October 11 – Zenaida and Philonilla; Pope John XXIII

Zenaida and Philonilla of Tarsus, Holy Unmercinaries* (I-II cent.) were relatives of the Apostle Paul. Rich and extremely intelligent, they got an education in medicine (such as it was in those days). Somewhere in there they became Christians, and began to apply Christian principles to their medical learning, seeking to heal body and soul (add ten points if your mental iPod just played Coleman Hawkins). After their residency in Tarsus they moved to Thessaly to be near the mineral springs, hoping to open a water-bottling plant (a little humor there). They created a mini-proto-monastery and a clinic for the poor and destitute, who were being ignored by the pagan doctors, who only treated rich patients, disgracing their Hippocratic Oath, is this a great run-on sentence or what.

The sisters’ love for the poor drew many to the Christian faith, and they healed many through the wise practice of medicine, wonderworking prayers, and a copy of Gray’s Anatomy that fell backwards in time through a wormhole. They are called the “Friends of Peace” because they preached that calm and peaceful living could both heal and prevent illness. Philonella was the scientist of the two, seeking to establish evidence-based medicine free of magic, superstition, and crowded waiting rooms. Zenaida became a spiritual guide for many women and men; and saw depression and other psychiatric conditions as illnesses to be treated and cured medically, which is more than you can say for some 21st century bloggers. After Zenaida died, Philonella deeded the clinic to her students, and retired to contemplative life.

So the next time someone tells you women aren’t fit to be doctors, tell them about Zenaida and Philonilla, the first (post-Luke) Christian physicians. But don’t stick out your tongue and say “nyah.” Stick out your tongue and say “aah.”

Pope John XXIII (1881–1963) earned a doctorate in theology, becoming in turn a priest, episcopal secretary, lecturer, titular archbishop, apostolic visitor, apostolic delegate, titular bishop again, apostolic delegate again and yet again, nuncio, cardinal-priest, patriarch, aaaaand (inhale) Pope of Rome. See what you can accomplish in a mere 54 years if you only apply yourself?

John served as a chaplain in the Great War, and in the Nightmare Years and Second War, escapified many Jews, for which he was nominated to Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile (pending). Once John settled into poping, he almost immediately removed the word “perfidious” (said of the Jews) from the Good Friday liturgy, and issued an official confession for centuries of anti-Semitism. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he offered to broker peace between Khrushchev and Kennedy (at any time an invitation you can’t decline, yet they did). In 1962 he was Time’s Man of the Year. He was also awarded honors by the Italian and American governments for his work for peace.

Probably John’s greatest legacy, however, is the Second Vatican Council, which opened on this date in 1962. “This holy old boy doesn’t realize what a hornet’s nest he’s stirring up,” said one Cardinal. He was wrong, of course; it wasn’t hornets John had stirred up, it was African killer bees. The Council made sweeping changes to the worship of the Roman Catholic Church, allowing the Mass to be said in the vernacular (which many thought a good thing), and inaugurating “guitar Masses,” paving the way for the popular vocal group The St. Louis Jesuits (which fewer thought a good thing).

John was canonized on 27 April 2014 by Pope Francis.