Tuesday, March 17, 2009
The Green Boy
I'm glad St. Patrick's Day happens during Lent. It is probably my least favorite holiday, a terrible excuse of a tribute to a great saint. What an opportunity for suffering! For me.
I have never been able to eat corned beef and cabbage and even pretend I like it. I'm okay with boiled potatoes. It's pretty hard to ruin a potato once salt and butter gets involved.
On the one hand, I have a fabulous opportunity to suffer by having corned beef and cabbage, possibly skipping the cabbage, because I actually like that, and some old boiled potato with no butter or salt. Plah.
On the other hand, it is the feast day of a great saint. But then every single day in the Catholic church is the life of a great saint. Maybe not a famous saint, but aren't all saints, by definition, great? Why are some saints so richly celebrated?
I'm going to digress now and tell you a story about something that happened to me. A few years ago I visited the Huntington Library in Pasadena. They have a big collection there of Gainsborough, including his famous "Blue Boy". If you like, before you go into the Gainsborough gallery, you can view a little film about the "Blue Boy". Some sort of art expert comes on and explains some things about the painting.
He begins by asking the question, "Why is this painting so famous?" He asks this because Gainsborough did lots of portraits of people and the "Blue Boy" is just another one of his portraits, really. He has the "Pinkie" and dozens of ladies and gentlemen posing with their King Charles spaniels. Why did the "Blue Boy" becomes so celebrated?
The art fellow goes on to explain that the "Blue Boy" wasn't really a portrait that someone paid for. It was rather a kind of calling card for the type of work that Gainsborough did. Gainsborough had the blue suit the child in the painting wears. The painting is to show you how your child would look if Gainsborough did your child's portrait. Your child would 'borrow' the blue suit and pose and come out looking more or less like this child. The child in the painting is one of the little neighbor boys. Gainsborough borrowed the child and you could borrow the suit.
"So why this painting and not many others or even a few others?" the art fellow posits. "We don't know."
What? Are you kidding me? I just sat through your whole film to see why and you don't know? Excuse me, mister art expert, isn't that your entire job? Why one painting and not the other?
I'm surprised I didn't shout at the screen like people at a horror movie. "Oh no, you didn't!" I was so upset I could barely enjoy the art. It wasn't even Lent.
Why St. Patrick and not St. Jan Sarkander? It's St. Jan Sarkander's feast day, too, and also St. Gertrude of Nevilles (the patron saint of cat lovers) and St. Joseph of Arimathea. I don't see anyone wearing cat suits or giving out free graves.
In the Catholic church, saints are all about you. People become saints because living people venerate them and petition the Vatican for the person's sainthood. People pray for the saints intercession and come forward with miracles. It's a grass roots kind of thing.
I did find the answer to 'why the "Blue Boy"?' In the end, the answer is the same for the "Blue Boy" as it is for St. Patrick. For some reason, everyone likes it the best. St. Patrick has the entire population of Ireland behind him, green beer, leprechauns and good luck charms (which is against Catholic teaching, by the way). He has a parade in New York and Chicago. He has a whole river turned green. He has metallic paper hats and pipe cleaner shamrocks and free shots. He has a Shamrock Shake at McDonald's.
And a lot of people actually love corned beef and cabbage. And that horrible soda bread.
The Irish are not known for their cuisine.
For today, while I'm wearing my pipe cleaner shamrock and choking down my corned beef, I think I may trudge down to McDonald's and split a Shamrock Shake with Sister St. Aloysius. Sister Mary Fiacre can have a whole one to herself.
I'll offer up by walk to McDonald's to the Poor Souls in Purgatory, in honor of St. Gertrude.