At any rate my review of A Song For Nagasaki brought up some questions over at Goodreads. I had casually mentioned that Takashi Nagai was my selected patron for 2014 and that I'd chosen J.R.R. Tolkien for 2013 (click through on the review for more).
I may have equally bewildered folks here. Just in case, I thought I'd share that conversation. Keep in mind that questions are always welcome and that these answers weren't meant to be a comprehensive treatment of the subject.
What does taking someone as your patron for the year mean?
A patron saint in general is someone who you choose to guide or support or protect you. Catholics choose a patron saint when they are confirmed into the Church. It is often because one relates to the saint's life in some way or they are examples of something one likes. I chose my patron, St. Martha, because she's the patron saint of homemakers and cooks. I like both of those things. Turned out that when I was learning more about her life that we are a lot alike in personality, both in strengths and weaknesses. It's kind of like having a best friend who's ahead of you in school and who helps you through some of the hard or confusing bits. (This may all be really obvious info but better to have too much background than too little...)
Choosing a special patron saint for a new year is an old custom that has found favor again in some spots. It can be a name drawn from a hat of potential saints (one is really leaning on divine inspiration at that point) and there are several Catholic blogs out there that facilitate such choices. The idea is that one is being directed (with help) to become more aware of specific areas in life where special guidance might be necessary. Last year I took the choice into my own hands, asking J.R.R. Tolkien to give me a hand, based on the spiritual insights I received from rereading The Hobbit. I think the choice was inspired because it was so amazing for me.
We'll see how this year turns out with Takashi Nagai helping guide me ... but so far I have already been greatly assisted with a couple of areas in my life where I've needed extra awareness.
Very interesting! So was this one out of a hat then? :)
And does a patron saint for the year have to be Catholic? Or even a saint? Was Tolkien Catholic?
Easiest answer first ... Tolkien was a devout Catholic. He was a major influence on C.S. Lewis's discarding his atheism for Christianity, but was always frustrated that he didn't become Catholic.
Neither Tolkien nor Nagai are saints as recognized by the Church, although I read in a few places that Nagai is given the title Servant of God, which is the first step on the road to canonization. However, I felt that both were inspirational enough Catholics (because of their lives and works) that they could give me good, solid guidance during the year. That certainly proved to be the case with Tolkien and, as I mentioned, Nagai has definitely inspired me already this year.
The Church canonizes saints but she readily acknowledges that there are many, many saints of which she knows nothing. The ones that are recognized enough for canonization are the really big, obvious ones such as Mother Teresa of Calcutta. There are many, such as my grandfather, whose saintly qualities were recognized by all those who knew him but who expressed them through living a very normal life. My grandfather wasn't Catholic, though he was Christian, but he was definitely saintly and beloved by all.
We are all called to become saints. That, in fact, is our calling in life if one is Catholic. It seems like an impossible goal but if we are all doing God's will to our utmost in daily life then that is all that is required. ("All" ... haha!). Mothers, fathers, children, business men and women, can all be saintly wherever they are put. God put us where we are to bring Him into the world in all parts of life.
Neither Tolkien or Nagai were out of a hat. I chose both based on particular circumstances of my life at the time.