Local Religious education

Saint what’s-his-name

by Steven J. Rolfes

It seems as though every possible stage of life and situation has a patron saint. First, we have the professions. Bus drivers may have a Saint Christopher medal on their key chain, while police officers may wear a medallion of Saint Michael the Archangel. Funeral directors are watched over by Saint Dismas, bartenders by Saint Amand, shoemakers by Saint Crispin . . . even clowns have a patron in Saint Genesius!

Certain diseases and unfortunate circumstances also have those we can call on for strength. Everything from leprosy (Saint Lazarus) to obsession (Saint Quirinus) has a special heavenly benefactor. Even the ordeal of growing up has the beloved Saint Nicholas.

Many of these holy offices were assigned way back in the Middle Ages and are somewhat behind the times. Modern life — fast-paced and often bewildering — presents a whole new set of challenges. Thus in my opinion, it’s time to update this list a bit, to expand the offices to include the challenges faced by Christians in today’s world. After all, with more than six thousand canonized saints, certainly a few of them should have some spare time on their hands!

Nothing is as frustrating as a weekend trip to the mall, endlessly circling the parking lot like a hungry buzzard, searching for that perfect spot near the door. Then at long last, someone gets into a car to leave a cherished space, and you sit there with your signal on, waiting helplessly while the person starts the car, buckles the seat belt, adjusts the GPS, tunes in the radio, and apparently runs a complete diagnostic exam of the engine.

Whom should we call on to help us through this ordeal? I’d suggest Saint Benedict Joseph Labre. This curious eighteenth-century French saint was said to be able to bilocate and even float in the air — both very good tactical advantages while prowling the mall park- ing lot.

He wandered about Europe, so he would also know a few things about being lost and frustrated. However, he was well-known for giving all of his possessions to the poor, even his meager bits of food. His real lesson to us as we search for a convenient parking space is simply to let someone else have it — perhaps an elderly person or someone with small children.

Many of us have to deal with computers and the myriad of tiny demons these infernal engines produce on a daily basis. We suffer everything from messages informing us how lucky we are to win some fabulous prize to the machine’s freezing, crashing, or acquiring more viruses than Pasteur’s laboratory. Certainly we should have a heavenly guide to discourage us from rebooting with a hammer!

Believe it or not, such a saint already exists. Although Saint Isidore of Seville lived in the sixth century and never saw a computer, he was quite learned and resourceful enough to communicate the word of God to others and convert the barbarian Visigoths. By 1999, the church decided that anyone who could do that could certainly handle computer pop-ups.

Another unfortunate circumstance for which many of us twenty-first–century Christians beg for heavenly intercession is that insidious modern device of torture known as the PowerPoint presentation.

This is where a screen displays one constant image for a glacial epoch while a coordinator drones on in a voice like Ben Stein on tranquilizers.

Rather than whisper to the person next to you, “There’s a blunt object over there. Would you please be so kind as to put me out of my misery?” perhaps we should call upon someone to help us in our time of desperation.

How about Saint Simeon Stylites? He tried to reach God by subjecting himself to pain and hardship, including retreating to the Syrian desert and living for years on top of a pillar. Just be careful not to follow his example too closely and try to escape by climbing the flagpole in front of the building. It won’t work — eventually they’ll find you.

When it comes to parenting, few ordeals can treat one’s sanity like chaperoning a grade-school field trip — a task roughly equivalent to herding ferrets. Or how about the joy of dealing with other parents as a Little League coach? Your Saturday mornings will then consist of being informed in a voice that could address the multitudes that you are in dire need of a seeing-eye dog for not recognizing a child’s innate athletic ability.

Rather than reach for one of the bats, call on good old Saint Joseph. He dealt with everything from a rather rushed marriage, his wife’s giving birth in a garage, losing his child in a crowd, right up to being transferred to another city courtesy of King Herod. Somehow he got through it all without losing his patience, and I have no doubt he will help us do the same.

One particularly stressful test of my faith and patience is the weekly journey to the discount chain for groceries and the other necessities of modern living. You know the one I’m talking about. Here we’re treated to a Richard Simmons’ workout, pushing a cart with wobbly wheels up and down endless aisles, accentuated by seeing some very interesting people, outrageously dressed and acting as though they will be summoned back to the mother ship at any moment. Others are disciplining their children in a manner that indicates they have watched way too much professional wrestling.

All of this, however, is only the matinee. The real test of one’s sanity is the checkout line. Daring to step into the express lane, we now have to perform intricate calculus problems to determine if four bags of chips count as one or four items. It doesn’t matter; the person just ahead of us (the one with the overflowing cart and the screaming child) is obviously using some esoteric economic formula to determine her fifteen items. Then just as it becomes our turn to be greeted by the dour lady with the personality of a sleep-deprived Doberman, the lane next to us opens, and the customers behind us stream into that line. Thus we are reminded of the biblical passage, “The first will be last, and the last will be first.”

To keep our shredded sanity and patience, how about calling on Saint Leo the Great? After all, if he could persuade Attila the Hun not to invade Western Europe, he could certainly help us deal with this situation.

Without a doubt, one of the biggest aggravations today is the cell phone. People drive in the most interesting ways while they talk, text, or calculate a moon shot.

We should call on Saint Goar, a German hermit from the sixth century. He was so distracted by thoughts of God that he once tried to hang his cloak on a sunbeam. This is a perfect description of the attention span of anyone talking on a cell phone!

One might question how saints who lived their lives in ancient or medieval times could be of assistance to us in this very modern world. The problems and challenges we face today are not really so different from those faced by our ancestors. Can you imagine the sights you would have seen in the marketplace of ancient Rome? People are still people, whether living during the reign of Charlemagne or riding the bus with us today. People still face the same aggravations and deal with the same temptations and frailties — only the toys have changed.

To face these modern challenges, we should look to holy men and women who faced similar obstacles and strive to follow their examples of piety and faith. They are more than willing to give us a helping hand. All we have to do is ask.

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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