January Spiritual Heroes
Spiritual Heroes for Commemoration at Communion
January 1: Holy Name of Jesus—Perhaps as a counterbalance to the ancient pagan festivities around the New Year, the Church came to associate January 1st with the naming of Jesus at his circumcision (Luke 2:21).
January 3: Takashi Nagai (1908-1951)—Mystic of Nagasaki. Nagai witnessed the atomic blast over his city. His wife’s charred remains were found in the Catholic cathedral, rosary clasped in her hands. As a physician he worked tirelessly for the survivors. When the radiation left him an invalid he became a contemplative, devoting himself to a life of prayer.
January 5: Lanza del Vasto (1901-1981)—Founder of the Community of the Ark and Catholic follower of Gandhi. He was raised in a wealthy Italian family. In his search for meaning in life he traveled to India and studied with Gandhi. Upon returning to the West he was determined to bring a message of peace and nonviolence that was rooted in his Catholic faith.
January 6: The Epiphany of Jesus—the day traditionally associated with the arrival of the Magi to visit the baby Jesus.
January 7: Felix and Mary Barreda (d. 1983)—Lay apostles and martyrs in Nicaragua. While helping with the coffee harvest, an act they knew to entail great risk, they were abducted by the Contras and subjected to repeated torture, rape, and finally execution. Their interrogators tried to get them to say they were communists, but they insisted they were only Christians living out their faith. They had been active in the Cursillo renewal movement and led a “base community” group in their home. Their commitment to justice and working with the poor grew out of their faith and reading Scripture. The people proclaimed them martyrs who laid down their lives for the Gospel.
January 13: George Fox (1624-1691)—Founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers). Fox proclaimed a simple message to the people of England, and suffered imprisonment and persecution for it. He taught that Christians should live simply, not swear any oaths, not make distinctions of social class, and to oppose war and violence. He opposed ordination of clergy or the use of formal forms of worship. The measure of a person’s faith was not in theology or even the Bible, but in their own personal spiritual experience. His followers became known as Quakers, a group which represented the left wing of Puritanism that believed in a divine, Inward Light (“that of God” in every person).
January 21: St. Agnes (d. 304?)— Traditionally, a young teenager from a wealthy Roman family who refused to marry or to worship non-Christian deities. She was condemned first to a house of prostitution, and then to death.
January 22: Alexander Men (1935-1990)—Russian Orthodox priest and martyr. As Russia entered a phase of rapid change under Gorbachev, reactionary forces murdered him with an ax blow to his head while on his way to church.
January 24: St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622)—Bishop of Geneva. Despite his parent’s wish for him to become a lawyer, Francis felt called to the priesthood. He was sent to Geneva, a stronghold of Protestant Calvinism where Catholics were persecuted. Rather than respond defensively, Francis chose to demonstrate love and self-sacrifice in the face of hatred. He helped found an order in which women, rather than living separate cloistered lives, became engaged in helping people in need. He taught that the path to holiness was open to lay persons in the world, not just the clergy. He is known as the patron saint of writers.
January 24: Florence Li-Tim Oh – the first woman ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Communion (Hong Kong, 1944).
January 25: The Conversion of St. Paul – Thirteen books of the New Testament claim to be written by the Apostle Paul (and a fourteenth was once thought to be written by Paul as well). Today, scholarly consensus is that Paul actually only wrote seven epistles that made it into the New Testament. In any case, Paul wrote more than any other single author in our New Testament, and his writings predate the gospels. The First Letter to the Thessalonians is thought to be the oldest book in the New Testament. According to scripture, Paul was a lay scholar who violently opposed the Jesus Movement but who on the Damascus Road had a mystical experience of Christ and thereafter claimed to be an Apostle commissioned by the Risen Christ to call others to follow the Christ-Way.
January 26: Timothy & Titus – Companions of the Apostle Paul. The first and second letters to Timothy and the Letter to Titus in the New Testament are traditionally considered to be authored by Paul. We now believe that those three letters were written 50-100 years after the Apostle Paul’s death.
January 27: St. John Chrysostom (349 CE – 407 CE) – Bishop of Constantinople.
January 28: St. Thomas Aquinas (1225 CE – 1274 CE) – Theologian and Dominican Friar. His Summa Theologiae was the first attempt to write a complete, systematic theology. He was influenced by the Greek philosophy of Aristotle.
January 30: Mohandas K. Gandi (1869 – 1948) – Proponent of non-violent resistance to systems of oppression. His philosophy and activism sparked the movement for Indian independence from Great Britain. He was a Hindu but also an admirer of Jesus Christ (though he rejected the dogmatic claims of Christianity) and his example inspired U.S. Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King, Jr.