I have no intention of making a calendar of beautiful women saints to hang on my office door to inspire my male students, or my female students. What a messed-up way of thinking this ends up to be, the sort of ends-justify-the-means thinking on saints. Everyone within ear-shot must have heard me by now, raging about poor Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati who is only ever depicted skiing. To my mind someone who spent his whole life skiing is not a saint but a very selfish person. That's equivalent to my kids saying at my funeral, "He spent his whole life surfing the web."

And, by the way, St. Thomas Aquinas, did not have the whole Bible memorized. Anyone who has read him to any extent is aware of that. The smartest person who ever lived did not have to be Catholic for me to believe it is the true faith - nor the greatest playwright, as another Catholic blogger has recently written, echoing perhaps the most common instance of 'all the greatest were Catholic' mythology.

Yes, Augustine was sure that if Plato were alive in his time he would become a Christian. I never said that Augustine was right about everything...

Humility is the way of Christ. The moment we buy into a little bit of worldliness, we end up with a whole lot of it.

Catholic schools - you know who I am talking to - stop putting your most attractive students on your promotional material! I want to see the buck-toothed, four-eyed, goofballs, the ones with their trousers pulled up past their navels - that's the school I want to go to, the one truly committed to the Gospel of my Lord. There's a place I can truly feel comfortable.

As the great, modern Doctor of the Church, Friedrich Nietzsche, wrote, "Christianity is a religion for losers," or something to that effect. Keenly observed.

In the end, whenever you venture down the 'let's show them that it's cool to be Christian' path, you alienate someone for all the wrong reasons. Show a pretty Christian girl, you alienate someone with low self-esteem; show a muscley one, you alienate one who is not; show a successful one, you alienate a poor one. If we are certain that Christ did not choose His Apostles for such reasons, why do we chose ours this way?

Some things just leave me speechless.


  1. That t-shirt is the most bizarre thing i have seen in a while. Holy smokes!

  2. And yet it is meant as a serious Christian statement. How would you feel if someone you knew was wearing it? Some things needn't be said, or printed on t-shirts.

  3. I just laughed out loud when I saw that t-shirt. And, yes, I agree re. the pretty saints. One MH staff worker (whom I imagine you would really enjoy) once said to me, "What will we do if Mary is actually really ugly? Like, maybe she has a really huge nose." he was getting at the same point that you are making. And, for the record,I have only ever seen Frassati standing atop a mountain with a walking stick in hand. One more thought, you should extend your thinking to the NFP websites and ask the question: What would those sites look like if ugly, obese couples were featured? Food for thought.
    p.s. We are trying to make the front of the house look lived in by placing ugly, yet life-like, maniquins in compromising positions.

  4. Your point re. Mary is quite to the point. I bet many would not even hear of her not being beautiful (let alone lily white and beautiful - strange look for a Middle Eastern woman, BTW), not understanding what kind of message that sends to women...
    I like Tertullian who said that Jesus was not even handsome - that's how real His Incarnation was.
    I saw your chairs on my bike ride yesterday, but not the maniquins. Curious.

  5. Excellent points. Lately I've been seeing the coolness Christianity spill onto many very popular Catholic blogs. Crass talk and jokes (even among Catholic women) is the new IN thing. And, if a commenter raises an objection to Christians talking in rather inappropriate ways, they're simply told they need to "lighten up." It's scary and disheartening.


  6. Suzanne,

    I recently read a good post - can't remember who - talking about 'modesty in modesty'. It's very easy to forget about what's at the heart of our Faith: respect for God and man. Just because "we know we are good Catholics" we think we have a right to say things that we condemn "the bad people" for saying. Double standard, and I'm the worst offender.

  7. I SO appreciate this!

  8. Hey, Anonymous, you are so kind!

  9. Grammar check: That should be trousers pulled up PAST their navels, not "passed" their navels.
    Otherwise, liked your column. St. Paul even comments in one of his letters about not being particularly impressive visually.

  10. thanks for the grammar check. There are a few other defects in my texts I cannot seem to fix at the moment. As for Paul's statement - can you find me the reference? Of course, Isaiah tells us that 'the servant of God,' i.e., the Lord Jesus Himself: "had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." (depending on your translation, of course.)

  11. How do you know Saint Thomas did not have the Bible memorized?

    If your wondering whether Shakespeare was Catholic, even the Archbishop of Canterbury thinks he was.

    -Carter Lowman

  12. St. Thomas misquotes and mis-cites passages at times. He will sometimes cite a passage one way and then in another way.

    Yes, I heard about the Arch of C. saying that. Let's put it this way: this wouldn't be our only point of disagreement. I think that the main thing people have to keep in mind with the whole Shakespeare thing is that Edwardian/Elizabethan theology was not the kind of Protestantism we are more familiar with today in North America. It was much more 'Catholic.' That fact tends to surprise people.

  13. Your comment about Catholic school brochures is spot on. They should also do something about the Catholic Colleges and universities. Ugly Catholics of the world, unite!

  14. I'm ugly and I'm proud!

    Wait, pride is a sin.

    I'm ugly. And so were some saints.

  15. @Colin Kerr:
    I may be misreading the text, but 2nd Cor. 10:10 (speaking of Paul) includes "His letters, they say, are severe and forceful, but when he is here in person, he is unimpressive and his word makes no great impact."

  16. Sorry to come back again on the unrelated issue of Saint Thomas (though he was overweight ha), but the fact that he misquotes and mis cites (I'm not sure where these are, and further hasn't anyone cleaned them up? what translation or website do you use? I use newadvent), this fact is evidence FOR him quoting from MEMORY. If he was looking right at the text, he would never misquote or mis cite. St. Thomas had the Bible memorized. But to your credit there is room to say his memory wasn't perfect.

  17. TeaPot562,

    That is certainly a possible interpretation. I suppose it depends what Greek conjunction is used (my Greek is too rusty), linking unimpressive with his words. Does it mean that he is unimpressive in a way that does not relate to his verbal presence, or is the linkage mainly with the prior part of the clause - that is, with his severe letters? I can't say, off hand. But it would be unusual to say that, despite the fact that Paul was handsome and physically remarkable, seeing him in person left no impact. So, overall, I think I would have to agree with your assumption. You are aware that 'paul' is from the Latin paulus, meaning, less, few, small, whatever. Scholars are not quite sure what to make of that. The most natural thing to assume with his choice of name (changing it from Saul) was that it was act of humility. Can we go one step further and say that Paul (Saul) finally admitted to the reality from which he had been living in denial his whole life: that he is (physically, morally, etc.) a small man?

  18. Dear Carter,

    Personally, I do not believe St. Thomas was fat: my main argument being that he literally walked all around Europe. I think that idea is a strange case of his intellectual bigness being taken and transformed into physical fatness.

    Yes, Thomas is very often clearly quoting from memory. So too did Augustine quite often. And he too made little mistakes here and there. I am not disputing that he knew a great deal of Scripture by heart, only that he had every word memorized. Thomas knew Augustine's great work 'On Christian Doctrine,' and there, of course, Augustine tells us that people should memorize Scripture - as best they can. But who has? One of the later doctors of the Church - was it St. Lawrence of Brindisi? - is also said to have done so, and perhaps St. Paula too (?), one of St. Jerome's pals. One of my personal wishes is that English-speaking bishops would 'canonize' a translation of the Bible so that we can get back to memorizing it. No use memorizing it when translations keep changing!

  19. When I was a protestant trying to only watch religious TV on Sundays, I grew tired of the pretty televangelists. EWTN was appealing because of the ordinary faces and plain clothes. It was the beginning of my conversion.

  20. Hey, very nice point, Evelyn. Part of the thing for me is that all the perfect faces and clothes seem fake, like a show, like someone is trying to convince me of something subconsciously because they can't appeal to my conscious self. It's hard to think of a more 'authentic looking person' than Mother Angelica. Just think of the sincerity of Bl Theresa of Calcutta: her's was not a well-packaged look. Sometimes people see through the perfect surface, like you did!