ST CHRISTOPHER (JULY 25) – SERVING AN ALL POWERFUL MASTER, JESUS CHRIST
HISTORY – OR MOSTLY LEGEND?
“Before the 1969 reform of the Roman calender, Christopher was listed as a martyr who died under Decius. Nothing else is known about him. There are several legends about him including the one in which he was crossing a river when a child asked to be carried across. When Christopher put the child on his shoulders he found the child was unbelievably heavy. The child, according to the legend, was Christ carrying the weight of the whole world. This was what made Christopher patron saint of travellers and he is invoked against storms, plagues, etc. His former feast day was July 25.
THE CHURCH REQUIRED 100 PER CENT EVIDENCE
In 1969, the Church took a long look at all the saints on its calendar to see if there was historical evidence that that saint existed and lived a life of holiness. In taking that long look, the Church discovered that there was little proof that many ‘saints’, including some very popular ones, ever lived. Christopher was one of the names that was determined to have a basis mostly in legend. Therefore Christopher and others were dropped from the universal calendar.
CONFINED TO LOCAL CALENDARS
Christopher’s cult was not suppressed but it is confined to local calendars (those for a diocese, country or so forth). His name Christopher means Christ-bearer. He died a martyr during the reign of Decius in the third century.
THE QUEST FOR THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN THE WORLD
Before Christopher became a Christ-bearer, he had a strong desire to passionately serve the person who was the most powerful man in the world. This might be a likely story but has not been historically verified. There is little historical data on St Christopher but enough to admit that we are in the presence of a martyr and therefore a saint. It doesn’t hurt to remember him.
A HAGIOGRAPHICAL STORY
The cult and the veneration rendered to this saint are manifold and are present throughout history not just in the Middle Ages. Pilgrims, who forded the Alpine passes or crossed rivers, invoked the protection of St Christopher. St Christopher became the patron of ferrymen, of postmen and athletes, of labourers and porters, of those who did heavy work. Then, after the XVI Century devotion to him waned. We do not know why.
Why this whole devotion and plea for ‘protection’? All this is because of a hagiographical story about him in the works of Jacob de Voragine in his ‘Legenda Aurea’… Here it is:
‘TO PREVENT HARM COMING TO ME’
Christopher was a Canaanite, a giant of a man endowed with great and impressive physical strength. He was a warrior and his face aroused terror in those who beheld him. He had a great desire to serve the strongest of men and so he went in search of such a person. At first he found a very powerful king and was employed in his service.
But one day he heard a juggler sing a song in which he used the word ‘devil’ and each time he used that word he saw the king make the Sign of the Cross. Christopher became uneasy and doubtful and asked the king the reason for his behaviour. When the king hesitated, he threatened to leave. Finally he confided in him: ‘When I hear the name of the devil, I make the Sign of the Cross to prevent any harm from coming to me.’
THE CROSS WAS HIS ‘ONE WEAKNESS AFTER A CERTAIN JESUS CHRIST DIED ON IT’
Christopher concluded that the devil was stronger than the king. He left the king and continued his search… for the devil, that he might be employed by him. He looked everywhere but did not see him. Given the ubiquity of the subject, he did not have to search very hard. Along a deserted road he saw, coming toward him, a terrible-looking character who asked him: ‘Where are you going and who are you looking for?’ Christopher replied: ‘I am looking for the devil because I have heard that he is the strongest person.’ And the devil, the Father of lies, replied: ‘I am the one you are looking for.’ It was there that Christopher was employed in his service and docilely obeyed him like a true disciple.
One day they came to a Cross and the devil instinctively diverted his steps. The action did not escape Christopher: ‘What is the meaning of this? Why did you avoid the Cross?’ The devil pretended not to hear and did not answer him, but Christopher insisted: ‘You mean to tell me you are afraid of it?’ Again – silence. When he threatened to leave him forever, the devil was forced ‘to confess’ that the Cross was his one weakness after a certain Jesus Christ died on it… Christopher logically concluded: ‘Then, if you are afraid, then you are not the most powerful person. Goodbye, I will go and find Jesus Christ.’ He parted company with the devil.
‘I WILL GO AND FIND JESUS CHRIST’
Once more he began his quest for the most powerful person. ‘Where is Jesus Christ?’ he kept asking people. They told him: ‘Go down there to that hermit and he will show you Jesus Christ.’ He went there and found a poor hermit wrapped in prayer and penance. ‘What have I to do to meet Jesus Christ?’ he immediately asked. What a question! The poor hermit was a saint but not an expert in the discernment of spirits. He did not have time to instruct him. And besides, he did not know the proverb that said before you know a person you should have walked in his shoes. ‘You must fast!’ He looked perplexed. ‘Should I fast? I cannot… Ask me to do anything else…’ He replied: ‘To see Jesus Christ you will have to pray a lot.’ Christopher replied: ‘That is another thing I can’t because I don’t know what prayer means.’ The hermit then pointed to the river nearby and said: ‘No one can cross without danger of death. Well, if you stay on the bank your enormous strength and your prodigious stature will serve to transport travellers. Your service would then please Christ. You will then be able to see him.’ He was finally satisfied and he replied: ‘This is something I can do and I will do it to serve Christ.’
‘I WILL DO IT TO SERVE CHRIST’
That was what he did day and night without hesitation and with a sense of dedication and without discrimination. It also made him very happy. But when would he see Jesus Christ?
One night heard the voice of a child calling him: ‘Christopher, come and help me to cross the river.’ Christopher came out of his hut but found no one. He did the same thing a second time – no one. The third time he finally saw a child who had begged for his help: ‘Come and take me to the other shore.’ Christopher took the child on his shoulders and began crossing. Instead of a simple crossing it became more and more complicated. The weight he was carrying increased; the force of the water became stronger; and he, the giant, for the first time, thought he would not be able to get across. But he finally succeeded this time. When he reached the other shore he said to the child: ‘My dear child, you caused me some real danger. You weighed so much I thought I had the whole world on my shoulders.’ The child replied: ‘Don’t be surprised, Christopher, you not only carried the whole world on your shoulders but also the one who created it. I am Jesus Christ, the master you seek to serve. As a proof that I am telling you the truth, place your staff outside your hut and tomorrow I will adorn it with fruits and flowers.’ After this, the child disappeared. On the next day, the staff was full of date palms.
As one notices, this story, (with its stamp of various mythological-cultural influences) is very touching and has many lessons, philosophical, spiritual, catechetical and existential…
MANY RIVERS TO CROSS
I think every person should see his life as a duty to ferry his fellow men from one shore to the other, crossing some dangerous ‘rivers’. Parents who bring a new life into the world ferry their child from the realm of the womb into the world. After this they still have to ferry him/her from the shores of infancy to childhood and then continue ferrying him/her in a thousand other ways. They have to lead their child to the other shore of adolescence. The journey across the ‘river’ of adolescence is never easy, it is definitely risky, turbulent, difficult and sometimes circuitous. In short, they have to accompany them to decisively ‘make that passage’ to God. We who are teachers, what we do daily is: ferrying our students to the other shore of knowledge, helping them cross the dangerous river of ignorance? We are constantly ferrying people to the other ‘shore’, seeking only their good. In short, we are all called to be ferrymen from one shore to the other. If this duty is performed in the same spirit of Christopher, with devotion and out of love for Jesus Christ, then each of us has found our own particular path to holiness. It is original, different and precious, just as every single flower in our garden.”
– This article by Mario Scudu (T/A I.D) was published in “Don Bosco’s Madonna” issue July 2010. For subscriptions and donations for seminarians please visit http://www.donboscosmadonna.org (external link) or http://www.dbmshrine.org (external link).