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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

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.

That's all.

"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.


Jennifer said...

I love this! Wonderful perspective :)

Janelle said...

Such a splendid post. Happy St. Gertrude's Day!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I like St Gertrude. As a cat lover, how can I not?

We did make soda bread today. As a homeschooling project, after reading about St Patrick's life and coloring the Irish flag. No dyed pancakes or oatmeal here, though.

Jane said...

They didn't have any shamrock shakes at my McDonald's today. I had to settle for ordinary chocolate.

Unknown said...

I appreciate your efforts in reviving the local McDonald's economy.
Hope you all had a lovely day of it despite the corned beef:>)

Anonymous said...

I made Irish Beer bread today, with Guiness beer, no less. Most of my family actually liked it. My children surprised me by liking the cabbage, too! I think this feast is popular because the Irish wanted to celebrate their success in America, after pretty tough times in Ireland (and America for a while). And as you point out, it's not as if the food is just inherently good, like Italian. The Italians don't need to set a day aside to make us appreciate their food!

Oh, well, at least no one gave you a bag of "Leprechaun Poop." (That would be green m&ms, skittles, tic-tacs, etc. in a bag with a corny poem attached.)


Claudia said...

I hope you did not have to pay extra to view the film. When I pay for extras I want to get some answers, not more questions.

I have never heard of St. Gertrude of Nivelles, maybe my cats have heard of her. Second thought, I better google her.

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Paul said...

Wonderful and humorous. My pet peeve of the day was with the kids Public School. They insist on "Celebrating" St. Patrick's Day! But of course they can't say or do anything relevant to St. Patrick himself! Nor can they get the kids drunk or serve Corned Beef (One class did make Soda Bread).

So .....The make it all about Leprechauns!!!!! %&$&%@# A mostly harmless traditions - But isn't it Pagan?? So they celebrate St. Patrick's day with a Pagan Custom!

Anonymous said...

I'm married to an Irishman and lived in Ireland for a few years. The difference between St. Patrick's Day in Ireland vs the U.S. is huge.
In Ireland, it's a Holy Day. Everything is closed, no school, you go to mass, ect...and of course, the drinking. But never green beer!
Also, most Irish folk I know have never heard of corned beef, or "soda bread" for that matter. Perhaps it depends on what county you are from. Irish food in Ireland is actually pretty good. It's the Yanks that have ruined everything.

Anonymous said...

The beer is to get the taste of the corned beef and cabbage out of your mouth.

I suspect a green milkshake would only make it worse.

robkroese said...

I think a lot of art is like that. Actually, a lot of everything is like that. People pick one or two examples of everything, because it's easier to process. Gainsborough became the "Blue Boy" guy, and in 50 years Led Zeppelin will be the Stairway to Heaven guys. And still nobody will understand why Paris Hilton is famous.

Anonymous said...

Great blog, Sister! I'm sending mine to you, as well.

As an animal advocate and Catholic I should have known that St. Gertrude was the patron saint of cats but I didn't! I'm going to ask her to help my cat Oliver! My new German Shepherd that I rescued from "the pound" when she was nearly dead, has completely recovered and she's giving Oliver a very rough time!! I want them to get along...and Ollie (aka: Ollie Tamale, Mr. Tamale) is lonely because he's afraid to come around her and she' always with me.


eglantinemuse said...

Great Post - Thanks!!!

Anonymous said...

I love beef. It is delicious every time I have it. Baked, boiled, fried or smothered in gravy. Fabulous.
But cabbage, Sister? How do you choke that stuff down? Yuck.

KimK said...

I know, it's pretty gross how most Americans celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Our parish is St. Patrick's, and yes, we have the corned beef and cabbage, but we also have educational programs on his life and on his contributions to Western civilization, Eucharistic Adoration, and, of course, a huge and well-attended Mass.

Did you know that if St. Patrick hadn't brought Christianity and literacy to Ireland, the Dark Ages might have lasted another 500 years? Documents and scholarship survived in Irish monasteries while they were pretty well destroyed throughout the rest of Europe. That's a good reason to celebrate him, even if you're not Irish.

Jeanne G said...

Happy St. Patrick's, St. Gertrude's, St. Joseph's... oh shoot - happy Saints days.

I'm of Irish descent - maybe you need the gene to love the boiled dinner and soda bread? I also love Guinness and Jameson. And the claddagh dancing and Irish songs. And Irish cuisine is delicious - just returned from the Emerald Isle and the food was fabulous!

Blessings to you Sister. Keep us laughing!


Anonymous said...

The reason the Blue Boy painting became famous was because he painted it in response to another artist claiming that blue should only be used as an accent for a painting and not as a subject. The 'Blue Boy' was a retort to that claim. It's a bit sad that the people teaching you about this didn't even know that.

It's like saying 'Picasso painted this man in blue because he felt like it.' when really he was trying to show emotion within people by their reaction to colors.

That 'art scholar' should be ashamed- because I'm only so many years old and I know this just by reading!

Anonymous said...

-and another comment. Even stranger, 'Pinkie' is by Thomas Lawrence while 'Blue Boy' is by Thomas Gainsborough! Strange stuff, isn't it?