December 14 – Philemon, Apollonius, and Arianus of Alexandria; John of the Cross

Philemon, Apollonius, & Arianus of Alexandria (d. 286) were martyrs. Apollonius, a Christian, devised an ingenious scheme to avoid being killed for not sacrificing to idols: he convinced pagan Philemon to swap robes with him and sacrifice in his stead. Unfortunately (or fortunately), Philemon converted to Christianity on his way to Apollonius’ trial. “I changed my mind,” he told Governor Arianus. His brother outed him as him, but he stood his ground. “I just now converted. Go ahead and kill me.” “If I kill you, you will die unbaptized,” the wily Arianus said. Philemon saw his point. “Is there anybody here who can baptize me?” he shouted. Soon after nobody stepped forward, a small cloud appeared, rained upon Philemon three times, and blew away.

Apollonius by this time found his courage, and joined Philemon. Together they were hung from a tree, and shot with arrows. One missed its mark and pierced Arianus’ eye. After some cursing, he begged Philemon to heal him. “After I die,” Philemon said, “sprinkle dust from my grave on your eye, and you will be healed.” Arianus did, he was, and he converted to Christianity, resulting (eventually) in being called before the Emperor. As he left town he told his servants, “Look for my body to wash ashore in a few days. Bury me near Philemon.”

Diocletian had Arianus bound in chains, thrown into a pit, and covered with rocks, but when he returned to his bedchamber, there was Arianus, lounging on the bed. “Jesus 1, Diocletian 0,” Arianus said (approximately). Dio then had him sewn into a bag and thrown into the sea, and you know the rest of the story due to my skillful foreshadowing.

John of the Cross (1542–1591) was born to a converso (high-top sneaker Jewish converts to Christianity) family near Ávila. His father Gonzalo had been an accountant for his rich relatives, but he was kicked out of the family when he married below his station (Mornington Crescent). He died when John was seven, and the family suffered terrible poverty—John’s brother died of malnutrition. Finally Catalina, his mother, found work as a weaver.

John entered a school for poor children, became an acolyte, then joined the Carmelites. They sent him to University to study theology, philosophy, and Biblical Themes in Spanish Cinema. He was priested, and was considering becoming a Carthusian, but then he met Teresa of Ávila, the mystic Carmelite reformer. Under Teresa’s guidance he founded a monastery of so-called “Discalced” (barefoot) Carmelites, and took the name John of the Cross.

Soon politics, both ecclesial and secular, broke out over Teresa and John’s reforms, and John was seized, tried, and imprisoned in a monastery in Toledo (Spain, not Ohio) by not-so-discalced Carmelites, who lashed him weekly to show him his desired reforms were too harsh. After about nine months of this he escaped to Teresa, was nursed back to health, and went right on reforming. The Discalced Carmelites demanded that Pope Gregory XIII recognize them as a separate entity, which eventually he did. John taught at the Discalceds’ first college, was one of the new order’s first “Definitors,” and wrote its constitutions. He traveled widely, establishing many monasteries and convents, until he was sidelined for disagreeing with the order’s Vicar General and was banished to a distant monastery, where he soon fell ill and died.

Almost immediately, various towns and monasteries started fighting over his body, with the predictable result that he’s buried in all of them. His poems Spiritual Canticle (which he began in prison) and The Dark Night of the Soul establish him as a giant among Spanish poets, of whom he is the patron saint.