St. Christopher, Martyr
by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
The Roman Martyrology, today, honors also St. Christopher, who received the crown of martyrdom about the middle of the third century. He was born and educated in idolatry, but no sooner had he embraced Christianity, than he zealously strove to convert others to the true faith, and labored especially for this end in the district of Lycia. When, on this account, he was arraigned before the heathen judges, he fearlessly confessed Christ. Making him prisoner, they sent two wicked heathen women to him, who by tempting him to evil deeds, should open the way for him to forsake Christianity. But the Saint not only induced them by his exhortations to change their conduct, but also converted them to the Christian faith; which so enraged the judge, that he ordered the Saint to be tormented most cruelly.
Perceiving, however, that the Saint remained constant under all kinds of martyrdom, and by his example converted a great many heathens, the tyrant at length ordered him to be beheaded. This Saint is generally represented as of a gigantic stature, with a budding staff in his hand, carrying Christ, in the form of a lovely child, across a river. The cause of this is, that St. Christopher possessed a very tall figure, and one day, while expounding the truth of the Gospel to the heathens, he fixed a withered stick into the ground, which, to testify to the truth of his teachings, immediately began to bud. It is also told of him that his desire to assist his neighbor induced him to make his dwelling for some time by a river, and to carry travelers across to the opposite shore, as there was no bridge. While employed in these deeds of kindness, Christ Himself appeared one day to him, in the form of a lovely child, desiring to be carried over the river. The Saint took Him upon his shoulder, and carried him to the opposite shore, where the Savior, making Himself known, filled the heart of His faithful servant with inexpressible joy.
There have been in the last few centuries, some who, wickedly desiring to tarnish the glory of the Saints, dared to assert that St. Christopher never existed. Several learned men, however, have, by their powerful arguments, silenced this erroneous statement. It is an established fact, that this holy Martyr was already honored by the whole Christian world, more than a thousand years before Luther. There are several convents and churches which were founded in his honor. It must here also be remarked that the Catholic Church by no means approves of the superstition practiced by some weak-minded persons; as, for instance, to say the so-called Prayer of St. Christopher, in order to find hidden treasures or to receive money from the Saint. It is known that, in our time, some who practised this superstition were punished by a just judgment of the Almighty in a terrible manner, by a sudden death.
The heathen tyrant endeavored to incite St. Christopher to the vice of unchastity, through two wicked women, because he thought that this would be the best way to lead him from Christianity. The same means were tried by other tyrants, with others of the faithful. Christopher, however, who desired to remain true to his faith, was not to be seduced. Heed it well. Unchastity is the way which leads to the loss of the true faith, hence to hell. Those who become addicted to this terrible vice, begin slowly to doubt several points of faith, until they have persuaded themselves that the sin they commit is not so great as is preached from the pulpit, but only a human weakness which God could not and would not punish with hell. Whoever reasons in this manner, has ceased to be a Catholic, as he does not believe everything God teaches us by His holy Church. The true faith of the heart is already lost, although apparently he may still belong to the Church of Christ. Without faith, heaven is lost, but hell remains. "He that believes not shall be condemned," says Christ. (John, hi.; Mark, xvi.) Ponder well these words, and if you are free from this vice, give thanks to the Almighty, and, following the example of Christopher, let nothing seduce you. But if you are a slave to it, tear yourself away from it, if you will truly deserve the name of Catholic, and escape everlasting fire. " No man is more ready to despise God, more audacious in criminal deeds, more hardened in sin, more inflexible to repentance, and nearer to hell, than he who lives an unchaste life," writes St. Thomas of Villanova.
The Legend of St. Christopher
In ancient tradition concerning St. Christophorus relates: He was born in the land of Canaan, and was named Reprobus, that is Reprobate, for he was a barbarous heathen. In stature and strength he was a giant. Thinking no one his like in bodily vigor, he resolved to go forth in search of the mightiest master and serve him. In his wanderings, he met with a king who was praised as the most valorous man on earth. To him he offered his services and was accepted. The king was proud of his giant and kept him near his person. One day a minstrel visited the king's castle, and among the ballads he sung before the court was one on the power of Satan. At the mention of this name the king blessed himself, making the sign of the cross. Reprobus, wondering, asked him why he did that. The king replied: "When I make this sign, Satan has no power over me." Reprobus rejoined: "So thou fearest the power of Satan? Then he is mightier than thou, and I shall seek and serve him."
Setting forth to seek Satan, he came into a wilderness. One dark night he met a band of wild fellows riding through the forest. It was Satan and his escort. Reprobus bravely accosted him, saying he wished to serve him. He was accepted. But soon he was convinced that his new master was not the mightiest on earth. For one day, whilst approaching a crucifix by the wayside, Satan quickly took to flight, and Reprobus asked him for the reason. Satan replied: "That is the image of my greatest enemy, who conquered me on the cross. From him I always flee." When Reprobus heard this, he left the devil, and went in search of Christ.
In his wanderings, he one day came to a hut hidden in the forest. At its door sat a venerable old man. Reprobus addressed him, and in the course of the conversation that ensued the old man told him that he was a hermit, and had left the world to serve Christ, the Lord of heaven and earth. "Thou art my man," cried Reprobus; "Christ is He whom I seek, for He is the strongest and the mightiest. Tell me where I can find Him." The hermit then began instructing the giant about God and the Redeemer, and concluded by saying: "He who would serve Christ must offer himself entirely to Him, and do and suffer everything for His sake. His reward for this will be immense and will last forever." Reprobus now asked the hermit to allow him to remain, and to continue to instruct him. The hermit consented. When Reprobus was fully instructed, he baptized him. After his baptism, a great change came over the giant. No longer proud of his great size and strength, he became meek and humble, and asked the hermit to assign to him some task by which he might serve God, his master. "For," said he, "I can not pray and fast; therefore I must serve God in some other way." The hermit led him to a broad and swift river nearby, and said: "Here build thyself a hut, and when wanderers wish to cross the river, carry them over for the love of Christ." For there was no bridge across the river.
Henceforth, day and night, whenever he was called, Reprobus faithfully performed the task assigned to him. One night he heard a child calling to be carried across the river. Quickly he rose, placed the child on his stout shoulder, took his staff and walked into the mighty current. Arrived in midstream, the water rose higher and higher, and the child became heavier and heavier. "O child," he cried, "how heavy thou art! It seems I bear the weight of the world on my shoulder." And the child replied, "Right thou art. Thou bearest not only the world, but the Creator of heaven and earth. I am Jesus Christ, thy King and Lord, and henceforth thou shalt be called Christophorus, that is, Christ-bearer. Arrived on yonder shore, plant thy staff in the ground, and in token of my power and might tomorrow it shall bear leaves and blossoms."
And the child disappeared. On reaching the other shore, Christophorus stuck his staff into the ground, and behold, it budded forth leaves and blossoms. Then, kneeling, he promised the Lord to serve Him ever faithfully. He kept his promise, and thenceforth became a zealous preacher of the Gospel, converting many to the Faith. On his missionary peregrinations he came also to Lycia, where, after his first sermon, eighteen thousand heathens requested baptism. When Emperor Decius heard of this, he sent a company of four hundred soldiers to capture Christophorus. To these he preached so convincingly, that they all asked for baptism. Decius became enraged thereat and had him cast into prison. There he first treated him with great kindness, and surrounded him with every luxury to tempt him to sin, but in vain. Then he ordered him to be tortured in the most cruel manner, until he should deny the Faith. He was scourged, placed on plates of hot iron, boiling oil was poured over and fire was lighted under him. When all these torments did not accomplish their purpose, the soldiers were ordered to shoot him with arrows. This, too, having no effect, he was beheaded, on July 25th, 254. Two great saints refer to the wonderful achievements of St. Christophorus. St. Ambrose mentions that this saint converted forty-eight thousand souls to Christ. St. Vincent Ferrer declares, that when the plague devastated Valencia, its destructive course was stayed through the intercession of St. Christophorus.
The legend of St. Christophorus conveys a wholesome truth. We ought all to be Christbearers, by preserving in our hearts faith, hope, and charity, and by receiving Our Lord worthily in holy communion. He alone is worthy of our service. In the service that we owe to men, we ought to serve God by doing His will. We cannot divide our heart, for Our Lord Himself says, "No man can serve two masters" (Matt. vi. 24). If you serve the world, it deceives you, for it cannot give you what it promises. If you serve sin, Satan is your master. He, too, deceives his servants, and leads them to perdition. Christ on the cross conquered these two tyrants, and with His help you can also vanquish them. Therefore, give yourself to Him with all your heart, and you shall find peace in this world, and eternal bliss in the next. St. Augustine learned this truth by sad experience, and therefore exclaims: "Thou hast created us for Thee, O Lord, and our heart is restless till it rests in Thee."
Prayer of the Church
Grant us, almighty God, that whilst we celebrate the memory of Thy blessed martyr St. Christophorus, through his intercession the love of Thy name may be increased in us. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Novena to St. Christopher
Almighty and eternal God! With lively faith and reverently worshiping Thy divine Majesty, I prostrate myself before Thee and invoke with filial trust Thy supreme bounty and mercy. Illumine the darkness of my intellect with a ray of Thy heavenly light and inflame my heart with the fire of Thy divine love, that I may contemplate the great virtues and merits of the saint in whose honor I make this novena, and following his example imitate, like him, the life of Thy divine Son.
Moreover, I beseech Thee to grant graciously, through the merits and intercession of this powerful Helper, the petition which through him I humbly place before Thee, devoutly saying, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Vouchsafe graciously to hear it, if it redounds to Thy greater glory and to the salvation of my soul.
Prayer in Honor of St. Christophorus
O God, Who didst make St. Christophorus a true Christ-bearer, who converted multitudes to the Christian faith, and who didst give him the grace to suffer for Thy sake the most cruel torments; through the intercession of this saint we implore Thee to protect us from sin, the only real evil. Preserve us, also, against harmful elementary forces, such as earthquake, lightning, fire, and flood. Amen.
Invocation of St. Christophorus
Great St. Christophorus, seeking the strongest and mightiest master thou didst find him in Jesus Christ, the almighty God of heaven and earth, and didst faithfully serve Him with all thy power to the end of thy life, gaining for Him countless souls and finally shedding thy blood for Him; obtain for me the grace to bear Christ always in my heart, as thou didst once bear Him on thy shoulder, so that I thereby may be strengthened to overcome victoriously all temptations and resist all enticements of the world, the devil, and the flesh, and that the powers of darkness may not prevail against me. Amen.
My Lord and my God! I offer up to Thee my petition in union with the bitter passion and death of Jesus Christ, Thy Son, together with the merits of His immaculate and blessed Mother, Mary ever virgin, and of all the saints, particularly with those of the holy Helper in whose honor I make this novena.Look down upon me, merciful Lord! Grant me Thy grace and Thy love, and graciously hear my prayer. Amen
Prayer to St. Christopher as your Patron Saint