This morning I am tired, and in my fatigue I turn to prayer with one of my favorite saints: Christopher. His name means Christ-Bearer. As the stories of saints go, his is an ancient and beautiful story of finding the will, the strength and the opportunity to serve.
Christopher sought the greatest King to whom he might pledge his strength and battle valor… he found instead a gentle King who called him to serve the weak and the needful. I begin my prayers today with the hope that I could be deeply reminded that my strength, when spent, belongs to the needful around me. I pray that my will is brought together with opportunity to be a servant like Christopher.
Christopher was a convert to Christianity in the 3rd century; he was a violent warrior who wanted to serve the mightiest leader he could find. When he discovered that others pointed to Christ as such a leader he went in search of more knowledge about Jesus. A gentle hermit taught him of Christ and set him on a path of dangerous service to local villagers, not a service of killing or violence, but a service of strength and protection. He would carry them across a river that was to strong for them to cross on their own. He did this service faithfully, and one day is said to have carried Christ himself across the river.
It would be a terrible loss to get too caught up in only trying to find the historical Christopher. You will have to sort thru various names, traditions and stories. He has interesting iconography, almost always holding a staff, most often carrying a child, and even sometimes having the head of a dog. (Say what? That would be just my luck if I have have an icon, lol.) Who martyred him? Where did it happen? Why did it happen? These are probably not going to be discovered to an historian’s satisfaction. You’ll also discover that he’s been dropped from many calendars of saints, mostly because of the lack of concrete evidence for his story. But an ancient story of faith leading to service instead of fighting? An ancient story of faith leading to the strength to serve instead of seeking to dominate and to make demands? It’s a needed story for our times.
St. Christopher is often considered the patron of travelers, and the prayers around him reflect that affinity to travel. I’ll end with a prayer that invokes Christopher’s strength and dedicated service, a prayer for the day…
Grant me, O my God, a watchful eye and willing heart.
I would be a willing servant to all and an enemy to none.
You give all people the gift of life, and I pray my actions and words honor that gift.
May all who share this day with me receive only blessings for our time together.
Teach me to use my strength, my will, and every opportunity, to serve others;
help me to slow down and to turn from myself to see their beauty and value.
Give me the strength, the will and a calling to serve, such as you gave to St. Christopher,
and therein help me to follow this epic example of a living and a serving faith
which uses each day to protect and enrich this world for others by sharing your peace.
I beg these things through the graces of Christ, our Gentle King. Amen.
Links about St. Christopher:
I’ve been meditating on the story of Saint Christopher. It’s got my imagination fired up and my soul is energized by the images and icons of service that he represents. You can research the story here or here or here, as a few places to start. The story is readily available.
For some it will sound very odd to be meditating with or on a Saint. I didn’t grow up with the Saints, so I understand… it’s been a relatively new thing in my life, for about 6 years now, to read about and explore the lives of the Saints. My recent prayers, focusing on the short litany, “Let me love. Let me learn. Let me serve.” have brought me to the study of St. Christopher. Well, that and finding a sweet St. Christopher medallion at a flea market. =)
This Saint’s story is one of honest searching for a king worthy of serving. It’s a story about one’s strength and giftedness being used as a blessing to others. It’s a story that shows how we aren’t all the same in our coming to Christ or in our following of Christ. I like the story a lot. It’s a story of the divine in the mundane, and reminds me of a quote from Mother Teresa of Calcutta, “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”
Don’t faint when you realize that we aren’t sure if he lived in the 3rd or 4th Century. Don’t give up on him because of the interesting divergence of details among the myriad traditions. The story of Christopher is not scripture, so we aren’t looking in it for that kind of divine revelation… but we can find in it divine vibrations… we can find in it a picture of humanity that points us to the divine.
Who can’t relate to the redemption of Christopher? Who can’t relate at some time in life to physically standing out, by our stature or appearance. Who can’t relate to seeking someone worthy of our service and fidelity? Who among us doesn’t live next to “raging rivers of life” that force us to journey together? I like the story. It inspires me.
I want to be a Christopher. I want to serve with fidelity and strength. I want to be a useful neighbor in the world. I want my service in this life to be service to the One who gives life. Perhaps one day we’ll each get across this river and wipe our tired brow, and sigh real big, and look around and say, “Dude, I just barely made it through.” And our Christ is going to high-five us and say, “No way. We rocked!”
Sometimes God brings us the friends we need at just the right moment, and other times we meet someone and just hold on for dear life because we know we found a treasure. I believe St. Ignatius of Loyola entered my life in a combination of both those movements… I am so thankful that God brought me in touch with Ignatius’ lasting influence, and I’m determined not to let go of my connection to him.
I have a painting on my bedroom wall of Ignatius with his community’s catch phrase, “AD MAJOREM DEI GLORIAM,” to the greater glory of God. I meant this to be simply a study, a first expression of a painting I was carrying in my heart. As often happens, my attention span gave out and the study is all I ever painted.
Today is his feast day, July 31st! It’s one of the few feast days I will think about in any given year and I always look forward to it. Ignatius is my friend, a spiritual friend and mentor. I’m blessed to have become an heir of his contributions to the world.
Ignatius, as I have come to understand him, was a mystic who enjoyed laughing. He was not terribly well educated in theology, but had a passion and a zeal, sometimes tempered by wisdom and sometimes not so much. He was devoted at once to community and individually hearing God. He was an opposable mind.
I like Saints who shine in their humanity as much as their connection to the divine, who make us stand in wonder at the way the two are so often one in the same, as God intended the two to intertwine in us. I like the way that Ignatius was a person of vision and visions, though he sometimes didn’t know what a particular vision meant. Such an occurrence didn’t cause fear or anxiety for Ignatius, because “perfect love casts out fear.”
He was a soldier turned saint. He was a Don Quixote. He was a renaissance dreamer who took a canon ball to the leg and was forced to slow down long enough to see what would matter most to him in life.
He taught me to pray with the saints. I had grown up with many “s” saints, the wonderful people of faith all around me, but I hadn’t grown up with the “S” Saints. Ignatius’ life work, his Spiritual Exercises, welcomed me into the joyful practice of praying with, and even just sitting with, a community of comfort, love and support I had not previously known. Suddenly, I joined the generations who call Mary “blessed” and I prayed with Jesus instead of only to Jesus.
I will always be thankful for my spiritual friend Fr Leo Murray SJ in Georgetown who patiently led me in the Exercises for four years. Community and friendships come to us in many ways, and the lasting influence of Ignatius’ joy and devotion is a gift I will always carry.