November 1, 1998.
It was a Sunday, just as it is today.
November 1st is also All Saints Day, which, unless you are Catholic — or even if you are — may not hold much meaning to you.
I’m fairly certain I didn’t go to church that day in 1998. Or maybe I did. I don’t recall. I was certainly feeling angry at the world, bereft. Without going back to my journals from those days, because they are just too overwhelmingly painful to read, I am pretty sure I spent the whole of that Sunday at the hospital.
Now, I’m not saying my mom was saintly. Or even that she was perfect — though, when we lose someone we love, we tend to paint them in a perfect light. Without a doubt, though, she left an imprint on our hearts. She was giving and selfless, classy and well-spoken; she was a thinker and a writer and a communicator. She was even a little bit rebellious!
She also believed in God. And in many ways, in many moments, I have felt that God failed her. For a long time after my mom died, I quit God and the church. I didn’t make a dramatic exit, I simply stopped going. Except for maybe Easter and Christmas. Maybe that makes me a bit of a hypocrite.
I’ve gradually returned to my faith — again, without any grand proclamations of beliefs or religion. If nothing else, it’s been a kind of calming influence in an otherwise harried weekly existence. Also, as my kids have each approached the age to prepare for and receive their First Communion (two down, two to go), I feel it is important for them to learn about their faith. It’s also to their benefit to have that hour of stillness and reflection which seems insanely difficult some days.
And yes, I’m still met with big sighs and eye-rolls and why-do-we-have-to-gos. To which I respond, rather intellectually: “Because I said so. And when you are old enough you can choose to go or not to go. But for now, you’re going. Now get in the van!” (Pretty much what my mom would say to us, verbatim.)
Today — as I have, on-and-off, for the past several years (because we are nowhere close to being regular weekly attendees), but more consistently over the last few weeks (because upcoming First Communions and Confirmation) — I took my kids to church. The liturgy was, of course, about the Saints, but interestingly the priest, a youngish, newish addition to our parish, gave it a modern — even comical — twist.
The Thing About Saints
Without getting all religiously technical (because that is so not my thing), our priest essentially relayed the message that part of what make the Saints — well…saintly — is that they are all different. They stand out. They are human but they are extraordinary in some way. They represent.
Certain Catholic saints are associated with certain life situations. These patron saints intercede to God for us. We can take our special needs to them and know they will listen to our prayers, and pray to God with us.
Take this however you wish.
Interestingly, there are patron saints for just about anything under the sun. A quick search yielded patron saints for every day of the year as well as for countries — Spain and Canada among them — for authors, headaches, housewives, poets, writers, loss of parents, teenagers, children, telecommunications (seriously), wine trade (ironically the same patron saints as for women in labour), alcoholics and bakers. As our forward-thinking priest thoughtfully pointed out, all we need now are patron saints of texting and X-Box and we are groovy.
After my mom died, I found this snippet in one of her jewelry boxes:
To St. Peregrine, the Cancer Saint,
Glorious wonder-worker, St. Peregrine, you answered the divine call with a ready spirit, and forsook all the comforts of a life of ease and all the empty honors of the world to dedicate yourself to God in the Order of His holy Mother.
You labored manfully for the salvation of souls. In union with Jesus crucified, you endured painful sufferings with such patience as to deserve to be healed miraculously of an incurable cancer in your leg by a touch of His divine hand.
Obtain for me the grace to answer every call of God and to fulfill His will in all the events of life. Enkindle in my heart a consuming zeal for the salvation of all men.
Deliver me from the infirmities that afflict my body (especially cancer).
Obtain for me also a perfect resignation to the sufferings it may please God to send me, so that, imitating our crucified Savior and His sorrowful Mother, I may merit eternal glory in heaven.
St. Peregrine, pray for me and for all who invoke your aid.
I cherish these words because my mom held them close to her heart. Perhaps they brought her solace. I can’t say they do the same for me — therein lies the glitch in the marrying of humanity, faith and religion.
What I do know to be true is that my mother fought her cancer like a warrior. She was taken from us much too soon. For 17 years I’ve suffered a void in my heart which is irreplaceable. No amount of prayer has eased my wounds; however, today I felt overwhelmed with emotion as I knelt in that pew and I knew that in that moment, that is exactly where I needed to be.