Saints’ days.

by K.W. Leslie, 11 July

Today is 11 July. In North America this means it’s Free Slurpee Day at 7-Eleven convenience stores, ’cause most of us in North America write the date as 7/11 instead of 11/7. (Blame the British, who used to write their dates that way too. They switched to match the rest of Europe; we didn’t. Anyway.)

It also means today is the feast day of Benedetto de Norcia (480–548) whom English-speaking Christians know as Benedict of Nursia. He founded 12 Italian monastic communities, and created a list of rules for the monks to live by—“the Rule of St. Benedict,” which was adopted by European religious communities throughout the medieval period. The Roman Catholic Order of St. Benedict is named for him. So are a number of popes.

So today is St. Benedict’s Day. Well, it’s St. Benedict’s Day for Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and most Protestants; for the Orthodox Church in America it’s 14 March. Neither of those dates correspond to the day Benedict died, which is traditionally how feast days are determined; that’d be 21 March 547. Back in 1970, the Catholics changed the date ’cause they wanted to honor Benedict, but Lent kept getting in the way, and you don’t fast on feast days, so they figured it was easier to move it to where nobody would schedule a time of fasting. As for the Orthodox… well, it’s close enough.

As I said, a saint’s day is traditionally the anniversary of their death. Usually by martyrdom: They’d get murdered or executed, sometimes in nasty ways, for following Jesus. And since ancient Christians didn’t always know these folks’ birthdays, the date of their death would do as a marker. Plus it’s the day they went to be with our Lord.

Of course there are exceptions. Like St. Benedict’s Day, which got moved for convenience. Like saints from the bible, or saints whose date of martyrdom and birthday we don’t know. And of course there are recent saints, whose birthdays are more likely to get celebrated than their date of death—which is why Martin Luther King Jr. Day is on or around 15 January, not 4 April.

Honoring… versus straight-up worship.

Every church has certain Christians we look up to, alive and dead. And the longer a church has been in existence, the more dead ones we accumulate. Stands to reason, right?

But we’ve always had this annoying little problem; Some of the fandom borders on worship. For certain Catholics fr’instance, if you say anything against Jesus’s mother, it’s blasphemy. Not just rude or insulting; they’ll actually use the word blasphemy. It’s a big deal to them, because they venerate Mary so very much—as they should! But quite a lot of their veneration crosses the line, y’know.

Jean Calvin wrote a whole chapter in his Institutes of the Christian Religion nitpicking the fine details between the Catholics who venerate Mary, and the Catholics who worship her. He concluded they’re virtually doing the same thing. And in no small irony, you’re gonna find a lot of Calvinists who revere Calvin in nearly the same way. Don’t you dare critique Calvin.

I’ve personally found, when it comes to certain C.S. Lewis fans, you can get in just as much trouble for critiquing a Narnia book, or one of his apologetics books. Or trouble with a James Dobson fan, a John Piper fan, an Oswald Chambers fan, a Tim LaHaye fan—pretty much every Christian who venerates their faves into idols, and puts ’em on the same rank as Jesus himself. It’s creepy.

Fundamentalists suspect idolatry is exactly what’s going on whenever Catholics and Anglicans pray to saints… which I covered in the article on that. I can’t wholly say it’s not that, ’cause humans are creatures of extremes: Some of the folks who pray to saints are way beyond the point of thinking of them as helpful fellow Christians, bringing petitions to God for ’em. They straight-up treat ’em like lesser gods. Or equal gods; I’ve known Catholics who pray to Mary exclusively. Not to the Father, nor Son, nor Holy Spirit: Mary alone. For various reasons—and all of them problematic.

I’ll just say this: Mary’s awesome, but she’s human, not God. If you’re gonna pray to her, remember she’s just forwarding those prayers to the Father, same as any Christian you’d ask for prayer assistance. She might be full of grace, Lk 1.28 but she got that from the Father, whose grace, like he himself, is infinite. She’s not our advocate; Jesus is. 1Jn 2.1

Observing saints’ days.

That aside, how should the saints’ days be observed, even honored?

Well certainly not the way they’ve been commercially observed. I doubt St. Patrick would be pleased with all the boorish behavior on his day. I doubt any of the St. Valentines would approve of what passes for “love” on their day. Lots of pagan and patriotic and secular practices have been mixed together with all the saints’ days we celebrate. The rest of the saints’ days—there are hundreds each year, and lots of them overlap!—tend to be ignored.

But no, we don’t have to throw a party for every last one of them. The point, like that of any anniversary (well, other than your wedding anniversary), is to remember. Remember what they did for Jesus. Remember Jesus!

If you’re not up on your saints’ days, there are different lists for different churches. I’m gonna list a few Wikipedia pages on

Just about every day of the year has a saint or two (or dozens!) attached to it. Learn them, and you can have a lot of fun surprising your friends by wishing ’em a happy St. Mary of Magdala’s Day on the 22nd, or happy St. James the Apostle’s Day on the 25th, or a happy St. William Wilberforce’s Day on the 30th.

There are lots of important Christians to remember. And why not? Their good examples will often help spur us to be good examples ourselves.