Sunday, March 27, 2016

52 Saints ~ Week 13 ~ Saint Maybe?

I've been thinking about who might be a good saint to appear on Easter Sunday, and what came to mind were several people who were involved in the Passion, who have been thought to be, or who might actually saints. We see them as static characters in a drama, but all of their lives continued after Easter, and they had to have been changed in some way. There isn't a whole lot know about any of them, and there's a good bit of disagreement about all of them, so here we go.

Disclaimer: Due to the harried circumstances of my life at present, this is going to be a very un-academic, unsubstantiated post. I am just looking around to see what I can find. At best it's all speculation, but I find it interesting and worth thinking a bit about.

The first is Pontius Pilate. St. Pilate? The history of Pilate seems to be quite muddled from what I can tell by looking around the internet. There are stories, though, that he repented and became Christian. There even seems to have been one that he was martyred by crucifixion. The Catholic Encyclopedia says that the Abyssinian Church considers him a saint and that his feast day is October 25 (along with that of his wife). I've also seen statements that he is recognized as a saint by the Ethiopian and Coptic Churches.

Whether or not he is a saint, and how can we ever know in this life, we know that he knew that Jesus was not worthy of crucifixion. I have spent a great deal of time formatting the Passion readings for this week to make booklets for our lectors, and I have read the scriptures over and over to over to make sure everything ended up in the right place. It really struck me how hard Pilate tried to keep from having Our Lord crucified. We don't know why he did not do the right thing, presumably it was some fear of the crowd or losing his job or reputation. I'm not sure we can know that we would have done any better. I kept being reminded of a scene in Man for All Season where St. Thomas More is being questioned and doing everything he can to answer the questions, and refute the accusations without either condemning himself or lying. He, of course, made the right decision in the end, while Pilate did not. I think, however, that Pilate must have been troubled by his decision for a long time, and it's not beyond belief that he might have repented.

Earlier I mentioned that he is venerated in the Abyssinian Church along with his wife, Claudia Procula, who in the gospel of Matthew tells Pilate, "Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him." The Catholic Encyclopedia (hereafter referred to as CE) says that the story that she became a Christian can be found in Origen and that she is venerated by the Greek Orthodox Church on October 27.

Then there is Veronica, the woman who wiped the face of Christ and found his image on her veil.
The veil which is considered to be St. Veronica's is displayed
 in a ceremony at the Vatican on the Fifth Sunday of Lent.
We know nothing else about her, really, but there are legends one of which is:
In Italy Veronica comes to Rome at the summons of the Emperor Tiberius, whom she cures by making him touch the sacred image. She thenceforth remains in the capitol of the empire, living there at the same time as Sts. Peter and Paul, and at her death bequeaths the precious image to Pope Clement and his successors. CE
It seems unlikely that Veronica is her real name. The CE says that there were [and are] many miraculous images floating around, and that to distinguish this one as the real one it was referred to as vera icon, that is true image, and speculates that this may have been mistakenly taken as the woman's name. There are also references that name this woman as the woman with an issue of blood whom Jesus healed.

  Longinus was the soldier who pierced the side of Christ and who said, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" I believe this makes him the first post-crucifixion witness to the divinity of Jesus. Again, we don't know if that is his real name, although the word LOGINOS is found over the head of the soldier in an illuminated 6th century manuscript. (CE) His feast day is on March 15 on the Roman calendar, although I cannot be sure whether this is the old or new calendar or both, and on October 16 on the Orthodox calendar. I found the following information in more than one place, but the quote below was found here.
While particular cause may be contended, the subsequent effect, the conversion, seems clear. St. Longinus left the Roman guard, sought instruction from the Apostles and retreated to Caesarea of Cappadocia to become a monk who preached and converted many. It was here that he lived until times of persecution intensified. St. Longinus was called before the governor, ordered to make sacrifice to idols, but stubbornly refused. The governor then had his teeth and tongue cut out. However, upon recovering, still in the torturing presence of the governor, his guard, and the idols, St. Longinus rose, grabbing a near-by ax and shattered the idols, miraculously crying out (despite lacking a tongue), “Now we shall see whether they are gods.” He was then beheaded and martyred.
There is, of course, also the Good Thief. The name which has come down to us through tradition is Dismas, which comes from the Greek word for sunset, and through association with the end of the day, death. We know nothing about him except what we hear in the Gospel of Luke; we can only speculate as to what his crime might have been. But, the one thing we do know for certain is the most important thing there is, and that is that he is a Saint.

The feast day of St. Dismas is, interestingly enough, on March 25, which this year was both the Feast of the Annunciation, and Good Friday. Good Friday, of course, would be most appropriate because it is the day that he entered into Heaven, but it is rare for those two days to coincide. It won't happen again in our lifetimes. Every year, though, it does fall on the Feast of the Annunciation, and on the day traditionally assigned to Creation, and by Jewish tradition the day of Abraham's intended sacrifice. (There's a good article about this here.)

Artwork by Shirley Oxborough
The final person I want to talk about is my favorite, Simon of Cyrene. As far as I can see, Simon has never been recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church, although there may have been places here-and-there where he was recognized locally. I do see that there are many Episcopal churches named St. Simon of Cyrene, which is curious. If the Episcopal Church didn't bring this devotion forward from its Catholic roots, where did it begin? There are also some Orthodox churches with that name, and that may be the answer to my question.

Throughout the history of the Church, there seems to have been a debate about whether Simon just carried the cross grudgingly under compulsion, or whether he was converted by his experience. I said this was going to be an un-academic post, but I did read one academic paper, Gregory the Great on Simon of Cyrene: a Critique of Tradition by Mark DelCagliano, which I found here. DelCagliano says that Gregory, and Bernard of Clairvaux were of the grudging school, while Bede and St. Isidor of Seville thought that Simon was converted, Isidor saying that Simon symbolized the Gentiles who converted to Christianity.

One thing that I never noticed about the story of Simon before I stared do a bit of research here is that Mark tells us that Simon was the father of Rufus and Alexander. Rufus is a saint. He is listed in the Roman Martyrology with his feast day on November 21. The Catholic Encyclopedia  says this in the entry about St. Rufus.
Rufus the disciple of the Apostles, who lived at Rome and to whom St. Paul sent a greeting, as well as he did also to the mother of Rufus (Romans 16:13). St. Mark says in his Gospel (xv, 21) that Simon of Cyrene was the father of Rufus, and as Mark wrote his Gospel for the Roman Christians, this Rufus is probably the same as the one to whom Paul sent a salutation.
St. Paul also includes Rufus's mother, "Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine." (Romans 16:13)

I can only say that if Simon's originally carrying the cross begrudgingly indicates that he was not eventually converted, I am in a lot of trouble, because the very reason that I identify with him so strongly is that it has been in carrying crosses that I originally rejected that I have grown to know and love the Lord. I'm very much like the son in Matthew 21 who says "I will not," but then changes his mind. It seems to me that Simon very likely resembled him, too.

I really like the picture above because while it is not technically perfect, it captures so much in the look which Simon and Jesus exchange. Jesus seems to be pleading with Simon for help in his suffering, and if saints like St. Faustina are correct, he pleads with us in very much the same way. It is really overwhelming to sit and comtemplate what it would be like to be in Simon's position in that picture. And Simon seems to me to be at a point of decision, trying to figure out what Jesus is asking beyond mere physical help, and what this moment in his life will mean for his future.

Janet Cupo is the proprietor of this blog.

If you want to see all of the posts in this series, click HERE.


  1. What the Catholic Encyclopaedia calls the "Abyssinian Church" is probably the same thing as the (pre-1959) Ethiopian Coptic Church.

    Does anybody regard Barabbas as a saint? Somebody suggested the other day that he might be regarded as the first to be redeemed: Christ literally dying in his place.

    1. I was thinking maybe what you said in the first paragraph was the case, but didn't have time to look.


  2. There is a movie (which I remember seeing advertised in my youth but haven't seen), based on a novel, in which Anthony Quinn plays Barabbas and which ends with him being martyred as a Christian, which would qualify him for canonization (right?). But following the link to the novel from
    the Wikipedia page for the movie, I don't see any reason to suppose that any sort of traditional legend is involved.

    Regarding Pilate, I read something just recently, but have no idea where, suggesting that the elders' "no friend of Caesar's" taunt might have been the thing that tipped him--that Pilate was in bad favor with Tiberius and would have taken the suggestion that he might be reported to be sympathizing with a pretender king as a threat, and a very serious one.

    1. Reading about that "Roman epic" reminds me that I have not yet got round to seeing Hail, Caesar!, which is still showing round here.