Monday, November 02, 2009

Five Patron Saints

Today is All Souls' Day, but yesterday was All Saints' Day. The Catholic Church recognizes lots of saints, and every day is a feast day for half a dozen or more.

Catholicism is a monotheistic religion (well, trinitarian — one God, three aspects), and it would be heretical to suggest that Catholic saints take the place of earlier religions' household gods. But Catholics do ask the saints to intercede on our behalf, both in general and for specific purposes, and Catholic tradition recommends asking certain saints for help in areas where they're believed to have particular experience or influence.

This website is a treasure house of information about saints, but here are five whose help I regularly ask for.

1. St. Dymphna, c. 605-620; patron saint of the mentally ill and emotionally disturbed. No, really. Dymphna, an Irish girl of noble birth, was 15 when she lost her life defending her virginity from her own father, who had lost his mind after the death of Dymphna's mother. It bothers me that so many female Catholic saints were martyred in defense of their virginity, but I see Dymphna's sainthood in the fact that she loved her father and forgave him his insanity. The terrible cruelty of mental illness is that it can make its victims hard to love, hard to be around; Dymphna reminds us that it's a saintly effort. Her feast day is May 15.

2. St. Genesius, third century BCE; patron saint of actors. According to legend, he was performing for the Roman emperor Diocletian in a play that mocked Christians when he suddenly became convinced of the truth of Christ's divinity. Presented to the emperor after his performance, Genesius announced his faith, and was arrested, tortured, and killed. Georgetown University's Mask and Bauble claims St. Genesius for its patron, and its annual awards (the Gennys) are named for him. His feast day is August 25.

3. St. Joseph, c.30 BCE(?)–sometime before 30 CE(?); patron saint of adoptive parents, fathers, doubters, the dying, and travelers, among others. Husband of Mary, adoptive father of Jesus, carpenter and man of faith. According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, he was a direct descendant of King David; beyond that, we don't know many details about him. He is not mentioned in the stories of Jesus' ministry, passion or crucifixion, so we don't know when he died. Painters and sculptors depict him as considerably older than Mary, but we have no way of knowing that for sure. Scriptures say he took his family to Jerusalem for Passover every year, so he must have been fairly prosperous. Whether or not you believe that Jesus was the Son of God, Joseph kept Mary as his wife and raised Jesus as his own son, and his example reminds us all that love, not blood, is what makes a family. He has two feast days: March 19 and May 1.

4. St. Jude Thaddaeus, c. 1 BCE(?)–sometime after 62 CE; patron saint of desperate cases. An apostle, but not to be confused with Judas; St. Jude, also called Thaddeus, was the brother of St. James the Lesser and St. Simeon, and a kinsman of Jesus. After the resurrection, he carried the Gospel to Samaria, Idumaea (the present Negev and part of Jordan), Syria, Mesopotamia (present-day Iran, Iraq and part of Turkey), and Libya. By tradition, he died a martyr at the hands of the Persians, possibly in what is now Armenia. He is the patron of hopeless causes because of his epistle to the Eastern Christian communities, which is a pep talk to the discouraged: "But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in the love of God and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. On those who waver, have mercy; save others by snatching them out of the fire; on others have mercy with fear. . ." His feast day is October 28.

5. St. Teresa of Avila, 1515–1582; patron saint of headache sufferers and writers (specifically Spanish, Catholic writers, but why limit it?). St. Teresa, founder of the Discalced Carmelite order, is one of only two women honored as Doctors of the Church. She is a major figure of the Counter-Reformation and the author of several classics of spirituality and clear thinking. Her true life's work didn't begin until she was 43, when she was called to found a new order of nuns, saying, "May God protect me from gloomy saints." She was sharp and cranky and not always easy company, but she was funny and loving and practical, and held no one to standards higher than she set for herself. Repentance was less important than the commitment to reform; actions were more important than intention; the work was more important than the system. "I am more afraid of those who are terrified of the devil than I am of the devil himself," she wrote. Teresa was the patron I chose at Confirmation, and is still my role model. Her feast day is October 15.

8 comments:

Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Nice post. Of course no such list is complete without Saint Hubbins, the Patron Saint of Quality Footwear...

JIM LAMB said...

I love St Joseph. For those who grew up in New York, St Patrick's day, March 17 and St. Joseph's day combined with the 18th made a nice three day drunk, much to the dispair of the brothers who taught in our school. Not all the stories at our recent reunion were ones we want to repeat to our great grand children.

Kieran Shea said...

St. Kieran used to talk to foxes. Then he went back on his meds.

AnswerGirl said...

Kieran, I thought you were going to say, "And then he got married."

Claire said...

Our family has always been dependent on the goodwill of St. Anthony, patron saint of lost things.

AnswerGirl said...

St. Anthony is important for me, too, but if I was limiting the list to five I had to boot him in favor of Dymphna and Genesius.

Anonymous said...

I swear by St. Anthony and end up making pleas to St. Jude more often than I care to admit.

-Kathleen

Anonymous said...

Nice, introspective blog. I especially treasure your personal comments about the mentally ill. My son was born with Asperger's syndrome. He is unable to fully grasp the meaning of being fully engaged with those around him. As a result, he is going to end up with a felony record. So sad. Forgive him Lord for being born with a one dimensional view of the world.