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.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

December 1 - Saint Eloi

In the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, the Prioress is said to speak no oath stronger than "By Saint Eloi." Eloi, whose feast is celebrated on December 1, is the patron of goldsmiths. Though he was a bishop and successful evangelist, he was also an accomplished smith who made two thrones of gold with only enough gold for one. This was no miracle; he was just a skilled craftsman. Depictions still exist of some of his works -- chalices, crosses, tomb adornments, and the like -- but no extant work is known to be his (though many are claimed to be.

Two medieval depictions of him stand out. In one, he holds the Devil by the nose with a pair of pincers. In the other, he is shoeing a horse's hoof that he has removed from the animal. In that legend, he took the leg of the beast off, shod it, and then returned it to the horse.

Know any smiths? Wish them a happy St. Eloi's Day.

Monday, November 29, 2010

November 30 -- St. Andrew

This one is THE Saint Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, the fisherman called to be a fisher of men. He is considered a protocletos, one of the first four apostles called into service by Jesus.

He is, of course, the patron of Scotland and their flag has a saltire cross (X-shaped) because the legend has it that he was executed at Patras on a saltire rather than an upright cross. The Scottish might well have selected the Celtic St. Columba as their patron, but the Synod of Whitby declared that St. Peter's older brother outranked a newer saint, even if that saint had been more directly responsible for Christianizing their country.

The relics (parts) of St. Andrew are of course scattered all over the world, just as they are for many of the Big Dog saints. There are parts in Greece, Italy, Scotland, and Poland. However, in a gesture of goodwill toward the Greek Orthodox Church, Pope Paul VI returned a finger and the head of St. Andrew to the church in Patras, Greece. I'm not sure what parts of the saint are still kept in Amalfi, Italy; if you get there, please find out and send word back to me.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

November 29 -- St. Saturninus of Toulouse

The basilica of St. Sernin in Toulouse is dedicated to him; apparently the French say his name differently. South-western France was an important staging area for pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela, the resting place of the relics of St. James. Folks in Toulouse wanted to have an impressive shrine for pilgrims to visit along the way, so they settled on Bishop Saturninus.

Between Saturninus' house and his church stood the main pagan temple in Toulouse. The oracles of the temple had failed to make any predictions for years; some of the priests blamed this failure on theopsychic interference from Saturninus' proximity. [Okay, theopsychic interference is my term, but it sounds pretty convincing, doesn't it?]

They grabbed the hapless bishop and dragged him into their temple, telling him he could either offer a sacrifice or be one. He replied that he couldn't respect a god that would be so troubled by a humble bishop living next door. So they dragged him back out and tied him to a bull which was then goaded into running rampant. The bull dragged Saturninus down a hill, bashing his skull open on a rock somewhere along the way. His body was hidden by a pair of faithful women until it became relics.

With so many pilgrims stopping in Toulouse on the Way of St. James, the fame of Saturninus spread far and wide. Many churches were dedicated to him, usually incorporating a bull into their iconography.

November 28 -- St. Stephen the Younger

This story had me fooled. I really thought it would turn out differently than it did.

Stephen the Younger was a retired abbot, living as a hermit, in 756. The iconoclastic movement got in full swing in in the area around that time; that movement interpreted the "no graven images" commandment very strictly and led raids on churches to destroy religious artworks. Priests and monks who had used the artwork for instruction often tried to save the artworks, sometimes resorting to subversion and other times to violence.

Emperor Constantine Copronynus V recruited Stephen for the iconoclastic movement; as a former abbot and austere hermit, he would have good monk cred. Stephen argued with the Emperor, defending the icons. To illustrate the power of an image, he took a coin out of his pocket with the Emperor's likeness on it. He threw it on the ground in front of the Emperor and stamped on it.

Okay, I could see the jail time that resulted from that. Eleven months -- time enough for both of them to reflect about the damage to the Church that was being done by the controversy. After his time in the pokey, Stephen was again summoned to appear before the Emperor. He resumed the argument as if there had been no interruption.

Scourged, stoned, and dragged to death through the streets of Constantinople. Three hundred defenders of icons, including an Andrew, a Peter, a Basil, and of course Stephen.

Friday, November 26, 2010

November 27 -- St. Fergus

Fergus, whose name means Man's Strength, was an Irish bishop who undertook missions in Scotland. He founded several churches. I have only read two interesting things about him.

First, he attended a council in Rome in 721. That council condemned sorcery and irregular marriages. That may not seem like a big deal, but previous councils had been debating things like whether Jesus was begotten or made and whether a monk's tonsure should be at the back of his head or side to side across the top, so condemning sorcery seems like a step forward to me. Of course, disclaiming sorcery would be an even bigger step forward, but I'll settle for baby steps.

Second, the abbot of Scone acquired his head during the reign of James IV (Fergus had been dead for centuries) and built an elaborate shrine for it. Aberdeen has one of his arms -- I don't know who has the other.

I don't have any deep thoughts about Fergus, but he seems like a good guy and I don't write about the Celts as often as I'd like.

November 26 -- St. Leonard of Port Maurice

Leonard lived in 17th and 18th century Genoa. He was a Franciscan preacher who embraced the strict austerity for which the Order was known, and who enforced that austerity in abbeys which had lapsed into luxury.

His most notable achievement was the popularization of the Stations of the Cross. If you are unfamiliar with the Stations, it is basically an iconic replication of the Via Dolorosa, the torturous path Jesus followed on the way to his crucifixion. The Franciscans used the Stations to teach about the Passion, and Leonard set up about 500 sets of stations throughout Italy. Their presence in Italian churches prompted visitors from other countries to acquire them, and in this way, they became standard fixtures in Catholic churches.

As we've seen with other saints, austerity is a tough sell. To compound his problem, Genoans were not especially welcome in some other Italian nations, especially Corsica, to which the Pope had sent Leonard. Corsica was apparently so lawless and violent that men carried arms as they attended Mass. Leonard inveighed against their wicked ways for about six months before the Genoan navy was dispatched to remove him for his own safety.

As he grew older, he continued to preach with less and less success, and eventually he began making his way toward Rome. The Pope sent a carriage to carry him. As an austere Franciscan, he wanted to walk, but the Pope's men insisted. Then the carriage broke down and he got his way and walked the remainder of the trip. He arrived just in time for his own last rites and expired on November 26.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November 25 - Miguel Pro and Catherine of Alexandria

 NB. The Feast of Blessed Father Miguel Pro is November 23, not 25th.  I am leaving the original post up, but I recommend celebrating his feast on its proper day.  If you are reading this too late, please make plans for next year. 

November 25 offers a sharp contrast in martyrs. Catherine, unattested in any record for five centuries after she (may have) lived, was another Bride of Christ who rejected the love of Roman nobles and suffered mortal consequences after miraculously thwarting attempts on her life. Miguel, on the other hand, is a twentieth century priest, martyred by a government trying to bring the Church under its control, and is reliably attested by historical records.

Catherine appears in the ninth century records of the Abbey at Mount Sinai, to which angels carried her remains. She had lived in the fourth century, according to the records, and had been amorously sought by the Emperor Maxentius. These emperors seemed to have a thing for Christian girls, but sadly, the infatuation was not reciprocal. But she was not immediately killed for having spurned the love of the Emperor. Fifty philosophers debated theology with her, and all fifty were defeated. The Emperor called for her to be broken on the wheel, but instead the wheel was broken on Catherine, injuring spectators when the spokes, gears, and sprockets flew in all directions. When she was subsequently beheaded, milk flowed from her body instead of blood. She was proclaimed, therefore, the patron of: nurses (milk), philosophers, students, young girls, and wheelwrights. Her popularity exploded and dozens of churches were named for her, but in 1969 the Church suppressed her cult because there was no real evidence that she ever existed.

Miguel Pro Juarez is a beatus rather than a full saint, probably because there are no miracles to his name. But at least he really existed. The son and assistant of a mining engineer, Miguel felt a strong vocation to serve the Church. Unfortunately, a series of Mexican leaders, including Venustiano Carranza, Pancho Villa, and Alvaro Obregon felt strongly that the Church should have no place in Mexico. The Mexican Constitution effectively banned the Church (adopted 1917, in effect 1926); Father Miguel began an underground ministry. He was eventually arrested on the spurious charge of trying to assassinate President-elect Obregon and sentenced to death. Declining a blindfold before the firing squad, he extended his arms in the form of a cross and shouted Viva Cristo Rey just before he was shot to death. Although a public funeral was forbidden, twenty thousand people lined the streets to see his hearse pass. Sympathy in Mexico and around the world was definitely on his side, though the Vatican curried favor with Mexico by delaying his nomination for beatification until 1952.

So we get to choose -- for some, an ancient, legendary miracle worker, a plucky girl who stands up to Roman brutality. For others, a gritty, modern victim of religious intolerance, brave but not supernaturally resistant to state-sanctioned violence.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

November 24 - St. Columbanus

The feast of St. Columbanus, the patron of motorcycle riders, is generally on November 23, but in Ireland and among the Benedictines, it is on November 24. Since I haven't yet figured out what to make out of the Martyrs of Vietnam (who are collectively celebrated on the 24th), I'm preferring to mark Columbanus Day with the Benedictines.

He was an Irish missionary who went deep into the heart of Frankish territory to re-Christianize the people. Thus, he is a key player in the process described by Thomas Cahill as the Irish saving civilization.

Of course, not everyone wants to be saved. Frankish kings tended to get fed up with his criticism of their ways. Columbanus himself had enjoyed "lascivious wenches" as a young man, but after becoming a monk, he felt entitled to criticize kings like Childebert II for their wanton behavior. Oddly enough, Childebert's grandmother, Brunhilda, took her grandson's side in the dispute -- perhaps because as long as he didn't marry, she'd be the top woman at court. She saw to it that Columbanus and all his Irish monks were tossed out of the kingdom.

They bounced around Europe for a while. After quarreling with his fellow Irish monks, Columbanus eventually settled in Bobbio, Italy where he lived out his days as a venerable old saint. He carefully dodged the Arian / Orthodox split, having fought earlier battles over core theological questions like "Which Sunday is Easter?" and "How should a monk's hair be cut?"

At some point, he lived in caves like a good hermit should. He was surrounded by wolves once, but just walked right past them. He also asked a bear to leave its cave so he could have it; it did. He asked another bear if he could harness it for plowing a monastery's fields; the bear consented and the fields got plowed.

I like the evolution of this guy. Most of the martyrs are marked from the start. They were born holy and they die young -- especially the beautiful virgins who refuse to marry Roman magistrates. Others, following Augustine's pattern, enjoy the sinful life while young, but then mature and burn hot with zeal for the Lord. Columbanus is the first guy I know who sinned hard, burned hot, and then mellowed into a cool, old saint. The third stage, it seems to me, is an important one.

Monday, November 22, 2010

November 23 -- Pope St. Clement I

Early popes had it tough. Like Pope St. Pontian, who was sentenced to slavery in the mines as a form of execution, Pope Clement I was sent by the Emperor Trajan to an eastern stone quarry. His fellow miners were parched from thirst; Clement prayed, and then followed a lamb to the top of a hill. There, he struck his pickaxe int he ground and clear spring water gushed forth. Their thirst miraculously slaked, the captive miners converted to Christianity on the scene.

The drowning of St. Clement
The Romans were less accepting. They tied Clement to an anchor and threw him into the Black Sea. Every year, the tide would recede two miles, revealing a divinely-built shrine for Clement's remains. Centuries later, when the shoreline had shifted, St. Cyril discovered Clement's anchor and some of his bones. He returned these to Rome; they are kept at the Basilica di San Clemente. His head, however, is held at the Kiev Monastery of the Caves in Ukraine.

San Clemente, California, was the home of another exiled leader who became the subject of myths and legends. Of course our knowledge of this leader is much better, but still imperfect, and our understanding of him is based nearly as much on our faith and predisposition as on the facts. While we amass a Himalayan collections of information these days, who can say what will survive the millennia? Who knows which facts and legends will leave one sainted, another cursed, and most of us forgotten?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

November 22 -- St. Philemon and St. Apphia

Paul's Epistle to Philemon is the shortest of the Pauline epistles (only 335 words). Hell, I've written postcards longer than that. But two things about it seem worth mentioning. First, it is believed to be genuinely Pauline, unlike some of the letters, which are by someone posing as Paul. Second, Paul urges forgiveness of Onesimus, a slave who stole something from Philemon and ran away. Paul urges Philemon to forgive Onesimus and welcome him back into the household as a brother in Christ.

It's a good thing Philemon did this because he and his wife Apphia were subsequently stoned to death for being Christians. While martyrdom might be a frequent ticket to recognition of sainthood, it's always better to show up for judgment with a few forgivenesses in your account.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

November 21 -- St. Albert of Louvain

I fail to find much inspiration in what I've read about Albert himself, but I think the circumstances around his demise are a good example of things working out for the best. It's not a very holy story, but not all church leaders were especially holy people.

Albert was the son of the duke of Branbant. At age twelve, he was appointed a canon of Liege, Belgium, a church office intended to keep him comfortably wealthy. I don't blame a young man for wanting to ditch a job he got at 12 -- hell, I wouldn't want to spend my whole career working at the deli where I worked at 15. But I don't think it is appropriate for him to have resigned in order to be a knight under Count Baldwin of Hainault, since Baldwin was a bitter enemy of Brabant. Some knight -- he talked about Crusading, but never went. Eventually, he took his old gig as canon of Liege back. The story says this was a real religious vocation, but his behavior doesn't show it.

Albert's behavior does show a man who knew how to work the organization. When the bishop's throne opened up, Albert was among the candidates. Muscled out by the local politicians, he appealed to the Vatican, making it a church-state fight. He managed to get the chair, but then the Holy Roman Emperor's thugs murdered him (stabbings -- multiple). Their plan backfired as their candidate Lothair was excommunicated and exiled and their boss had to submit to the Vatican's wishes.

In the end, most of the creeps got their come-uppance. I prefer not knowing who the Pope at the time was, since he probably deserved, but did not get, the same. Tough times, tough men, tough consequences.

November 20 -- St. Felix of Valois

Raised as the son of a count, he adopted the clerical life following his parents' bitter divorce. For a while, he lived as a Cistercian monk and a hermit, but he and Saint John of Matha came up with the idea of founding an order dedicated to freeing Christian slaves. The Moors in Spain had enslaved many thousands of Christians (estimates vary), and the Arab raiders abducted as many as a 1,250,000 Europeans to sell in the slave markets of the Ottoman Empire. Felix' plan to ransom these slaves would have been debatable today; groups that have tried to purchase intra-African slaves have found that their infusion of western cash incentivizes enslavement. No great surprise to anyone who's thought about economics, but nice folks like Felix think about helping the people who need help, not longterm consequences of such help.

Anyway, if popularity is a measure of success, Felix movement was successful. His Redemptionist Order within the Church was approved in 1198; by 1238, there were 600 houses worldwide. I guess they are better known as the Trinitarians now, though their contemporary work is analogous to their original mission -- they work in prison ministries in over 20 countries.

Tangent: Last spring, I met representatives from Hagar International, a group dedicated to supporting victims of human trafficking in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Afghanistan. Trafficking is probably the most publicized aspect of modern slavery, and anyone who thinks it is not cruelly lethal is deluding himself. If you're curious, check out Hagar International.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

November 19 -- Pope Saint Pontian

Pontian seems to have been a good pope. Popes in the third century must generally have been pretty good guys, since they made themselves the most prominent target in Rome for any emperor or praetor who wanted to someone to blame for something bad. In the case of Pontian, the emperor Maximus Thrax exiled him to Sardinia, where he would be worked to death in the mines.
Perhaps Pontian's decision to abdicate seems more practical than noble, but it seems to me that I had just been sentenced to the slow, ugly death of slavery in the mines, the disposition of my office would not be something I cared much about. Once again, that's why these guys are saints and I'm a blogger.

Pontian resigned his office before traveling to his cruel fate in Sardinia. Pope Saint Fabian, his successor, brought his remains back to Rome where they were venerated in the catacombs with so many other saints and martyrs.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November 18 -- St. Gregory the Wonderworker

St. Gregory Thaumaturgus was a third century Christian. In spite of having been converted to Christianity by the proto-heretic (and brilliant Church father) Origen, Gregory was a staunch defender of orthodox faith. In fact, he was so staunch that while he was camped out in the desert to escape the persecutions of the Emperor Decius, a vision of St. John the Apostle visited him to dictate a creed.

But that's not my favorite miracle. Neither are healing crowds of sick people, moving a mountain, drying up a swamp, nor changing the course of a river. Those are all impressive, of course, and I haven't done any of them, but none of them is my favorite.

His first miracle occurred in Alexandria, where he was a beginning preacher under Origen's tutelage. A notorious harlot approached him in a busy city square one day and demanded payment for services rendered. Greg gave her the benefit of the doubt, suggesting that she had mistaken him for someone else. She insisted that he was the John, even though (or perhaps because) he was so committed to abstinence and self-denial. So he asked that a friend pay what she asked. She took the money and immediately fell down in the street, frothing and foaming with demonic possession. Gregory then cast the demon from her, whereupon she rose, went forth, and sinned no more.

Tell 'em!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November 17 -- St. Elizabeth of Hungary

She was sent to live in her betrothed's family's home at age four, and she died at age 24 while under the control of an over-zealous priest. But in between, Elizabeth's life seems to have been satisfying, comfortable, and very holy.

In spite of her early betrothal and marriage (age 14, to a 21 year old husband named Ludwig), she and her husband seem to have been quite happy. They are both venerated as saints, and together they had three children.

Her sense of charity initially distressed Ludwig, though eventually he was persuaded of her wisdom. She once took in a dying leper and put him in the bed she shared with Ludwig. Angered, Ludwig rushed in to throw the wretch out, but stopped short when he remembered Matthew 25:40 -- "just as you did to the least of these who are members of my family, so you did to me." Together, Elizabeth and Ludwig became responsible for establishing a hospital and given much aid to the needy.

When Ludwig died of plague on a Crusade, Elizabeth left the castle with her young children and went to an abbey. She lived long enough to provide for the maintenance of her children, and then she too went to her grave.

Monday, November 15, 2010

November 16 -- Afan of Wales

Nothing much is known about the saint himself. Attempts to link him genealogically to other Welsh saints are either anemic imitations of the scriptural genealogies or they are tasteless jokes about Welsh in-breeding. Hard to know which, but I don't put any stock in them either way.

Here's where I am giving credence: you don't dis a Welsh saint. Some English nobleman who was hunting Welsh game (probably peasants instead of pheasants) decided that the St. Afan Parish Church would be the a decent place to bed down with his dogs for the night. (No, I'm not going to write what you're thinking. Not even I am going to be that rude in blog about saints.) When he woke in the morning, his dogs were mad and he was blind. He only recovered his sight by swearing to go on a Crusade. The dogs, alas, could do nothing to recover their wits.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November 15 -- Blessed John Rugg et al.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor abridging the free exercise thereof." Bear that in mind as you read about John Rugg and his fellow martyrs.

A little background: King Henry VIII of England wanted to change his woman, as the sentiment was expressed in A Man for All Seasons. The Pope at the time was tight with the King of Spain, whose sister was King Henry's wife; the Spanish king had no desire to see his sister cast aside, so the Pope declined to dissolve the marriage. Not yet uxoricidal, Fat Hank decided to proclaim himself head of his nation's church and annul his own marriage. Lots of English Christians refused to acknowledge the Meaty Monarch as the head of the Church, and by doing so forfeited their lives.

Now for the Beati: On November 15, 1532, several English citizens who had refused to accept Henry as the head of the Church were hanged, drawn, and quartered. Their bodies were left in chains to rot as a warning to other would-be dissenters. Among them were Hugh Faringdon, an abbot and former friend of the Corpulent King, John Eynon, a priest at St. Giles, John Thorne, the treasurer of a Benedictine monastery who refused to turn the abbey's wealth over to the King's men, Roger James, the assistant treasurer, Richard Witing, the abbot of the same monastery, and John Rugg, a former college prof and official at Chichester Cathedral.

John Rugg had hidden the hand of St. Athanasius, a holy relic held at Chichester Cathedral. The king's men were seizing holy relics along with all other treasures held by the church. John went to his grave without revealing where the hand was hidden, but it was discovered during renovations for the cathedral in 1786.

The Observations: St. Athanasius (May 2) was known as the Father of Orthodoxy. He led the original fight against the Arians, for which he spent many years in exile while the Arians held sway in Alexandria. It is remarkable that Athanasius' fight for orthodoxy was initiated by Emperor Constantine's involvement in the Church at the Council of Nicea (which Athanasius attended). This began the long, tragic history of state involvement in ecclesiastical disputes, the tradition that ultimately claimed John Rugg.

It is also worth observing that the body of Athanasius was dismembered and scattered as a sign of devotion -- that way cathedrals as far away as Chichester could have a piece of him to venerate. Yet the bodies of John Rugg and his fellow martyrs were quartered as a sign of disrespect. So if you find yourself being dismembered by a Christian, don't automatically be affronted -- it could be the highest praise.

November 14 -- St. Lawrence O'Toole

They say he was the first Irishman to be archbishop of Dublin, which I guess must be a distinction in church titles, because there were Irish bishops in Ireland while there were pagans swarming all over England, sacrificing children to gods named Wednesday Thursday Friday. [Maybe that was the king on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. My God! Was he a pagan?]

Anyway, young Lawrence had been given to a neighboring king as a hostage at age ten, but became superfluous at age twelve when the king married Lawrence's sister (no word on how old she was). He got handed over to a bishop who naturally raised him for service in the Church. It was said that Lawrence never drank wine, but it was also said that he colored his water so no one would notice. Recalling that he was Irish, I am merely presenting the claims and leading you to believe what you choose.

After his appointment as archbishop of Dublin, he visited Canterbury Cathedral, being careful to observe correct protocol for King Henry II whose claim to the throne of Ireland was being supported by his large army. While Lawrence was in the cathedral, a madman bludgeoned him, trying to make another Thomas Becket. Congregants feared that Lawrence's skull was stoved in, but he calmly stood up, asked for water, which he consecrated and then used to bathe the wound. It stopped bleeding and he resumed saying Mass.

Lawrence had been instrumental in securing recognition for Rory O'Conner (Roderick) as king of Ireland, contingent on Rory's acknowledgment that he was a vassal of Henry II. Given the English troops stationed in Ireland, it seemed like the best approach at the time. Later Rory wanted some codicil to the agreement and Lawrence went back to England to petition for it. The mercurial Henry (watch Lion in Winter for a good illustration of his temperament) declined to hear the petition immediately, being pressed with other matters. Ever the gracious host, he gave Lawrence accommodations in prison while he waited. When Henry went off to Normandy on this pressing business, Lawrence was permitted to follow (in custody). Lawrence fell ill, but had the comfort of hearing that Good King Henry had acceded to his request just before he (the bishop) died.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

November 13 -- St. Homobonus

St. Homobonus was a twelfth century merchant, notable for honesty and generosity. He had been raised that way; his name means Good Man and his dad, too, was a squaredealing merchant. One day, as the Gloria was being sung during Mass, Homobonus stretched out his arms in the form of a cross, and fell forward, dead.

His bishop requested canonization and the Pope, acknowledging the virtue of a simple honest, good life, listed him as a saint within two years.

It is refreshing that Homobonus did not need to be martyred, nor to perform miracles that test one's faith, but only to do well at his trade and be kind to his neighbors. There may be hope for us sinners yet.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November 12 -- St. Josaphat Kuncevyc

Jozofat (alternate spelling) was a Ukrainian monk who managed to get his boss fired and then was appointed to replace him. Yet he made saint anyway, albeit after being struck in the head with a halberd, shot, and beaten with staves. In spite of all the bodily harm, his body was found incorrupt five years after he was buried -- a trait common among saints and Communist dictators.

Jozofat lived during the ascendancy of the Uniats, a faction of the Orthodox Church that sought unity with the Roman Catholic Church. While some Ukrainian clergy held strong reservations about unification, Jozofat was a fervent defender of the plan. Jozofat's boss, Samuel, was among those opposing the plan, so Jozofat ratted him out to the archibishop of Kiev, who fired Samuel and appointed Jozofat to replace him as bishop of Vitebsk. Things were looking good for the Uniats.

However, the anti-Uniat forces were organized for the Diet of Warsaw, at which they had a counter-bishop established for every Uniat bishop. These counter-bishops spread the word that Jozofat had "gone Latin" -- can you imagine anything worse to say about a priest than that? Jozofat worked for three years to quell the rumor, but the tide was against him. Eventually a mob, led by an Orthodox priest named Elias, broke into the bishop's residence and killed him.

So if you're plotting an office coup, remember: you live by the rumor, you die by the rumor, but martyrdom is often a shortcut to sainthood.

November 11 -- St. Martin of Tours

I find it impossible to ignore the fact that November 11 is Armistice Day, or Veterans Day in the USA. In 1918, the order went forward that at 11:00 AM (Paris time) on November 11, the guns would be stilled and the war that had been more deadly and destructive than any other in Europe or America would end.

St. Martin of Tours had a long, checkered career as a leader in the Church. He was an undiplomatic defender of orthodox views at a time when the Arians held sway, so he spent many years in exile. But rather than discussing those struggles, I want to focus on an event early in his career, when he was still a cavalry officer in the Roman army.

Upon seeing a beggar, Martin dismounted, cut his heavy cloak in half, and gave it to the poor wretch. That night, he dreamed that Jesus was wearing the half-cloak, saying "Martin, still a catechumen, has covered me with his garment." Martin promptly requested baptism.

His unit was poised to go into battle, but Martin declared that as a Christian, he could no longer fight. The Roman Army was notoriously unkind to conscientious objectors, but instead of accusing him of being a Christian, they jailed him for cowardice. They planned to pitch him into the front lines when the battle began, but the opposing army suddenly withdrew and the battle was averted. Luckily (by Providence?) Martin was released from military service and entered active service within the Church.

Apparently, the Church had a practice (if not policy) of discrimination against former soldiers, so Martin was ordained as an exorcist instead of a deacon (a more prominent and influential position). It hardly mattered; his influence on the growth of the Church was significant.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

November 10 -- St. Andrew Avellino

Andrew was originally a lawyer named Lorenzo, but he perjured himself during a courtroom argument on behalf of a friend. The experience of lying under oath shook him up so much that he quit the profession and entered the clery. He was assigned the task of bringing order to a particularly disreputable convent in Naples. He laid down the law, but some of the peddlers of vice resented the loss of a lucrative market and planned to murder him. He was guided away before the attack went down -- led to a house run by the Theatines, an order of priests trying to contain the Protestant Reformation by reforming the Church themselves. The Theatines were noted for all sorts of good works, and impressed by them, Lorenzo took the name Andrew and joined them.

He continued to be a leader in the Italian church, founding Theatine communities, preaching, writing, and advising. At the end of his life, he suffered a stroke. After death, his blood liquified and bubbled, leading folks to wonder if he was just catatonic and buried alive. Those peddlers of vice will have their revenge, no matter how long it takes.

Monday, November 8, 2010

November 9 -- Blessed Helen or Blessed Gratia

This is one of those days where I just can't decide. Some of the stories were cool, but none were all that compelling. St. Theodor Tiro, for example, was a Roman military commander denounced as a Christian during one of the persecutions. The Tribune figured it was a bad rap, so he released Theodor, who promptly burned down a pagan temple. What does recidivism mean? It means Theodor was flayed to death.

But a couple of beati seemed like the right choices for November 9. Helen of Hungary had lilies of light rise from her palms when she prayed. How cool is that?

But not only did light shine over the cell of Gratia of Cattaro, a Venetian monk, but he also was blessed by knowledge of things he could not have learned. What's cooler? You decide.

November 8 -- Bd. John Dun Scotus

Blessed John Duns the Scot was a thirteenth century Franciscan who studied at Oxford and then at the University of Paris. He left without a Master's degree, but lectured in theology at Oxford and Cambridge anyway. [Since I don't have highly qualified teaching status for two of the three subjects I'm teaching this year, I'm liking this John fella already.]

Back in France, he ran afoul of the king, fled, and needed a letter of recommendation to get back. His former teacher, Gonsalvus Hispanus, wrote the letter, praising his "most subtle genius." This led to his moniker doctor subtilis, the Subtle Doctor. [Okay, so I'm thinking we parted ways with that paragraph. Actually, teaching high school American lit is a little less remarkable than teaching theology at the University of Paris, but I enjoyed the parallel, even if it was on a different plane.]

John was working on a universal understanding that would include all knowledge, even though conservative theologians had already been pounding Aquinas' work for over-reliance on Aristotle. [True? I'm taking Butler's word for it.] His universal theory included all the great Christian writers and even the (Church-friendly) writings of Avicenna, the great Muslim scholar. Oddly enough, that wasn't the controversial part of his work.

John Duns Scotus (according to Butler) was the author of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, the notion that Mary Theotokos was born without original sin. This special status of hers meant two things: first, she was uniquely qualified to be the mother of the savior, and second, she was pre-redeemed, i.e. saved without the sacrifice of the Crucifixion. It became such a widely accepted view that most folks don't even understand the term Immaculate Conception anymore, believing that it refers to the conception of Jesus without sexual intercourse. Of course that's a more remarkable miracle than a conception without original sin, but then again, he was called Doctor Subtle.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

November 7 -- St. Engelbert

Definitely among the most funny names in the canon. One can't have lived in the second half of the twentieth century and fail to think of Engelbert Humperdink, the funniest name in the whole entertainment industry (Andy Dick finishes a distant second), or at very least the evil prince from The Princess Bride.

The beneficiary of
ecclesiastical patronage, he was a provost of Cologne Cathedral by age 14. A "worldly and dissolute youth known for good looks, keen mind, and wild ways," he used his ever-increasing church power to the advantage of his family. In fact, both he and his cousin Adolf were excommunicated for threatening to attack the Holy Roman Emperor.

Although he was accepted back into the fold after submitting to the Pope's authority, he seemed to care more about the stability and prosperity of his dominions than he did about his flock. He took firm control of the Diocese of Cologne, organizing his clergy and monasteries so that they could prosper. No one would argue with his administrative skill, but one might question his motivation.

Forty-seven lacerations. That's what it took. The Pope asked Engelbert to protect some nuns that were being harassed by Engelbert's cousin Count Frederick. Engelbert was gonna do it, but the evil Count sent assassins. Forty-seven cuts later, Saint Engelbert. No word on the nuns.

November 6 -- St. Winnoc

"If any would not work, neither should he eat." On that precept, St. Winnoc, a former prince, set the standard for labor in the monastery. No job was too onerous or disagreeable. As he aged and his capacity diminished, he prayed for help to keep working. Some poor dumb monk was struck blind for peeking in to see how old Brother Winnoc was still able to grind the corn to flour. Fortunately, Providence heard Winnoc's prayers for forgiveness and healed the impertinent monk.

"If any would not work, neither should he eat."

Friday, November 5, 2010

November 5 -- Zachary, Elizabeth, and the Anti-Saint

November 5 is the feast of St. Elizabeth, the elderly mother of St. John the Baptist and cousin of Mary the Mother of Jesus. It is also the feast of her husband, Zachary, a priest. We don't hear a lot about Elizabeth, but she had it rough. In order to spare John from Herod's slaughter of the innocents, Zachary refused to say where his wife and son were hiding, and thus forfeited his own life. Some years later, John was beheaded for his denunciation of royal immorality, perhaps leaving his widowed mother alone in the world (unless she predeceased him). She is, nonetheless, the patron of pregnancy.

November 5 is more famously Guy Fawkes Day, the day on which some English papists planned to blow up the British Parliament with King James I in it in hopes of restoring a Catholic to the throne. When discovered guarding his gunpowder stashed beneath the Parliament building and asked what he hoped to do with it, he replied, I am going "to blow you Scotch beggars back to your native mountains." (King James I was a Stuart, a Scottish king invited to take England's throne when his cousin Elizabeth I died without an heir).

People who blow up buildings and kill people for God might claim martyrdom, but they are terrorists, not saints. They were then and they are now. Guy Fawkes, having spent a few ugly days being tortured for the names of his conspirators, was unwilling to submit to the drawing and quartering to which he was sentenced and leaped from the scaffold, breaking his neck. A fitting end for a terrorist.  It is right and proper that Guy Fawkes was never venerated, let alone beatified or canonized. 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November 4 -- St. Charles Borromeo

Here's a Vatican bigwig during the Reformation who didn't light anyone on fire, nor did he grow rich, fat, and lazy on the blood, sweat, and tears of the exploited working class. That alone sounds miraculous enough to earn sainthood, but then consider that he held about a dozen titles (archbishop of this, cardina-protector of that, administrator, papal legate, etc) and took them all seriously. He reorganized the church (starting with calling the rich, fat, lazy clerics in Milan to task for neglecting their flocks) of Milan, and then survived an assassination attempt by a hitman hired by some Milanese clergy. He fed 3000 people with the wealth of his diocese during a famine. And he organized the care of the sick and burial of the dead during a famine.

It is good to know that even at a low point in the history of the western church, there were good folks like St. Charles who took seriously the charge to care for their flocks.

November 3 - St. Rumwold of Buckingham

If you were going to make up a saint -- not to cast aspersions on the veracity of any saints currently in the canon, but if you were -- you'd be hard pressed to top the feats of St. Rumwold. For starters, he only lived three days. Most of us didn't take the opportunity to do anything miraculous during those three days, but check out wee little Rumwold's accomplishments.

* proclaimed himself a Christian
* asked for, and received, Baptism and Communion
* preached a sermon on the Trinity, quoting both scripture and Athanasius
* predicted his death
* specified his preferred burial arrangements.

Moreover, he continued to be a force after death. He once showed up at a wedding to caution a groom who had just sworn, while at Church no less. The groom then swore again, and his bride disappeared in a puff of perfume, leaving her clothes behind. Miraculous mac, or what?

Of course, some people carry things too far. A statue of the saint at Boxley Abbey could only be moved by the truly pure of heart. That standard of purity was measured by a monk with a lever that engaged a rachet mechanism. Give an adequate gift and you could shove the kid around; stiff the monks a few quid and you could push and go nowhere.

I consider it a pity that those monks had to put a stain on such an exceptional young saint's reputation with their cheap mechanical trick.