In January, I have started a new series in which I have a look at the lives of the saints that are remembered in the liturgical calendar for the month ahead. As the Love Blog Challenge is back for the 3rd edition starting tomorrow (February 1st), this post will go live a day ahead of the first day of the month. I’m really not good at doing that blogger’s thing of having a schedule so you know when you can expect something and come back to the blog accordingly. I have other qualities, I promise.
February, from a liturgical point of view, is a heavy weight month this year, with Lent starting with Ash Wednesday falling on the 14th. However, before we move into a penitential mode, Friday 2nd is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, also known as Candlemas. While it doesn’t per se remember a saint, Simeon and Anna are two examples of faith that are, to me, quite inspiring. Their story is told in the Gospel according to St Luke, Chapter 2.
St Paulo Miki and Companions
6th of February
Also known as the 26 Martyrs of Japan, an eclectic group of religious missionaries and Japanese laypeople and religious, belonging to a number of different orders, were martyred on February 5, 1597 at the hand of the Japanese empire, in the persecutions that were the key theme of Shūsaku Endō’s novel Silence, which was adapted into a film in 2016. St Paulo Miki seems to have remained the most famous of them because, a fiery preacher born of a wealthy family and later become a Jesuit, he preached his last sermon from the cross on which he died. Nagasaki, the town where the martyrdom took place, now has the largest Catholic population in Japan. Truly God has a sense of humour.
St Josephine Bakhita
8th of February
“Sor Moretta”, as she was affectionately known in late 19th century Veneto (Northern Italy), was a former slave of Sudanese origin and sister with the Canossian order, said to have always had “her mind always on God, and her heart in Africa”. Pope Emeritus Benedict the 16th, in his 2007 encyclical letter Spe Salvi, related her full life story as an example of Christian hope. Most of us will never know troubles to the extent that she experienced in her life, and we often find it hard to see God turning them for the best the way she did, when she said that if she had never been enslaved she’d have never found the faith the way she did. In my humble opinion, she has a lot to teach modern women about attitudes to life, and I feel rather ashamed that I haven’t read that encyclical and known about her before now.
10th of February
She is named in the litany of saints that is recited at the Easter Vigil, and yet until her name came up in the saint name generator which a number of Catholics use to get a Saint of the Year I had no idea who she was beyond a name absent-mindedly repeated once a year. Now, you will appreciate the irony of being given the patron saint of nuns as the patron saint of the one year I start with an actual, official boyfriend who has been around for more than a month. She was the sister of Benedict of Norcia, and the little we know about her paints her as an educated woman who could discuss sacred matters with her brother (likely the case for all women of her social status at the time). In fact, according to some lists of patron saints she is the patron of school, tests, books and reading. Maybe she is a fit for 2018, as I struggle my way through post-graduate studies. My favourite thing about her, though, is not that she kept a familiar café theologique in Montecassino, but what she allegedly said when her brother tried to leave her on his last visit, after praying for a storm to come. “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen.” If only I always had a faith like that!
St Valentine of Terni, Saints Cyril and Methodius
14th of February
I go into more details about St Valentine in the Valentine’s Day post for Love Blog, going live on Friday 2nd, so here I will talk mostly about the other saints of the day. St Cyril and St Methodius were two brothers, and were deeply involved in the political battles of the Slavic people in the 9th century. They were also allowed by the church to use the vernacular in the liturgy long before the Reformation happened, which challenges some of the narratives we have around it. Their lives and the way their ministry spread in response to the state’s attempts to suppress it speaks a lot to me about how, no matter how engrossed we become with politics, God is always in control.
23rd of February
Bishop of Smyrna in the 2nd generation of the Church, he had been a protege of St John the Evangelist. Martyred in old age, after spending his life fighting heresies and keeping the faith true to what was handed down to the apostles by Jesus himself at the time when the first generation of the Church, who were eyewitnesses, had died out. My favourite thing about him is that he is said to have fed a meal to his captors when they found him in hiding, before taking two hours to pray for them and for the Church, leaving them wonder why they were arresting such a holy man. It strikes me how such a small gesture of love at a time of great trial (he was going to his own death) had impressed the pagans so much they stopped seeing him as an atheist who refused to believe in their gods, but a holy man. How many times do we love our enemies just like that? I, for one, fail at that a lot.
On a separate note, at the beginning of the year, Blessed is She encouraged us to dedicate the month to a specific virtue, to pray, put into practice and try to incorporate more in our lives as modern women. January was the month of compassion, and my boyfriend (who patiently waited until 2am to make sure I was home OK while I took care of a drunk friend) would say I’ve done well with that, although I’m not so sure, and often think that my biggest problem is being compassionate towards myself anyway. I have a hard time not beating myself up for things that are largely beyond my control, like my poor health at the minute. The theme for February is, not surprisingly, contrition, a far more challenging one.