Saturday, May 21, 2011
May 21 -- Feast of St. Collen
A Christian radio broadcaster named Harold Camping predicted that the Rapture would occur today. Apparently it is 6:00 PM in some parts of the world already and no one is ascending to heaven. On yet another day when a man tried and failed to predict the will of God, I think it is fitting to focus on a saint whose stories are almost certainly bunk.
Collen was a seventh century Welsh monk, and like anyone who was anyone back in those days, he was connected to Camelot. I think it was his grandfather who had a seat at the Round Table.
Collen was summoned by the Pope to duel against a Saracen named Bras. Bras had thrown down a challenge: all the adherents to the loser's faith would convert to the winner's faith. Strangely, Collen's behavior is less than chivalric at one point in the duel. His hand is wounded but he rejects Bras' advice to submit. Okay so far, but Bras offers him a magic ointment for instant healing. Collen accepts, heals his hand, and then tosses the ointment in the river so that neither will have access to it for the rest of the duel. First, he takes magic in a fight for faith, and then throws away someone else's property after the guy helped him.
In any event, he bests Bras, who submits and accepts baptism on the spot. As a reward, the Pope gives him a withered lily which will bloom magnificently in the presence of those who doubt the truth of the Virgin Birth.
He returned to Britain, served as an abbot, but withdrew to live as a hermit because he found the wickedness and weakness of others to be hard to bear. Even as a hermit, his temper was short. One day he overheard a couple of locals talking about Gwyn ap Nudd, the Celtic god of the Underworld and King of the Fairies. He berated them for believing in such demons, and they in turn warned him that he'd regret the denial. The warning was apt, of course, and may have helped him in the following encounter.
A dazzlingly appointed messenger from the King of the Fairies showed up to invite Collen to a feast. He declined. The messenger insisted. He declined again. The third invitation was reluctantly accepted, but Collen brought a flask of holy water. The courier led him to a castle he had never seen before. He was welcomed by Nudd himself, who ushered him into a sumptuous feast. Collen sat, made some small talk, and then brought the conversation around to the fate of those who have not accepted the One True God. He sprinkled the holy water around and the whole thing disappeared except for one angry, squawking bird which flapped away.
Collen moved even further away from people, but word still reached him of a flesh-eating giantess. He took up a sword and went to the mountain pass she guarded. They fought, and in the fight, he chopped off her right arm. She picked it up with her left hand and began beating Collen with it. He chopped off her left arm. She started shouting for Arthur, King of the Giants, to rescue (or at least avenge) her, but he chopped off her head before the giant was summoned.
I don't like to make sport of other people's faith. It doesn't sit well. But the Gospel is pretty clear that the Lord is not tipping his hand about the Second Coming, so everybody just has to live faithful lives until he shows up. For Mr. Camping to presume that he can sneak a peak at the Lord's timetable, he deserves to look as silly as the folks who wrote the life of St. Collen if they intended anything other than a good yarn.
Posted by Tom Major at 8:39 AM