Wednesday, September 2, 2015

September 2 - Jean Marie du Lau and Companions, Martyrs, Champions of a Free Church

In 1792, France was a powder keg waiting for ignition. The French revolution was in full swing and the Reign of Terror was fast approaching.The French monarchy had been trampled underfoot and the new leaders of the State hoped to fix things for themselves and their people. The Constituent Assembly had passed a law that hoped to bring the vocal Church under control in France.The hope was that the Church could be placed under the "enlightened" control of the State and be made to say and do things that supported the aims of the new rulers of France. This new rule involved an oath that clergy were required to take if they wanted to remain in France. In other words, the French revolutionaries only had room for a Church that played according to the new State's rules.

Most of the clergy in France refused to sign the oath and submit the Church to state control. It included a passage that invalidated any "bishop or archbishop whose see is established under the name of a foreign power." Not only was this person not welcome in France but it was also criminal to support or follow them. The State had outlawed the Kingdom that was "not of this world."They rounded up the resisting clergy and imprisoned some of them and detained others in their churches so that they could forcibly exile them from their new republic that was to be devoid of a free Church. For many of these ministers, their sanctuaries became their prisons.

While awaiting deportation, the ministers heard the mob approach their prisons and churches. They must have known that the mob was coming for them full of furor for the State and disgust for the actions of the Church. They must have suspected what was coming. They approached the church where Jean Marie du Lau was being detained and pulled the doors open.Jean was waiting for them at the entrance in his clerical vestments as he might await the body of a parishioner for a funeral. He stood at the front of his people but offered no violence or resistance. The mob asked, "Are you the archbishop?" Jean smiled--perhaps knowing what was coming--and confirmed that he was, indeed, the one they were looking for. When he answered, they hacked him to pieces with their pikes and swords. He died offering forgiveness instead of wrath.

They seized the sanctuary of the ministers and began holding a "trial" to determine their fate. Two-by-two, the ministers were paraded before the "judges" and questioned forcefully. They were ordered to take the oath and admit the right of the State to rule the hearts and minds of the people. When they inevitably refused the oath, they were sent down a narrow stairway to a garden. When they stepped through the door, an angry mob would tear them to pieces and brutally murder them. This bloody exercise in the power of the State--the power to take a life--continued until 191 priests and bishops had been murdered and martyred.

One of those martyred was Francis de La Rochefoucauld Maumont--the bishop of Beauvais.He was an invalid and aged minister who could no longer walk. He had been carried to the sanctuary by others on a stretcher and rested on it as others were ushered to their trial and martyrdom. They called his name and he responded,"I am here at your disposal, judges, and I am prepared for my death but I cannot walk to you. I would appreciate it if you would carry my cot wherever it is that you want me." They brought him before the self-appointed judges and he refused to take the oath. They carried him down the narrow stairs and he was murdered like all of his friends.

It is good for us to remember the deaths of these faithful men and their stance against control and for a free Church. They were not afraid of the deadly threats of the State because they were citizens and ministers of a Kingdom that was--at its essence--established under the name of a foreign power: Jesus Christ and a kingdom of love and forgiveness.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

September 1 - Aaron, Prophet, Priest, Voice of Moses

Growing up, Aaron had glimpsed his mother's tears many times. She didn't necessarily know he was watching but he saw how she yearned to be near her son--his brother--Moishe. Aaron had escaped the death sentence of the Pharaoh by being just old enough not to fall under its judgment. But Moishe had been the right age and was, therefore, condemned to death. Their mother--Jochebed--secreted him away and freed him from his death sentence by secretly giving him over into the hands of those close to the Pharaoh. Moishe was far away. He was not geographically distant from his true family but, rather, he was ideologically miles away as he grew up in affluence and wealth under the care of the daughter of the Pharaoh.

They had tried to keep Aaron from finding out about brother Moishe's fate because they were worried that he might reveal their family's deep and cherished secret--one of their own sat in the lap of Mitzrayim (Egypt). It was better, they thought, that Aaron assume Moishe dead and forgotten. "Better he thinks his brother dead and gone, then know he lives but cannot be near. He will soon forget his baby brother whom he knew for such a little time" they might have rationalized. But, Aaron had found out the secret that was his inheritance and was consequently initiated into the family secret with an unexpressed vow of ignorance and silence. Mitzrayim could not know or it would crush Moishe's--and Aaron's--people.

Eventually, Moishe found out about his heritage and people. While traveling through the land, he saw an Egyptian beating an Israelite and he killed the Egyptian in a fit of rage. He had made a choice that could not easily be undone. He had sided himself with the poor and oppressed even though so very few of them knew him. He fled into the desert where he would encounter God. Aaron would remain in the clutches of Mitzrayim with their people and continue to encounter the God that Moishe found only in the wilderness.
When Moishe returned, Aaron met him along the way and revealed his identity more clearly. As Moishe tried to rally the people of Israel around God's calling, Aaron stood in the gap between the people and the agent of their deliverance. Aaron became a bridge between the deliverer they never knew and the people so crushed and beaten by Mitzrayim. Aaron's trust in Moishe allowed the people to learn to trust this wandering leader.Further, Moishe insisted that Aaron was to be his "navi" or mouthpiece. Moishe wasn't known for his eloquence and, perhaps, had a stutter but God had chosen him. God had called Aaron to stand in the gap between Moishe and the world and be the prophet and mouthpiece for Moishe. Aaron lived into this calling.

Aaron was present for the ten plagues. Aaron was present for the exodus. Aaron was present for the pursuit of Israel by Pharaoh. Aaron was present for the crossing of the Red Sea. In all these things, Aaron stood in the gap between the people and Moishe. Further, he stood in the gap between a people with a vague yearning for a loving God and the loving God who reached out desperately for a people that could not and would not see God. In this way, the consecration of Aaron as a priest was a formal recognition of the calling that Aaron was already living out. He had stood before the people and pointed to God and God's movement all the while interceding for the people before the God they simultaneously sought and rejected.

Aaron's life and faith were far from perfect--he and Moishe did not always get along, his sons lose their lives by making the sacred profane, and he later built a golden calf for the people when they became fearful--but he must be remembered for standing in the gap for the people when Moishe was being called into the desert. Often, we focus on the great leadership of Moishe but it could not have been easy for Aaron to stay behind in the grip of Mitzrayim while his brother seemed to be able to escape it. Aaron did not leave his people and reminds us that God is not present solely in the wild and wonderful places but also in the places of death and oppression. Aaron--a High Priest of the Israelites--was committed to both his God and his people and held onto both even as they struggled with each other.

Aaron died many years later and his son took the role of High Priest. In his office and calling, he had served his God, his people, and his brother well and faithfully. His death was mourned for thirty day by all those who had depended upon him.

Monday, August 31, 2015

August 31 - Aidan of Lindisfarne, Missionary, Bishop, Monastic

Christianity was known among the Roman Britons but it had waned recently. Christianity had come into Britain in wrapped up in the pax romana but had begun to become less popular and populous within the reach of the Imperial rulers. Instead, the people were returning to their own religions and beliefs and rejecting the religion that had been compelled upon them. In Northumbria, an exiled king--Oswald--returned from Scotland to become ruler once again. He had been forced out of his home land and had taken refuge among the Scottish and Irish Christians near Iona. While at Iona, he had been converted to the Christianity that his companions professed and, so, when he returned to Northumbria he sent for missionaries from Iona and not from Rome.

The first missionary was a man by the name of Corman who experienced little to no success and, eventually, left Northumbria and returned to Iona. He reported to his friends, colleagues, and superiors that the people were too stubborn to be converted and too entrenched in their polytheistic ways. When met with the legacy of bad discipleship and spiritual formation, Corman found that what he had to offer the people was not of interest to them. He gave up when growth was not immediate and went home where he was comfortable. One man openly criticized Corman's methodology and approach to ministry in Northumbria. This man is the one that Iona sent to replace Corman. His name was Aidan.

Aidan was different. When he arrived, he founded a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne and slowly involved himself in the lives of those whom he hoped to minister to. Instead of showing up and simply preaching fiery sermons and expecting the immediate movement of the spirit and explosive growth, Aidan recognized the importance of relationships. He started a monastery and devoted himself to prayer, worship, and investing himself in the lives of others. He wasn't trying to recreate Iona in Northumbria but, rather, recreate the situation and circumstances that gave rise to Iona--committed followers of Christ gathering together in relationships to worship, pray, and devote themselves to the ministry of the Kingdom of God.

Aidan made it a habit to walk between the villages of Northumbria and converse with any who might walk along the way with him. He spent many days simply walking and talking with people and learning to love them as they learned to love him. His conversations were not engineered attempts to "witness" to the people but, rather, he understood his life to be his witness and the relationships he built as ways for others to partake of his life. Oswald gave Aidan a horse, once, because he had heard that Aidan was walking between villages as he went about his ministry. Aidan gave the horse to a nearby beggar and insisted that he'd rather walk. Aidan knew that a horse would disconnect him from the people he loved and was invested in.He knew that spiritual formation and invigoration of people was accomplished slowly and through prayer, worship, and healthy, sincere relationships.

Aidan's monastery grew slowly and steadily and was intentionally composed of people from Northumbria.So, as the people of Northumbria needed more Christian leaders they were provided with people who they knew and trusted already. This was part of Aidan's plan all along--not to make the Northumbrians over in his own image but, rather, to help them follow after God who had made them in God's image. Aidan would die in Northumbria many years later but his monastery and ministry would continue on as a witness to those who had ears to hear and as an example to all of us.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

August 30 - Jeanne Jugan, Little Sister of the Poor, Teacher, Blessed

Jeanne Jugan was born in Brittany, France, in the late 18 century. Her father died when she was young and this forced Jeanne's mother and sisters to take care of the large Jugan family. She was devoted to her family and helped to provide for their needs in whatever ways she could. As the sixth of eight children, however, she was one of the younger ones. She wasn't called to be a surrogate mother but, rather, a little sister to her family.

When she was sixteen, she took a job as a maid for a local countess. These circumstances could have been bad for Jeanne--as they had been for so many other young women--but the countess was a devoted Christian who saw a kindred spirit in young Jeanne. The countess was very active in visiting the sick and the needy and providing for their various needs. Though Jeanne was hired as a kitchen-maid, at the request of the countess she began traveling with her to visit the sick and poor and assist in providing for their needs.The older countess used her young maid to help her in providing the love and support needed by those they visited. Jeanne was not called to be a countess and benefactor but, rather, a little sister to the countess.

Several years later, Jeanne would take a job caring for an elderly woman in the community.They, too, recognized a similarity in each other and began to work together intimately to provide for the poor and unfortunate in the area. Further, under the elderly lady's direction, they began to teach catechesis to the interested children in the community. This was a chance for Jeanne to serve as a leader to some but still be guided by those whom she loved and who loved her. Jeanne did teach the faith to the people and was, in many ways, a teacher at heart but she was not called to be a schoolmaster but, rather, a little sister to her elderly friend until she died and went to her rest in God.

Jeanne would, then, join with another elderly lady--Francoise Aubert--to rent a small cottage. They were joined by Virginie Tredaniel--a seventeen-year-old orphaned girl. These three women joined together in regular prayer and reflection. Their small Christian community offered hospitality to any who might request it and offered teaching to all who were interested. Upon one occasion, Jeanne brought a blind widow into their home and slept on the floor so that the widow could sleep in her bed. As she slept on the floor and her widowed friend slept comfortably for the first time in who knows how long, she felt the call that had been on her life for so long. She was not called to succeed by the standards of the world but, rather, to be a little sister to widows and the elderly. Any elderly woman was welcome and well-provided for in their home. They were fed and loved. This community would daily and beg for assistance to provide for those in their care. They became known as the "Little Sisters of the Poor."

When Jeanne died, in 1879, there were nearly 2500 little sisters spread across the world providing assistance, love, and hospitality to widows and the elderly. In all things, Jeanne lived by an ethic of love and sacrifice for others. She had learned from an early age that Christians should be known for their love and that there was far more to love than words and good intentions. She was a little sister to many and an example to all.