Saints Preserve Us

I really enjoy reading about the lives of the saints.  I am fascinated by their histories, and I am also fascinated by the veneration of the saints by many Christians.  Lawrence Durrell writes in his book The Greek Islands that he observed the Greeks to have an intensely personal relationship with their saints, often chastising them for not coming across with answers to prayers. He heard one person angrily refer to their saint as “that stinking old cuckold in the niche” after being particularly disappointed by him.  I am Lutheran, a member of a church not typically associated with the saints.  I understand, though, how important the saints are to many people, and how comforting and reassuring it is to know that someone who was human and not perfect but really, really special,  has our interests at heart.

It is interesting to see  references to the saints in modern day life. Unless you know about St. Apollonia, for example, you might not understand why the new dentist office in town is called Apollonia Dental Services.

Many of the saints died horrible and violent deaths for their faith. Many are exlemplars of Christian charity.  Some saints are more difficult to fathom.  St. Christina the Astonishing is one of the patron saints of mental health workers.  Born in 1150, she was a rather alarming  Belgian woman who died of a massive seizure at the age of 20, and arose out of her casket at her funeral and floated to the rafters of the church complaining that she couldn’t bear the smell of all the sinful people in the congregation. She went on to behave in very alarming ways until she died again at the age of 74.  I don’t know if I would want her to intercede on my behalf.  She was pretty odd. I would rather rely on Isidore of Seville, who wrote the first encyclopedia compiled in the post-classical world, and who probably knows a lot about  everything there is to know.

Even if you are not a believer, who would you want to be your patron saint? 

 

 

50 thoughts on “Saints Preserve Us”

  1. Because I am not religious, I have to look to my past to find saints. I have been fortunate enough to know two men who were saintlike.

    They had many qualities in common. Both were tall, lean, humble and deeply ethical. Both managed to have faith in humanity despite many disappointments. Neither was capable of speaking badly about people who probably deserved to be reviled. The two men I admired so much were just too decent and kind to dislike others.

    One was mildly famous for a few years. Mulford Sibley was a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota. He was briefly swept up in a public controversy when a conservative politician named Milton Rosen debated Sibley on television. Sibley was one of the most popular and influential professors ever to teach at the University.

    I’ve mentioned the other saintly person in my past. Arthur Hawkins was one of Aldo Leopold’s original students when Leopold was creating a new department of wildlife management at the University of Wisconsin. Art loved Leopold as a friend, and he lived the sort of life Leopold hoped everyone would try to live. History remembers Art as one of the men who invented the waterfowl management system put in place after World War II. He was a gentle soul whose whole life was devoted to his family and to the wise management of natural resources.

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    1. I picked up a short story in Amazon a Prime reading. A man in a small rural Protestant Church one Sunday levitates up out of his seat for a a minute or so during the liturgy and then slowly settles back down, but no one notices because each person is lost in some worry or fear or emptiness. The author explains each persons problem, some for real, most just how we humans are lost in our own concerns. Even the man himself is not aware, if I remember right.
      Not sure the point the author is making beyond the obvious. I do not think he is making any religious statement as such, just how we focus on the petty, the short term, and not the grandeur around us.
      When I taught a A. P. English the kids were aware I was also a pastor, but it was never an issue. We read Scarlet Letter, Thoreau, Dickerson and I would talk about the spiritual dimension of human life was a connection to something large and grand and eternal, whether faith, nature, arts and also feeling a meaningful connection to others as individuals or all humanity. I told them it was just my own theory gained from reading and from my life experiences.
      I suggest that so many forces steal the spiritual from our lives. I think people on here feel spiritual connections somewhat along the lines I told the students. Trump is devoid of all spirituality of either dimension, and see how it sells to those who claim a religious faith. One of the thing that steals spirituality in a way is the stupid science and religion debates. The huge mass of Christians could care less about that. I suppose you could say that is a fault. But I have always been comfortable reading the Bible as something other than fact, but as metaphor about humans and eternity. I often referenced Stephen Jay Gould in sermons because he was a deeply spiritual man, but not within the tight guidelines of strict religion.
      Here endothelial my sermon.

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  2. St. Simeon Stylites. A serious case of the nuts. The desert fathers, the reclusive saints have always interested me. Was he real? Many of those early saints are transformed gods and legends. To go live on top of a pillar for 40 years is a serious case of the nuts. Cramps. Oh, the cramps, both kinds.
    It is my bet that such reclusive saints are to some degree emotionally unbalanced. The street people of their day, in an oddly diverted way, maybe. He has always represented to me the wrong sort of response to faith. We have lost the call of faith today. It is not that, or like Trumpeon Selfytes . The call is to serve in my thin book. One of my favorite political commentators has written a book about Trump’s faith, is if it were real. Scary to think when people are that duped.
    There are other saints called St. Simeon Stylites. My favorite is St. Simeon Stylites of Lesbos.
    Don’t know what old Simeon is patron of, sitting up there on his phallus. Maybe of impotency. Or the other guy Sitting atop a hallus on Lesbos.

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  3. Interesting, Renee. Will look up St. Apollonia.

    I will have to say St. Hildegard von Bingen – she was a Renaissance woman (1078-1179) who (from Wiki) “was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, visionary, and polymath… She is considered to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany… She wrote theological, botanical, and medicinal texts, as well as letters, liturgical songs… and poems” and founded a couple of monasteries. I became fascinated about her when reading the book I mentioned a couple of days ago, God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet.

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    1. If you find her interesting, perhaps you’d enjoy Dame Juliana Berners (although we can’t be entirely sure she ever existed). She is thought to have been a prioress born in 1388 who wrote charmingly about hunting, fishing and hawking. Her book on catching fish “with an Angle” is considered the first published book on fishing. That book inspired the lyricism of Izaak Walton, who wrote some 150 years later, but with the same charm. Someone who wrote about her was a guy with a name I love, Wynkyn de Worde, who was a printer and publisher in the 15th century.

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  4. The idea of saints as remarkable individuals, exemplars the church would wish you to emulate, although in the case of the reclusives and the floaters it’s hard to make out why, is at least a doctrine that can be taken as a suggestion, an ideal. It stays more or less within the bounds of reality. But to be declared a saint, you have to be dead yet still capable of acting upon the living and their world, as evidenced by a “miracle”.

    Not content with honoring sainted persons as good examples, the church has to portray them as magical ghosts who may, if you ask them nicely, intercede to change the laws of physics for you.

    It disturbs me to realize that a great many people happily accept this, that they conflate belief, however sincere, with “knowledge”. They self identify as people who will believe anything if it’s presented in the right way by the right person. And we know where that can lead.

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    1. If I had to validate every single thing with my own “knowlege”, it would make life very tedious indeed. I had a wonderful professor in grad school who referred to those things we need to simply assume are true just to get through the day as our “operable illusions”. The example he would use as we all sat in lecture was “you don’t objectively know that right now your apartment is NOT on fire, but in order to get on with life, you ASSUME it is”. He went on to explain that yes indeed, from time to time our operable illusion is shattered and we go into a period of crisis…until we can construct a new operable illusion.

      Bottom line: proof and “objective” reality have their limits. You are welcome to yours, kindly leave me to mine.

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      1. Operable “illusions” arenot illusions at all but assumptions that conform to probability. A great deal of what lies outside of our direct perception we must assign to probability. Belief lies completely outside of probability; it carries no objective authority. We all have beliefs and as long as we recognize them as such and don’t endow them with power they don’t merit I endorse them. I think they enrich our inner lives.

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  5. I didn’t grow up with the tradition/belief/idea of saints and it’s hard for me to understand it all. It’s very difficult for me to believe that any human is more than that – just a person with the same shortcomings and faults that the rest of us have. Sure, some may have more integrity and goodness than average, but a saint? Hard for me to believe.

    After pondering the question, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t want a patron saint. I just want a person who would be my friend, someone who is kind, who has a sense of humor but can also be serious, who knows how to be quiet, who likes to go on nature walks, who would never even have considered voting for you-know-who (#45), and who likes me just the way I am and likes doing things with me. This is making me laugh. To find all that isn’t very likely, maybe about as likely as a person really being a saint.

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  6. As a kid at the boarding school, I loved reading about saints, especially young female ones. St. Bernadette Soubirous was the first to capture my imagination, that and the whole story of Lourdes. The story of Our Lady of Fatima appearing to three children in Portugal was also of interest. If the Virgin Mary appeared to poor children, surely I had a chance.

    I was also fascinated by saints who had died a violent death, which, of course, many of them did. Seeing the severed head of Oliver Plunkett in St. Peter’s Church in Drogheda made a big impression on me when I was eleven. This relic is displayed in glass shrine on one of the side altars in the church, my granny would take me there often to pray and light a candle. Then we’d retire to the pub a few doors down and she’d have a Guinness. My memory of Saint Oliver Plunkett is forever tied to my granny with a foam mustache from her glass of Guinness.

    I know this doesn’t answer the question, but no, I’ve long since lost any faith that any dead person can or will intercede on my behalf. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of too many live persons who would.

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    1. in my catholic experience i never got nudged to look for help form saints to get the goal accomplished
      i have since learned that anthony finds all your lost stuff for you ( works every damn time) tony tony turn around, somethings lost and must be found.
      cmon tony where the hell is it. and zappo there it is

      i always heard about patron saints that loved to look after folks of a particular situation like christopher for travelers ( i think christopher got unsainted because they werent sure if he really did it as the story goes)
      st francis for the animals, george if you had a dragon to fight but it never dawned on me to hunt up the appropriate saint to fix my deal. (maybe thats why i have struggled)
      when i was a kid there were no justins or travis or amber kids in the world because you had to be named after a saint or you didnt have a chance
      now i have a devin a tara a spencer an olivia and an emma. i dont know if there is a saint to talk to for any of them, poor lost souls flailing around out there wiith no one covering your butt. me and timothy and ichael have had tough times but weve alway made it through.that michael is an animal.

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  7. I grew up attending Catholic church and Catholic grade school, so saints were a big part of the education. I remember watching an old movie about Bernadette of Lourdes and wishing I could be a saint and do those things. Of course, when we came to Joan of Arc (she would be considered my patron saint as I may have been named after her), I loved to learn about her. The fact that she was a warrior and could lead troops to victory was totally amazing to me, so there’s a special place in my heart for her. But the whole burning at the stake thing was just so unfortunate. How quickly men forgot what she did for them. 🙂

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  8. I grew up totally ignorant of saints. When I later heard about them I thought at first somebody was pulling my leg because saints were described in terms of specific super powers, like superheroes.

    I was further amused to learn that different occupations had specific patron saints. Here is a short list:

    Anthony of Padua helps folks who have lost things.
    There is a Saint Claude, and he looks out for sculptors (and wood carvers?)
    Genesuis is the patron saint for actors, clowns, comedians and the like.
    Joseph of Aramatheia is the guy for funeral directors.
    Jude is (famously) the saint for lost causes.
    Dymphna should be popular, for she is the saint for therapists and other mental health workers.
    Malo is the patron saint for pig-keepers (I’ll bet you didn’t know that).

    There is no patron saint for presidents. But the current occupant probably seeks help from Edmund the martyr, the patron saint of kings.

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  9. OT – but sort of related. Yesterday I listened to a debate on the radio. It was for or against the proposition that: The More We Evolve the Less We Need God. One team consisting of a cognitive neuroscientist, Heather Berlin and Michael Shermer, author and founder, The Skeptics Society arguing for the motion. Deepak Chopra (who probably doesn’t need an introduction) and Dr. Anoop Kumar, emergency physician & author arguing against.

    I found it an interesting debate, although it seemed that especially Deepak Chopra was redefining god and consciousness which resulted in a kind of circular debate. Heather Berlin is a skilled debater and was well prepared. She and Shermer easily won the debate as measured by an audience vote taken before and after the debate. I found the debate thought provoking and interesting. Here’s a link to the Youtube recording of it if you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUAiY7ZUWhQ

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      1. I’ll not bite on that, Bill, and just pretend that I didn’t get it. It’s a series called IQ2 – about all kinds of topics. Note the above debate was not about whether or not god exists. That would be a completely different conversation.

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        1. It makes me tense to listen to debate.n this topic was interesting, though. I like Choprah’s redefinition of the god concept as higher consciousness, connectedness to others, and our best selves.

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        2. I love listening to well reasoned and articulate debates, and the IQ2 debates are typically very respectful, without interruptions and with a skilled moderator. The team members are also highly educated and have a firm grasp of the subject they’re debating. I find that they are effective tools for making me take a fresh look at what I believe. I’m wondering, Jacquie, what about debates make you tense?

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        3. I heard the debate on MPR. I thought it was rather interesting that they insisted the question was not about whether there is a God, but just whether we need God. If you decide that God is needed, isn’t the whole human race just sort of screwed if there isn’t one? And conversely, if there is a God, is it even possible to just declare Him unnecessary? Seems to me separating the two issues is pretty impractical.

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        4. The way I see that, Linda, is that I know, and accept, that a lot of people believe there’s a god. This remains true whether or not there is one. So I don’t have trouble at all, separating into a separate debate whether or not we need one.

          I’m an atheist, so this for me is a logical debate, based on reason and empirical evidence. I enjoy the mental gymnastics involved.

          A debate I listened to today posited that Death Is Final. I believe this to be true, but really enjoyed the debate. But I’m open to being convinced that I’m wrong.

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  10. I think saints are kind of like professional athletes . They are freaks. Originally intended to motivate they served to let you know you could never do this. Mother Theresa is the one that comes to mind who was a person doing good. Everyone else is there because they believed so strongly they died. Joan of arc, was a crusader going to fight in the name of the lord, really ,,, fight in the name,e of the lord. Fox News had nothing on many of the saints. Back in the day the seven deadly sins were something you carried around a little card that reminded you to watch that sloth, today you point at others and accuse of sinning in order to make a point. It’s not about demonstrating the wwjd mentality it’s about gotcha stuff. I’m guessing there are some folks who still live by the golden rule but somehow that gets lost in the teaching and then the story and the grand tale become the thing. Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary. Dilelusional or chosen. Make her a saint and we can talk about it.
    I love modeling great examples and there are some of those but so many odd balls and freaked. It would be interesting to line them up categorize hem and see what you’ve got. There must be a ton of them who don’t get mentioned ever. I can’t remember the criteria for sainthood but George likely wouldn’t make a saint to consider list today. Or upon closer inspection you’d end up questioning the water into wine miracle and floating around or coming back from the dead. I’ll ame you a saint because the technology of the day couldn’t tell you weren’t quite dead yet. Bad premise.

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  12. Of course I am fond of St Dorcas (also known as Tabitha), often described as a charitable seamstress who made clothing for the poor (back when making clothing was a serious task not lightly undertaken).

    I lost one of my sainted aunts this past Friday who surely lived in the spirit of St Dorcas. This amazing woman showed up within hours of the emergency C-section that brought the s&h into the world bearing beautiful handmade gifts. Blessed be her memory.

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  13. I also didn’t grow up with knowledge of saints so I never learned to look to them for special intercession.

    I did a quick search and I didn’t find a patron saint of reading – not that I really need a saint in this area of my life!

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