Sunday, August 20, 2017

August 20 - Geert Groote, Founder of the Brethren of the Common Life, Rekindled Minister

Geert was a prodigious talent of considerable note among his peers and teachers. He received a highly regarded and expensive education that made him a person of status and envy. His primary areas of study were medicine, theology, and canon law. As a student of these disciplines, he received a well-rounded and enviable education that prepared him for an enjoyable life. Further, Geert was gifted in these disciplines and received numerous honors for his work. He had found that success in the world could be gained with consistent and concerted effort and a little bit of talent. Geert was appointed as a professor of theology and philosophy. Further, he received a portion of the cathedral's revenues and was very wealthy. So much of Geert's life was enviable for those who might look upon it--he had wealth, honors, respect, and influence. But, Geert was called to something greater and better.

Some of his dear friends contacted him and warned him about the seductions of wealth, power, and influence and insisted that he should pursue the higher calling that God had placed on his life. The love and devotion of his devoted friends had an impact on him and he,eventually, turned aside from his honors and wealth and sought out a monastery where he might rekindle what had been smothered in him--his calling as a minister of the Kingdom of the Slaughtered Lamb. He spent three years at the monastery in seclusion and prayer. His devotion only increased until the day he left and shocked people with the change that had been kindled in him in the monastery. Geert--who had become intoxicated with the pleasures and values of the world--had retreated from its temptations and found rest for his soul and invigoration for his devotion. Upon leaving, he became a traveling preacher of renown because of his incredible zeal and his uniform rejection of the things of the world.

A man of such zeal and skill drew disciples and followers who desired to follow after their leader. Eventually, one of his followers asked him, "Teacher, why don't we work together and coordinate our efforts? Why not work and pray together under the guidance of our Common Father?" Geert saw the wisdom in the leading of his disciple and guided his followers in joining together as the "Brethren of the Common Life." This group was a type of brotherhood that hoped to kindle in others the fire that had been kindled in them and in Geert. In many ways, Geert is one of the fathers of the devotional life and the idea of daily prayer and pious reflection. It was Geert's time in the monastery that formed the aspirations of this new group as they shared their devotion, kindled the fire within them, and led countless others to the fire that was consuming them--the fire of the Spirit filled life of conversion.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

August 19 - Blaise Pascal, Scientist, Follower of Truth

Blaise Pascal had a very keen mind and a tendency to apply it freely and easily to the thoughts and concerns of his day. He was born in provincial France but his mother died when he was only three years old. Consequently, his father raised him and his two sisters alone. They were taken care of but they lacked their mother and would spend many long hours yearning for her presence.Further, though they were Roman Catholic by birth and self-description their faith can best be described as nominal and insincere. Blaise found consolation, adventure, and release in mathematics. He was comfortable in the ivory tower of academia. He applied himself fully to his studies and was soon noted for his astounding brilliance and was acclaimed as a child prodigy.

He was already publishing mathematical studies and proofs as a teenager. It cannot be denied, even for a second, that Blaise was a brilliant man with a mind fit for precise calculation and consideration. He expanded the disciplines of geometry by leaps and bounds, pioneered new patterns and theories in probability, laid the groundwork for the disciplines of calculus and economics, added to knowledge about fluid dynamics, clarified thoughts concerning pressure and vacuums, helped construct a mechanical calculator, and provided other advancements to knowledge in applied sciences and mathematics. Neither his academic rigor nor his value to modern science and mathematics can be dismissed. And, yet, he found himself unfulfilled and unsatisfied by these pursuits. So--he turned to philosophy and theology hoping to find meaning.

Blaise wrote, "Nothing gives rest but the sincere search for truth." In writing this, he engaged in confession and autobiography. For Blaise, there was no rest unless it was found in truth and knowledge. He had been so trained to chase after truth that it permeated his every thought and action. Though this sounds like a good argument for ignorance, Blaise had the awareness to identify this human drive for truth. It wasn't simply a personal preoccupation he was naming, it was an innate restlessness common to all people living in a world of shadows searching for something of substance.

Blaise's much hallowed reason was justifiably dear to him but his philosophical and theological explorations led him to a place where he could see its limitations. Blaise never came to a place where he dismissed reason--as it was a valuable and important tool worthy of respect and appreciation by all--but he did, eventually, arrive at an understanding of reason rightly known--a tool (and a fallible one at that). So, even though reason was to be used continuously to analyze and consider the events and circumstances of the world, it was to be understood to be as weak as the wielder of it--in other words, reason and science aren't the problem, misuse of them is. For Blaise, reason was unfit for the ultimate pursuit of truth because truth was more than "the case that is" or some long list of propositions but, rather, it was a person(John 14:6). Blaise writes, "It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason. That is what faith is: God perceived by the heart, not by the reason." Further, he deduced: "It is incomprehensible that God should exist, and it is incomprehensible that he should not exist." For Blaise, reason was an incomplete tool by itself and required right use to be effective. When he attempted to fill the hole he felt, he found that reason and rationality could not persuade and were, in fact, as weak as his will to use them. He concluded: "For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either. The ends of things and their beginnings are impregnably concealed from him in an impenetrable secret. He is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness out of which he was drawn and the infinite in which he is engulfed." This was not because he doubted reason and science but because he doubted the ability of the part of the system to understand the whole that formed it--he doubted the ability of the creation to comprehend the creator. Blaise had found the right place and limitations of not only reason but, also, himself and everybody else.

Ultimately, for Blaise, truth was found in earnest seeking after God. He experienced numerous mystical events including a healing of a woman with fistula lacrymalis and a mystical vision. It was in these moments of mystical truth that Blaise found comfort--not in his moments of great academic achievement. For a man to whom astounding intellect was a foregone conclusion, it is notable that he found his greatest satisfaction and fulfillment in the pursuit of an elusive mystery like love of enemies and redemption of broken people and sinners.It was not cold rationality that brought about Blaise's conversion to truth but, rather, the hallowed pursuit of the one who is Truth. In the end, Blaise contributed again and again to theology and philosophy and died as a Christian committed to following The Truth. He died a Christian and found the rest in the Truth that he had been seeking all those years.

Friday, August 18, 2017

August 18 - Emygdius, Martyr, Healer, Pagan Convert

Emygdius was born to a family of non-Christians in the third century. He was born in Trier in what would eventually be known as Germany. His noble family scorned him when he converted to Christianity at the age of twenty-three but he was not deterred from his faith. Instead, he hoped to win them as he had been won. Whether they turned him out or simply continued to refuse him, eventually Emygdius found some other place to live and joined with three other Christians who felt a burning desire to share their faith in Rome. Knowing Rome to be a dangerous place for a Christian--especially one with a steadfast love for its citizens--they went aware that they may be walking to their own death.Their love compelled them go when their reason bid otherwise.

After arriving in Rome, he was taken in by a wealthy man by the name of Gratianus. Gratianus had a paralyzed daughter and Emygdius was moved in compassion for her and her devoted father. In his compassion, he prayed for and cured her. Gratianus and his family soon converted and Emygdius' fiery ministry of healing and evangelism had started in a powerful way.

Soon thereafter, Emygdius prayed for and cured a blind man in the streets of Rome. This miracle gathered the attention of the crowds. They had seen this new man--Emygdius--make the sign of a cross across the face and eyes of a local blind beggar and, then, seen that the blind man was no longer blind. They must have wondered how he did it. He had made the sign of that group--those Christians--and the man's eyes had gained that which they had never had.He had made the sign of the Empire's great torture but, apparently, he was taking this sign as a holy thing. In their amazement, they picked him up and carried him to the temple of Aesculapius crying out, "This one is the son of a god! Let's take him to the temple where he belongs!"

Setting him down, they stared at him in anticipation of the great works he would do now that he was in a temple and being adored. Afraid to blink in case they missed it, they stared at him in rapt attention. Looking around Emygdius noticed that there were hundreds of sick people praying to idols for healing. He offered a simple and quiet prayer on their behalf and many were healed at that moment. The crowd gasped and prepared to worship him when Emygdius stopped them and proclaimed, "I am a follower of Jesus--whom you have crucified--and a Christian." As the crowd gazed in shock, Emygdius tipped over and shattered the idols in the temple. In a flourish, he pushed over the great statue of Aesculapius demonstrating the superiority of the Crucified King over dead idols. For Emygdius, there was no hope in religious observation and adoration--rather, there was only hope in pursuit of and trust in Jesus. Many were converted to the Gospel of love for enemies and forgiveness for all that day in that temple to other gods.

Eventually, Emygdius ended up in Ascoli Piceno where the local governor--Polymius--demanded an audience with him. Polymius had heard the stories of Emygdius' healing and evangelistic efforts. He knew how the people responded to this loving and compassionate man. He sensed that Emygdius was the name on the lips of Ascoli Piceno. He wanted Emygdius to join with him and, thereby, to gather the allegiance of the people behind him. He hoped that Emygdius could be convinced and seduced by Imperial offerings of power and glory because he had heard that many Christians could not be converted by force. He offered power to Emygdius but Emygdius refused it insisting that it was not real. He offered power and influence if only Emygdius would worship at the statue of Jupiter. Emygdius refused. He offered his beautiful daughter's hand in marriage along with the power and influence and left them alone hoping that Emygdius' desire for the beautiful woman would win him over. Instead, Emygdius shared the message of Christian hope and faith with her and converted her. As Polymius returned to find the two, Emygdius was baptizing his daughter. Enraged, Polymius had Emygdius decapitated.

For Emygdius, the sweet seduction of power and influence was of no interest because it was not real--the promises of power were vain illusions and delusions. Emygdius had seen through the Imperial lie of power and happiness and, instead, knew that true power was found in submission and sacrifice. He had sworn allegiance to the slaughtered lamb instead of the rampaging lion and this allegiance held him regardless of even the greatest threats.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

August 17 - Mammes of Caesarea, Martyr, Youth, Steeped in Stories

Mammes of Caesarea served time in prison even before he was arrested and convicted. His mother gave birth to him in prison while she and his father were awaiting punishment for the crime of being Christian.Mammes was, thus, orphaned by his parents shortly after his birth at the will of an Empire that hoped to crush the spread of Christianity through fear of death. Mammes' parents--Theodotus and Rufina--were executed but their message lived on in their martyrdom. Young Mammes was, soon, taken care of a Christian by the name of Ammia.

Ammia was a wealthy older woman who had been widowed by the Empire. She was, also, a member of the underground Christian community. She, indubitably, would have told Mammes about her own life but, also, the lives of his father and mother. He had no memories of them and, yet, the Christian community held their memories with them as if his mother and father were present with them every time they gathered--every time theyshared the Lord's Meal. Mammes was raised on a healthy diet of stories that informed his values. He knew well the stories of Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection. He knew well the stories of the lives of countless Christians who had chosen death or torture instead of denyingtheir faith. He, likely, knew the circumstances of his own parents' painful death because of a refusal to bow before the Imperial lords and rulers. Mammes was taken care of and steeped in the stories of his people. He had been raised to know that some things were worth dying for and some things weren't worth doing even if it meant living. Mammes had learned that there was more to life than a heartbeat and more to death than the grave.

Mammes was arrested for the crime of being a Christian by the governor of Caesarea. The governor beat and tortured him but Mammes, like his father and mother before him, refused to deny his faith. In exasperation, the governor sent Mammes to Emperor Aurelian in expectation that such a powerful man could win and claim Mammes' heart and will. Aurelian beat and tortured Mammes, as well. But, like his parents and like his brothers and sisters, Mammes refused to deny his God by bowing before the supposed majesty of the Empire that came enforced by threats and pain. As he languished in jail, he was set free by an angel and fled to Caesarea at God's direction.

In Caesarea he was eventually captured and thrown to the lions. At a word, the lions became docile before Mammes. Mammes made a companion out of the ravaging beast primed for his destruction. In many ways, this is emblematic of Mammes and other martyrs--he redeemed even the weapons of his murderers. Like the sandalwood, he perfumed the axe that laid him low. Mammes, finally, went to Duke Alexander of Caesarea and proclaimed his allegiance to the Kingdom of God--a Kingdom with no end--and his faith in Jesus. Duke Alexander ordered Mammes' death and Mammes was, quickly, stabbed in the stomach with a trident. He offered no words of hatred or condemnation for his executioners but, rather, died peacefully knowing that his death proclaimed a powerful witness to the Kingdom. Mammes followed in the footsteps of the parents he never knew. Though he never knew them, he was formed by the same people, the same experiences, and the same God that had formed them. Like his parents, he was prepared to live into the story written for him and make a bold statement about the reality of the Kingdom and the unreality of the Empire's power.