Saturday, October 25, 2014

October 25 - Jerzy Popieluszko, Martyr, Victim of Communism, Enemy of the State

Innocent and uninteresting sounds in the middle of the night had a different meaning for Jerzy. That scratching or tapping noise might be a tree branch but it might also be a Soviet agent coming to intimidate or execute him while he slept. Worse than the occasional sound was the oppressive and seemingly unnatural silence. He'd find himself wondering aloud if it wasn't perhaps too quiet as if there was somebody trying to be silent. Jerzy had reason to worry: he was an enemy of the state and considered a type of thought criminal. He encouraged the Polish trade union movement known as "Solidarity." Weekly, he could be heard at worship services where he would say mass and offer reflections that condemned the Communist infiltration of Poland. These sermons were broadcast on the radio and, in practically no time at all, Jerzy was at odds with a powerful enemy.

As he continued to speak on Sunday morning, he began to notice new and intimidating faces among the people worshiping with him. He noticed that cars seemed to be following him and waiting outside of the church and his home. He knew well that they were hoping to intimidate him into silence. He also knew that if they failed in this then they would find other ways to end his resistance. As he drove back to his home one Saturday night in October, he barely saw the obstruction in the road. He jerked the wheel and found himself skidding out of control. He miraculously escaped the car accident and made it back to his parsonage. It was now very clear to him that the Soviet secret police had tired of trying to persuade and intimidate him and would now be content with destroying him. He continued his pastoral duties until the next Friday.

The agents crept into his home and seized him in the middle of the night. They hoped that they could break the back of the Solidarity movement by kidnapping Jerzy. Once they had him secreted away, they murdered him away from the public eye. They had tried to do it in a deniable and secretive way by engineering a car accident. When that hadn't worked, they killed him and dumped his body in a river. This is a powerful testament to the fear inherent among the Soviets. Their actions--and all evil actions--could not face the light of day and scrutiny. They could not afford to act powerfully and in public because their control over the people would not hold. Instead, they had to work by secret and subterfuge so that they might manipulate the wills of the people. Jerzy died a martyr because he refused to stop speaking truth to the Imperial Communist State.

Friday, October 24, 2014

October 24 - Isaac Jogues, Twice Captured, Slave, Missionary

Isaac didn't struggle. The Mohawks had captured him--again--and they were busy tying his hands so that he couldn't struggle or resist. They didn't need to but they did anyway. Perhaps it helped them do what they were doing to imagine him fighting back. After all, their accusation was that he was a sorcerer. They feared the magic he might work on them and were confident that it was he who had brought the plague and bad weather. Isaac had seen this before when he had first been captured and, so, he knew what was coming as they secured him to a tree and walked away.

Isaac had been born in France and had studied to become a Jesuit.They had accepted him as a priest and given him an assignment in New France in the French colonies of North America. He was to be a Christian missionary to the Huron and Algonquin tribes of native Americans. These peoples were allies of the French even if it didn't always serve them well to be so. Consequently, the French felt a need to bring Christendom with them and provide opportunities for the Huron and Algonquin to convert.

One morning, he was canoeing with some other missionaries across a lake on their way to some of the Huron people. As they drifted across the lake with mist rising from the lake as the sun broke through the trees, they noticed that there were people in various spots around the lake.When they landed, they were seized by the Mohawk people who were furious with their intrusion. They were dragged back to the Mohawk camp and beaten. They were further tortured in a variety of painful ways. Some were slowly put to death. Isaac was hurled to the ground by a nearby tree and his hand was lashed to the trunk. One Mohawk took a hatchet and buried its blade in the trunk of the tree--severing some of Isaac's fingers. They didn't cut off all his fingers but they did leave him noticeably scarred and disfigured. He was forced into slavery to the Mohawk. As he served them and was abused, he tried to teach them about Christianity. Surely, some of it was heard and comprehended but he was not freed for his attempts.

Finally, he was smuggled from the camp by Dutch merchants who had come to deal with the Mohawk and seen a battered Jesuit serving them and trying to offer them the faith that kept him going.Under the cover of night, they secreted Isaac away and helped him get back to friendlier territory. He found a place on a ship headed back to France and left the colonies behind. When he arrived in France, people greeted him joyously and listened to his story with rapt attention. When he said the mass, people flocked to hear him and to watch him lift the host and cup with disfigured hands. They began calling him a "living martyr" but his new life in France did not make him happy or comfortable. Rather, he felt out of place. A few months later, he sailed back to the colonies in better health.

Peace had been brokered between the French and other native tribes and it became the order of the day. Having spent time among them, Isaac was called to go to the Mohawk people with other missionaries to serve an ambassador for peace between the French and the Mohawk. Regardless of any fear that may have dwelt within his heart, Isaac went where he was called.When he arrived, he saw that not only had he not forgotten the Mohawk but the Mohawk had not forgotten him. They whispered among each other that he was a worker of magic and could not be trusted. They had seized him out of distrust and fear.

This was how Isaac ended up tied to another tree among the Mohawk. He watched them approach with their war clubs and recalled his memories of seeing others executed in this fashion. With a yell, they began to beat him ruthlessly with the clubs until he died. He had not resisted them--not when they had disfigured him, not when they had enslaved him, and not when they planned to kill him--because he was gripped and held by a higher and more hopeful power: a slain King who forgave his captors.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

October 23 - Ptolemaeus and Lucius, Martyrs, Victims of "Justice"

Ptolemaeus had spread the story to any who would listen. He talked about Jesus--who had died, been buried, rose from the dead, and was coming again--and people had responded as if they were thirsty and he was offering water. In a way, he was. One of the women in the crowd had encountered the God he spoke of and came away from the moment a different person. She had found conversion in his words and stories. Ptolemaeus had passed the spark of the Holy Spirit onto her and she had taken it with her back into the life she came from. 

A few days later, Ptolemaeus noticed something as he preached. Soldiers were lining up at the periphery of the crowd and various officials were accompanying them. At the very back he saw a very angry man whispering into the ear of the officials. The crowd scattered. They knew full well that this couldn't be a good sign. The soldiers seized Ptolemaeus and he was charged with corrupting one of the women. The man was her husband and he accused Ptolemaeus of a variety of terrible crimes because his wife had come home different than when she left and had left him. Ptolemaeus was paraded before a judge who heard charges against Ptolemaeus ranging from adultery and sexual immorality to murder and robbery. Ptolemaeus defended himself but it became abundantly clear that the prosecution was willing to do nearly anything to punish him and be victorious. They perverted justice into personal vendetta and had Ptolemaeus executed for the crimes of which he was innocent.

An onlooker in the court by the name of Lucius protested when Ptolemaeus' verdict was handed down. He continued to protest as Ptolemaeus was executed savagely. Though he was advised by those around him to be quiet, he continued to point out loudly how justice had been perverted so that those with power might maintain their influence and control. He proclaimed Ptolemaeus' innocence of the charges and was warned by the judge and soldiers that he would share Ptolemaeus' fate if he didn't restrain himself. When Lucius refused to be quiet in the face of evil, he was executed, as well.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 22 - Alodia and Nunilo, Martyrs, Brides of Christ

Alodia and Nunilo despaired that their mother was marrying another Muslim man. Their father had died only recently. Their mother found security by marrying another powerful man but this man had little tolerance for his step-daughters' variations from his expectations. When he found out that his step-daughters were Christians like his sister-in-law, he was furious. Their mother could do little to protect them as he began a process of abuse and persuasion meant to convert them away from their Christian faith. He threatened them and pleaded with them. He beat them and bribed them.Nothing he could do convinced either of them to abandon their faith. One night, they silently left the house and fled to their aunt's house. Upon arriving, they were welcomed by their Christian aunt and invited to live with her. However, the story doesn't end here.

Their apostasy from Islam became wide-spread knowledge as their step-father told their story to others.Their father had kept it as secret as possible but their step-father held no similar reservations. Soon, people knew that this devout man's step-daughters were Christians and they became increasingly unwelcome within the culture. They were harassed and assaulted and life became more restricted and dangerous. Finally, they were dragged before a Moorish judge and charged with apostasy. This was a charge that they would not deny.

The judge began by reasoning with them. He pointed out all that they stood to lose by continuing to profess their Christian faith and all that they could quickly regain if they would only deny their faith. When this proved unproductive, he offered them wealth and the promise of wealthy and influential husbands. He offered them security while they faced indecision and death but they refused his offer. Finally, he resorted to threatening them with death if they would not deny their faith. They asked him, "How can you threaten us with death as if it is something to be feared?" They insisted: "for having given and entrusted our youth into Jesus' keeping, we hope eventually to become his bride?" They laughed and asked, "Would you threaten us with a glorious wedding day? Would you try to offer us something less in exchange for something far greater?"

The judge had a clever idea. He would not kill them. Instead, he would separate them from each other and forcibly put them into homes where they would serve under influential Muslim women. They were assigned to families and became servants and students to these women. Daily, they received education about Islam and were cajoled to renounce their Christian faith in favor of the Muslim teachings. They neither resisted nor fled their assignment. They listened.

Years later, they were brought back before the judge and he asked how they now felt? Without a moment's hesitation, they professed their faith in Jesus and thanked their captors for whatever hospitality had been offered to them. At these words, they were taken out to the courtyard and beheaded for apostasy.