Sunday, October 17, 2010

Saint Mary MacKillop

First let me say, I really like saying her name.  It sounds so perfect for those moments when you, slam your little finger in the tailgate of the truck while balancing a 50lb bag of chicken feed on your hip that you absolutely cannot put down because the ground is wet & in this climate it gets moldy fast enough.  So there you are with your pinky somewhere in between the two sharp edges of the after-market truck bed & you have to sort of shift the weight onto the bumper so you can reach the handle & release the pressure & then when you do your blood chugging back into your hand feels like the opening to These Boots Were Made for Walking, which is coincidentally what the lady emu sounds like when she sees you are going to open the feed barrel.  Now say it again:  Saint Mary MacKillop!

If you have never heard of Mary MacKillop, chances are you have not spent much time in Australia recently.  She is the first Australian saint & that makes headlines, even on a continent with no official religion.  Like the US.  Ba-dum-chhhhhhhhh.  Seriously, though, they are only about 5m catholics in a country of over 20m.  Even those who would never set foot in a church are enthralled.  & yes, I know roughly the same percentage of Americans think of themselves as catholic so you tell me:  who was the first US saintwho was the most recent?  Now sit down & shut up.

Aside from the church finally getting around to canonizing someone from the British Empire's last bastion, Mary MacKillop is fun & timely.  I am sure she was a pig-headed person (most saints are) who swam against the stream (& in a recently-former penal colony, saintly would be the way to go).  To make it all the way to Rome though, you have to put your back into it.  & she did.

First, she took that less sure but still so frequent road to sainthood: excommunication. The reason tells us as much about her canonization today (yes, today) than any real changes in the church.  Mary MacKillop ran afoul of church leaders for pressing the church to deal with a certain esteemed priests who spent a little too much time one-on-one with the altar boys.  Actually the specific reason was insubordination.  She did lots of insubordinate things, including cleaving to the Franciscan concept of poverty, which included begging in the streets, never a favorite with the most wealthy institution on earth.  The excommunication only lasted about six months (considerably less than Pete Seeger spent in prison for breaking a law that did not really exist), but she still gets the points.

Other favorite topics of her insubordination include it is bad to treat native people like a subspecies.  Also education is a good thing, even for poor people.  Radical ideas whose time has almost arrived.  So although nothing official has been said, Mary MacKillop is being looked at for Patroness of Abuse Victims, particularly those abused by clergy.

For the record, though, today is the day of Ignatius of Antioch; you would invoke him against diseases of the throat, which is also the province of Saint Blaise & half-a-dozen others. I know you were torn apart by wild animals, sir, but right now you look a little too much like a company man.

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