St. Anthony and the Contact Lenses
July 23, 2011 by Max Lindenmanfrom Diary of a Wimpy Catholic:
... I crawled along the floor of my bedroom, picking up anything that looked like it might be a contact lens. At a distance of more than three inches, this included everything from a tangle of hair to a shred of paper from an old pack of cigarettes. After fifteen minutes, I was still shy contact lenses, but my floor, I had to admit, was cleaner than it had been in weeks.
Now it was time for real panic — the hyperventilating, ask-why-me-O-Lord panic. I told myself that my contact lenses couldn’t have gotten up and walked away. Much as it sounded corny, like something a third-grade teacher might say (and which mine probably had), its logic was irrefutable. Just as I as stepping back from the abyss, I heard myself wondering why I hadn’t invoked the aid of St. Anthony.
This in itself was cause for alarm. Besieged by alien thoughts is considered a symptom of insanity, and imploring the aid of saints is not the sort of thought I usually have. One reader of mine remarked that Catholics of a certain generation grow ashamed of their grandparents’ style of piety. Well, for me, the resistance is even more deeply ingrained, since neither my grandparents, nor their grandparents — nor, I suspect, even their grandparents — were the types to make a big deal of anyone’s cultus.
Cultus? This is from the present Wikipedia article on cultus, it's not bad for something this short:
In Roman Catholicism, cultus or cult is the technical term for the following Catholic devotions or veneration extended to a particular saint.
Some Christians make distinctions between worship and veneration, both of which can be outwardly expressed in a similar manner. Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy distinguish between worship (Latin adoratio, Greek latreia [λατρεια]) which is only acceptable to be offered to God alone, and veneration (Latin veneratio, Greek doulia [δουλεια]), which may be offered to the saints. These distinctions between deity and mediators are exhaustively treated at the entries for latria and dulia.
I don't think the majority of Catholics, or probably most of anyone else, think of their spiritual practice as cultus. Pretty sure this would be taken as an insult on first hearing. Having read Max' blog, including the bedside booklist included in this article, I believe he has a view of himself as an intellectual, perhaps not something he'd lay verbal claim to, but a way he identifies himself to himself and a way he'd like others to think of him. I get that. Self-image is important to us.
Too often, this type of identification precludes the practice of praying to Saints. In fact, it precludes great gobs of theology that are not so much rejected, but ignored as most probably superstition. Max had a miracle, an Extraordinary Experience, but is too wimpy to claim it. Not to us so much, I suspect, but to himself. He said this:
I heard myself wondering why I hadn’t invoked the aid of St. Anthony
I'm pretty sure Max didn't hear himself wondering. I'm pretty sure he heard someone asking. Which may be why the phrase "besieged by alien thoughts" entered his mind when writing this. His ego identification with things rational and intellectual cause the idea to be compared to insanity and for him to assure the reader he certainly doesn't have this sort of thought on a regular basis. He further distances himself from the experience by putting in a prayer as joke, displaying his irreverent view of the "cultus" he is about to participate in:
“Dear St. Anthony,
I beg by the Rood:
Help find my contacts,
Or, baby, I’m screwed.”
I suspect he might have parsed that differently on the floor, essentially blind, frustrated, powerless. Or maybe he didn't. In the recounting of her conversion from atheism, Elizabeth Mahlou, then a staunch and happy atheist, tells of the time she was in the position of having to say "grace" at the insistence of an employee with whom she was working late. Figuring it was easier to say words than argue, she decided to say something irreverent and demonstrative of the woman's foolish belief. So she said:
"Dear God, bless this food, and if You exist, bless us with Your presence."
And He did. So much for atheism.
And Max found his contacts. He also found the spare set he thought were long lost. He ends the story with this:
Now, what all this says about the veneration of saints or Italian folk wisdom or the spiritual crimes of the lace-curtain Irish, or even good bedtime habits, I have no idea. I have decided, though, that if I ever have a kid, I’m going to name it Tony, or Toni, depending. My cover story will be that I’m honoring Tony Blair. Since he’s practically patron saint of conflicted converts, it won’t be a total lie.
I think you do know what "this says," Max. But you seem to me to share the thoughts we all have, we of the rational, intellectual, educated, (prideful) bent: I can't believe that, not me, what will people think if I say I believe that? BTDT. But let me affirm this for you: How ever Eternity is organized, Heaven, Purgatory, Hell as discrete states or one long continuum as I suspect, someplace in it you have guides - mentors, so to speak. Family. Not just a Guardian Angel, but also actual people who live there, just as you will, who love you and are concerned with your welfare. And, like any good family loving you, your Father and your Brother, your relations and friends who have passed, and those we call Saints, care about what you need.
Apparently, Max needed to see. I related to this because before Exp. 5 above, I had something else I lost found for me: my glasses, I also couldn't afford to replace.
Thanks, Max, for inspiring me. I have been hesitant to move forward here with the next part of my story, as I am quite sure some will write me off as a complete kook, when I do. Time for me to get to work. And Max, you don't need a "cover story."
Your fellow wimp,