Monday, March 20, 2006

Two Protectors

One day, in sixth grade, I was sitting in class, doing whatever you do when you're in class in sixth grade, when my teacher -- known now and forever as The Reg -- came to my desk and said, "Come with me."

I was momentarily struck with fear, as I had no clue what on earth was going on, nor what she wanted. I just thought I was going to get screamed at about God knows what.

Just so you know, the Reg -- who was, at the same time, both amazingly loving and fierce -- had a brother each in the Augustinians and the Jesuits, went into teaching in her 40s because she loved kids so much (she also led her parish's confirmation CCD courses) and routinely said of herself that, "My husband tells me that when St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, he forgot about me."

I followed her outside. "Don't tell anyone," she said, "but I want you to have this," pressing a little something into my hand.

I often say that, despite never having spent a day in a Catholic school -- I'm all-public through-and-through, something which is still cause for scandal here in Philadelphia -- my teachers were the best Catholic educators I've ever known.

In that vein, the simple gift was the prayer-card you see pictured above, on its reverse side a prayer to St. Joseph -- say it for nine mornings for anything you need and, so it's said, you'll have it.

On this blessed feast, I'd like to share this prayer I've come to rely on through the years with all of you. You might already know it....
Oh St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interest and desires. Oh St. Joseph, do asssist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So that, having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers. Oh St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for me.
After a battle with colon cancer, the Reg's soul departed at 62, a week before I moved to Penn for my freshman year of college. I still don't think I've gotten over it.

A few years earlier, she went wild when her beloved Augustinians gave up her home parish due to lack of staffing, and the place was entrusted to the care of the secular clergy. Per usual, though, she got the last laugh -- her funeral was celebrated on Augustine's feast, and a priest of the order who was a family friend presided.

As it was the end of August and people were on vacation or moving to school, I was the only Reg alum who was able to make the liturgy. On the way to my car for the cortege to the cemetery, another of my shepherd-teachers -- who, no lie, revelled in the nickname "Dragonlady" -- was walking with me and said the most mystical thing at the most mystical moment: "I know she knows you're here. And if there was anyone she would've wanted to be here, it's you."

For some reason, those words have stuck with me forever since.

On the morning John Paul II died, some commentary I had taped in advance for KYW -- Philly's all-news station -- began airing; just the basics of the machinery which would kick into place on the Pope's death, the funeral, conclave, etc.

As I'd been up all night, keeping vigil in the office and doing various bits of writing and radio for outlets here and there, I tried to clock out for a bit in the late morning as I knew the phone would start ringing without end once the end had come.

No sooner had I collapsed on the couch did the landline ring. The closest phone by me was the only one which didn't have caller ID on it, and I came close to not answering it. Thank God I did.

I picked up and a female voice I couldn't immediately decipher asked, "Hello, is Rocco around?"

It was the Dragonlady, with a message. "Reggie is smiling down on you right now!" she said, "My God, she must be so proud."

It would be another three hours before Papa Wojtyla would return to the Father's house, where he probably found Reggie holding court at the head of the classroom. But the thought, and the sense of presence that came with it, was enough to get me sobbing earlier than I'd expected.

I know none of this is news, and it's a bit of a divergence from the usual posts, but it's just what's on my mind on this feast of the Lord's protector and the universal patron of his church. For this unworthy scribe, it's a reminder of the people who've led, inspired and given me so much and, like St. Joseph, protected me in the journey -- people who've been, and who remain, gifts beyond all price in my life and in the lives of all those who've been lucky enough to cross their respective paths.

I can only pray I haven't let them down. And that's my prayer everyday.