Saturday, November 18, 2017

November 18 - Romanus of Caesarea, Martyr, Encourager, Proclaimer

Romanus was a deacon at the church in Caesarea. He was also a thorn in the side of the Roman rulers and leaders. He had encouraged the Christians in Caesarea to constantly remember their first allegiance was to God and not to Rome. This attracted the kind of Imperial attention that was generally avoided by the Roman populace. Romanus was not afraid of whatever the Empire might threaten or do but was still sent to another congregation--this one in Antioch--when persecutions increased in Caesarea. As he arrived in Antioch, he met a congregation that was gripped by dread of the Emperor's legions and power. They knew all too well what happened to people like Romanus and the people that Romanus led.

The governor of Antioch--Asklepiades--had made it known that he was considering the destruction of the Christian house of worship. Romanus spoke tenderly to the people of his congregation and called them to stand in support of one another and their common bond in brotherhood and sisterhood as the Body of Christ. "If we deter the governor from this evil, then the Church everywhere will join with us in celebration," he said, "and if we fail and he slaughters us in our defense of the Church, then the heavenly Church will welcome us in as sons and daughters of God baptized again in blood." The people joined Romanus in protesting the governor's plans and prepared for the expected retaliation. Instead, the governor was deterred by their unwavering solidarity and commitment.

A little while later, Romanus was shocked to see that there was yet another festival being held in the streets of Antioch. Idols lined the streets and enthused worshipers were prostrate before many of them. The festival was in high gear when Romanus took up a position on a corner to preach the Gospel. Along with the Gospel, he denounced the idols as sinful distractions from the one true God. The crowds railed against him and threatened him yet he did not cease his preaching. Eventually, he was arrested to keep the peace. When the governor realized who had had finally seized, he took his opportunity to put an end to this annoyance. He had him bound and tied to a stake in the middle of the city. They whipped and beat him in the sight of the many people there. Finally, they prepared to burn him alive at the stake. As they were setting the fire, a harsh rain storm descended upon the city and the fire was extinguished. Romanus laughed loudly--though bleeding and beaten from the torture--and continued to proclaim the Gospel to the angry crowd. "Could your idols not keep away a single storm?" he asked the crowd. The governor had his tongue ripped out.With wordless utterances he sang hymns and continued to preach as he bled yet more profusely. Finally, he was strangled to death with the words of the Gospel and hope upon his blood-stained lips.

Friday, November 17, 2017

November 17 - Hilda of Whitby, Nun, Abbess, Mother

The Venerable Bede wrote about Hilda: "All that knew her called her Mother." Raised by a foster father of power and influence, Hilda eventually found her way to the monastery as a nun. She had followed in the footsteps of her widowed sister and after the calling that God was placing on her life. She expected the life of a monastic to be a pleasing one that gave her time for prayer, reflection, and intimacy with the God she loved. All of this was while growing up among leaders who did not follow the faith that gripped her. When her father and protector was slain in battle, she planned to go to her sister. While on the way, however, she received a letter from Aidan of Lindisfarne. He asked her to come to Northumbria and help found a monastery there. She went because she heard the voice of God speaking through Aidan's letter.

When she arrived, she was comforted in her decision by a calm assurance that she was doing what God had called her to do. As nun and monastic in Northumbria, she learned quickly about the life of one devoted to prayer and service. So quickly that soon she was appointed abbess of a local convent. She wore the pectoral cross of the abbess and led her sisters in Christ in lives of prayer to and adoration of God. The sisters loved her and fittingly called her "Mother." It seems likely that this monastery was a "double monastery" in the Celtic tradition and would have involved both men and women living in separate houses but worshiping together.As most of the Celtic monasteries, it was not uncommon for the abbess of the nuns to lead both houses in worship. After a year or so, she was called away and appointed abbess of the new monastery at Whitby.

The monastery at Whitby was, most definitely, a double monastery and it is known that many of the young men found Hilda to be a spiritual mentor of incredible gifts and leadership. Five of the monks who she was "mother" to became bishops and several became saints. It seems that the monastic life that she had been called to by her Lord and equipped with by Aidan gave her room to be a mother to those who hoped to serve God in prayer and leadership. These young monks and nuns named Hilda as their mother as they went out into the world to lead and shepherd the flocks of the Church. By extension, Hilda became mother and grandmother to many Christians in the West in the 8th century. Years later, after her painful and slow death from disease and exhaustion, Bede would write a history of her for she had become a type of mother to him, as well. She offered hospitality and guidance to any who asked and taught those under her tutelage to do the same. In so doing, she shared the Faith that had gripped her and saved her from a young age while the foster child of a foreign king. Nursing leaders and shepherds was her calling and she did so gladly and ably. Indeed she was truly called "mother."

Thursday, November 16, 2017

November 16 - Hugh of Lincoln, Bishop, Monk, Reformer

Hugh hadn't asked for power. He had been content in his positions of leadership within the Carthusian monasteries of England. He had been born in France and raised in a Christian family. He loved to tend to the garden near his monastic cell and to live the life of prayer and reflection that characterized the Carthusian life. As people recognized the natural leader within him, he was appointed prior of a monastery and, eventually, prior of a larger monastery. It became increasingly clear that Hugh had been set apart to lead but Hugh never sought power for the sake of power--he was content to be a monk and follower of Jesus and didn't feel any need to dictate, command, or control.

Henry II was still doing penance for the murder of Thomas Becket. As part of his penance, he was ordered to establish a Carthusian monastery in England but it had experienced quite a bit of trouble in getting started. The first prior had retired without building the monastery and the second had recently died. Henry knew that he was expected to find a prior who would establish and strengthen the group so he sent a group to go and bring Hugh to England to lead this group of unorganized monks. Hugh and the Carthusians knew that this was a dangerous thing--to go to the country that had murdered Thomas and lead a monastic movement--but it was agreed that Hugh could do great work for the Kingdom so Hugh went willingly with a touch of anxiety.

Hugh found that there had been negligible leadership at Lincoln before he arrived. Not only was there not a monastery building but there were no plans to build one. He organized the monks to work together and campaigned with Henry to provide money to them. He insisted that if Henry truly wanted a Carthusian monastery in Lincoln, then he would have to help support them as they established themselves. Realizing that this was the kind of leader he had recruited, Henry supplied an official charter to the Carthusians and helped to fund their endeavors. Further, he was known to attend their worship services when he was nearby.

Eventually, Hugh was elected bishop of Lincoln by the king and the king's people. He thanked the king but refused to accept it until he could meet with his colleague and they could vote. Hugh wasn't keen on allowing a king to command the affairs of the Church. Hugh's colleagues agreed and Hugh became bishop of Lincoln. As bishop, he was not afraid of the king, however. He remained convinced that the king had no room to command or dictate Church policy and did not hesitate to exact Church discipline upon errant members who were connected to the king.Their relation to the king of England did not absolve them from their sins, he insisted. He resisted the king's appointments to ecclesial positions and even refused some of the king's direct orders. All of this was done in a culture that keenly remembered the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. Hugh had no fear, however. Further crusading against the culture, Hugh was known to condemn violence against the Jewish people of Lincoln and England. The Jewish people soon learned that they were safe with Hugh.

By the end of his life, Hugh had made it very clear that he wasn't the average bishop. He had resisted the commands of a king and a kingdom that had shown no hesitation in murdering people like him before. He stood by his commitments because they were his calling. Indeed, he had not asked for power but when given the yoke of leadership, Hugh did not balk or hesitate. He understood that leadership and power were not things to be sought for selfish gain but things to be used for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God and in service to the will of God.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

November 15 - Elisabeth of Hungary, Princess, Caretaker of the Poor, Victim of an Inquisitor

She had done it again. Ludwig loved his wife and admired the Christian practices she had learned from the Franciscans and engaged in openly within the kingdom. It was a good thing--most of the time--and inspired greater acts of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness within the kingdom. As king, this was clearly a good thing. Yet, sometimes Elisabeth went too far by Ludwig's standards. One of his trusted servants had come to him and said that Elisabeth had brought a leper into their home and taken the leper to rest and sleep in their shared bed. Ludwig couldn't help but think of the open sores and bodily fluids that were coming into contact with his sheets. He shuddered and cringed as he ran to the room. When he arrived, he saw the mass of flesh under the sheets and blankets and cried, "No no no no no!" He ripped back the covers and sheets to expose the leper and order him out of the bed Elisabeth had offered him. He fell back surprised. He didn't see a leper. He saw Jesus stretched out as if being crucified and bleeding on his sheets. He stared. He didn't know what to do. He covered over Jesus with the sheets and blankets again and backed out of the room.

Elisabeth had been betrothed to Ludwig at the age of four or five. It had been a political maneuver by the Hungarian royalty to promise the princess in marriage to the German prince. When Elisabeth turned fourteen, she was married to Ludwig and began a life as a member of the German people. While learning her way around the German world and learning who her new husband really was, she had the opportunity to meet some Franciscan monks.From them, she learned about love and sacrifice and the power of a committed and devoted life to impact the world. She would often relate to her personal confessor--Konrad--that this has been such an important moment in her life.

Ludwig died only seven years into his marriage with Elisabeth. He died while traveling to participate in war. His remains were returned to his widow and a funeral was held. Then, twenty-one-year-old Elisabeth was put into the care her confessor Konrad. This was not a good day in the life of Elisabeth. She was restrained from practicing her radical charity. She was punished severely for lapses in character no matter how small. Konrad ordered her to be physically beaten for some sins yet was also keen to stop her from going forth and practicing the faith she had learned from the Franciscans.Konrad--who would one day become an inquisitor--stopped her one day to look in the basket she was carrying.Elisabeth was frightened by the surprise inspection and knew that Konrad would be displeased by the loaves of bread she was secreting from the residence to the poor. When he opened the basket, however, miraculously he found only roses. Shaking his head in confusion, he allowed her to leave and when she arrived among the poor, the loaves were bread again and she distributed them to the people.

Konrad's treatment and abuse of Elisabeth shortened her life substantially. She died four years after her husband at the age of twenty-five. She likely had contracted disease from the people she ministered to and she was physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted by Konrad's rigors and "disciplines." Her death was mourned by the people of Germany and by anyone anywhere who has suffered under a restrictive religious leader while wanting to serve and heal those close to Jesus' heart.