By Catherine Wagley
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These days, it's easier to be declared a saint than it used to be -- as my status among the select goes to show. All you need do is log onto the First Cyber Church of the Millennium, or Sainthood.com (www.sainthood.com), and you can choose from a variety of canonical options designed to make sanctity accessible to all. The inspiration of two former Marine Corps pilots, Bob Schmitt and George Proudfoot, Saint hood.com offers, for the righteous price of $24.95, a Proclamation of Sainthood Certificate ($34.95 if you want to customize it with your photograph). An additional $5 gets you an online "Cyber Shrine." It's a pretty good deal when you consider the alternatives, which, as a quick visit to the Vatican's Web site (www.vatican.va) makes clear, are really no alternative at all. For the Holy Roman Church to saint you, not only must you be Catholic (which I'm not), but a five-years-dead Catholic. Then you have to prove your faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude -- attributes I possess in short supply. Even if you finesse these qualifications, you're still responsible for two miracles, both manifested (here's the tricky part) from beyond the grave. Assuming, for argument's sake, that such a thing is possible, why go through the process if you can't enjoy the fruits of your labor? Or, in the immortal words of Sainthood.com's home page, "Obviously, several well established religions have elaborate and thorough procedures for creating real saints and our newly created category of 'Cyber Saints' should not be confused with any real saints. But, let's face it, while other saint creating bodies have their standards and patient processes, cyberspace is big enough for a lighter, faster sainthood! And this is where it all starts."
At first glance, the notion of a lighter, faster sainthood seems like little more than sacrilegious jesting, ã which, to be sure, is part of the point. Even Schmitt acknowledges this; the product of 16 years of Catholic education, including four at Notre Dame, he goes by the cybersobriquet Bishop Bob of Burbank, MvP (Most Virtual Prelate). And the day we meet, he's carrying -- in addition to my "Proclamation of Sainthood" -- a framed declaration canonizing Jay Leno, with whom he shares an obsession with cars. Still, for all the site's low-key irreverence, Schmitt insists, the idea isn't to poke fun at sainthood, exactly, but to re-imagine it as an avenue of connection, a way for people to share part of themselves. In that sense, it's less a cynical than a sentimental process, with friends and lovers sanctifying each other to express intangible emotions, which makes the concept funny and moving all at once. "Initially," Schmitt says, "we were concerned about how people might take this, but they seem to understand it in the lighthearted way it's meant." Of the "Cyber Saints" enshrined thus far, 75 percent have been canonized with what Schmitt calls "genuine feeling," including one couple who nominated the husband's father -- because, at 92, he's the ultimate man-who-has-everything.
The question, of course, is what we are to make of this, whether we choose to see it as a novelty (which, on the most basic level, it is), or try to read it as something more profound. The site itself offers few clues other than ordering information and some guidelines on the canonization process; there's no cybercathedral for visitors to "walk" through, although Schmitt is looking into 3-D Web technology with the idea of constructing such an environment. You can't see the shrines or read a list of saints, since, in the interest of privacy, that information is limited to the sanctified alone. Yet as any great saint -- hell, as I -- will tell you, the path to holiness is individual. It's an easy thing to laugh about, but I can't help thinking that even joking about sainthood puts us in proximity to the ineffable, and never more than when the joke involves ourselves. What sainthood offers, after all, is really just the illusion of authority, which in turn allows us a momentary whisper of immunity to, or absolution from, the ambiguities of daily life. And isn't that what we all want, especially now, when any semblance of the absolute has deserted us? By demystifying sainthood, Sainthood.com suggests a way for us to find it, if only by making light of the entire endeavor, which adds up to its own kind of authority in the end.
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