Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Happy Nameday, Sophia!

Today is the Feast Day of St. Sophia, a Roman widow who was martyred during the reign of Hadrian. Throughout the world, is traditional to celebrate the feast day of one's patron (the saint for whom one was named). This is called a nameday.

In truth, our Sophia was actually named for the Wisdom of God, another name for the Holy Spirit. However, I see no harm in her having two patrons: The Spirit and St. Sophia.

Who was Sophia? As I said, she lived in Italy during the time of the Emperor Hadrian, who did not like Christians. Probably, she was martyred by Hadrian for her faith in Christ. However, the Legend of St. Sophia is certainly worth telling and has a lot to teach us about the virtues for which the central characters are named: Wisdom, Faith, Hope, and Charity.

According to the legend, while she was married, Sophia bore three daughters, naming them, as she herself had been, after Christian virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity. Following the death of her husband when the girls were still quite young, Sophia led a holy life, bringing her children up in the faith. Word of the wisdom and good deeds of Sophia and her daughters spread throughout Rome, and a prominent citizen, Antiochus, heard of them and desired to meet them. Upon meeting them, he learned that Sophia and the girls were all Christians. He informed the Emperor Hadrian of this. The woman and her daughters were brought before Hadrian and commanded to worship Roman idols. When the refused, Hadrian ordered that the girls be executed and their mother forced to watch. Sophia prayed with her daughters, encouraging them in the hope that they would soon be with Jesus. The girls faced death bravely and several miraculous events occurred to keep them from pain before each one was finally martyred. Sophia took the slain bodies of her daughters and buried them reverently outside the city. She stayed by their grave for three days, praying and weeping with joy that her children were now in Heaven. On the third day, Sophia died, as well, and fellow believers buried her beside her children. So, we can see that Wisdom (Sophia) begets the three primary Christian virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity and then willingly and joyfully offers them back to her Lord. In St. Sophia, we also see a reflection of the Blessed Virgin Mary who wept at the death of her own child but in her sorrow, hoped.

St. Sophia's story is sad, but namedays are not! Since our Sophia is still very young, our celebration will be quite simple. We will go to Mass, read the story of St. Sophia's life, wear red to honor her martyrdom, and eat scones (white for purity) with strawberry jam (the blood of the martyrs) as a treat. If I can find them, I'd love to have some irises for our celebration, as they are the flower of "hope, faith, and wisdom."

Nameday celebrations can be quite elaborate. Parties can be thrown with friends and family invited. In many cultures, it is customary to give gifts of money to children or flowers to women on their nameday. It can also be a good lesson in sharing our blessings to have a child give gifts to others on his or her nameday. Families can make a "pilgrimage" to a church bearing the name or housing an icon of the patron saint, followed by a dinner at the child's favorite restaurant. If the patron saint is also patron of something else, you may want to incorporate this other attribute into your celebration. For example, St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals. A child named Frank or Fran might celebrate his or her nameday by giving the family dog a special treat or trip to the park or perhaps volunteering at or contributing to the local humane society. Whatever you choose to do, be sure that the celebration includes a time of prayer to thank God for the life of the saint and for the blessing of the child.

* The Bookworm's Library has been updated: The How to Book of Catholic Devotions by Mike Aquilina and Regis J. Flaherty, Roses for Washington and Oregon by Brad Jalbert and Laura Peters, Romantic Country Style by Judy Spours

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