Homily of Fr. Herbert Nicholls, Diocese of Fall River, bi-ritual faculties in the Maronite Church, chaplain at Mother of the Light Convent.
My sisters, day by day we enter more deeply into this Holy Year of Mercy. By His grace, the Lord guides our footsteps as we pass through a Holy Door. He comes to meet us, to stay with us, despite our failings and contradictions. Let us never tire of feeling the need of His forgiveness.
For when we are weak, proximity to Him strengthens us and enables us to live the faith with greater joy. To encounter Jesus is to experience His love for you. This love transforms and enables us to transmit to others the power that it gives.
In a way, we could say that from the day of our Baptism, each one of us is given a new name, in addition to the name given to us by our parents. We are Christophers, that is the bearers of Christ, a bearer of joy and mercy.
Are you familiar with the story of the ancient Christopher? The story may be somewhat embellished and has caused national conferences of bishops to suppress the celebration of his feast but I will come back to that point later.
The story as we are familiar with it involves a pagan of Caananite ancestry named Reprobus. As recorded in many histories, he came from a race of giants. As he served the king of Canaan, it came to his mind that he should seek the greatest prince in the world, in order to serve him alone.
So Reprobus travelled far and wide until he came to the court of a king who was considered the greatest and most powerful in the world. There Reprobus made his dwelling and gave his service. Until one evening when a minstrel sand a song about the devil. The king, being a Christian, made the sign of the Cross, which caused Reprobus to question: “What was that and why did you do that?”
The king answered, “the name of the devil frightens me; but the sign of the Cross gives me protection and banishes my fears.”At this, Reprobus answered: “You have deceived me. You are not the most powerful king. I will go to seek this devil for my master and serve him”.
Reprobus proceeded into the desert where he came upon a knight most frightening and cruel looking. When he asked, “do you know where I might find the devil, whom I wish to serve?”The knight replied, “I am the devil”. Reprobus bound himself as his perpetual servant to this new master and lord. This would not last long for as they travelled they came upon a cross standing erect in the ground. The devil cowered and turned away. Reprobus asked, “what is that sign which makes you shrink?” The devil answered, “There once was this man named Jesus who was executed upon a Cross, and everytime I see that sign it makes me shudder”. Reprobus answered, “then you have deceived me also. You are not the greatest master. I have labored for you in vain. This Jesus is greater and mightier than you. I will serve you no longer. I am going to search for Him.”
Travelling deeper into the desert he found a hermit, who, diligently informed in the faith of Christ, advised Reprobus, “If you wish to serve my Lord, because you are noble and strong, you must go to the river and ferry people across and back. But you must know that the waters rise dangerously high, and without warning.”Reprobus went to the river and made a pole for balance as he ferried people across the river.
One night he was awoken from sleep by a young voice calling him, “Reprobus, come out and bare me across these waters.”The first and second time that Reprobus exited his tent he could find no one. But the third time he found a young child whom he lifted on his shoulders to cross the waters.
The waters began to rise and swell. The child became very heavy; and Reprobus began to fear that they both would drown. Reprobus in fear said, “Child, you have put us both in great peril. You weigh as much as the entire world.”The child answered, “it is not only the weight of the world that you carry, but its creator. I am Jesus, the King whom you have searched to serve. Because you know that what I say is true, put your staff into the ground and in the morning it will bear flowers and fruit.”When Reprobus woke in the morning his staff like a tree bore leaves, and flowers and dates.
Christopher went into the city of Lycia, and when confronted by the judges they mocked and smote him across the face. “If I were not a Christian I would avenge my injury”, he said. Then he pitched his rod into the earth and prayed to God for the conversion of these people…the rod began to blossom as it had done before. Eight thousand people were converted.
When the king heard of this he ordered Christopher bound and brought to him. When Christopher was delivered the king trembled with fear and fell off his throne. He ordered Christopher to be imprisoned. Later the king order that he eat of the sacrificial foods offered to the pagan gods. When Christopher refused he was threatened with torture by red-hot irons. Still he refused. Finally, the king ordered Christopher beheaded.
With a few alterations this is the medieval story of St. Christopher from the Golden Legend of William Caxton; a story known throughout east and west. It prompted the custom of honoring the saint as patron saint of travelers, especially motorists. The legend, however, was not known in its full form as stated here until the middle ages raising questions as to its veracity.It is known however with certainty, that there was a martyr by the name of Christopher executed in Lycia under the reign of Decius. But there is no proof of identity between the two, but there is a spiritual and physical correlation. Experiencing mercy makes us “Christophers”, bearers of Christ. For if we have found the one true Lord and Master, then He alone is the one that we must serve.