Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Saint Sernin

Toulouse is the only city in France I've ever really got to know.  Indeed the more I got to know it, the less "french" it seemed.  Maybe "french" only exists in the imagination, maybe once you get to know anywhere in France it is just like anywhere else and all that near mythical "frenchness" vanishes. There is something about the French and France that is in love with itself and apart from the Russians (whom they seem to get on very well with) I have never met people with such belief in themselves.  It is a type of pride I quite like, but simply don't ask me to buy into the reality of their superiority in cuisine, culture, language and sex. I could never shake it off in Paris, and I found Paris claustrophobic, self-obsessed, rude, arrogant and empty as a result.  Toulouse isn't charged like that, it just gets on with being an important regional city and its food and culture are nothing to write home about.  It is a city, and it gets on with being one without any mystique.

Today is the feast of St Saturnius, the martyred first Bishop of Toulouse, (+257AD).  The last time I was at the basilica dedicated to him, I was sat outside with a good friend downing a diet coke, it was a few years ago. She is a religious sister from Pondicherry, outwardly gloriously un-pious and this being France, I looked more like a professed religious sister than she did.  I can look dour and drab and always wear a cross. She was in a brightly coloured shalwar kameez. We were trying to work out what it was that God wanted from us.  Why had she become a religious sister in Pondicherry to find herself in France getting shouted at by elderly French sisters for never doing anything right? Why was God agreeing with the wishes of my dying husband that I should re-marry when I'm hardly a prize catch?  Yet that is the calling I have had and the approach God desired I take to become a wife again involved such passivity, chastity and modesty, 'modern man' would pull away from any sense that we may actually be soul mates because I didn't respond in a modern way to his advances. He'd chase something easier. I puzzled him too much, there was no manual to explain me. Besides why would 'modern man' want a skinny bint, past her prime with poor health and too many brains? That day in late summer in Toulouse was full of questions with no answers.  Perhaps I was just in training and had not yet found the match God wanted for me.  Perhaps my friend was destined for something better, once she learnt to curb her mobile phone use and her daydreaming.  We were both well aware of our own faults.

God's ways and desires were puzzling us greatly. We hadn't got our wires crossed, we were trying to follow our vocations, there was a gradual getting closer to God and a growing sense of peace in the process. Our paths were real and right.  But they were also frustrating.

Nothing changes.

Dear Saint Sernin does seem to have a message for me today.  He never envisaged being tied to a bull that had been meant for pagan sacrifice and dragged through the streets of Toulouse till his brains and blood were spattered all point of the compass.

But isn't that the way of the Christian, at least metaphorically, if not literally? We get tied to the raging bull of the world and it will destroy us, but in the process little bits of us will be left here and there, like blessings, working who knows what miracles. bringing who knows what lights into the lives of others? Well, that is how we ought to see ourselves, n'est-ce pas?

St Saturnius pray for us.

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