If the Church is a hospital for sinners, then these saints are the foreign night-shift nurses whose name you can’t pronounce. They’re dedicated, they love you, and you can’t help but giggle every time you hear their name come over the PA system.
Much like my analogy, our spiritual lives would fall apart if these saints weren’t there to inspire us. Because despite the overwhelming urge to laugh every time we pray for their intercession, we have to admit that they love us more than we could ever imagine.
All you holy men and women, weirdly-named angels and saints of God, pray for us!
St. Hilarius ironically appears to be one of the holiest buzzkills in Church history. He was a pope, so he wrote encyclicals — but they were about discipline. He convoked a synod — to discuss hierarchical titles and property sales. He fought some heresies, which is cool, but the heresies weren’t even interesting. All told, I honestly would have had more fun listening to a pair of Dockers tell me about their food allergies than I did reading his biography. He was basically the Ordinary Time of people.
And yet…his name is Hilarius. The most coma-inducing saint in “Butler’s Lives of the Saints” is a homonym for something that causes unadulterated joy.
That, my friends, is truly hilarious.
In addition to coming devastatingly close to being named after a Pokemon, St. Polycarp was the bishop Symrna and an apostle of St. John the Evangelist. (Maybe I should have led with that?) Anyway, he was connected to just about every important person in the early Church. He even kissed St. Ignatius of Antioch‘s chains as the latter was led to his martyrdom. He was known throughout the ancient world for his love of Christ, hatred of heresy, and gentleness towards sinners.
His most endearing trait, though, was his sass. According to “The Golden Legend”, he once met a notorious heretic in the street and tried to brush by him. “Do you not know me?” asked the heretic. “Yes,” said St. Polycarp. “I know you as the first-born of Satan.” SASS.
The Smyrnian state officials began to persecute everyone who refused to worship the state gods. St. Polycarp refused (SASS), and was condemned to be burned to death. His persecutors wanted to nail him to the stake, but he told them not to bother. (SASS). So they set him on fire.
Then something miraculous happened. St. Polycarp didn’t burn (SASS). Instead, he began to glow like “bread baking,” “metal refined,” or “a Charmander evolving.” Realizing he was sassing them yet again by refusing to die, the soldiers stabbed him in the heart. That did the trick. However, the fountain of blood that poured out of him was strong enough to put out the fire. In other words, he sassed them in death.
Let this be a lesson to any pagan Roman procounsels reading this: Catholics always have the last sass.
3. St. James the Dismembered
St. James was a noble Persian from a Christian family. He was good friends with the prince of Persia (insert video game joke here), and soon fell into his buddy’s pagan ways. When he eventually reverted, the penances he gave himself were so harsh that the prince realized he must be a Christian (remember, this was back in the time of hair shirts and stylites). He charged St. James with being a “Nazarene” and sorcerer, and sentenced him to be cut to pieces until he died (like you do).
“The Golden Legend” then commences to give us a literal blow by blow account of St. James’ dismemberment. He cried out a prayer after every digit was amputated, and the resulting prose is truly a Catholic cultural treasure.
Here are some of my favorite quotes:
“Go, third toe, to your fellow toes, and as the grain of wheat bears much fruit, so you at the last day will rest with your companions.”
“Little toe, be comforted, because the big and the little will arise again, and not a hair of the head will perish!”
“Fingers, Lord, I have none to hold out to you, nor hands to extend to you; my feet are cut off and my knees demolished, so that I cannot kneel to you.”
He said that last one while looking at a pile of 27 of his own body parts. I have broken the Second Commandment over a paper cut. Let’s all learn from his story, shall we?
Finally, after eight hours of this slasher film-worthy torture, his executioners cut off his head. He is the patron saint of lost vocations, which feels vaguely threatening if you think about it too much.
4. Saint Olav the Fat
I really assumed his story couldn’t be better than his name, but I was wrong. Let’s start with the fact he was a Viking (seriously). Then let’s move on to his pedigree as a descendent of King Harald Fairhair, meaning he was a pale, flaxen, princely mound of flesh who also wore horns on his head. He was like a ye olde Norwegian prince version of Jim Gaffigan.
St. the Fat was basically always fighting someone in a misguided attempted to serve the Church. He later brought missionaries to Norway to evangelize his people, but got impatient and tried to force them to love Jesus. The people apparently would have preferred a more pastoral approach, as they revolted and forced him to flee to Russia. Some people might have taken this opportunity to re-evaluate their lives and make some changes. St. the Fat gathered troops and stormed Norway. Many parts, one body.
His plan failed when he was killed in battle. The Norwegians gathered around the massive crater that presumably formed when his seemingly infinite girth hit the earth. “Perhaps we misjudged him,” they mused. “Perhaps his multitude of varicose veins were only evidence of his enormous heart.”* So they made him a champion of national independence and a martyr. His battle axe is still in the Norwegian coat of arms.
If that doesn’t make you proud of your Catholic heritage, I honestly don’t know what will.
*Quotes may be bald-faced lies. Except for the St. James dismemberment ones—I cannot stress enough that those are actually real.