This Classic Saint Marty comes from March 19, 2010. It's one of my favorite posts I've ever written. Don't read it just before you go to sleep. It might give you nightmares.
Saint Marty needs to take a shower now and go to bed. Sweet dreams.
March 19: Saint Alexander
Saint John Vianney, d. 1859
night was Manly Man Poetry Night with my pastor friend. We went to Big
Boy again and had onion rings and Diet Pepsi. Just to shake things up,
we also ordered deep-fried mozzarella cheese sticks. I am a fairly anal
retentive person, so I'd been working on a poem for most of the day. It
came from a poetry exercise out of the same book as last week, The Practice of Poetry,
and was, oddly enough, suggested by the same poet, Lee Upton. This
exercise was titled "Tabloid Tone Exercise," and the challenge was to
take a headline from a supermarket tabloid and write a serious poem
based on the headline.
Saint Catherine Laboure, d. 1876
decided to kill two birds with one stone and combine my poem somehow
with the day's saint, Alexander, a third century bishop and martyr.
Alexander spent a lot of time in prison and exile. He was condemned to
execution eventually for being a Christian, but the wild animals that
were supposed to tear him to pieces wouldn't cooperate. The book says,
"they refused to attack him." Instead, he was thrown back into prison,
where he died around 250 A.D.
Saint Maria Mazzarello, d. 1881
The headline I chose from the Weekly World News
( I used to have a subscription) was "Ancient Bones Tell Frightening
Story: Skull Speaks." If you didn't guess by the picture of Catherine of
Bologna a few days ago, I'm of a morbid inclination, and this headline
appealed to me on a few levels.
Saint Bernadette Soubirous, d. 1879
of my fascinations with saints is the age-old tradition of relics. When
holy men or women died in the past, their remains, in part or whole,
were much sought after. Often, a saint's head ended up in one place
while a saint's body ended up somewhere else. (It sounds gross, but stay
with me.) Eventually, a classification for these relics developed. A
first class relic is "a part of the saint (bone, hair, etc.) and the
instruments of Christ's passion." A second class relic is "something
owned by the saint or instruments of torture used against a martyr." A
third class relic is "something that has been touched to a 1st or 2nd
class relic. You can make your own 3rd class relic by touching an object
to a 1st or 2nd class relic, including the tomb of a saint." (You're
probably seeing where I'm headed with the poem by now.)
Blessed Imelda Lambertini, d. 1333
church in Pittsburgh houses the largest collection of relics outside of
the Vatican (some 4,000 to 5,000 items, including a full skeleton , a
few skulls, and some teeth.) The relics were gathered by a priest,
Suibertus Mollinger, who himself is on the road to sainthood, I believe.
He was the pastor of Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish. Father Mollinger
paid for the building of the original Saint Anthony's Chapel to display
the collection himself. Eventually, additions were made to the building,
which was officially dedicated on June 13, 1892.
Saint Vincent de Paul, d. 1660
the source material for the poem in today's post. Except for the
details about the life of Saint Alexander, the rest of the poem is
fictionalized-Father Cassius, Sacred Heart Parish, the eyes of Vincent
de Paul, talking skull, and all. If the poem offends you, I'm sorry.
That's not my intent. Please read on in the spirit in which I wrote the
following lines, with sick curiosity, a little reverence, and a lot of
good humor. I present to you my contribution to this week's Manly Man
Ancient Bones Tell Frightening Story: Skull Speaks
Father Cassius owned 1,012 relics,
Had a museum built at Sacred Heart Parish,
A marble hall to contain his ossuaries,
Tabernacles, monstrances, chalices,
Shoe boxes, cigar boxes, hat boxes.
Each held a relic from some holy body,
A fragment of sacred muscle, a chip
Of benevolent bone. He had the braid
Belonging to Mary-Magdalene Martinengo,
Long and dark as a Lenten novena;
Fidelis of Sigmaringen's pink tongue,
Gleaming with miraculous spit;
Ethelwald's ring of shriveled foreskin,
Reputed to cure urinary tract infections;
The big toe of Teresa of Avila, used
To dispel both headaches and athlete's foot;
Roch, AKA Rocco, represented by semen
On a robe which opened closed wombs,
Warded off impure thoughts and dreams;
Sharbel Makhluf's left lung, floating,
Delicate as an angel fish, in a glass bowl;
Vincent de Paul's donated eyes,
Prunes on a silver plate, serving the cause
Of glaucoma and cataracts in the poor;
The left breast of Veronica of Guiliani,
Supple and full as a cow's udder,
Invoked in time of drought, famine;
The pubic curls of Monegundis, folded
In tissue, saved for the balding world;
High up, in a box labeled "Alex,"
A skull, dark as polished onyx,
Slept on a bed of cotton and straw.
Some nights, as votive candles licked
The walls at vespers "amen,"
Father Cassius heard the skull
Open its tongueless jaws, sing
A psalm of prison and death,
Exile and chains, of Jerusalem,
Wild boars, panthers tamed,
The banishment of soul from skin.
The skull would wail, grind
Fractured teeth, weep
For its missing neck, vertebrae,
Scapula, ribs, ulna, femur,
Coccyx. The skull would mourn
Until lauds pink light in the sky,
Wanting to be complete, whole, one,
Like the body of Christ
Three days after the cross.
Confessions of Saint Marty