Wednesday, July 27, 2011

St. Christopher --- still a saint

Yesterday, July 26th, was the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne (aka Anna), Mary's parents and Jesus' grandparents. Fr. Joe had a nice writeup on the origins of the feast. Since my youngest daughter's name is Anna, yesterday was her name day, so that day is certainly on my spiritual radar as a Catholic. But it is also the feast day of one of my other favorite saints - perhaps yours too - ... St. Christopher.

Now, many Catholics are confused about this guy. Many were told by over-zealous but under-informed teachers or catechists that St. Christopher was somehow "demoted" or "is no longer a saint." Not true. Here is what happened:

According to tradition, Christopher was killed as a martyr for the Christian faith in the year 251 at Lycia, in modern-day Turkey. Little is known, in the way of historical facts, about his life. Pious legends record that he was born to pagan king and a Christian mother and that his birth name was Reprobus. As an adult, he was a very tall and strong man, and though at first a soldier, he converted to Christianity after listening to the preaching of local hermit named Babylas. Reprobus wanted to serve the most powerful of all, and he came to believe that that was Christ the Lord.

After converting to Christianity, Reprobus retreated to the wilderness where he lived in a hut next to a river, spending his days as a hermit in prayer and, when needed, helping people to cross the river. One day, the story goes, he was summoned to help a small child cross the river. He hoisted the young boy onto his shoulder and proceeded to wade into the water but as he did, the child grew heavier and heavier. At one point, Reprobus feared both he and the child would drown, but he finally made it to the other side. The child then revealed himself as Jesus and he explained that heaviness was due to the weight of the sinful world which he bore.

Eventually, Reprobus became known as Christopher (which means "Christ-bearer") and he was martyred for his Christian faith. He is best known today as the patron saint of travelers. His image was often found in medieval churches. In fact, according to one study, images of St. Christopher were particularly popular in pre-Reformation English churches. In fact, only the Virgin Mary had more recorded images than Christopher.

Now, where did the confusion about St. Christopher's "status" among modern Catholics come from? Well, in 1969, the calendar of the Roman Church was revised by Pope Paul VI. In the revision, an effort was made to remove the feast days of saints whose biographies were traditional rather than provably historic. In other words, saints about whom the Church had very little or no historical evidence, were removed from the universal Church calendar. However, they were not "de-canonized" or proclaimed to no longer be considered saints.

St. Christopher is still very much a saint and is still a very popular one. So, go ahead and keep that St. Christopher medal in your car or kiss the holy card in your Bible. St. Christopher intercedes for us at the heavenly throne and he encourages us all to be "bearers of Christ." St. Christopher, pray for us!