Regular readers know that around this time each year I have been fortunate enough to have someone “pull a patron saint” – someone who will be a specific teacher and friend for the coming twelve months. My patron for 2010–you can see his picture in the sidebar–has been the great St. Philip Neri, of whom I knew nothing beyond the fact that he was famous for his sense of humor.
I did some research on him, bought a book and found that there was much more to this “Apostle of Rome” than his cheerfulness. Each day in my prayers, as I finished up my intercessions, I would always add, “St. Philip, teach me what you know.”
I am a poor student, but Philip and I became very fond friends, and I think he really did help me to learn quite a lot about taking God seriously, but not the self, and about surrender. I credit him with bringing about, somehow, the September trip to Rome that hadn’t even been on my radar, in June, and where we seemed to encounter churches and still-functioning hospitals established by this holy man, all over the place.
A particularly warm memory of Rome came on our first night, when we lumbered into Santa Maria in Vallicella, which is commonly known as Chiesa Nuova. Despite the beauty of our surroundings, I was focused entirely on getting to the side chapel wherein Neri’s incorruptible remains are entombed.
Chapel & Tomb of St. Philip Neri, Chiesa Nuova, Rome
Once there, surrounded by a few young men and pilgrims, I quietly wept in exhausted gratitude, thinking, “I am not sure how or why, but here I am!” A few minutes later, two vested Italian priests entered and mass began–an intimate, quiet mass–it was such a sweet gift!
This year, it has been difficult to find someone to “pull a patron” for me, and I was beginning to despair that this lovely tradition, which has been a true benefit to my spiritual life, might have to come to an end.
Thank God, then for Conversion Diary’s excellent Jennifer Fulwiler, who–aside from being a newly-expecting, homeschooling mom and a prolific writer–is also enough of a geek to develop (on her own) this nifty Patron Saint Generator.
Go check it out. I uttered a little prayer before hitting the button, and was delighted to find that my Patroness for 2011 (and my first female since I picked up this tradition) is St. Catherine of Siena!
“If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire”
– St. Catherine of Siena
For the past few years I have felt alternately nagged at and cajoled by this great Dominican Tertiary and reformer–this humbly-born, Christ-haunted and God-educated, pope-and-monarch-instructing, unforgettable fire of a woman–who “[wielded] power, influence and wisdom to which Hillary Clinton can only aspire.”
Born in 1347, just one year before the plague would devastate Siena, Catherine’s was an era of stark extremes: the scholarly poet Petrarch beside the romantic Boccaccio, Tuscan beauty marred by violence, corruption, and the plague. The duality manifested itself in a church being wrestled over by two popes, and in Catherine herself: an uneducated woman of prolific letters; a pragmatist and profound mystic; a lunatic who communicates with lucidity; a woman too tidy to wear a hair shirt but indifferent to the steel chain wrapped around her torso and biting into her skin.
I look forward to humbly submitting myself to the tutelage of this wonder-inspiring Doctor of the Church, throughout 2011.
Catherine, at Basilica Santa Sabina, Rome
In a way, this feels almost like a continuation of my time with Neri, and in particular that very wonderful evening in Rome; hours before the mass in the Chapel of St. Philip Neri, my husband and I had visited the tomb of St. Catherine of Siena, which resides at the church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, mere blocks from Chiesa Nuova.
There I had asked St. Catherine to pray for my many Dominican friends, and for others who had asked for specific remembrances to her, and then I had said, “St. Catherine, teach me what you know…”
It is a brazen–even presumptuous–request to make, of course. But I figure myself to be very ignorant, so I need to be bold in seeking out good teachers who will remind me, again and again, that I am not in charge of anything but my own surrender.
The tradition of “patron pulling” is that one does not choose the saint; the saint chooses you for the year. This almost feels like the good Apostle of Rome has handed me off to the fascinating Catherine with a rueful shake of the head: “If I’ve overcoddled this hopeless creature, let’s bring in some tough love…”
It reminds me of that scene in Kill Bill, Vol. 2, where Bill hands his student Beatrix Kiddo off to the master, Pai Mei, warning her not to “throw any American sass” his way.
No sass. I will be good.
Do give Jennifer’s Patron Saint Generator a look-see. If you decide to take a patron, let us know which one chose you!
UPDATE: A great story!