Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Saint Christopher and Carrying Christ to Others

I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.
—Galatians 2:19b-20

When I was growing up, my grandparents kept a rather large medal of Saint Christopher in the glove compartment of their car. Like countless Christians over the centuries, they had a notion that Christopher was the “saint of travelers” and that it was good to have him around, but that seemed to be as far as their devotion to Saint Christopher extended.

I imagine that, among those honored as part of the “great cloud of witnesses” (cf. Hebrews 12:1), Christopher is probably one of the least understood saints, especially in these decades after the Second Vatican Council.

His story was once well-known…

Once upon a time, a thief and robber—and a giant—Christopher (or Reprobus as he was originally named) was a fierce man who dedicated his life to seeking out the most powerful prince to serve. At first, he believed this was the devil—a being feared by men—but, he eventually came to believe that Christ was the greatest of all princes. After being instructed in the Christian Faith by a hermit, he was baptized and given the name Christophorus.

"St. Christopher" by Albrecht Dürer
 
The hermit who had instructed Christopher gave him the task of carrying travelers across a local river—a job easily done because of his great size and strength. One day, he began to help a child to cross the river, carrying the boy on his shoulders, when he began to feel a weight so great that he was bowed down by it. Once they reached the other side, the child said to Christopher: “Don’t be surprised, Christopher! You were not only carrying the whole world, you had him who created the world upon your shoulders! I am Christ your King, to whom you render service by doing the work you do here.”
 
According to the legend, Christopher went on to bring many to Christ. He was eventually martyred during the reign of the Emperor Decius, sometime between 249 and 251.

Today, when many people hear his name, their initial response is: “I thought he wasn’t a saint anymore.” This is an unfortunate mistake and certainly not true. However, in 1969, as part of an effort to simplify and update the Church’s liturgical calendar, Saint Christopher’s commemoration on July 25 was removed from the Missal. There were two reasons for this. First, despite his popularity, we know nothing more about Christopher than his name and that he was a martyr. Second, July 25 is the feast of the Apostle Saint James the Greater and the commemoration of Saint Christopher was added to the Mass for Saint James almost as a sort of after-thought. Because of the priority given to Saint James’ feast and the fact that we know so little of Saint Christopher, it was decided that his celebration would be left up to individual dioceses (or even parishes).

For those who might still doubt Christopher’s saintly status, the Roman Martyrology—the Church’s official listing of saints and beati—still includes the name of Saint Christopher on his traditional date of July 25. But, unlike previous editions (which recounted some of the fantastic details surrounding his life and martyrdom), the most recent edition of the Martyrology (2005) simply says: In Lycia, Saint Christopher, Martyr.

The beloved story of Saint Christopher carrying the Christ-Child across the river is found in the Golden Legend (a collection of lives of the saints written by Blessed James of Voragine around the year 1260).  Although scholars and theologians recognize that the story recounted by Blessed James is almost completely fictitious, we do find there a very beautiful description of Saint Christopher that is an important lesson for us: “Before Christopher was baptized, he was called Reprobus, meaning ‘Outcast,’ but afterwards, he was called Christophorus, the ‘Christ-bearer.’ He bore Christ in four ways, namely, on his shoulders when he carried him across the river, in his body by mortification, in his mind by devotion, and in his mouth by confessing Christ and preaching him.”

"Saint Christopher Cynocephalus":
In an unusual iconographic tradition,
St. Christopher has been depicted with
the head of a dog, possibly to depict his ferocity
before his conversion.

Although the details of his life have been lost, in a sense we know all that we need to about Christopher: he carried Christ into the world. And, in this sense, every Christian is a “Christopher” who carries the Christ in their hearts, making him present through our acts of kindness and love. The presence of Christ within us is the great gift of the Sacrament of Baptism and it is nurtured through the gift of the Eucharist. This truth makes Saint Christopher a wonderful model and patron for every Christian person: “Faith knows that God has drawn close to us, that Christ has been given to us as a great gift which inwardly transforms us, dwells within us, and thus bestows on us the light that illumines the origin and the end of life. We come to see the difference, then, which faith makes for us. Those who believe are transformed by the love to which they have opened their hearts in faith" (Pope Francis in Lumen Fidei).

Just like Saint Christopher, whom we remember as carrying and protecting the Christ-Child, each one of us has the privilege of sharing the presence of Christ that dwells within us with a world that is hungry for the peace, justice, and joy that only Christ can bring. We can also share in Saint Christopher’s final witness—his martyr’s death—when we make the sacrifices of our time and gifts by praying for others, supporting good works, and lifting up those who are weak.

 
A prayer in honor of Saint Christopher +
Almighty God, grant that we who celebrate the memory of your blessed martyr Christopher, may be made stronger in our love of you, through his intercession. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(adapted from Collect for the Mass of St. Christopher from the Misale Romanum [1962])

This reflection was originally written for Mayslake Ministries and published on their website the week of July 20, 2015.

 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

"Live In My Image"

"I clasp the newspaper to my heart like a Bible. I weep over the tragedy of human life. My candle flickers in the darkness of the night. I am trying for an hour of vigil for my dear broken world.

God, my life is here before you like clay, but I don't feel very pliable. I feel angry. This morning with Psalm 102 I prayed, 'The children of those who serve you shall dwell secure.' I smiled a cynical smile. I like to take the Scriptures seriously, but God, we both know this isn't true. In the shadows of this night I try to make some sense of this Psalm message. So many people who serve you do not dwell secure, and neither do their children. I glance again at the paper. I see the poverty, the wars, the enslavements of the human person. I see, in may instances, the injustice people have to suffer simply because they are trying to serve you. I see the immense helplessness that so many people experience in the face of unjust systems. I see people getting rich from other people's miseries. I ache because of all the doors that are closed in people's faces every day. And I say to you, 'What's happening to their prayers, God? Are you using their prayers for a carpet in heaven? Well, they aren't in heaven. These people need for you to lean down from heaven. The people who are crying out to you are still in Egypt. It is time to split the sea again. It is time to save.'


We are the people who claim to be made in God's image. I can hardly look at what we've done to that image. I see the misery human beings suffer, and I say in regard to all this: 'It is enough! It is enough, God! Where do you hang out when your people are starving?'

In the shadows of this dark night, I seem to see God leaning from heaven again. This time God comes not as a tiny, helpless child, but as a sorrowing, desperate parent, and God repeats to the human race my own agonizing cry, 'It is enough! How long must I wait for you to put on the mind of Christ? How long must I wait for you to live in my image? What are you doing with the prayers of your brothers and sisters? Are you making them into plush carpets fro your own feet to rest on?'

I've never been very good at feasting on the daily newspaper. It turns bitter in my mouth. And yet, this is my world. This face of suffering I must embrace as part of my responsibility. Part of the feast is becoming aware of the world that is mine. Part of the feast is owning this broken world as my own brokenness. I clasp the newspaper to my heart and ask once again in the stillness of the night, 'What are we doing to the image of God in one another?'"

-Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr, O.S.B., in A Tree Full of Angels

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Celebrating Our Lady of Einsiedeln and Mary's Contemplative Spirit

My newest article for Aleteia​ celebrates Our Lady of Einsiedeln, whose feast is celebrated on July 16 :

"It is significant that St. Luke tells us of Mary turning to prayer in times of great change, challenge, and possibility. She was sustained by the public, liturgical prayer of her Jewish faith, but beyond that, we are also given glimpses into Mary’s faith through her openness to what God was asking of her and her moments of prayer themselves."


To read the full article, click here.