Dec 23 – Memorial for St. John of Kanty, presbyter
John (1390-1473) was a Polish country lad. A brilliant student at the University of Krakow, Poland, he became a priest and professor of theology at the University of Krakow, where he was falsely accused and ousted by university rivals.
At the age of 41, he was assigned as parish priest at Olkusz, Bohemia. He took his position seriously, and was terrified of responsibility, but did his best. For a long time that wasn’t enough for his parishioners, but in the end he won their hearts. After several years in his parish, he returned to Krakow and taught Scripture for the rest of his life.
John was a serious, humble man, generous to a fault with the poor, sleeping little, eating no meat and little of anything else. He was a pilgrim to Jerusalem, hoping to be martyred by Turks. He made four pilgrimages to Rome, carrying his luggage on his back. When warned to look after his health, he pointed out that the early desert fathers lived long lives in conditions that had nothing to recommend them but the presence of God.
At the time of his death, John was so well loved that his veneration began immediately. For years his doctoral gown was worn by graduates receiving advanced degrees at the University of Krakow. He was declared patron of Poland and Lithuania in 1737 by Pope Clement XII, 30 years before his final canonization.
- Patron Saint Index
The Lord God says this: Look, I am going to send my messenger to prepare a way before me. And the Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his Temple; and the angel of the covenant whom you are longing for, yes, he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts. Who will be able to resist the day of his coming? Who will remain standing when he appears? For he is like the refiner’s fire and the fullers’ alkali. He will take his seat as refiner and purifier; he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and then they will make the offering to the Lord as it should be made. The offering of Judah and Jerusalem will then be welcomed by the Lord as in former days, as in the years of old.
Know that I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before my day comes, that great and terrible day. He shall turn the hearts of fathers towards their children and the hearts of children towards their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a curse.
The time came for Elizabeth to have her child, and she gave birth to a son; and when her neighbours and relations heard that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared her joy.
Now on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child; they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother spoke up. ‘No,’ she said ‘he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘But no one in your family has that name’, and made signs to his father to find out what he wanted him called. The father asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And they were all astonished. At that instant his power of speech returned and he spoke and praised God. All their neighbours were filled with awe and the whole affair was talked about throughout the hill country of Judaea. All those who heard of it treasured it in their hearts. ‘What will this child turn out to be?’ they wondered. And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.
‘But no one in your family has that name.’
In this day and age when we may stumble upon the most innovative and brow-raising kids’ names, the magnitude of choosing a name for one’s child might be lost on some parents. Some name their children to help them stand out with un-pronounceable monikers; some choose names after their favourite soccer players or movie stars; some use names of beloved family members who have passed as a way of remembrance, while others may seek out a name whose virtues they hope their children will grow into. For whatever reasons, we know plainly that names do matter.
The angel Gabriel foretold two pregnancies – Mary’s and Elizabeth’s. To Mary he proclaimed: “For nothing will be impossible with God” when he shared that Elizabeth would bear a child in her old age. At the same time, it was the angel of the Lord who declared the names of these two special children to their fathers. The name John was revealed to Zechariah the priest; the name Jesus was revealed to Joseph the carpenter. What struck me in the readings today was the line ‘But no one in your family has that name.’
Tribes were the way ancient peoples sought protection, community, and identity. Although Elizabeth’s relatives and neighbours shared in her joy, they hesitated when she (as a mother) chose the name ‘John’ that came from neither hers nor Zechariah’s heritage – such that they had to summon Zechariah to verify. Only after Zechariah confirmed this as correct did he regain his speech. This account teaches us a few lessons.
The first — God can start a new tribe in you, right this very moment, at this very place. So trust in His promise and seek His will in your life. I recently had a conversation with some friends on our conversion and ‘reversion’ stories. Each of us were baptized either at birth, as a teen, or in adulthood. Although we had different cultural and faith backgrounds, we shared one important moment in common – the desire to receive God into our lives and the conscious decision to follow Him. As the Heavenly Father of all, God not only chose Jesus’ name, but also John’s, because he was anointed to pave the way for a new eternal tribe for Jesus. This is echoed in our first reading of Malachi.
Secondly — Do we believe that God can do the impossible for us, in us, and through us? Much of today’s self-help literature tells us “do not sell yourself short” when we put limitations on our abilities or potential to succeed. Perhaps. And yet that is still quite a self-centred view. As Christians, we might be guilty of ultimately selling God short. Do we draw Venn diagrams around the areas of our lives where we designate where God may work His wonders? As a priest, Zechariah should have known better than to question whether God could grant him and Elizabeth their longed-for child. Mary had her questions too, but her disposition of spirit was in complete surrender that she could say, ‘Be it unto me according to your word.’
Last, but not least — our souls were created to glorify God. We look to Mary who praises ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my savior… Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me.’ (Luke 1:46-47) May we never shy of allowing our souls to be like a clear piece of magnifying glass, that through our earnest seeking and listening, we reveal God’s glory to those among us.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Grant us O Lord, a heart humble and trusting, brave and willing, to seek and do Your will.
Thanksgiving: I thank you Jesus, for calling me by name and for never letting me wander too far.