Thursday, December 14, 2017

December 14 - Juan de la Cruz, Mystic, Reformer, Imprisoned

Juan had a challenging childhood. His father died and left him and his mother and two older brothers alone at Avila in central Spain. Further, theirs was a family among the great group known as conversos--Jews forced to convert at the tip of a sword. Though his family had been forcibly converted to a faith that had cost them any chance at financial success and committed many sins against them, Juan found himself at home in the Christian faith. He was educated at a Jesuit institution when the Society of Jesus was still new. The Jesuit founder--Ignatius of Loyola--may have been alive for the first few years that Juan spent studying. As he grew older, he joined a Carmelite monastery with intentions of eventually becoming a Carthusian hermit.Then, he met Teresa.

Teresa de Avila (or Teresa of Jesus as she is sometimes called) spoke to Juan in a way that enticed him. She convinced him--slowly at first--not to join the Carthusians in pursuit of solitude and prayer but rather to make a life of reformation his prayer. Teresa was working to bring reformation to the Carmelite order and saw a coworker in the recently-ordained Juan. They began to work together and spiritual formation and maturity seemed to travel in their wake as they settled among various Christian communities. They were, however, met with resistance--as can be expected--by those who were uninterested in the reformation and healing of the Church.The resistance began as being barred from entering some convents and monasteries but eventually became more severe as they became more influential among spiritual communities.

Juan had been ordered to relocate by a superior--perhaps to break up his work with Teresa--and had been advised to stop his reforming work. When he refused both, he was seized by his brothers and imprisoned in a small cell. It was barely big enough for him to lay down and yet they felt it was the best place to keep him. He was fed and given water but was abused and mistreated by the same people who he had covenanted to love and take care of. Weekly, he was brought out of his cell to be publicly whipped and humiliated for his works of reformation and discipleship. While in his cell he wrote poetry including his most famous poem: La noche oscura del alma or The Dark Night of the Soul. In it, we read of the mystic path that leads the follow of Christ through a dark night of the seeming absence of God from the life of the disciple. In this dark place, disciples learn to lay down their egos and lives so that they might find life through death and darkness. In his small cell, these words must have resonated in his soul to provide him with some modicum of comfort even as his life seemed to fall apart around him. 

He was able to engineer and escape by breaking his cell door and squeezing through a small window in a nearby room. Having left captivity behind, he tried to return to a normal life and found himself consistently drifting back to the monastic life. Instead of seeking solitude again, Juan began founding monasteries with Teresa and continuing to pursue the reformation of the Church he loved and had served even in the face of its enemies and adversity.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

December 13 - Lucia, Martyr, Unpolluted, Generous

The coins clattered to the stone and Lucia looked around as if she expected somebody to notice. In fact, many people noticed the sound of coins hitting the ground in this poor neighborhood but none of the people were her wealthy soon-to-be husband. She had no trouble giving away the money but knew it must be done in relative secrecy lest her betrothed find out that she was giving away her dowry. Her mother had not approved and had begged her to think of her father--her recently passed father--but could not convince her. At least, not since that night at Agatha's tomb when she had been healed from her bloody problem. They had waited and prayed all night and Lucia's mother had finally been healed but Lucia had been the recipient of a vision at the same moment that foretold her soon coming martyrdom. Mom had been happy to be healed and Lucia had not let her know what she had learned. Instead, she proposed that she be allowed to give away her dowry to the poor as an act of alms giving. Of course, mom had resisted but Lucia won out. As she handed over the last of the coins, she breathed a sigh of relief--partly because she had maintained the secrecy and partly because she was glad to finally be rid of the bride money--after all, she had committed herself to a celibate life and had no desire to be a bride in this world.

Yet, as thing so often happen, her betrothed was quick to find out. He was a wealthy man and so he had much influence. Great influence in a city buys many eyes in various places and some of them had told him that they thought they had seen her in the streets giving away a large sum of money. He confronted her and asked to see the dowry set aside for him to gain when he finally married her. She knew she had been caught and so she admitted that she had given it away--knowing well that her martyrdom was likely to 
spring from this moment of opportunity. "If you don't replace it, I will betray your secret--that you are a Christian--to the magistrate. Maybe then you'll see some sense once you've given up these silly Christian fables." he yelled. She nodded because she knew he would and because she had come to accept it.

Lucia was arrested at her his insistence and dragged before magistrate Paschasius. This was during the time of the Diocletian persecutions and being Christian was akin to high treason. She was ordered to make a sacrifice upon the Roman altars and she refused. Paschasius was not surprised by any means--it seemed that the Christians were only all too willing to refuse and die if the other option was denying their Faith. "If you do not," said Paschasius, "then you'll be killed. Offer sacrifice and live." Paschasius wasn't surprised but he was confused--what could be so valuable as to forfeit your life--it didn't make any sense to him (it never does to the Empire).

"Here is my offering," Lucia began, "I offer myself to God, let God do with His offering as it pleases Him." Paschasius sat in shocked silence for a moment. Lucia's betrothed was dumbstruck by what he might call her lunacy but others might call her courage. Paschasius finally asked her why she would not like to keep her life and be married. He pointed out many of the desirable traits of her betrothed. Lucia let them know that she had committed herself to celibacy and was not interested in marriage.

At this, Paschasius saw an opportunity to wring a denial out of her. "Deny your faith," he said slickly, "or I'll turn you over to the brothel to be raped and become a prostitute." He gloated to himself and smiled what can only be called a smile of self-satisfaction. In this, he had revealed the Empire's great lust to control and dominate even if by evil means. He fully expected her to give in but this time he truly was surprised.

Lucia said: "No one's body is polluted so as to endanger the soul if it has not pleased the mind. If you were to lift my hand to your idol and so make me offer against my will, I would still be guiltless in the sight of the true God, who judges according to the will and knows all things. If now, against my will, you cause me to be polluted, a twofold purity will be gloriously imputed to me. You cannot bend my will to your purpose; whatever you do to my body, that cannot happen to me." Furious, Paschasius ordered her eyes gouged out and then to be martyred. The soldiers followed through and ended her life as a martyr.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

December 12 - Alice Domon and Companions, Martyrs, Victims of Operation Condor, Human Rights Activists

Alice didn't know what drugs they had given her but she did know that she found it hard to think let alone move. She had a thought tickling the back of her mind but she couldn't get a grip on it but it was probably for the bet. After all, these people who had drugged her clearly didn't have good plans for her. Though these were not the men who had tortured her, they were associated with them. As the vibrations of the plane buzzed through her body, her mind drifted back to the day she had first arrived in Argentina.

Alice had been born in eastern France in the year 1937. As a child, she lived through World War II and saw many of its atrocities first hand. She knew the evil that anonymous empires and states could perpetrate if allowed. She was steeped in a culture that knew well the violation of human rights. As a child, she began to feel a tug on her heart to serve her God in a foreign land. She joined a society of French missioners and in 1967 was sent with other nuns and priests to Argentina to minister to the handicapped in Buenos Aires. Yet, this wasn't the only thing she did when she was there. Soon, she became invested in the political and social problems the country. She began ministering in the shanty-towns, as well. When the country underwent a coup in 1976 and installed Jorge Rafael Videla as president, the stage was set for Alice's dramatic end.

Following the brutality of the coup, Alice began associating with a group called "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo" that had one particular interest: revelation of the names of those who had been "disappeared" by the party now in power. They began to make demands that the State own up to its treacheries and admit what it had done. But, fighting for the desaparecidos insured that the State would take notice--they had worked hard to disappear them and didn't want them brought up again. Eventually, they sent men pretending to be family members of the handicapped to kidnap Alice with some her friends and loved ones. They took the nuns and hid them in government buildings with the intention perpetrating a vast conspiracy to blame their torture and death upon opponents of their newly installed regime. At one point, they had tied Alice to a bed, stripped her, and slashed and stabbed her naked and exposed body. Finally, they decided to make her disappear.

So, they grabbed the drugged nun and opened thebay door of the plane. They were flying over the Argentinian coast and the soldiers were tied to the frame of the plane so that they might not join their victims in their fast approaching death. Alice offered a prayer as the soldiers grabbed her by the shoulders and threw her from the plane. She fell quickly and hit the water hard enough to kill and dismember her instantly. She was made to disappear but her story was again uncovered and told so that people might not forget the difference between the State and the Church--so that people might not forget the disappeared.

Monday, December 11, 2017

December 11 - Victoricus, Fuscian, and Gentian - Martyrs, Missionaries

"Victoricus...Fuscian," Gentian called to them in a hurried voice, "you need to leave Therouanne if you want to live." He continued, "Your presence here has been a blessed one and many have become Christians because of your words but you must now retreat if you hope to save your lives."Victoricus and Fuscian looked at each other and weighed Gentian's words carefully. They had expected that they would eventually run into this kind of resistance. They had arrived in Therouanne to spread the Gospel to the people who lived along the coast of the North Sea in what is now known as France but was then known as Belgica. Gentian spoke truly: their mission work had been very successful and had even brought Gentian--an elder in the community--into the Christian fold.

The two men conferred and return to the anxious Gentian. They knew what they must do if their testimony was to hold in the region. If they fled persecution, then many would finally believe that their true colors had been shown and abandon the Faith they had offered as worthless or manufactured. They steeled their resolve and gave Gentian the news that they would not be fleeing and that they would, instead, continue sharing the faith that would very likely cost them their lives.

The governor had tired of Victoricus and Fuscian and had decided to give them a choice: denying their faith or dying. However there was a problem: he didn't know where they were and had no way of finding them. Although, he had heard that old man Gentian had recently seen them and so he had Gentian dragged before him. "Where are they, old man?" the governor demanded. Gentian refused to tell. "If you won't tell me, then you'll die. Eventually, somebody will tell me and they'll die, too. Save yourself" the governor concluded. Gentian refused again and was martyred.

Eventually, somebody did tell and Victoricus and Fuscian were brought before the governor and ordered to deny their faith. If they did, it would be quickly spread that the Roman Empire was stronger than the Christian Gospel. It would appear to be a victory for power over love and dominance over mercy. They refused and were tortured by having metal spikes driven through their nose and ears. Finally, when they still refused to give in, they were beheaded and their bodies cast aside. In the wake of their strong testimony, Christianity took roots and flourished in and around Therouanne. By hoping to stop the spread of the Faith within the region, the governor only cemented its hold upon the hearts and minds of a people who respected and valued three men who refused to retreat simply because of fear.