Friday, April 20, 2018

April 20 - Justin Martyr, Martyr, Apologist, "Samaritan"


Justin Martyr was born in a place known as Flavia Neapolis some 70 miles away from Jerusalem. But he was thoroughly influenced by the Greeks and Romans in his birth, childhood, and upbringing. Evidently his family was of some influence and considerable wealth because he had the relative luxury of an education in a time when education was a nice thing largely available only to the wealthy and powerful. He excelled in his studies and moved on to study philosophy in an anxious pursuit of wisdom and truth. He professed to be a lover of wisdom but at times it must have been easier to believe he was a lover of the comfort and security that money and education afforded him. Justin sought truth but found it nowhere that he looked until a Christian--one of those that Rome abhorred and detested--began to speak with him about the faith that he or she professed. Justin asked his questions and wondered openly if it might not be the case that this Jesus was right when he claimed to be "The Truth." As he studied the faith of the Christians more and more he found himself falling further and further into the grips of a faith that enlivened and comforted him in ways that influence, money, and acclaim could not. Soon, he became a convert and made it well known to his colleagues, peers, and students that he was no longer on a philosophical quest to find truth because he had met "The Truth."

He identified himself in his numerous writings as a Samaritan even though he was most definitely a Roman citizen and he had been raised to serve and follow the gods of his father and his father's father. Perhaps he identified himself as a Samaritan because he knew that in his faith he was the unlikely heir of the covenant promised to Abraham and others. He knew that he had been grafted into a story that was not his own but was, in fact, a story that ended in redemption and resurrection. Thus, he was an outsider who had been loved and cared for by Jesus and and he was an outsider that was on the route that led to salvation and healing. Or, perhaps, he identified himself as a Samaritan because he longed to live into the role of the Good Samaritan that Jesus had talked about. Perhaps Justin hoped to go where others refused to go to be with those the world rejected so that he might find Christ among the stranger and refugee. Regardless, he continued living a life of a philosopher and rhetorician but his speech turned to a testimony of what God had done in Jesus and what God wanted to do in the lives of those who heard Justin's words.

Given the incredible position that Justin had within Roman society he began to deliver the Gospel to ears that might never have heard it. He argued that while Rome was killing Christians it was missing the point and pronouncing Christians evil while being seduced to do so by evil itself. He insisted that Christians were not evil and were, in fact, following after "The Truth" even while others failed to see it. Eventually he was arrested for having the audacity to say such things as: "We pray for our enemies; we seek to persuade those who hate us without cause to live conformably to the goodly precepts of Christ, that they may become partakers with us of the joyful hope of blessings from God, the Lord of all." and "Wherein is it possible for us, wicked and impious creatures, to be justified, except in the only Son of God? O sweet reconciliation! O untraceable ministry! O unlooked-for blessing! that the wickedness of many should be hidden in one godly and righteous man, and the righteousness of one justify a host of sinners!"

Finally, those whom he preached to brought him to trial with other soon-to-be martyrs. The prefect said to them, "Sacrifice to the gods or you will be mercilessly tortured."

Justin replied, "Nobody in their right mind would give up faith for apostasy and your merciless torture is what we desire because it leads to our salvation and gives us confidence to face a greater trial--the judgment to which all men will come before our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Then he joined with the others to be martyrs and invited the Romans to do whatever it was that they desired since they professed the Christian faith and refused to become apostates and sacrifice to the idols. So, they were tortured mercilessly and finally beheaded as an example to the Roman citizens of how evil the Christians were and how good the Romans were.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

April 19 - Alphege of Canterbury, Martyr, Peacemaker, Refused to be Ransomed


Alphege had known from a very early age what he wanted to do; he wanted to take vows and become a monk. So, at the earliest possible date for Alphege to make this commitment he applied and became a monk at Deerhurst. He proved not only his commitment but devotion to his calling and soon was transferred to Bath. At Bath he continued to demonstrate his devotion and eventually became the abbot of the community at Bath. In many ways he had been a spiritual leader among them for many years--leading them to take better care of the poor and practice compassion more intently--but his elevation to the role of abbot made the leadership official. His leadership and compassion had attracted the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury and after years of service at Bath he was called to become the Bishop of Winchester at the age of thirty so that he could further serve the Church he loved.

He served as Bishop of Winchester for ten years of relative peace before a fateful day in the year 994 when the Danish vikings landed on the coastline of England and began rampaging through the nearby villages. They slaughtered and pillaged the Britons they encountered and eventually an envoy of ministers was sent by the Archbishop to negotiate a peace. Alphege was one of the men sent to speak with the leader of the vikings: Anlaf. A deal was brokered thanks to Alphege's willingness to relate to Anlaf. The group had purchased peace from Anlaf's raids with a regular tribute payment. Further, Anlaf agreed to listen to Alphege's preaching and was soon converted to the Christian way. It's hard to say whether or not Anlaf's conversion was solely because of its political expediency or because of an inner conviction but regardless of Anlaf's intentions it points to Alphege's willingness to relate and commune even with his enemies. After his great success and the death of the Archbishop, Alphege was elevated to the role of Archbishop of Canterbury. He went to Rome to receive this position and its symbols.

When he returned to England he was shocked to see viking raiders pillaging the Canterbury cathedral. These were not Anlaf's vikings--at least Anlaf was not there--so there was no treaty between them and the British people.These vikings were seeking a similar tribute as to what Anlaf had received and also copious amounts of ransom money. They captured Alphege and forced him to watch the burning of the cathedral and the brutal murder of many monks and priests. Finally, they let him know that he would be their prisoner until somebody paid them a ransom of 3,000 pounds of gold. He was an important figure and it was possible that his name could have fetched such a huge ransom but Alphege refused to be ransomed. He informed the vikings that he would not pay it or solicit anybody else to pay it because if it were paid by the government then it would come out of the hands of the poor. Alphege was unwilling to hurt the people he loved so that he might be given his life back. So, they beat him savagely and then busted his head open with the back of an axe. He was the first Archbishop of Canterbury to by martyred.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

April 18 - Apollonius of Rome, Martyr, Apologist, Not Afraid to Die


Apollonius had spent years in study and was strikingly familiar with the major philosophers and schools of thought in the second century Roman empire. He had converted to Christianity because of the witness and testimonies of the early Church members but had continued to study the beliefs and convictions of those he had left behind and hoped to bring to faith with himself. He was a Roman senator and knew that his power brought a modicum of protection with it. He knew that there was a law against being a Christian but he knew two other things, as well: 1) the Roman rulers would not simply betray him without cause, and 2) he was called to share the grace and love that he had freely received. Eventually, one of his slaves betrayed him as a Christian to a praetorian prefect by the name of Perennis. It's likely that Perennis and others knew but they were turning a blind eye to Apollonius' faith because they had no desire to enforce the law upon their friend and respected colleague--they were comfortable enforcing the law upon "the little people" who didn't matter but feared what might happen if the laws were enforced fairly and equitably. So, Perennis had Apollonius arrested so that he might come to trial. He also had the slave's legs crushed as punishment for forcing the hand of the Empire.

As Perennis brought Apollonius to his trials he pleaded with him to renounce his faith--even if he "didn't mean it"--because those in power were all too willing to find him not guilty of the crime. He reminded Apollonius that the punishment for being a Christian was death and insisted that the right course of action for a senator like Apollonius was to renounce his faith and maintain his influence and power in the world. When Apollonius refused to apostatize before the court he was given over to the senate of which he was a member to be tried by his peers and--hopefully--dissuaded from his faith. This was the moment that Apollonius had been counting on and so he shared his faith with the whole senate. He knew they would give him a charitable ear because of their respect for him and that his arguments--well crafted by many years of education and the passion he now felt for life and truth because of his faith--would be heard without interruption. He ended his great testimony by praying, "O Lord Jesus Christ, give us a bit of your spirit so that we might be helped to obey your teachings to: make peace over anger, join in pity with others and for others, temper our desires, always increase in love, put away our sorrow, cast aside our foolish pride, not love vengeance, and not fear death. Help us to trust our spirit to God the Father who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit now and forever." Perennis couldn't understand why Apollonius wasn't taking the easy and reasonable way out of death and yelled at him, "Are you determined to die today?"

Apollonius responded, "Oh no." He continued, "I very much enjoy life but my love of life does not make me afraid to lose it. There's something better waiting for me: eternal life! There is something better given to the person who has lived well on earth." He admonished the listening crowd to cast aside their pride and self-obsession but they were unwilling to pay the price of faith. He was convicted for his crime not because the senate was willing to convict one of its own but because he was unwilling even to pretend not to trust God. For his crime his legs were crushed and he was decapitated. He died a martyr who had been given a rare chance to preach the Gospel to his executioners.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

April 17 - Kateri Tekakwitha, Orphan, Persecuted by Both Sides, Lily Among the Mohawks


Kateri Tekakwitha had two parents and an older brother. All of them were part of the Mohawk people who lived in the northeastern parts of what is now known as North America. Her father was a Mohawk warrior and leader while her mother was ethnically Algonquin but she had been raised by French settlers and had been taught the Christian faith. She was captured by the Mohawk and became the wife of one of their men (the man who would be Kateri's father). Three years later she had given birth to a son and a newborn daughter. Her faith was tolerated as long as she kept it to herself but she seemed incapable of that task and shared it with both of her children as best as she knew how. When Kateri was only four years old an outbreak of small pox swept through her village. There seemed to be no escape from the contagion and, when it finally faded, little Kateri was the only one of her family who had survived it. In the aftermath she discovered that she had been left with a remembrance of this awful time: disfiguring facial scars. She was adopted by an uncle and two aunts in the village but her life was forever changed by this horrific outbreak.

As she grew older, she had no connections to the faith of her mother and knew of the European settlers only as insurgents and usurpers. When Kateri was only ten years old her village was raided and burned by the French. They came with their weapons and hatred and left a swath of destruction in their wake. Furthermore, these soldiers were accompanied by priests who seemed no more merciful or kind than the one who wielded the weapons. Kateri had every reason to distrust and despise the people who came bringing death and suffering in the name of Jesus but for some blessed reason she was able to look beyond their poor example and see the Lord they were unable faithfully to represent. When missionaries visited the new villages they were met with understandable and justifiable hostility. It turns out that you can't proclaim grace and love to a people whose neck you step on. Kateri, however, couldn't escape the feeling that God was calling to her and so she made a leap of faith that the God they claimed to follow did not guide them to do their evils. She met in secret with a priest, converted, and was baptized. For this conversion and baptism she was labeled a problem by her people and persecuted viciously. By taking up the cross of Jesus, she became an enemy both to her people and her people's enemies.

She tried to show her people the Christ that the Christians were obscuring but their evils had darkened the view for all who would find the one who offers life more abundant and free--the one who died on a cross for all peoples. Most of the Mohawk were resistant to listening to Kateri and the persecution only continued. Eventually--after many threats and a few attempts to take her life--she was forced to flee and find refuge elsewhere. She escaped at night and traveled with a few other young Christian Mohawks to Sault-Sainte-Marie where other Christian natives were living in community. She devoted herself to a life of prayer and took a personal vow of chastity so that she might further devote herself to the Lord she had found in spite of all the odds. At one time she wanted to start a convent of native Christian women but this did not happen before she died at the age of twenty-four. Her last words were a testament of love for her Savior: "Jesus, I love you!" She died an inspiration to those who knew her. She had been willing to give up anything and everything to follow after a foreign Lord who was not well-represented but who had called her anyway.