I Ask St. Philomena
by Rick Medina
(115pp Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division,
Huntington, Indiana 46750 USA)
Word of Life,
303 Arthur St.,
Fairfield Vic 3078
Telephone: (03) 94816611
Reviewed by Mary Ann Matulis
There are many books on St. Philomena and I have read most of them. "I ask St. Philomena" by Rick Medina is written from a different perceptive from any other book on St. Philomena that I have ever read.
The usual style of books on the subject of St. Philomena is to relay to the reader details of the finding of St. Philomena's relics in the Catacomb of St. Priscilla and then give details of revelations about the life of the saint which a certain nun in Italy claims to have received from St. Philomena. The books also usually include details of The Sanctuary of St. Philomena in Italy, then generally wow the reader with fantastic accounts of favours and miracles worked by this saint about whom historically we know nothing about. If this is the style of book that you are after you will be a little disappointed. However the book does give some fascinating accounts of answers to prayer (although this is not the central theme of the book) and also an insight into the lively personality of St. Philomena which is revealed in her unique style of granting favours.
The author outlines how he came to know St. Philomena. It seems from the account that he did not seek her out. She sought him out. This did not come about as a result of some great miracle but through three striking coincidences. The third one displayed a touch of the playful personality of St. Philomena. Several accounts in the book show this personality which is somewhat different from that of other saints.
He brings out the often noted fact that St. Philomena has various signs for her devotees which include a knocking sound when she is about to work a miracle and also that a common characteristic in response to prayers to St. Philomena, is that often when we pray to her for a petition things sometimes get much worse before they improve This he explains is for our sanctification.
An interesting feature of the book is an explanation of "St. Philomena's calling card". Her calling cards are the special things that are noted after a miracle or favour has been granted to show that the favour was really worked and that it is not all just in the person's imagination. If you want to know more about this feature of St. Philomena's intercession read the account in the book about the Californian priest whose wrist was severely injured by a hit and run driver and the puzzling aspects of the before and after x-rays.
The author gives an account of what he felt was a "worldly request" regarding an expensive car that he had his heart set on but could not afford and demonstrated by the account of this favour granted to him that St. Philomena is responsive to all kinds of petitions and that her devotees can feel free to ask her for just about anything.
The book concentrates heavily on the business of choosing a suitable patron saint. It goes into many different methods of doing this: for example the saint that you were named after, the profession that you work at, the parish that you live in. This topic is looked into in great detail and is in my opinion is well worth studying. If this is already somewhat obvious to you there are many Catholics and others who are clueless in this area who would benefit from reading this. Even the person who understands this topic already will probably gain from the author's insight into the matter.
The need for a patron saint is also examined in considerable detail. The author takes us through the question of why can't we just get on with it and pray directly to God without complicating the whole issue by going through an intermediary
He gives us everyday examples of how a human sponsor or mentor can help us get ahead in our career and in the case of someone who is trying to get out of an addiction like alcohol a fellow struggler who has been through the same battles as the addict is an invaluable help to the person. The author shows how the sponsor gains pleasure from helping the person he sponsors and rejoices in their progress.
From these ordinary examples he shows us that the saints are also like that: living spirits who have been there and done that, just as we are doing now, who are in a position to guide us and take our petitions to the throne of God.
The author draws on biblical references which show us that we should pray for our needs and that if the prayer of one person is good then the prayers of many people are even better. He reminds us that if we are going to have an operation next week we drum up some friends and relatives to pray for us and he brings out the conclusion that if it is good then how much better it is to get one of the the saints to pray for us. The author points out that they are more than willing to do this for us and that they are fulfilling their mission to honour God and to spread his
kingdom by helping us.
A brief outline of the some of the devotions to St. Philomena are included in the book namely the cord of St. Philomena and the origins of a devotion which is called the Oil of St. Philomena*.
A feature of the book that is not common to the other books about St. Philomena is an examination of the special ways to imitate her; for example donations to charities, parishes and organisations connected with her or for that matter to the particular saint who is your patron.
The author concentrates heavily on the fact that the relationship with a patron saint is not a one way street; that is you asking for favours and receiving them. It is about doing things to honour your patron saint, learning from his or her life in order to improve the way that you live your Catholic life.
This book is essentially not for entertainment but for instruction and is a worthwhile addition to the many colourful books available on St. Philomena and her miracles.
This is not really a book for the person who is beginning to learn about St. Philomena but rather it is a book for those who are already familiar with her.
*The account in the book "I ask St. Philomena" of the origins of the devotion known as The Oil of St. Philomena differs from the accounts in all the other books because the author says that the devotion stemmed from the use of melted candle wax whereas all other accounts say that it stemmed from the use of the oil which burns in the lamp before St. Philomena relics.