ROBERT WALLACE PAOLINELLI
I went to pray one day at the cathedral in front of the Holy Virgin, to whom I often went to light candles and to supplicate her. I can't honestly say that what I have asked for ever came to pass; but at least there was someone to whom I could turn to in my times of need. Aside from being a bachelor I am also an orphan, and I only have one good friend and he lives in another city and we don't get to visit often.
But Mother Mary was always there for me. I went one particular morning with a simple request in my heart:––
I had a boss who was driving me crazy. I was ready to resign, which would mean throwing away a good job which had turned into a nightmare. Nevertheless I wanted that ogress boss to leave, to be offered a job in some distant place, an opportunity she would be a fool to refuse––and rid the office, and my life, of her unwholesome presence.
Per usual, I purchased six candles and lit them, one at a time; and in lighting each one, I sent up my petition, then knelt and said a few spontaneous words, then recited several Ave Marias, then some Our Fathers. I bowed my head in silence for a while. During this meditation I heard a voice. No, it was not the voice of the Blessed Mother; on the contrary, I recognized the voice; it was someone I knew.
I opened my eyes and turned my head. It was as I had expected: a diminutive woman whose name was Gabriella; she owned a small dressmaking and alterations shop in the neighborhood. I knew her because although she was an excellent dressmaker, and she also did a fine job with men's clothes.
I had done some business with her off and on for a couple of years and knew her voice well. I got up from my genuflection.
"Hello, Gabriella, I said in a soft voice, "nice to see you. I didn't understand what you were saying to me; I was lost in my meditation.
"I said, you're wasting your time; she doesn't work."
I was flabbergasted to hear this. I would not tolerate this blasphemy. "Doesn't work? What on earth do you mean?" I asked, raising my voice in the quiet chapel.
"She only likes the candles and the flowers and all those rosaries and hurt knees we get from begging her. But she doesn't come through; you can take it from me, young man. Didn't I always fix your pants? Didn't I always give you a fair price and told you when I thought it was better to buy a new jacket than to repair the one you brought me last winter? Didn't I?"
She was right, she had done all of that for me. However, I retorted: "Yes, and I appreciated that, but what does that have to do with your blasphemy––about asking Holy Mary for help."
"Blasphemy? Now you sound like an inquisitor. Listen,I always told you the truth and always charged you a reasonable price––even gave you a discount once. Do you remember?" I always tell the truth."
She was making me feel a little guilty. "Yes, I remember, and I'm not an ingrate, but I can't see what this has to do with my prayers."
"Well the point of all of this is that I always treat you right and give it to you straight and I say you're wasting your time in this chapel. You want help? You go to Saint Michael the Archangel and Saint Raphael, Archangel. Now when you want something, they're are the ones you should go to." She tugged at my sleeve and before I knew it, I found myself in the chapel at the other end of the cathedral wherein stood two statues, about six feet tall, made out of white Italian marble, carved in the classical style of Saints Michael and Raphael, Archangels.
Before each archangel was a prieu dieu with a runner in front where one could light devotional candles.
She handed me two cards on which had been typed two invocations: one to St. Michael, one to St. Raphael. "You light only one candle, and say these words and when it gets to the part where it says "name your favor," you just say what you want. Don't be shy, and don't hold back. Just open your heart. These archangels only want honesty. Now you take St. Raphael, he's also known as the "medicine of God." So if you need help when you're sick, don't wait for the doctor––you call on St.Raphael, he's always there. He makes house calls, if you know what I mean," she said impishly.
I was beginning to like her and not think her at all blasphemous, just eccentric in her views. But I had to smile at what she was saying. I tried to control my smile, however, and she noticed it.
"You don't believe me. That's okay, I didn't believe it myself when I started many years ago. I'll tell you something, but don't laugh. Will you promise?"
"For years my grandmother and mother venerated the Virgin. You can't imagine how many Ave Marias were said in our house––even before I was born, and now I'm seventy–two and I didn't leave home until I was almost thirty and imagine how many I said myself in my own house, later, as well. But through the years I noticed that the more I prayed to Her and the more I truly believed she could help and the more I pleaded for her intervention and mercy, I got no results. Just like the kids say today, zip," and she snapped her fingers. "Well, one day the wind is blowing and I was taking some money out of my wallet and a dollar flies out of my hand. Can you imagine, one dollar? And let me tell you, young man, one dollar back in those days meant something––not like today where we've got to work like mules to earn five and that five is worth about what one dollar was when I was a younger woman––so I ran after the dollar. Thank God, it went under a car and got caught on the tire; imagine, I got on my belly and almost ruined my good coat to get that dollar. When I got hold of it, I stopped a minute to catch my breath. And while I'm resting, a gust of wind brings a piece of paper, just a plain piece of paper, it looked like it came from a school binder and on it was written in pencil: IF YOU WANT YOUR DREAMS TO COME TRUE, PRAY TO THE ARCHANGELS MICHAEL AND RAPHAEL. That's all it said. I don't know why I grabbed it, but I did, stuck it in my purse along with the dollar and forgot about it. Well, I was having some trouble with my former husband in those days over a lot of things, especially the kids. Anyway, I went to church everyday and lit candles to the Virgin Mary. After all, she was a mother, too; she could understand a mother's problems better, say than St.Paul, who was never married, or St. Theresa of Avila, who was a virgin herself and how could she tell me about kids and husbands? So I was praying night and day and saying novenas and attending Wednesday night rosary recitations and things weren't getting any better. One evening I was cleaning out an old purse and I came across that piece of ripped binder paper. I read it and reread it, put it in my apron pocket and made myself a cup of coffee. I was sitting in my kitchen with only one small lamp on. I decided, what the heck, so I went to a box I kept postcards people had sent me through the years because I remembered an old aunt in Italy sent me a postcard from the Vatican Museum with a picture of Saint Raphael. So I found the picture, I never throw things like that away. I can get rid of the Grand Canyon and sunsets from Hawaii––I've got lots of those through the years from friends. So I got the picture, I propped it up against the small lamp I got a candle and a bottle of holy water someone had brought back from the River Jordan and had given me many years ago, which I used only on very special occasions, so I sprinkled a little bit of that River Jordan water on the St. Michael postcard, and then lit the candle. I sat down, I didn't get on my knees, my knees were sore because I'd been spending so much time on them in front of the Virgin. So I sat down and started talking to St. Michael the way I'm talking to you, only it was kind of in a whisper––just like a church and I remember it was about nine o'clock when I did that and then I heard a fire truck with its siren blaring passing just outside the house and it kind of startled me from my quiet conversation and I happend to look up at the clock radio and saw that it was past ten thirty! Can you imagine that? An hour and a half talking to that archangel as if he was my neighbor over for a cup of coffee."
"Well, what happened?" I asked excitedly.
She looked at me as if I'd asked something impertinent and said: "Nothing happened, it was late, I had to open my shop early. So I washed my cup, put it away, blew the candle out and went to bed."
"But didn't you get a response from your talk with St. Michael?" I asked
"Of course I did."
"Well––what was it?"
"That's none of your business. It was personal it had to do with my former husband and the kids. You don't need to know somethings. Learn some manners, young man. It's never too late to learn manners."
I felt slighted and chastised. I had to say something Apparently she thought I was prying into her personal life. But all I had really wanted to know was what her petition had been, and its miraculous outcome because of her intimate monologue with the archangel. That was all.
I could tell she was upset and I explained how I felt. "I wasn't snooping,." I ended.
"Okay, I apologize. But it was personal, that's all I can say. Now let me tell you about St.Michael. Be careful what you ask him for."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because you may get more than you bargained for."
"What do you mean?"
She hesitated for a moment. "Come with me, let's sit in one of the back pews and talk, anyway, my legs are getting tired. It's something I can tell you, it's not personal."
We found the farthermost pew, and from behind a fat, romanesque column which hid us from view, she said:––
"A friend of mine had a son in the Marine Corps. He was a good kid, only a little hot–headed at times and he got in a fight with a sergeant and they put him in the brig and he was going to get a court martial, maybe serve time in Leavenworth––get a dishonorable discharge. You know that would have been a great shame for the family, much less the misery that poor young man would have had to suffer in prison––imagine, he was just a kid, nineteen years old, they lived just a few doors down from me for years––so his mother comes into my shop one day all in tears and says her son is in the brig and he was going to be court martialed and maybe go to prison for ten years. I tried to console her. They got an attorney; he tried to get the kid off on some legal business I didn't understand, but it didn't work and the court martial was going to take place just the same, I felt helpless. But then I remembered St.Michael is a warrior, so I told my neighbor to pray to him night and day for twenty–one days. I don't know why I said twenty–one days, but I did. So she did and many times I went to visit her and helped her pray. So one day she got a letter from her son saying the chief witness for the prosecution had been killed in an automobile accident; then a week later she got another letter saying the sergeant, his accuser, had fallen from a ladder and was in a coma. Then a week later she got another letter form her son saying his unit had been ordered to Vietnam, and that by a special order from higher–ups, he'd been released to rejoin his company; and the next letter she got her son was in Vietnam and for a couple of months she got letters, He'd been saved from prison; then one day she was informed that he'd been severely wounded and was in a hospital in Hawaii, so she gets on a plane and goes to stay with her son; and when he's better he gets a medical discharge and they flew back to San Francisco and six months later the kid comes down with pneumonia and dies on her. Can you imagine? So be careful if you've got enemies. Saint Michael asks a big price for his help. do you understand?"
I thought I understood and said so.
"No young man, there is no thinking you understand. Either you understand or you don't understand. Now do you understand or don't you?"
I felt she was pushing my shoulders against the wall and I didn't like it one bit and said so.
"I'm sorry you're so sensitive about this; but some things just got to be told. I don't want you to get into any trouble. I Always talk straight; that's the way I am; don't take it personally, young man; it's for your own good. Don't doubt the power, that's all I've got to say." She looked at her watch.
"I've got to go; lunch time is up, I've got to open my shop. Don't forget what I told you. And save your money and your knees, like I told you. Goodbye, young man, and, listen, now that I know you a little better, I'll give you a bigger discount next time you drop something by."