There are patron saints for major ailments, natural disasters and impossible situations. But what about the mishaps and petty aggravations that are part of day-to-day life? The good news is that even in the mundane — yet nonetheless stressful — difficulties of life, we are not without help. Here, then, are half a dozen patrons for common problems we all experience.
We love the kids, but there are days … St. Monica (331-387) doted on her son Augustine; of her three children, he was her favorite. St. Augustine tells us in his “Confessions” that she liked to have him near her “as is the way with mothers, but far more than most mothers.” Monica had raised her children in the Catholic faith, and when 17-year-old Augustine was ready to leave home to study at the university at Carthage, she instructed him to remain chaste. Augustine admits he treated his mother’s “womanish advice” with contempt. He was, as he says, “in the mood to be seduced.” And, in fact, soon after he arrived in Carthage he found a mistress and they moved in together. A year later, the woman (in none of his writings does Augustine ever mention her name) gave birth to a baby boy. That news was bad enough, but Augustine compounded it by abandoning the Catholic faith and joining the Manicheans, a sect that considered itself an intellectual and spiritual elite. Manicheans taught there were two gods, one good, the other evil, who were in constant conflict for control of the universe. Throughout history many “Jesuses” had come to earth to struggle on the side of good, but none had ever triumphed over evil. The first time Augustine returned home from the university Monica, angry and heartbroken, locked him out of the house.
Mother and son were on speaking terms soon enough, and in 383, when Augustine decided to move his family to Rome, Monica said she would go with them. At the harbor, Augustine suggested his mother visit a nearby chapel while he arranged to have their luggage stowed aboard ship. When Monica finished her prayers she walked to the dock to find that Augustine had sailed without her.
Heartbreaking as it is to think of Monica alone on the dock, we know that the story ended well. Through Monica’s prayers (and the eloquence of the bishop St. Ambrose), Augustine gave up his mistress, was baptized and became a priest, a bishop and the Church’s greatest theologian after St. Paul. But it took 17 years of worry and unpleasantness before Augustine was ready to repent.
St. Monica’s feast day is Aug. 27.
Safe automobile travel
We spend a lot of time in our cars — it is how we get to and from work, run errands and drop off and pick up the kids from their activities. To ward off the dangers of accidents, the irritation of a flat tire and the frustration of heavy traffic, do as the Romans do and invoke St. Frances of Rome (1384-1440). In addition to raising her family and running her household, this wealthy noblewoman was unfailingly generous to the poor. When she was called to someone’s sickbed in the middle of the night, Frances’ guardian angel went before her, shining a supernatural light. Roman motorists interpret that light as a blessed forerunner of automobile headlights, so they took St. Frances as their patron. On her feast day, March 9, cars and taxis line up outside St. Frances’ church to be blessed.
Many of us are born procrastinators. Even on those days when we are working diligently, someone we are working with is probably procrastinating. Believe it or not, the patron invoked against procrastination is St. Expeditus. He was one of six Armenian Christians, probably all soldiers, who were martyred in the fourth century. How he came to be the patron saint of procrastination is a bit complicated. In the 19th century, the relics of a martyr, along with a statue, were shipped from Rome to a convent in Paris. Neither the relics nor the statue was labeled, but the shipping crate was marked “Spedito,” which the sisters took to be the saint’s name (it actually means “sent” in Italian). They Latinized it to St. Expeditus, and devotion to him spread across France, then to New Orleans and on to South America. St. Expeditus is always depicted as a Roman soldier, holding a cross above his head bearing the word Hodie, Latin for “today,” and trampling on a raven marked Cras, Latin for “tomorrow.” The feast of St. Expeditus is April 19.
It is a marvel how even the largest bunch of keys gets lost, but it is a common occurrence nonetheless. The saint to call on to help you find your misplaced keys is St. Zita (1218-1272). At age 12, she went to work as a servant in the home of the Fatinelli family in Lucca, Italy. Zita was meek, hardworking and devout — naturally, the other servants suspected she was trying to make them look bad. But she had a flaw — Zita could not turn away anyone who came to the kitchen door asking for something to eat. Because she had nothing herself, she gave away provisions from the Fatinelli’s pantry. Signor Fatinelli, who was short-tempered even at the best of times, would fly into a rage every time he learned that Zita had been handing out food. He would drag her into the pantry to show her the bare shelves and empty barrels, but each time he found the shelves and barrels miraculously replenished. In time, Fatinelli accustomed himself to Zita’s generosity and even came to trust her. He made her manager of the household and handed over to her the keys to every door and cupboard.
The feast of St. Zita is April 27.
Headaches may be the most common ailment in America. A recent medical study found that 88 percent of American women and 69 percent of American men suffered tension headaches. And that is not counting headaches brought on by eye strain, loud noises, or are a symptom of a cold or flu. During the Middle Ages, Catholics venerated the Fourteen Holy Helpers, 14 saints who were considered especially effective against common troubles. One of the Helpers, St. Acacius, is invoked against headaches. He was a centurion in the Roman army. In 303, during Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of the Church, Acacius was arrested for refusing to sacrifice to the Roman gods. The tribune who presided over Acacius’ case had thorn branches twisted tightly around his head, then ordered him beheaded.
The feast of St. Acacius is May 8.
We have become dependent on our computers — most of us could not do our jobs without them. In the 1990s, when the Internet was new, Catholics working in the new online industry decided they wanted a patron saint: They chose St. Isidore of Seville (560-636). Obviously, St. Isidore never surfed the Web, but he did compile a 20-volume encyclopedia of all existing knowledge. The Catholic IT workers interpreted the encyclopedia as the world’s first database and adopted St. Isidore as their patron. He is invoked against viruses, slow computers, crashing hard drives and all the other annoyances of living in a high-tech world.
The feast day of St. Isidore of Seville is April 4.
Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of “Saints Behaving Badly” (Doubleday, $15.95) and the forthcoming “Patron Saints” (OSV, $14.95).