21 December 2011

21 December - Saint Thomas

Astronomy: The Winter Solstice occurs early tomorrow morning (the 22nd) at 1:30 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (5:30 a.m. Universal Time)

A frost beginning on Saint Thomas's Day will last for three months.

Frost on the shortest day is said to indicate a severe winter.

If it freezes on the shortest day, the price of corn will fall;
If it be mild weather, the price of corn will go up.

Look at a weathercock at 12:00 noon on St. Thomas’s Day and see which way the wind blows – for there it will stay for the next (lunar) quarter.

At Calmina, the birthday of the blessed apostle Thomas, who preached the Gospel to the Parthians, the Medes, the Persians and Hyrcanians.  Having finally penetrated into India, and instructed those nations in the Christian religion, he died transpierced with lances by order of the king.  His remains were first taken to the city of Edessa and then to Ortona.

In the Old Calendar, this is the feast of Saint Thomas the Apostle, the original Doubting Thomas (in the New Calendar, moved to 3 July, which in medieval calendars was celebrated either as the day of his martyrdom or the day of the translation of his relics… or both. The ways of the calendar makers are indeed mysterious.)

This is Thomas who would not believe in his Lord's resurrection, until he placed his fingers in the nail-holes and in the wound made by the soldier's spear, and for this was reproved by Our Lord: "Because thou hast seen me, Thomas, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed".  And he it was who made the simple profession of faith that many of us repeat during the Consecration: "My Lord and My God".

Tradition says that after preaching the Gospel in Persia, he was sent by Our Lord to India, where he did many miracles and received his crown of martyrdom.  His relics are said to have been translated to Edessa in the 3rd century (3 July 232 is the traditional date), and from thence to Chios, a Greek island off the Turkish coast, sometime around 1142.  In 1258, as the fleets of Venice and Genoa battled for control of the sea lanes to the East, ships from Ortona (Italy), as allies of Venice, arrived at Chios and began looting it.  In the midst of this wholesome recreation, they discovered the grave of Saint Thomas, and decided to take him home with them.

On September 6, 1258, the body arrived in Ortona, and was housed in the Cathedral where it remains to this day.  Twice has his resting place been destroyed – in 1566 when the Turkish fleet of Ali Pasha sacked the city and used gunpowder to break into the altar under which his relics were housed (they left the bones lying there), and in 1942 during the Battle of Ortona, when the Germans blew up the Cathedral (the relics were unharmed).

Dom Prosper Gueranger writes: “…St. Thomas, whose festal patronage would aid us to believe and hope in that God whom we see not, and who comes to us in silence and humility in order to try our Faith.  St. Thomas was once guilty of doubting, when he ought to have believed; and only learnt the necessity of Faith by the sad experience of incredulity: he comes then most appropriately to defend us, by the power of his example and prayers, against the temptations which proud human reason might excite within us.”

“O Thomas Didymus! Who didst merit to see Christ; we beseech thee, by most earnest supplication, help us miserable sinners, lest we be condemned with the ungodly, at the coming of the Judge.”

“Grant, O Lord, we beseech Thee, that we may rejoice on the solemnity of Thy blessed apostle Thomas; to the end that we may always have the assistance of his prayers, and zealously profess the faith he taught.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”

One of the oddest stories about the remains of St. Thomas can be found in the so-called Travels of Sir John Mandeville – so-called, because ‘Sir John Mandeville’ seems to have been the pseudonym of a 14th century stay-at-home person who not only enjoyed travelogues, but also enjoyed inserting his own fanciful tales therein.

In the author’s description of the tomb of St. Thomas in India, he begins by stating that while the body of the saint was taken to Edessa, it was brought back again and buried in the city of Calamy where he had been martyred. “And the arm and the hand that he put in our Lord’s side, when he appeared to him after his resurrection and said to him, Noli esse incredulous, sed fidelis, is yet lying in a vessel without [outside of] the tomb.  And by that hand they make all their judgments n the country, whoso hath right or wrong.  For when there is any dissension between two parties, and every of them maintaineth his cause, and saith that his cause is rightful, and that other saith the contrary, then both parties write their causes in two bills and put them in the hand of Saint Thomas.  And anon he casteth away the bill of the wrong cause and holdeth still the bill with the right cause.  And therefore men come from far countries to have judgment of doubtable causes.  And other judgment use they none there.”

The engraving is from a medieval French manuscript of Mandeville’s Travels.  [If true, that must have been quite a set-up.  Quite a lucrative set-up at that.]

This was a day when farmers would go around their farmyard, sprinkling holy water and asking Our Lord's protection on all they owned, while family and servants gathered to recite the Rosary.  We can do the same, placing our house and holdings under His protection.

One of the customs of today is going 'a-Thomasing', also called 'a-mumping' or 'a-gooding', which was going from house to house begging for money or food to furnish their Christmas table.  Usually, the mumpers were poor widows or single women, sometimes children, sometime people who would not beg at any other time of the year.  Instead of money, they might receive a dole of wheat with which to make a frumenty, a favorite dish of parched wheat boiled in milk and seasoned with sugar and spices.  In return, they gave the donor a sprig of holly or mistletoe.

Often there would be tankards of spiced ale for the mumpers, and (says Robert Chambers in his “Book of Days”) “it is said that the hospitality shown on such occasions proved sometimes rather overpowering, and the recipients of this and other charitable benefactions found themselves occasionally wholly unable to find their way back to their own habitations…”  [now, that is my kind of Thomasing!]

Well-a-day, well-a-day, St. Thomas goes too soon away,
Then your gooding we do pray, for the good time will not stay.
St. Thomas grey, St. Thomas grey, the longest night and the shortest day,
Please to remember St. Thomas Day.

You can carry on this tradition to 'furnish a Christmas table' by making a contribution to a women's shelter, foster children's program, orphanage, soup kitchen, or parish St. Vincent de Paul Society.  God bless you for your charity.