August 1 – Procession of the Cross; Alphonsus Maria de Liguori

The Procession of the Honorable Wood of the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord (1164). The True Cross™—well, actually a chunk of it, since bits of it were splintered off and sent as relics all over tarnation (and tarnation is a pretty big place)—was traditionally placed on the altar at the Church of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia, as it would be called in Greece if they wrote in Latin letters) on July 31. Then, on August 1, it was placed in the midst (i.e. middle) of the church for the people to venerate, after which it led a crucession (a real word meaning a procession headed by a cross, or in this case THE Cross) through the streets of the city (or at least some of them, the lucky lanes). This was done daily throughout the Dormition Fast (the fast preceding the Feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God (Aug 15), lasting August 1–14); then it was stowed away again.

Nowadays, churches not fortunate enough to have a relic of the True Cross™ have to make do with a Plain Ordinary Cross (a cross-shaped piece of metal or wood or in some cases ivory or porphyry which is really cool), which is good enough, because as you know our veneration passes through the object to the one depicted. We venerate the cross (True™ or not) because it was upon a cross that our Lord died for our salvation. But you knew that. Please tell me you knew that. Also on this day are celebrated a lesser blessing of the water, a blessing of honey (which you’ll admit is pretty sweet), and the anniversary of the beginning of the baptism of the Rus’.

Alphonsus Maria de Liguori (1696–1787), a nobleman of the Kingdom of Naples, was baptized “Alfonso Maria Antonio Giovanni Francesco Cosimo Damiano Michel Angelo Gasparro de Liguori,” which at 89 characters handily beats the 73 characters of “The Procession of the Honorable Wood of the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord.” He went to law school at 16, had his own practice at 21, lost his first case at 27, left the profession at 28, and was made a priest at 30. He was an accomplished painter, musician, and poet, and penned 111 works on spirituality and theology, which have been translated into 72 languages. (Jealous? Jealousy is a sin. Work on that.)

He worked among the down-and-out youth of Naples, establishing youth-run Evening Chapels, centers of piety and social activities. We are told he suffered from “scruples,” which is unrelated to “scrapple,” a sort of pork meatloaf[1]. In 1732 he founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists) to teach and preach among the poor. He was involuntarily bishopified in 1762, served energetically, and resigned in 1775 due to poor health. During his bishophood, Alphonsus’ diocese had a priest who was living a most ungodly life. He placed a large crucifix at the threshold to his office, and summoned the man. The priest hesitated at the door, whereupon Alphonsus said, “Come in, and be sure to trample it good. It won’t be the first time you placed our Lord beneath your feet.” Ouch.

In later years things got rough. The King of Naples sought to shut down the Redemptorists, believing they were carrying on the work of the Jesuits, whom he had suppressed in 1773. To appease him, Alphonsus changed the order’s Rule, but this was rejected by Pope Pius VI, and Alphonsus was deposed as the order’s leader. The breach between the houses in Naples and those in the Papal states wasn’t healed until nearly two decades after the saint’s death; nevertheless, he died in peace and inner calm. He is the patron saint, naturally, against scrapple. Sorry, scruples.

[1] The Catholic Encyclopedia defines “scruples” as “unwarranted fear that something is a sin, which, as a matter of fact, is not.” The modern term is “scrupulosity,” and it is regarded as a variety of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.