Saturday, December 23, 2006

Can a Saint Save Christmas?
The "Kanti" Man Can!

Sometimes I find it surprising that so many Christian parents (AND a few so-called Catholic publications) stand in opposition to my position against teaching their children to believe in Santa Claus. But St. John of Kanti (or St. John Cantius as he is also known), would have agreed with me; he strictly taught that no heresy was a good heresy, even when it made his personal popularity plummet. Yet in the end, Kanti's holiness finally won folks over, and John went on to become one of Poland's (and John Paul's) favorite native sons.

John was born into relative wealth in Kanti, Poland, and went to the University of Cracow to become a priest. After ordination he was appointed lecturer at the college and despite (or perhaps because of) his popularity among students and townsfolk (who began attending his lectures also), he immediately encountered official opposition. His superiors, saying that his strict diet and lack of sleep would adversely affect his health, ordered him to take it easy. John countered by saying his ascetic practices were patterned after the Desert Fathers, who nearly all lived a long life -- but alas, this did not fly. John was removed from his post, and ended up as a parish priest at Olkusz.

Single-minded and energetic, John's youthful zeal in fighting all native customs not in conformity with Catholic doctrine did not fare much better at the parish level. Still, John was making inroads; the poor soon realized they could trust him, and quickly came to know everything he owned was at their disposal. Gradually the clergy in charge of the University was replaced with devout priests, and seeing that John's academic brilliance was being wasted, recalled him to Cracow as professor of Sacred Scripture.

This time around John fared much better. His personal life was as frugal as ever; he never ate meat, slept on the bare floor, and when he was called to Rome, he walked the whole way, carrying his luggage on his back. However, there was also little doubt his approach to people had mellowed. John still told his students to "fight against all false opinions," but added, "do so with moderation and courtesy." Like athletic champions who are considered brash when they are young but called great competitors when they grow older, John's life and wisdom came to be admired by all. John dined with nobility and broke bread with the homeless, while never compromising the Truth either in his life or with his words. When he died (on Christmas Eve in 1473) nearly the whole country cried, and the University honored him by vesting each new doctorate candidate with John's old gown.

Because John's lessons on the street and in the classroom were equally effective, John Paul II often cited him as one of the model saints for "The New Evangelization." Today, John's moderation methods probably would have precluded him from telling a line of kids to stop approaching the mall's Santa Claus. But "The Kanti Man" would have shamed parents nonetheless, for his genuineness would have had children turning around and forming a line toward this gentle saint instead.

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