Complete this sentence:
"St. Anthony, St. Anthony..."
Don't know it?
Then you're not a real Catholic. At least not yet.
The one thing that connects the astoundingly diverse communion of saints with one another—besides their love of God and devotion to Jesus—is the fact that most have weird rhyming prayers in their honor. Certainly the most popular is the one to St. Anthony, the 13th-century Portuguese Franciscan saint best known not for his real-life devotion to the poor, but for helping you find your keys, your wallet and your Blackberry.
Here is the prayer in full: "St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around. Something is lost but cannot be found."
After Jesus and Mary, St. Anthony is the busiest person in heaven. In the early 1960s, for example, he spent the bulk of his time looking for my homework, my Cub Scout hat and my collection of several hundred orange plastic street-hockey balls.
Patrons and Our Companions
Catholic tradition holds that the saints are both our patrons and our companions. They both intercede on our behalf and serve as our models for discipleship. And it's always seemed sensible to me that they would be happy to help us from their posts in heaven. St. Therese of Lisieux, the 19th-century French Carmelite nun, famously said that she would spend her time in heaven doing good on earth.
To doubters I explain it like this: You pray for your friends when they are in need, right? Why wouldn't the saints, who most likely have more time on their hands, and are presumably more generous than we are, want to do the same?
Now, I'm not entirely sure how the saints handle requests for all the little things we ask of them, like finding street-hockey balls. (The answer to that question falls under my general theological category of "I have no idea.") All I know is that I always found that Cub Scout hat.
You might know whom to ask for your missing iPod, but did you know that Mother Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first U.S. citizen to be canonized, and who ministered to poor Italian immigrants in New York City in the early 20th century, is the official patron saint of finding parking spaces? Well, official in my book anyway.
Little Flower Power Just last weekend, my brother-in-law experienced the amazing benefits of her intercession while he was circling a crowded parking lot in front of a restaurant in suburban New Jersey. Vainly searching for a spot, he dropped me off curbside with my sister and two kids. Then, alone in his S.U.V., he turned to Mother Cabrini in his hour of need, using an easy prayer that I had shared with him a few years ago.
"Mother Cabrini, Mother Cabrini, please find a spot for my little machiney."
A few minutes later, he burst into the restaurant and announced, "Mother Cabrini's amazing! I'm converted!" On his second pass around the parking lot, Mother Cabrini had found him a spot in directly in front of the restaurant. In suburban New Jersey, that counts as a miracle.
A Jesuit friend, however, relies on another saint for parking spaces: St. Therese of Lisieux, often called the "Little Flower," for her spirituality of doing little things for God with love. My friend taught me her prayer last summer: "Little Flower, Little Flower, send me some of your parking power." But since Therese never drove a car (she passed her days in a cloistered Carmelite monastery) or lived in New York (she lived in the relatively smaller French town of Lisieux, where parking spaces were probably not a big worry) I prefer turning to Mother Cabrini. She lived in New York City. She understands traffic better.
Astute theologians will note that all these prayers rhyme. And they all start by saying the saint's name twice. Maybe the rhyme sounds more polished to their canonized ears and is therefore more welcome. (After all, "Mother Cabrini, get me a parking space!” is a bit harsh.) And perhaps repeating the name gets her attention in a gentler way. ("Hey, Mother Cabrini!" or "Yo! Mother Cabrini" is no way to speak to a saint.)
A favorite prayer for finding a husband or boyfriend (which these days is probably used as much by women as it is by gay men living in Massachusetts and New Jersey) is one directed toward St. Anne, the mother of Mary. I think the theory is that she found St. Joachim for herself and was probably able to help Mary find Joseph.
It's a simple prayer, too: "St. Anne, St. Anne, find me a man."
Last week, after giving a talk on the saints in a nearby Catholic parish, the pastor told me that he has heard an important addendum to that prayer to St. Anne. "As fast as you can!"
Laughing, one thirtysomething woman who overheard us said, "So that's the problem! I forgot to add that last part. No wonder St. Anne is taking so long!" The woman added that she felt comfortable asking for St. Anne's help. For her at least, Mary was somewhat unapproachable. Talking to St. Anne, on the other hand, seemed less daunting.
Asking for Anything
But the granddaddy, or in this case grandmother, of petitionary prayers for finding a man is the one that this same pastor recited for me. It's to St. Catherine. Whether that's St. Catherine of Alexandria, the 4th-century woman who disputed with philosophers of her time, or St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th-century mystic and scolder of popes, I'm not entirely sure. Both were redoubtable women who seem more than capable of asking for just about anything in heaven.
As far as I'm concerned, anyone who uses this prayer should get points just for being able to memorize it. Here it is:
St. Catherine, St. Catherine,
O lend me thy aid.
And grant that I never shall die an old maid.
A husband, St. Catherine,
a good one, St. Catherine.
But anyone’s better than no one, St. Catherine.
A husband, St. Catherine,
young, St. Catherine,
handsome, St. Catherine,
nice, St. Catherine,
soon, St. Catherine!
What a great prayer. It sounds like Thomas Aquinas writing for Fiddler on the Roof.
By the way, St. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century theologian, is patron of not getting struck by lightning, since his sister was killed by a lightning strike while Thomas, as a young boy, was sleeping in the same room. Not surprisingly, for the rest of his life during a thunderstorm, he would duck inside. Thomas, along with St. Catherine of Alexandria, is also patron saint of philosophers.
Sadly, there are fewer clever prayers to him. Not because no one cares for Thomas, but probably because it's so hard to find something to rhyme with Aquinas.