Saturday, May 23, 2015

St. Agnes-Patron Saint of Young Girls, Innocence & Gardening

St. Agnes Holding the Lamb of Innocence
Today I received an order for a St. Agnes statue from a mother looking for a confirmation gift for her young daughter.  St. Agnes is a frequently requested saint for this occasion.  She is a beautiful statue, depicted as a young woman holding the lamb of innocence with a serene look on her face.  She is the Patron Saint of Chastity, gardeners, girls, engaged couples, rape victims and virgins.  Her name is derived from a Greek word meaning chaste, pure and sacred, of innocence.  She was born in 209 AD.

When I paint a St. Agnes statue, I am reminded of the innocence of my own childhood and the things that impacted me the most.  I am reminded of the people I love who taught me what was important and how they unknowingly influenced  my life.  Not a day goes by when I don't remember the things I learned even though at the time I didn't realize I was learning a thing.

The Seedling My Aunt and  I planted when I was seven 
When I was 7 years old my Aunt Gertrude lived in New York City over looking Central Park.  It was exciting when she came to visit.  One evening she took me for a walk, carrying a bucket and a shovel.  She was determined to find just the right seedling.  Finally, she dug up a tiny fir tree that was  no more than 6 inches tall as she explained the importance of the taproot.  We carefully placed it in a bucket and carried it back to my house.  We planted the seedling in an area of the yard where there were no other trees.  She taught me to water it regularly and she said "Someday this tree will be bigger than you."  I simply couldn't imagine.  Today when I look up at that tree I think of the great lessons I learned from that one simple act. 

She taught me that time passes and things change without ever saying a word.  She taught me that nurturing and caring is something important to do for other living things.  She taught me that one modest deed could make me remember her every time I look at that tree even 56 years after we planted it.  How did she know the effect it would have on me to see a 6" seedling grow into an 80 foot tree?

"Clasp your hands together and interlace your  fingers.  Now, make a steeple with your index fingers and put your thumbs up to make the doors."  To this day, I have never clasp my hands in prayer without remembering my mother teaching me how to pray.  With those modest instructions she taught me symbolism and the meaning of prayer.  She taught me how to be respectful and how to be humble in my requests.  Did she know with that one simple lesson my heart would swell with love every single time I clasp my hands, especially after she was gone?

On my 5th birthday, I had a swim party with 6 other little girls.  We went to the river at the park on a hot day in June.  We swam, ate sandwiches, made sandcastles, and swam some more.  Then with sun-burnt noses, we went back to my house to have cake and ice cream.  It was then that the sheriff knocked on the door looking for a little girl who had been celebrating her birthday at the park where we had just been.  She had disappeared.  And for a split second, before we sorted out the details, they though I was that little girl.  For my entire life, I have wondered why she drowned and not me.  We both had birthdays on the same weekend.  We both had friends to play with, adults watching us and cake and ice cream to eat.  I have never had a birthday where I didn't think about her. I have since looked up her name and I know she would be 63 this year. Her name was Cheryl Johnston and she had a brother.  I have not forgotten her or the day we unknowingly shared.

St. Agnes Statue from Chris Hart Studio
That same weekend as the sheriff posse searched for her, I learned to tie my shoes.  Even though I had just turned 5, I had struggled to learn that task because I preferred to go barefoot and tying them wasn't important to me.  As the search party moved across the bottom land of my parents ranch, I wanted badly to go outside and watch their horses.  My brother said, "When you can tie your shoes by yourself you can go out." and he showed me one more time.  I have never tied my shoes without remembering my brother and appreciating his knowing how to motivate me that weekend so many years ago.

When I look up at the tree Aunt Gertrude and I planted so many years ago, I appreciate St. Agnes, the Patron Saint of Young Girls and Gardening.  When I interlace my fingers in prayer as my mother taught me so many years ago, I think of the virtue of St. Agnes at a young age challenged for what she believed.  When I have a birthday or I tie my shoes, I remember the innocence of a young girl as she finds her way.   

The simple acts of others in our lives  become the fertilizer out of which grows something meaningful. Our experiences get tossed in and turned under, then percolate and transform into something richer. St. Agnes helps us appreciate the innocence of our childhood and the influence of others as we grow.


Friday, May 1, 2015

St Peregrine. The Patron Saint for Those With Cancer

St. Peregrine is the Patron Saint of Cancer and Incurable Illnesses
May 1st is the feast day for St. Peregrine, known throughout the world as the the Patron Saint of Cancer and Incurable Illnesses.  Feast Days are assigned to saints because they may have died or been martyred on that day or because some other event ties the saint to that particular day.  Feast Days are celebrated in all kinds of ways depending on the country in which you live and that particular saint's meaning.  While some celebrate a Feast Day by attending mass or even traveling on a pilgrimage, for most it would entail praying and partying on behalf of that saint.  May 1st seems like a good day to thank St. Peregrine and to say a prayer for his intercession on behalf of those who are sick and suffering.      

Loving someone who has cancer is the ultimate challenge of both selflessness and selfishness.  You find yourself correcting, controlling, trying to outwit the disease, while you pray and you bargain and you  live with the thought of cancer almost every moment.  Everything you do or think is filtered through the illness.  You watch what they eat with the eyes of an eagle.  You observe their exercise and sleep habits holding tightly to your tongue.  You try not to waste the time you have with the one you love by hovering like a mother over a newborn but focusing on the very desire to save them does that for you.  Finally, in a split second of exhausted clarity looking for help, you stumble upon your answer.  You discover St. Peregrine, whose shoulders are broad enough to help carry your burden.  It is possible to find your peace by praying to St. Peregrine to intercede and petition to the Almighty on your loved one's behalf.  His life story teaches you to have unconditional faith, let go of what you wish for and embrace what you have.
St. Peregrine's (1260-1345) story is one of a rebellious, opinionated youth finding faith through another's unexpected forgiveness of him, and finally joining the Order of Friar Servants of Mary.  He disciplined himself to observe silence and solitude as much as possible and for 30 years imposed a penance on  himself to not sit down unless it was absolutely necessary.  He was beloved for his preaching and dedication to the sick and poor.  At age 60, he was afflicted with cancer of the leg and was set to have it amputated.  During the night, as he prayed, he dreamed of being visited by Jesus from the Cross. Upon waking, his leg was miraculously healed and he lived another 25 years. The story spread and peoples devotion to St. Peregrine grew.

Statue of St. Peregrine from Chris Hart Studio
Sacred Heart Church in Palm Desert has a beautiful St. Peregrine statue placed in an alcove with an altar and a kneeler.  When I have the privilege to attend mass led by Father Howard Lincoln, I always visit the St. Peregrine statue.  There is usually a line of people, many in silent tears and with notes of request to intercede on behalf of those who have been afflicted.  The paint on the statue's leg has been rubbed off and the wound worn smooth by the their touch.  When it is my turn to kneel in front of St. Peregrine, I ask for guidance and strength for those I love to maintain an immune system that defies cancer.  I ask for calm and focus in my life while I care for those I know with cancer.  I pray for the faith to help me be steadfast in my belief that a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence but rather a reminder to serve those I love.  I ask for his help to be of value to just one person by showing my love in the smallest ways, to do ordinary things with extraordinary grace and have faith that whatever happens will never be more than I can handle even when it doesn't feel that way.  It's a tall order but St.Peregrine has the inside track to make things happen when it comes to sharing the burden of suffering. 

The lesson of St. Peregrine’s life is not that God worked a miracle.  Instead as a faithful servant, he placed himself unconditionally in the hands of a higher power.  As a person who knew suffering and sickness, St. Peregrine’s trust in the Divine serves as an example for us to ask for help in deepening our love, to not waste a minute trying to control that which cannot be controlled and
to have faith that our burden is lightened
when we ask St. Peregrine's help in carrying it.