Round Pegs in Square Holes
October 21, 2007
1 Timothy 3:14—4:2
Catholics believe in saints. Who are saints? Saints are holy people? And who are holy? All of us. We believe that through faith and baptism we become children of God and a part of God’s holy people. Not only do we believe that we are saints, but we also believe we can help one another through prayer. We ask our fellow saints in this community and those who we know to pray for us in time of need. When someone dies and is with God, we continue to ask for their help. Perhaps we pray to a deceased parent or friend who we know is with the Lord. All of us can pray to the saints who are a part of the Catholic tradition. We pray to saints not because they can answer our prayers. Only God can answer our prayers. But we pray to one another to ask one another for help, because we believe we can support one another. We can help one another in our way to God.
Now it is out of this belief that we derive the idea of patron saints. Because just as we believe we are good at some things and not so good at others, we also believe that our fellow saints have particular abilities that can help us in particular situations. Those abilities usually come from some incident in the saint’s life. A particular saint becomes recognized as the person you turn to when you face a particular need. For example, Saint Anthony of Padua is the patron saint of lost or stolen articles. Why? He had a favorite prayer book which a thief stole, and so he prayed to God that he might find it. The next day the thief had a change of heart and returned it to him. St. Joseph of Cupertino is the patron saint of students. Why? Well, he was not very bright, and the only way he passed his exams was by praying. St. Clair is the patron saint of television. Once when she was sick in bed she received a vision of her friend St. Francis celebrating mass in the church down the street. (By the way, St. Sebastian is the patron saint of sporting events—although it is unclear whether he is an Indians fan or a Red Sox fan.) But you get the picture. For some reason a particular saint develops a specialization in a particular area. When we find ourselves in a particular need, we turn to that expertise for help.
This brings us to today’s liturgy. Because today we celebrate the feast of the man after whom our parish is named, St Noel Chabanel. What is St. Noel the patron of? He is the patron of people who do not fit well into their own lives – or as sometimes said, he is the patron of round pegs in square holes. St. Noel was a Jesuit missionary. He felt called to preach the gospel to the Native Americans living around the Great Lakes in our region. But you would be hard pressed to find a person more ill suited to missionary work than St. Noel. He was a refined French gentleman. When he came to the New World he deeply missed the culture of Europe, the music and the literature. He was unable to eat the primitive food of the Indians. It made him nauseous. He was frail in health, so time and time again he became deathly sick. His superiors recommended that he give up on missionary work and return to France. But Noel felt he was accomplishing something good and God was still calling him. So he persevered being a missionary to his death.
Now what do we learn through the example of St. Noel? St. Noel’s life leads us to gratefulness and perseverance. If we are people who fit well into our lives, if we are round pegs in round holes, then the example of St. Noel asks us to be grateful. It is a tremendous blessing to know that you fit into the life you are leading, that you are exactly where you should be. If you love your job, if your marriage is easy and life-giving, if you can simply use the gifts that you have for your own benefit and the benefit of others, then the life of St. Noel reminds us never to take an easy fit for granted. There are many people throughout the world who struggle with their lives, and you are a fortunate person if you are not one of them.
On the other hand if you do not fit easily into your life, if you are a round peg in a square hole, then the life of St. Noel calls you to perseverance. If you’re in a good marriage but that marriage is so much more difficult than you imagined, if you are in a productive job but it does not meet your deepest desires, if you love your family and friends and yet are often disappointed because they do not meet your expectations, then the example of St. Noel says focus on what is good an push on.
Now of course, if you do not fit at all, if your life or your relationships are destructive, then do not persevere, change something. But for most of us the fit is not an impossible one but an uncomfortable one. In those circumstances we are called to maximize the good and persevere. As today’s second reading from Timothy says, “Be persistent both in circumstances which are favorable and unfavorable.”
Since we believe we are saints and we can ask others to pray for us, I would like to conclude today’s homily with a prayer, a prayer to our patron. So I ask you to close your eyes and follow my words in your own hearts.
St. Noel, patron of our parish, you were able to serve God in difficult circumstances. Make me thankful for all the ways I fit into my life. And in all those ways in which I do not quite fit, lead me to persevere. Allow me, like you, to continue in God’s service. Amen.