Tuesday, October 13, 2015

October 13 - Mollie Rogers, Missionary, Maryknoll Sister, Nun

"Love, work, prayer, and suffering will sustain us in the future as they have in the past. All who are here now, all who will come after us, will have no others tools than these with which to build."

Mollie heard singing outside of her window. It wasn't uncommon to hear large groups of her peers making noise or singing songs in the middle of the night at Smith college. It wasn't especially raucous but it was a collegiate lifestyle full of idealism and visions for a better future unimpeded by cynicism and experience.In other words, they hadn't yet been informed that they couldn't change the world. As she opened her window she heard their song:"Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; forward into battle see his banners go!" It was drifting up from the throng of protestant students exiting one of the campus buildings. She was able to surmise that they had made a commitment to go to China as missionaries. In their heart burned a passion for a largely unreached people and a desire to make a difference in the lives of those whom they had never met.

"At the sign of triumph Satan's host doth flee; on then, Christian soldiers, on to victory! Hell's foundations quiver at the shout of praise; brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise."Mollie was excited to hear their passion and it caught in her heart like the contagion it was. However, she regretted that there was no similar Roman Catholic movement that she could covenant to serve. She went to a nearby church and knelt before the altar. The strains of the song fresh in her mind, she made commitment that shook the foundations of hell--she committed to do God's work as a missionary and servant of God regardless of what it looked like or how it worked out.

"Like a mighty army moves the church of God; brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod. We are not divided, all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity." Mollie began working with Roman Catholic priests to do the work of the people of God. She became very involved in a journal entitled Field Afar that focused on kindling greater interest for mission activity within the American parishes of the Roman Catholic church. Though America was, itself, considered a mission front until 1908, Mollie and the priests she worked with were able to convince the American bishops to allow them to found a mission seminary in America called "Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America" which later came to be known as Maryknoll.

"Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, 
but the church of Jesus constant will remain. Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail; we have Christ's own promise, and that cannot fail." Mollie became increasingly involved in the missionary lifestyle even though she never left American soil as a missionary. She realized that the participation in missionary life that she had committed to would likely require her to become a nun. And so, she did. She became known first as Sister Mary Joseph and campaigned for female involvement in the missionary life not just as assistants to priests but as workers of the Church by themselves. Eventually, this meant that she founded the Maryknoll Sisters and became Mother Mary Joseph. She was insistent that the Maryknoll sisters not be a cloistered group of women but, rather, a group that lived among the people and lived out the missionary life. At first, this meant being missionaries to the Japanese on the west coast. Later, Mollie would have the grand opportunity to see some of her own sisters go to China as missionaries. Eventually, they would go to Korea and the Philipines as well. She traveled to visit and survey their progress but it was not her calling to be among them. Rather, she guided and comforted them.

"Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng, blend with ours your voices in the triumph song. Glory, laud, and honor unto Christ the King, this through countless ages men and angels sing." Mollie was distinguished as being fairly atypical from the average mother superior of a missionary convent. She preferred women of adaptability and flexibility as nuns instead of women rooted in traditional ways of doing things. In this, she knew the missionary spark of becoming all things to all so that she might win some. She called countless sisters to join with her and others to reach a world that was desperate for faith, hope, and love.

Monday, October 12, 2015

October 12 - Edith Cavell, Martyr, Nurse, Victim of War

It was a long walk from her cell to the yard where she would meet her calling. She had been in the cell for several weeks but the last two had been the worst. For the preceding two weeks, Edith had been kept in solitary confinement as she was tried by the German courts in Belgium. World War I was in full swing and Edith was being accused of helping British and allied soldiers within Belgium and aiding some to escape to the neutral Netherlands. This was unacceptable to the suspicious German officers and they insisted on her condemnation and execution. Both of these goals were achieved in the military tribunals.

As a nurse, she had found much work in Belgium as the war made shreds and husks of people. She was indiscriminate in whom she chose to offer medical assistance to. It was her earnest desire not to wage war by healing her "allies" and refusing her "enemies" but, rather, to limit and the seemingly unstoppable ravages of war. She saved many lives--Britons, Belgians, Germans--and helped those looking for sanctuary to escape. When asked about her indiscriminate mercy--even for her "enemies"--she would say, "Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone."

Many important and influential people lobbied for her release on the grounds that she had helped so many regardless of nationality or political position. Britain and the United States of America petitioned the powerful among the Germans first on the grounds that they would interpret her execution as another act of ruthless aggression. In essence, they made a threat and when this didn't immediately achieve their goal, they appealed to the mercy of the German officials. This happened too late, however, because the Germans who had captures Edith were aware that a pardon was likely coming and so hurried to have her dragged from her cell at dawn and shot by a firing squad. She had been given multiple opportunities to explain herself but her only defense was to insist: “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved."

Sunday, October 11, 2015

October 11 - Joao Bosco Bournier, Martyr, Priest, Champion of the Oppressed

Joao Bosco Bournier had an especially unremarkable clerical career for the majority of his life. He wasn't somebody you would have looked at and predicted great things of. You couldn't see the fire of a martyr in his eyes but circumstances would move in that direction, anyway. Joao had a gift for administration that made him very welcome in positions of ecclesiastical leadership including the nine years he spent at the central office of the Jesuits in Rome. From his ordination in 1946, he dreamed of missionary work abroad but served in a support role mostly in his native Brazil. In 1966, he was called as a missionary and his dreams seemed fulfilled. He was being asked to carry the Gospel he confessed to a people who did not know it. However, as he prepared to go he learned that this calling was the native people of Brazil and not some distant land. He was prepared to minister to them and, so, he went.

He went to a place that was still the land of the native peoples but was slowly being eroded by developers and speculators. They saw a land full of natural resources and plenty of room to build. As they began to build, it became apparent that they were interested in building luxury accommodations for the wealthy and powerful. At first, they didn't come into direct conflict with the native peoples. But,the developers were spurred onward by the wealthy's desire to have more and control more and, so, conflict developed as more was seized and less was conceded. Joao went to these native peoples that were little more than an interference to those with power. There was much room for fertile ministry to a people who were being devalued for the value of their land and resources. Joao found that the people were regularly being abused and taken advantage of by those who had the power to do so and lacked reverence for the lives they were destroying.

On October 11th, in the year 1976, Joao found himself in one of the many villages that he was missionary to. He heard that two peasant women had been seized by the police who were working with the speculators and developers. While in jail, they were being tortured and abused in an attempt to further dehumanize and break them. Joao and his bishop went to the jail to demand their release and plead for justice but were denied their request. They insisted upon the release of the women and were labeled communists by the police. One police officer struck Joao with his pistol and it discharged--allegedly by accident--and the bullet pierced Joao's body. As he laid dying on the floor, the police panicked in response to where their power had led and abandoned them. The bishop offered prayer and last rites to Joao and he slipped into the embrace of the triune God as a martyr. The native people recognized the power of what he had done. They remembered Joao fondly and told stories of his love and devotion to a people that were not his own by birth but had become his own by choice. They planted a cross near the spot of his martyrdom where they inscribed:
"On 11 Oct 76 in this place of Ribeirao Bonita, Mato Grasso, was assassinated Father Joao Bosco Bournier, for defending the liberty of the poor. He died, like Jesus Christ, offering his life for our liberation."

Saturday, October 10, 2015

October 10 - John Woolman, Quaker, Abolitionist, Lover of Life

"I bet I can hit it from here" said John Woolman to his friend.

"No, you can't," retorted his friend snidely "it's too far away for you." John picked up a small stone and took aim at the robin on a limb of the nearby tree. It was hopping among the branches and keeping guard over its nest. The quiet peeping of the baby birds was inaudible at this distance but John knew that they were nearby. He hadn't expected his friend to challenge him to do it. But, he had and now John stood with a stone in his hand and a burden on his conscience.

"I'll hit the branch underneath it and scare it" he thought to himself. He reasoned "If I do that, then it will be good enough and maybe my friend will think I succeeded." He hefted the stone and threw it. It missed wide of the bird. He selected another stone and felt the tension rise a little as his friend watched intently. He took a little more time before throwing a second time. This time it missed to the other side but was getting closer. "Almost there" he said to his expectant friend. He selected another stone and concentrated on hitting the branch that the robin rested upon. He threw the stone and his heart sank as it hit the robin squarely and caused it to fall from the branch.Anxious to see it fly away, John ran to see if the bird was okay and found it dead on the ground--killed by the errant stone. He was awestruck and so he failed to notice his friend running away for fear of getting in trouble. He was frightened by the death of the bird and repeated to himself that he hadn't meant to do it. But, he couldn't escape the memory of deciding to gamble with the life of the robin. He had decided to risk the robin's life (and the lives of its hatchlings) on a silly wager and game--it had cost him nothing but the robin everything. He collected the baby birds from the nest and fretted over what to do. They would die slowly without their mother and John could not care for them himself. His willful stone had condemned these baby birds to a slow death. He killed them, as he recalled in his journal, out of a desire to offer merciful and quick death to the victims of his lack of consideration. John was changed by this event and began to realize how this scenario played out time and time again in the world that he would grow into.
John was a clerk and a tailor by trade and did what he could to make enough money to live on in the North American colonies. In the colony of New Jersey, he was a reasonably successful tradesman. As a clerk, however, he had one particular challenge. Having learned an incredible respect for life, he could not reconcile it with the colonial attitude toward slavery. When asked to write a "bill of sale" for a slave, he bucked initially before being forced into it. He salved his mind by rationalizing that it was a sale of a slave to a woman who would treat the slave kindly but his conscience continued to sear him inwardly and he regretted the sale bitterly.He feared that his lack of consideration had cost another human more of their life and he resolved not to support slavery in any way from then onward. He was called to the home of a friend to write their will. He wrote out the will but left out the portions concerning who would gain possession of the man's slave when he died. He recorded in his journal, "I could not write any instruments by which my fellow creatures were made slaves without bringing trouble on my own mind. I let him know I charged nothing for what I had done, and desired to be excused from doing the other part in the way he had proposed. We then had a serious conference on the subject; he, at length, agreeing to set her free, I finished the will."

John had effected redemption in one through relationship and love. Having thus started, John would go on to change many people's opinions on bondage and slavery. He did not seek to confront or create conflict--John wasn't interested in arguing with people about freeing slaves so much as he was interested in redeeming the slaveholder and letting that redemption take its own path in freeing slaves. Later he would begin to resist the tides leading to the French and Indian war. His commitment to life continued to push him further as he endeavored not to make the same life-stealing mistakes that he had made in his past.