This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

October 31 -- St. Alphonsus Rodriguez

 Although he died on October 31, his feast is October 30.  I apologize for the error.

His dad was a successful wool merchant, successful enough to send him to a Jesuit school. But dad's death forced young Alphonsus to come home and run the family business (into the ground). He was released from the obligation of running the failing business when his mother, wife, and daughter all died within the span of three years. He sold it and moved in with his highly religious sisters whose life of prayer and meditation began to influence him. Following the death of his son, he applied to become a Jesuit but was rejected as having too many years, too few of which were spent in school.

He went home and began to learn Latin. Six months later he showed up again, asking to be accepted to the Jesuits. Impressed with his tenacity, they accepted him as a lay brother. Eventually he was appointed door-keeper (ianitor, in Latin) of the College of Montesion in Majorca. He held the job for forty-five years, serving with admirable humility and evident religious devotion. In time, he was allowed to take the full vows; more important, though, was his growing reputation as a spiritual leader. People came from all over to seek the advice of this long-suffering, uncomplaining, dutiful door-keeper.

In my mind, he's linked to the mountaintop guru of the cartoons -- disconnected from the specific events of the day, the wars and elections and scandals. He wakes and prays, cleans and prays, eats and prays, works and prays, and then sleeps to do it again. A life wasted? It gave him contentment in a life that seemingly offered him much pain otherwise. Who among us has such wisdom to knock that?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

October 30 -- St. Winnifred

First, she was Welsh, not English, so I should probably type her name as Gwenfrewi, though I'm not sure how to pronounce that. Some 16th century cardinal (Baronius) tried to claim her for the English, but he needn't have bothered -- the sixteenth century was a great time for creating English saints and martyrs.

Not that Gwenfrewi's' story is less compelling than say Thomas More. It's just more personal and less political in the sense of national government and foreign relations.

Gwenfrewi was the only child of a noble family. Unlike most women of her time, she was literate -- like many, she was dedicated to her faith rather than service to a husband. When a local chieftain courted her, she told him she was already engaged to another and sought refuge from his anger in her uncle's oratory (private chapel). The would-be husband rode up and cut her head off before she could run into the building.

Uncle Beuno was a holy man, himself destined for sainthood, but even a saint can lose his temper when faced with such sinful cruelty. He cursed the husband, who melted like wax. Then he put Gwenfrewi's head back on her body and prayed; her life was restored, leaving only a thin scar. As a bonus, water burst from the ground where her head had fallen, creating Holywell, the most popular of the Celtic holy spring sites. A mining company unintentionally diverted water from it in the early twentieth century, but another underground source was identified, so the water still springs today.

As for Gwenfrewi, Uncle Beuno gave her his oratory, and there she founded an abbey. She served as an abbess for fifteen years before taking the next big step toward sainthood.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

October 29 -- Blessed. Thomas Bellacci

A beatus rather than a full saint, Thomas is nonetheless the patron of butchers. His life followed one of the traditional paths to sainthood -- the dissolute youth who is blessed by a deep conversion experience and then leads a life of exemplary zeal. But here's the part I love about his particular biography: he was so dissolute that parents actually warned their children against socializing with him. There's carnal pleasure, and then there's such overindulgence that you actually become a community hazard.

His parents threw him out, but he was taken in by priests who clothed, fed, and taught him. He never took orders (I hope that's unrelated to his never having been fully canonized) but he did become such an effective lay preacher that he was sent on special missions. One was to preach against some radical, heretical Franciscans called the Fraticelli . He was also sent to Syria and Abyssinia to work for reunification of the Church, but was taken prisoner. The Vatican ransomed him, but he died en route to Rome where he planned to request leave to return to the East for more work.

There's lots to wonder about, not the least of which is whether he would have amounted to anything more than cirrhotic liver if his parents hadn't given him tough love and the priests hadn't been there to pick up the pieces.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October 28 -- Alfred the Great

I had not known that King Alfred of Wessex was a saint; I did know him as the guy who rightly gets credit for preventing a complete Danish conquest of England though is sometimes wrongly believed to have united all England under his rule. Like any epic hero, he was down and out for a spell, hiding in the bushes and being chastised by angry housefraus who didn't like their cakes burning on the hearth, but struggled back and won a smashing victory. Having defeated the invaders, he forced them to take baptism. While I find this theologically suspect, I can understand why it warranted canonization.

For my own part, I am far more impressed that he translated Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, Gregory's Pastoral Rule, Bede's Ecclesiastical History, and Gregory's Dialogues. I suppose it should count as one of his miracles that he was a fierce and successful warrior who was also a scholar and translator. If so, maybe he does deserve sainthood.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

October 27 --- St. Odran

Before Columba was a saint, back when he was just a holy man living out on the Isle of Iona, a man named Odran came to work and pray with him. Odran was one of Columba's first followers, which must have given him a special place in Columba's heart. Anyway, Odran died soon after arriving, and Columba saw a vision of Odran's soul being fought over by angels and devils. As Columba watched, the angels won and carried Odran's soul to heaven.

Good to know there are troops standing by to carry you home in case the enemies come for you.

Monday, October 25, 2010

October 26 -- St. Quodvultdeus

 Also celebrated on February 19. 

I selected him among the several saints purely for his name, which I translate as "What God Wants," a variation on the prayer, "Thy will, not mine, be done." I think this is among the coolest of the saints' names, and somewhere in one of the infinite parallel universes, where I am a cardinal, I am campaigning to be the next pope so I can rename myself Quodvultdeus.

The saint himself, by the way, was driven from his bishopric in Carthage by Arians. He survived and worked in Naples, but those Arian bastards held North Africa for another fifteen years.

Since it is apparently a day for hagiographic silliness, I'll point that when St. Cedd died of the plague in Lastingham (somewhere up around Yorkshire, I gather), thirty monks hurried to the area, vowing to live near their spiritual father, or at least be buried near him. Sure enough, thirty plague victims later, their wish was granted.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 25 -- Feast of Sts. Crispin and Crispinian

There's not much to go on with these guys, but that hardly matters to you Anglophiles out there. St. Crispin's Day (and for Shakespeare types, St. Crispin's Eve) is more historic and civic than holy.

These two Roman brothers, perhaps patricians, preached the Gospel in Gaul. While doing so, they also worked as shoemakers so they would not live on alms. I find this vocational detail (in the modern sense of the term) curious -- you don't hear of many saints who scruple the handout --I believe it was generally considered important to maintain humility. But good for them -- surely there's no shame in plying a trade to pay their own way.

They may or may not have fled to Haversham, Britain to escape persecutions in Gaul. Whether or not they did, their feast is a red letter day in British history. The English army under Henry V, outnumbered by at best 4-3 and at worst 2-1, inflicted a crushing defeat on the French.

In his 1599 play Henry V, William Shakespeare made sure British audiences would not forget the date of the battle with this famous pre-battle speech:
"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."

October 24 -- St. Anthony Claret

This Saint Anthony was a Spanish born Jesuit who went to Cuba to be the archbishop in the middle of the nineteenth century. Tough place, Cuba. Resistance to his administration was fierce, including an (unsuccessful) assassination attempt. He resigned the post in 1857 and returned to Spain to be the confessor to Queen Isabella II. While there, he set up a science laboratory, a natural history museum, and a music and language school.

Tough place, Spain. Following the Revolution of 1868, he followed his Queen into exile, dying a couple years later in a Cistercian monastery.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

October 23 -- A Couple of Johns

I've joked before about how many saints named John there are. Two of them -- Blessed John Buoni and St. John of Capistrano -- share a feast on October 23. They make an odd contrast.

John Buoni was a wild-living court jester who got a jolt of faith and became a hermit. His piety attracted followers, to his distress. One night he started walking in search of a sign -- he ended up a hermitage, which he understood to mean that he should take in these followers and organize them monastically. They became Augustinian monks.

John of Capistrano was a knight and lawyer who decided to take vows after having been a prisoner of war. He became a brilliant Franciscan theologian, writing to condemn the heresies of his time. Following the fall of Constantinople to the Turk, he preached Crusade. The Pope eventually commissioned him to organize one. Leading 70,000 soldiers in the summer of 1456, he defeated the Turkish forces in the Battle of Belgrade, halting the Turkish advance into Europe.

A joker who becomes an Augustinian hermit and a lawyer who becomes a Franciscan Crusader (albeit a defensive one). I think they must roll around in my head for a while before I can make sense of them.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

October 22 -- St. Mary Salome (Irene)

Moms are the best, and they never quit advocating for others. Even Jesus was susceptible to the power of his mom -- he wasn't prepared to reveal himself at the wedding feast in Cana. Mary asked him to solve the problem and he told her his time had not yet come. But then he did the water-to-wine thing anyway.

Mary Salome (Irene in Greek) was the mother of Saint John the Apostle and Saint James the Greater. You'd think that being one of the three Marys (Theotokos, Magdalene, and Salome) and the mom of two of his favorite apostles would give her the standing to ask for a little insider information. So she asked what place her sons would have in the kingdom of heaven. He wasn't as cranky with her as he had been with his own mom, but neither did she learn much. The Father, not he, assigns places in the kingdom, and they'd have to follow His example of humility and sacrifice to earn their places. As if trekking around Judea with him, sleeping on the floors of other people's homes and living small out of the common purse wasn't humble and self-sacrificing enough. Tough Lord, that Jesus.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

October 21 - St. Hilarion of Gaza

I can understand the appeal of the eremitical life, even if I have no interest in pursuing it. Nonetheless, it seems to me that Hilarion carried this too far, even if he worked miracles.

An Alexandrian convert to Christianity, he adopted an exceptionally austere life after giving all his worldly wealth to his brothers and to beggars. He moved into a lawless part of Gaza and sustained himself by making baskets from rushes. Unwilling to cave to his carnal temptations (some of which are fabulously depicted in artworks), he began to starve himself. Naked women and sumptuous feasts consumed his minds eye while hunger and neglect consumed his body. St. Jerome wrote that this was the diet he followed age various ages:
  • from 20-23: half a pint of lentils moistened with cold water
  • 23-27: dry bread with salt and water
  • 27-30: wild herbs and roots
  • 31-35: six ounces of barley bread, and boiled vegetables without oil

After that, he suffered from signs of malnutrition, his eyesight grew poor, his body shrivelled and he developed dry mange and scabs, so he had to slightly modify his diet.

  • 35-63: six ounces of barley bread, and boiled vegetables with oil
  • 63-80: six ounces of water, boiled vegetables with oil and a broth made from flour and crushed herbs, taken after sunset
Even if he could relieve horses and people of demons, cure barrenness in women, paralysis in charioteers, raise children from the dead, and even tame a mad Bactrian camel, he ought to have washed his clothes (and himself), shaved more than once a year, and eaten enough to maintain his health. The Gnostic Christian notion that the body was an evil prison to be escaped was rejected by the proto-Orthodox; his neglect of the temple of his soul borders on sacrilege.

Then again, I could eat fewer cookies and hit the gym more often myself.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

October 20 - Artemius the Megalomartyr

I'm not sure why Artemius is called the Great Martyr -- his beheading seems no worse than the beheadings of many contemporaries, including those he persecuted. But combining accounts from a couple of sources, I come up with the following about him.

Artemius was a leading Christian in Alexandria during the reign of Constantine the Great. I don't know how leading he was, since I don't read that he was at any of the big councils or wrote any famous tracts, but he was appointed Governor of Alexandria by the Emperor Constantine. As such, he was a dedicated adherent to the Arian heresy, famous as a persecutor of the proto-Orthodox Christians.

Constantine's grandson, Julian the Apostate, became emperor and attempted to restore polytheism to its privileged place within the empire. Artemius reprimanded the emperor for this relapse into paganism, and for his trouble, he was tortured, decapitated, and eventually canonized as a saint.

The reign of the Julian the Apostate must have been a perilous moment for the whole empire. It is something I'd like to read more about.

Monday, October 18, 2010

October 19 -- Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko

The answer to "What's wrong with communism?" is very different from the answer to "What's wrong with Marxist-Leninism?" To the former, we might answer, "Nothing, if you can make it work. The first century Christians had a common purse. It's just tough to sustain, especially on a large scale." To the latter, let's consider Blessed Father Jerzy Popieluszko.

Ordained in Warsaw, Poland in 1972, he worked closely with the Solidarity movement until his arrest on trumped up charges. When the Church announced its intention to fight the bogus charges, they were dropped. He resumed very vocal criticism of the government and support for the workers of Poland.

On October 19, 1984, the Sluzba Bezpieczenstwa (Security Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs) kidnapped Father Jerzy, beat him to death, and then dumped his body in the Vistula Water Reservoir where it was found ten days later. Although several of the secret police were busted for the crime, their sentences were light.

Marxists, in pursuit of their pure Communist state, abandoned their dedication not only to freedom, but to the very workers they sought to liberate. As the menace of the USSR and its satellites fade, it is good to reflect on the persecution of the faithful that those regimes ordered.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

October 18 -- St. Luke the Physician

The Big Dogs will not be ignored, and St. Luke is certainly among the six or seven biggest dogs in the kennel. The author of that eponymous Gospel, as well as the Acts of the Apostles, Luke was clearly one of the most influential early Christian writers. He was a close colleague of St. Paul, sharing his mission work, his shipwreck, and his trip to Rome. Luke hung out in the Eternal City while Paul was in prison, but apparently left after the execution.

He may have painted portraits of Jesus and Mary, though he had never met Jesus. Anyway, the attribution is enough to qualify him as the patron saint of artists of all kinds -- painters, sculptors, goldsmiths,glass makers, lace makers, and even brewers. He is also the patron saint of healers, including physicians, surgeons, and brewers.

Did I mention that he is also the patron saint of brewers? Here's to Luke...

October 17 -- Ignatius of Antioch

A source tells me that Ignatius of Antioch was the successor Antioch. If Ignatius was born around AD 50 and Peter was crucified in AD 64, then either there was a gap in Apostolic leadership, or the source is in error, or Ignatius was an exceptionally charismatic youth. Anyway, Ignatius was plainly Bishop of Antioch, when at age 57 he was arrested on the charge of Christianity and sent to Rome to be killed by beasts in the arena. We know this because he wrote letters to other Christian leaders en route to his execution. The guards who ignored (or perhaps abetted) his pen, paper, and ink are not known to us as saints, but surely they must have been blessed by Ignatius and received their reward in Heaven. Yeah, I know that they might have done something more, like perhaps letting him go, converting, etc, but not everyone is cut out for martyrdom. Small acts of kindness and toleration within a rotten system are important -- the Divine Plan is unknowable, but we must do what we can within it, right?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

October 16 -- St. Gall

St. Gall followed St. Columbanus into western Europe to found abbeys and preach the Gospel -- part of the way the Irish saved civilization. But he got sick somewhere in Switzerland and fell behind. Columbanus accused him of malingering and ordered a penance: Gaaech (Gall) could never say Mass again while Columbanus was alive. I know it is a sacred ritual and a great honor, but doesn't it seem like punishing a malingerer by ordering him to do less work? Sort of like suspending a kid who skips school.

Gaaech had a couple of cool miracles to his name. Once when he and the brothers were camped in the woods, he ordered a passing bear to bring firewood. The bear complied. He also exorcised King Sigebert's wife -- the demons left in the form of blackbirds. For this, he was twice offered bishoprics, but knowing his limitations (or at least his vocation), he declined.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

October 15 -- St. Teresa of Avila

St. Teresa ran away from her father's home to become a Carmelite nun at age 17. Although he did not approve of her taking orders, he acknowledged her determination and granted his consent. After recovering from an illness, she began seeing holy visions. Because she considered the rules of her convent too lax, she founded a reformed (the only time reformed has ever been used to mean more strict) convent. Over the objections of local religious authorities, she founded several sister-houses of her new, more strict convent.

Like many saints, she sounds like she was threatening, or at least irritating, to local authorities. She was canonized within forty years of her death, and four centuries later, was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church, but you have to wonder if the Carmelites ever regretted letting her in. When I read that she had played "hermit"as a child in her father's garden, I had to think that they all should have seen it coming.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October 14 -- Pope Saint Callistus I

Callistus I, who had been born a slave and condemned to the tin mines as a runaway, was ransomed by fellow Christians and eventually rose through Church ranks to the Papacy, only to fall all the way down to the bottom of a well. One of the hotter corners of Hell is surely occupied by the guy who tied a millstone around Pope Callistus I's neck and threw him down a well. Not only did he probably render the well water undrinkable for some time and lose a perfectly good millstone, but he also killed a Pope who had declared that differing economic classes were not a barrier to marriage. He also defended Communion for repentant sinners. Both positions, though orthodox, were condemned as heretical by a faction supporting an anti-Pope.

Sometimes the schismatic nature of Christianity is burdensome, but give me schisms over murder any day.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

October 13 -- St. Edward the Confessor

Let me say right up front that I don't like Edward the Confessor. That probably explains my gripe below, at least in part. But it is not the observation below that causes me to not like him. I don't like that he promised the throne of England to a Norman Duke (William) when 1) Harold was plainly the man on the scene, and 2) the crown belonged to the witana gemot (council of chieftains), not to him. His lack of clarity on the issue set up the invasion in 1066, a terrible event for his countrymen.

But that's not my point about his sainthood. Set it aside, along with his getting credit for celibacy when all he really did was send his wife to a nunnery because her dad was fomenting a rebellion against him.

The gripe in question is the interpretation of his illness and death. While hanging out in Normandy, hiding from the Danish king Harthacnut, he swore he would make a pilgrimage to Rome if his family fortunes were restored. Harthacnut named him as successor, but of course when he became king he could not make the pilgrimage. He asked the Pope to release him from his promise; the Pope consented on the condition that Edward endow an abbey dedicated to St. Peter. Edward chose a church just outside London and ordered that a huge church be built there, but he fell ill and died before it was consecrated. So here's my question: why isn't his death prior to the consecration understood as evidence of God's displeasure with his broken promise? How can they canonize someone who failed to make a promised pilgrimage? For that matter, how could the conquest of Britain not be understood as a rebuke from God for the King's failure, since its deliverance from one foreign dynasty was the price of his unfulfilled bargain?

What a canny lot must have been sitting on Vatican Hill when King Henry II persuaded Pope Alexander III to canonize Edward.

Monday, October 11, 2010

October 12 -- St. John of Beverly

A geocacher's version
A portrait in Beverly Minster
By works, St. John of Beverly is a worthy enough saint, though not one who would catch anybody's eye. He studied with some big names (St. Aidan, St. Theodore), made bishop (Hexam, then York), and founded a monastery (Beverly). Worked some miracles, retired to a contemplative life, blah blah blah. The difference between him and a legion of other holy men is one student, a kid called Bede. Years later, when that student was Venerable, he wrote a history of the English Church, in which his old teacher was kindly treated.

Lesson to Major: Be nice to these kids now. One of them may be charting the course of your reputation.