Regular readers will know that I keep an eye out for anniversaries, and the coincidence of historical dates. The liturgy itself points us that way. To free us from being trapped in the present, the calendar draws our attention to saints who died on this or that day in the past, and to commemorations of the mysteries of the Lord’s life.
So a date is never just a date, but also part of the story of salvation history. Fr Dominic Allain mentioned recently in these pages that his ordination anniversary fell on June 29, the solemn feast of Peter and Paul. To be ordained on a major feast day is a blessing, but not one that I was granted. My ordination day, July 20, was set in conjunction with the 2002 World Youth Day, held in nearby Toronto. I was ordained the Saturday beforehand to coincide with the pilgrims visiting our diocese on their way to WYD. It was grand to have young pilgrims from Poland, the United Arab Emirates and Chile in our cathedral for the occasion.
Like most seminarians, I quickly consulted the calendar upon receiving news of my ordination date. Disappointment ensued: July 20 is the feast of St Apollinaris, the 1st-century martyred bishop of Ravenna, said to have been chosen by the Apostle Peter himself.
An important and impressive man no doubt, but I knew little about him and consequently had no devotion to him. There was a connection though. The university I attended in Rome was on the Piazza Sant’Apollinare; of course it was also close to the Piazza Navona and I felt no particular interest in matters nautical for that reason.
Yet as time went on I discovered several connections to July 20 which resonated in my life.
The first was that it was the death anniversary of Pope Leo XIII, for whom I have great admiration. Leo’s social vision was more penetrating than that of any other 19th-century figure, and is still relevant in the 21st, even as some of his successors’ social teaching has been overtaken by events. If Leo were ever to beatified, his likely feast day would be July 20, but he seems to have been left out of the parade of popes elevated to the altars that began with Pius IX and has included several of his successors. Nevertheless, I consider it a blessing to be ordained on the dies natalis of the father of the Church’s social doctrine, my academic specialty.
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