St. Elizabeth the Unspecified, pray for us

One of my regrets (and man, I have a million) is that I’m not doing a great job introducing my kids to the saints. We have made a few stabs and this and that, but I’m not hugely devoted to any particular saint myself, so it just doesn’t come naturally.

We had a few saint biography collections when I was growing up, and I did read them repeatedly; but I think they ended up doing more harm than good, and I ended up with a bunch of ideas that were hard to shed. Namely: (a) saints were born that way (“before she even learned to talk, tiny Wiffletrude used to weep at her mother’s breast because it made her think of how Jesus thirsted on the cross.” That kind of thing) and (b) if I did become a saint, it was only a matter of time before the demonic attacks would begin, with bed shaking and foot clawing and stuff, and that did not sound great.

I also worried a lot about how poorly I would do when the Romans gave me one more chance to renounce Christ before cutting my skin off. I did figure that, if, because of my great beauty, I became unwilling but gentle queen of the land, I would definitely be the one who distributed bread to the peasants, like, 24/7.

I ended up with two patron saints: Unspecified Elizabeth and Michael the Archangel. And also a guardian angel. Do I remember that I have these holy ones watching over me? No, I do not. I’m just a lonely loner on a lonely road. Alone.

Terrible religious art also had a lot to answer for. Only very weird kids think, “Oh yeah, I can picture myself holding a palm branch with three fingers, with my eyeballs rolled up and a bunch of wispy roses framing my person at all times. Yep, that’s me. ” The state of religious art is definitely improving, and it’s also immensely helpful to learn about saints who are recent enough to appear in photos. Hagiographies have also gotten much better in recent years. Saints come across much more like actual, specific people, rather than goopy spirituality dolls.

Anyway, this gap in our family’s spirituality always comes into focus when one of my kids is preparing for confirmation. (In our area, they’re transitioning to restored order of sacraments, so confirmation happens when a kid is in his early teens.) They have to choose a confirmation patron saint and write a short essay. IS CATASTROPHE. I make some feeble suggestions which are met with floppiness. I point them toward some books which promptly slither into the couch crack. Wishing to appear hip and cyber, I suggest Jen Fulwiler’s Saint Name Generator; then I get distracted by Facebook and forget about the whole thing until the emails from the DRE get really insistent. And that’s what they mean when they say parents are a child’s primary educators.

However! They always end up choosing a bona fide saint with an actual biography attached to them, and no one has chosen a patron who clearly just got called up for the cool name. Not a St. Désirée or St. Gaspar de Bufalo or St. Lawdog in the bunch. Whether any of my kids have formed any kind of meaningful devotion to their patrons, I do not know.

But it occurs to me that, even if they never learned a single real fact about their saint, or said a single prayer to them, much less formed some kind of genuine spiritual friendship or devotion, the patron saint is still devoted to the confirmandi. And the same would be true even if some kid chose a saint purely to annoy their parents or solely so their new initials would spell out F.U.N.K or something. Right? You choose a patron, and they’re in, and that means they’re praying for you for the rest of your life, whether you think about it or not.

I don’t think it’s necessary to believe that you have been somehow spiritually nudged without your knowledge in the direction of the saint that’s just right for you. It’s possible, and I’ve heard plenty of stories where someone chooses something randomly, and it ends up being devastatingly relevant. But in either case, a spiritual friendship is a real thing, even if it comes about by chance and only goes one way; and a saint is, among other things, someone who’s always willing to try to bring someone closer to God.

That’s all I got. Like so many other things in Catholicism, it’s far less about our own efforts and merits than we realize, and it works out to be a pretty good deal for us. Salut! I mean, ora pro nobis.

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20 thoughts on “St. Elizabeth the Unspecified, pray for us”

  1. Ha! I relate to this so much. Thank you for the chuckle. I too, was too scared to become too holy as a child because I was scared of the devil attacking me at night in my bed. Not that I was EVER in danger of becoming too holy.
    I love St Charbel. Maronite Hermit Monk who is revered by people of all faiths (Christian, Muslim) in the Middle East and around the world. A humble man. A simple man. The miracles attributed to his intercession today are countless- check out Google and YouTube. St Charbel helped me through my Hodgkins Lymphoma, and even when I think about him today, my heart skips.
    St Michael is fabulous (strong!) and my daughter is born 4th January, Feast of Elizabeth Anne Seton. But we named her Esther.

  2. I recommend getting “The Church’s Year of Grace” by Pius Parsch. It’s an out-of-print five volume set from St. John’s Abbey Liturgical Press. Parsch was involved in pre-Vatican II liturgical reform (he was one of the ones advocating Mass in the venacular and a reform of the calendar). These volumes follow and explain the Church’s liturgical year and the accompanying liturgy of the hours. It also contains the lives of the saints throughout the year. It is scholarly, but not pedantic. It is not sentimental and it has good meditations and reflections. It’s based on the Tridentine calendar, of course, but a smart Catholic can do the adjustments. Some volumes are illustrated with beautiful woodcuts. I gathered my set one volume at a time (starting with a thrift store find). I read it aloud to my preteen and teenage kids in the morning throughout the week and we all get a lot out of it. We feel like THIS is what we signed up for as a Catholics.

  3. I chose Mary.

    I was panicked because I hadn’t done my homework and my 8th grade teacher was an angry harpy. I sat in the back of the classroom and scribbled out stuff that I definitely knew. My parents never had too many books on St. Wiffletrude or Saints with eyes rolling back, surrounded by roses. They did however acquire them soon thereafter.

    Mary has worked out well.

  4. I picked St Joan of Arc because she seemed cool, promptly abandoned Catholicism, and was brought back through her fervent prayers, I’m almost sure. My sister left before getting Confirmed, and never came back. Coincidence? Anyway, 3 cheers for patrons!

  5. One thing we tried to do, and I know once your kid is born and named it’s useless advice, but we really worked hard to put a saint’s name in each kid’s name, a saint that meant something to us personally or who we thought would be a good patron. Over the years we’ve sporadically worked to point out when their saint’s feast day is coming up and talk about that saint and the virtues he exemplifies. You could retrofit this, maybe, if your kid is not named, say, Pilot Inspektor or Apple. The wonderful thing about the company of saints is there are so many that it’s hard *not* to find a saint with somebody’s name! Even if, like me, your name is Karen, and there are no Saint Karens (yet, har de har), any saint with the name Catherine, or a derivative of Catherine (like Kateri) can work, because Karen is a Dutch version of Catherine. Pretty sweet.

    1. St. Joseph of Cupertino is the patron of pilots, and Eve is traditionally held to be a saint, so why not of apples? There you go. (This is the Catholic equivalent of “Kimono is from the Greek, kimone, is mean winter.”)

  6. Thanks, Simcha. Glad to be reminded that St. Peter not only does crowd control at the Pearly Gates, but also takes a personal interest in me, as my saint at confirmation. The bishop read “Petrus” off the index card, and “whack”!

  7. We’re full-on restored order here, so my daughter was confirmed last year, as a 3rd grader. At her age we could still curl up for a few minutes every night to read about a couple of saints. She still didn’t pick the one I wanted her to, but she did pick one.
    My boys were all older when they were confirmed, because we’re converts. They were 11, 14, and 17. They just informed me who they chose and that was that. It was nice, this time, to explore the process with my kid. I don’t know how much of that was her age and how much is the fact that I wasn’t in the middle of converting, with my head all a-spin.

  8. Me: Mama, which St. Elizabeth did you name me after? St. Elizabeth the cousin of Mary? Or St. Elizabeth of Hungary? Or St. Elizabeth Ann Seton?

    My mom Mary Elizabeth: …I named you after me.

    St. Elizabeth the Unspecified indeed.

    1. Yeah, my middle name isn’t Ann for St Anne, it’s because my mom’s family had an idea of giving daughters the same middle names their moms have. No explanation, just “here you go, middle name!”

  9. A suggestion: why not look into, or have them look into, the saint/s associated with their birthdays? It’s the reverse of the Catholic and Orthodox practise of celebrating the feast day of your “nameday” saint as well as or instead of your birthday, but the effect is similar. I was tickled pink when I discovered, rather late in life, that my birthday and St Teresa of Avila’s feast day coincided.

        1. Yes, it does make a saint’s feast day more memorable, which is why I suggested it. There is usually an abundance of saints for every day in the calendar, so if the first one that comes up is not altogether sympathetic, you can investigate to see if you like any of the others better.

  10. When it comes time to pick a saint for any reason, I tell my kids to Google “Patron saint of (whatever)” and see what comes up. Seems to have been easier for them to connect with a saint if they are the patron saint of something they care about.

    I agree about the unhelpfulness of all those anthologies about the saints that we grew up with. I was left with the impression that if you wanted to be a saint, you couldn’t be married. In fact, you should probably mutilate yourself so that no one will want to marry you. And if you do have the misfortune to get married, you should never have sex. So – not very helpful to my vocation as a wife and mom.

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