Saint Dogfan. Ours is the kind of Church that can boast of a saint named Dogfan.
No boasting really happens, however. Today is St. Dogfan’s feast day, but it’s unlikely that Masses commemorating this fifth-century Welsh martyr will be celebrated near you—or anywhere. St. Dogfan is as well known as the booming metropolis for which he was named the patron saint (that’s the village of Llanrdaeadr-ym-Mochnant, population 1,195). Virtually no details of his life have come down to us, save that he was martyred by pagan invaders in southwestern Wales. Maybe he’s not better known because the faithful get him confused with the martyr St. Bodfan, whose feast was last month? Okay, maybe not.
It seems inevitable that the lightbulb of devotion burns out on many of God’s holy ones, St. Dogfan included. But why? Why would God permit the witness of some saints to fall into obscurity?
For his part, St. Augustine observed that “we can’t have fervent celebrations of all the martyrs everywhere, because then not a day would pass without them” (Sermon 305A). This claim about feast-day fatigue was made sixteen hundred years ago; how much truer it rings now. And St. Augustine was only referring to the martyrs, not to saints in general. Just take a look at the liturgical calendar for July 13th, the feast day of a dozen different saints. Yet we have only a single day to celebrate them. The knees of calendrical time buckle under the weight of grace—that is, the workings of grace in the heroic lives of so many of God’s faithful. That in itself is a powerful witness to God’s superabundance.
To St. Dogfan we can pray “truly with you God is hidden” (Is 45:15). Devotion to obscure saints can offer a healthy corrective to life in the age of digital overexposure, where YouTube videos of a large-jowled lizard named MacGyver garner millions of views. Hidden saints like Dogfan can also serve as intercessors for those who struggle with hidden crosses. Finally, we can reflect on the fact that, as a martyr, St. Dogfan confronted the danger of death for the sake of truth, informed by charity. “[O]f all virtuous acts,” St. Thomas Aquinas asserts, “martyrdom is the greatest proof of the perfection of charity” (ST II-II q. 124, a. 3). In the end, that’s all we really need to know about St. Dogfan. That’s all we need, by God’s grace, to imitate.