Monthly Archives: June 2011

Everyday Saints

Whenever a bunch of men meet in secret with their own private rituals and then decide things, the rest of us should be skeptical.  This is true whether it’s the Masons, the Klan, or the College of Cardinals.  These groups represent patriarchy on steroids, clinging to days that most of us (except Wal-Mart executives) wish would stay lodged in the past.  That is the biggest problem and the gravest sin of the Roman Catholic Church: legitimized, organized, protected patriarchy.  If the Church weren’t ruled by patriarchy, then priests as sexual predators would be dealt with in an entirely different manner.  Be reminded the Roman Catholic Church is not the only organization with a Good Old Boy Network.

Patriarchy has nothing to do with actual religion or theology.  It’s a human construct that has to do with power.  Non-Catholics have difficulty understanding how practicing Catholics can overlook the sins of the bureaucracy, but in reality, we all do this with organizations we like.  In any organization, there’s the official party line, and then there’s what happens locally.  Everyday Catholics relate to the Roman Catholic Church one parish, one priest, and one nun at a time.  In that context, there are a lot of devoted, inspirational people practicing their faith within the context of a deeply flawed institution.  Couldn’t that also be said about the U. S. democracy?

Another common misunderstanding by non-Catholics is about saints.  They are not demigods worshipped like idols in violation of the Ten Commandments.  As I was taught by Sister Kathleen, they are a community of spiritual souls from whom believers can learn and pray for intercession to God.  You may consider it a subtle distinction, but it is different from polytheism.

When it comes to saints, there are the official ones, and the ones that are accepted culturally.  Not surprisingly, there are fewer women and it takes longer for them to be sainted.  Sometimes they are burned alive by the Church, as with Joan of Arc who died in 1431, and was “beatified” (made a saint) in 1909.  There are about 2,500 saints, but the Institutional Church likes to approve them with a process the patriarchy created in the year 993 so many observed saints are not official saints.  (You can learn more at the link below, from which most of this information is sourced.)

Of course it is easy to laugh at some of the patron saints.  In case you were wondering, there is one for advertising and one for astronauts, and that’s just the first letter of the alphabet.  The next time I’m waiting tables and get stiffed on a tip, I will think of St. Martha, the patron saint of food servers.  (I welcome her intercession here.)  More importantly, there are recent saints, Everyday Saints, who inspire us, challenge us, and humble us.

My friend Nick wrote an article which I hope gets some traction outside academic and Catholic circles.  I’m posting the link without permission, by the way.  He writes about two Everyday Saints of our generation.  It is a compelling story about these two women and how they knew each other.

Both Dorothy Day (1897-1980) and Mother Theresa (1910-1997) were devout Roman Catholics and social activists.  Dorothy Day was the champion of the working class and underclass.  She founded The Catholic Worker paper which had a circulation of 150,000 at its peak. She was a poor, unwed mother who opened homeless shelters and soup kitchens, living in a public tenement until the day she died.

Most people know more about Mother Theresa who was born in Yugoslavia and entered the religious order at 18.  She taught for 15 years when she felt called to serve in India.  It took her two years to get the Church’s approval to start her new order.  She did receive that permission though did so without financial support.

Both of these women served the poor and disenfranchised their entire lives making tremendous personal sacrifices.  Mother Theresa was more deferential to the Patriarchy than Dorothy Day, who was comfortable criticizing the institutional Catholic Church.  While the Church has taken steps to recognize both women as saints, the progress on Dorothy Day is slow.  Contrast that to the fast-track beatification of the late John Paul II who spent his papal days living in the luxury of the Vatican.  Pope John Paul II is the saint of the Patriarchy.  Dorothy Day and Mother Theresa are Everyday Saints.  They are saints for regular people.  You don’t have to be Catholic to be inspired by these women.

Though I can’t put him in the same paragraph with Dorothy Day and Mother Theresa, I do want to acknowledge another Everyday Saint, Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who died June third.  His work was controversial, but he also followed a call to assist those who couldn’t assist themselves, and for that he deserves recognition.

There are more Everyday Saints all around us.  These are the people that inconvenience themselves to help others.  My friend Sue is 70-something and works nearly full-time.  After work she gardens at the church.  She has children and grandchildren whom she enjoys, but still visits shut-ins, though I can’t really figure out when she does that.  She and her husband are the kind of people you just want to have in your life.  Whether you have good news or bad, they are there for you – front and center.  They are regular folks who watch baseball games and have a glass of wine now and then.  These are the Everyday Saints from whom we all benefit that the Patriarchy will never understand or appreciate.

Consider this my salute to the under-recognized Everyday Saints that make things better for the rest of us.  It feels good to know there are still real heros.  – J.B.

Other sources for this blog were:

Chittister, Joan: A Passion for Life

Coles, Robert: Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion

Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly: