A few weeks ago on Twitter, a friend who is becoming Catholic asked, “How do you pick out your saint?” There were lots of good responses. I added mine, saying that, in my limited experience, it’s a mutual process. You might be looking for a saint, but the saint is also looking for you. That was certainly what happened between me and my patron, St. Genesius of Rome, patron of actors, thieves, lawyers, and individuals with epilepsy.
According to many sources, Genesius was a comedic actor living during the third century, a time when the Church was undergoing persecution from an emperor named Diocletian. Genesius was part of a troupe putting on a play mocking Christians, and he went through a “mock” Baptism on stage.
Regardless of its mocking intent, the Holy Spirit was at work. Genesius emerged from the ritual, claiming that he was now a real Christian, and began testifying to the lordship of Jesus Christ. At first amused, Diocletian realized he was serious and sent him to be tortured. Genesius maintained his newfound faith to the end, and the emperor had him beheaded.
From method actor to Christian martyr, Genesius fascinated me from the moment I learned his story. For much longer than I was looking for him, however, Genesius had his eye on me.
Work in Progress
Back when I was an undergraduate philosophy major, one of the first books I was assigned to read was Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. It’s an ancient text about how to live a good life. For Aristotle, this goodness does not begin with our desires, but with our actions. We become virtuous if, over time, we act in virtuous ways.
In other words, “Fake it till you make it.”
Years later, I encountered this wisdom again when I started attending a 12-Step meeting as part of my journey of recovery from the family dynamics of alcoholism. Like Aristotle, the literature encouraged us to “act as if” we were sane, self-reliant, and patient—in the hope that we might, over time, come to embody these things.
Time after time, each step toward healing for me has followed this route: I start from the outside and work the balm inside. Because I believe anything worth doing is worth doing badly, I go through the motions until I figure out how to “be” the better, more grounded version of me.
Faith was like that. Having been raised an atheist, I felt every hymn and every act of worship as alien. It took time and repetition to work the habits of prayer and praise into my body. As the habits deepened, so did my faith.
A Perfect Pairing
When I was reconciling to the Catholic Church in my mid-30s, I was in the same position as my friend on Twitter. I was looking for a patron, with no idea how to find one. So, one day I went to a Catholic bookstore and found a book about a bunch of saints. I closed my eyes, said a prayer, and opened to a random page.
There he was. As I read the description, I realized I would not have even known how to find so perfect a fit on my own.
Having a patron saint is a kind of relationship. My walk with Genesius these years has reaffirmed that my imperfect initial attempts at faith and virtue will be rewarded over time if I “keep coming back.” The habits of goodness grow from the outside in when you “act as if.”
Genesius of Rome and all the saints, pray for us!