On Punishing the Saints

28 07 2008

Over a year ago now, I posted this anecdote,

A widow had only one child whom she tenderly loved. On hearing that this son had been taken [in war] by the enemy, chained and put in prison, she burst into tears, and addressing herself to the Virgin, to whom she was especially devoted, she asked with obstinacy for the release of her son; but when she saw at last that her prayers remained unanswered, she went to the church where there was a sculptured image of Mary, and there, before the image, she said: “Holy Virgin, I have begged you to deliver my son, and you have not been willing to help an unhappy mother! I’ve implored your patronage for my son, and you have refused it! Very good! Just as my son has been taken away from me, so I am going to take away yours, and keep him as a hostage!” Saying this, she approached, took the statue of the child on the Virgin’s breast, carried it home, wrapped it in a spotless linen, and locked it up in a box, happy to have such a hostage for her son’s return. Now, the following night, the Virgin appeared to the young man, opened the prison doors, and said: “Tell your mother, my child, to return me my son now that I have returned hers!” The young man came back home to his mother and told her of his miraculous deliverance; and she, overjoyed, hastened to go with the little Jesus to the Virgin saying to her: “I thank you, heavenly lady, for restoring to me my child, and in return I restore yours.”

-cited by Paul J. Vanderwood in Juan Soldado: Rapist, Murderer, Martyr, Saint

One of the earliest posts I ever wrote told a story similar to this one, and it concerned my family’s devotion to a small image of the the Holy Face, and you can read it again here.

Recently, I encountered two other such anecdotes. The first is from Gumbo Ya-Ya: Folk Tales of Louisiana:

Statues of St. Joseph holding the Christ Child have long been popular for private altars in the homes of New Orleans Creoles; and many New Orleanians carry miniature representations of the saint in small capsules in their pockets or pocket-books. If a favor is asked of St. Joseph and not granted, the figure is sometimes stood on its head as punishment until the wish is fufilled.

St. Joseph is not the only saint who gets punished. In John Ingham’s book, Mary, Michael, Lucifer: Folk Catholicism in Central Mexico, on Saint Anthony’s feast day,

…people take their animals to the church, where the priest sprinkles them with holy water and pronounces a benediction to protect them from harm. Tiny metal figures of animals are pinned to pictures of St. Anthony on family altars. When an animal is lost, villagers put his picture in a box and tie a string around it. When the animal is found, its recovery is considered a “miracle”, and the incarcerated saint is released and rewarded with the miniature image of the animal he has found.

I am tempted to give some form of comment, but I am not going to. Needless to say, this is what I think real religion looks like. He who has ears to hear…


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4 responses

25 10 2012
Mont

This truly has touched my heart. I knew that a mother`s love was great for her child, but I would have never thought that someone would make another suffer the same fate so that they get what they wish. Its almost heartbreaking.

Personally, I don`t think I would have the heart to do such a thing to anyone, but grief can take hold of the lot of us at times, I suppose.

31 07 2008
Arturo Vasquez

Leah,

I once posted this comment on the Sacramentum Vitae blog, here:

Conversion from one thing to another is a strange creature in this country. Americans see themselves as an almost messianic people, and their quest for the “true New Testament Church” is often colored by their view that America “makes all things new”. For this reason, I think the Book of Mormon is the most American of books. This love of novelty and sense of religious superiority ranges from the Quaker in his prayer circle to a convert Orthodox re-christened Barsanuphius Smith doing prostrations during the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem.

Even in the Mexican American community here in the U.S., people don’t convert from one religion to another for the same reasons that Anglos convert. The search for the “true Church” doesn’t enter into the equation a lot of times: a greater sense of community, assimilation, and pastoral negligence of their current church do. In Brazil, people don’t convert to Pentecostalism because they think they have found the New Testament Church or a purer version of the Faith once delivered to the Apostles. They convert since the Catholic Church has so de-mystified its rites and devotions in the name of the social Gospel that people feel that they have to resort to speaking in tongues and faith healings to feel any contact with the Divine.

…On the other hand, if you took another example of Catholics and Protestants dwelling in the same place, you might consider the Maya Indians in highlands of Central America. There, the historic negligence of the Catholic Church has meant that any form of Christianity has had at best a tenuous hold over the Maya, and when the Protestant sects came in, they began to fill a vacuum. Even so, people there often convert because they consider it a means of social and economic advancement, as well as mutual aide. It allows them more local control of their churches in a situation where they have been made historically to feel inferior. On the other hand, those who remain Catholic might see their former co-religionists as party-poopers who refuse to celebrate the feast of the local saint and get drunk like everyone else: the Papacy and the hermeneutic of continuity are nowhere to be found. My burning question is if their religiosity is more or less shallow than our own, here in the high tech, cyber-savy First World. Most of the time, I doubt that it is….

30 07 2008
Leah

I have several questions. First, how prevalant is folk religion in Latin America? Has modernism, scientism, and consumerism affected that region to the same extent as in North America? Second, how does the spread of Protestantism factor into this? Are some Latin Americans revolting against folk religion by becoming Protestant?

29 07 2008
Roganian

I agree that folk religion is generally good and more reflective of “true religion” as compared to theoretical theological discussions or antiseptic modern interpretations but you seem to generally have a problem with modernity that puts you in the Perenialist school of Fritjof Schouen, Rene Guenon, Hossein Nasr Seyyed and other Traditionalists and critics of modernity.

Also, there is a concern of folk religion that become occultic and pagan in practice and not pagan in a positive sense but dangerous as the Levitical warnings as well as those from the Catechism of the Council of Trent and the derivative of the St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism. I was with some Muslims (secular) who were doing “readings” from coffee (the strong Turkish coffee in the small cups)(which is Haram–forbidden)
Many a Mexican mother of children has given a thousand dollars or so because she had a broken heart. Many a Mexican (and other Latino) use the household spray in the purple spray container bottle with the Indian on it.
Curses on people and not getting beyond quid pro qou prayer (understanding that petitions are natural, a start and good but going beyond a “selfish” petition) or seeking revenge or focusing on lustful broken hearts is not good nor Catholic.

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