Saint Cassian pray for us

Everyone knows that today is the Feast of Saint Hippolytus (I am joking); who, for his confession of the Faith, was dragged by wild horses. But not everyone appreciates that we also commemorate Saint Cassian, schoolmaster at Immola, disliked by his idol-worshiping boys. They put him to death by piercing, with their styluses. It was “long-drawn-out,” as the Roman Martyrology explains, with possibly unintended drollness.

Therefore he became the patron of — guess? — stenographers. As a (formerly) ink-stained wretch myself, who in his youth disliked several teachers, the story makes perfect sense to me. I, too, once worshiped idols. All the schoolboys did.

Do I believe it? Was Cassian actually slain in this way? I have no reason to doubt it. Truth is often stranger than fiction, and the whole of Christendom was founded on events the first listeners disbelieved. The Resurrection wasn’t plausible to them.

The idea of holy martyrdom itself is, today, somewhere out of reach. A little meejah tickle suggests, “Maybe he deserved it.” We want to know exactly what Cassian said to make his students so angry. Conditions during the Roman Persecution were, for people unexposed to history, quite unimaginable. Even conditions during Mao’s Cultural Revolution — when students also executed their teachers — are unknown to them. Everything becomes a mystery, to the thoroughly uneducated.

In a recent missal a man now styled Saint Cassian of Tangier, has been casually shifted to December. The backstory is also changed, to that of another Cassian in the Martyrology. The saint is identified as a court recorder, who at the pronouncement of a death sentence throws down his pen and declares, “I, too, am a Christian.” He is immediately arrested, and gets to share the martyrdom of his mentor. This is more plausible, for moderns, I suppose. But still, not plausible at all.

The latest version has Cassian of Tangier merely protesting the excessive use of the death penalty.

Glib plausibility is what we worship, today.

According to some poll, just published, 70 percent of living, nominal Catholics in the Natted States simply do not believe in the Real Presence. My first thought was, “No wonder they don’t go to church.”

But John Hirschauer, receiving this news, reminds us that some of them do. He recounts the reduction of the Mass, since Vatican II, to something glib, prosaic, tedious and painful. But let’s not go through the de-Catholicization of Holy Church again, it’s too depressing. Have Catholics been leaving the Church?

Often it looks more as if the Church has been leaving them. Many weren’t even told the doctrine, before they parted ways.

But give the last word to Mahatma Gandhi:

“If Catholics really believed that God Himself were present in the Eucharist, they would crawl towards the altar on their stomachs.”