A reflection for the Saint Janvier Memorial
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are really happy. (Ps 126)
Today, the church celebrates the optional Memorial of Saint January, bishop and martyr. Januarius was a third-century bishop and martyr who may have suffered under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Somewhere along the way, Januarius (known to Italian Americans as “Genaro”) ended up buried in the cathedral in Naples, Italy, where I met him.
I was backpacking alone in Italy when I walked around St. Jan’s Cathedral. As I admired the breathtaking beauty near the altar, something extraordinary happened. A clerk was pulling out what I thought was a monstrance holding the Eucharist. I was suddenly surrounded by a sea of people, all clamoring for a chance to kiss what the priest was holding.
I discovered, through an interrupted Italian-English interrogation, that it was in fact a vial containing the blood of Januarius. Blood is supposed to miraculously liquefy three times a year, his feast day being such an occasion, and I happened to find myself in the front row. If the blood does not liquefy, the Neapolitans take it as an ominous premonition. The church has not officially recognized it as a miracle, but the popular religion of the region considers it gospel. (I’ll leave it up to you, reader, to decide for yourself.) Luckily for me, he liquified in 2013, a good sign for a 20-year-old ready to explore a new city.
Somewhere along the way, St. Januarius (known to Italian Americans as “Genaro”) ended up buried in the cathedral in Naples, Italy, where I met him.
A few years after my stay in Naples, Pope Francis visited Saint January’s Cathedral. When Pope Francis picked up the relic containing the vial, the blood began to liquefy, even though it was not one of the three days of the year it was supposed to. But only somehow. The Archbishop of Naples cried out to the crowd: “Blood has half liquefied, which shows that Saint Genaro loves our Pope and Naples!
Pope Francis wasn’t so sure. He added: “St. Genaro only half loves us; he asks us to make an even greater effort (of conversion).
I think Pope Francis was getting to the heart of how we should understand miraculous events: it doesn’t matter if they first inspire awe and wonder, but then they should call us to greater conversion, a greater action, greater love. I remember the disciples of the Ascension of Jesus, who were warned by an angel: “Men of Galilee, why do you stand there looking at the sky? The implicit message? To be busy.
Today, let us remember that after gazing at the sky or a vial of liquefied blood, we are called to look inward and outward toward our brothers and sisters.