This James is the brother of John the Evangelist. The two were called by Jesus as they worked with their father in a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus had already called another pair of brothers from a similar occupation: Peter and Andrew. “He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him” (Mark 1:19-20).
James was one of the favored three who had the privilege of witnessing the Transfiguration, the raising to life of the daughter of Jairus and the agony in Gethsemane.
Two incidents in the Gospels describe the temperament of this man and his brother. St. Matthew tells that their mother came (Mark says it was the brothers themselves) to ask that they have the seats of honor (one on the right, one on the left of Jesus) in the kingdom. “Jesus said in reply, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?’ They said to him, ‘We can’” (Matthew 20:22). Jesus then told them they would indeed drink the cup and share his baptism of pain and death, but that sitting at his right hand or left was not his to give—it “is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Matthew 20:23b). It remained to be seen how long it would take to realize the implications of their confident “We can!”
The other disciples became indignant at the ambition of James and John. Then Jesus taught them all the lesson of humble service: The purpose of authority is to serve. They are not to impose their will on others, or lord it over them. This is the position of Jesus himself. He was the servant of all; the service imposed on him was the supreme sacrifice of his own life.
On another occasion, James and John gave evidence that the nickname Jesus gave them—“sons of thunder”—was an apt one. The Samaritans would not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to hated Jerusalem. “When the disciples James and John saw this they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?’ Jesus turned and rebuked them...” (Luke 9:54-55).
James was apparently the first of the apostles to be martyred. “About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also” (Acts 12:1-3a).
This James, sometimes called James the Greater, is not to be confused with James the Lesser (May 3) or with the author of the Letter of James and the leader of the Jerusalem community.
The way the Gospels treat the apostles is a good reminder of what holiness is all about. There is very little about their virtues as static possessions, entitling them to heavenly reward. Rather, the great emphasis is on the Kingdom, on God’s giving them the power to proclaim the Good News. As far as their personal lives are concerned, there is much about Jesus’ purifying them of narrowness, pettiness, fickleness.
“...Christ the Lord, in whom the entire revelation of the most high God is summed up (see 2 Corinthians 1:20; 3:16–4:6), having fulfilled in his own person and promulgated with his own lips the Gospel promised by the prophets, commanded the apostles to preach it to everyone as the source of all saving truth and moral law, communicating God’s gifts to them. This was faithfully done: it was done by the apostles who handed on, by oral preaching, by their example, by their dispositions, what they themselves had received—whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or by coming to know it through the prompting of the Holy Spirit” (Vatican II, Constitution on Divine Revelation, 7).
Patron Saint of:
Also today in the Latin Calendar there is commemorated S. Christopher, Martyr.
Once upon a time, a thief and robber — and a giant — known as Christopher (or Reprobus as he was originally named) was a fierce man who dedicated his life to seeking out the most powerful prince to serve. At first, he believed this was the devil — a being feared by men — but, he eventually came to believe that Christ was the greatest of all princes. After being instructed in the Christian Faith by a hermit, he was baptized and given the name Christophorus.
The hermit who had instructed Christopher gave him the task of carrying travelers across a local river — a job easily done because of his great size and strength. One day, he began to help a child to cross the river, carrying the boy on his shoulders, when he began to feel a weight so great that he was bowed down by it. Once they reached the other side, the child said to Christopher: “Don’t be surprised, Christopher! You were not only carrying the whole world, you had him who created the world upon your shoulders! I am Christ your King, to whom you render service by doing the work you do here.”
According to the legend, Christopher went on to bring many to Christ. He was eventually martyred during the reign of the Emperor Decius, sometime between 249 and 251.
Today, when many people hear his name, their initial response is: “I thought he wasn’t a saint anymore.” This is an unfortunate mistake and certainly not true. However, in 1969, as part of an effort to simplify and update the Church’s liturgical calendar, St. Christopher’s commemoration on July 25 was removed from the Missal. There were two reasons for this. First, despite his popularity, we know nothing more about Christopher than his name and that he was a martyr. Second, July 25 is the feast of the Apostle St. James the Greater and the commemoration of St. Christopher was added to the Mass for St. James almost as a sort of after-thought. Because of the priority rightly given to St. James’ feast and the fact that we know so little of St. Christopher, it was decided that his celebration would be left up to individual dioceses (or even parishes).
For those who might still doubt Christopher’s saintly status, the Roman Martyrology — the Church’s official listing of saints and beati — still includes the name of St. Christopher on his traditional date of July 25. But, unlike previous editions (which recounted some of the fantastic details surrounding his life and martyrdom), the most recent edition of the Martyrology (2005) simply says: In Lycia, Saint Christopher, Martyr.
The beloved story of St. Christopher carrying the Christ-Child across the river is found in the Golden Legend (a collection of lives of the saints written by Blessed James of Voragine around the year 1260). Although scholars and theologians recognize that the story recounted by Blessed James is almost completely fictitious, we do find there a very beautiful description of St. Christopher that is an important lesson for us: “Before Christopher was baptized, he was called Reprobus, meaning ‘Outcast,’ but afterwards, he was called Christophorus, the ‘Christ-bearer.’ He bore Christ in four ways, namely, on his shoulders when he carried him across the river, in his body by mortification, in his mind by devotion, and in his mouth by confessing Christ and preaching him.”
Although the details of his life have been lost, in a sense we know all that we need to about Christopher: he carried Christ into the world. And, in this sense, every Christian is a “Christopher” who carries the Christ in their hearts, making him present through our acts of kindness and love. The presence of Christ within us is the great gift of the Sacrament of Baptism and it is nurtured through the gift of the Eucharist. This truth makes St. Christopher a wonderful model and patron for every Christian person: “Faith knows that God has drawn close to us, that Christ has been given to us as a great gift which inwardly transforms us, dwells within us, and thus bestows on us the light that illumines the origin and the end of life. We come to see the difference, then, which faith makes for us. Those who believe are transformed by the love to which they have opened their hearts in faith” (Pope Francis in Lumen Fidei).
Just like St. Christopher, whom we remember as carrying and protecting the Christ-Child, each one of us has the privilege of sharing the presence of Christ that dwells within us with a world that is hungry for the peace, justice, and joy that only Christ can bring. We can also share in St. Christopher’s final witness — his martyr’s death — when we make the sacrifices of our time and gifts by praying for others, supporting good works, and lifting up those who are weak.
A prayer in honor of Saint Christopher +
Almighty God, grant that we who celebrate the memory of your blessed martyr Christopher, may be made stronger in our love of you, through his intercession. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
(adapted from Collect for the Mass of St. Christopher from the Misale Romanum )
I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me. — Galatians 2:19b-20
There is a beloved saint who was ousted from the Roman calendar in 1969. His image can be found inside of cars, on the walls of churches, and around the necks of safety-seeking travelers. His most prevalent image is that of a tall, formidable man who wades across an unruly river. Wooden staff firmly in hand, his face is often strained, looking upward to the sweet-faced child resting on his oversized shoulders.
He is referenced in literature: “A Cristofre on his breast of silver shene…,” Chaucer wrote in The Canterbury Tales; and in film, such as 2005’s Crash in which a habitual car thief uses his trusty Saint Christopher medal as a good-luck charm.
Saint Christopher — patron of travelers, protector against toothaches, hailstorms, and sudden death — is one of the most endearing for Catholics. His life and story, bordering somewhere between legend and legitimacy, is a complex, faith-affirming exercise in service, grace, and love.
Christopher has proven his resilience, growing in popularity over the centuries and withstanding suspicious historians who have questioned his validity.
The Wounded Wanderer
He was a man of many names, Offerus being one of them. Born in the third century in Asia Minor, son of a king, he would grow to be a restless young man of considerable size. The early years of his life were spent in search of riches, of purpose, of a cause worthy of his allegiance.
As the story goes, a young Offerus, looking for the strongest and boldest ruler to follow, briefly courted Satan. When his new master cowered in fear at a holy cross on the side of a road, Offerus abandoned Satan, choosing light over darkness. During this period of transition, a holy hermit awakened the restless wanderer to Christianity, schooling and baptizing him. From then on, Offerus pledged his life to Christ and vowed to serve God’s people along the banks of an untamed river. So he built a hut and set up camp with a new purpose — to be a boatman to the world.
His popularity was solidified when a small child once approached him, wanting safe passage across the water. He hoisted the boy on his shoulders and, with his trusty staff, began the journey. As the river deepened, the child began to grow heavier. Waters quickly rising, the precious cargo continued to weigh the giant down. According to historians, as he reached the banks of the river, Offerus said, “Child, thou hast put me in great peril; thou weighest almost as if I had all the world upon me: I might bear no greater burden.”
“Christopher,” the little boy responded, “thou hast not only borne all the world upon thee, but thou hast borne Him that created and made all the world, upon thy shoulders.”
The child instructed Christopher (meaning “Christbearer”) to cross the river again and plant his staff in the ground, telling the ferryman that life would spring forth. To Christopher’s astonishment, by morning his staff had taken root — bright flowers and fruit grew from it.
The rest of Christopher’s life is even sketchier in detail. One legend states that many in the immediate area converted to Christianity based on his encounter, which drew unwanted attention. In Lycia — present-day Turkey — under Emperor Decius, he was imprisoned, shot with arrows, burned and then beheaded around 251 A.D.
Though the life of this mighty martyr was later questioned by historians, Saint Christopher’s story and his worldwide appeal have proven invulnerable.
Legacy Bears Fruit
Did Christopher really exist or is his life a work of fiction? Dr. Lawrence Cunningham, author and John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, believes the his life is, indeed, rooted in truth.
“It’s not clear, but there probably was a martyr during the period of Decius with whom all kinds of stories got identified,” Cunningham says. “And one of the ones that lasted was that he was a person who took people across a river and was given a name that means ‘one who bears Christ.’”
Saint Christopher’s popularity, like his giant staff, bore much fruit. According to Francis Mershman in the Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III, a brotherhood that guided travelers over a massive Alpine pass in Tyrol and Vorarlberg was founded in 1386 under his patronage.
In the early 16th century, a Saint Christopher temperance society was active in European areas such as Carinthia, Saxony, Styria and Munich.
A picture of Saint Christopher was found in a monastery on Mt. Sinai dating from the time of Justinian (527-565). His image was cast on coins in Württemberg and Bohemia and his statues could be found on bridges, imparting safety to their many travelers.
Christopher’s woodcarvings and paintings were hung on the walls of many European churches, often accompanied by the inscription, “Whoever shall behold the image of Saint Christopher shall not faint or fall on that day.”
Further proof of his early popularity, Saint Christopher was included as someone invoked against an assortment of hardships. He was also chosen as the patron of Baden, Brunswick and Mecklenburg.
And that popularity never wavered. Even somewhat recently, organizations such as “The Christophers,” founded by Father John Keller, M.M., in 1945, are named after him. The Christophers’ purpose is to encourage all individuals to celebrate “their abilities and use them to raise the standards in all phases of human endeavor.” It’s a fitting principle.
Despite Saint Christopher’s long-lasting influence, aspects of his life are shrouded in myth and in legend. But Cunningham believes his popularity, regardless of overwhelming uncertainty, is unmistakable.
“I think what happened was that Saint Christopher entered into the popular culture. He became an icon well beyond whatever historical veracity we have relative to his name.”
An Identity Crisis
Worldwide popularity and admiration aside, Christopher’s legitimacy has always challenged him. In the 16th century, Desiderius Erasmus, a Dutch humanist and writer, argued against him in The Praise of Folly. Erasmus, who Cunningham charges with an “acidic pen,” believed that the cult of Saint Christopher was simply a retelling of the Hercules legend because of his great size.
The beleaguered giant met with further hard times in 1969 when the Vatican — under Pope Paul VI — took the Roman calendar and did some spring cleaning. Several holy names, including Christopher, were booted from the general lineup because their legitimacy could not be confirmed.
But Cunningham believes it had more to do with maintaining organization than denouncing Christopher’s life. “This was an attempt to get the cycle of saints into some kind of rational order,” Cunningham says. “So what they did was go toward those whose historicity was shaky.”
Saint Christopher was even downgraded on his own feast day, since he shares July 25 with Saint James the Greater, an apostle. Though his life is questioned and his legacy demoted, loyalty to Christopher is by no means a dereliction of Church law.
“The Church typically doesn’t discourage any form of devotion that is not clearly heretical,” Cunningham assures. “Still maintained — not so much in American churches but European churches — are all kinds of relics, even though their authenticity is, to put it mildly, dubious.”
Dubious or not, Saint Christopher’s status and influence are still formidable: His image is on prayer cards and medals, Masses are said in his honor and parishes around the world still bear his name.
A Saint Comforts a Tense Traveler
Regardless of whether Saint Christopher existed or not, for many people, his grace and his talent for keeping worried travelers at peace are beyond dispute — especially with this writer. A month after 9/11, I flew to across the country to do an interview for a story. Being no fan of air travel, I was nervous and hesitant, to say the least. I slept poorly for days before the trip. I imagined our airplane plummeting to the hard earth. Like the legend, it felt as if the weight of the world rested on my mind and my shoulders.
As the plane took off (and throughout the duration of the flight), I held my Saint Christopher medal tightly in my hand to the point of numbness, which obscured my fears. I believe the medal kept me sane and rational through the flight. It’s around my neck each time I leave the house. And I am one traveler among many who feels St. Christopher imparts such grace along life’s uneven journey.
Whether his story is more fiction than fact is hardly relevant anymore: To his believers, he bears Christ. Allegiance to him will not likely wane. Cunningham agrees, believing this man of God is woven too tightly into our spiritual tapestries to simply fade away.
“It can be summed up in a short answer: Old habits die hard. People find something charming about Saint Christopher and the story associated with him.”
For many, Saint Christopher reminds us that, in our own way, we carry Christ on our shoulders and in our hearts across mighty rivers.
Lessons from a Gentle Giant
Christopher can do more than give drivers peace of mind on the interstate. As this great ferryman guided the weary across a wild river, his virtues can be a guide for us today.
REDEMPTION: Like many of us in our youth, Saint Christopher sought riches, notoriety and flash. It took a hermit with a zest for God to turn a stubborn young man into a self-imposed pauper, lacking in wealth but rich in faith.
COURAGE: Saint Christopher battled many undercurrents: the devil who could offer no salvation, an oppressive society that punished people for their faith, a hazardous river that only a giant could cross. So brave was he in the face of adversity that even the weight of the world on his shoulders could not overburden his courage.
SERVICE: With purportedly little talent for preaching and fasting, Saint Christopher fell back on his signature gift to serve others: his size. A simple man with a pure heart, he pledged to carry people through danger, turning a seemingly menial task into the noblest of deeds.
SACRIFICE: When Saint Christopher was imprisoned and killed for his beliefs, like all martyrs, he proved the sincerity of his convictions by dying for them. His rich faith and deep love for God dwarf even his legendary size.
RESILIENCE: Kids can be a handful. Saint Christopher felt it firsthand when a peculiar little boy nearly caused them both to sink. Frightened but faith-filled, the ferryman showed resilience in task and strength in body, proving that imminent death can do little to drown a buoyant spirit.
For foxes have dens, Scripture says, and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man, who is Christ, has nowhere to lay his head. But, bowing his head, he handed over his spirit! -St. Francis of Assisi
Quote by S. Padre Pio:
Are we perhaps capable of arousing in ourselves one single desire of that kind without the grace of God, which sweetly works within us?
My Heart is mercy itself
(Jesus speaks to St. Faustina)
"My daughter, know that My Heart is mercy itself. From this sea of mercy, graces flow out upon the whole world. No soul that has approached Me has ever gone away unconsoled. All misery gets buried in the depths of My mercy, and every saving and sanctifying grace flows from this fountain. My daughter, I desire that your heart be an abiding place of My mercy. I desire that this mercy flow out upon the whole world through your heart. Let no one who approaches you go away without that trust in My mercy which I so ardently desire for souls". - (Diary No. 1777)