May 15, 2012: Saint Dymphna, Pray for Us

            Today is the Feast of Saint Dymphna, Patron Saint of People with Alzheimer’s Disease. I know this not because I’m a former Catholic who’s still up on his feast days, but because my friend Annie sent me a Novena card for Saint Dymphna. Sort of as a joke. I think.

For those of you raised in a religion not steeped in hocus-pocus, a Novena is a special prayer to a specific dead person who is now a saint and therefore in charge of providing a particular service to Catholics unfortunate enough to still be alive.

            So, let’s say you’ve lost your car keys or the cap from the toothpaste tube. If you’re a Catholic, you simply send up a prayer to Saint Anthony, the Patron Saint of Lost Things. And he’ll find it for you.

            It’s one of the perks of being affiliated with the Vatican—sort of like Triple A for the spiritual. Have a pesky cold sore or a swollen earlobe? Give a shout out to Saint Cornelius, the Patron Saint of Head Afflictions, and he’ll get busy making magic for you. Worried your house won’t sell in this crummy economy? Don’t! Saint Joseph will work it all out for you—provided you bury a statue of him, head first and facing the house you want to sell.

              Some of my favorites include Saint Albinus, the Patron Saint Against Pirate Attacks; Saint Eligius, the Patron Saint of Veterinarians and Coin Collectors; Saint Christina the Astonishing, the Patron Saint of Insanity; and Saint Denise, the Patron Saint of Headaches and Motorcycle Accidents. Perhaps my all-time favorite is Saint Lawrence, who was martyred after having been roasted alive on a gridiron. He’s the Patron Saint of Librarians, Cooks, and Comedians.

            I’m not making any of this up.

            The magic part only works if you’re a Catholic, of course. Presumably pleas made by Jews and Protestants are routinely ignored by the saints, who have their hands full with needy members of the better church. Often, even the Catholics don’t get their wishes granted—but apparently the saints belong to a really great union, because none of them ever seems to get fired for not fulfilling mortal prayers.

            Saint Dymphna’s story is an especially sad one. The daughter of a mentally ill Irish chieftain whose wife died when Dymphna was only 14, she fled to Belgium after her widowed father made a pass at her. Her dad tracked her down and tried to drag her back home and, when Dymphna resisted, he pulled out his sword and chopped off her head. The crown of martyrdom was bestowed upon her in the year 620 AD, and her holy publicist got busy with the pretty little Novena cards that the Church hands out. Novena cards tell the story of how the saint in question achieved martyrdom, and are printed with the prayer one should say when asking the saint for a favor. Some of them even come with jewelry! (“Collect them all!”)

          I hope that, if Saint Dymphna is reading my blog, she’ll excuse me for choosing western medicine over her miracle-working prowess. I’ve read about how people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease have been miraculously healed at her shrine in Gheel, Belgium, but I really believe that an oncologist with a rubber glove can do more for my mother than can a headless martyr.

            Still, I pinned the Saint Dymphna medal to my mother’s dress today. I don’t believe in any of this magic-bestowed-by-dead-people nonsense, but I do believe in honoring my mother’s spirituality. If Mom knew she had Alzheimer’s disease, I’m sure she’d not only be wearing this thing, she’d be praying to Saint Dymphna every day, too. And I’ll bet she’d be asking not only for a miracle healing for herself, but she’d be slipping in a couple of prayers on behalf of poor, unfortunate Dymphna, besides.

 Thing I Hate Today: Bad coffee


5 Responses

  1. My mom was born on the feast day of St. Catherine the Astonishing, who, besides having a great name, was known for bouncing off the ceiling, as you probably know.

    • Oops, I meant Christina, of course.

  2. Dymphna was, like her mother, a paragon of beauty…the “jewel” of her home. Sound familiar?

  3. There must be something you LOVE. You seem like a loveable and interesting person to me, Hey, don’t give up on the church, God hasn’t been the one acting like an idiot of late (before Francis was elected.) I like your spirit. Best to you.

  4. Your mother looks like a dear. Do not underestimate the power of prayer and that which you cannot see. Your mother may well have a few more lessons for you before she makes the transition. Never underestimate the power of love and that which you cannot see.

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