Monday, October 24, 2016

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.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

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.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

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.

Friday, October 21, 2016

October 21 - Malchus, Captive Monk, Husband, Brother

The walls of a cave are greedy things that suck the warmth from your bones and offer no comfort or consolation. Malchus was getting stiff waiting in the mouth of the cave for his pursuers. They intended to kill him when they found him and that is understandable--he had run away from them in hopes of escaping slavery. He was an asset to them that had become a liability. He could resist the call of home no longer so he had seized some food and water and set out to flee with a companion. He had seen their camels approaching speedily and knew that he could not outrun a camel. Further, he and his companion were running out of food and water and needed to find some place to stop and rest.As he awaited his master and another slave who would kill him and his fellow slave where they hid, he reflected back upon how he had ended up in this place.

He had strongly desired to follow after Jesus by living the monastic life of prayer and service. His family had resisted this calling because they expected it would not be especially profitable--and it wasn't. In fact, Malchus had given up much to live a life of prayer and service but felt that he had gained much, too. He had crept out of his home in the middle of the night and was living among the monks by the time his family knew he was missing. He enjoyed the monastic life but wondered if there wasn't something more waiting for him--if maybe he was called to something else. He heard word that his parents had died and he was grief-stricken. Then, he heard that they had left him a sizable inheritance and he became apprehensive about material gain. Under his superior's direction, he returned home to receive the inheritance and visit the graves of his parents. However, that's not what happened.

The Bedouins had come over the hill and surprised him. He suspected that this would not go well. They seized him and the woman he was traveling with and enslaved them. They were torn from their plans and intentions and dehumanized as commodities to be traded and spent. For many years, Malchus served his new master without letting the poison of hatred seep into his heart. He was a good servant to the man and earned a reward for his consistent and dependable service. Malchus' master thought it would be a great reward to give the woman he had been traveling with to Malchus in marriage. He didn't understand that Malchus had two problems with this: (1) Malchus had taken a vow of celibacy, and (2) the woman was already married. Malchus could not do what was asked of him and prepared to take his own life so that he might not sin in this way. As he drew his blade he said, I must fear your death, my soul, more than the death of the body. Chastity preserved has its own martyrdom.Let the witness for Christ lie unburied in the desert; I will be at once the persecutor and the martyr." 

The woman stopped him and said: "Take me then as the partner of your chastity; and love me more in this union of the spirit than you could in that of the body only. Let our master believe that you are my husband. Christ knows you are my brother. We shall easily convince them we are married when they see us so loving." They had been "married" by their master but remained celibate and took care of each other in captivity.

Malchus looked ahead when he heard the men dismount their camels and approach the mouth of the cave. "This is it," Malchus thought, "this is where I die and where my bones will lie and be bleached by desert winds." Yet, as they approached and called out to Malchus--right before Malchus revealed and refused to defend himself--a lion leaped from the mouth of the cave and snarled menacingly at the two men. They rushed back to their camels but were unsuccessful in escaping and the lion killed both of Malchus' pursuers before slinking off away from Malchus. Malchus stood awestruck as he called his "wife" from the cave and to the untouched camels. There was food and water and plenty of supplies to get them out of the desert and back to Malchus' monastery. They had left so that they might return to their homes and found that God was providing for them in unpredictable ways.

When they returned, Malchus was excited to find that his monastery welcomed him back with open arms. But, his companion's husband had died in the time she had been a slave. She mourned his death but moved to a nearby convent where she could live a life of prayer and service like Malchus. They continued to take care of each other and perpetuate the bond that had brought them together in captivity. Their unorthodox union became one of mutual support and sustenance and preserved them until the day they died.Jerome would distill their story, years later, by writing:"Tell the story to them that come after, that they may realize that in the midst of swords, and wild beasts of the desert, virtue is never a captive, and that he who is devoted to the service of Christ may die, but cannot be conquered."