I have always been intrigued by the notion of Patron Saints. I remember rifling through a book of saints in order to find the perfect Confirmation name. It did not take too long, as I stopped at the patron saint of architects (my career aspiration at the time), St. Thomas the Apostle.
Even after spending only a short time reading the book, I was amazed by the variety of things that have patrons. There are some professions that clearly should have a patron; such as St. Luke as the patron of doctors, St. Agatha as the patron of nurses, and St. John Vianney as the patron of priests. But some other occupations seem less in need of saintly intervention. Athletes have St. Sebastian to intercede for them, perhaps to ward off injury. Pray to St. Cassian of Imola if you are a shorthand writer for prevention of carpal tunnel syndrome. And then there are the milliners (hat makers) who have seven supposed patrons (seven!): St. Barbara, St. James the Apostle, St. James the Lesser, St. Severus of Avranches, Michael the Archangel, St. Clement of Ireland, and St. Catherine of Alexandria.
Even more fascinating is how saints get paired with their benefactors. Some of these connections are quite obvious. St. Matthew (the tax collector) is the patron of accountants. St. Peter (the apostle) is the patron of fishermen. St. Joseph of Arimathea (who placed Jesus in his tomb) is the patron of funeral directors. But Clare of Assisi is the patron saint of television. This clearly makes sense since she died in the thirteenth century, more than 600 years before the first television set was invented. Apparently, there was a time when Clare was too ill to attend mass and was bedridden. She was, however, able to see the mass on the wall of her cell. And because of this Pope Pius XII made her the patron of television in 1958.
Saints are associated with everything imaginable. But when it comes down to it, other than praying to St. Anthony to find my car keys, I rarely reach out to the saints in my prayers. Maybe this is because I really do not know about most of them. I seem to only know the bigger ones: St. Francis and St. Clare, St. Patrick, St. Joan of Arc, and the biblical ones (Joseph, the Apostles, Paul, etc.).
The challenge for me comes from my mentality about the saints. Sometimes I look at them as the Catholic Hall of Fame filled with the greatest and holiest people to walk the earth. Every biography of a saint seems to involve at least one of the following: the saint lived hundreds of years ago, was a priest or religious, made some great addition to Catholic doctrine, converted nations, or died a martyr for the faith. Those are some tough acts to follow. But, should our purpose in life be to become a saint? Or is simply living an authentic Catholic life enough? This excerpt from an article in America Magazine references two modern saints and speaks to that universal call:
While Catholics recognize that the canonized saint needs to have led a life of “heroic sanctity,” many lay Catholics long for someone they can emulate in their daily lives. Which raises a question: Who is holier—Mother Teresa or the church-going mother who for decades takes care of an autistic child? Pope John Paul II or the pious man who serves as a director of religious education while holding down two jobs to support his family? The answer: they are all saintly in their own ways. “Heroic sanctity” comes in many forms—and it includes both those whose faith inspires them to found a religious order and those whose faith enables them to care for a sick child for years on end.
Our best way to connect with the communion of saints is to learn from their example of faithful Christian living, to be thankful for their contributions to the world and our Catholic Tradition, and to pray for them to help us live authentic Catholic lives. I do not believe any of the canonized saints lived with the intention of becoming one. They simply lived faith-filled lives rooted in the Gospel.