“. . . but Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.” (Matthew 19:14)
One understandable drawback to the great liturgical feasts, such as the magnificent celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord at Christmas, is that we can overlook lesser observances in all the excitement. For instance, today (December 23rd) is the memorial of St. Servulus. He is worth remembering for his own sake, but his life also gives us some very fruitful matter for meditation on the penultimate day of Advent, as we prepare for Christmas itself. Let’s take a look at the story of St. Servulus. Here’s Butler’s Lives of the Saints (an account based on a homily by St. Gregory the Great):
December 23.—ST. SERVULUS was a beggar, and had been so afflicted with palsy from his infancy that he was never able to stand, sit upright, lift his hand to his mouth, or turn himself from one side to another. His mother and brother carried him into the porch of St. Clement’s Church at Rome, where he lived on the alms of those that passed by. He used to entreat devout persons to read the Holy Scriptures to him, which he heard with such attention as to learn them by heart. His time he consecrated by assiduously singing hymns of praise and thanksgiving to God.
After several years thus spent, his distemper having seized his vitals, he felt his end was drawing nigh. In his last moments he desired the poor and pilgrims, who had often shared in his charity, to sing sacred hymns and psalms for him. While he joined his voice with theirs, he on a sudden cried out: “Silence! do you not hear the sweet melody and praise which resound in the heavens?” Soon after he spoke these words he expired, and his soul was carried by angels into everlasting bliss, about the year 590.
Suffering and Gratitude
Servulus is truly an admirable model of heroic virtue. In spite of a lifetime of constant suffering, he was filled with gratitude to his Creator. Indeed, he was completely devoted to Him, as signified by his name (Servulus means “little slave”). Moreover, despite his own absolute poverty, he was keenly aware of the need of others.
But there’s more to the story of this saint and his feast day, coming as it does right before the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord. When I first read Servulus’ hagiography, in fact, a passage from Charles Dickens immediately came to mind. I was thinking of a scene in A Christmas Carol. Here, the Ghost of Christmas Present is showing Scrooge the Cratchit family’s Christmas dinner. Scrooge’s underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit, has just returned from church with his sickly, crippled son Tiny Tim on Christmas day. After his siblings whisk Tim off to see “the pudding singing in the copper,” Bob has the following exchange with his wife:
“And how did little Tim behave?” asked Mrs. Cratchit, when she had rallied Bob on his credulity, and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content.
“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.”
Little Saints are Images of Christ’s Mercy
Tiny Tim sees himself as a living image of Christ’s mercy. He reminds the faithful that the Nativity they’re celebrating is not just the birth of a baby. On the contrary, it’s the Incarnation of the God of Mercy as a Man. St. Servulus is also an icon, pointing out precisely who the Babe in the manger has come to be. He reminds us that in taking on human flesh, Jesus is taking to himself all that is human, excepting sin. That very emphatically includes human suffering. It is often said that when God took on human form, he sanctified humanity.
Likewise, Jesus has participated in our pain and sorrow. Through his suffering we can unite ourselves to the living God. St. Servulus puts flesh on the words of St. Paul: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions (Colossians 1:24).” Small wonder that the suffering Servulus could hear the voices of angels even before he left this world for the next.
In two days we will be celebrating Christmas, the birth of our Savior. This is indeed, as the angels tell the shepherds of Bethlehem, “good news of a great joy” (Luke 2:10). St. Servulus, like other little saints, reminds us that our Savior comes not so much to save us from the hardships of this world, but to save us through those hardships, so that we can be eternally happy with Him in the next.
May your Christmas be a merry one . . . and God Bless Us, Every One.