Monday, January 17, 2011


As we've discussed, Baltimoreans are more likely to be Catholic than any other religion. And thanks to our forefathers, our country is one in which people can celebrate whatever they deem to be a religion freely and without persecution. This translated, for many of us, into a course somewhere in high school called "World Religions" during which students explore the fundamentals of belief systems throughout the world.

Allow me to digress into an anecdote. I was taught "World Religions" by a 5-foot-tall, 90-pound middle-aged woman who styled herself as though she was determined to single-handedly bring back the preppiest parts of the 70s and 80s. A staunch catholic who (we think) lived with her mother, she was determined to teach us about the religions of the world by highlighting how their basic principles were fundamentally flawed in comparison to our own Catholic heritage. I guess she wanted to make sure no impressionable young Catholics got an idea about greener grass in her classroom.

(Now, I may have gone to a Catholic school but our student population was not as homogeneous as you might assume. A few people in our class didn't take communion at our mandatory holy-day** masses so we knew they probably weren't Catholic. Do we know what they believed? No. Didn't your mother ever tell you it's impolite to talk about politics, money, or religion at the lunch table?!  Well if not, consider yourself informed.)

So, with our limited tutelage and classmate input, we only learned about the tip of each religion's iceberg. I know what karma is but not really how to use it to my advantage. I know that yin and yang means something about the balance needed in life but really - that's where my information on Taoism stopped. And I haven't the slightest clue who is and isn't a Hindu god/goddess. My simple brain was trained on monotheism. Trying to add that information would be like trying to get used to an additional day of the week - can't get my head around 24/8. Limited knowledge not withstanding, I still find myself borrowing from these other cultures. My bet is that you do too.

A friend is wronged by someone at their office, what do I tell them? "Don't worry, Karma's a bitch."

You desperately want a snow day? "Turn your pajama's inside out and do a snow dance!"

You're trying to insult someone in a setting where you probably shouldn't use sailor-speak? Call them a schmuck! It works for our Jewish friends everywhere (as does matzoh ball soup if you're feeling flu-ish.)

And of course, anyone who's ever failed a New Years Resolution (I didn't mean you - I'm sure yours will stick this year) knows that in order for a way of life to be sustainable, it needs to be balanced. You can't eat cabbage soup (or only protein) forever. (No yin without yang, eh?)

I've been borrowing from the Buddhists, Native Americans, Jews, and Taoists for years but never once did I offer them anything in return - until today.  Today, I'm going to offer up a few convenient Catholic fixes for your modern day problems - each of which probably already has a Saint assigned to the case who can provide the solutions you seek.

 A "Saint" is someone who a) lived a good life b) was Catholic c) can do stuff for you after they're dead and d) is guaranteed to be in heaven. Catholics don't worship saints but rather, think of them as friends who like to help and have a specific talent. And don't worry - if one of those qualifiers doesn't jive with what you believe, it doesn't really matter. I don't think Saints discriminate who they help as long as that person really makes an effort to believe that the Saint can help. Savvy? Believe and you shall receive.

There are hundreds of saints (I know what you're thinking - with an idea like this, how'd you not get your head around the Hindu thing? It's different. To me, it's like having multiple CEOs of a company. Sounds like mayhem!). And most Catholics couldn't handle a session of Jeopardy: The All Saints Edition because there are so many to learn and we never really get to sit down and go through them all individually. But there are a few that each of us keeps "on-call" because of how they seem to apply to our lives. For me, there are five : St. Anthony, St. Joseph, St. Michael, Our Lady of the Highways, and Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (yes, Kateri's not a saint yet but for our purposes, she's included. "Blessed" is the step before sainthood... shes' on the JV scene.)

Now armed with their names - here's how they help you:

St. Anthony. I'm sure he does more than find lost thing but that, he does well. I lose stuff ALL the time. With about a 90% success rate, St. Anthony has helped me find everything from lost keys and missing earrings to lost friends (I got lost at Preakness one year- that's another long story). To get his attention - say this little prayer (either out loud or to yourself) - "Please Saint Anthony, come around. My ______ is lost and can't be found." Don't forget to say "thanks" when you find what you're looking for. And yes, sometimes it takes an hour or more... don't give up. He's on it.

St. Joseph. He protects your home so keep a little statue of St. Joseph in your kitchen as a reminder to yourself to ask for his protection. Homeowners insurance is something you'd rather have than use so, talk to St. Joe. And if you need to sell your house? Bury a statue of St. Joe upside down in your garden and then ask for his help. He'll get the message and you'll get an offer - even in this real estate climate!

St. Michael. Technically - he's St. Michael The Archangel. Surely I don't have to explain what an angel is but suffice it to say that he's varsity. He's a warrior so say a prayer to him for protection if you're walking alone at night or otherwise about to get into a situation where you may need a bodyguard. He's also great if you're prepping yourself to do physical/mental/social/professional battle - he can pretty much handle them all so he's a good guy to have on your side. There's an official prayer that many of us RC's know that starts "St. Michael The Archangel defend us in battle" - but if you just say "St. Michael - defend me" it'll work just fine.

Our Lady of the Highways. She's just who she sounds like she might be - ah yes, she's the Blessed Mother - or Mary (standing next to Jesus in your local nativity scene.) Mary is the patron saint of many things but there is a statue on the side of Interstate 95 North that calls her "Our Lady of the Highways." This statue is on the way to Avalon, New Jersey - a lovely little beach hamlet that Pauly D and Snookie would be chased from with pitchforks. As a result, I grew up saying a prayer to Our Lady of the Highways before every major car trip and now do the same not just as a force of habit but really, because it can't hurt! I'm basically Calamity Jane behind the wheel (though NONE of my four accidents has ever been my fault - no, seriously!) but I've never been in an accident on a long trip. I just realized that, actually. And now, I'm starting to think I need to check in with her each time I click on my seat belt.

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha. I'm sure, if you're not Catholic, that you're confused. There are quite a few stages to being declared an official saint and the "Blessed" stage is pretty much the last stop before the big dance. So when you've made it as far as she has - it's only a matter of time before she's promoted.  So on with why she's great. Kateri was a Native American princess who had an extremely strong faith (so much so that pock-marks on her face from a childhood illness were said to disappear at her death. Most of us don't get better looking when we die so I'm guessing she must have had a serious admirer upstairs.) Her last name translated means "She Moves Things." And that's what she does - or at least, that's what she seems to do for me. When you need things to keep progressing or something you've been working on to keep going (or start going) in your favor, call on her. Consider her St. Get-It-Done. And you might just want to say thanks by praying for her promotion. After all, a job well-done should be rewarded!

And that's it. My top five saints for practical purposes. 'You're welcome' other cultures of the world! We're happy to share with you and no, we don't even require that you convert. Then again, if you're interested, we won't turn you away!

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