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.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

April 30 -- Feast of Blessed Marie of the Incarnation

Sometimes, the lives of extraordinary people begin to look ordinary and it is hard to see their distinguishing achievements. Pope Pius V is celebrated today; he was a stalwart defender of both the faith and the Church against many threats. Maybe next year, your Holiness. St. Giuseppe Benedetto Cottolengo is also celebrated today; he was a tremendously effective nineteenth century social reformer whose work on behalf of the poor aided thousands of the neediest, much like Francis de Sales and Vincent de Paul. And being much like them makes it hard to stand out. But it's his picture, not Marie's that's up on the blog.

Marie Guyard wanted to be a nun, but was persuaded to accept an arranged marriage at age seventeen. Within two years, she was widowed and the mother of a son, Claude. The son, Claude Martin, is the hero of this story, even though he unsuccessfully attempted to thwart the fruition of his mother's ambition. She tried blending the charitable life with secular work, but felt continuously tugged toward taking the veil. At around age thirty, she placed he thirteen-year-old son in her sister's care and joined the Ursuline Sisters.

Here's where the story gets distinct (though perhaps a little sad). Young Claude rallied a crew of 12 and 13 year-olds to storm the convent and bust Marie out. It must have been a very well designed building because the boys were unsuccessful and I refuse to give any credit to the sisters in the defense.

Sister Marie decided that he calling was to build a house for Christ in the New World, so after raising enough money, she sailed for Canada in 1639. Working against much adversity -- deprivation, the reluctance of the Natives for conversion, a territorial archbishop who wanted to control her program -- she nonetheless enjoyed tremendous success. She supervised the building and rebuilding (after a fire) of the Ursuline house in Quebec, wrote dictionaries in several Native American dialects, and even wrote a catechism in Iroquois. She also wrote over 12,000 letters back to France, no doubt a source of interest and inspiration for future Habs.

As for young Claude, things turned out okay. he eventually was so accepting of his Mom's decision that he became a Benedictine priest in 1641 and wrote her biography.

Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29 -- The feast of the Martyrs of Corfu

Imagine two storylines beginning in radically different places and then converging to an dramatic juncture. The first involves to disciples of St. Paul: St. Jason and St. Sosipater. The former was the bishop of Tarsus; the second was bishop of Iconium. After long, successful runs as bishops, they set out to evangelize. Corfu seemed like a clement place, but they were busted and thrown in prison by the Roman governor there.

The second storyline involves a gang of seven thieves on the island of Corfu: Euphrasius, Faustianus, Insischolus, Januarius, Mammius, Marsalius, and Saturninus.

Are they merry? Vicious? Noble bandits like Robin Hood or brutal robbers like John Dillinger? You'll have to fill that in yourself. But what we do know is that somehow, the Governor has arrested them and thrown them in prison where they meet the hapless missionaries.

The Governor may have been expecting the thieves to intimidate, perhaps even eliminate, the bishops. Consider his frustration when he discovered that the thieves had been converted to Christianity. When he could not get them to recant, he had them boiled together in a large vat of oil or pitch.

The bishops, however, were not killed with them. There's a legend that the King's daughter (Governor's daughter?) was so inspired by the fidelity of the martyrs that she gave away all her jewels to feed the poor. The girl, Cercyra, was threatened by her father, but would not deny Christ. He threw her in prison, and when she would not convert, he burned the prison down. She however, was unharmed, so even more people were converted and sought baptism. The King had his daughter tied to a tree and killed by arrows, leading the new converts to flee the island. The King pursued them, but his boat sank and he died, allowing all the others (including the two old bishops) to live happily ever after.

A different account suggests that Jason was torn apart by wild beasts, but I cannot find any other reference to Sosipater's death.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

April 28 -- Feast of St. Peter Chanel

Like Peter Damien, who sailed after him, Peter Chanel was a nineteenth century missionary to the South Pacific. Well, certainly Chanel went to the South Pacific, specifically the island of Futuna, which sounds made up but was one of the French Iles de Horn, a little northeast of Fiji. Hawaii is a little north of the equator, which means it is central Pacific at best. But they both set off for the exotic, and obviously dangerous, island paradises in which to convert the locals.

Damien, you recall, lived among the lepers until he himself contracted leprosy. He became an international celebrity, calling attention to the suffering on Molokai, assured that his work would continue after his death. Chanel had a shorter career and less comfort (though some) at the end.

Chanel knew nothing of the local language, but at least for a time had a merchant as a translator. French and British merchants were setting up trading posts all over the Pacific at that time (the Americans were too busy whaling and conquering North America to get in on the Pacific game). Protected by gunboats cruising the area, the merchants (and sailors on shore leave) acted with impunity in their relations with the locals -- exploitation does not put too fine a point on it. That would be the first strike against Chanel's mission.

Chanel lied about his intentions when he first arrived, guessing that a scholar studying their culture would be more welcomed than a missionary intending to change their faith. That would have probably been true, had he not lied, but as soon as he began preaching, the king saw him as both subversive and deceptive. Is that two strikes or three?

The King's son requested baptism, which was of course three outs. The next batter up swung a mighty bat -- well, more of a club. And an axe or some sort of mattock. Peter Chanel was clubbed and hacked to death on April 28, 1840, at the tender age of thirty-seven.

He did have comfort that it was God's will that he be killed, and that his work would outlive him. In this, he was correct. The King was dead within a year (no foul play, oddly enough) and the natives all were baptized. Yeah, I probably would have been dunked too if I thought that a French gunboat was going to sail up, looking to avenge their martyr.

The picture is a detail of the stained glass window, "St Peter Chanel Receives His Reward," found at St. Louis Cathedral in St. Paul, Minnesota. A picture of the whole window is available at

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April 27 -- Feast of Blessed Peter Armengol

The picture is about the best saint card illustration I've ever seen, and Pete's not even a saint.

In fact, he was very far from a saint in his earlier years. He was a brigand, living the fast and wild life. Only when his gang tried to kidnap Peter's father did he reevaluate his progress along the road to perdition.

He gave up his life of crime and joined the Mercedarians, a congregation dedicated to ransoming captives (especially those held by the Moors). Peter did a lot of work freeing a lot of people, but eventually ransomed eighteen captive Christian children by taking their place. He was given an equivalent amount of torture that would have been administered to the eighteen children (who knew it was measured that precisely?). Then he was hanged by the neck until they believed he was dead.

Ha! The joke was on them. He wasn't really dead.

Except the joke was on him. His body was wrecked from all the torture and he lived with brutal pain for the rest of his life.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

April 26 -- Feast of Pope St. Marcellinus

Marcellinus was the 29th pope, wearing St. Peter's ring from AD 296 to AD 304. In AD 303, Diocletian and his co-emperors (one Augustus named Maximian and two Caesars -- junior emperors -- named Galerius and Constantius) launched the last and most virulent of the persecutions of Christians. Tough time to be a pope.

Some modern sources list Marcellinus as a martyr, but none of the ancient sources do. One notes that he too was affected by the persecution, which seems as likely to imply that he was threatened, maybe even into going underground.

There were some nasty rumors leveled after his death that he had handed over scriptures to be burned, and may have even scattered incense before the polytheists' idols, but that seems like a load of hooey to me. My guess is he holed up somewhere safe, waiting for it all to blow over, but died before it did.

St. Marcellus I succeeded Marcellinus in AD 308, which means that for four years, there was no pope. I don't know if there are other such gaps, but the doubling up during the anti-pope crisis does not make up for the lack of a pope in the fourth century.

Monday, April 25, 2011

April 25 -- Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist

1. It is the first of three Rogation Days. These were dropped from the church calendar in 1970, but revived in 1988. They involve dressing up in purple and parading around the boundaries of the parish to establish a zone on which to call for the Lord's blessing. It all sounds like harmless fun to me, but I wouldn't want to do it in the rain. It apparently supplanted an older pagan tradition dedicated to the Roman god Robigus, whose festival (Robigalia) was celebrated on April 25. Robigus was invoked to protect grain crops against blight. He was associated with two goddesses -- Flora and Robigo. Playahs gotta play.

But Mark the Evangelist didn't play, no how, no way. There's a lot of commentary about who actually wrote the Gospels, but one is attributed to this fellow Mark, who may or may not have bounced when Jesus was arrested. It's hard to know how many St. Marks there were, but they all get rolled up in one identity. They include:

1. the Gospel writer
2. disciple of St. Peter
3. traveling companion of St. Paul and St. Barnabas
4. first bishop of Alexandria, Egypt
5. founder of the first Christian school

Even if he only did half that stuff, he'd still be the saint of the day. Oh, and that's not even including his death, which was especially gruesome. When the Alexandrian polytheists had enough of his preaching, they tied a rope around his neck and dragged him through the streets of the city until he was dead.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

April 24 -- Feast of Saint Fidelis of Sigmaringen

It is Easter morning as I post this, so I think that feast supersedes any and all others in the Christian calendar. Nonetheless, it is still the feast of Saint Fidelis, and he ought to have his moment too.

You might notice in the picture he has a spiked club and what appears to be an early firearm with some sort of massive spearhead on the end of it. What we can't see is that he's trampling on the banner of heresy.

He was christened Mark Rey, but adopted the name Fidelis when he left the lawyer's trade to become a Franciscan friar. He had been sorely disgusted by the greed and corruption of his fellow lawyers and gave away all his accumulated wealth to the needy, especially poor seminarians, upon he joining the friars.

The arms in the picture symbolize his assignment as guard of the friary, but he also worked as a healer. At least, he did that until he led a group of Capuchin monks to Switzerland to convert Calvinists and Zwinglians. The Swiss didn't dig it. Fidelis was killed by Calvinist soldiers in 1722 at age forty-five. He died after two sword-strokes to the head, but the soldiers disfigured and dismembered his body as a warning to would-be Catholic missionaries.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

April 23 -- Feast of St. George

George was a soldier in Palestine, beheaded in AD 304, the second year of Diocletian's persecution. He grew up in Palestine but traveled Nicomedia (modern Turkey) while still a teenager to join the Roman army. This was no childish impulse -- both his parents had died and his best shot was to trade on his father's military service by enlisting. He did well in the army, eventually rising to the rank of Tribune in Diocletian's own guard.

In AD 303, the order went down to arrest all Christians in the military. George was busted, but Diocletian worked hard to win his apostasy. Promises of rich rewards were offered; threats of slow and painful death were made. All to no avail. Eventually he was perforated on a wheel of swords, passing out but being revived three times. Following this, he was beheaded.

That's the historical side of his life, more or less. At very least, he was a soldier in the Roman army executed during Diocletian's persecution. But that has little to do with the picture above.

According to his legend, there was a dragon (crocodile?) living in a well-spring in Libya, or maybe Lydda, in Palestine. Lydda makes more sense as George was born there, but Libya is more commonly stated. Anyway, people living in a desert need water, but the dragon needed to be sated before they could draw it. Thus, two sheep a day was the price of water. When they ran out of sheep, they settled on maidens. Why they'd go with young girls instead of the old and infirm, I can't say. Plainly, they weren't actuaries.

A princess was selected in a lottery, but rather than let a princess be eaten by a monster, George stepped up and killed the beast. Abundant versions, artistic renderings, and critical analyses with links to older legends can be found.

Friday, April 22, 2011

April 22 -- Feast of St. Leonidas of Alexandria

Origen: neither heretic nor saint
and also by extension (and my proclamation) the feast of his son Origen.

Leonidas was a professor of rhetoric in Alexandria who was imprisoned and beheaded in AD 202 by Laertus, the governor of Egypt. Leonidas was killed for his Christianity, so all his property was confiscated. His wife and seven sons were impoverished until the family was adopted by a wealthy Christian woman.

One son, Origen, was perhaps the most brilliant Christian thinker of the third century. Well, he's got some stiff competition, but top five, easy. He is considered the father of the homily, and wrote thousands of pages of commentary on religious texts.

He survived the persecutions of Maximian, but was imprisoned and tortured during the persecutions of Decius.

He'd be a shoo-in for sainthood, right? Sure, except that his speculative ideas were later branded heresy when the mania for definitive orthodoxy was in full bloom. They couldn't do anything to Origen himself -- Decius had seen to that -- but they could identify forbidden ideas as Origenism and thereby block any possible sainthood.

The picture above, by the way, was taken from the Animal Liberation Front website, which quotes him offering an explanation of why we eat meat.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

April 21 -- Feast of St. Anselm

Usually someone might decline a job promotion due to ill health. They had to wait until St. Anselm was sick to get him to agree to be Archbishop of Canterbury; when he was well, he had the strength to resist the offer.

Anselm is indisputably a Big Dog, a Doctor of the Church. Several of the usual elements are found in his story, including the dissolute youth, reluctance to lead, and disagreements with secular authority. I don't mean to imply that the elements are false or exaggerated -- rather, they seem to be helpful in distinguishing a saint from the rest of the pack.

After the Normans conquered Britain (spit!), they put their own clergy into the most profitable spots. When William the Bastard (not my nickname for him -- you can look it up on wikipedia) died, his son William Rufus became king. Little Billy decided that if he didn't appoint a new archbishop of Canterbury, he could keep all its revenue. But when he got sick, he got faith and promised to appoint one upon recovery. Maybe God took the bait -- Billy felt better and Anselm got the nod.

Go Hawks!
Anselm was one of those brilliant, uncooperative bishops who refused to submit to the extortionist demands of his king. Predictably, exile followed. But Rome's probably not a bad place to spend exile, especially when you have the ear of Pope Urban II.

Billy died in 1100 and his little brother Henry Beauclerc became king. Hank wisely invited Anselm to return to his cathedral, but shortly they too were in a quarrel over lay investiture (it's far more lucrative and less lascivious than it sounds). Within a few years, Hank welcomed Anselm back home, ceding to his archbishop the authority to make his own clerical appointments.

As archbishop, Anselm opposed slavery (an unusual position in the twelfth century) and succeeded in getting legislation forbidding the sale of slaves. But his most lasting accomplishments seem to have been his theological and philosophical writings, earning him recognition as the greatest religious mind between St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

April 20 -- Feast of St. Caedwalla and St. Zaccheus

This seventh century heir to the throne of Wessex only lived thirty years, most of it in apparent sin, though there is little mention of that in accounts of his life. Unlike the lives of saints like Augustine, there's no record of a spiritual awakening that brings remorse for the dissolute life he had led. Instead, he was just a warrior-king who walked away from his throne to seek baptism. I'm not sure how that warrants sainthood, but April 20 is also the feast of St. Zaccheus. If you don't know his story, found at Luke 19:1-10, keep reading. It has bearing on Caedwalla's sainthood.

Zaccheus was a tax-collector and a very short man. As Jesus was walking through town, crowds were gathering around him and Zaccheus could not see him, so he climbed a tree. As Jesus walked under it, Jesus looked up and told him to come down and hurry home, as he needed to get things ready for Jesus to stay there that evening. The other people grumbled that Jesus was staying at the house of a sinner, and of course tax-collecting was a terrible sin for lots of reasons.

1. Tax collectors were collaborating with the Roman occupiers.
2. They over-charged and skimmed off the extra for themselves.
3. They were most exacting with the poor and politically powerless.

Jesus rebuked the crowd, saying that he had come to gather those who had been lost, and surely Zaccheus was one of the lost. Zaccheus repented, paid restitution to those he cheated, and followed the Lord. Eventually, he became the first bishop of Caesarea in Palestine. Although he was not one of the Twelve, he is considered an apostle (at least in the Eastern tradition).

Now back to Cadwalla. He was exiled from Wessex, where he had a claim on the throne, so he invaded Sussex and killed King Aethelwealh, but he was unsuccessful at holding the throne there. Eventually, he went back to Wessex and got control of the throne. Once in control of his homeland, he used it as a base to re-invade Sussex, which he conquered fully. He also conquered the Isle of Wight, annihilating the population so he could re-people it with Christians from his kingdom. He conquered Kent, placing his brother on the throne, and after the Kentish people rebelled and burned his brother, he ruled it directly. Not much saintly behavior yet.

An old wound from the Battle of Wight was bothering him, so he abdicated the throne and went on a pilgrimage to Rome. He received baptism and died a couple days later, still wearing his white baptism robe. No long service to God and his fellow men, as Zaccheus was blessed to give, but he was gathered to the Lord before his death. Saint? I guess so. I might grumble, but the story of the tax-collector makes me wary.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

April 19 -- Pope Saint Leo IX

I'm not sure I ever really believed in signs (in the metaphysical sense). Sometimes, they're merely a way of justifying what you want to do anyway. This entry, for example, was nearly completed. It was a voluminous account of Pope Saint Leo IX, also known as Bruno of Toul. Just as I neared completion, the machine mysteriously shut down. When I rebooted, all but the date and title were lost.

Too long for Leo's taste? Too unflattering? Mere coincidence? Hard telling, not knowing, but if I were supposed to write about St. Alphege instead, the name and date would not have been saved. So here's Leo IX, Part Two -- the Abbreviated Version.

Quick update on the ghost in the machine. I wasn't able to add the first picture of Leo that I selected either. It was just unacceptable to the machine. This one is much less tranquil, less serene, as befits the saint.

As bishop and pope, Leo IX tried to reform the system that had brought him to power. Nepostism literally means preferring the nephew (nepos). Bruno, the nephew of Emperor Conrad II, rose from canon to bishop to pope through noble connections. He waged war on behalf of his uncle, but in the eleventh century, a clergyman who didn't fight was more likely to be a disabled veteran than a conscientious objector.

Once he became pope, he worked tremendously hard to eliminate the corrupting errors of the clerical system: simony, nepotism, lay investiture, and clerical marriage. I know that from the (relative) comfort of the twentieth century, clerical marriage seems like a good idea. But if you are trying to protect the Church as a merit-based opportunity for careers, then generations of Bishopsons and Popesons are counterproductive. On that score, he was right. I will not claim that the Church is well-served by the ban on clerical marriage anymore, but that's a debate for another forum.

Where His Holiness was not infallible was on the subject of waging war. His spiritual adviser, Peter Damian, told him that war is for emperors, not popes, but he ripped into the Normans for having messed with papal turf in southern Italy, and the Normans in turn took it to him. He was defeated, captured, and forced to concede terms. What's worse, the whole mess triggered a diplomatic spat between him and the Byzantine emperor , resulting in the Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicating him. The papal legate, Humbert, may have excommunicated the Patriarch first -- I'm not sure. Leo was dead by the time the news reached Rome, but it did cause the schism between the West and East that has not yet been closed. Yes, the filioque debate was part of that, but so were the bruised egos in Rome and Constantinople, and those must lie in large part on the head of Leo IX.

Monday, April 18, 2011

April 18 -- Feast of Apollonius the Apologist

First, please recall that an apology was not originally an expression of remorse or repentance. Rather, it was an explanation or defense. Thus, never in The Apology of Socrates does the old man ever tell the Athenians that he's sorry.

Apollonius was a Roman senator, denounced as a Christian by his slave. This was pretty bold on the slave's part, because testimony from slaves had to be delivered under torture, no matter how willing one was to speak.

Apollonius stood in the Senate and delivered what was considered to be the best apology of Christianity to that date. High praise, since there had been so many defenses of Christianity delivered by accused adherents. Apollonius drew on Plato as well as the Bible. He noted the inanimate and artificial nature of Roman idols, contrasting them with the power of the universal Creator. He spoke of love and mercy and forgiveness. He was executed in April, AD 185.

His legs may have been crushed before he was beheaded -- accounts differ.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

April 17 -- Feast of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha

The daughter of a Christian Algonquin woman captured and married to a non-Christian Mohawk chief, Tekakwitha was raised in an eastern Mohawk village. An outbreak of smallpox struck in 1660, killing her parents and little brother, but the tribe elected her uncle to be the next chief. Tekakwitha was partially blinded and her face was scarred from the smallpox, but she became very adept at detailed embroidery. Jesuits lodged with the tribe and baptized Tekakwitha, who selected the name Kateri (Catherine) as her Christian name. He uncle did not oppose the baptism, but he did not want her to move away to a Christian settlement, as many other converts had done.

Kateri was courted by many Mohawk men, but she remained abstinent for her faith. This caused derision among the Mohawks at first, but eventually her decision provoked their anger. There were threats of violence, making her uncomfortable enough to seek escape from the village.

A Christian Oneida chief called Hot Cinders (bad temper) busted her out, and though her uncle tried to recover her, she fled to Sault-Saint-Somebody (one source says Marie, the other says Louis). Living a life of model devotion (up for prayers at 4:00 AM, praying through the day, followed by evening prayers, with a little work in between to break it up), she requested permission to become a nun. The idea was ridiculous, of course, since she was a Native American, but she did take her own vow of chastity and live her life as if she were a nun.

The nuns might not have let her join them, but she was the first American Indian to be beatified. April 17 is her feast day, and they, whoever they were, are just remembered as "the nuns."  On October 21, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI canonized her, making her the first Native American saint.  The story of her posthumous miracle healing and her canonization ceremony is linked here.  Mother Marianne Cope was also canonized on October 21, 2012 and will have to be written about at the next opportunity.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

April 16 -- Feast of the Benedicts

Yes, April 16 is the birthday of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, the Bishop of Rome, Pontifex Maximus, Vicarius Iesu Christi, Pope Benedict XVI. I do not suppose that the Holy Father will be canonized, but he's a pretty beatific dude. I am convinced that the angels want to wear his red Prada shoes, so happy birthday, your Holiness.

The other Benedict was canonized. Benedict Joseph Labre was a nineteenth century ascetic. He sought to be admitted to monastic brotherhoods but was rejected. He walked thousands of miles around Europe, making pilgrimages to shrines. Sometimes, he'd swoon in ecstatic religious contemplation -- he even floated, soared, and bilocated. He was ragged and unwashed, and though he never begged, he was sustained by handouts from strangers and foraged garbage. If he were given more money than he needed for that day, he gave the surplus to others in need.

Eventually he settled in Rome, sleeping in the Coliseum and praying at all the churches in town. At age 35, he collapsed on the steps of Madonna dei Monti and died a couple hours later.

I suppose a contrast could be made between the Benedict who wore rags and the Benedict who wears Prada. I'm not judging -- you can if you want.

Friday, April 15, 2011

April 15 -- Father Damien de Veuster

Hawaii probably doesn't seem like a bad place to be sent, no matter what business you're in. It might have seemed a little less inviting in the nineteenth century, but if you were going to be a Christian missionary somewhere, you could do worse than a Pacific island paradise. So Father Damien's decade on Maui seems as enviable as it is admirable.

But when British and American merchants persuaded the Hawaiian government (the USA did not annex the islands until 1898) to banish everyone with leprosy (Hansen's disease) to the Kalaupapa peninsula of Molokai, Damien chose to go with them. I've never been to Molokai but I am sure it is spectacular. Nonetheless, no matter how beautiful the climate, damn few people would voluntarily exile themselves to an ungoverned colony of terminally ill people. They were so isolated that ships delivering new exiles and supplies did not even bring them ashore -- they just sailed near and threw them overboard, letting the tide carry the people and things in.

There were about 800 lepers on Molokai when Damien got there. He helped establish some order so that the stronger would no longer abuse and exploit the weaker. He assisted with the development of gardens and irrigation so they would all eat better. He tended the sick and organized funerals for the dead.

In 1885, he contracted leprosy himself. He became an international celebrity and exploited the fame to raise awareness and support for the Molokai exiles. He died at age forty-nine on April 15, 1889.

Missionaries from rival Christian sects got really snarky about Father Damien after his death. Most notably, Rev. C. M. Hyde, a Honolulu Presbyterian, wrote a famous letter to Rev. H. B. Gage, railing against Damien for being a "coarse, dirty man" whose leprosy resulted from his own carelessness. The writer Robert Louis Stevenson, also a Presbyterian, wrote a lengthy and detailed rebuttal, concluding that Rev. Hyde's remarks were prompted by jealousy. Hyde's failure to assist these least of Christ's brothers were his own shortcoming, and he could not advance himself by pulling down Damien, who had answered the call. Stevenson concluded that Hyde would be remembered, if at all, for his shameful letter to Gage.

Mahatma Gandhi listed Father Damien as one of his inspirations. Can't do much better than that.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

April 14 -- Feast of Saint Peter Gonzales

He is the patron of mariners and sailors of all kinds, and is enlisted for prayer (along with St. Elmo) when the sea threatens a ship. He is the patron because he worked the waterfront late in his career, offering spiritual and material help to the sailors in port. But I get ahead of myself.

Peter was one of those well-born young men who used the Church to advance his career. His uncle was a bishop and trained him to be a priest. He got a dispensation to be promoted to Canon, even though he didn't meet the minimum age requirement. It was probably a case of simony, but if your started young, your investment (bribe) would be well-rewarded in a couple of years, leaving you a lifetime of fat paychecks.

Peter was making a grand procession into town one Christmas morning when something spooked his horse. He was thrown, in all his holiday finery, into a dung heap. The crowd was more than a little amused.

Peter withdrew from public life, prayed, and discovered that he had been misspending his time and wealth. He joined the Dominicans and became a serious churchman. Friends and family tried to cajole him back to the lucrative side of the Church, but he stuck with the serious service to God and his fellow men.

He was the Chaplain to King Ferdinand III of Castile, serving as Denny Downer to all the bon vivants in court. He also accompanied the King onto the battlefield against the Moors, advocating for humane treatment of the Moorish prisoners. Eventually, when court life seemed too tempting and luxurious, he headed for the fields to minister to the shepherds, and then to the waterfronts to minister to the sailors.

April 13 -- Feast of Pope Saint Martin I

Martin deserves the nod because he is the last martyred pope. I wonder, if Mehmet Ali Ağca had succeeded in killing His Holiness John Paul II, would he have been considered a martyr? It doesn't add up to quite the same thing; being shot by an agent thrice removed (at least) from official government leaders is a little different from being condemned by your Emperor. But if you're lying on your back with four bullet wounds leaking out three-quarters of your blood, it might be hard to discern the substance of the differences. But back to Martin.

There was a popular heterodoxy at the time known as Monothelitism. It held that Jesus had two natures (human and divine) but only one will (divine). Doesn't sound like it's a distinction worth killing anyone over, but I'm in a peaceful mood this morning.

Pope Martin found this heterodoxy heretical. Emperor Constans II found it compelling. Some mutual condemnations followed, and following that, an extraordinary rendition to Naxos for a little Abu Ghraib action. The Patriarch of Constantinople expressed some distress that his brother bishop was being tortured, so the Emperor relented and allowed the Pope to be carried into exile. One might think of the northern Black Sea as a resort area now, or perhaps an industrial and commercial center, but back in the day it was the end of the earth. Iphigenia was carried there by Artemis to be the priestess of a barbarous, murderous people. The poet Ovid was sentenced to be exiled there, and despite lots of begging for return, died there. Martin starved to death in 655, six years after becoming Pope.

April 12 -- Feast of St. Alferius of La Cava

Saint Alferius provides a good lesson in the power of market-based reform.

Alferius became a monk after promising to do so if he survived a life-threatening illness. He had previously served Duke Gisulf of Salerno as an ambassador. Once Alferius had kept his promise and become a fully sanctioned Cluniac monk, Duke Gisulf recalled him to reform the corrupt and lax monasteries in his duchy.

Alferius showed up with the full power of both Church and State. He promptly failed. The weapons of officialdom wither before the staggering power of indifference and inertia. Discouraged, he retired to a hermitage on Mount Fenestra (Window Mountain?). He lived a simple and holy life.

Here's where the market kicks in. Don't kid yourself -- there's a powerful market for spiritual purity. And Alferius plainly had the good stuff, while the established monasteries were peddling stepped-on, street grade junk. It's like free-range, kosher, organic hot dogs versus Fenway Franks. Folks started taking trips to see the Holy Man of Window Mountain. Then students started hanging around, trying to learn stuff from him. He picked twelve and started a monastery. Cottage industry stuff, sure, but those twelve then went out and started their own monasteries. Window Mountain became the mother house of a rival chain of monasteries, all dealing only only the best prayer and work, 99.44% pure.

They say he died at age 120, on Maundy Thursday, having said Mass and washed the feet of his monastic brothers.

April 11 -- Feast of Blessed Symforian Ducki

I was all set to make fun of this beatus' name. Thymforian, as his cousin Daffy calls him. He's the forensic medicine guy in NCIS: Heaven. Etc.

Then I read about his life. A Polish Capuchin monk, he was arrested by the Gestapo in June 1941 and sent to Pawiak. From there, he was transferred to Auschwitz. The ordinary deprivations and abuses followed until one night, when the guards began beating some of the fellow prisoners, Symforian faced them and made a sign of the Cross. The guards paused a moment, uncertain, and then fell on him with their truncheons. They beat him to death on the spot, but did not resume the beatings of the others. He is considered to be a martyr, and is enlisted in the aid of those being held against their will. I found someone's suggestion on line that he be enlisted in prayer for girls being held within the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints communities.

Good thing I didn't actually crack any jokes about his name.

April 10 -- St. Archangelus Piacentini

Today's post will be a smattering of things.
  • "Known as a quiet and pious child, it was no surprise when he went to live as a hermit in a cave near the church of Santa Maria dei Giubino in Sicily." I don't care how quiet and pious your kid is. I don't even care if you named him Archangelus, though you're setting him up to be picked on. But as a responsible parent, you need to be dismayed, alarmed, maybe even scandalized, when your kid moves out of your house and into a cave.
  • It's pretty common for saints to have tried to decline a bishop's mitre, protesting that they are not up to it. When Bede the Younger (yeah, I only knew about the Venerable one, not a Younger one) said he was inadequate for the task, they took his word for it. I've got to wonder whether he regretted that or was relieved.
  • In 869 and 870, pagan Danes swept through England, slaughtering anyone they met. They met (and killed) a lot of monks, including Torthred of Thorney, Hedda of Peterborough, and Beocca & Ethor of Chertsey. At the time, it felt pretty anti-Christian, but the Danes weren't really about replanting Wotan-worship. The next best guess is that they were looking for treasure, but pre-Renaissance monasteries were not centers of opulence. My thinking: just Danes being Danes.
  • I've described a lot of tortures and executions, but the way they treated Pompeius of Carthage and about fifty others is pretty disturbing. Before their beheadings, they were locked in a cage with snakes and scorpions. The Romans under Decius must have been real pricks. And yes, the photo is of Snake and Scorpion Wine, product of Vietnam. The Thais also market a Snake and Scorpion whiskey. I agree with bloggers who've noted that it makes a tequila worm seem pretty lame.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

April 9 -- Feast of St. Vadim of Persia

St Vadim (also called Bademus) was a fourth century monk during the reign of Sapor, the Emperor of Persia. Sapor had a thing against Christians and expressed it in the usual ways of his time.

Vadim and seven monks were rounded up and thrown into prison. After four months of unsuccessful pressure to apostatize, Sapor got the opportunity to shake things up. One of his courtiers, Nirsanes, was exposed as a Christian and thrown into prison. Under pressure to apostatize, he did so. Sapor offered him a full pardon if he would decapitate Vadim.

Standing before him, with sword in hand, Nirsanes faltered. This gave Vadim the opportunity to work on him a little. According to a website maintained by the Orthodox Church in America, Vadim said, "Has your wickedness now reached this point, Nirsanes, that you should not only renounce God, but also murder His servants? Woe to you, accursed one! What will you do on that day when you stand before the Dread Judgment Seat? What answer will you give to God? I am prepared to die for Christ, but I don't want to receive death at your hands."

If he had hoped to strengthen Nirsanes' faith in Christ, he must have been disappointed when the first sword stroke fell. If he had hoped for a quick death by decapitation, he must have been even more disappointed. The fear and shame made Nirsanes clumsy; he hacked at the Archimandrite without mortal effect. The Persians (Zoroastrians, I think, since they are identified as fire-worshippers) began taunting Nirsanes for his feeble attack, driving him into a frenzy until he at last succeeded in beheading Vadim.

It was long after that Nirsanes, filled with shame and dread, fell on his sword. The other seven monks, however, were eventually released and permitted to return to their monastery.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

April 8 -- Feast of St. Julie Billiart

If you read yesterday's post, today's comes a little later and faces challenges a little greater. The daughter of formerly prosperous peasant parents, Julie was a manual laborer to help her folks make ends meet. After a few years of labor, she was sitting with her dad when someone tried to murder him. The shock of this left her partially paralyzed that an incompetent doctor soon parlayed into total paralysis. Well, perhaps not total, but she was unable to walk.

Being bedridden and spiritually inclined, a group of wealthy ladies soon formed around her, all of whom became her students in matters Christian. Thus, when the French Revolution broke out, she was accused of consorting with aristocrats and hiding priests. She was smuggled away in a haycart to Amiens, where she, a viscountess, and a priest began to establish the Institute of Notre Dame. Later, the Institute would become the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

An egalitarian Order, the sisters made no class distinction among themselves. Everyone did spiritual study; everyone did manual labor. Their tasks were to prepare women to receive Communion, to care for the poor, and to educate all who desired it. Like Jean Baptiste's Order, the Sisters of Notre Dame were resented and suspected, but eventually accepted.

As for St. Julie herself, she attempted a few steps after one of the priests with whom she worked organized a novena for her. Finding some success, she built up her strength slowly and eventually restored her mobility after twenty-two years of paralysis.

April 7 -- Feast of Saint Jean Baptiste de la Salle

I could hardly ignore the patron saint of teachers, but first, this from the "Thanks, Mom" files. It's not exactly the way it played out in The Life of Brian, but it's pretty odd.

When the persecution of Maximian was announced, St. Kallipios went right up to the Governor. No waiting in line to be martyred for him -- he wanted to volunteer right up front. He was arrested and tortured in the usual ways. His mom visited him in prison to tell him how proud she was and that he should not back down under any pressure. When his crucifixion date was announced (coinciding with the Thursday of Holy Week), Mom returned to the prison to bribe the officials to wait one day, so that he could be executed on Good Friday, the celebration of Jesus' own crucifixion. It may not be a pony on your birthday, but it's pretty thoughtful.

Now, to St. Jean Baptiste de la Salle. He was the privileged son of a wealthy family, a doctor of theology working as the Canon of the Cathedral at Rheims. He showed no particular promise as a holy man, though he seemed to be a capable career clergyman. Adrien Nyel, a layman in Rouen, had opened four free schools for poor children, and approached Jean Baptiste about opening one in Rheims. The canon agreed, but found that he was paying for everything (including the staff) himself. He also found that the teachers were woefully ill-prepared, so he moved them into the family home and took over instruction of them so they could teach the children.

His family rebelled. He abandoned the family home and moved into a rented building with teachers. There, they created the Brothers of the Christian Schools, a service order for laymen. No ordination was necessary, but the brothers had to take a vow of obedience. In order to get the order recognized, Jean Baptiste had to expand the vow. Using the standard monastic Rules as a basis, he added the concept of achieving holiness through teaching; the brothers were to become ambassadors of Christ to the young. The Brothers were eventually accepted as an Order in 1726, about seven years after Jean Baptiste's death.

Jean Baptiste had seen his project through many trials. The schools were good enough to be in direct competition with tuition schools, so there was naturally antagonism and criticism. Further, there were concerns about non-priests being so instrumental in bringing Christ to children. Nonetheless, the Order grew in popularity throughout the eighteenth century, right up until the French Revolution, when those atheistic cannibals boiled the baby in its bathwater and called it soup. The Order came back following the restoration and grew in popularity and service throughout the nineteenth century.

April 6 - Feast of Saint Prudentius Galindo

I find predestination to be an uninspiring doctrine. It holds that God has already decided which among us sinners is saved and there's nothing we can do about it. Of course, those who are damned are still responsible for their sins, but even those who are saved are unworthy. Their salvation results not from anything they did or didn't do, but rather from God's unknowable and predetermined choice.

Double predestination is the belief that God has not only decided whom to save but whom to damn. I find the distinction meaningless, since damnation was the only alternative to salvation, but to the ninth century theologians, it had some significance. That's right -- ninth century. Folks want to hang this predestination heterodoxy on John Calvin, but it was around for centuries before he espoused it.

The hero of this story might well be a monk named Gottschalk of Oblais, for he was surely persecuted for his faith, viz. double predestination. He was hounded throughout Europe, whipped, beaten, imprisoned, exiled, and threatened with worse. When Hincmar, bishop of Reims, got him in custody, he summoned scholars from all over to refute the idea and force the monk to recant.

Enter Prudentius. Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers (or was it cheesemakers), and that being so, Prudentius must be a saint. He did not defended predestination, but not double predestination. Further, he did pointed out that Gottschalk's ideas had been put forward by St. Augustine himself, among the biggest dogs in the sacred kennel. He argued that Gottschalk ought to be released, and the idea, not the man, should be defeated. After Gottschalk was released (and denied sacraments and consecrated burial, because Hincmar was a prick), Prudentius wrote a long treatise on the subject, assailing the free will views of John Scotus Eriugena.

I've got doubts about Prudentius. He seems to have used his intellect to navigate a tricky course between theology and politics. While I'd most likely try to steer the same course, I do not admire him for doing so. Still, blessed are the peacemakers, and a more stubborn approach would probably not have freed Gottschalk.

April 5 -- Feast of Blessed Juliana of Cornillon

Perhaps she was blessed, but you wouldn't know it by reading her CV. Still, one big accomplishment can outweigh a lot of bad luck, especially if your work is eventually completed by a big dog like Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Juliana started out at the convent in Cornillon, then became an Augustinian nun at Liege, and then returned to Cornillon as the prioress. She worked with the sick and administered a hospital.

Visions of Jesus told her that there ought to be a feast honoring the sacrament of Communion. Her career sagged when she began to advocate for this. Visions were usually a safe way for women to comment on religious matters; while they ought not be having ideas of their own, they could be vehicles for divinely inspired messages. In this case, the messages were used to launch an investigation of the prioress, leading to her dismissal for misuse of hospital funds. The charges were groundless, but the area around Liege was rife with political corruption and rivalry. Any office, any budget, was a tool to be used by one faction against the other, and Juliana just got caught in the crossfire.

Robert of Thourotte, Bishop of Liege, investigated, vindicated, and reinstated her. Then he died and she was again driven out. She bounced around from convent to convent -- there was a surplus of nuns in those days -- and finally settled among the Cistercians at Salzinnes. Then Henry II of Luxembourg burned the place down. She became an anchoress at Fosses-la-Ville, where she died.

Meanwhile, the proposal for the Feast of the Body of Christ, a celebration of the Eucharist itself, was slowly moving forward. Pope Urban IV assigned St. Thomas Aquinas to write the office for the feast, which is celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.

April 4 -- Feast of St. Zosimus of Palestine

No, that's not a picture of Zosimus. More on him, below, with a bonus saint from the Eastern Calendar. But first...

There are always choices for which saint to select. Some are fun, others less so. Some are only recognized by local cults, while others have wider acceptance. In the canon of the American civil religion (wikipedia explanation here), there are probably few saints larger than Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Yes, he had his faults and they are well documented. I don't need to repeat them here. But I will declare that his achievements were miraculous in the original sense of the word -- they were wondrous. And if his death was not martyrdom, then the term has no meaning.

He adhered to a sect of Christianity that did not revere the saints, so perhaps he would not consider the designation as a good thing. He was an ordained and practicing Christian minister, so perhaps he would not even approve of the idea of an American civil religion with its own canon of saints. Nonetheless, I cannot omit him for those reasons -- his place in our history and our mythology is too large. And while the Monday closest to his birthday is a public holiday, I hold with the tradition that marks one's death as the feast, especially one who was martyred.

As for Zosimus, he was a Venerable Monk living near the Jordan River. He found Mary of Egypt in the desert and repeated her story to his fellow monks.

Also celebrated in the Eastern Calendar is St. Plato the Studite, an erudite monk who distinguished himself by articulating the prevailing argument against the iconoclastic heresy. And yes, I mean heresy, not heterodoxy. I got no use for iconoclasts. Plato later excommunicated Emperor Constantine VI for sending his wife to a nunnery so he could marry his cousin. In response, the Emperor imprisoned Plato. The old monk was only released after the Emperor died, but the controversy didn't go away and Plato wound up serving another four years until yet another emperor took the throne.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

April 3 -- Feast of St. Richard of Chichester

You probably know this prayer, or at least the end of it. I recall it as folk song, accompanied by a guitar... I think it was a woman leading the song, but I have no idea where or when.

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.

I didn't know, nor did I wonder, who wrote the words, but as it turns out, the author was Richard of Chichester. And while he did not suffer as much as Jesus (who did?), he bore his share of tribulations well.

He was one of those brilliant thirteenth century Oxford scholars who rose in the Church ranks. He became Chancellor to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who quarreled with Henry III over Crown & Cross prerogatives. The Archbishop, no doubt remembering Becket's quarrel with Henry II, beat feet to France, taking Richard with him. Archbishop Edmund died over there, and Richard stuck around to get ordained by the Dominicans before returning.

The new Archbishop of Canterbury appointed Richard to be bishop of Chichester, but Henry III had already named his own man to the post. The Pope backed up Richard, but Henry confiscated all church property in the diocese and ordered that no one give shelter to Richard. A priest disobeyed, and Richard walked the length and breadth of his diocese for a couple of years, tending his flock as best he could. Finally, Henry III relented and let him have the diocese, which he tended for seven years before dying.

Not the worst life a saint ever lived, but certainly not the most comfortable life a bishop ever led either. Day by day.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April 2 -- Feast of St. Mary of Egypt

The painting at right is called "St. Mary among the Sinners" by Emil Nolde, a twentieth century German Expressionist painter. There are other, more pious depictions of St. Mary of Egypt available if you drop her name into Google Images, but I think this one best captures the grotesque nature of her early life.

Mary was a fifth century penitent, and by all accounts she had much to repent. Of course we may well agree that faulting prostitutes is blaming the victim; poverty, discrimination, and coercion are more likely to induce one to prostitution than greed or pleasure. But I'm speculating. The account of her life says that she ran away from home to the teeming metropolis of Alexandria at age twelve and launched her career. Driven "by an insatiable and an irrepressible passion," she often declined payment and supported herself by begging and spinning flax.

Seventeen years later and still as popular as ever, Mary joined a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, more for the curiosity and diversion than for any overt religious motive. She worked off the cost of the passage among the ship's crew and "Even in the Holy City she gave herself over to every kind of licentiousness and drew many into the depth of perdition." (Greek Orthodox Online Chapel)

At the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, she found herself barred from entering the church. There were no guards nor visible barriers, but some sort of spiritual force field held her outside. She prayed for understanding and Mary Theotokos told her to repent her sins, to cross the Jordan River, and to live a life of virtue. Mary went immediately to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist on the Jordan River, where she confessed and received absolution and Communion. Then taking only three loaves of bread, she crossed into the desert where she lived for almost fifty years as a hermit.

They don't get any more hermity than Mary. She never returned to any city or town, nor had any regular with other people. Her hair grew long enough to cover her, which was fortunate because her clothes eventually wore out and fell away.

By chance, Zosimus of Palestine, himself destined for sainthood, happened upon her. He gave her his cloak and she told him about herself. He promised to bring her Communion on the next Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter), a promise he kept. They agreed to meet the following year, but instead he found her dead in the desert.

A couple of miraculous events occasion her death. An inscription in the sand by her head told that she had died the year prior, on the very night that Zosimus had given her Communion. Her body had been supernaturally transported to the place in the desert where they had first met, and had been held incorrupt for a year. A passing lion then helped Zosimus dig a hole in which to bury her.

The Eastern Church celebrates Mary of Egypt on April 1, but the West is a little less clear. Several sources say that the Roman Catholic feast is on April 3, but David Hugh Farmer says that April 2 is traditional in England, though sometimes it is April 9 or 10. So basically she can be celebrated in early April, whenever you feel like it, and I feel like celebrating her today.

April 1 -- Feast of Ludovico Pavoni

Different eras honor different aspects of holy lives. Nothing won you sainthood faster in the early days than suffering for your faith -- preferably with a gruesome death to follow. Thus, April 1 is the feast of St. Macarius, called Wonderworker for his many miracles. Yet three write-ups of his life failed to describe any of the wonders he worked. Instead, they all focus on his exile because of his defense of icons. With the recent flap about murals at Maine's Department of Labor, I am somewhat sensitized to the inflamed feelings inspired by art, and then as now, my sympathy is with those who support the art. Yet it's a little less inspiring than a fight for the faith itself, and a little less interesting than the struggles of Ludovico Pavoni.

Saints from the nineteenth century almost all seem to have focused on social work for the urban poor. It makes sense. The industrial revolution was in full swing, and the massive dislocation resulted in a scale and concentration of poverty not seen in the West since Rome. Actually, given access to running water, standards of living were probably worse then ancient Rome.

Ludovico was among those who stepped up to help. He opened an orphanage, linked it with a trade school, and then a publishing house. He subscribed to the belief that spiritual conditions would improve after social and economic improvements had been won. He founded a religious order to support this concept and begin other schools.

In 1849, he native Brescia was at war with the Austrians. He moved all the orphans to safety, but died taking refuge seven miles away while the city was destroyed. I suppose there's an element of martyrdom in this story too, but I tend to think it was the work, more than the suffering, that won his canonization.