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 for her favor. I guess the reason I used to approach Her was because I am an orphan and a bachelor and I have only one good friend who lives in another city so I really don't have anyone to talk to or to turn to in time of need and troubles. But Mother Mary was always there for me, someone to whom I could turn. I went that particular morning with a simple request in my heart: I had a boss who was driving me crazy. I wanted that ogre to leave, to be offered a job in some distant place and rid the office of her unwholesome presence.
Per usual, I purchased six candles and lit them, one at a time,sending up my petition, then I knelt and said a few spontaneous words, several Ave Marias and 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 a diminutive woman I knew, whose name is Gabriela; she owned a small dress shop in the neighborhood. I knew her because she also mended and altered men's clothes, although she was a fine dressmaker. I had done business with her off and on for a couple of years and knew her voice well, I got up form my genuflection. "Hello, Gabriela. Nice to see you. I didn't quite understand what you were saying to me; I was lost in my own meditation."
"I was saying you're wasting your time; she doesn't work."
I was flabbergasted to hear this. "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, and sew your buttons back on, and did 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. "Yes, and I appreciated that, but what does that have to do with asking Holy Mary for help?"
"Because I always told you the truth and always charged you a reasonable price––even gave you a discount. Do you remember?"
"Yes, I remember; and I'm still grateful. I was a little broke then."
"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 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 of Sts. 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 They don't need lots of presents; they're pretty tough. They've got lots of power. Now take St. Raphael, he's known as the 'medicine of God.' So if you need help when you're sick, don't wait for the doctor to come; you call on St. Raphael, he's always there––he makes house calls, if you know what I mean.
I tried to control my smile, and she noticed it. "You don't believe me, That's okay, I didn't believe it myself when I started many years ago."
"What happened?" I asked in genuine curiosity.
"I'll tell you; but don't laugh. You promise?"
"For years my grandmother and mother venerated the Virgin. You can't imagine how man Ave Marias were said in my house even before I was born and now I'm seventy and I didn't leave home until I was almost thirty and imagine how many I said myself in my own house 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 for Her mercy––the fewer results I got––and I truly believed She could help. Just like the kids say these days: 'Zip,' and she snapped her finger. "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 it's worth about what one dollar was back then––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, 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 every day 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, who was a virgin herself and what could she tell me about kids and husbands? So I was praying night and day and saying novenas and attending all the 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 Michael. 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 gotten 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 Lourdes and given to me many years ago, which I used only on very special occasions, so I sprinkled a little bit of that Lourdes water on the St. Michael postcard, 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 engine's siren passing 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 happend ?" I asked excitedly.
She looked at me as if I'd said something impertinent and said: "Nothing happend, 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?"
"Of course I did."
"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. Learn some manners, young man. It's never too late to learn manners."
I felt slighted. I had to say something. She apparently thought I was prying into her personal life and all I had really wanted to know had been her petition and its miraculous outcome because of her intimate monologue with the archangel.
I could tell she was upset and I explained the situation to her. "I wasn't snooping."
"Okay, I accept your apology. But it was personal that's all I can say. Now let me tell you something about St. Michael, Archangel: Be careful what you ask him for."
"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, my legs are getting tired. I can tell you something and it's not personal."
We found the farthermost pew, and hidden by a fat romanesque column, 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 into 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. 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, She got an attorney, who 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 sergeant 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 from her son saying his unit had been ordered to Vietnam; and that by a special order from high up, he'd been released to rejoin his company; and the next letter she got was from her son in Vietnam. He'd been saved from prison.
"Then one day she gets a letter that her son has been severely wounded and is in a hospital in Hawaii, so she gets on a plane and goes to stay by 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 you want taken care of. Saint Michael asks a big price for his help. Do you understand?"
I think I do," I said.
"No young man, there's 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 and I told her 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 have to reopen 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."