The idea of St. Chesterton, recently reported on by the Daily Mail and encouraged by words of both Pope Francis and the bishop of Northampton, has left me in a fit of giggles. Not that I doubt the validity of the claim. It appears that Pope Francis is a long time Chesterton fan, blessing book groups of the British journalist in his native Argentina. Bishop Peter Doyle’s simultaneous investigation of Chesterton’s life is the first of many steps toward canonization. (In Chesterton’s case, the longest step might be the thorough examination of his writings for intentional heresy, a process that could take decades given the sheer amount of ink he spilt. Still, I think you will find no shortage of scholars willing to volunteer for the task).
Nonetheless, the idea of Chesterton holy cards, Chesterton icons, St. Gilbert Keith Parishes, GKC novenas and (not so) mini-statuettes is enough to make one giddy with delight. Perhaps the only person besides who would find these things more comical than GKC fans do would be GKC himself. Can you imagine the jokes he would crack on the occasion of the dedication of a St. Chesterton Shrine (They’ll have to have a very large sanctuary to fit a statue of me in it! Accuracy would require there be a pub next door! The holy medals ought to be chocolate, like those fake chocolate coins that children use! What will they do, sell penny dreadfuls instead of devotional in the vestibule after Mass!?). It is simply outrageous that GKC should be made a saint. And yet, it seems he has friends in high places who would like to see it happen. It is a good thing, too, that Chesterton became Roman Catholic: he joined the only church crass and crazy enough to canonize the likes of him!
In all seriousness, though (a phrase Chesterton seems to have hated), the cause for Chesterton’s canonization may be outrageous, but it is not offensive. However, from reading the comments on the Daily Mail article, one gets the sense that the good people of London are scandalized that a newspaper man from their own city should be up for sainthood. Perhaps it is with good reason. GKC was the first to admit that he belonged to a profession that attracted the slothful and the spineless alike. He would join their voices of dissent at the idea of a London journalist joining the canon of Saints, save for the strange fact that he is most assuredly no longer alive in London. I cannot suppose his current location, seeing as Pope Francis thinks it possible that he is far better off than any of us thought possible.
Possible is the key word in all this. All this news means is that the leaders of our Church think it possible that GKC is in heaven. The smiles and the scandal surrounding such a statement tell us more about ourselves than they do about Chesterton. Is it so terribly silly that so great a theologian be admitted to heaven, even if he was nothing more than a journalist? Why are we put off by the idea of his sanctity, when it would be a comforting thought that a man as full of life as GKC might have made it through the pearly gates? Perhaps it is because we like gritty, challenging saints, not jolly orthodox ones. Maybe it is because we like controversialists with new ideas, not contrite coots with old ones. Chesterton self-identified as a liberal who fought for the poor. At the same time, he defeated heresy and converted CS Lewis (and countless others). He argued against communism, capitalism and fascism all while they were still popular. He perfectly met all the demands of the era and did it all with his unique brand of optimism and common sense. Optimism, common sense and sanctity: how many of us can claim such a trinity? So, why not a St. Chesterton?
GKC, ora pro nobis.