Saints in December
St Francis Xavier, Priest, Missionary
Born in 1506 in Navarre (Spain); died on this day in 1552 off the coast of China. Francis Xavier met Ignatius of Loyola while both were studying in Paris and became one of the first Jesuits. At the request of Ignatius, he went to Goa (India) as a missionary and travelled extensively through southeast Asia to Japan, winning many converts and organising Christian communities. He was noted for the simplicity of his lifestyle and for his tireless missionary zeal.
St John Damascene, Priest, Doctor of the Church
Born about 675 in Damascus (Syria); died near Jerusalem about 749. A Christian official in a Moslem government. Became a monk and later presbyter at Mar Saba monastery near Jerusalem, where he was renowned as a theologian and biblical commentator. Noted for his vigorous defence of the veneration of images against the iconoclasts, for his theological writings synthesising the thought of the Greek Fathers, and for his poetry and hymnody.
St Nicholas, Bishop
He died in the fourth century. Bishop of Myra (Turkey) but nothing more is known about his life. Since the tenth century, widely venerated and frequently claimed as a patron in both East and West. His cult in the West was further ensured when his relics were moved from Myra to Bari (Italy) in the eleventh century. His reputation for generosity led to the custom of giving children gifts on his feast day, and thus to the Christmas figure of Santa Claus.
St Ambrose, Bishop, Doctor of the Church
Born in Trier (Germany) about 340. Ordained bishop on this day in 374 and died at Milan (Italy) on Holy Saturday 397. A lawyer who became governor in Milan and who was still a catechumen when elected bishop by popular acclaim. Upheld orthodoxy against the Arians and won many Christian converts. Encouraged monasticism and defended the independence of the Church against secular authority. Honoured as an outstanding pastor through his writings on the sacraments and Christian ethics and through his homilies, instructions, and hymns.
This feast had its origin in the East as the “Conception of Mary by Saint Anne.” It spread through the West during the Middle Ages as the “Immaculate Conception” and was extended to the entire Western Church in the eighteenth century. The feast celebrates Mary, preserved from sin from the moment of conception; she is the first fruits of her Son’s redemption and a prophetic model of what the Church is called to be.
St Damasus I, Pope
Born in Rome about 305, the son of a priest; died there on this day in 384. Elected bishop of Rome amid violent rivalry. Active in opposing fourth century heresies. After Christianity became the official religion of the Roman state and Latin was becoming the principal liturgical language, he commissioned Saint Jerome to prepare a new Latin translation of the Bible. Also remembered for promoting the cult of the Roman martyrs, inscribing their tombs with epitaphs in verse.
St Finnian, Bishop
Finnian studied in Idrone (County Carlow) and later in Wales, and on his return to Ireland he settled in Clonard, County Meath, around 520, where he established a famous school. His pupils, among whom were Canice, Colum Cille, and Brendan, were the initiators of the indigenous monastic expansion in Ireland. He died in 549 and is remembered as the tutor of the saints of Ireland.
St Lucy, Virgin, Martyr
Lucy died at Syracuse in Sicily, probably in the persecution of the emperor Diocletian in 304. Widely venerated from the earliest times, her memorial has long been kept on this day. Probably because her name is suggestive of light, her intercession has been sought for eyesight problems. Named in Eucharistic Prayer I (The Roman Canon) and remembered as a youth, radiant with Christian faith and courage.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
The North American continent is honoured by the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe near Mexico City. On 9 Dcember 1531, the Blessed Mother appeared to a simple Amer-indian convert, Juan Diego. Her picture was miraculously impressed upon his cloak. Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of the Americas, showed herself as a tender and compassionate mother.
St John of the Cross, Priest, Doctor of the Church
Born in 1542 at Fontiveros (Spain); died on this day in Ubeda. A Carmelite priest who joined Saint Teresa of Jesus in the work of Carmelite reform and, despite opposition and imprisonment, organised the discalced Carmelites. Noted for his mystical writings, which combine theology and poetry to describe the spiritual journey through darkness to union with God.
St Flannan, Bishop
Flannan lived in the seventh century and was the son of a king of Thomond. He entered Molua’s monastery at Killaloe and seems to have become abbot there. He is remembered as a powerful preacher.
St Fachanan, Bishop
Although little is known with certainty about Fachanan, a strong tradition from early times links him with Kilfenora and records that he founded a church or monastery there in the sixth century. He is thought to have died in Kilfenora and to be buried there, and he is venerated as the patron of the diocese.
St Peter Canisius, Priest, Doctor of the Church
Born at Nijmegen (Netherlands) in 1521; died in Fribourg (Switzerland) on this day in 1597. A Jesuit priest who spent his time writing and teaching in universities and colleges. Together with his easily understood preaching and the writing of his famous catechisms, his academic life enabled him to restore and strengthen Catholic belief in response to the Reformation. Noted for his courtesy in debate and for his use of the press in promoting the Catholic revival after the Council of Trent.
St John of Kanty, Priest
Born at Kanty (Poland) in 1390; died at Krakow on 24 December 1473. He taught philosophy, theology, and Scripture at the university in Krakow and urged his students to moderation in controversy. Admired for his excellent teaching, for the austerity of his personal life, and for the generosity of his almsgiving.
St Stephen, martyr
In light of what was to Stephen, how amazing were his final words, praying to God to pardon his killers. His “crime” was to have spoken hard truths that his audience did not want to hear. So the frenzied mob put him to death by stoning. Under the rocks crushing out his life, Stephen commended his spirit to Jesus, and with his dying breath prayed for his killers.
St John, Apostle, Evangelist
What distinguishes this disciple from the others is that he received and responded more fully to the love of Jesus than all others. He was the only male disciple present at the foot of the cross. His love brought him to the empty tomb quicker than Peter; his love gave him the insight to recognize the true meaning of the empty tomb; and ultimately to grasp and to proclaim the mystery of the Word-made-flesh:that Jesus was God-incarnate.
The Holy Innocents
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation.
St Thomas Becket, Bishop, Martyr
Born in London (England) in 1118, Thomas a-Becket died as archbishop of Canterbury, murdered in his own cathedral on this day in 1170. Already a deacon when he was appointed chancellor of England, he became a close friend of Henry II. His ordination as bishop brought an abrupt conversion of life and led him to oppose the king over the rights of the Church. Returned to his diocese after six years’ refuge in a French monastery, but careless words from the king inspired four knights to assassinate him. Immediately acknowledged as a martyr. Noted for the courage of his Christian convictions.
St Sylvester I, Pope
Elected bishop of Rome in 314 and died there on this day in 335. Honoured as the bishop of Rome in the important years when the Christian Church was first tolerated and then legally recognised in the Roman empire. It was during this time that the emperor Constantine called councils at Arles and Nicaea to combat heresy and that ecclesiastical basilicas were built in Rome and throughout the empire.