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.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

December 31 -- St. Columba of Sens

Quid pro quo. I'm sure it was not explicit. After all, one of the participants was already dead. However, if it quids like a pro and quos like a pro, it surely smacks of mutual benefit.

Columba was, like so many other Christian girls during the Roman Empire, sentenced to martyrdom for her faith. A jailer tried to rape her, but a nearby bear (no doubt one that would later kill Christians in the arena) attacked and killed the offending guard. Kind, but it did not spare Columba her beheading.

Almost immediately after her execution, a blind man prayed for her intercession with God so that his sight might be restored. It was, and with his restored vision, he immediately set about giving her body a decent burial and testifying on her behalf. A chapel was built upon her grave and Columba the Headless Virgin became St. Columba of Sens.

December 30 -- St. Egwin of Worcester

When Bernard Bangley edited Butler's Lives of the Saints (2005), he acknowledged the feast of St. Egwin, noting that he was Bishop of Worcester and probably founded Evesham Abbey. Bangley also wrote this:

As with many other saints of his time, the stories about him were written years after his death. Popular taste demanded fabulous tales full of magic and mystery. We do him no service to repeat such material here.

Paul Burns, who edited another version of Butler in 2004, dropped Egwin in favor of St. John-Francis Regis, whose feast is also December 30. Fortunately, others are less scrupulous about repeating fabulous stories of magic. The favorite seems to be this.

Egwin was criticized and then deposed by the archbishop of Canterbury for being too strict. He decided to plead his case to the Pope. Accordingly, he shackled himself and tossed the key into the Avon. Then he boarded his ship and embarked for Rome. Arriving there, he shuffled to the market and bought a fish. When the fish was gutted, the key (of course) was recovered. The Pope was persuaded by this miraculous sign and restored Egwin to his bishopric. [Emphasis on pric, if the Archbishop of Canterbury is to be believed.]

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

December 29 -- St. Thomas a Becket

"What sluggards, what cowards have I brought up in my court, who care nothing for their allegiance to their lord. Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest."

Henry II might have wished he had not spoken those words, since he shut himself off for forty days of mourning and penance as soon as his knights disposed of Thomas a Becket, the meddlesome priest to whom he was referring. What's more, he had to perform two public penances, crawling on his knees in sackcloth and ashes before permitting himself to be flogged by monks.

Thomas had been Henry's closest ally in the Church ranks, eventually becoming Lord Chancellor in the King's court. He remained a canon in the Church, though he never really dressed the part (or acted it). He himself acknowledged he was a vain man, more attentive to birds and hounds than to souls in need of guidance.

The death of Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury, pushed Becket into the spot he had been trying to avoid, one from which he must choose between Church and King. He warned Henry not to push for his appointment, because he would be forced to defend the Church against the royal prerogatives. He also asked the Pope not to appoint him, since his friendship with Henry would divide his loyalties. Both ignored his request, believing that Thomas could handle the conflict and keep everyone happy.

I suppose that it worked out well for the Pope in the long run. The subsequent few years were rocky, while Thomas was hiding from Henry in France and England was being run as the King wanted it. Thomas eventually returned to Canterbury and fought back, prompting the King to mutter the words written above, and his knights to rush off to the Cathedral for an abduction. Thomas refused to be abducted, and was therefore chopped against a pillar between a pair of altars. He was fast-tracked to sainthood while the King was forced into total contrition. In that regard, I suppose the Church held the victory and Henry lost the round.

Then again, if we step back for an even longer view, Henry II would eventually be portrayed by Peter O'Toole while Pope Alexander III was played by Paolo Stoppa (Who? Exactly!). So I suppose everyone came out a winner in the end. The film, by the way, is Becket -- well worth watching, though if you could only choose one film where Peter O'Toole plays Henry II, it should definitely be Lion in Winter.

December 28 -- St. Gaspar del Bufalo

Because he was born on the Feast of the Epiphany, his full name included all three kings of the Orient: Gaspare, Melchiore, Baltasare. His friend Francesco Albertini introduced him to the devotion to the Precious Blood of Jesus, which had been preserved on the cloak of Longinus; Longinus was the soldier who pierced Jesus' side with a spear. The cloak itself disappeared in the revolutions of 1848 but Gaspar's groups -- the Congregation of the Precious Blood and the Institute of Sister Adorers of the Precious Blood -- are still active around the world.

The Pope and Catholic organizations were suppressed when Napoleon invaded Italy. The Little Corsican demanded that all clergy sign oaths of allegiance to him -- rather than do so, Gaspar accepted exile. I'm not sure that he was as accepting of four years in Napoleon's prison, but he got that too. He returned to Rome when the Imperial Runt was himself exiled and the Holy Father restored. Pope Pius VII invited Gaspar to open Precious Blood houses throughout Italy. He figured one house in every archdiocese, and recommended the least moral town in each. Gaspar opened six in Naples, which plainly says something about that region.

Monday, December 27, 2010

December 27 -- Feast of St. John the Divine of Patmos

This is John son of Zebedee and brother of James the Greater; together they were called Boanerges (sons of Thunder) because of their forceful preaching styles. John is the Beloved Disciple who never failed Jesus, even during the crucifixion, and to whom care for Mary Theotokos was entrusted. Yeah, he's a Big Dog.

John has another feast on May 6 dedicated exclusively to his martyrdom. Having looked over some of the description, I'd say it deserves at least one day's feast. He made Rasputin look like a sissy. One big difference: Rasputin died in the end but John survived all the abuse and died of natural causes.  In fact, he was apparently the only one of the Twelve not to die a violent death.  

Here's a question regarding John and James that comes up in Luke's Gospel. First the relevant passage from Chapter 9: 51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy themb]">[b]?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.

And then the question: for what did he rebuke them? Was it because they proposed to misuse the power they had, killing those who had just not welcomed Jesus, or because they claimed powers they did not have? I find the passage very curious -- I don't really think of the Apostles as working miracles themselves until after Jesus's resurrection and subsequent ascension. They also don't seek to do much harm while they are with Jesus, even when they're spurned. Later on, John prayed in the Temple of Artemis during a ritual sacrifice, killing two hundred people, but he resurrected them all moments later, that they might believe and be baptized. On that occasion, it was heavenly fire that came down and killed them, but was such power his while Jesus was alive? If so, when does he (or James or any other apostle) use it?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

December 26 -- Feast of St. Stephen

Stephen is listed as both the first deacon and the first martyr. In fact, he was stoned to death while St. Paul was still Saul, the judge of Christians.

Stephen's message (as recorded in the Book of Acts) holds some appeal for me. Not the part where he railed against his fellow Jews for always rejecting God's messengers (though in truth the Bible tells that they were always throwing rocks at Moses). That part can get tricky with all the Christ-Killer bullscat. But the part about not putting your faith in worldly institutions seems really important and valuable. He was right about the Temple. It would not, could not, last, but the power of God in the lives would. And a God that cares about a temple, even that temple, forever seems like a small-minded God.

The difference between Moses and Stephen is that the crowd finished the job with the latter. I imagine that Moses probably had a couple small rocks thrown his way as a protest, but Stephen had the full, angry barrage of five-pounders. Then the stoners (hah!) laid their coats before Saul as a way of submitting their actions to his judgment; Saul dug it.

As a proto-martyr, they didn't bust up the body to make relics all over the world; not yet anyway. In AD 415, Lucian found his tomb at Kafr Gamala. Parts, and even stones from the execution, were sent on to Constantinople and then to Rome as holy relics.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

December 25 -- Feast of the Nativity of Jesus the Christ

It took folks a few hundred years to decide they wanted to celebrate Jesus' birthday, and by then no one could remember which day it was. Looking around the calendar, they settled on December 25, a fortuitous choice because it was so near to the winter solstice, the birth of Sol Invictus, Saturnalia, and all the other big end of the year parties. I don't think Hanukkah was their minds because (from what I'm told) that didn't get big until much later, but I know that Sol Invictus was a big deal back then. Easing from him to Jesus was a masterstroke by Constantine.

And for those who prefer a saint to a savior (at least for this space), you won't do better than Fulk the Minstrel Bishop, an early thirteenth century Benedictine Cistercian. Hell, give him credit as a Dominican too, since he offered St. Dominic space, books, and one-sixth of the tithes in Toulouse to help him found an order of preachers. As a professional minstrel, Fulk seems like a good saint to share Christmas -- he probably could even remember all the words to "Good King Wenceslas."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

December 24 -- Adam the Patriarch

In the Old Testament canon, there are fewer Big Dogs than Adam, the first human. We know that he is the husband of Eve, and the father of Abel & Cain. He was also the father of Seth, about whom I knew nothing. And I guess there were other children as well, though we don't have their names.

The source I was using mentioned that Adam and Eve taught Seth how to resist the temptation of evil. I suppose experience counts for something.

There were lots of other saints to choose from. Blessed Bartholomew dal Monte would have been a fine pick. Sharbel the Maronite might have also -- his post-mortem miracles were really extraordinary. But it just seemed disrespectful not to give Adam this post, even if he is somewhat less well attested.

December 23 -- St. Thorlac of Skarholt

I might have gone with St. Victoria and Anatolia today, except that one of the sources dismisses them as pious fiction. Perhaps next year I will write about them, just in case they are real.

St. Thorlac is indisputably historical. Son of Thorhall, he was educated in Paris, France and Lincoln, England before returning to Iceland to serve as a bishop. His approach to clerical life was different than that of most Icelandic clergy; instead of marrying and raising a family, he dedicated his time to study, prayer, and pastoral care. He attempted to make his approach more common throughout Iceland, urging clerical celibacy and condemning the more corrupt approaches to appointing church officers.

Celibacy among priests (as a longterm strategy) may have been a poor choice, but priestly marriage in a dynastic era was obviously prone to corruption. The placement of younger sons in high religious offices in Europe was bad enough -- had priests and bishops produced their own heirs, there might have been no spots anywhere in the Church for those with aptitude and vocation.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about Thorfinn is that he was canonized by the Althing, the representative assembly of Iceland. [I have read that it is the oldest continuous representative assembly in the world.] His canonization was never certified by Rome, but with two books of miracles, a cult in Iceland, and his own post on Hagiomajor, his sainthood is undeniable. I wonder, though, what other saints have been proclaimed by secular governments rather than religious authorities.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

December 22 -- St. Francesca Xavier Cabrini

In 1946, she was canonized as the Patroness of Immigrants by Pope Pius XII. She is identified as the "first citizen saint" at the Immigration Museum at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. Having observed the plight of Italian immigrants in the USA, crowded into ghettos without much social, religious, or educational support, Francesca led some Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart to the USA. The local bishop didn't approve of women leading religious efforts until he got a sharp letter from Bishop John Baptist Scalabrini endorsing her work.

My favorite anecdote about Francesca is that she declined a request to open a hospital in NYC, saying that she was a teacher, not a nurse. Then she dreamed that the Virgin Mary was nursing the sick, and declared that she (Mary) had to do it because she (Francesca) would not. I find the story hilariously tragic, not because Francesca's hospital failed, but because she was so driven to serve others. The Columbus Hospital was founded in 1892, the four hundredth anniversary of that Italian explorer's discovery of the New World.

Monday, December 20, 2010

December 21 -- St. Ignatius of Antioch

I remember this quote from this time last year: "I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found to be the pure bread of God."

Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch, a successor to the first generation of Apostles. He was sent off to Rome during the reign of Trajan to be thrown to the beasts in the arena. The Christians in Rome planned a getaway, probably including bribery and subterfuge, but Ignatius' objection to the plan was not based on honesty. Rather, he sought to fulfill his personal spiritual journey through martyrdom.

It doesn't seem right to me. It seems that if you are called to serve, you have to keep serving as long as you can. Asking your friends not to help you so you can die sooner seems like a shortcut to heaven, and as JRR Tolkien said, shortcuts make long delays.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

December 20 -- St. Dominic of Silos

When life gives you hops, make abbey-style ale.
St. Dominic was a Benedictine monk at the San Millan de Cogolla monastery in Spain. King Garcia III of Navarre seized the land of the monastery by force and drove off the monks. King Ferdinand I of Castile welcomed them, allowing them to settle in the San Sebastian monastery in Silos. It was broke, crumbling, and in despair, with only six monks remaining. As abbot, Dominic turned the place around, making it a center of book design, art, metalwork, and charity to the poor.

I figured the story would end with Garcia being forced, either by conscience or coercion, to restore the San Millan monastery to the Benedictines as well, but it doesn't. There were reported miracles during his life and after his death, but St. Dominic remained in Silos until the end. His pastoral staff was used to bless the Queens of Spain, and kept by their beds during labor. He is a patron of pregnant women, and is invoked against rabies, mad dogs, and insects.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

December 19 -- Blessed Urban V

It seems appropriate that Urban's a beatus but not a full saint. He was holy enough and well intended, but the biggest of his enterprises fell to naught. On the miracle measure, he was found a little short.

A devout and accomplished Benedictine, he was elected pope in the 1360s as a compromise candidate. This was during the time that the Papacy had relocated to Avignon. The poet Petrarch wrote a letter scolding him for sleeping "under your guilded beams on the banks of the Rhone while the Lateran, the mother of all churches, ruined and roofless, is open to the wind and rain, and the most holy shrines of Peter and Paul are quaking, and what was once the Church of the Apostles is a heap of stones?" Rome had suffered a fire in addition to all its other miseries; its buildings were ruined and its people were starving.

Urban loaded a fleet of ships in Marseilles and returned the Curia to Rome, over the objections of the King of France, the French aristocracy, and a lot of cardinals who had no wish to leave the security and luxury of Avignon for the deprivations and peril of Rome. Initially he had the support of the Holy Roman and Byzantine Emperors, but the former was offering only lip service and the latter was in dire straits himself. Within a year, the Roman nobles were fighting among themselves, the rebuilding projects were stalled, and the Curia was on its way back to Avignon. Blessed Urban V died there in 1370, his bags hardly unpacked.

History eventually swung Urban's way, but not before an ugly rift in the Church established rival popes in Rome and Avignon were at odds with each other. If Petrarch forgave him, we can too, but his papacy is a sign of the wretched condition of the Church rather than its miraculous power.

Friday, December 17, 2010

December 18 -- St. Auxentius of Mopsuetia

I always like the variations on a theme. Auxentius was an officer in the guard of Emperor Augustus Licinus. A Christian, Auxentius refused to sacrifice to the god Bacchus.

Aside: If there were a pagan god to whom I would sacrifice, it would be Bacchus. Not that I am inclined to do so, mind you, but if I were, the god of wine and revelry would have to be the one.

Back to our regularly scheduled saint: Auxentius was dismissed for his failure to sacrifice. He wasn't beheaded or flayed or crucified or fed to the beasts. Just exiled. And since he was in exile, he was free to build a community all those exiled by Constantine the Great, presumably before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, where Constantine's Christian conversion began.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

December 17 -- Daniel & the Three Holy Youths

"Did you say yout's?"

The Eastern Orthodox calendar offers us Old Testament saints on December 17 -- good stories of thwarted martyrdom. During the Babylonian Captivity, Daniel and three other other Hebrew yout's were brought to the palace of Nabuchodonosor (Nebuchadnezzar) as servants. His position at the palace was one of privilege, especially after he successfully interpreted a troubling dream by the king. However, there were enemies in court who poisoned the king against him and had Daniel cast into a lion's den. His faith was rewarded, for the lions would not eat him and he was released.

The other Hebrew yout's were Ananias (renamed Sedrach by the king), Misael renamed Misach) and Azarias ( renamed Abednago). They were punished for their adherence to monotheism and failure to worship an idol of Nebuchadnezzar. They were cast into a furnace, but an angel appeared and stayed with them to keep them from burning.

After so many beheadings, flayings, crucifixions, and hangings, it is refreshing to think that sometimes the martyrdoms failed and the good people walked away unscathed.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

December 16 -- Haggai the Prophet

Among the things I really like about the Greek Orthodox calendar of saints is its inclusion of the Old Testament saints as well as the Christian saints. It seems to me that the old prophets should be every bit as revered as the apostles.

Haggai was living in Jerusalem around 520 BCE and after the Persians permitted repatriation. At the time, Zerubbabel the Governor of Judah and Joshua the High Priest were arguing against the rebuilding of the Temple, saying that the time had not yet come to rebuild the Lord's house.

Haggai's answer: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”

I like this guy, and having just read an account of the hand-to-hand fighting in the Court of the Gentiles that Titus' legions experienced before conquering the city, I'd say Haggai was right about the value of the building project.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

December 15 -- St. Venatius Fortunatus

Here's a there-by-the grace-of-God example. Not as much as some folks, but surely more than others. I mean, no one lopped off his head or burned off his bollocks, but still, he goes down in history as a flatterer and a parasite, in spite of his service as a chaplain to high-minded, austere women. Given the gift of poetry, he chose to trade his verses for dinners, selling sycophantic sonnets for his suppers. Well, perhaps that too is unfair, since he wrote fine hymns to celebrate Justinian II's donation of a fragment of the true cross to the Holy Cross Monastery. He also overwrote some legionary marching songs to make them sacred hymns.

Still, as chaplain to a nunnery, he lived a comparatively soft life in a civilized enclave surrounded by the perils and deprivations of the late Roman empire. Since his nearly blind eyes had once been healed by rubbing them with oil from a lamp burning in front of St. Martin of Tours, it made me wonder about blind poets. What if Homer had recovered his sight and been willing to sell out his verses for a (comparatively) luxurious life? What might civilization have lost by Venatius' recovery of his sight and subsequent life among the ladies of the cloister?

Monday, December 13, 2010

December 14 -- St. Juan de Yepes y Alvarez

Known as St. John of the Cross in the English-speaking world, he is recognized as the supreme Mystical Doctor of the Church. We love the orphan-makes-good stories, except when the orphan (more or less: mom had to give him up) winds up equally deprived and suffering at the other end of his life.

Lest you think it was only Jews, Muslims, and Protestants who were persecuted by the Inquisition, consider Juan's role as a leader of the Discalced Carmelite Friars. He had joined the Order at the suggestion of St. Theresa of Avila, the founder of the discalced (barefoot) movement. A brilliant writer and profound spirit, he was considered suspect by the Inquisition and imprisoned under staggeringly harsh conditions with regular beatings and interrogations. He busted out in classic fashion, with a rope made from strips of his blanket tied together. Dropping into a Franciscan nunnery, wounded and half-starved, he forced himself to keep moving until he reached a Discalced Carmelite nunnery. They took him in and bound up his wounds, placing him under the protection of a friendly nobleman when he was well enough to move. He got into safe territory and resumed leadership, but lost his standing in a power struggle (well, it wasn't much of a struggle since Juan didn't fight back). He was exiled to the boonies where he died in deprivation and pain. He did however leave some poetry that is, by accounts of those who should know, profound and deeply moving.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

December 13 -- St. Odilia of Alsace

Poor Odilia was born with two strikes -- female and blind. Her father, Duke Aldaric, didn't wait for the third strike; he put Odilia out, knowing she'd be of no use to him. The child was raised by a peasant family until she was twelve, when she was placed in a convent. There, the baptismal chrism gave her sight.

We've all heard the term buyer's regret, but we've all experienced as much disposer's regret. Comic books, baseball cards, Star Wars glasses, Happy Meal toys -- think of all the stuff you've thrown out in a cleaning frenzy, only to see it later on e-Bay for the price of a new iPad.

Odilia's brother experienced a little disposer's regret. Recognizing that she might have some value in an arranged marriage, he sought to kidnap her from the convent. Duke Aldaric became incensed at the situation and struck his son dead, but fortunately, Odilia was able to resurrect him before fleeing back to the convent. Aldaric pursued her, but the mountain cave into which she ran dropped stones on the Duke as he tried to enter. Wisely, he abandoned his daughter (again). She became a great abbess.

December 12 -- St. Jane Frances de Chantal

In looking at Jane's life, I noted an intriguing difference between The Oxford Dictionary of Saints and Butler's Lives of the Saints. Both record that Jane was a widowed noblewoman, three of whose five children had not survived infancy. The deaths were a threat to her spirituality and vigor.

Here's the intriguing part of the story that David Hugh Farmer leaves out of the Oxford, but Paul Burns chose to include in his edition of Butler. The unnamed priest who began Jane's recovery was a high control martinet who demanded a vow of secrecy from her and then assigned an abusive level of penances and devotions. It's great grist for a gothic novel -- a non-physical, psychosexual relationship with a rich, guilty widow (whose guilt is compounded by her neglect for her living children while she struggles to live up to the priest's demands) and a cruel, charismatic priest who controls a harem of young widows through their sexual frustration and religious terror.

Speaking of confession, I have no idea how far this priest went in abusing Jane, but it seems like the core of a really warped story. I figure Anne Rice would handle it brilliantly. If you know her, please call her attention to it.

Fortunately for Jane, she happened to hear St. Francis de Sales preaching. Well, he wasn't Saint Francis at the time, but he would be after Jane testified at his nomination for canonization. They met individually, in public and chaperoned, and eventually he persuaded her to break her vows of secrecy and obedience to Father de Sade and make a confession to him. He persuaded her that she could have a satisfying, personally fulfilling life as a nun, but the Orders she approached (Poor Clares, Carmelites) would not accept her because of her responsibilities to her children. Being an influential guy, Francis was able to set her up with her own Order, the Daughters of the Visitation of St. Mary (Visitandines). They were originally going to do charitable work, but they realized that, being widows of wealthy men, they weren't very good at taking care of others. They decided to be a contemplative order of nuns instead, and their Order spread quickly throughout France (sixty-five houses in thirty years).

You may think that a contemplative Order is just a house of leisure for rich women, but they sheltered and counselled all women who came to them, which was an important service with guys like Father Koresh running around, getting his jollies by assigning crushing penances. They also offered relief during the Plague of 1628.

Friday, December 10, 2010

December 11 -- St. Daniel the Stylite

Here's a tough break. You're the Byzantine Emperor in the fifth century, a chap named Basiliscus. The Western Roman Empire is being ravaged by barbarians, but you're in the East, so you're the pinnacle of Western Civilization. The Apex. The Nile. The Tower of Pisa. The Smile on the Mona Lisa. You're the Top.

Fast forward sixteen hundred years and put your name in The Google. What do you learn about yourself? Only that St. Daniel the Stylite, who lived for thirty-three years on top of a pillar in your capital city, came down once to persuade you to abandon the Monophysite heresy. That's it. You were the Roman Emperor (in the East), heir to the legacy of Augustus, Hadrian, & Marcus Aurelius, the bearer of the Torch of classical culture. And you are... an object in someone else's story. If this were translated into Latin, you wouldn't even be in the nominative case. So to make amends (even though you were a Monophysite heretic), I've hijacked Daniel's feast day to focus on you, whoever you were and whatever else you may have done.

Monophysite -- the Christian heresy that contended that Christ was not human, but purely divine. Other Christian heretics held variations of this notion, while still others held that he was purely human. Orthodox Christians like Daniel prevailed in the belief that he was both human and divine

Stylite -- An urban hermit who lives on top of a pillar or column, from which he prays. Stylites were living symbols of religious devotion and attracted many acolytes and adherents. Many stayed exposed in all types of weather, standing in prayer until they dropped in exhaustion. Proximity to them was believed to convey blessings, including healing.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December 10 -- Blessed Adolph Kolping

“The first thing that a person finds in life and the last to which he holds out his hand, and the most precious that he possess, even if he does not realize it, is family life.”

So said Adolph Kolping, a nineteenth century German who launched the Young Workmen's Society, an organization designed to support the faith of rural youth who moved to industrial centers for employment. By emphasizing family life and human dignity while also supporting the impoverished materially, Kolping and his colleagues abated some of the most excessive exploitation of the industrial revolution. Like St. John Bosco in Turin, he knew that the radical changes in society required new pastoral methods; his vision and innovative spirit guided him in building an international movement. Beneficiaries came from five continents to attend his beatification in 1991.

Industrialization was very damaging to family structures; establishing urban missions to support the home connections of young relocated workers was truly a family values endeavor.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

December 9 -- St John Roberts

I've railed in previous posts about the brutal persecution of Catholics by Protestants in England. I haven't given equal time to Protestant martyrs at the hands of Catholics, mostly because the sources I look at don't include them. I certainly think their martyrdom is every bit as valid.

What I am pleased to include today is a good example of mercy by the Establishment, in this case the English Crown. John Roberts, born of Welsh ancestry in 1577, was raised Protestant but converted to Catholicism while studying abroad. He was ordained in Spain, and then entered England in 1603 to minister to Catholics. He was arrested and exiled. That's right. Not beheaded. Not burned at the stake. Not drawn and quartered. Just exiled.

He sneaked (yeah, I don't say snuck) back into London in 1604, working with plague victims. Apparently he must have performed someone's last rites (extreme unction) in Latin because he got busted again. This time he was sentenced to: EXILE. In 1605, he was back again, and got caught in the dragnet that followed the Gunpowder Plot. You know, remember, remember the fifth of November... They gaffled up Papists by the bushel following this treasonous attempt to blow up Parliament. You can well imagine the anti-Catholic hysteria following something like that, so the British courts threw him in prison for seven months before... exiling him again.

He was back again in 1607, and again sent to prison. He escaped and spent a year working in London before getting busted again. This time he was sentenced to execution, and by this point, I can't blame them much. True, he just wanted to volunteer to comfort the poor, the sick, and the dying, but how many chances do you have to give a guy?

Apparently at least one more. The French ambassador made a case for clemency, and so once more, Father John was exiled. Well, you can't keep a good man down -- unless you hang him, or burn him at the stake, or maybe behead him. John was back in England a few months later, busted shortly after, and subsequently convicted of priesthood. In the range of "special crimes" (think Alice's Restaurant), priesthood rank down there with littering and creating a nuisance, but the penalty was somewhat more than a fifty dollar fine and having to pick up the garbage. On December 10, 1610, John and a fellow priest named Thomas Somers were hanged, drawn, and quartered. I don't know how many chances Tommy Sommy got, but I'd have a hard time arguing that Johnny Rob didn't get his share of warnings.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 8 - St. Eucharius of Trier

If you thought I was going to write about someone else, you were wrong. That guy was was not a saint. I don't care how many people liked him, nor do I care how many other people took his observation as blasphemy. He was neither a saint nor a martyr; martyrs have choices. He was just plain murdered. But enough about him.

St. Eucharius of Trier was said to be one of the original seventy-two disciples of Christ. He was sent to Gaul as its first bishop, and while there, was aggrieved at the death of his friend Maternus. He returned to Rome to borrow the pastoral staff of St. Peter. Upon being touched by the staff, Maternus was returned to life. Presumably, St. Eucharius then brought Peter's staff back to him.

That resurrection would indeed have been miraculous. The trip from Gaul to Rome and back must have taken a couple of weeks, at least. I imagine that he was not only resurrected, but also restored to a pre-decayed state, unless his body remained incorrupt. To the best of my knowledge, Maternus is not a saint, so I don't see why he should not have turned green and black while he was waiting for St Eucharius to bring Peter's stick.

December 8 is also the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Please remember that this does not refer to the insemination of Mary, but rather to Mary's creation without original sin. It has nothing to do with the sexual act of reproduction. Rather, it is a unique grace of God that her soul entered her body without this stain which all other humans have suffered. This particular grace qualified her to be the Theotokos, the Mother of God. Or so I've heard it said.

Monday, December 6, 2010

December 7 - St. Ambrose

This is a very Big Dog. He is one of the four Latin Doctors of the Church. This is the guy who converted St. Augustine and taught him Greek. This is a guy who was elected bishop of Milan before he had been baptized (though he was at least living a Christian life). This is a guy who stayed in the cathedral with his congregation for a week (Holy Week at that) because it was under siege by the Empress Justina, an Arian and well, the sort of bitch who would lay siege to a cathedral. And that's not all she'd lay, if the price was right. That's right, I said it.

But back to the Big Dog. When he became the bishop of Milan, he gave away his worldly wealth, set aside his political career, and dedicated himself to both the scholarly and pastoral responsibilities of his new office. To live up to his position, he imposed a few rules on himself.

1. Never dine out in Milan. He did not want to receive more invitations than he could accept, nor did he want his social life to interfere with his obligations.
2. Never be involved in marriage settlements.
3. Never advise anyone to join the army.
4. Never recommend anyone for a place at court.

They are not words I need to live by, but they do make me wonder what four rules should guide my professional life, or perhaps my life generally.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

December 6 -- Majoricus the Martyr

Yeah, he got picked for his name, or at least the first five letters of it. In truth, his story's pretty plain. In AD 484, the Vandal King (yes, there really were Vandal Kings) Huneric ordered the deaths of Dionysia and Dativa, patrician sisters living in North Africa. It wasn't especially personal -- he ordered all the faithful to be executed. They just got caught up in the dragnet. Dionysia was scourged before she was burned at the stake. Lucky Aunt Dativa was just burned at the stake.

While she was being scourged, Dionysia called on her son Majoricus to keep the faith. The record says that he did, even as he was beaten to death by Huneric's executioners.

Friday, December 3, 2010

December 5 -- St. Christina of Markygate

Christina, like so many girls of the twelfth century, wanted nothing more than to dedicate her chastity to God and serve him in a nunnery. Given the personal hygiene standards of the day, who can blame them. Sadly, her parents feared the weird cult that demanded virginity of young girls and so they conspired with the local bishop to get her married off.

Her story is full of Ralphs, Roberts, and Rogers. There are so many, in fact, that I cannot keep them straight. She was, for a couple of years, married to a guy named Burhtred, but this was after she had sworn her vow, and since the marriage was never consummated, Bishop Thurstan (Howell III) annulled it for her. Actually, that was probably a relief to poor Burhtred, who was free to marry someone else following the annulment, probably someone who was less enthusiastic about her virginity.

Christina went on to become a model abbess, yada yada, but what I find remarkable about this is the rival bishops cutting each other off. I didn't do the story justice, but bishops were countermanding each other's orders all over the place: accepting her vow of chastity, annulling it to force the marriage, annulling the marriage to support the vow. And there was a bishop named Ralph Flambard who tried to seduce Christina, ignoring not only all the other vows, but presumably his own.

December 4 -- St. John Damascene

John's life bridged the seventh and eighth centuries. His father was the controller of revenues for the government in Damascus, and he ransomed an enslaved Sicilian monk to be the tutor for young John. Having received an outstanding classical religious education, John became a scholarly monk when a change in the local government made it distasteful for him to follow his father in the civil service.

The hot religious topic of the day was iconoclasm, the destruction of religious icons. As noted on earlier posts, some felt that icons violated the commandment against graven images. Zealots, both Christian and Muslim, felt compelled to destroy the icons held by others. Often it is not enough to follow the commandments; one must also force others to follow the commandments, on pain of death, if necessary.

Like many monks and priests, especially those classically trained, John felt that icons served valuable roles in religion -- they were instructional tools, reminders & prompts for reverential thoughts, and focal points during worship. The defenders of icons did not believe that the objects were gods or should be prayed to, but the fear that they might be idolaters drove the iconoclasts to violence.

Now here's the interesting part. John wrote tracts against iconoclasm. The Emperor, a dedicated iconoclast, usually punished his critics and opponents with prison or even death. But John was living in Damascus, which was by that time under the Muslim caliphate. Of course the Caliph was also an iconoclast, but as long as John paid the poll tax levied on non-Muslims, he was more or less free to write what he wanted.

December 3 -- St. Francis Xavier

Nothing to be snarky about with this saint. A founding member of the Jesuits, whose mission was to bring intelligence and reason to the debate between Catholics and Protestants, FX traveled the world, preaching, teaching, and offering pastoral care. To quote a source (

Tremendously successful missionary for ten years in India, the East Indies, and Japan, baptizing converts. His epic finds him dining with head hunters, washing the sores of lepers in Venice, teaching catechism to Indian children, baptizing 10,000 in a single month. He tolerated the most appalling conditions on long sea voyages, enduring extremes of heat and cold. Wherever he went he would seek out and help the poor and forgotten. He traveled thousands of miles, most on his bare feet, and he saw the greater part of the Far East.

Some readers concerned about privilege, power, and imperialism may be encouraged to know that he busted the chops of his patron, King John of Portugal, over the slave trade: “You have no right to spread the Catholic faith while you take away all the country’s riches. It upsets me to know that at the hour of your death you may be ordered out of paradise.”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

December 2 -- St. John Amero

St. John was a Spanish Dominican lay brother. There's not much written about him in the sources I use. They only say that he was noted for having just two interests in life, study and prayer. He died of natural causes in 1566.

Maybe I'm being picky here, but it seems to me that if his only two natural inclinations were studying and praying, then calling him a saint is a little dodgy. After all, he was just indulging himself in the things he found most pleasant by becoming a model monk. Being naturally inclined that way gave him an inside track, and a little more should be expected of someone who has such advantages. Did his prayers fill any empty beer casks? Did they cure any lepers or keep anyone safe from wolves?