I hear one of my nieces was confirmed last week, confirmed in the Catholic church I mean. Apparently, she chose the confirmation name Matilda, after St Matilda, who is a new one on me. Must look her up. Normally female saints in particular are only known by the specifics of their lurid martyrdom: stretched out on a wheel; hanged, drawn or quartered or all three; drowned in a river; crucified upside-down, rightside-up, inside-out or back-to-front; dumped in a cauldron of scalding oil. Dark age persecutors were out doing each other on a daily basis to do the female Christian to death with an ever more novel twist.
My confirmation name was John. As in John the Baptist. We had to know the story of our saint and be able to tell it to the Parish priest. Mine was easy and fun. He had his head chopped off. Looking back now, he was a pretty good one for me. The messenger of the Lord. Always seen myself as a kind of Hermes. Also a wild man, they say about John the Baptist. That suits me less. That would be my brother, rather. Though I think he was a Francis, who is the Dr Doolittle saint. That probably suited him too.
It could be that the greatest invention of Catholicism is the sacrament of the Mass. Not its content but its form; not its message but its medium, which is ritual. In every church in every country the same words are spoken; the same act ( the transformation of bread and wine into flesh and blood) supposedly accomplished. The congregation know where they stand. Rich or poor; foreign or domestic. The product is standardised. For comfort; for familiarity; for control of the maverick.
Macdonalds has learnt this lesson. As far as possible, brand identity requires the BigMac or the Chicken Macnugget or the MacMcMuffin or the MacMonkeyburger or whatever it is they’re up to these days to be the same all over the world. The colours, the tags: “I’m lovin’ it”. Give or take a dodgy translation or two. Take this and eat it, in memory of me. Take this and drink it, in memory of me.
When the England football team gets beat in a friendly the manager says it was a useful lesson on the way to the World Cup. When they get to Brazil and are knocked out in the group stages, they have learnt a lot about the players, who have gained valuable experience on the way to France 2016. When they get to France and suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of some so-called minnow, it was part of a useful learning curve. No individual match seems to matter. Each game is a look at options for a future game, and that future never comes. Surely the healthiest way to play the game, any game, is to invest in it as much as you can.
Of course, this fetichisation of the ultimate outcome is part of Western civilization. The truth is there is no end product. Each end product is each moment. So when we get to the end of a week and say “Phew! I’m glad that’s over”, what ultimate goal do we think we are striving for? Godot’s not coming. Get it, Roy?