Saint Christopher

7:00 AM

Saint Christopher, Jusepe de Ribera, 1637
My heart’s bleeding, but at the same time my feet are taking me to new places that I cannot wait to arrive at. Melancholy and joyful anticipation have me in their grip. They pass me off every other minute. I do not know how to deal with it. My fingers will automatically seek consolation in playing with the chain around my neck. I imagine my Grandfather doing the same thing as he readied himself to storm a beach in the Pacific. He was the one who gave me this chain, which holds my St. Christopher’s Medal in place.

My family has fallen away from many of the Catholic traditions, but I will never leave behind the medal around my neck. My Grandfather gave it to me on my first communion. And after he died, I was trusted with his own from the war.

“Alex, you don’t go to church. You don’t celebrate Lent. And you don’t read the Bible. Why stick with the medal?”

Well, have you ever heard of St. Christopher? He carried the weight and light of the world on his shoulder. This task may seem impossible for one man to perform, or at least the Church thought so. That’s why they revoked his canonization. St. Christopher was determined to be based off fictitious legends that were spread in Greece to popularize Christianity. So knowing this story never happened, do you want to hear it?

Christopher, a literal giant among men, served God by carrying people across a river that was too dangerous to cross alone. One day, a child came to Christopher. He wanted to be taken across the river, but with this child came the weight of the world. Ribera captures the scene well. Darkness closes in around saint in an almost Caravaggio-esque manner, especially in the bottom of the painting. Notice then how Christopher’s body acts as a shield between the child and the darkness at the bottom of the painting. Light floods in from the top right corner, drawing attention towards the child and the globe that he holds. Though, that ray of light is not the primary light source in the painting. The child radiates his own light for he is Christ. Once Christopher put the child on his back and set off into the river, the saint felt the burden of the child grow until it equaled the literal weight of the world. Christopher strained under this weight and almost failed, but in the end his faith allowed him to successfully reach the other side with the child still on his back. Once the child descended, he aged into the figure of Christ himself who said, “You had on your shoulders not only the whole world, but Him who made it.”

So why do I continue to put my faith and find comfort in this fictitious tale? Well look at Ribera’s Saint Christopher. He presents the story of man protecting God no matter the cost. Notice the vein popping in Christopher’s bicep and his bending under Christ’s weight. The force of the light ray also sends Christopher down, but he will not fall. He continues with his task and completes it. His perseverance tells of humanity’s will and what one can do with it if only they have a little faith. So I must have faith that where I am going will be right and that this pain in my heart will only be temporary. As long as I carry this light I have developed in the last four years upon my shoulders, it will be all right. I imagine my Grandfather thinking similar thoughts while waiting on a boat and hearing the sounds of approaching war. God can protect you, you can protect Him, and we both have the power to protect and be ourselves.

My faith in Christopher’s story and the values I glean from it come hand in hand, but a foolish few need proof in order to find merit in this story. I now introduce St. Menas, an Egyptian saint who had been martyred in Antioch. Historical documents tell of the Roman conscription of an enormous North African named Menas. Menas’ military service brought him to Antioch where he learned of Christianity. Thus, Menas became a Christian among Roman soldiers, so the saint left the military in order to be a hermit and preach. In his hermitage, Menas helped travelers cross a violent river. Eventually, the Romans caught up to him, resulting in Menas’ martyrdom. The local Christian groups in the area, not knowing Menas’ true name, took to calling him the bearer of Christ, or Christopher. These Christians then sent his body home to Egypt where the locals recognized him as Menas. The Catholic Church celebrates Menas’s feast day on November 11th.

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