23 July 2017

     “Christopher, you have borne Him that created and made all the world upon your shoulders.”

     This week, the Church would normally celebrate the feast day of St. Christopher on 25 July. However, the general Roman calendar of saints was revised in 1969 as part of the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. Several saints, such as Saints Christopher, Barbara, Philomena, and many others had their feast days removed altogether from the calendar based on the premise that historical evidence was lacking, and consequently, the reformers believed that instead, pious stories had grown over the centuries regarding these saints so that historical reliability had become too obscured. Nevertheless, the faithful continued to remain devoted to many of these saints—especially St. Christopher. He was not demoted or removed completely from the celebration of his feast day, however. A church or a chapel dedicated to St. Christopher still has the option to celebrate his feast day, and priests who celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass on 25 July must commemorate his feast day because they use the older calendar before the revision of 1969.   

     One of the unfortunate consequences in the wake of Vatican II’s reforms that were supposed to strengthen the Church but have instead weakened her is the loss of the devotional and pious practices among the faithful. However, St. Christopher is one example where the faithful refused to abandon intercession to him! St. Christopher remains the patron saint of travelers, as he is most popularly portrayed as carrying the Christ Child across a raging river. His name, in fact, means the Christ-Bearer. How many Catholics have a small image of St. Christopher in their vehicles or wear a holy medal bearing his image? Moreover, St. Christopher is also the patron saint of protection against toothaches, hailstorms, sudden death, epilepsy while also being the protector of both children and bachelors. Many parents still name their sons “Christopher,” and he remains a popular choice among those preparing for Confirmation to take his name when choosing a patron saint.

     Who, then, was St. Christopher? Historical evidence surrounding his life is, indeed, sparse. However, we know that he most likely died in the persecutions of the Roman Emperor Decius in 251. Since churches and monasteries began being dedicated to his patronage by at least the seventh century, we can surmise that he enjoyed popularity among the faithful in those early centuries after his martyrdom. It appears that St. Christopher is the Western counterpart to a certain St. Menas celebrated in the East; essential elements of their incomplete histories are, in fact, quite similar along with legendary stories that were added to the saint’s life in subsequent centuries. 

     The future saint’s given name at birth was either Offerus or Reprobus, and he was reputed to be born in the third century in what is now Turkey. He was an immense man in both stature and girth; one account has Offerus standing at seven-and-a-half feet! He wanted to serve his local king within his court because Offerus wanted to live and serve the greatest, strongest, and bravest of all the kings in the world. He was a good servant to the king of Canaan until the day that Offerus saw the king cross himself at the mention of the Devil’s name. Upon learning that the king feared the Devil, and that is why he made the sign of the cross at Lucifer’s name, Offerus left the king’s service to find the Devil, who, in Offerus’ mind, had to be stronger than his king if this Canaanite king feared Lucifer.

     Offerus eventually found a group of thieves and robbers, and one of them declared himself to be the Devil. Offerus began serving him; needless to say, Offerus had grown up as a pagan with no real knowledge of the true Catholic faith. When this Devil passed by on the other side of the road one day as the group was walking in front of a cross along the road, Offerus asked why the Devil refused to walk in front of the cross. This Devil declared that he feared the cross and Jesus Christ, and therefore, Offerus left the Devil’s service and began to ask about this Christ figure that he had heard about and His cross. 

     Soon after, Offerus met a hermit in the wilderness who instructed him in the Catholic faith. Offerus was baptized, and his new Christian name became “Christopher.” Since he wanted to serve Christ as the King of all kings of the world, Christopher asked the hermit how he could best serve Jesus in this life. The hermit responded that Christopher should pray and fast in mortification and penance for his sins and for the sins of others. However, fasting and praying were not well-suited to his ideas and his disposition, and so Christopher asked for another way to serve. The hermit, observing Christopher’s obvious size and strength, responded that he should the Lord by giving people safe passage along a dangerous river that had already claimed many lives. The hermit promised Christopher that such service would be pleasing to Christ.

     St. Christopher took to his pious task immediately, and after some time, a small child came to him one day and asked to be carried to the other side of the river. During the trip across this tributary, Christopher noticed how the child become progressively heavier to carry and the water began swelling up to dangerous levels. It became amazingly more difficult with every step to carry this child across the river. When he finally arrived to the other side of the bank, Christopher looked at the child and said, “You have put me in great danger. I do not think the whole world could have been as heavy to carry on my shoulders as you were!” The child, in turn, responded, “You had on your shoulders not only the whole world, but Him who made it. I am Christ your King, whom you are serving by this work.” At that, the Child vanished. 

     Eventually, St. Christopher went to Lycia (a city in Turkey today) to support fellow Christians facing martyrdom. He was brought before a local magistrate after he attracted too much attention by making converts. Since he refused to sacrifice to pagan gods before the local governor, he ordered Christopher to be killed. Although he faced several attempts to persuade him to renounce his Christianity, Christopher refused them all. He was beheaded in 251, but his renown continues to this day!

     The life of St. Christopher continues to inspire today because he shows us all of the virtues that we hope to reflect in our own lives: redemption (moving from a superficial early life to desiring to serve Christ as his Lord and King), courage (he did not allow difficulties to obscure his mission of transporting people across the dangerous river or even in facing death for Christ), service (he wanted to serve Jesus in the way he knew best), and sacrifice (he gave his life for his Lord). May we, like St. Christopher, also be privileged to be called faithful “Christ-bearers,” each day!

     May you have a most blessed and holy week!

     Fr. Shawn William Cutler

 

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