The Italian Cultural Institute is on Park Avenue between 68th and 69th Streets. Passing by on Friday, I noticed that the Institute is promoting the Marche region. In one of its upstairs galleries Raphael’s The Little Saint Catherine of Alexandra stands on lonely display. Raphael was a native son of Urbino, one of the Marche’s better known cities. That’s the tourist tie in, as if we needed any excuse to gaze at a superb painting of an angelic figure. It brought home to me why I’ll always be tied to Catholicism. The art and architecture have a hypnotic spell. Recently, a Jewish friend having spent several weeks in northern Italy, jokingly said that he’d spent so much time in Italian churches that he felt half Catholic.
Since I have one foot out the Catholic door and am always on the look out for a new religion, I asked an acquaintance why he had remained a Catholic and he said it was because he liked lost causes.
A Protestant friend told me that her son had married a Catholic and agreed to raise their children as Catholics. Protestant grandmother, her Protestant son and his Catholic wife attended their seven year old son’s first holy communion. The priest announced that only baptized Catholics could receive communion. In one stroke, he alienated the Protestant contingent and embarrassed the Catholic mother. Well done, spokesman of a dwindling church. The Protestants did something I would never have done, they took communion anyway. I guess that’s what it means to protest. Recently, Pope Francis criticized the Catholic Church for putting dogma before love. The priest didn’t get the message.
Catholicism is polytheistic.All those saints are minor deities. My mother, a woman without hope, prayed to St. Jude, patron saint of hopeless causes. In Padua, hometown of St. Anthony, there’s a church dedicated to him. At one of the chapels people post requests and leave offerings. The last time I was there someone had left her wedding dress.
Sant’Eustachio is a Roman church that honors a discredited saint. According to legend and to Wikipedia, prior to his conversion to Christianity, Eustace was a Roman general named Placidus, who served the emperor Trajan. While hunting a stag in Tivoli near Rome, Placidus saw a vision of a crucifix lodged between the stag’s antlers. He was immediately converted, had himself and his family baptized, and changed his name to Eustace. Like Job, Eustace suffered.
Part of Catholicism’s lure is the fairy tale + damnation quality. Anyone who loves opera, I say, is crypto-Catholic.
If you squint, you can see the stag with the cross between his antlers perched at the top of the church’s pediment.