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The Symbolism Of Vestments And The Investments In Saints

One of the things which has been on my mind lately is the use of symbolism within the JPII/Benedict XVI papacies. Benedict seems to be making his symbolic statements with Liturgical ritual and vestments.  It’s now gotten to the point where L’Osservatore Romano has taken to apologizing and explaining for this penchant of Benedict’s. He’s not being ostentatious, He’s dressing in Christ.
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Wearing ornate liturgical vestments symbolizes the spiritual transformation of the person wearing the clothes, not his love of fashion, the Vatican newspaper said. “The priest does not choose such ornaments because of an aesthetic vice — he does it to put on the new clothes of Christ,” said an article in the June 26,  2008 edition of L’Osservatore Romano. Liturgical vestments represent “dressing oneself anew in Christ” in which the priest “transcends his identity to become someone else,” to become one with Christ through a process of interior transformation and inner renewal, it said.
Now I know why I tend to dress in baggy older clothes.  Here all along I thought it was because I had no reason to wear any other kind.  Now I know it reflects my interior transformation and inner renewal.
John Paul II made the most of his statements with his Saint factory and it’s quite a statement. 438 of them including the likes of Pius IX — he who epitomized antisemitism in the guise of ‘caring for their souls’ and giving us the infallibility doctrine of Vatican I which justified all of his anti semitic leanings.  John Paul followed St Pius IX with St  Jose Maria Escriva whose legacy is Opus Dei and all it’s fascist connections and secrecy.  He also gave us Cardinal Stepanic,  whose performance in World War II was abysmal.   There is pretty credible evidence that he rooted on his Archdiocesan Franciscans in their various campaigns supporting the Nazi genocide.

Each of these saints is a political statement underlining the fact that there are certain elements within the Church which certainly see themselves and their understanding of humanity as more divinely inspired than other groups of humanity.

I think more attention needs to be given to JPII’s saint factory before we add JPII to the ranks of saints. One of the changes he made in order to get the factory to full production was to remove the office of Devil’s Advocate. This one move pretty much took away any meaningful neutral examination of the life of a given person.

The other thing he did with some frequency was to actively interfere in the process. The most glaring examples were to fast track Mother Teresa and then demand that the cause for Bishop Oscar Romero not be opened until fifty years had passed. That was later rescinded to twenty five years, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that Bishop Romero and Mother Teresa were on the opposite sides of the political spectrum.

Personally, I think moving forward on both JPII and Mother Teresa should be approached with caution. There are skeletons in both their closets which need examining and both of them are products of a purposeful myth making which overlooks some of their less saintly attributes.

For instance, in Mother Teresa’s case, according to Christopher Hitchen’s book “The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa In Theory and Practice”, her order had 50 million dollars in one New York City account at the same time her religious and lay apostolate working in the field was reusing needles because they had no money. Stories about the true state of affairs in her orphanages are reminiscent of Romania, and she personally was not big on the concept of alleviating pain in terminal patients with palliatives. She believed our lot in life was to suffer and share in Jesus’s suffering. I guess that’s all right if that’s what you believe, but to have it forced on you is an entirely different matter. This reluctance to administer pain medication and buy needles was a real issue for medical volunteers working in her facilities.

At the same time that Bishop Romero was being gunned down in El Salvador, Mother Teresa was gushing over the likes of Papa Doc Duvalier and castigating liberation theology, while not looking too closely at where her large donations were coming from or how much of this money was being diverted to the Vatican.  She even went so far as to write to the California Superior Court during the criminal trial of Charles Keating.  Keating was the biggest fish caught in the Savings and Loan debacle during the Reagan presidency and was one of Mother Teresa’s largest donors.  The DA in the case wrote her back and explained the money she received was stolen property and that she should return as much as she could.  He received no response. We are talking millions from Mr. Keating that he stole from an estimated 117,000 innocent Americans.

I doubt many of her other donors would have been happy knowing that the money they thought was going to her missions was actually going to JPII and his coffers. She did get the abortion issue right, even if she pretty much missed the boat on social justice issues and so the saint factory pushes her along, virtually unscrutinized.

JP II’s legacy is just as mixed and I doubt we’ll ever know the full extent of the Vatican’s complicity in certain CIA projects, especially in Central and South America. We know he was acting in concert with the CIA in Poland.  Being of Polish descent, I constantly give him kudos for being instrumental in ending communism, but at the same time, he was also supporting a lot of right wing fascist dictatorships in the third world whose legacies are nothing to write home to Jesus about. It looks to me like one couldn’t get too far out on the right wing of things for his tastes.  I’m not sure that qualifies him for sainthood.

What I am sure of is that in both the cases of John Paul II and Mother Teresa their mythical reputations are determining the morality of their actions.  The existence of the Devil’s Advocate was to insure just the opposite—that a person’s actions would decide the legitimacy of their myth.

Both Mother Teresa and JP II benefit from the myth making of the media to such an extent that the media has taken the myth they helped create for fact.  No mainstream publication has ever questioned or asked for any accounting of the money donated to Mother Teresa’s order nor have they truly investigated JP II’s handling of the Vatican bank even after all the scandal.

That’s why I fully suspect both will be canonized.  Their individual myths are too great an advertising opportunity for the Vatican to pass up.  Thank you St. Escriva.

Someday maybe Bishop Romero will get his due as well, but I think we’ll have to wait for a different kind of papacy.  In the meantime sainthood seems reserved for those on the right path and especially those who maintained poverty while salting away millions.  Rest assured Benedict will be dressed in pure spiritual transcendence should he canonize either one of them.

8 Responses

  1. Colleen,
    Excellent article. I agree that there are many problems with some of the beatified and canonized in the last 30 years or so. Fortunately, there are several saints and blesseds from this time who really deserve the title.

    May I suggest a correction? The Opus Dei founder was José María Escrivá. I wouldn’t want to insult any Echeverrías by tainting them with a crypto-Fascist brush. Thanks.

    David

  2. Thanks for the correction David. You are absolutely correct and I extend my sincere apologies to any Echeverrias who might have taken offense.

  3. Thanks. This is an honest account of the lives of the “saints” who were not really saints, but good for the PR wing of the Church to promote as such. After all, these same ones will “protect the faith” and will even protect pedophiles and thieves at the same time. Their idea of saint is revealing. So, if one believes such ones who were not fully moral are saints and they pray to them with love and adoration, they are divining something very false and caught up in a false notion provided by the false PR of the Vatican politicos of the right wing.

    As for PB dressing up in his fancy costumes and saying “he does it to put on the new clothes of Christ” all I can say is that PB’s idea of what Christ would wear is very expensive & worldly for a supposed man of humility, and I doubt Christ would wear such clothes, as He certainly did not ever. I am wondering where in the Bible did Jesus say to “put on the clothes of Christ?”

    I recently heard that the Pope said that we “should change our lifestyle.” What a hypocritical thing to say while he parades around in medieval garb and lives in a fancy castle & is waited on hand and foot. LOL!! But it’s really not funny when you think about the fact that people are struggling to survive and he says “we should change our lifestyle.” Gag. Choke. Sickening. It’s a demonstration of false faith. Guess that means I should change my wardrobe to look like a medieval princess. Great idea!!! It will show the world how much my interior soul is closer to Christ!!! Imagine that!!! ;-)

    • The need for humility is not lost on Pope Benedict. He excoriated American nuns for wearing clothing that abandoned the spirit of poverty. To me most interesting is the requirement that married women wear black for an audience, publicly mourning their loss of virginity.

      • Hi Frannie. Nice to see you here.

        PB should be named PBXVI the Great Hypocrite.

  4. The real purpose of clerical garb is to separate clerics from other humans. One should always be suspicious of such behaviour, since it has nothing to do with being close to Jesus or representing Jesus to other humans. It’s all about personal elevation.

    • I agree, Patrick. I also find it fascinating how closely clerical garb, especially that of the higher ranks, closely matches medieval royal attire. See, for instance, the pictures I posted at Queering the Church, as “Holy Roman Empire” .

  5. Religion has delusions of relevance. You and the pope deserve each other.

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