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Holy Days in December

Charles de Foucauld (1st December)
Charles Eugene, viscount of Foucauld, was born in 1858. He served as a French Army officer in Algeria beginning in 1881, and prepared a mapping of oases in Morocco in 1883. In 1886 he underwent a religious conversion, and in 1890 he joined a Trappist monastery, but soon left to become a solitary hermit in Palestine. In 1901 he went to Algeria, where he eventually settled at Tamanrasset and there lived the life of a missionary priest and prepared a Taureg dictionary. He was killed in an anti-French uprising on 1 December 1916, by those who said that his goodness tended to create friendly feelings toward the French. In 1933 and 1939 respectively, groups of dedicated Christians were formed in Algeria known as the Little Brothers of Jesus and the Little Sisters of Jesus, inspired by his ideas and example. Members of these groups went to live in small communities, called fraternities, in areas where the people were largely poor. They supported themselves by doing the same kind of work as their neighbours. They made no explicit attempt to convert their neighbours or to debate with them. Their purpose is simply to live among them as Christians. They say that Christ did not come to earth primarily to teach (there were already teachers) but to share our human lot. They seek to express the love of Christ for the wretched of the earth by living among them and sharing their lives and their hardships.

Francis Xavier (3rd December)
(1506-1552). Born in the family castle of Xavier, near Pamplona in the Basque area of Spanish Navarre on April 7, he was sent to the University of Paris 1552, secured his licentiate in 1528, met Ignatius Loyola and became one of the seven who in 1534, at Montmartre founded the Society of Jesus. In 1536 he left Paris to join Ignatius in Venice, from whence they all intended to go as missionaries to Palestine (a trip which never materialized), was ordained there in 1537, went to Rome in 1538, and in 1540, when the pope formally recognized the Society, was ordered, with Fr. Simon Rodriguez, to the Far East as the first Jesuit missionaries. King John III kept Fr. Simon in Lisbon, but Francis, after a year's voyage, six months of which were spent at Mozambique where he preached and gave aid to the sick eventually arrived in Goa, India in 1542 with Fr. Paul of Camerino an Italian, and Francis Mansihas, a Portuguese. There he began preaching to the natives and attempted to reform his fellow Europeans, living among the natives and adopting their customs on his travels. During the next decade he converted tens of thousands to Christianity. He visited the Paravas at the tip of India. near Cape Comorin, Tuticorin (1542), Malacca (1545), the Moluccas near New Guinea and Morotai near the Philippines (1546-47), and Japan (1549- 51). In 1551, India and the East were set up as a separate province and Ignatius made Francis its first provincial. In 1552 he set out for China, landed on the island of Sancian within sight of his goal, but died before he reached the mainland. Working against great difficulties, language problems, inadequate funds, and lack of cooperation, often actual resistance, from European officials, he left the mark of his missionary zeal and energy on areas which clung to Christianity for centuries. He was canonized in 1622 and proclaimed patron of all foreign missions by Pope Pius X.

John of Damascus (4th December)
Syrian theologian, Father of the Church and Doctor of the Church. He was brought up at the court of the caliph in Damascus, where his father was an official, and he was educated by a Sicilian monk. John inherited his father’s office but resigned it (c.726) and entered a monastery in Palestine. His life was spent largely in fighting with his pen for orthodoxy against iconoclasm. His fame rests on his theological masterpiece, 'The Fountain of Wisdom', a Greek work in three parts—a theological study of Aristotle’s categories; a history of heresies, based on Epiphanius and Theodoret, with supplementary material on Iconoclasm and Islam; and a formal exposition of the Christian faith (De fide orthodoxa, tr. by F. N. Chase, 1958). This last work was extensively used by the scholastics and is still a prime source for the dogmatic opinions of the principal Eastern Fathers. John also wrote hymns and regulated the choral parts of the Byzantine liturgy. He stimulated the production of Byzantine painting. The elegance of his Greek brought him the epithet Chrysorrhoas [gold-pouring]. His name appears also as John Damascenus.

Nicholas Ferrar (4th December)
Nicholas Ferrar, born in 1592, was the founder of a religious community that lasted from 1626 to 1646. After Nicholas had been ordained as a deacon, he and his family and a few friends retired to Little Gidding, Huntingdonshire, to devote themselves to a life of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. They restored the abandoned church building, and became responsible for regular services there. They taught the neighbourhood children, and looked after the health and well-being of the people of the district. They read the regular daily offices of the Book of Common Prayer, including the recital every day of the complete Psalter. (Day and night, there was always at least one member of the community kneeling in prayer before the altar, that they might keep the word, "Pray without ceasing.") They wrote books and stories dealing with various aspects of Christian faith and practice. They fasted with great rigor, and in other ways embraced voluntary poverty, so that they might have as much money as possible for the relief of the poor. The community was founded in 1626 (when Nicholas was 34). He died in 1637 (aged 45), and in 1646 the community was forcibly broken up by the Puritans of Cromwell's army. The memory ofthe community survived to inspire and influence later undertakings in Christian communal living, and one of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets is called "Little Gidding."

Nicholas Bishop of Myra (6th December)
Priest. Abbot. Bishop of Myra, Lycia (modern Turkey). Generous to the poor and special protector of the innocent and wronged. Many stories grew up around him prior to his becoming Santa Claus. Some examples: Upon hearing that a local man had fallen on such hard times that he was planning to sell his daughters into prostitution, Nicholaswent by night to the house and threw three bags of gold in through the window, saving the girls from an evil life. These three bags, gold generously given in time of trouble, became the three golden balls that indicate a pawn broker's shop. He raised to life three young boys who had been murdered and pickled in a barrel of brine to hide the crime. These stories led to his patronage of children in general, and of barrel-makers besides. Induced some thieves to return their plunder. This explains his protection against theft and robbery, and his patronage of them - he's not helping them steal, but to repent and change. In the past, thieves have been known as Saint Nicholas' clerks or Knights of Saint Nicholas. During a voyage to the Holy Lands, a fierce
 storm blew up, threatening the ship. He prayed over it, and the storm calmed - hence the patronage of sailors and those like dockworkers who work on the sea.

Ambrose (7th December)
Roman nobility. Brother of Saint Marcellina and Saint Satyrus. Educated in the classics, Greek, and philosophy at Rome. Poet and noted orator. Convert. Governor of Milan. When the bishop of Milan died, a dispute over his replacement was leading to violence. Ambrose intervened to calm both sides; he impressed everyone involved so much that while he was still an unbaptised catechuman, he was chosen to fill the see. He resisted, claiming that he was not worthy, but to prevent further violence, he assented, and on 7 December 374 he was baptized, ordained as a priest, and consecrated as bishop. He immediately gave away his wealth to the Church and the poor both for the good it did, and as an example to his flock. Preacher, teacher, bible student of renown, and writer of liturgical hymns. He stood firm against pagans and Arians. His preaching helped convert Saint Augustine of Hippo, whom Ambrose baptized and brought into the Church. Ambrose's preaching brought Emperor Theodosius to do public penance for his sins. He called and chaired several theological councils during his time as bishop, many devoted to fighting heresy. Welcomed Saint Ursus and Saint Alban of Mainz when they fled Naxos to escape Arian persecution, and then sent them on to evangelise in Gaul and Germany. Proclaimed a great Doctor of the Latin Church by Pope Boniface VIII in 1298. The title "Honey Tongued Doctor," initially bestowed because of his speaking and preaching ability, led to the use of a beehive and bees in his iconography, symbols which also indicate wisdom. This led to his association with bees, beekeepers, chandlers, wax refiners, etc.

The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (8th December)

Lucy (13th December)
Rich, young Christian who vowed her life to Christ. Her Roman father died when she was young. Her mother, Eutychia, arranged a marriage for her. For three years she managed to keep the marriage on hold. To change the mother's mind about the girl's new faith, Lucy prayed at the tomb of Saint Agatha, and her mother's long haemorrhagic illness was cured. Her mother agreed with Lucy's desire to live for God, and Lucy became known as a patron of those with maladies like her mother's. Her rejected pagan bridegroom, Paschasius, denounced Lucy as a Christian. The governor planned to force her into prostitution, but when guards went to fetch her, they could not move her even when they hitched her to a team of oxen. The governor ordered her killed instead. After torture that included having her eyes torn out, she was surrounded by bundles of wood which were set afire; they went out. She prophesied against her persecutors, and was executed by being stabbed to death with a dagger. Legend says her eyesight was restored before her death. This and the meaning of her name led to her connection with eyes, the blind, eye trouble, etc.

Samuel Johnson (13th December)
(September 18, 1709 - December 13, 1784), often referred to simply as Dr. Johnson, was one of England's greatest literary figures, whose witty asides are still frequently quoted in print today. He was also a lexicographer .Although best remembered as the compiler of the first comprehensive English dictionary, Dr. Johnson was more than a scholar. Born at Lichfield and educated at Lichfield Grammar School and Pembroke College, Oxford, he moved to London in 1737 with his wife, Tetty, who was twenty years his senior, and began to earn a living as a journalist and critic, whilst working on plays, poetry and biographies. Johnson began 'A Dictionary of the English Language' in 1747, but did not complete it until 1755. It made his name, but not his fortune. Another of his major works, the satire 'Rasselas' (1759), was written specifically to raise money to pay for his mother's funeral. Johnson was at the centre of a literary circle which included such figures as Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke and David Garrick, and founded the Literary Club. In 1763, a young Scottish writer, James Boswell, introduced himself to Johnson. Together they toured the Western Isles of Scotland in 1773, a journey which Johnson immortalised in print. As a conservative, he was also a fierce critic of the American Revolution. In Taxation No Tyranny, he asked, "How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?" Dr. Johnson's last great work was the ten-volume 'Lives of the English Poets', published between 1779 and 1781. He died in 1784 and is buried in Westminster Abbey. As well as to his output, Johnson owes his reputation to his biographer, James Boswell, who presents us with a picture of a very pious man of Tory common sense, and kindly heart, beneath a sometimes unkempt and gruff exterior. Another of Johnson's great friends were Henry Thrale and Hester Thrale. The latter's diaries and correspondence are a major source of information about Johnson. His time in Birmingham is remembered by a frieze in the city's Old Square, an area much changed from when he lived there. Birmingham Central Library has a Johnson Collection. It has around 2000 volumes of works by him, and books and periodicals about him. It includes many of his first editions.

John of the Cross (14th December)
Born in poverty. Cared for the poor in the hospital in Medina. Lay Carmelite brother at age 21, though he lived more strictly than their Rule. Studied at Salamanca. Carmelite priest at age 25. Persuaded by Saint Teresa of Avila to begin the Discalced or barefoot reform within the Carmelite Order, he took the name John of the Cross. His reforms did not set well with some of his brothers, and he was imprisoned, escaping after nine months. His reforms revitalized the Order. Great contemplative and spiritual writer. Proclaimed Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XI on 24th August, 1926.

O Sapientia (17th December)
Great O Antiphons are used in the Sacred Liturgy from December 17 - December 23, as the Alleluia Verse for the Mass and as the Magnificat Antiphon for Vespers.  These Antiphons, which were written by an unknown author in the 6th century, express the great Old Testament anticipation and hope for the Messiah.   For us, they express our own Advent anticipation, longing, and gratitude for Christ.  The author of the Antiphons chose seven titles whose first letters are S-A-R-C-O-R-E.  Read in reverse order, these first letters for two Latin words ("ero cras") which mean: "Tomorrow I shall be."

Eglantine Jebb (17th December)
Eglantine Jebb was born in Ellesmere, Shropshire, in 1876 and went up to Oxford in 1894. Her deep Christian faith led her to work for the charity Organisation Society and in 1913 she helped with relief work in Macedonia. This experience made her determined to help refugees and, after the First World War, she and her sister Dorothy set up the Save the Children Fund to work for the starving children in defeated Germany and Austria. The initial response to a crisis developed into a lasting international charity. Her work was crowned by the League of Nations' Declaration of the Rights of Children (1924) which she wrote. She died in 1928.

Christmas Eve (24th December)

Christmas Day (25th December)

Stephen (26th December)
Stephen's name means "crown," and he was the first disciple of Jesus to receive the martyr's crown. Stephen was a deacon in the early Christian Church. The apostles had found that they needed helpers to look after the care of the widows and the poor. So they ordained seven deacons, and Stephen is the most famous of these. God worked many miracles through St. Stephen and he spoke with such wisdom and grace that many of his hearers became followers of Jesus. The enemies of the Church of Jesus were furious to see how successful Stephen's preaching was. At last, they laid a plot for him. They could not answer his wise argument, so they got men to lie about him, saying that he had spoken sinfully against God. St. Stephen faced that great assembly of enemies without fear. In fact, the Holy Bible says that his face looked like the face of an angel. The saint spoke about Jesus, showing that He is the Saviour, God had promised to send. He scolded his enemies for not having believed in Jesus. At that, they rose up in great anger and shouted at him. But Stephen looked up to Heaven and said that he saw the heavens opening and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. His hearers plugged their ears and refused to listen to another word. They dragged St. Stephen outside the city of Jerusalem and stoned him to death. The saint prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!" Then he fell to his knees and begged God not to punish his enemies for killing him.

John Apostle and Evangelist (27th December)

The Holy Innocents (28th December)

Thomas Becket (29th December)
Becket, the son of a Norman merchant, rose from accounts clerk to become the confidential agent to Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury. His talents were noticed by Henry II, who made him his Chancellor. The two became friends. Upon the death of Theobald, Henry made Becket Archbishop. The friendship that Henry and Becket shared was put under immense strain when Becket voiced his opposition to Henry on a number of issues, most notably the canonization of the Bishop of Anselm and the constitutions of Clarendon. Realising the extent of Henry's displeasure, Becket fled to France, and remained in exile for several years until his return in 1170. On the 29th December, 1170, four knights, believing the King wanted Becket out of the way, confronted and murdered Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. Becket was canonized in 1173

John Wyclif (31st December)
A theologian and early proponent of reform in the Roman Catholic Church during the 14th Century. He initiated the first English translation of the Bible in one complete edition and is considered a precursor of the Protestant Reformation (the Bible had been translated before into English, but in parts: e.g., The West Midland Psalter, the Pauline Epistles, the Apocalypse, the Book of Acts, the Catholic Epistles, etc. had been translated, but not all together). Wyclif was born at Ipreswell (modern Hipswell), Yorkshire, between 1320 and 1330; died at Lutterworth, near Leicester, in 1384.

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