Here we are in the New Year and the month of January hosts a cornucopia of wonderful saints, some of whom are among my favorites. These saints run the gamut from a reclusive monastic to an outgoing minister to young people. Without further ado, I present to you some of the very intriguing saints of January:
St. Anthony, abbot
In the mid-1970s singer Helen Reddy regaled America with a song about a young lady named “Ruby Red Dress.” The lyrics told us all about poor Ruby, who had but one wish which was sung over and over in the song: “Leave me alone, won’t you leave me alone, aw, leave me alone, please leave me alone.” St. Anthony the Abbot could certainly have adopted this as his song. He was one of the founders of the monastic movement in the Catholic Church. When Anthony was 35, he moved to the desert to live an ascetic life of prayer away from the world. He made his home in an abandoned fort. St. Anthony’s spiritual commitment and zeal made news (I guess it’s always a slow news day in the desert) causing folks to seek him out as a spiritual counselor and teacher. Ultimately, many followers of St. Anthony arrived and emulated his way of life. So many joined him that Anthony wound up building two monasteries; thus monasticism was born and, at least for a while, St. Anthony’s alone-time was minimized.
St. Anthony, the abbot of the monasteries, gave clear guidance to these men leading the ascetic life and fighting off the temptations of the devil: “Believe me; the devil fears the vigils of pious souls, and their fasting, their voluntary poverty, their loving compassion, their humility, but most of all their ardent love of Christ our Lord. As soon as he sees the Sign of the Cross, he flees in terror.” St. Anthony himself did much battle with the devil in the desert, so he knew of what he spoke. Later in life, St. Anthony went further into the wilderness, and spent his final years in a life of prayer living in a cave at Mount Kolzin. He died there in 356, at the age of 105.
St. Fabian, pope and martyr
There are three Fabians that I know: A sister, a singer and a saint. My favorite teacher when I was in elementary school was the nun who taught me in third grade, Sister Fabian. She taught me and my 53 classmates grammar, with its mélange of rules (and ways to remember them), and how to write. Both are skills that I still use today. There was also a singer named Fabian (full name: Fabian Forte, born and raised in Philly). In the 1950s and early ’60s, he made the girls swoon, but his star fell fairly quickly, and a few years after his big hit “Cut Me Loose,” his record label did just that.
The only other Fabian I know is St. Fabian — a pope who had been a farmer. St. Fabian was pope from 236-250. It is asserted that he was in Rome during the time of a papal election, and in the midst of clergy’s deliberations, a dove landed on his head. This was taken as sign that he was deemed to be the next pope. As pope, Fabian restructured the operations of the church of Rome, improved the conditions in the catacombs, and sent missionaries to evangelize Gaul (France). He was put to death when he refused to offer incense to the pagan gods of Rome, as ordered by the Emperor Decius.
St. Sebastian, martyr
If you see picture of a man in blue uniform with a red “S” on his shirt and a red cape, it is probably Superman. If you see a tall woman, with a gold tiara, brandishing a golden lasso and wearing patriotic-looking starred shorts, it’s probably Wonder Woman. If you see an image of a man leaning against a tree or a pillar, shot through with a dozen or more arrows (all still sticking out of him) then it is likely an image of St. Sebastian. I should mention that although St. Sebastian was martyred, it wasn’t the arrows that killed him. Here’s the story:
St. Sebastian was a Christian who joined the ranks of the Roman military, and served faithfully. When it was found out that he was a Christian, the powers-that-be ordered that he be executed. He was shot with over a dozen arrows and left for dead. His body was found by the widow of a Christian martyr. She thought he was dead, but as she drew closer, lo and behold, he was still alive. The widow nursed him back to health. He later confronted the Emperor over the treatment of Christians, and was summarily clubbed to death. He is patron saint of archers, athletes and soldiers.
St. Agnes, virgin and martyr
A young man named Symphronius (and who doesn’t want to give their son that name), who was son of Roman official, was passionately attracted to a young Christian girl named Agnes. She, however, had committed herself to a life of virginity and service to Christ; thus, Agnes rebuffed Symphronius’ advances. He continued to push himself on her, and she continued to resist; one time calling him the “food of death,” a sure sign that the girl does not care for you. Symphronius’ dad, the Roman official, was angered at Agnes’ refusal of his son. He tried to have Agnes forcibly put to work in a brothel, and then subjected her to other brutal acts. Ancient writings say that Agnes, virginity intact, refused the advances of Symphronius and others to the end. St. Agnes was beheaded and tradition says she went peacefully to her place of execution, like a bride to her betrothed, knowing she had been faithful to her great love, Christ. She died a martyr for her faith and a virgin.
The name Agnes comes from the Latin word “agnus” (meaning “lamb”), hence in our Mass’s Latin text, we use the phrase “Agnus Dei” (“Lamb of God”). But the Greek basis for her name “hagne”, doesn’t mean lamb, it means “purity” or “pure one.” Agnes was a both an innocent lamb to the slaughter, and a young woman of purity.
St. Vincent of Saragossa,
deacon and martyr
Often in police dramas we see a criminal suspect being grilled by the police to encourage them to confess their crime. The origin of that term grilling finds its roots in an ancient Roman torture of Christians. St. Vincent experienced this. St. Vincent of Saragossa was a deacon in Spain in late third century; he was arrested and persecuted for practicing his Catholic faith. To get him to recant his faith (and in one account, to get him to burn the sacred Scriptures), St. Vincent was tortured in a series of ways, one of which was to place him on a gridiron (I mean a grill, not a football field) and burn him to death. He died a martyr’s death. Following his death, St. Vincent’s body was put out for vultures to feed on, but ravens came forth and protected St. Vincent’s body, fending off the vultures. An interesting fact: The Caribbean island of St. Vincent was named as such by Christopher Columbus, because it was discovered on St. Vincent’s feast day.
Father Lentini is pastor of Holy Cross Church in Dover and Immaculate Conception Church in Marydel, Md.