In ancient Rome, it was important to have a patron. That is, it was important to have a wealthy, powerful person to rely upon if you needed protection, money, a job, social contacts, or some other favor. The word “patron”, after all, comes from the Latin word for “father”. In that culture and time, becoming bankrupt meant you might have to sell yourself and your family into slavery, so it was important to have some sort of “father” who could bail you out of trouble.
The culture of ancient Rome may be long gone, but the idea of having a patron lives on in the Catholic tradition of patron saints. Almost every holy man and woman who has been declared a saint or blessed of the Church had some unique experience which caused them to be thought of as a source of help for those in similar circumstances.
Obviously, many saints would be considered patrons for clergymen. Saint Francis Xavier (feast day Dec. 3) is an excellent patron for evangelists; he brought tens of thousands of people into the Church in India, Japan, and many places in between. Saint Stephen (Dec. 26) was one of the first seven deacons of the Church and was the first martyr, so he is clearly the perfect patron for deacons and martyrs. Saint Flannan (Dec. 18) traveled as a missionary monk to Killaloe, Ireland, and became its first bishop, so he is obviously a heavenly protector for Killaloe, Ireland. But what about patrons for laypeople and our ordinary challenges?
Perhaps the most obvious patron saint in the month of December is Saint Nicholas (Dec. 6). However our secular world has created and embellished the mythical Santa Claus, its inspiration, Saint Nicholas, really existed. He was the bishop of the city of Myra in what is now Turkey, he lived through a time of persecution, he confessed his faith in Christ, and he was (somehow) released from prison instead of being executed. After all, local governors didn’t always kill every Christian they found. There are multiple ancient stories about Nicholas, all of which show him to be a protector of the innocent and those who are unjustly treated, including children.
Saint Lucy (Dec. 13) was a Christian virgin who died a martyr in Syracuse, Italy, around the year 304. Her name means light. Did her torturers really blind her before they killed her, in mockery of her name? Or did the story of her being blinded arise after her death? We’ll never know, but everyone with eye problems can ask Saint Lucy for her intercession all the same.
Bishop Saint Ambrose of Milan (Dec. 7) is a patron for beekeepers. Why? Because his writing was considered as sweet as honey. That’s also why he was later named a Doctor of the Church. Saint John the Apostle (Dec. 27) is considered a patron saint for those suffering from burns. Why? Because there is an ancient tradition that some unwise pagan tried to kill the beloved disciple by throwing him in a vat of boiling oil. Just as the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar failed to kill the faithful Jews Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (as is described in Daniel, chapter 3) by throwing them into a furnace, so Saint John escaped unharmed. Both Saints John and Ambrose are also excellent patrons for writers, for more obvious reasons.
Suffer from a bad temper or know someone who does? Saint Thomas Becket (Dec. 29) is the saint for you. He was a devout archbishop of Canterbury in England, and he placed the needs of the Church before his own, but some of the difficulties he faced were caused by his impulsive nature and aristocratic temper. Fortunately for him, being sent into exile and having the pope correct some of his mistakes taught him some humility before he died a martyr at the hands of assassins sent by the king of England.
Saint Adelaide of Burgundy (Dec. 16) is a powerful intercessor for those suffering from many modern marital problems. She was born into the nobility in the tenth century and married to the king of Italy when she was a teenager. Her husband died so suddenly that everyone suspected he’d been poisoned. The obvious candidate for his poisoner was a ruthless leader who then insisted that Adelaide marry his son. Unsurprisingly, she did not want to marry the son of her husband’s killer, and she was left in prison until the king of Germany literally came to her rescue. Adelaide then married the king who had saved her. But that king had sons by a previous marriage, and Adelaide spent the rest of her life in family squabbles between her son and her stepsons, squabbles which involved the entire country. Saint Adelaide therefore has great compassion for those involved in second marriages, for conflicts between children and stepchildren, and for women who’ve been physically abused.
A more modern saint, Marguerite d’Youville (Dec. 23) is another sympathetic saint for women. She was a wife and mother in eighteenth century Canada, but four of her six children died young, and her unfaithful husband died suddenly, leaving her with nothing but debts. She eventually became the founder of an order of religious sisters now known as the “Grey Nuns”, but she too knows the pain of family disunity and loss.
On Dec. 28, the Church remembers the young children who were executed under the orders of King Herod, who was afraid that the predicted newborn king would take his kingdom from him. These children were too young to understand that they were dying for the Messiah, but the Church believes that God honors them for their sacrifice in Heaven. We call them the Holy Innocents, and they are ideal patrons for the millions of unborn children who have died by abortion in the past several decades, children who are just as innocent as were the Jewish children who were slaughtered in Bethlehem centuries ago.
But the greatest patron for December is the One we celebrate every December 25. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who humbled Himself to be born on a winter night in a forgotten stable among animals, is the ultimate patron. There is no vocation, medical condition, family calamity, or injustice that we suffer that is unimportant to our Lord. He cares for us all. And His birth reminds everyone each Christmas that He knows our sufferings and is ready to share them, in every place, time, and family.