I've had a somewhat uneasy relationship with the saints for several years, finding it hard to believe that anyone holy who had passed on could possibly be interested in the messy confusion of my daily life. However, I did love the Saturday Easter Vigil when we sang the Litany of the Saints as the priest walked around the church holding a flaming candle. That made goose bumps rise up all over my body, and I sensed a host of presences hovering inside the church, filling every spare cranny. They were there. I felt them.
But how did that translate into actually having a conversation with a saint, asking for help, or praying for insights from one of the many holy men and women who had passed on? Occasionally when I lost something I might petition St. Anthony in a rather whiny and distracted way, "Oh, PLEASE, St. Anthony, help me to find my garden spade, my car keys, the unused portions of my brain...whatever."
It's startling how easily one can make a transition from something that previously seemed impossible or somehow theologically suspect to a place of belief. But I've done it, in three quite separate instances. Each one is a clear example of "learning by doing," not thinking about it so much as simply doing it.
Last week in my usual scattered fashion I succeeded in misplacing two pairs of glasses: the expensive ones with graduated focal lengths, which allowed me to drive and also peer at the high prices in my local supermarket. The other pair was my nightly reading glasses--much beloved and used. After a quick prayer to St. Anthony, I eventually found the expensive ones, after I had riffled through every coat pocket, searched under the bed (thrusting aside dust bunnies that looked like concrete), and under the car seats. I finally found them on a chair behind the kitchen table where they had slipped out of sight. Fine. But the reading glasses? I sent up a second petition to St. Anthony, with perhaps more fervor and less whining.
Two days ago I had the sudden urge to click onto www.bustedhalo.com and see what the newest articles were. After reading a recent one by Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft where she compared her mothering abilities to all the other mothers who appear to have everything under control (thighs, meals, badly-behaved children, cars, you name it), I thought of an article by Anne Lamott, probably from Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. In it she speaks of a mother of one of her son's friends who always had perfect thighs, beautifully displayed in spandex running shorts. This made Anne envious and actually vengeful, unable to see the person behind the perfect body.
I knelt down by the bookcase where I keep my spiritual books, rummaging beneath an old bag, a leather sack, papers that had fallen to the floor and there--you guessed it--was the pair of reading glasses on the bottom shelf, under all the detritus of my study. I would never have found them. Ever. And I would probably have ordered another pair at $100 a pop if it hadn't been for St. Anthony and his help.
I wrote up this incident and emailed it to my priest friend, Fr. Bill, who emailed me back, "That's how he works." I responded, asking: How can someone who has passed on possibly be interested in the minutia of my life? He wrote back, "What else do they have to do?" Tongue in cheek, of course.
So, with this new-found confidence in the ability of saints to help, inspire, give me new eyes, and all sorts of other nifty things, I've started two new prayers to other saints: One to St. Lucy, because my right eye is getting rather degraded with nightime flashes and all, and I'd like it to stop, if possible. The second prayer goes to St. Monica, mother of the recalcitrant but ultimately converted St. Augustin. I'm praying for someone I care about who is drinking too much, and I think St. Monica is the go-to lady here. Or, as Stephen Adly Guirgis has St. Monica saying in a monologue in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, "My ass gets results." I am banking on that.
From someone who had a hands-off attitude to the saints, thinking only elderly Catholic ladies who made crowns for the Infant of Prague would pray to (hmmm, perhaps a confession of vanity and arrogance is in order here), I am now a believer in this vast host of marvelous beings who bring all kinds of special powers and insights into our world. Available to any one of us. You--and me. All we need to do is ask and be open to whatever the answer may be.