The saints assist everyone from furriers to barrel makers. But the list of heavenly helpers needs updating, starting with a few Protestant additions.
By Stephanie Hunt
It was clear to me as a kid that the deck was stacked against us. One glance out the kitchen window at our neighbor's driveway, where kids, adults, and umpteen cousins were constantly coming and going in new model cars, and I knew that my family could never "keep up with the Joneses." The Ildertons outnumbered us eleven to five in people (11 to 4 after my dad left); 2 to 1 in dogs; and about 8 to 2 in cars, or so it seemed—they owned our town's Dodge dealership. In addition to all the cars and cousins and happy domestic chaos, they were Catholic. Which meant they had holy water, incense, really cool beads, Mary and a million other saints, and about as many days off school. We, as Milquetoast Methodists, had God, Jesus, and Vacation Bible School. It didn't seem fair.
Decades later, I hope I'm more sophisticated in my religious worldview, but I still feel a tinge of faith-based envy when I consider my non-Protestant neighbors. Despite horrid school uniforms, ingrained patriarchy, dogmatic authoritarianism, and far-too many middle men (with emphasis on the "men"), I do admire the Catholic teamwork approach. Those of us who have inherited Martin Luther's legacy may be free from papal edicts, but we're also minus a cheering section of some 10,000 strong. There's a deficit in our divine intervention strategy. We've let the saints, from St. Aaron and St. Zodicus, slip away, and are left with a lone ranger theology: off we go, solo, galloping across the dry and dusty plains of our souls toward a radiant salvation on the horizon. Kind of like Bush's foreign policy.
I'm all for simplicity and direct accountability both in matters earthly and eternal, but I wouldn't mind leaning on an entourage of proven miracle workers every now and then. I'm a working mom, outnumbered by my children and overwhelmed by my calendar—I can't make out a grocery list without multiple interruptions, much less sink into deep meditative prayer. I find myself wistfully humming that James Taylor refrain: "with holy host of others gathered 'round me," as if to summon a little help from on high.
How is it that we sturdy Protestants alone have adopted the go-it-alone approach? Buddhists and Hindus get an extra hand, or ten, from multi-armed goddesses. Muslims have saints and mystics, Jews beseech the prophets, but Catholics top us all, with a Superdome full of spiritual superheroes and heroines. According to a comprehensive list posted by the Catholic Community Forum, there are 2,180 categories that 5,159 patron saints have covered. Included, of course, are the celebrity saints, like St. Francis and St. Luke, with their well-established domains over animals and nature and the healing arts. And then there are the lesser-knowns: the patron saint of hemorrhoids (Fiacre), of embroiders (Clare of Assisi), of barrel makers (Nicholas), wax melters (Ambrose), furriers and farriers (Hubert and Eligius), cramps (Maurice), disappointing children (Clotilde), backward children (Hilary; including children late learning to walk and stammering children), and on and on.
Granted, I don't exactly know how this whole deal works, but it seems to me the list could use a little updating. This is the age of specialization, after all, and "disappointing children" now come with many different diagnoses. While cramps and hemorrhoids probably still merit some intercession, I'd like to petition the enclave of Cardinals, or whomever it is who assigns patronage, to consider stacking the saint deck on some truly daunting concerns. Maybe give Bono a hand with poverty, hunger and AIDS; add a little muscle to whomever it is who's supposed to be watching over the Middle East, and assign some heavenly heft to guard the ice caps and protect against global warming. There are also new concerns where a bit more specificity might expedite intercession. If there were a Saint Suggestion Box (or maybe a search program, a match.com for the beatified), I would offer these requests for expanded coverage.
The Patron Saint of the Empty Pantry: It's 6:55 and not even a box of mac-n-cheese in sight. If you order pizza one more time, the neighbors will call DSS.
The Patron Saint of Aging Parents: Or if no saints were readily available, maybe Dickens's Ghost of Christmas Future could step in and give us patience and understanding for what inevitably lies ahead.
The Patron Saint of Trans Fatty Acids, because no mere mortal can dodge them all, and the revised Food Pyramid is not exactly Jacob's Ladder.
The Patron Saint of All Things Cell Phone, because no mere mortal can make sense of the plans, the buttons, and how to look photogenic in a cell phone photo. Could be subsumed under (or engulf) Patron Saint of Prayer, since cell phone communication (especially among teens) is projected to surpass prayer by early 2007.
The Patron Saint of PBS: St. Clare is already the Patron Saint of Television, but if the recurrent URGENT! email petitions are any measure, Big Bird needs his own guardian.
The Patron Saint of Sprawl, Endangered Species, and Al Gore: St. Francis may have this covered, but I'd feel better if he had some reinforcements.
The Patron Saint of Blue Screens, Modem Crashes and Lost Files: Maybe St. Ambrose, who used to watch over wax melters, could get up to speed here?
The Patron Saint of College Admissions (including 529 Plans): This one may require a bipartisan approach: maybe a pair of nice co-ed saints along with sacrificial offerings.
The Patron Saint of Protestants Seeking Patron Saints: Because Lord knows I could go on and on, world without end. Amen.
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Contributing editor Stephanie Hunt's last piece for SoMA was Dream On.
This essay originally appeared in Skirt! Magazine. It is reprinted with permission of the publisher.
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