... Holy Days this month
(from Parish Pump, UK)
High Days & Holy Days for April 2021
Editor: As the church year does not change, much of this material has appeared before. The article on Alphege, Archbishop of Canterbury, is new this year.
1 Maundy Thursday
2 Good Friday
2 Hugh of Grenoble – the saint who fought corruption
3 Richard of Chichester - wanting God more clearly, dearly and nearly
5 Vincent Ferrer – preacher with heart for evangelism
4 The ‘Other Mary’
12 Zeno of Verona - the more things change....
13 Carpus, Papylus and Agathonice – martyrs of the Early Church
*NEW 19 Alphege
21 Anselm - the man who proved there is a God
23 St George - our patron saint who isn’t English
23 St George of the Golden Legend
23 St George and Hiccup and the dragon
26 Mark - disciple, apostle, writer of the second gospel
27 Tertullian - the fierce firebrand
27 Zita - the long-suffering servant girl
28 Peter Chanel – missionary and martyr in the South Pacific 1841
29 Catherine of Siena - how to survive in a large family
Maundy Thursday, time to wash feet
Maundy Thursday is famous for two things. The first is one of the final acts that Jesus did before His death: the washing of His own disciples’ feet (see John 13). Jesus washed His disciples’ feet for a purpose: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” His disciples were to love through service, not domination, of one another.
In Latin, the opening phrase of this sentence is ‘mandatum novum do vobis’. The word ‘mundy’ is thus a corruption of the Latin ‘mandatum’ (or command). The ceremony of the ‘washing of the feet’ of members of the congregation came to be an important part of the liturgy (regular worship) of the medieval church, symbolising the humility of the clergy, in obedience to the example of Christ.
But Thursday was also important because it was on that night that Jesus first introduced the Lord’s Supper, or what we nowadays call Holy Communion.
Jesus and His close friends had met in a secret upper room to share the Passover meal together - for the last time. And there Jesus transformed the Passover into the Lord’s Supper, saying, ‘this is my body’ and ‘this is my blood’ as He, the Lamb of God, prepared to die for the sins of the whole world. John’s gospel makes it clear that the Last Supper took place the evening BEFORE the regular Passover meal, and that later Jesus died at the same time that the Passover lambs were killed.
Good Friday, the day the Son of God died for you
Good Friday is the day on which Jesus died on the cross. He was crucified at 9 a.m. in the morning, and died six hours later, at 3pm. It is the most solemn day in the Christian year, and is widely marked by the removal of all decorations from churches. In Lutheran churches, the day was marked by the reading of the passion narrative in a gospel, a practice which lies behind the ‘passions’ composed by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750). Both the St Matthew Passion and the St John Passion have their origins in this observance of Good Friday.
The custom of observing a period of three hours’ devotion from 12 midday to 3 pm on Good Friday goes back to the 18th century. The ‘Three Hours of the Cross’ often take the form of an extended meditation on the ‘Seven Last Words from the Cross’, with periods of silence, prayer, or hymn-singing.
Good Friday, Jesus and the thieves on the Cross
Luke’s account of the crucifixion (Luke 23:32-43) emphasises the mocking of the crowd, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself’ (35,37,39). In their view a Messiah does not hang on a cross and suffer. In considering the two men who were crucified with Jesus, we are also confronted with the issue of how Jesus secures salvation for us.
The words of one of those crucified with Jesus reflected the crowd’s taunts: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.’ He highlights the question of Jesus’ identity: how can He save others, when He cannot save Himself from death? He failed to see that the cross itself was the means of salvation.
So - what kind of Messiah was Jesus?
The other criminal’s response in his last moments is a moving expression of faith. When challenging the other man, he spoke of the utter injustice of the crucifixion: ‘this man has done nothing wrong.’ He perceived the truth that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. In a wonderful picture of grace, ‘remember me when You come into Your kingdom’, the second thief confessed his guilt and secured Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy.
In reply, Jesus promised the man life from the moment of death; ‘Today you will be with Me in paradise.’ Jesus used the picture of a walled garden to help the man understand His promise of protection and security in God’s love and acceptance eternally.
Each one of us has to choose how we react to Jesus on the cross. Do we want Him to ‘remember’ us when He comes into His kingdom, or not? If you were to die tonight, how confident would you be of going to be with Jesus? ‘For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God’’ (1 Peter 3:18).
EASTER, the most joyful day of the year
Easter is the most joyful day of the year for Christians. Christ has died for our sins. We are forgiven. Christ has risen! We are redeemed! We can look forward to an eternity in His joy! Hallelujah!
The Good News of Jesus Christ is a message so simple that you can explain it to someone in a few minutes. It is so profound that for the rest of their lives they will still be ‘growing’ in their Christian walk with God.
Why does the date move around so much? Because the date of Passover moves around, and according to the biblical account, Easter is tied to the Passover. Passover celebrates the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, and it lasts for seven days, from the middle of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which equates to late March or early April.
Sir Isaac Newton was one of the first to use the Hebrew lunar calendar to come up with firm dates for the first Good Friday: Friday 7th April 30 AD or Friday 3rd April, 33 AD with Easter Day falling two days later. Modern scholars continue to think these two Fridays to be the most likely.
Most people will tell you that Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, which is broadly true. But the precise calculations are complicated and involve something called an ‘ecclesiastical full moon’, which is not the same as the moon in the sky. The earliest possible date for Easter in the West is 22nd March, which last fell in 1818. The latest is 25th April, which last happened in 1943.
Why the name, ‘Easter’? In almost every European language, the festival’s name comes from ‘Pesach’, the Hebrew word for Passover. The Germanic word ‘Easter’, however, seems to come from Eostre, a Saxon fertility goddess mentioned by the Venerable Bede. He thought that the Saxons worshipped her in ‘Eostur month,’ but may have confused her with the classical dawn goddesses like Eos and Aurora, whose names mean ‘shining in the east’. So, Easter might have meant simply ‘beginning month’ – a good time for starting up again after a long winter.
Finally, why Easter eggs? On one hand, they are an ancient symbol of birth in most European cultures. On the other hand, hens start laying regularly again each Spring. Since eggs were forbidden during Lent, it’s easy to see how decorating and eating them became a practical way to celebrate Easter.
Easter morning, the ‘Other’ Mary
As the traditional Easter story is rehearsed again this month, you may notice that there is one name that frequently occurs. It is that of the ‘other’ Mary – not the mother of Jesus, but Mary of Magdalene, who stood by her at the cross and became the first person actually to meet the risen Christ.
That’s quite a record for a woman who, the Gospels tell us, had been delivered by Jesus from ‘seven devils’ – New Testament language for some dark and horrible affliction of body, mind or spirit. As a result, her devotion to Him was total and her grief at His death overwhelming.
In church history Mary Magdalene became the ‘fallen woman’ a harlot who was rescued and forgiven by Jesus but there is no evidence to prove she was a ‘fallen woman’ but the contrast is sublime, Mary the virgin mother, the symbol of purity. Mary Magdalene, the scarlet woman who was saved and forgiven, the symbol of redemption. Surely, we all fall somewhere between those two extremes.
The dark cloud from which she was delivered may have been sexual, we are not told. What we do know is that the two Marys stood together at the cross, the Blessed Virgin and the woman rescued from who knows what darkness and despair.
The second great moment for her was as unexpected as it was momentous. She had gone with other women to the tomb of Jesus and found it empty. An angelic figure told them that Jesus was not there, He had risen – and the others drifted off. But Mary stayed, reluctant to leave it like that. She became aware of a man nearby, whom she took to be the gardener. She explained to him that the body of ‘her Lord’ had been taken away and she didn’t know where to find Him.
The man simply said her name ‘Mary’ and she instantly realised it was Jesus. She made to hug Him, but He told her not to touch Him because His resurrection was not yet complete. She was, however, to go to the disciples and tell them she had met Him. She did – but they wouldn’t believe her.
Her words – ‘I have seen the Lord’ – echo down the centuries, the very beating heart of the Christian gospel.
Easter faith in atheist Russia
Three years after the Russian Revolution of 1917, a great anti-God rally was arranged in Kiev. The powerful orator Bukharin was sent from Moscow, and for an hour he demolished the Christian faith with argument, abuse and ridicule. At the end there was silence.
Then a man rose and asked to speak. He was a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church. He went and stood next to Bukharin. Facing the people, he raised his arms and spoke just three triumphant words: ‘Christ is risen!’
At once the entire assembly rose to their feet and gave the joyful response, ‘He is risen indeed!’ It was a devastating moment for an atheist politician, who had no answer to give to this ancient Easter liturgy. He had not realised he was simply too late: how can you convince people that God does not exist when they have already encountered Him?
Jesus’ appearances after His Resurrection
The following list of witnesses may help you put all those references in order….
Mary Magdalene Mark 16:9-11; John 20:10-18
Other women at the tomb Matthew 28:8-10
Peter in Jerusalem Luke 24:34; 1 Corinthians 15:5
The two travellers on the road Mark 16:12,13
10 disciples behind closed doors Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25
11 disciples WITH Thomas John 20:26-31; 1 Corinthians 15:5
7 disciples while fishing John 21:1-14
11 disciples on the mountain Matthew 28:16-20
A crowd of 500 1 Corinthians 15:6
Jesus’ brother – James 1 Corinthians 15:7
Those who saw the Ascension Luke 24:44-49; Acts 1:3-8
Why Easter will never go away
How do you make sense of the Resurrection? Dead men don’t rise, so why believe that this particular dead man did rise?
At the end of St Luke’s gospel we read that: “they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement” (Luke 24.4). This is highly significant. The Gospels do not show us a group of disciples who were in a receptive frame of mind. After the crucifixion, they were in hiding, frightened and scattered. Then suddenly, they came out of hiding and were totally different; excited, joyful. By Pentecost they were confident, with one firm message: ‘You crucified Jesus, but God raised Him up!’
How did they know this? Because of direct personal experience. Some of them had visited the tomb of Jesus: it was empty. Others claimed to have seen and touched the risen Lord. Were they hallucinating? People can hallucinate in groups – when taking drugs, for example. But of course, each one will see a different hallucination. But the disciples all saw the same thing. Or rather, the same person. Jesus.
Were they lying? Jesus had died a humiliating death as a criminal. Perhaps they wanted to rescue His good name. So, did they pretend they had seen Him?
This theory has a big problem. Their preaching led them into trouble with the authorities. They were beaten and imprisoned and some of them killed. People will die for ideas and causes which they believe in passionately. But not for things they have made up. We might suffer for our convictions, but we will not suffer for our inventions.
What about the ‘swoon’ theory? That Jesus didn’t die on the cross, despite terrible wounds? That He recovered in the tomb, and then escaped? That the disciples nursed Him back to health? But Roman soldiers knew when a man was dead; and there was the guard on the tomb. Also, the events which followed simply don’t fit. If the disciples had been hiding Jesus all along, they would have kept very low-key, and out of the way, so that the authorities did not come after Him again.
Besides, to preach that God had raised Jesus from the dead – which is exactly what they did preach – would have been a lie. Beatings and threat of death would soon have loosened their tongues. Inventions crumble under pressure; convictions hold fast.
Another reason for believing in the Resurrection is this: Jesus’ continuing impact. Thousands and soon millions of people in every generation since have shared an inescapable sense of being ‘accompanied’ through life. Though unseen, they identify this presence as the Risen Lord.
Sometimes this experience of meeting Jesus is gentle and fitful. Sometimes it is dramatic and life changing. This reminds us that the resurrection of Jesus is not just an interesting historical puzzle. It is a vital, present day reality. It brings wonderful comfort, assuring us of the central Christian truths: death is dead; Jesus is alive; God is love.
This central notion was captured, most movingly, by the great Albert Schweitzer: ‘He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me,” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the suffering which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who He is.’
Have a joyful – and a challenging – Easter.
5th April: Vincent Ferrer, Dominican who opposed a Pope
Leaving England to live in Spain was popular long before the TV show ‘Location Location Location’ was ever invented. Back in 1350 Vincent Ferrer’s parents had left England to settle in Valencia, where their son Vincent was born and grew up. In 1367, when he was 17, Vincent felt called by God to become a monk, and joined the Dominican order. The reason for his ‘call’ was soon clear: Vincent had outstanding gifts as both a philosopher and as a preacher.
What is preaching? If you think of it as a way of bringing the reality of God and the love of Jesus Christ to people, then that is a good summary of what Vincent did for all who heard him. In the great tradition of John the Baptist, he called them to come to God by way of repentance for their sins. In the tradition of St Peter, the apostle to the Jews, Vincent was also heard by many Jews in Valencia. A great number of these listened to his preaching and came to believe that Jesus was indeed their promised Messiah. (One of these Jewish converts went on to become bishop of Cartagena.)
Vincent’s preaching met with extraordinary success in France, Spain and Italy. He seems to have been an evangelist at heart, for his topics were sin, the Last Judgement, and Eternity. In Spain such large numbers of both Gentiles and Jews wanted to hear him that no church was big enough to contain the crowds: and so Vincent preached in the open air.
When in 1414 the Council of Constance attempted to end the Great Schism (there were two Popes fighting for the same job), Vincent persuaded Ferdinand, King of Aragon, to withdraw his allegiance to the doubtful contender, Pope Benedict. The end result was that Benedict’s credibility collapsed, and the schism was ultimately healed. Vincent went back to preaching and spent his last three years in Normandy and Brittany, where he died at Vannes in 1419, worn out by all his labours.
12th April: Zeno of Verona, the more things change…
Zeno of Verona (d. 371) should be the patron saint of all ministers who suspect that the more things change, the more they remain the same.
For instance: ethnic diversity...church-planting… teaching…. concern for the poor… women’s ministry in the church… sound like modern-day Christian concerns? Not a bit of it – this was the life work of Zeno, bishop of Verona in the fourth century.
Ethnic diversity? Zeno was an African who had been consecrated a bishop in Italian Verona. Church-planting and teaching? Zeno had a reputation as a hard-working pastor and dedicated preacher who founded churches throughout his domain. Some of his sermons still survive.
Concern for the poor? Zeno was zealous in alms-giving, and encouraged others to do the same. Women’s ministry? He founded nunneries and encouraged virgins living at home to be consecrated long before ever Ambrose did the same in Milan.
As for down-time? Zeno may well have been addicted to fishing in his spare time – he is, after all, usually represented with a fish. Nothing wrong with that: the links between fishermen and Christian leaders go back a long way!
13th April: Carpus, Papylus & Agathonice, martyrs of the Early Church
In the month of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice of Himself for us, the martyrdoms of Carpus, Papylus and Agathonice are well worth remembering. What they said as they died could be said by the many thousands of Christians who are facing persecution all over the world today.
Carpus, Papylus and Agathonice lived in Pergamum (Asia Minor) in the late second century. Carpus was a bishop, Papylus was a deacon, and Agathonice was his sister. Trouble began when the proconsul Optimus ordered them to sacrifice in the name of the emperor.
Carpus refused, saying, ‘I am a Christian and because of my faith and the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I cannot become one of you.’ He was hung up and tortured by iron claws.
Papylus was a wealthy citizen, but he had also led many people to faith in Christ. As he suffered the same fate as Carpus, he said, ‘I feel no pain because I have Someone to comfort me; One whom you do not see suffers within me.’ Both men were then burnt alive.
Finally, it was his sister’s turn. She too refused to sacrifice to demons. ‘If I am worthy,’ she said, ‘I desire to follow the footsteps of my teachers.’ On being urged to have pity on her children, she replied, ‘My children have God, who watches over them; but I will not obey your commands.’ As she was consigned to the flames, she cried out three times: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, help me because I am enduring this for you.’ She died soon after.
Terrible deaths, but also, triumphant ones. These three Christians loved Jesus so much that the only thing they could NOT bear was to deny Him. Sadly, the persecution goes on today, in countries where Jesus Christ is still bitterly hated. Pray for the Christians who live in these countries, that they too may have courage and endurance – to the end.
NEW 19th April: Alphege – the archbishop taken captive by Danes
Alphege is the saint for anyone who refuses to let others suffer on their behalf.
His is a tale of courage and self-sacrifice, with some details that are still poignant, even down 1000 years of history.
Alphege began like many other leading churchmen of his time; born of a noble family, with a good education, he decided to become a monk. Alphege joined the Benedictine Abbey at Deerhurst in Gloucestershire, and then became a hermit at Bath, before becoming Abbot of Bath. From there, he was appointed to be Bishop of Winchester, where he was loved for his frugal lifestyle and great generosity towards others.
In 954 King Ethelred the Unready sent Alphege as a peace envoy to the Danes, seeking some relief from the constant Viking raids against England. Alphege secured a time of peace, and in 1006 was made the 29th Archbisjhop of Canterbury.
But the Viking raids increased again, until the south of England was largely overrun. In 1012 they surrounded Canterbury, and with the help of a treacherous archdeacon, Elfmaer, captured and imprisoned Alphege. A vast sum was demanded by his captors, so much that it would have ruined the people of Canterbury. And so Alphege refused to be ransomed.
This infuriated the Danes, who wanted the gold of Canterbury, not the Archbishop. After seven months of ill-treating him, one night they got very drunk and began pelting him with ox-bones from their feast, until in a frenzy they hacked him to death with an axe.
Alphege was mourned as a national hero and venerated as a martyr: he had given his life in order to protect his people from harm.
21st April: Anselm, the man who proved there is a God
Anselm is a good saint to remember next time someone asks you to prove that there is a God. His brilliant and original Proslogion, written 1077-8, sets out the ‘ontological’ proof for God’s existence. Nearly ten centuries later, it is still studied by theological students as one of the great philosophical ‘proofs’ of God’s existence.
Anselm was born at Aosta in 1033, the son of a spendthrift Lombard nobleman, whom Anselm detested. In time he decided to become a Benedictine monk, and so joined Lanfranc’s famous monastery at Bec (c. 1060). He became prior, then abbot. He was loved by his monks, appreciated for his sensitivity and intuitiveness. He remained friends also with Lanfranc, who had gone on to be Archbishop of Canterbury. After Lanfranc’s death, Anselm reluctantly agreed to accept the job.
Archbishops did not have press offices in those days, but Anselm made his views on Church-versus-King known all the same, and they did not please the king. William Rufus exiled him in 1097 and King Henry I exiled him in 1103. Anselm was utterly committed to what he saw as the cause of God and the Church, and therefore had no time for temporal politics. Peace between archbishop and monarch was not achieved until 1106.
Anselm spent the rest of his life in England. His theological stance of ‘Faith seeking understanding’ and ‘the mind at faith’s service’ were the keys to his life and teaching.
23rd April: St George, our Patron Saint who isn’t English
The English have a patron saint who isn’t English, about whom next to nothing is known for sure, and who, just possibly, may not have existed at all. But that didn’t stop St George being patriotically invoked in many battles, notably at Agincourt and in the Crusades, and of course it is his cross that adorns the flags of English football fans to this day.
It’s most likely that St George was a soldier, a Christian who was martyred for his faith somewhere in Palestine, possibly at Lydda, in the early fourth century. At some point in the early centuries of the Church he became associated with wider military concerns, being regarded as the patron saint of the Byzantine armies. There is no doubt that St George was held as an example of the ‘godly soldier’, one who served Christ as bravely and truly as he served his king and country.
The story of George and the dragon is of much later date and no one seems to know where it comes from. By the Middle Ages, when George was being honoured in stained glass, the dragon had become an invaluable and invariable visual element, so that for most people the two are inseparable. Pub signs have a lot to answer for here: ‘The George and Dragon’.
However, it’s probably more profitable to concentrate on his role as a man who witnessed to his faith in the difficult setting of military service, and in the end was martyred for his faithfulness to Christ.
The idea of the ‘Christian soldier’ was, of course, much loved by the Victorian hymn-writers - ’Onward, Christian soldiers!’ The soldier needs discipline. The heart of his commitment is to obedience. The battle cannot be avoided nor the enemy appeased. He marches and fights alongside others, and he is loyal to his comrades. In the end, if the battle is won, he receives the garlands of victory, the final reward of those who overcome evil.
St George’s Day presents a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is to distance the message of his life from the militarism and triumphalism that can easily attach itself to anything connected to soldiers and fighting. The opportunity is to celebrate the ideal of the ‘Christian soldier’ - one who submits to discipline, sets out to obey God truly, does not avoid the inevitable battle with all that is unjust, wrong and hateful in our world, and marches alongside others fighting the same noble cause.
Discipline, obedience, courage, fellowship and loyalty - they’re not the most popular virtues today, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve our admiration.
23rd April: St George of the Golden Legend
The Saint of an English Army before he was Patron Saint of England, St George may have been a soldier, but he was no Englishman. Some stories say that he was an officer in the Roman army under Diocletian, who refused to abandon his faith during the Terror, and was martyred at Lydda in Palestine about the year 300 AD - supposedly 23rd April. Over the years St George became the example of a Christian fighting-man, a powerful helper against evil powers affecting individual lives. He was the soldier-hero of the Middle Ages, of whom remarkable deeds were reported.
In the Golden Legend of the 13th century, Jacobus de Voragine gave St George a handsome write-up. The story runs thus:
One day, St George rode up to the heathen city of Sylene in Lybia, where he found the citizens in great distress. A neighbouring dragon had forced them to surrender two sheep each day for its dinner, and when the sheep gave out, two of their children; and now they were about to sacrifice the King’s daughter, dressed as if for her wedding. St George encountered the little party by a stagnant lake, where the dragon lived, and persuaded the sobbing Princess to tell him why she was so miserable. At that moment the dragon appeared, looking inexpressibly revolting. St George charged forwards and drove his spear into the dragon’s gaping mouth. To everyone’s amazement, he tumbled the monster over and over.
Then St George borrowed the Princess’s girdle, tied it round the dragon’s neck, and persuaded her to lead it back to Sylene herself. The sight of her approaching with the befuddled dragon on its makeshift lead emptied the town. When the inhabitants timidly crept back, St George promised to behead the dragon if they would all believe in Jesus Christ and be baptised.
It was a most effective form of evangelism, for everybody said ‘yes’ at once. So, 15,000 people were baptised, and four carts were commissioned to remove the dragon’s body.
St George thus became a symbol of the war against evil, and he is usually portrayed trampling the dragon of sin under his horse’s hoofs. The Crusaders had a vision of him helping them against the Saracens at Antioch, during the first Crusade, and so brought the story of St George back with them from Palestine. Presently England put herself under the protection of the Saint. His day was declared a holiday in 1222. A red cross on a white field is the flag of St George.
23rd April: St George and Hiccup and the dragon
Have you seen the film How to Train your Dragon? It’s set in a Viking village under attack from dragons, who steal livestock and burn down houses. Hiccup, the village Chief’s son, invents a machine to capture dragons. However, when he catches one of the most dangerous dragons, he cannot kill it, when he sees that the dragon is just as frightened as he is. Through this friendship, the people and dragons eventually learn to live in harmony.
This month we celebrate St George, the patron saint of England. He is famous for slaying a dragon, a tradition which became popular in the Middle Ages. Whether he killed an actual dragon is open to question! However, we do know that the original George was a Roman soldier at the time of Emperor Diocletian. He refused to renounce his faith, as commanded by the Emperor, resulting in his death on 23 April 303 AD.
The contrast is clear: St George slayed the evil dragon, while Hiccup refused to kill one. However, they also have something important in common. Both acted according to their conscience, defying the popular understanding of those around them and not worrying about the personal cost to themselves. St George was martyred for standing up for his faith in Jesus before a pagan emperor, while Hiccup risked rejection by his father and village because of his compassion.
Today, we are still called to stand for Christ against wrongs and injustice in daily life, whatever the personal cost. However, we also need to be ready to look our enemies in the eye and meet their hostility with love and compassion. This is why we also remember this month that Jesus died and rose again, so that we might have God’s power to do this in our lives.
26th April: Mark, disciple, apostle, writer of the second gospel
Mark, whose home in Jerusalem became a place of rest for Jesus and His 12 apostles, is considered the traditional author of the second gospel. He is also usually identified as the young man, described in Mark 14:51, who followed Christ after his arrest and then escaped capture by leaving his clothes behind.
Papias, in 130, said that in later years Mark became Peter’s interpreter. If so, then this close friendship would have been how Mark gathered so much information about Jesus’ life. Peter referred to him affectionately as his ‘son’.
Mark was also a companion to Paul on his journeys. When Paul was held captive at Rome, Mark was with him, helping him. Mark’s Gospel, most likely written in Italy, perhaps in Rome, is the earliest account we have of the life of Jesus. Mark died about 74 AD.
Early in the 9th century Mark’s body was brought to Venice, whose patron he became, and there it has remained to this day. The symbol of Mark as an evangelist is the lion, and is much in evidence in Venice.
27th April: Tertullian, fierce firebrand of the Early Church
Tertullian was born in Carthage, North Africa, about 155 AD. He had pagan parents and his father may have been a centurion. Carthage was a prestigious Roman colony and Tertullian was given a good education in Greek, Latin, literature, history and philosophy. On arrival in Rome, Tertullian probably worked as a lawyer.
In Rome, he also enjoyed visits to the arena, to see gladiators kill each other and Christians devoured by lions. However, Tertullian grew impressed with the Christians; by their courage, and willingness to die for their belief in one God. He was also moved by their compassion for the poor, the orphans and widows, and how they prayed for their persecutors. In AD 185, he converted, and married a Christian woman.
On Tertullian’s return to Carthage, he became a vociferous, if not always orthodox, defender of Christianity. He wrote in Latin, instead of Greek, and used legal terms to persuade the Roman establishment to cease its relentless persecution of Christians. He argued they had a right to a fair trial, instead of just being condemned to death.
Tertullian advocated that Christianity should stand uncompromisingly against the surrounding culture. He addressed a whole range of issues, from appropriate dress and marriage, to idolatry, repentance and baptism. He also wrote essays on prayer and devotion. Tertullian used the Scriptures to refute heresies, especially Gnosticism, which was a major threat to the Church at the time.
His prolific works are full of memorable phrases, puns and wit. While he could be gentle, sensitive, self-critical and reflective, he could also be aggressive and sarcastic. He devised the term New Testament, and also introduced the words penitence and sacrament. His most famous statement was the defiant: ‘The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.’
Late in life, Tertullian sadly decided that Jesus and the Holy Spirit were not wholly equal with the Father. This was Montanism, one of the early Christian heresies. Although he coined the word Trinity, a word that does not appear anywhere in the Bible, sadly he did not mean a triune God, but a group of three. This was heresy, and so the Early Church was not able to recognise him as a saint. According to tradition, he died about AD 225.
27th April: Zita, the long-suffering servant girl of Lucca
If you have ever been in trouble for simply doing good, then Zita is the saint for you. Born in 1218 to poor but devout parents in Monsagrati, Zita was sent at the age of 12 to work as a servant for the rich Fatinelli family in nearby Lucca.
Zita was pious, generous and hard-working. Oddly enough, all three traits got her into trouble. For one thing, the other servants hated her for her devotion to prayer and to doing her work perfectly. When Zita said that ‘a servant is not holy if she is not busy,’ they were furious, and bullied her.
The Fatinellis were also annoyed with Zita. They had discovered that she felt such compassion for the poor of the town, that she would often give them gifts of their food. So, they took to beating her.
Then came the day that Zita was supposed to be baking – but she left it halfway through in order to go and help someone in dire need. The other servants told the Fatinellis, and everyone rushed down to the kitchen, expecting to find disaster. Instead, the story goes that they found an angel, finishing the baking.
Well, how can you be angry with someone whom the angels help? It was a wake-up call for both servants and family, who began to feel ashamed of themselves. Soon Zita’s patient endurance and consistent goodness won her their deep respect and increasing affection. She was placed in charge of the household.
As the years passed, Zita became locally famous for helping the sick, the poor and the imprisoned. Soon after her death a popular cult sprang up. Chapels were named in her honour as far afield as Palermo and Ely. In England she is known as Sitha, and she has traditionally been invoked by housewives and domestic servants, especially (for some reason) when they lose their house-keys.
28th April: Peter Chanel, missionary and martyr in the South Pacific 1841
Many of us can show great dedication in pursuit of a career that will bring us a good salary or position. Peter Chanel should be the patron saint of anyone who shows quiet determination in doing what they believe to be God’s call upon their life; regardless of the harsh personal consequences.
Chanel was born at the end of the 18th century in mid-eastern France. He’d heard stories of the foreign missions as a youngster and wanted to be a missionary. His first step was seminary training and ordination in 1827.
But then Chanel hit a blank wall. Though eager to go abroad, his bishop sent him to a run-down local parish instead. Obedient, Chanel went – and revitalised the parish within three years. But he also joined the then still forming Society of Mary (Marists) who had a heart for foreign missionary work. But then – another blank wall – as even the Marists kept him in France, as the spiritual director at the Seminary of Belley.
It was not until 1836, that Chanel finally was allowed to join a mission to the South West Pacific. He set out with a band of Marist missionaries for Tahiti and Tonga, and finally reaching the neighbouring island of Futuna, in November 1837.
Chanel and the other missionaries were initially well received by the island's king, Niuliki. But when they began preaching to the people, the king grew restive. He feared Christianity would threaten his supreme powers. When the king's son, Meitala, sought baptism, the king decided to take action. His favoured warrior, Musumusu went to Chanel feigning need of medical attention. While Chanel tended him, Musumusu took an axe and clubbed Chanel on the head. Chanel died that day, 28th April 1841.
Chanel had only three and a half years on the mission field, but he did not die in vain: his work had laid the base for a future mission there. Within a very few years the people of Futuna converted, and even the warrior, Musumusu converted. As Musumusu lay dying he asked to be buried outside the church at Poi, so that those who came to revere Peter Chanel in the Church would walk over his grave to get to it. Chanel had achieved his life’s goal: a mission that took Jesus Christ to people in a far-flung corner of the world.
29th April: Catherine of Siena, or how to survive in a large family
Catherine of Siena, who was born 1347, should be the patron saint of anyone who has grown up in a large family, and mastered the two vital skills for survival: how to stand up for yourself, and how to make peace with others.
Catherine had siblings! At least 19 of them, and Catherine was the youngest. Her father was a Sienese dyer, and wanted her to marry, but Catherine did not. She became a nun instead, a member of the Dominican Third Order.
Perhaps after sharing a house with at least 22 people, Catherine wanted some peace and quiet: in any case she spent six years in solitude, giving herself to prayer and penance. Then she moved back into the world, through nursing the local sick people, and then beginning to travel. Catherine travelled frequently, with a number of her ‘disciples’ – a mix of Dominicans and Augustinians, and even an English Friar. Wherever they went, people listened to their proclamation of the total love of God through Jesus Christ, and their calls to reform and repent. There were some spectacular conversions.
Catherine could not write, but soon someone else was taking down her ‘Dialogue’ by dictation – it ran to 383 letters. Catherine’s thoughts centred on Christ crucified, the supreme sign of God’s love for man. The quality of these letters made them widely read for years to come.
A godly woman who could lead and teach! Soon new opportunities presented themselves: in the last five years of her life, Catherine found herself involved in the politics of both State and Church. This included trying to make peace during the Great Schism in the Church after 1378, when Pope Gregory XI died, and two new popes – bitter rivals – claimed the papacy. Catherine wore herself out in trying to promote peace, had a stroke on 21 April 1380, and died eight days later. (A warning to ecumenists everywhere?!)
Catherine soon became Siena’s principal saint, loved for her writings and her example of godliness and self-sacrificing love. Her house and an early portrait survive at Siena, and her memory lives on today: she was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1970, nearly 600 years after her death.