June 1, 2010

St. Justin's Altar

This morning one of the brothers sent me this photo of St. Justin's Altar at our church on the Via Veneto in Rome:

"The bones of St. Justin, philosopher and martyr"

On my first visit to the church, which--in good Franciscan style--is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, I was pleasantly surprised to find Justin's relics; I had no idea that they were there. The poor church is so famous for our lovely bone chapels that other things get missed. Not that I don't like the bone chapels; they're a little macabre, for sure, but their particular art might be a good word against a world that has ceased to believe in the final destiny of the body. And that goes for you too, Catholics who cremate their relatives and then refuse to give them a proper burial.

St. Justin and I have a long history. When I was preparing for baptism I had to choose my Christian name. I looked through a list of patron saints. I was a philosophy student at the time, so I remarked on Justin as the patron of philosophers. I went to the library and read the First Apology and the Dialogue with Trypho. I found them fascinating. I still use Justin's description of the Eucharist whenever I train or give a talk to ministers of Holy Communion.

In an uncharacteristic display of practical wisdom, I decided to leave Justin and be baptized with the same name I had before. Nevertheless, I have come to believe that my choice of Charles Lwanga as a baptismal name was pure Providence. It only started to become clear to me later. Justin came up again as a candidate at my Confirmation, but lost out to St. Joseph. Because of his presence in these discernments, and because he was someone I read very early on, I have always considered St. Justin to be something like a tertiary patron saint.

Whenever I try to pray for our brothers in studies, I ask Justin's prayers as well.

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