The religious poetry of Santiago Sastre


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The religion, and we focus on the majority in our nation, embodied in the Catholic Church, shows two opposing facets; one very respectable and one very contemptible. The great shame of the current Catholic clergy, especially religious orders, harassed by a noxious discipline, is the numerous number of sexual abuses of minors, mostly boys, committed by those who have no other mission in life than to lead people on the right track. Sexist aggression (the nuns did not abuse). Pederasty extended to all Western Catholicism. Another very ugly issue is the insatiable purpose of appropriating the Church of other people’s real estate, apart from hoarding, in great quantity, their own. With these two serious faults, it makes no sense to maintain chastity in the hierarchy, condemn homosexuality and proclaim the Catholic institution as a humble and poor estate.

book cover
book cover

Overcoming this harsh reproach of secular facts, which hopefully will not be repeated, rises the limpid belief, pure and without hypocrisy, in the irreproachable doctrine of Christ, that unequivocal and ecumenical message that encompasses both the social and the intimate virtue. It makes no difference whether these supreme teachings come from a god or not. Its value is intrinsic, exclusive to the immense word of the one who was a Jewish preacher. Buddha was not a god and there is his powerful example. The gospels are the indisputable guide to lead goodness always to a good end. Christ did not found, did not want to found any religion. This is what Paul of Tarsus later dedicated himself to. It was enough for Christ, and he communicated this, to have the Father in his heart. Meaning the Father all the love, the harmony, the piety, to behave, ethically, in the existence. Christ had more than enough, of course, that conflicting Judaic Levitical class; and he had more than enough to the temple that guards the divinity. I see, perhaps fancifully, some irony in Jesus’ answer contained in John, 2, 19, when he assures that he could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. Of course, ‘he spoke of the temple of his body’ (John, 2, 21).

You can believe in Christ, even without declaring yourself a Christian. And comply with the rites of the Catholic Church without fully assuming the dogmas. Establish the commitment by tradition, by habit, by culture. Great modern musical composers, avant-garde, like Messien, Penderecki, Fauré, skeptical on many issues, were great Catholics, and the theme of Catholicism fully entered their brilliant compositions. A religious practice of this type was carried out by Michel de Montaigne, author of the famous essays, founder of the genre. If Montaigne, says Santiago R. Santerbás, editor of the Italy travel diary, «he declares himself a Christian, it is not out of sanctimoniousness or doctrinal conviction, but out of respect for the established order and the traditionally practiced faith. […] Montaigne does not deny God: he believes or claims to believe in Him, but he lives or acts as if God were nothing more than a simple object of mental speculation.

The prolific Toledo writer Santiago Sastre is a Catholic who is very convinced of his faith. Some of his work bears Catholic references. In 2015, commemorating the fifth centenary of the birth of Teresa de Cepeda y Ahumada, he published the play So high life (Six scenes about Saint Teresa of Jesus). In it, the time of the mystical writer is mixed with the current one, appearing the psychiatrist Dr. Rafael Sancho de San Roman, a man from Toledo, born in 1935 and died in 2018, who was an academic from Toledo, like Santiago Sastre and, as a historian, wrote Medicine and doctors in the work of Tirso de Molina. In the prologue to Sastre’s drama, the Carmelite José Vicente Rodríguez writes in the prologue that the author “beautifies the scenes with a lively and lively style.”

In 2019, Santiago published another dramatic work about the famous escape of San Juan de la Cruz from the Toledo convent of Calzada del Carmen, hanging from a small window with his knotted rags, crossing Zocodover being the laughingstock of the vendors before taking refuge in the convent of the Barefoot Carmelites. The text, without a doubt, is entertaining, incorporating humorous licenses that may be somewhat dissonant. A decade earlier, a close friend of Santiago Sastre, Jose Gomez-Minor, had published another drama on the life of the saintly poet. Very successful work, since Gómez-Menor was a great researcher of the lineage of Fray Juan. Priest, canon of the cathedral, historian, highly cultured person, he had a singular personality. I was also friends with him. Sometimes he gave me books; two of them: Rule of Saint Benedict Y the anarchist banker, from Fernando Pessoa. And besides, he was a very splendid priest! He was always inviting.

Now Santiago Sastre has published a compilation of his religious poems: One word from you will suffice, in the letter eToledo publisher Celya this very January. These poems adhere to orthodoxy. They are very respectful of the divine figure. They do not question his enigmatic decision for us (undoubtedly wise in the poet’s belief), despite the manifest injustice that we see being perpetuated in the world: “Why didn’t you stop the murderer’s hand? / Why didn’t you stop the reproduction / of those malignant cells? // I know that nothing escapes / your divine providence / and you respect the will of man, / who also writes history / with his angel or demon letters». On some exceptional occasion, he could scratch us some verse, commenting that Christ «wanted a body like ours, / with the same flesh as our flesh, / with his sweat, his semen and his urine». What is the point of attributing semen to Christ?

The form of these poems is very casual and very human.. It expresses the diaphanous Christian ideology and praises the traditional faith. Some poems sound a bit like preaching, like ‘The shortness of prejudices’. Another poem, ‘Muchísimasvías’, exhibits, with great emphasis, a kind of exacerbated pantheism; posing, more or less, an equivalence between God and the facts of the world, proclaiming that He exists “because of the incredible machinery of the eye”, but also “because of Caravaggio’s paintings”, “sourdough bread”, “the number twenty-six”, “the chickpea stew, with the splendor of its soup and its pringá” (hahaha), or “the first time I saw my wife naked”, concluding with the great praise “My Lord and my God!” .

Very endearing verses with daring formal resources: «He did not want to love men / from afar, by phone / or from a computer screen. / That is why he came down to live in the flesh, / to feel what we feel». Another sequence gives a fair vision of Judas, that Judas necessary for the full fulfillment of the precise Passion; Judas is not the only one who carelessly sells out Christ: «Thus began his repentance. / He should assume later / that Jesus would forgive him, / that we have all been in his shoes. / Who has not sold some Christ / to make a profit? With a healthy poetic sincerity, Santiago Sastre admits his guilt: the innumerable tasks of the world prevent him from praying: «Lord, forgive me if I don’t sing to you. / I am so busy with so many things / that sometimes I forget your presence. […] With so many tasks the saint goes to heaven / and I stay in the horizontality of the chores».

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