Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why are saints considered luxurious?

I've often wondered this: why do we associate saints' names with luxury? I was just looking at an advertisement in the NY Times for the St. Regis Hotel and they are offering timeshare opportunities. The place, of course, is extraordinarily luxurious. Along with the timeshare, you get your own butler and all the service money can buy.

But who was St. Regis? Actually, the closest I came to finding a St. Regis was St. John Francis Regis, a French Jesuit of the 17th century. He was a zealous priest who especially went in search of women of the night. He was, of course, not looking for his own pleasure, but working to bring them back to the Lord. He successfully converted many of them (oftentimes at his own peril as jealous johns and pernicious pimps threatened his life on more than one occasion) and even established centers where they could have honest employment.

He was zealous in his own mortification. He always slept on the bare floor and his consistent supper was a bowl of milk and some fruit. That certainly doesn't go along with my idea of luxury.

In St. Paul, Minnesota, the most luxurious hotel is The St. Paul. While it's not quite the St. Regis, it would certainly pass as a high-class place.

But who was St. Paul? Well, we know him as one zealous for the Gospel, one who was beaten, whipped, run out of town on more than one occasion, shipwrecked, spending a day and a night adrift on the open sea, left for dead, constantly on the move until he was imprisoned, etc. Being that the City of St. Paul was at one time named Pig's Eye, it's easy to see why a hotel would prefer a saint's name over the porker moniker.

But I ask my question again -- why do we associate saints with luxury? Besides the royal saints, no saint that I know of was a person of luxury. And even the royals did penance on a regular basis and provided for the poor out of their own means. For instance, after St. Elizabeth of Hungary's husband died, she donned the simple garments of a Franciscan tertiary and gave away her own money to care for the poor in hospitals and to give them food.

In other words, being a saint doesn't entail luxury. "The birds have nests, the foxes have lairs, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head," Jesus told someone who wanted to follow Him. He also said, "Take up your cross and follow in My footsteps." The last I checked, the cross wasn't exactly a place of sumptuous recreation.

It's hard to see the St. Regis offering their customers bare wooden floors with barely heated rooms as an option. And I don't think they or The St. Paul will open their doors to the poor and homeless who, no doubt, wander the streets just outside their doors. In fact, The St. Paul is across the street from Rice Park, where many homeless congregate during the day and night. It would require a direct intervention from God for the owner to even think about opening its doors to one of them.

I wonder if this is a Catholic doing? Could it be that since our great cathedrals are named after saints and the world considers them to be places of luxury, that they then feel free to name luxury hotels after them? Or perhaps it comes from innkeepers in old Catholic countries naming inns after saints?

Whatever the way it happened, in my mind it makes for a confusing situation. Any thoughts?