(Hat tip to John Zmirak… Frankly he does this *much* better than I do. But I couldn’t think of anything else. So don’t sue me!)
So I have been thinking about novelty- weirdness, and extraneous exotica– and how that relates to people and their behavior.
Let’s be clear– “fabulous” means, “like something out of a fable.” Freaks are people who just don’t fit in– and don’t even try.
This brings one to thinking about people who are famous more for being weird than any other given talent. Um, Chris Angel, Luna Lovegood, Rob Zombie, Bob Brown, Lady Gaga, Robert Anton Wilson, Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Sherlock Holmes, to name but a few. I will grant you that some of them may be fictional– but they still maintain a certain celebrity. Granted many of these people lay claim to other talents– but let’s be honest. Other people do those things, and they get remembered because they were particularly strange.
And… ironically, they are not alone. There are many.
But as the litany of bizarreoids and eccentrics crosses the mind– one has to admit that certain saints just knock the top off of any list. One could even argue that being extraordinarily strange is a part of the job description. I just can’t think of a single one that wasn’t– in some way– odd.
Of course, St. Francis of Assisi is the most famous of these, but frankly, he’s been softened and bowdlerized for mass consumption. In fact, while he was prancing naked through the public square, I bet a lot of reasonably devout contemporary Catholics were concerned that his behavioral madness was inspired by something other than God.
This is only the bare beginning of his strange story. He said mass to animals as an expression of piety. He had adventures with wolves. He wandered off periodically with little protection from the elements, diving into snow banks, restoring churches with his bare hands, receiving stigmata– you name it. If one reads his full biography, one gets the disturbing sense that something entirely other is going on there.
Let’s see. There was a semi-retarded stable boy who sang like an angel– and spontaneously levitated during prayer. There was a small cover-up by the local abbot because they did not want to draw the attention of their equivalent of The National Enquirer. He was shuffled everywhere, and despite having been called ineducable actually did become a priest with strange limitations because his deep prayer, meditation, and levitation got in the way.
Then there was the nun who had the audacity to give the pope a piece of her mind– in fact, there were several. I bet it would shock modern feminists that neither of them were excommunicated. In fact, one of them became the Pope’s adviser and mentor of sorts.
Her name was St. Catherine of Sienna. She could talk with the most learned theologians and hold her own– frequently surpassing them in knowledge, when she came from a poor family and was not particularly well educated. If you think she could do this because people were stupid in those days, well– try taking some history of philosophy some time. OR translate The Aeneid from scratch and remember that folks did that sort of thing in the equivalent of elementary school.
The second nun who told a pope he’d better straighten up, was already well known for giving her regional bishops what-for for going luke warm or straying in their personal lives from thefaith. She wasn’t kicked out, either. She was also a fantastic artist, composer of musical compositions– it is even thought that she contributed to the development of musical notation. We know her as St. Hildegard Von Bingen. Indeed, we just made her a Doctor of the Church. St. Catherine the was practically so in her lifetime.
Then there was the guy who gained sainthood not only for being an apostle, but also sharing a name with the Church’s first unrepentant traitor. In fact, said traitor betrayed God literally to His Face, then– did not even have the decency to say he was sorry. He just offed himself instead. That was such an incredible cross to bear for said saint that he’s now champion for all hopeless causes. Otherwise, we know almost nothing about him at all. And considering he spent all this time hanging around the 12 and Jesus himself– that’s pretty bizarre right there. It’s St. Jude, and he’s my Confirmation Saint. He must have been that quiet guy sitting in the corner.
Then there are those people who make life choices that really come out of left field. I mean it’s weird enough that one would become a priest. (You know, voluntarily take up poverty, chastity and obedience.) But… willingly go treat a colony of folks suffering from an untreatable, highly communicable disease where one had more than a 50/50 chance of dying slowly and agonizingly in isolation yourself? That’s Father Damien of Hawaii. Talk about picking a location for what ails you.How about go off to India to haul sick and dying men (of AIDS and other ailments) off the street and give them the best palliative care you could– so they could die with dignity? Who would do that? Why, Blessed Mother Theresa, of course. See, that’s why all those newsies and so on thought she was so great– not that they’d tell you what she did– only that she was great.
Going back a little further… let’s look at the guy who felt called to renew an already (historically, at any rate)strict order of monks. He thought that wearing shoes was far too luxurious. He wanted everyone to get up at all hours to pray, even! The superior condemned him, and his brothers decided to learn him on the subject of humility, in the form of severe penances and even physical blows. All he did was thank them and bless them in response.
Though he continued to be annoying about the acetic roots of their practice. So they locked him up and commenced to beat him daily until morale improved– and his niggling conscience got distracted with other things.
Things did not proceed according to plan. You see… he started having these conversations with God, and commenced writing transcendentally beautiful poetry. He was also a prolific letter writer, and these writings escaped his prison the same way cocaine winds up in our prisons. Similarly, no matter how avowedly against his writings and letters they were at this monastery, they kept getting out and causing trouble in the larger world. We know this man as St. John of the Cross.
Eventually these poems and letters got published, and.. soon the bishop was writing the Abbot telling him that dear old Brother John was now his superior….
Last but not least– how about a Satanic Priest who renounced his entire life to date, challenged his “flock” –armed with nothing more than a miraculous medal– then found a religious order. In order to preserve the reputation of the order– he married a woman he worked closely with and stayed chaste for the rest of his life.
They married only to stall rumors that they were having relations., but none the less– despite the vicious campaign of slander even from his fellow priests– stayed faithful to Catholic teaching and never renounced his faith. He was obedient to Mother Church to the end, even when it did not appear to make sense. Certain formerly famous priests could learn from his example. He’s Blessed Bartolo Longo. He’s not a saint yet… but he will be, I’m pretty sure.
This is not to say that those who want to be saints (ie. everyone) should court weirdness for it’s own sake. But judging from what I’ve read– if you aim for a life of holiness– the strange will come to you.