Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Call Saint Martha, the Original Dragon Lady

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Call Saint Martha, the Original Dragon Lady

Article excerpt

ONE DAY A MAN NAMED Macarius quit climbing the corporate ladder and retired to the desert. Yet giving up the rat race didn't eliminate rats from his life: "The heart is but a small vessel, and yet dragons and lions are there," he wrote, "and there are poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There also is God, there are the angels, there life and the kingdom."

Life is never dragon-free, whether in the fourth century of Saint Macarius or the 21st. How comforting that saint-archetypes can guide amateur dragon-dodgers through the Forest Perilous of modern life!

In my late, unlamented, purist days, I snubbed dragon-slaying saints of legend such as Saint George. After all, these figures--more folktale than fact--had been stricken from the leaner, fantasy-free post-Vatican II calendar.

Today, my favorite legendary "warrior princess" next to Xena is Saint Martha. With a respectful nod to Saint George, I relate to "dragon lady" Martha best. (Takes one to know one, I guess.)

Why Martha? I like her Amazon approach to life's problems. Who doesn't secretly sympathize when Martha complains that Mary should be cookin,' not schmoozin'? And at Lazarus's tomb, reproachful, hands-on-hips Martha merely voices what people often think but rarely say, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

Medieval legend embroidered scripture's portrait of a bustling, no-nonsense woman. After Jesus' death, Martha, Mary Magdalene, and Lazarus were said to have sailed off to evangelize France. Landing at Marseilles, Martha squelched a dragon by sprinkling him with holy water--a good home remedy for evil--lassoing him with her belt, and leading him off to the nearest dragon depository. She also invented bouillabaisse in her spare time.

A friend of mine holds a yearly Martha Party on the feast-day of July 29. Guests are given a Martha booklet packed with information on the saint: legends, poems, illustrations, scripture, symbols, modern commentaries, old prayers, and novenas. Martha's popularity in traditional Mexican American devotion makes her image common in Texas, and the party centerpiece is the Martha Shrine: a statue of Martha brandishing a broom, the Bible, and an incense-burner. A dragon curls meekly at her feet.

As for my own Martha statue, it guards my desk at work and has been smuggled into many a contentious staff meeting. …

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