May: St. Nobody Important

Saints with Funny Names

"Christ and the Samaritan Woman at the Well" by Angelica Kauffman, 1796. Photo: Public Domain

Some of Our Lord’s disciples are famous, but others are not. Peter and the apostles are in the first category. We know where they preached; we know if and how they were martyred; we know what their feast days are. What about the “nameless” disciples, the ordinary people Our Lord met along the way, seemingly by chance? There is the paralytic by the pool of Bethsaida, the Samaritan woman at the well, and the man born blind.

As it turns out, the Eastern calendar celebrates all three of those disciples during the Easter season, on three successive Sundays. Since they all land in May this year, these “nameless” saints will be our focus this month. During the time that we celebrate Our Lord’s resurrection, they are remembered for their witness to his redemption. They were the outcasts of society, steeped in sin and pain for just years and years, considered past hope by all who knew them. Perhaps Scripture leaves them nameless because they could be us.

“The Pool” by Palma Giovane, 1592. Photo: Web Gallery of Art/Public Domain

The fourth Sunday after Easter celebrates the cure of the paralytic man (see John 5:1-18). This man was healed after suffering for 38 years. He waited by the miraculous waters of Bethsaida for someone to lower him into the pool but no one would. Finally, Our Lord asked him if he would like to be well and cured him with a simple command. Immediately, all the healthy people who never bothered to help the paralytic man into the pool, started complaining that Jesus had cured him on the Sabbath.

It was as if Jesus made them look bad so they had to find fault. I mean, if the sick guy was OK lying on the pavement for 38 years, what’s one more? Later, Our Lord found the former paralytic in the temple and he warned him not to sin lest he end up worse than he started. Don’t let your newfound health cause you to lose the grace you’ve been given or you’ll end up like your heartless neighbors.

Eastern Orthodox icon of St. Photina meeting Christ. Photo: Public Domain

The fifth Sunday after Easter is that of the Samaritan woman (see John 4:4-42). A misfit in every way, she was not a mainstream Jew like Jesus; she was not a normal Samaritan housewife like her neighbors. She had five husbands and was living with a man. It was all so tangled she did not dare come to the well when all of her neighbors did. Just more for them to gossip about. She waited until no one was there, at high noon when the sun was hottest. Our Lord offered her living water, such that she would never thirst again, and you bet she wanted some. What he was really offering was grace. You know because he suddenly seemed to change the subject. “Go, call your husband.”

The husband business was in the way. But rather than discuss that, she changed the subject on him saying basically, your religion is messed up. (Sound familiar?) Yet, she was not as closed as she appeared. In the course of a few minutes, Ven. Fulton Sheen says, she went from calling Our Lord “sir,” then “prophet,” then “messiah.” She ran back to town, to the same people she normally avoided, and led them to Jesus. When they met him they believed. They begged Jesus to stay and he did, giving them what amounts to a two-day retreat.

What became of our nameless saint after that? One account in Eastern tradition has it that the Samaritan woman left the world and became a hermitess in the desert, leading a life of penance. Another is that she and her children went to Rome, where, under Nero, she became a martyr. Both accounts give her name as St. Photina.

“Christ Healing the Blind” by Nicolas Colombel, 1682. Photo: Public Domain

The sixth Sunday after Easter is that of the man born blind (see John 9:1-41). According to Eastern doctor of the Church St. Basil, he was not just without sight, he was without eyes. When Our Lord bent down to the ground and made mud out of soil and his own spittal he was creating eyes, as he had once created the body of Adam from the soil and breathed life into him.

No wonder people debated about whether it was him or not. Going from having no eyes to having eyes changes your look.

As with the paralytic, nobody cared about all that the poor blind guy had suffered. The Pharisees suddenly took notice but only to question him and get the answers they wanted. When the man pointed out the obvious, that Jesus must be from God because — eyes — they chased him out of the temple. Hearing that, Our Lord tracked him down, and asked him if he believed in the Son of God. This honest soul answered: Who is he so that I can believe in him?

Now we are coming to what Our Lord meant when he said that the man was born blind, not because he sinned but so that God could be glorified in him. Jesus didn’t mean: I’m going to make that guy suffer all his life and then wow everybody with a stunning cure. He meant that he had come to give mercy to the world. The man born blind responded by falling down to adore him.

The East calls the blind man Celidonius while the West calls him Cedonius. Close enough. What ever happened to him, you wonder? The story goes that he founded a Christian community in Nimes, France. There is indeed a shrine to him at the Basilique Sainte Marie Madeleine in a town in Provence noted for its excessive use of the hyphen: Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume. There you can venerate a skull reputedly belonging to him. Underneath that is an inscription which, according an expert team of translators (my high school French and google) reads:

Saint Sidoine (close enough)

Aveuglené gueri par Jesus (blind-born healed by Jesus)

Evangile St. Jean IX (Gospel of St. John Chapter 9)

Whatever their names, the ordinary people who met Our Lord along the way teach us that it doesn’t matter if no one thinks we’re worth bothering about, nor how much of a mess we’re in, nor how we got in it. Our Lord knows us by name and is ready to heal us. We are important to him.

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