Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 30 - Jerome, Ascetic, Translator, Doctor of the Church

As he looked back upon his life, Jerome could remember all too well those days that he had gone to the catacombs with shame on his face and guilt in his mind. He had enjoyed the festivities of the night before but the faces of his mother and father haunted him the morning after. They had raised him within the embrace of the Faith but he had found the World more persuasive once he was beyond their physical reach. Their faith could not save him but it could pester him and point him toward a life unlike his own. The education he was receiving was excellent but it left him on his own and to his own devices. Like all of us, Jerome's own devices couldn't save him but were more than capable of ruining him.

So, Jerome descended into the catacombs and walked among the bodies of the Christian dead. Running his hands over the inscriptions of the names of the martyrs, his guilt only deepened. The Faith that had motivated and animated them seemed conspicuously absent in his own life. He tried to fill up that void with pleasure and carnal delight and it took his mind off of his brokenness--for a moment. Ultimately, though, life would come crashing back upon him after his all-too-short reprieve. With it came the guilt that sent him underground to the dead. The light filtered down meagerly in solitary shafts of illumination that would cast the dark aside for a small section of the earthy tunnels. But, then, he moved onward and back into the darkness. In his life, the light of the faith of his mother and father would intrude upon his brilliance and fame and remind him of a life more abundant and free that still haunted his dreams and hopes. But, then, he moved onward in his life and found only more darkness and loneliness.

These late night and early morning trips to the halls of the dead were a type of penance for Jerome but they were simultaneously self-torturing and self-revealing. Jerome converted and was baptized. Further, he followed his own maxim well: "Be ever engaged, so that whenever the devil calls he may find you occupied." His asceticism is still regarded as extreme and devoted. He was unwillingly ordained upon the condition that he could continue a lifestyle of asceticism and disconnection from the world. His gifted mind helped him to translate the scripture from Hebrew and Greek into Latin to make one of the most influential translations in the history of the scripture: the Vulgate. He worked for unity and orthodoxy within the Church and, yet, remained disconnected from it because of some incredible desire for ascetic righteousness and otherness. He was willing to serve as a pastoral caregiver to any who sought it and, yet, he was equally comfortable in solitude and the lonely work of translation.

Reflecting back upon his walks among the dead and the importance of the lives of the martyrs for him, he wrote, "We do not worship the relics of the martyrs, but honor them in our worship of Him whose martyrs they are. We honor the servants in order that the respect paid to them may be reflected back to the Lord." For Jerome, this statement was a statement faith in practice that told much of how he found his way to the Faith of his parents. He had been ferried to repentance by shame and along the way that his father, mother, brothers, and sisters had prepared for him by living out a faith that stood in opposition to the vanities of life. Jerome died outside of Bethlehem in the year 420 having contributed mightily to the study of scripture and his Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 29, 2014

September 29 - Lorenzo Ruiz, Martyr, Falsely Accused

Lorenzo had a fairly unremarkable childhood. He was the son of a Chinese father and Filipino mother. From his father he learned Chinese and from his mother he learned Tagalog. In Manila, he was raised in a family that found roots and comfort in the Christian Faith. He attended worship with his parents and saw what they were willing to do and say (or not do and not say) on account of the Faith they professed and held. This had an impact that should not be underestimated and cannot easily be overstated. Even as a young man he was already serving in his local congregation as an altar boy and assistant to the priests of his parish. He even received his limited education through the Church in their attempts to provide for him and prepare him more fully for service to the Church and the World. Apparently, his handwriting and penmanship were excellent and so he served as a type of scribe to the ministers and priests that passed through the parish and area.

As he grew older, he found a wife and settled down with her and had three children (one daughter and two sons). He began to carry on the mission started in the family of his birth by sharing his Faith--the Faith of his parents and countless others--with the children entrusted to him. This replicating task was the mission work that Lorenzo devoted himself to until he stood falsely accused by foreign powers. While serving in the local church, he was falsely accused of a crime by the Spanish courts. He was accused of murdering a Spanish man and vengeance was expected. His heart breaking, he fled from Manila having found sanctuary among some priests on a ship leaving for Japan. He left his family behind because he knew that the sword of vengeance would not likely stop at his own neck and would probably end the lives of those close to him, as well.

They did not learn of the boat's destination--Japanese territory undergoing intense Christian persecution--until they were at sea. Having fled false charges in Manila, they landed in Okinawa and Lorenzo was assaulted by an entirely different--and yet ultimately identical--evil. They were accused of being Christians--a charge Lorenzo would not deny--and arrested for their Faith. They were given an opportunity to deny their faith but Lorenzo refused. He was taken to Nagasaki to be brought before a judge. As he traveled in bondage, his mind must have been on his family back in Manila. Surely he thought of his parents. But this reflection would be ended by a judge who questioned him and concluded by asking, "If we let you live will you renounce your faith?" Lorenzo responded, "That I shall never do! I am a Christian and I shall die for God. For Him I would give thousands of lives if I had them to give. So, do whatever you please."

The judge did what he pleased--including jamming splints under his fingernails, having Lorenzo beaten severely, holding him under water until he was nearly drowned and, then, bringing him out and beating him so hard that the water came out of his nose and eyes. Finally, he was hung by his feet in a pit full of trash and sewage. Weights were slowly added to him until he died from suffocation. They took his body, burned it, and cast his ashes to the wind. Though they could torture and kill him they could not destroy the faith that had bore him, formed him, and inspired him. He continued bearing the faith and stories of his brothers and sisters even to the point of death.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

September 28 - Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs, Healers, Silverless

Cosmas and Damian had attracted very much attention. It wasn't because they were hungry for renown and consideration. They were influential but they did not seek the power of influence. They were powerful but they did not seek to manipulate or dominate others. This had attracted the attention--negative attention, for sure--of Diocletian. Consequently, they were arrested as enemies of the Empire within the Roman province of Syria. Though there were many of the outcast and needy that would have jumped to their defense, they agreed to be seized by the hand of the Empire. They turned their bodies over to the Empire that outlawed their faith.

What had gathered the attention of the Empire had been the work that Cosmas and Damian became so famous for: healing. It must have started small--like all of God's great works--with kind words, prayers, and needy individuals. However, their ministry spread like wildfire as they provided life and healing to people desperate for something different than the sanitized Imperial security that provided no life. Being a follower of Jesus--the one who has the words of life--they offered what no other could: life more abundant. Soon, many others were coming to them for healing and hope. They provided both in abundance without asking for any compensation. For some, this was prohibitive--how could they not give something for the grace and mercy they were being offered? For some, this is still prohibitive--what do you mean I can't do anything to save myself? Cosmas and Damian became known as "silverless" or "unmercenary" because they offered the love and healing they received out of the love born in their hearts through their ongoing conversion. For this work, they were arrested. The World will not stand by and simply watch people offer life and healing when all it can offer is control and something that looks like life. So, it handles the "problem" however it needs to.

Cosmas and Damian were given ample opportunities to deny their faith and affirm the Empire. Having tasted of the waters of salvation and conversion, though, they were unable ever to return to a life of security and control. Instead, they continued to proclaim the Gospel that had gripped and transformed them regardless of what they wanted. They were tortured slowly so as to allow for a change of heart but the Empire failed to realize that their hearts had already begun to be changed by something greater than anything they could promise or threaten. They were hung on crosses to cast fear and humiliation into their hearts but they only found themselves reminded of the love of their Savior who had died for them while they were yet sinners. Stones were cast at them to cause such pain as to make them hate and seek vengeance but they only found themselves reminded of the conversion of Saul who stoned Christians before being converted. Arrows were shot into their bodies to punish them for their faith but they remained steadfast in the face of pain because of a life more vibrant and real within them. Finally, they were beheaded because the Empire could no longer stand to look upon the products of conversion and know it could not produce the same with power, control, domination, and hatred.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

September 27 - Vincent de Paul, Slave, Priest, Chaplain

Vincent was born into a historically unremarkable family with five other children. His peasant father and mother evidently took good care of their children and grounded them in the faith that they held so dear and so tightly held them. Vincent had the opportunity to study and receive an education by associating with various societies in more urban areas and received an education in theology while studying in Toulouse. He was ordained in the year 1600 and began a life of service and devotion to the Church and its Lord--Jesus Christ--who promised freedom to the bound.

While serving as a priest in Toulouse, he received a call to travel to Marseilles for some family business. His life had been like so many others for his first twenty-four years. His story differed very little from so many other priests while he served in the urban area of Toulouse. His life and his story was about to change, though, in a drastic and difficult way. It's hardly the kind of thing that anyone would wish for themselves or another but it was the path that Vincent's life took: while in Marseilles, Vincent was seized by Turkish pirates and forced into a life of servitude and suffering.

He was carried against his will to Tunis in Northern Africa. When they landed there, he must have trembled at the thought of what awaited him when he was forced to disembark. The voyage had been terrible but it had, at least, been a limited type of terror--on the ship he knew where he would be the next day and who he would be interacting with. When he was brought onto dry land again he could still smell the Mediterranean sea but it was a very different world that he found himself in. Drawing hope from the faith that held him and countless Christians before and after him, he walked to the slave market where he was purchased by a powerful man who had some interest in Vincent the priest.

As a slave, he was incredibly limited in his interactions with his owner but he began to form a relationship with the man who had bought his freedom and life for a small sum. His love and way of life drew the attention of his owner and the attention became interest. When the owner began talking with Vincent, he found a vibrant faith that led his slave to offer him forgiveness and love. This was so much unlike his other slaves who hated and despised him for commanding and controlling them. Though Vincent did not condone the servitude he was entangled in, he continued to love his owner anyway. Eventually, Vincent's owner was converted to the faith, hope, and love that held Vincent. After this, he freed Vincent and Vincent returned to France.

When he returned to France, it must have seemed like everything had changed because so much of Vincent had changed while serving another in bondage. In many ways, life was better and more exciting because of his rediscovered freedom which he likely took for granted before his enslavement. However, something else was changed--Vincent's outlook on life. He eventually became a chaplain to galley slaves and offered pastoral care and comfort to those who suffered under the hand of bondage and oppression. His ministry became characterized by service to the less fortunate and defeated. For the remainder of his life, he would serve under the guidance of the powerful to provide care to the weak and outcast. When confronted with the physical abuse that the slaves had received, he was also concerned with the spiritual abuse rendered unto them. He began to live a life and ministry of comfort and healing for the least of the slaves and convicts under his care. With priests who were inspired by his life and work, he founded a group of ministers committed to care for the enslaved and bound.