Once upon a time, there was a cozy little city-state called Vatican City. It was a beautiful little place filled with astonishing architecture, priceless artworks, and the biggest collection of red socks anywhere in the world.

Everyone who lived there hated the dump. Because it was run by the College of Cardinals, a crusty group of conservative clergymen who clung to outdated religious doctrine and who were so old that they farted sawdust.

The members of the College of Cardinals were so old that they farted sawdust.

“We need to change our image,” screamed the ancient Cardinal St. Louis, the dean of the college. “The problem is that we always elect a dried up old prune as Pope, so that everyone who perceives us as old-fashioned and out of touch. We need a hip, young man as the pontiff so that people will think of Catholicism as trendy.”

“That’s a great idea, chief,” responded Monsignor Monjunior, the ecclesiast’s sycophantic and mysteriously effeminate aid de camp, “but you elected the sitting Pope for life. How are we going to elect a new one with the current pontiff still breathing?”

“Rub him out,” responded old Cardinal St. Louis. “Didn’t you see The Godfather, Part III? It said that everyone in the Vatican was a ruthless bad ass, and it’s time we started living up to that. There’s only one problem: We want a Pope who’s got a young, hip image, but is so completely empty-headed that he’ll do and say everything we tell him to do. Where are we going to find anyone that stupid?”

At about this time, a young muse named Jonny M. was being fired from his job at Washington Mutual Bank. The deceptive muse had told everyone that he was laid off because the company’s headquarters had moved to San Antonio, Texas, not wanting them to know that he was really fired for getting drunk and inserting Xerox copies of his pale, flat buttocks in customer statements for the month of July. Sadly, Jonny logged onto Monster.com to look for a new job. Wanting a gig more closely related to nature, he made a search agent based on the phrase “shit in the woods,” and was returned with one job listing:

Jonny looked hard in the mirror. Thanks to his daily regimen of apricot scrubs, cucumber wraps and bikini line exfoliation, he had the youthful appearance of a man twenty years his junior. And thanks to his valuable collection of headgear that he had purchased for the many photo composites he had posed for over the years to promote his spectacularly successful acting career, there was no question that the muse looked magnificent in hats. With his qualifications in order, Jonny high-tailed it for Vatican City.

When the muse arrived in St. Peter’s Square, he was stunned at the number of freaks who were applying for the job. Pro-Life advocates, Pro-Choice advocates, Pro-contraceptive advocates, Anti-contraceptive advocates, women who wanted to enter the clergy, homosexuals who wanted to enter the clergy, and countless other deviants who wanted to influence their own personal cause. Seeing the multitudes that he was competing against, Jonny knew his chances of winning the job were slim but (knowing that he would probably get it, or this idiotic card would have no story) the muse got in line and hoped that the priests interviewing him never read Jonny’s Bethlehem Christmas.

Jonny was stunned at the number of freaks who were applying for the job.

“Sex, sex, sex!” screamed ancient Cardinal St. Louis after interviewing a feminist lesbian who had just conceived a baby with rocker David Crosby. “All any of the applicants want to talk about is sex! Abortion-this and contraception-that. With the exception of covering up our priests’ natural attraction to those smoking hot altar boys, I don’t want to know about sex. What we need is a Pope who is youthful and cool enough to update the Church’s image, but repellant enough to both sexes so that no one would ever think of sex when he was around!”

Just as the words were coming out of the Cardinal’s mouth, the drunken figure of Jonny M. came stumbling through the door of the Sistine Chapel. The College of Cardinals had made the mistake of directing the interview line just past the closet where the sacramental wine was stored, and the muse had broken the lock and guzzled down several bottles before the Vatican Guard could overpower him and brutally pummel his face.

“I demand to talk to God personally,” slurred Jonny. “Those bastard guards smashed my new bridgework, and I demand retribution!”

Cardinal St. Louis gave Jonny a long hard stare. He thought the muse’s pierced ear and beatnik goatee gave him a Johnny Depp-like quality which the young people would like, but his ghastly complexion and animal-like stench made the idea of sex with the muse revolting to even the most desperate of believers. And Jonny’s sloping forehead and mindless stare betrayed a lack of sentient thought that made him ideal for parroting the church’s narrow-minded doctrine. The ancient Cardinal decided to test Jonny with the most basic question he could come up with.

“What,” asked the old man, “are you feeling about birth control?”

“Birth control?” mumbled Jonny while trying to choke back vomit. “I just tell women about my various genital sores and disgusting sexual kinks and it ceases to be an issue.”

“You preach abstinence!” responded the septuagenarian holy man with delight. “That’s exactly what I was hoping to hear! I think I’ve found our new Pope!”

The drunken muse was about to object that the abstinence was the women’s idea, not his, when the aged Cardinal lit up a Lucky Strike and began blowing white smoke rings out of the Vatican window. Jonny could hear jubilant cheers from St. Peter’s Square, and decided to keep his mouth shut.

“What shall your name be?” asked Cardinal St. Louis.

“My name?” asked Jonny quizzically. “I was called ‘Hairless Hips’ all through high school and I made porn films under the name Bruno Rathburn in the eighties, but other than that...”

“All new Popes pick a new name for their Papacy,” interjected the ancient Cardinal. “Most pick a name of a former Pope, but you may select any name that you feel projects your own inner spirituality.”

The noble muse’s eyes lit up. All through his life, there had been one spiritual beacon that had guided him through his many times of troubles. With a gravity that surprised even him, Jonny gazed up at the graffiti-filled ceiling above him (which he made a mental note to have painted over as soon as he took over) and solemnly intoned the one name that inspired him above all others.”

“I shall be called ... Pope Elvis.”

Jonny discovered that he loved his new position as Pope. Aside from giving an incomprehensible blessing from his bedroom balcony every Sunday and having the odd meeting with Muslim officials to apologize for quoting 14th century Byzantine emperors, there wasn’t that much to the gig. And unlike the muse’s other jobs, the management loved him because he would happily sign any piece of paper they put in front of him and he would parrot any archaic article of outmoded religious doctrine that they gave him to recite.

It was a match made in heaven, and Jonny loved it. Jonny did his best to update the Papal image, granting audiences to hip, young stars like Paris Hilton and Shakira, making sure that the meetings were heavily covered by Tiger Beat and Teen People. As Pope, Jonny wasn’t allowed any poon tang, but if he was feeling randy he would go down to the nuns in the rectory and say something off-color so that they would rap the crap out of his knuckles with a ruler, which satisfied Jonny’s sick, primal urges better than anything he used to find on the Internet. And when Jonny looked around at the perks that came with the position - a fantastic wardrobe, opulent living quarters, people falling over themselves to kiss his ring - he decided he could get in line with this abstinence thing with no problem.

The nuns would rap the crap out of Pope Elvis' knuckles with a ruler

Every morning, Jonny’s aide Bishop Flogda would come into his magnificent apartment in the Vatican to give him his itinerary for the day. Jonny would breakfast on consecrated host and waffles as the Bishop would go over his personal appearances. Jonny was especially excited as December had arrived and not only was it almost his birthday on December 15 (in which gifts of alcohol continued to be preferred over anything else), but he would be celebrating his first Christmas as Pope. When the night before Christmas Eve finally came around, the muse could barely sleep, he was so excited.

“As I understand it,” said Jonny to his aide, “Christmas is not only about presents and parties and my cranking out this idiotic card every year, but it is also loosely connected to this Christianity thing that I’ve been hearing so much about since I took on this job.”

Having nursed the last three Popes well into senility, Flagda assumed that Pope Elvis had simply gone out of his mind ignored Jonny’s rantings. Instead, he was there to go over the Pontiff’s appearances for the day.

“With it being Christmas Eve, we want a really good photo op,” said the Bishop, anxious to get back to the cute young altar boy he was sodomizing in St. Peter’s Basilica. “You’ve got a downtown soup kitchen to denounce. We got word that they’re handing out condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS in the neighborhood, so you’ve got to shut `em down before Jesus comes back and gives us hell for it. It will be a great Christmas message for the true believers.”

“Condoms and soup?” asked the unsightly Pope as he tried to push the pleasure he was getting from rubbing up against his satin body pillow out of his mind. “Disgusting! I found a condom in my split pea once and those bastards at Hometown Buffet threw my lawyer out of their office. Those witnesses who said I put the condom there myself didn’t know what they were talking about. Now, it’s payback time! To the Popemobile!”

"To the Popemobile!” screamed Jonny

The soup kitchen that he arrived at to reproach was a far cry from Jonny’s extravagant living quarters in Vatican City. It was a flea-ridden rat hole crammed with the lowest depths of humanity. It was the type of place Jonny was seen in constantly before he became Pope but now that he was the Holy Seed, he was revolted by the squalid conditions. A few of the more disgusting hoboes remembered Jonny from the old days and called him by name, but he pretended not to know them, saying his name was Pope Elvis I, not Jonny, and that he was here to see the management.

When he went into the office, Jonny wasn’t prepared for what he saw: the enabler of these pathetic wretches was a member of a group not recognized by the Church. It was ... a woman! Shocked at what he saw, the pompous pontiff grabbed a vile of what he thought was Holy Water and threw it at the trollop.

“The power of Christ compels you!,” screamed Jonny, not exactly sure what he was saying but feeling like he was behaving somewhat Pope-like.

“Hey, knock it off!” yelled the woman. “That’s all I have to anoint the sores on these poor bums feet. Do you have any idea how painful it is to walk around on unanointed sore feet?”

Jonny held a crucifix in front of him like Dr. Van Helsing in an old Dracula movie.

“Never mind that,” screamed Jonny, holding a crucifix in front of him like Dr. Van Helsing in an old Dracula movie. “I know what’s going on here. My network of spies tells me that you’ve been given out condoms to these poor souls! Don’t you realize that every sperm is sacred, you harlot?”

“Sacred-schmacred,” replied the woman. “And cut the ‘harlot’ crap. My name’s Sophia, to emphasize the Italian setting of this moronic story. As for the condoms, these poor bums can barely keep their own lives going. Do you think that they can handle raising a kid? Do us all a favor and start worrying about the people who are already here rather than worrying what’s dripping off Jenna Jameson’s chin?”

“Don’t you dare talk to me that way,” yelled back the muse, hoping to God no one realized just how gross that last paragraph was. “Not only am I the Pope, but I’ve saved Christmas for all kinds of freaks for the past fifteen years. Just check out my Christmas Card library if you don’t believe me. With the possible exception of Jonny’s Prison Christmas, I have an unblemished record of making the world a better place for everyone!”

“And now you sit around your palace in Rome thinking that you’re doing the right thing because you’ve got religion behind you,” countered Sophia while straightening her pro-choice tee shirt. “Your cards used to be about saving Christmas for people who had lost their spiritual direction. Now all you seem to care about are bizarre religious rituals regardless of whether anyone’s spirit is salvaged or not. Is that what Christmas means to you?”

Jonny wasn’t prepared for the Pirandelloesque direction this year’s card was taking. He was used to being the pro-Christmas guy, and he didn’t like taking a back seat in this area. The muse took a long look at his adversary, and was unimpressed by what he saw - she was covered in sweat from working long hours in the kitchen, and her faded tee-shirt looked stained and tattered from too many wearings. She didn’t hold a candle to the magnificence of his silken robes and designer footwear. But she seemed to possess a spirtuality that Jonny lacked for all his religious posing; and as Christmas Day was approaching, the muse sensed that she seemed more attuned to the true spirit of the season than he (although Jonny had to admit that part of it was that she was a hot chick, and this abstinence thing was getting on his nerves). Jonny’s head was spinning - he never learned anything new in this idiotic cards, he only pontificated pompously at others. He quickly determined that this chick was messing with his head, and he’d better get back to the splendors of his apartment in the Vatican to pull himself together.

“We’ve been waiting for you, your Holiness,” said ancient Cardinal St. Louis, his senility too embedded to register Jonny’s ashen complexion. “We need to go over the Bible verses for your Christmas blessing tomorrow. I’ve highlighted some stuff you might want to use”

The muse was stunned - Biblical verses in a Jonny Christmas card? Jonny took the yellow-markered Bible from the old clergyman’s hands and started leafing through the Cardinal’s notes. Not everything in the Bible made sense to him (some of the passages in Deuteronomy really grossed him out), but the more he read, the more he thought that this Jesus guy had some really revolutionary ideas on how to live life. The noble muse kept coming back to one passage in particular:

“And He instructed His disciples that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belt; but to wear sandals; and He added, ‘Do not put on two tunics.’”

“Hey, what gives?” asked the confused Pope to the decrepit Cardinal. “I thought this whole Christianity thing was about forgiving everybody their weaknesses and casting aside worldly goods to pursue spiritual enlightenment. I’m supposed to be the leader of a whole sub-cult of Christianity, and I live in unbelievable splendor. When I reflect on my WWJD mood bracelet, I don’t see him passing out parables from a 900,000 square foot palace. Why don’t we sell off all our riches and do our preaching in poverty, like Jesus did?”

The old Cardinal stumbled for an answer as he reached for the Vatican Guard Hot Line to have Jonny murdered in his sleep and replaced with some Italian who didn’t ask so many questions. But before he could reach the phone, a brilliant shaft of light filled the room with radiance. Jonny and the Cardinal looked up to see the smiling face of Jesus beaming down on them.

Jesus appeared before the old Cardinal and Jonny.

“Now you’re picking up the groove, Jonny,” said the Savior. “I like where you’re coming from.”

“Jesus?” asked the stunned muse. “We weren’t expecting you. We would have picked up the place a little if we knew you were coming by.”

“Hey, don’t sweat it,” replied Jesus. “I just stopped by on my way to a birthday party that Buddha and L. Ron Hubbard are throwing for me. I just wanted to tell you not to be so hard on the old Cardinal here. He may not be putting out the word the way you see it, but he’s doing the best he can. That’s all I ever asked of anybody ... do the best you can with what Dad gave you.”

“And what about Sophia?” challenged the pompous muse. “Isn’t she doing her best as well? How can you have two such opposite factions both claiming to represent you?”

“Hey, your petty arguments don’t have anything to do with me,” responded Jesus. “I just provided the doctrine. It’s up to you cats to interpret it. But I wanted to drop by on my way to the party to remind you what this season is about. It’s not to focus on our differences, but to remind us that whatever religious and social differences get on your nerves throughout the year; you’re all the part of the same human family. And families need to get along and love each other despite their differences. And if you can really sit down and think about that on Christmas Day, maybe it will serve as a gentle reminder all of the days of the year.”

“Holy crap! Is that the time?” exclaimed the Savior, looking at his watch. “I’ve got to run. Buddha invited all the old Greek gods to the party and if I don’t keep an eye on Dionysus, he’ll spike the punch again and we’ll have to stop Zeus from coming down here and marrying another mortal. You think you guys have problems!”

“Just do yourselves a favor and love each other,” said Jesus as he disappeared into a soft haze of light. “If you’re too thick-headed to do it for yourselves, make it a birthday present to me. It’s all I ever really wanted anyway.”

Jonny was pissed. First Sophia had chewed him out about not knowing the true meaning of Christmas, but now Jesus had stolen the big, inspirational speech he always made at the end of the stories and delivered it himself. The muse looked over to the Cardinal to continue the argument, but was stunned to see the old man with tears in his eyes.

“I have been a fool,” yelled the churchman. “I’ve been so narrow-minded that I forgot the true message of Christianity. From now on, I vow to be less of a hard-line asshole!”

“What?” asked Jonny. “Does this mean that you’ll cast aside all the worldly goods of the Church and do Jesus’ work in poverty?”

“Let’s not get carried away,” replied the Cardinal, pouring himself a snifter of $900 a bottle brandy. “But I am going to try and be more tolerant of other people’s points of view. I may not agree with what they’re doing, but I’ll try to open a dialogue so that perhaps we can work together to make the world a better place. And perhaps if I become more tolerant of them, they will be more tolerant of us.”

So all was happiness in Vatican City. Jonny faked his own death to avoid assassination by the Vatican Guards, and Cardinal St. Louis installed himself as Pope Varian I, taking his name from the Latin word for “the changeable one” and bringing a mission of tolerance to the church until his death three months later under mysterious circumstances after alienating himself from the Church’s conservative right. Monsignor Monjunior left the priesthood to run off with a Venetian gondolier named Romeo. Jesus continued to be the major religious concern in the Western Hemisphere (except in Hollywood, where Judaism and Scientology were the leaders by a wide margin). And Sophia’s soup kitchen continued to be a place of hope and comfort for the destitute until it was discovered that it was really a money laundering front for a Roman cocaine ring and shut down by the Feds.

But happiest of all was Jonny M. As he looked around at his friends living in peace and happiness on this Christmas Day, he felt a surge of pride in knowing that he had contributed to it. So, with his nether regions on fire after living in abstinence for the last six months, he raced back to the soup kitchen to grab some condoms and beg Sophia to throw him a mercy screw.

Jonny begged Sophia for a mercy screw.

And happiness to you, dear friend. Whether you are celebrating Christmas with friends, Hanukkah with family, or commemorating the season by sending gifts of alcohol to Jonny for his birthday on December 15, know that you, too, are an indispensable member of the human family who has an inexhaustible supply of opportunities to make the world a better and safer place each and every day of the year. And know that you always have a loving friend in Jonny M.

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