Gee, these have been wonderful years, and to think that Tricky Dick is going to be the first universally popular American saint.

Ever since Rose Mary Woods faded from the scene after her boss, Richard Nixon, graciously resigned the presidency, the capital has lacked her particular insights and 18-minute gaps. But mercifully she returned over the weekend to remind us of what we so easily forget:

"Richard Nixon is the most honorable man this country has ever produced."

True. Of course there was Gen. Washington, who on the honor-meter did fairly well, and Abe Lincoln, too, he did okay.

But Dick Nixon. Wow. Now there was a man for you. From the day he first met Helen Gahagan Douglas and even before that, I knew, and everybody knew, he was a winner, and the national honor-meter was probably never going to be the same.

And it was all the more remarkable since he blew in out of the West, where he sold pies as a little boy and went to some two-bit school where, whatever he may have read, he probably escaped Cervantes, Castiglione, Montaigne, Donne and the other bores, who might have interfered with his natural gifts. Read Horatio Alger, of course.

But humble origins and a brain devoid of content are no bar to grandeur in our nation, praise be to God, so it is right that Richard Nixon should surpass even Spiro Agnew and his other merry lads in American affections now.

At first it was rough. Being bounced out of the White House for the first time in the history of the republic. And all that.

But listen, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and sure, he told a few lies (let him who is without blame cast the first stone, I always say) but he rose above all obstacles to become the most honorable man ever produced by this nation, as Sister Woods says with her usual acumen and wits.

Suppose some guy has some superficial fault, like lying and cheating and so on. Well, it is easy to condemn him. It would be the easy thing, but it would be wrong.

Walk a mile in his shoes, right? You take any guy who errs, and I say if you knew all the pain in his life, you wouldn't want him punished.

Sam Ervin, the senator who presided over the Senate inquiry into Watergate, said truth was not all that important to Nixon. Which sounds harsh, and maybe a bar to sainthood. But wait, what about St. Peter, in a fairly serious case in which he lied and swore he never heard of that Galilean? He became a saint, didn't he?

The first step toward sainthood depends, of course, on turning oneself into an elder statesman, or the dean of riverfront mackerel peddlers, or whatever the field may be. Makes no difference, the thing is to stick around long enough for everybody to get used to you.

Then people say, "Well, I miss old Luciano," or whatever the name might be. "He sure sold fish in his day."

And provided old keg-gut has a good faithful old secretary who trots about with the cymbals, people soon start saying, "You know, he had a humble trade, but he stuck to it, and what more can you expect of a guy than that?"

The next step is to proclaim his career on the waterfront "honorable," and then, if you keep up the drums, he becomes "faithful" and with a few connections here and there, as yo-yos gather on the bandwagon, he becomes venerable and then, God save us all, a saint.

Sister Woods (who was always a jump or two ahead of everybody else) is the first to proclaim Nixon the most honorable zub, zub, zub, but the general machinery has been in place ever since the day Jerry Ford issued a pardon.

And not just a saint, either. Nixon was far more--one of the most creative users of words (and of puppy dogs) in the history of America. Perhaps he should get the Nobel Prize for literature, while we're about it.

And such a help to his own political party, too. So dearly loved by his lieutenants. And such a boost to the shaving-soap industry. And such an ornament to the American bar.

There is hardly any limit to the Nixon merits, even apart from his unique place in American honor.

Nero, the fun-loving Roman emperor, observed on his deathbed that "I fancy I am turning into a god."

Why should the jewel of Whittier have to wait for deification, as if he were some minor Roman emperor? Why not right now, while he's still alive to enjoy it?

And unlike Nero, he has always been ready to assume the role, and (unlike Nero, who had rather a sense of humor) always believed it.

The pantheon is already forming. Rose Mariology cannot be far behind.