What’s a “fête du prénom”?

Today, July 25, is the Feast Day of St. James The Apostle

Today, July 25, is the Feast Day of St. James The Apostle. I prefer the appellation “James the Greater” but that is just my false ego getting the better of me.  

James and his brother John were part of a family fishing outfit on the Sea of Galilee. I imagine it was called, “Zebedee and Sons”. Jesus came along and busted up their business by successfully inviting the two brothers to join him as apostles. They were such ruffians that they were referred to as Boanerges by the gang. Although this is normally translated from the Greek as, “Sons of Thunder”, it is most likely a Galilean dialectal corruption of Hebrew bene reghesh “sons of rage”. Who knows, maybe Zebedee was ok with letting go of these two trouble makers.

Although the brothers James and John did soften after their years with Jesus, the Orden de Santiago (Order of Santiago or Order of St. James of the Sword) brought whole new levels of “thunder” to this Saint’s name. Patron Saint of Spain, the Orden de Santiago was a 12th century holy order of knights (like the Knights Templar), whose first mission was to protect Catholic pilgrims on the Camino_de_Santiago (Way of St. James) as they walked to the shrine of St. James whose remains are said to be in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia

Since I hope to bike or walk this path myself, it holds significance for me. In Islam, if one goes to Mecca on pilgrimage, you receive the title El-Hajj (Pilgrim) afterword. Catholicism has no such title but I will happily answer to “Pilgrim” if I ever make the trip!

After I finished my service in the Peace Corps, I lived in Cairo for 3 years in a Jesuit community with priests from Egypt, Syria, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. At Collège de la Sainte Famille, the house language was French and many of that community’s traditions were also French. The fête du prénom or “name day” was one particular custom that I brought home with me. When the first fête du prénom was celebrated, I assumed it was a biological birthday because I had never heard that phrase while learning French in Mali with the Peace Corps. I assumed the French say fête du prénom and West Africans say fête du anniversaire [sic]. I later figured it out my mistake.

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A Day of Celebration. A painting by Swedish artist Fanny Brate depicting preparations for a name day celebration. Oil on canvas, 1902.

In many Orthodox and Catholic countries, “name day” is a custom. It works like this. If your name is Fergus and the Feast of St. Fergus is March 30, then on that day, you are treated to something special. My Irish grandparents would say a rosary for you then treat you like a king for a day.

For the Jesuits in Egypt, this received more attention than a community members’ biological birthday. It was the one day we got cake after dinner! Now with a family of my own, biological birthdays receives lots of attention but our Saints’ Days get celebrated too.

In fact, this tradition goes into high gear during late July because half of my family saint days fall within a few days time. Between July 22-26, four of the 8 people that comprised our family for the past 10 years have Saints Days. 

July 22 Saint Mary Magdalene for my eldest, Lilly Magelena. Lilly also has a feast day for her first name (July 14 Saint Lily of the Mohawks) but Magelena always gets the most attention. 

July 25 Saint James the Apostle for me.

July 26 Saint Joaquin and Anne for Joaquin, my son and his two Godmothers, Anna, my mother in law (recently departed), and his Godmother Anne.

Feast of St. Mary Magdalene: Prostitute, Wife of Jesus or Apostle to the Apostles?

TINTORETTO - Magdalena penitente (Musei Capitolini, Roma, 1598-1602) - copia.jpg
TINTORETTO -Magdalena penitente (Musei Capitolini, Roma, 1598-1602)

My eldest child’s middle name is Magdalena. It was chosen to honor Saint Mary Magdalene and her Egyptian uncle Madgi. July 22nd is Saint Mary Magdalene’s feast day, the day she is celebrated by Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and Eastern Orthodox. On this day, I go to great lengths to celebrate the glory of this “Apostle of Apostles” and “Patron Saint of Contemplatives”.

What most are unaware of is that there were a few people named Mary in the Bible. One of them was a trusted friend of Jesus. One of them was a sister of his friend, Lazarus. One of them was most likely a prostitute. Although there is nothing wrong with being a sexworker, the early Church is argued to have used this last Mary as a means to demean the Mary who was Jesus’ trusted companion. As a result of their work, rather than being the leader of the Apostles, she, the only woman that was part of Jesus’ ministry, becomes little more than a wretched follower of Christ, grateful for His forgiveness but in no way influential with the running of things in the early church. 

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Holy Women at Christ’s Tomb (c. 1590s) by Annibale Carracci. In Matthew 28:1–10, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” encounter an angel at the tomb, who tells them that Christ has risen.

Fresno City College Distinguished Alumnus, Robert Cargill, Associate Professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa pointed out that,

“There are many scholars who argue that because Jesus empowered women to such an extent early in his ministry, it made some of the men who would lead the early church later on uncomfortable,”.

“How Early Church Leaders Downplayed Mary Magdalene’s Influence by Calling Her a Whore” (Sarah Pruitt) https://www.history.com/news/mary-magdalene-jesus-wife-prostitute-saint

Cargill continues that the two responses to this observation was to make her a repentant prostitute or a lover of Jesus. The Last Temptation of Christ and The Da Vinci Code are two of the more popular versions of the idea that Mary was Jesus’ lover or wife. There is no biblical evidence to support these interpretations.

Image of The Da Vinci Code
Black thorns against a blood red background.
Image of the Last Temptation of Christ Film

These interpretations are just as likely as the Magalena comics series that describes Mary as the mother of a line of sexy female warriors who work for the Catholic Church in secret. 

Cover of Magdalena TPB by Eric Basaldua

Again, none of these interpretations are supported in the Bible. Additionally, all of these interpretations sexualise this companion of Jesus to such an extent that her role among the early followers of Christ is limited to lower, baser, non-intellectual drives. 

What I take from this is that Mary Magdalene was a trusted member of Jesus’ inner circle. She was a disciple. Although the Church that came up after Jesus was misogynistic and nuclear family oriented, that was not Jesus’ mission. He spent his time with single men and women, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers and other outcasts.  

In 1969, Pope Paul VI wrote an Mysterii Paschalis or “official letter” pointing out that Pope Gregory the Great was incorrect when he referred to these different Marys as one person in 591. It took the Catholic Church 1378 years to make this correction. But to this day, when I tell people her middle name, they still wonder at why I would name my first born child after a prostitute.

My response: I didn’t. I named her after the Apostle to the Apostles, which I take to mean, the leader of the Apostles and the first person who the risen Christ showed himself to.

Postscript added in April 2021

The Meaning of Mary Magdalene:Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity By: Cynthia Bourgeault goes much further into these matters than I ever could. It’s a great read I just found. Below is a brief description of the text I took form the author’s website.

Mary Magdalene is one of the most influential symbols in the history of Christianity—yet, if you look in the Bible, you’ll find only a handful of verses that speak of her. How did she become such a compelling saint in the face of such paltry evidence? In her effort to answer that question, Cynthia Bourgeault examines the Bible, church tradition, art, legend, and newly discovered texts to see what’s there. She then applies her own reasoning and intuition, informed by the wisdom of the ages-old Christian contemplative tradition. What emerges is a radical view of Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ most important disciple, the one he considered to understand his teaching best. That teaching was characterized by a nondualistic approach to the world and by a deep understanding of the value of the feminine. Cynthia shows how an understanding of Mary Magdalene can revitalize contemporary Christianity, how Christians and others can, through her, find their way to Jesus’ original teachings and apply them to their modern lives.

“Totem Posting” with Skitch

I just found skitch from the wizards at plasq and I must admit that

skitch.com logo

It allows you to mark up photos rather easily. I’m trying to build what I’m HEREBY referring to as “totem posting” or building a pictorial life story of TheAnthroGeek and my lineage – and the indexing (i.e., pointing) feature on skitch was the perfect solution. Check out my initial draft of this project here: http://skitch.com/theanthrogeek/