Wednesday, February 3, 2010

St. Blaise and I

When I converted to the Catholic faith, there was a long, dry spell of being neither fish nor fowl. Everyone who converts goes through that period: a time when one isn’t yet home, but when the destination is clearly in sight. I ended up feeling like a child fidgeting in the back seat of a car on a long road trip. Are we there yet? When will we get there? How much longer?

It’s for that reason that I love St. Blaise. He became my first saintly friend when his feast day fell on a Sunday and our parish observed the ritual of blessing of throats. After weeks of sitting in the pew, present but not yet arrived, here was something I could actually participate in, strange as the custom seemed. I’ve not missed a blessing since, and it always causes me to marvel a bit at the wonderful continuity of Catholic worship. Same day, same saint, same crossed candles, same words—and usually, the same comments on the Saint’s causing a child to cough up a fish bone (hence his patronage of throat ailments) and his martyrdom (in part being raked with iron rakes, hence his patronage of wool combers).

But it’s the words of the blessing itself that caught me then, and catches me still. It’s a brilliant little homily in itself on the communion of Saints and the seamless kinship of all Christian peoples, now and forever.

Through the intercession of Saint Blaise: This distant, mysterious martyr actually cares about me. If not, why would he intercede on my behalf? The next logical extension is that, like St. Blaise, I have a responsibility and probably a need to intercede for those I do not know, but those I know need my help. The efficacy of my prayer lies not in myself, but my giving myself to another’s needs and asking for them the power of God, and the more perfectly I do that, the more useful my prayers. As I stood in line to be blessed that first day, this concept of asking the saints for their intercession became transparently logical and very personal. And like all wonderful discoveries in my journey as a Catholic, is laid both opportunity and challenge before me.

Bishop and martyr: As I paid attention to the feast days of the saints, I began to understand that the Church remembers and celebrates her martyrs in part to confirm me in my own faith. I live in a soft American world. I don’t know whether my faith would be as strong as St. Blaise’s was. I suppose I will never know unless confronted with real martyrdom. As I hear the stories of the saints and martyrs, I realize the need for my prayers—and theirs—to procure for me the grace I will need for whatever challenges I face, large or small, every day. Somehow the fact that these were real people, often ordinary ones with ordinary challenges, is reassuring. I’ll bet Blaise wasn’t sure he’d be able to face his fate, either, until he met it face on. I’ll bet he prayed for the grace to do what he was called to, every day, and I’m willing to bet that I should, too.

May God deliver you: Proper devotion to the saints, like proper devotion to the Blessed Virgin, always raises my eyes to the Cross and to the Trinity. St. Blaise may do the asking on my behalf, but as always, the grace comes from God to me. A personal saint. A personal God, who cares about me, a person. And the reminder that God may deliver me from this particular ailment—but He may not, at least, not in the eyes of this world. Whether He does or not is not the measure of His love, but how I respond is a measure of my faith and trust.

From ailments of the throat: I have to confess that I’ve not been spared sore throats as a result of my yearly acquaintance with St. Blaise. In my line of work, I always tag on a mental request that St. Blaise help me use my voice and my words in ways that honor God. I’m more at risk of sharp speech than fish bones these days.

And from every other evil: I’ve started taking a cue from St. Blaise in my own prayers. As much as I think I know what I need to pray for, I generally really haven’t a clue. If St. Blaise can be counted on to leave the needs to God and provide the prayer, so can I.

In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen and amen!

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