We are at the final one of this series of blog posts. Now you have a whole overview of the saints in the calendar excluding changes due to new beatifications and canonizations which I cannot foresee at time of writing.
Despite Advent taking up the prime spot liturgically (with the added cherry on the cake of the Marian feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe), December remains a saints-heavy month with plenty of heavyweights to inspire us. So, let’s dive in.
St Edmund Campion – December 1st
One of the many martyrs of England, he was an impressive Protestant scholar who became Catholic after careful study of the Church Fathers. While training to become a Jesuit priest, he had a vision of Our Lady foretelling his martyrdom. He returned to England, where he was an indefatigable preacher who won many hearts until he was imprisoned and executed at Tyburn by Queen Elizabeth’s government.
St Francis Xavier – December 3rd
A Spaniard of noble origins, he met St Ignatius of Loyola when studying in Paris and was one of the founding members of the Society of Jesus. He later became a missionary in the Far East, both to the colonizers and the natives. He died of a fever in India while waiting for the ship meant to take him to China and so he is patron saint of missionaries.
St Nicholas – December 6th
Later Bishop of Myra, he was a pious and generous Greek Christian whose generosity lead to many stories being reported in his biographies and to the legends that brought to us Santa Claus emerging. As he was generous in life, he was generous in death, with many miracles spreading his devotion to the West as much if not more than the East. He likely never met a Krampus, but we don’t care.
St Ambrose – December 7th
I can never not say his name in English without mocking the Milanese regional accent and dialect, but he was the patron saint of my diocese growing up and his feast day was always a school holiday, which would have endeared him to me even if he didn’t have plenty of good writings to his name (including the best rite in the Western Church although it’s likely misattributed). He was the human influence that shaped St Augustine’s Christianity and, although he never reached the same level of posthumous fame, he was pretty much a celebrity preacher in his time.
St Juan Diego – December 9th
The first indigenous Latin American saint, he was from present-day Mexico and was the one to whom Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared. He was a convert following the Franciscan missions of the early 1500s, and a pious and zealous man. The miraculous image that survived a great deal and science cannot explain appeared on his tilma (traditional garment of his people) as a miraculous sign when the Bishop asked for one following St Juan Diego’s request on behalf of Our Lady (and it seems the flowers St Juan Diego was sent to fetch were a miracle in themselves). He died 17 years after the first apparition on December 9th, having witnessed waves of thousands of conversions a day since.
St Lucy – December 13th
A Roman martyr whose eyes were gouged as torture (although various legends surround this fact) and miraculously restored before her burial, she was betrayed to the authorities by a rejected lover when she turned down his proposal to devote her life to Christ and the dowry money to the poor. Her feast day is really popular in Northern Europe, with plenty of beautiful traditions associated with it.
St John of the Cross – December 14th
Spanish mystic and one of the reformers of the Carmelite order, he was the spiritual director of St Teresa of Avila (who was from the same town as him). He had a difficult life due to the fervour for reform in the Order before the split between Carmelites and Discalced Carmelites, and was long imprisoned. He wrote poetry which expressed the depths of his mysticism and also his suffering (including a spiritual dark night of the soul). He died of an illness in 1591.
St Stephen – December 26th
The first martyr of the Church as reported in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, he was the first ordained deacon in the early church. His life and martyrdom are so inspiring that the whole story is recounted in Acts and despite my recognised talent with words, I could never do as good a job at impressing as a divinely inspired text so I will refer you to the 6th and 7th chapters.
St John the Evangelist – December 28th
Also known as “The Beloved”, St John was one of the Apostles who was entrusted with the care of Mary by Jesus at the Crucifiixion and is the author of a large portion of the New Testament. According to what we know of him in the accounts by others he was an impetuous character, which of course endears him to me as much as the contemplative and mystical nature of his writings.
St Thomas Becket – December 29th
Archbishop of Canterbury who was assassinated in his cathedral following a few years of complicated relationships with the crown and the rest of the church in England. He had lived in austerity despite his high position, and his shrine was one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations throughout the Middle Ages (much beloved by the famous poet Chaucer too). Two roads contend the title of the Pilgrim’s Way between themselves and both end in Canterbury.