“Well, well—it’s really tremendous news,” I told Lady, “since it now develops that I can become a saint. Of course, I may have to systemize a thing or two: just because I always give $5 to Gail, every time I see her, doesn’t really count. Oh, the buck I give to the man trying to get a new liver for his sister—that’s by the wayside, too. No, I really have to start an orphanage, and then a shelter for the dying destitute. Which, by the way, is exactly what she called it, and imagine what that must have felt like, to anyone being taken to it! I mean, many people must have felt that it was just their life: they were born into the slums of Calcutta—sorry, that’s Kolkata, or something or other else now—and they lived in the slums of Calcutta.”
“There’s actually something nice about it, in the way that she refuses to sugarcoat it. She could, I suppose have come up with something way more euphemistic, or even poetic: The Fading Light Shelter for those in the Twilight of Life! You know, something Evelyn Waugh might have come put with….”
“Is it the long weekend, Marc? Because really, I have no idea…”
“Well, you must have seen the news,” I told her. “And for once, I agree with this very disagreeable pope: I will indeed have trouble referring to her as St. Teresa. Actually, even calling her “Mother” Teresa is a stretch. Even before Christopher Hitchens trashed her, I thought she was a phony….”
“What! Mother Teresa?”
“Well, Hitchens does have a point, though given that he made his atheism into his religion, it might have been more interesting if he had adulated Mother Teresa. But she never really did anything with the destitute dying other than round ‘em up, give them a roof over their head, feed them, dispense the occasional aspirin or two, and confess them before they died. There was the woman’s room—holding fifty or sixty cots placed next to each other in long rows. The men’s room-sorry if it has a lavoratorial sound to it—that was just the same. And oddly, it was remarkably tidy. Have you ever been in a hospital room? For some reason, they have an uncanny ability to clutter up with things: wash basins, urinals, bedpans, books, flowers, cards from people to cheap to send flowers….you know, all that stuff! But as you can see in the video below, the wards are utterly uncluttered. Beautiful, in a Zen sort of way. Until you realize that nobody had, or perhaps was allowed to have, anything. So there you were, destitute and dying in Calcutta, India, and all you had was your cot, and your death awaiting you….”
“But surely she must have helped….”
“Well, she did. I mean, if it were a choice between dying in the Calcutta gutter or in the Home for the Destitute Dying, of course I’d take the home. Especially since I’d know that I wouldn’t have to see her: she’d be off hobnobbing with Margaret Thatcher, and getting the US Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan. Wonderful, how much we know about freedom, isn’t it?”
“But there she was, this pious, hunched-over figure….”
“You know, I often wonder what a real saint would be like, if I were to meet one. And I think, really, that he or she would be utterly impossible. Imagine having that much God in you! You would—however hard the saint tried to hide it—feel completely worthless in comparison. And I think that a saint would have to have huge amounts of anger. I mean, how could they help it? If I were a saint in Calcutta, I’d be snorting fire and brimstone out of every orifice from dawn till dusk. How can any society treat its members in such a fashion? And the first rich person I came across, I’d take him by arm and lead him down the worst alley of the slum. I’d show him every boil and wound and broken bone, and I’d demand to know: how could he, a Christian, live with himself? And what was he going to do about it? In short, I think most saints would be total pains in the ass….”
“Well, didn’t she shake down more than a few people and organizations? I mean, she did win the Nobel Prize, which must have been a pretty penny….”
“It was,” I told her, “but nothing got much better for the destitute dying. I mean, she could have invested in those ugly screens, so that the dying could have done so in relative private. But no, she plowed the money back into establishing more missions in more countries. Interesting question, though—is it better to establish a lot of missions with minimal care all over the world, or focus on only a few, but have top-notch facilities? Well, well, fodder for philosophers, if not theologians….”
“Well, I don’t think you’re quite on the pathway to sainthood,” said Lady, “though you are a good person. And by no means a pain in the ass….”
“Well, I tell you that I can be a saint because my spiritual life exactly mirrors dear Mother Teresa. Which is to say, that neither of us had one. Or rather, she had one, but do you know the amazing thing about our day and age? It’s all, completely all, about marketing. Because probably only one atheist in ten know the real truth about Mother Teresa. And only one in a hundred Catholics know, as well.”
“Why would more atheists know than Catholics?”
“Studies show,” I told her, “that atheists tend to do better on tests of religious knowledge than believers. And that may be true, since I scored 29 out of 30 on the last one I took, by the Pew Foundation. Funny name, when you think of it….”
“OK—so what’s all this about?”
“Well, for the last 25 years of her life, Mother Teresa was in a state of spiritual dryness. She no longer felt the presence of God. She said stuff like this:”
I utter words of Community prayers–and try my utmost to get out of every word the sweetness it has to give–But my prayer of union is not there any longer–I no longer pray.
Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself–for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work.'
“Interesting, isn’t it,” I told her. “You have to wonder: she reported that Jesus had spoken to her. Here she is about it:”
You are I know the most incapable person–weak and sinful but just because you are that–I want to use You for My glory. Wilt thou refuse?
“Anyway, you can be sure that’s the real deal, because all of that archaic usage. Which is why, when I receive the message, ‘thou art bidden, most unclean and sinning of men, to bide among the presence of Santana, there to beg, Unholy Wretch, two chocolate cookies’…well, what do I do? I’m right there, reporting the message to Santana. Of course, he’s gotten a message, too….”
“And that is?”
“What! For two cookies???”
“Plus the coffee….”
“Well, back to Mother Teresa…”
“You know, I really wonder whether she isn’t a hell of a lot more interesting than we give her credit for. Because the saintly figure does sort of induce the dry heaves. But I think she knew that she had fucked up. She was going around and sucking up to one repressive regime after the other: she got down to Haiti and told the Duvaliers that they were peaches! She spent 25 years becoming a brand name, and the more time she spent at it, the more Jesus and God receded. Interesting to think: if she had stayed a poor nun, ministering to the sick and dying in obscurity, would she have suffered the spiritual desert she was lost in, the last third of her life? And which would have been better, to have died in obscurity but spiritually fulfilled, or to have died having raised millions of dollars for the poor? And spiritually unfulfilled? More fodder for philosophers….”
“How do we know she died spiritually dead,” asked Lady. “Maybe, in the end, she found His presence once more.”
“Who knows,” I told her. “Anyway, I think you and I should do a joint venture into sainthood. You can contribute, as you already do, the site. Norman is sitting, by the way, on a different chair in the Sala Poética, but he’s still very much asleep. So you are sheltering the homeless, and providing every bit as much material goods as Mother Teresa. True, it’s a chair and not a cot, but it’s a very nice chair!”
“Wonderful,” said Lady. “And you? What’s your contribution to the whole affair?”
“Spiritual dryness,” I told her. “And I’ve got Mother Teresa beat like a rug on spring cleaning! Twenty-five years? Hah! I’ve got half a century!”
“I’m writing to the pope,” I told her, “since after all, as he said so famously, who is he to judge? Well, I thought, of course, that the pope was the person to judge. But if he’s going to be so laissez-faire about homosexuality, well, he can be the same way with sainthood! So we’re shoo-ins! Bam, the only twin saints in history! Saints Lady and Marc. Though, since I thought of the idea, I am pressing for Saints Marc and Lady.”
“You seem to have forgotten,” she told me, “that we’re going to have to cook up two miracles. Oh, and we’re supposed to have to be dead ten years before any of this can happen, though the last three popes have cheated on that. Anyway, who wants to be dead before being declared a saint? And I can’t think of a possible miracle we could do.”
“Easy,” I told her. “Every Tuesday night is a miracle. Somebody gets up, heart racing, palms sweating, mouth dry. And they recite their poetry. Good, bad—who knows? But it touches somebody’s heart, and they applaud, and the poet sits back down. Heart still pounding, but changed. Perhaps miraculously…..”
“And the second miracle?”
I think for a moment.
Does she know?
I tell her.
“That God might speak to me!”