The word “saint” is a pretty loaded term in our lexicon. For many, they conjure up images of those who have reached spiritual heights the rest of us could never hope to attain. For others, they conjure up images of marble statues, figures ensconced in stony forms that seem to highlight some of the more inflexible aspects of our Catholic tradition. Of course the most common understanding of the word is the definition of a person who always, always, ALWAYS does the right thing… sort of a holy Dudley Do-Right. The term even caused modern day “Servant of God” Dorothy Day to remark, “Don’t call me a saint… I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”
I have to confess, even as a lifelong Catholic I could not always admit to understanding the “saint thing” either. It was not until I was at a conference held a number of years ago that discussed the similarities between culture and faith that I managed to gain a foothold on understanding how they fit into our lives… and why I sometimes struggled with this concept. Because in our American culture, we tend not to believe in ancestral spirits. We tend to believe that once people are gone, they are gone. Those who have gone before us do not hang around, they do not inhabit our lives, giving us direction, guiding us, and helping smooth our paths in this life as a preparation for the next one.
This past summer I was working as a hospital chaplain in New York City. So one day after work, a future rabbi, a future minister, and a future priest (me) walked into a bar. Actually the “future minister” was actually a “future Episcopal priest,” but the story sounds better as a joke to simply say a minister. But I digress… before we walked into that bar, we drove around Greenwich Village for ten minutes looking for a parking spot. If any of you have ever tried parking a car in Greenwich Village, I don’t recommend it. After an additional five minutes, I offered my Catholic assistance.
“Mother Cabrini, Mother Cabrini… DON’T BE A MEANY… please find a spot for my machiney.”
Should you ever use this prayer for yourself—no matter what your faith background may be—the “don’t be a meany” part is very important.
In the very next moment we turn the corner and—again, it’s important to point out that this is taking place in car-littered lower Manhattan—lo and behold, there was a spot right in front of the place where we were going. The two passengers proceeded to thank me for finding the spot. I replied, “Thank Mother Cabrini!”