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Busted Halo
feature: religion & spirituality
February 18th, 2005

Praying with the Saints

or Saint Jude, the sock drawer and me

 
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When I was very young, I spied an advertisement in a magazine for a statue of Saint Jude. I can’t begin to imagine which magazine this might have been, since my parents weren’t in the habit of leaving Catholic publications lying around the house, but, apparently, the photo of the statue was sufficiently appealing to convince me to drop $3.50 in an envelope.

Truth be told, I also can’t imagine what led me to focus my childish desires on Saint Jude and spend in excess of three weeks’ allowance on a plastic statue rather than, say, another Archie comic book. My only other obsession at that time, as I recall, was a green pup tent I had spotted in the Sears catalogue, but this too was thrown over in favor of Saint Jude.

In a few weeks, I received in the mail a little brown package containing a nine-inch beige plastic statue, along with a booklet of prayers to be used while praying to the Patron Saint of Impossible Causes. Beige Saint Jude, who held a staff and carried a sort of plate emblazoned with the image of a face (which I supposed was Jesus, though this was difficult to discern) was immediately given pride of place on top of the dresser in my bedroom.

At the time, I was in the habit of praying to God only intermittently, and then mainly to ask for things. That is, Let me get an “A” on my next test. Let me do well in Little League this year. Let my skin clear up for the school picture. I used to imagine God as The Great Problem Solver, the one who would fix everything if I just prayed hard enough, used the correct prayers, and prayed in precisely the right way. But when God couldn’t fix things (which seemed more frequent than I would have liked) I would turn to Saint Jude. I figured that if it was beyond the capacity of God to do something, then surely it must be an impossible cause, and it was time to call on Saint Jude.

Fortunately, the little booklet that accompanied the Saint Jude statue included plenty of good prayers, and even featured one in Latin that began
Tantum ergo sacramentum...”
I saved the Latin prayer for only the most important impossible causes, like final exams and the like. And when I really wanted something I would say the Tantum ergo prayer three times on my knees.

Saint Jude stood patiently atop dresser for ten years, until high school. My high school friends, when visiting our house, often used to ask to see my bedroom (we all seemed inordinately interested in what everyone else’s bedroom looked like) and began to drop by with alarming regularity. And, though I was by now fond of Saint Jude, I was afraid of what my friends would think if they spied the strange plastic thing standing on my dresser. So Saint Jude was relegated to inside my sock drawer, and was brought out only on special occasions.

My faith was another thing, you could say, that was also relegated to the sock drawer for the next several years. During high school, I went to Mass more or less weekly; but later, during college, I became only an occasional churchgoer (though I still prayed to the Great Problem Solver). And as my faith grew thinner and thinner, my affinity for Saint Jude began to seem a little childish: silly, superstitious and faintly embarrassing.

That changed for me around age 26. Dissatisfied and disenchanted with my life in the business world, I began giving interest to doing something else with my life, though at the time I had little idea of what exactly that “something else” would be. All I knew was that after five years in corporate America, I was miserable and wanted out. From that rather banal sentiment, however, God was able to work. The Great Problem Solver was at work on a problem that I only dimly comprehended.

 
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The Author : James Martin, SJ
James Martin SJ is the culture editor of America magazine the national Catholic Weekly published by the Jesuits. He is the author of numerous books including My Life with the Saints and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything but is perhaps best known as "chaplain" to The Colbert Report due to his frequent appearances on the show.
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