Tuesday, March 20, 2018

March 20 - Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, Monk, Bishop, Hospitable

When Cuthbert was a boy in Northumbria he didn't have a father (since his father had died when Cuthbert was very young) but he did have many friends to spend countless hours with in the countryside. As was and is the case with boys of that age, they spent much of their time competing against each other in games and silly contests. They had footraces and wrestling matches. They goaded each other into doing foolish and silly things. In short, they did the things that boys do in their youth and tell increasingly fantastical stories of for the rest of their lives. One day, however, a boy barely old enough to be out with them and nowhere near old enough to compete or keep up with them approached the boys as Cuthbert held one of his friends down on the ground. The group of boys were excited to watch the wrestling match and were not surprised to see Cuthbert win since he was the best wrestler and most athletic among them. The boy--barely older than a toddler--started crying as he watched Cuthbert wrestle. The other boys were shocked--and to be honest a little embarrassed--at the little one's tears. The boy said, "Cuthbert, stop being so silly and quit goofing around like this." The crowd of boys jeered and laughed at him hoping that this would convince the little one to leave but he continued weeping. Cuthbert's soft heart was stung by this and so he took the boy to the side and tried to soothe him. The boy said, "Cuthbert, showing off like that isn't right for a holy bishop and priest like yourself." As Cuthbert walked home that night, he reflected on the boy's words and wondered if there was a hint of prophecy in them--was he really destined to be a priest and bishop?

Many years later, he was shepherding the flocks of his employer at night. It was the 31st day of August in the year 651 and Cuthbert was resting beneath a tree and looking up at the starry sky in wonder. Again his mind was drifting to questions of "calling" and "destiny" as his colleagues and friends told jokes and stories nearby under another tree. Suddenly, Cuthbert was amazed to see a bright orb descend to earth with piercing clarity. A moment later it rose more slowly while seeming to accompany another flaming orb back to the heavens before disappearing. Immediately, Cuthbert's mind went to angelic visitation and the faith that his widowed mother had given to him. He rushed to ask his friends if they had seen it. He insisted that some great man or woman must have just died and their soul was taken up to heaven by one of God's angels. When he entered the town the next day he asked around and found out that the revered Aidan of Lindisfarne had passed the night before and immediately Cuthbert knew what he had seen--the retrieval of the soul of Aidan. He dropped his shepherd's crook and went to a nearby monastery. Soon thereafter he took vows and became a monk.

As Cuthbert served in the Church he became known for being gentle and hospitable even in the face of strong opposition. When the Synod of Whitby finally concluded that the Celtic churches must come into agreement with the Roman way of things it was Cuthbert that helped broker reconciliation by insisting that unity was more important than marginal disagreement. Through hospitality and furious love, Cuthbert was able to mend the wounds of the Church. Eventually, he became prior of his monastery and he served the Church well by taking care of the monks that he had been entrusted with. At one point he even became a hermit. He lived on an island by himself but was rarely alone due to the constant stream of visitors who came to seek his counsel, blessing, or healing prayers. Cuthbert accepted his visitors with a kind and welcoming heart even as he hoped for a little solitude in which he might worship the God who had called him from a young age to be a servant. Finally, he was called from his island to become bishop and serve the Church by overseeing its monks and ministers. He was reluctant but willing to accept this calling and served in the position capably for many years. At the end of his life a group of monks were sent to the island where he was living to take care of him in his final days. Having known that they were coming, the severely ill Cuthbert had dragged himself down to the beach to greet the men. When asked why he had come so far to greet them he had insisted that he wanted to save them the time and hassle of searching him out since they had never before visited Cuthbert's little island. He finally died after being bishop--a ministry he had been called to from his youth--for only two years. In those years he distributed alms, prayed for the sick and worked many wonders in the surrounding countryside of Lindisfarne. He died on the 20th day of March in the year 687.

Monday, March 19, 2018

March 19 - Joseph, Descendant of David, Husband of Mary, Father of Jesus

Listen closely because the birth of Jesus--the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah--happened just like this: His mother Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph. This was in the period before they lived together as part of their betrothal. Miraculously--and scandalously--she discovered that she was pregnant. Of course, you'll remember that this was a miracle that God had accomplished to effect the incarnation of God into creation. Now, Joseph was a good man and he paid attention to the laws and traditions of his people and his family so he decided not to publicly shame her for her mysterious pregnancy. He could have made it public knowledge and cast her out and broken the bonds of their engagement in a humiliating way--in fact, this was what was expected and typical. Instead, he decided to annul the engagement quietly and in private.

The night after he had made that decision but before he had followed through with it God sent an angel in a dream to him. The angel said to him, "Joseph, descendant of David the king, do not follow through with your plan. Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife because the child that she has conceived is the Son of God and she has conceived this child by God's miraculous intervention. This child will be a son that you should name Jesus--which means God is saving--because he will save people from their sins." Now, make sure you notice that all of this took place to fulfill what God had spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel", which means, "God is with us."

When Joseph woke up he did exactly as the angel had commanded him because he believed it to be true. He completed the betrothal process and took the pregnant Mary as his wife but he didn't consummate their marriage until after the birth of God into this world. They named the baby boy Jesus just as Joseph had been told.


After the magi had left, an angel of the Lord came again to Joseph in a dream and said, "Hurry, take the boy and his mother and get out of town. Go to Egypt and remain there until I call you out of it. Herod is about to do a terrible thing and slaughter many innocent children in an attempt to kill your son." So, Joseph got up under the cover of night, woke his wife and dressed his child while his mind imagined cruelty to come. They went to Egypt and remained there until after the death of Herod. Again, notice that this was to fulfill what God had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt, I have called my son."


As is the way of all men given enough time, eventually Herod died. After the death of this terrible man, an angel suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph while he lived in Egypt. The angel said, ‘Now is the time, take your son and his mother, and return to Israel. Those who were hoping to destroy the son you are guarding and taking care of have died and it is safe again to be in the land of your fathers." So, Joseph gathered his family and prepared his son while his mind imagined redemption and salvation to come.They returned to Israel but when Joseph heard that Archelaus--Herod's son--was ruling over Judea he hesitated to return there. So, after receiving another dream confirming his hesitation he settled in Galilee. Specifically, he settled in Nazareth and another prophecy was fulfilled which read, "He will be called a Nazorean."

Sunday, March 18, 2018

March 18 - Cyril of Jerusalem, Theologian, Bishop, Church Father

Cyril of Jerusalem was raised within the Christian community in the early fourth century. As a result he was well versed in the theological disputes of his day. At the age of twenty-two he was ordained as a deacon of the Church by Macarius of Jerusalem. This is an important event because it represents the trust that the Church was willing to place in Cyril. As a deacon he was expected to further devote himself to God in ways that would strengthen and further the Kingdom of God as it was born into the world. Under Cyril's circumstances this meant a theological battle with those members of the Church who had fallen under the heretical spell of Arianism. Perhaps with good intentions--and at times with nefarious aims--members of the Church had begun professing views that ran counter to the accepted Christian teaching. In this case, the Arians insisted that Jesus Christ was not fully divine. Rather, they suggested that Jesus had been created by God to be an emissary of God. This was an unacceptable departure from Christian teaching because it undermined what Jesus had taught and also the efficacy of the resurrection. When those professing this view were approached with their error they chose to persist in the belief even if it ran counter to the established and orthodox position. In doing so, they became heretics but they didn't necessarily lose their influence in the Church. A battle raged and Cyril was asked to become one of the champions of orthodoxy. He accepted the calling.

Eight years later he was ordained a priest by Maximus--a bishop. This ordination further entrenched him in the struggle for orthodoxy. As a priest he was called to care for the people of God and look after them. He could not simply proclaim the heretic to be wrong--he had to worry for their soul, as well. All the while, he was tasked with taking care of the flock that gathered around him in Jerusalem. After seven years of struggling under this calling he was appointed to take the place of Maximus and become the bishop in Jerusalem. With this ordination came the calling to tend also to the priests who served the Church daily. He shouldered this burden with as much grace and mercy as he could muster and spent the majority of his time trying to broker peace and reconciliation between the two factions. Meanwhile, he continued to meet the needs of the poor and even sold some of the Church's property to feed some local poor people. Seeing their chance, the Arians had him deposed from his position using their newly acquired ecclesial power to cast him out of the ministry. He refused to deny his ordination as they had requested of him and became a wandering minister.

As was often the case at the time, Cyril did not stop ministering to the people of God simply because he had been defrocked and deposed. Instead, he continued to minister and eventually was reinstated when the orthodox faction regained control of the necessary power positions. Shortly thereafter he was again deposed by the Arians. After yet another little while he was again reinstated.Whether he was officially labeled a minister or not he continued to seek peace and reconciliation while comforting and teaching the people entrusted to his care.Though he had been resistant to compromise he was eventually worn down and agreed upon theological terminology and language (homooussios) that he had originally rejected for the sake of peace and healing. Cyril died on March 18, 386, having spent his life and his time holding a hemorrhaging Church together through love, peace, and the sacramental mysteries he bore with him wherever he went.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

March 17 - Patrick of Ireland, Slave, Bishop, Missionary

Patrick's father was a leader in his community and was named Calpornius. He was a deacon in the congregation they attended in Wales. Calpornius' father--Patrick's grandfather--was named Potitus and he was a priest in the area where they grew up. He offered the sacraments and mysteries of the Church to those who had ears to hear and eyes to see. Patrick had roots within the Church and found himself drawn to the ministry that his father and grandfather had likewise felt themselves called to. He was receiving an education that would likely end up with him becoming yet another member of his family in service to the Church when one day he was kidnapped by Celtic bandits and slavers on the Western coast of Wales. They forced him into chains and carried him back aboard their ship so that they might force young Patrick--only sixteen years old--to work for the highest bidder. In this case, he was bought by a man who made him a shepherd by trade. Patrick ended up on some lonely hillside--a stranger in a strange land--watching over sheep that were not his own.

For his six years as a slave to Celtic leaders he was mostly in isolation on some verdant Irish hillside. Since he was alone as he worked he began praying to himself. He began with the prayers he had learned as a child and these expanded into his own spontaneous prayers. He sang songs and hymns to sustain himself as he spent many lonely night with only sheep and goats for company. Finally, he began to hear God speak of liberation and escape. He heard a voice saying he would soon be free. A few days later a voice told him his ship was waiting for him and so he fled from his master that very day. He traveled for some time and through harsh conditions until he arrived at a port in eastern Ireland (200 miles from the place of his captivity). He boarded the ship and finally returned to his home in Wales. They greeted him with joy and gladness and toasted his return but after the parties had faded Patrick came to the stunning realization that he had missed six years of his life. All of his peers were well into their professions and careers and he had fallen woefully far behind in his education. His dreams of becoming a minister like all of the others had been shattered aboard the slaver ship that had stolen him away.Patrick ended up in the home of family--a stranger in a familiar land--watching his friends go on without him.

He didn't know what to do with his life but he couldn't shake the strong calling he felt upon his life. As he was adrift in his life and uncertain how he should continue he had a vision. In the vision a man named Victoricus came striding across the Irish Sea toward Patrick. In Victoricus' hands were many scrolls. Each scrolls was a letter--written to a certain person--and he was handing them out to those God had called to serve. Patrick waited eagerly in his vision and received a scroll titled "The Voice of the Irish." In it he heard the laments of the Irish people who begged the former slave to come back and bring the Gospel that taught love for enemies and forgiveness from all sins. He must have wondered if this wasn't a mistake to be sent back to the people who had enslaved him as a missionary. Yet, as he reflected upon the vision he became more and more certain that God was calling him to be a missionary to the Irish. So, he went--one of the first Christian missionaries to leave the Roman Empire. Patrick ended up in some foreign boat on his way back to Ireland--a stranger crossing the Irish Sea--following after a calling that God had given him.

Patrick baptized thousands of people in Ireland as he brought his own particular style of preaching and teaching to them. He did not have the same education as his many peers and colleagues but he knew well the people he had been called to serve. He confronted Celtic warlords with bravery and courage knowing that they would respect him for it and want to know what faith he held that gave him such courage. He brought the faith to the Irish in a way that mediated the sacraments and mysteries of the Church to a people unfamiliar with the history and symbols of the Body of Christ. Patrick became the vehicle by which the grace of God was translated into Irish hearts. He ordained thousands and became a bishop missionary welcome in countless homes throughout the hills of Ireland. Patrick ended up in the land of his enslavement--a hero in a beloved land--watching over sheep that had become his own.