So apparently there’s this (Roman) Catholic custom of having a patron saint for a year. I’ve come across two articles on the subject by Elizabeth Scalia today, who’s a Benedictine Oblate and frequent writer for First Things. The first link in the previous sentence is the more helpful article, as it brings the reader through the process of how she came to respect this custom.
The basic premise is simple: from a stack of “saints cards” you draw one at random (you’re drawing lots, as the Bible often puts it), and that whoever’s on that card is your patron saint for the new year. It’s not some sort of magical thing that invokes the power of dead people, but rather, one way to allow the Holy Spirit to connect a mentor and a disciple together. Or, as Scalia puts it, “the saint chooses you.” If you’re able to believe that Christians who’ve died in this world and are now with Christ, this is a reasonable possibility. What faithful Christian in his or her right mind (and heart) would not pray for those still on earth, still fighting the battle against sin?
Anyway, even if you don’t believe in the intercession of the saints, this could be a unique tool in discipleship, “randomly” picking a saint to learn from for a period of time. Those formally named as saints are certainly of upstanding character and worth imitating in some way or other, and there’s a lot we can learn from those who’ve come before us. In this spirit of openness to the communion of saints, I’ve decided to give it a go for the remainder of 2011. I don’t have an extensive collection of saints cards, so I’ve turned to the internet for some ‘random’ selections. (Another reason to draw lots is to avoid personal bias, picking someone I already know something about or like or whatever.)
I went to two sources for choosing a saint (hopefully allowing God to choose one for me). The first was this random saint name generator someone made, and the second was someone in the blogosphere who reportedly has a spiritual gift for helping people find a good annual patron saint.
The internet generator assigned me St. Frances of Rome, d. 1440. I looked her up, read her biography, was duly impressed with her devotion to God, and thought about her life for a while. She was one of those people who wanted to be a nun from a very early age, but was arranged to be married by her parents. She complied to their will, with a little nudging from God, and her husband turned out to be very loving and supportive for her. She was stuck in a heavily socialite life for many years, but over time she grew increasingly free to minister to the poor and needy in Rome, with the full support of her husband. Upon further meditation, I found myself learning more from her husband than from her. For what I came to realize from this biography was that I, as a husband, must also be attentive to the calling upon my own wife’s life. I’m not the only one with a vocation to pursue, so does she!
The patron saint blogger emailed me back today and told me that the saint that chose me is St. John Baptist Rossi (or Giovanni Battista de Rosi in Italian), d. 1764. Two lines of similarity between Frances and John stood out immediately: they both had phenomenal ministries to the poor, and they both lived (primarily) in Rome. John was a priest and Frances was a nun – and both took on their respective religious lives under unusual circumstances: John was an epileptic, which usually disqualified men from ordination, but received a special dispensation; Frances didn’t become a nun until after her husband died, which was fairly close to the end of her life, too.
This is an interesting pairing of characters, because here I am pursuing ordination to the Anglican priesthood, where I can be both a married man and a priest – an option not open to either John or Frances in their times. I, however, was not married against my will; I am quite happy to be married to Becca! If ever I could call something ‘a match made in heaven,’ she and I would be on that list.
Of course, there are plenty of things about John and Frances that are very different from me – I’ve never had much involvement in (or even felt much calling toward) serving the poor. I’m not stingy with my money, I don’t hoard my wealth, as it were, but I’ve never been very active in caring for the physical needs of others. The lives and personalities of John and Frances have much for me to learn from in this area. In the end, though, I really should pick one of them, though, because if I try to learn from two invisible mentors at the same time, I’ll be forever playing this compare/contrast game, and not listening to either voice as closely as I otherwise could. So I’ll go with John Baptist Rossi, partly because his career path is more similar to what mine will hopefully look like, and partly because he was picked for me by/through an actual human being rather than a computerized random generator.
This doesn’t mean I’m going to start committing idolatry against God, praying to created beings instead of the creator, or any such heretical nonsense. Rather, I’m going to be meditating on God’s work in the life of one particular person, seeking to glean wisdom from the way John lived, deeper insight into God’s character by learning about the relationship between Him and John, and if I dare phrase it thus, praying to God “through” John. At the root of it, I’m looking forward to getting to know God better through someone else’s eyes!