Saturday, December 31, 2005

The Christmas Saints; and Going Back For Thomas

You know that episode of "I Love Lucy" where Lucy is working on the assembly line at the candy factory, trying desperately to keep up with the conveyor belt? That's how it feels to me trying to keep up with December saints' days and commemorations; they keep speeding past, especially now at the very end of the year.

This past week the Church remembered the Christmas Saints, also known as the Christmas Martyrs: St. Stephen; St. John the Divine; and the Holy Innocents. St Stephen represents martyrdom by deed and by will; St. John, martyrdom by will but not by deed; and the Holy Innocents, martyrdom by deed but not by will.

The proximity of their feast days to Christmas is a reminder that, even as we celebrate the joy of Christ's birth, the shadow of the Cross falls over the manger. At my church, for a couple of years, we'd put up a live Christmas tree in the sanctuary opposite our main Christmas tree, trimmed in white and gold -- and then on the following Sunday we'd come to church to find the branches lopped off, decorations and all, to symbolize Christ's kenosis, his emptying of himself into our humanity. On Ash Wednesday, entering the sanctuary, we'd find the old Christmas tree trunk set up again, another tree limb bound across it to form a cross.

This is one of the things I love about following the Church calendar; the teaching that goes on, almost subliminally, in the ordering of the days. And, just as thanking God for these saints helps us remember the Lenten season during Christmastime, in the springtime we celebrate the Annunciation -- a bit of Advent joy and hope during the Lenten season. It's a kind of sacred choreography, the Church calendar.

And since I'm a lousy dancer, I wound up missing a step and neglecting one of my own favorite saints and apostles, St. Thomas, whose feast day was back on the 21st. Thomas is a saint who doesn't always get much respect; the story of his doubting Jesus' resurrection and subsequent encounter with the risen Christ is sometimes spun in a way that makes him appear to be a bad guy, when he isn't at all, and makes Jesus appear to be scolding him, which isn't really the case either. I just found a good online overview of St. Thomas , written by James Kiefer, whose name will be familiar to those of you who use the Online Daily Office. I love the portrait; I also like Kiefer's description of Thomas as "pessimistic" but "sturdily loyal," two qualities that I think are endearing in a saint.

1 comment:

Tom in Ontario said...

I always thought Thomas got a raw deal. You'd think that too if your name was Thomas and your Sunday School teachers insisted on perpetuating the "Doubting" Thomas falacy and then everyone grinned and looked and pointed at you and called you "Doubting Thomas."

I don't mean to blow my own horn, but I have a pretty strong faith. But I'm also pretty down-to-earth so I don't walk around with the faint glow of a halo above my head, blessing everyone I meet.

One of the things I like about St. Thomas' portrayal is that he's so real. There's no phony baloney religiosity about him.

I went to seminary with a 65 year old Indian woman who was a retired physician and according to her St. Thomas is still very important in India's Christian tradition.