Of saints and missing dentures

A guest staying at my house recently awoke in a panic to discover he couldn't find his bottom denture. He had come home from a speaking engagement the night before and sat down in the living room with a couple of slices of pizza to finish watching the Green Bay football game with my husband.

The pizza was bothering his denture, so he stealthily removed it and wrapped his napkin around it.

Fast-forward to the following morning and time to get ready for another speaking engagement. Lo and behold, a missing denture. There was a frantic search of the trash can, and I, fearing the worst, even looked in the dog bed to see if Sunny had found a new chew toy. No denture.

After about 10 minutes, my guest proclaimed, to enormous relief, that the problem was solved. I didn't ask for specifics.

A Christian gentleman, he had audibly asked the Lord to aid in his search, and I laughingly said, "Joe [name changed to protect the innocent], if you were a Catholic you'd be praying to St. Anthony right now."

He laughed, probably thinking about this bizarre Catholic practice of communicating with long-dead people.

I'm a big fan of saints. I loved Jesuit Father James Martin's book, "My Life with the Saints," in which he writes about saints who have most influenced his life -- some canonized, some not -- and how he prays to them.

But I'm no fan of superstition. For example, I put my foot down firmly about having upside down statues of St. Joseph planted in my yard when we sold our house, even though I've known clergy who've done it. And I really resent those little prayer cards that assure you that if you recite a certain prayer a certain number of times, you're guaranteed to get your request.

That's bargaining with God, and basically trying to control God. That's not what prayer is about. But moving with the saints through our lives is a comforting and wholly Catholic idea.

Once, I had a little talk with St. Anthony about this tradition that has made him the patron saint of lost items. How, I wonder, did people get the idea that you're waiting around to make the car keys manifest themselves? I habitually pray to St. Anthony when I lose something. So I asked if he really spends eternity listening to the pleas of panicked individuals whose wallets are missing, whose cellphones were left at the restaurant last night, or even those whose dentures are misplaced.

I thought the least I could do was give St. Anthony a little attention after I found the missing tax form or the lost check.

Prayer itself is a mystery. In essence, it is the opening of our hearts and minds to God. It is a silence in which, as the poet Mary Oliver says, "another voice may speak." Prayer is relating to a mystery that you believe is tugging at you, desiring you, wanting to guide you. We pray to discern the will in our lives to which this mystery calls us.

That's a long way from asking a saint to aid us in a simple task. Yet, saints are so human and so seemingly available to us, and God is so beyond our human understanding, that crying out to a saint once in a while can never be a bad thing.

After Joe proclaimed that the missing denture was found, I said, "Praise God," and he agreed. Then I murmured, "And thanks, St. Anthony."


- Effie Caldarola is a columnist with the Catholic News Service.