Saturday, May 18, 2013
The prefect of Ancyra could feel how the political winds were blowing with Decius at the helm of the empire. So, the prefect decided to command all Christians to come forward and make sacrifice to the Roman gods and idols or be tortured and killed. The way the prefect saw it the Christians didn't have to give up their beliefs--they just had to demonstrate that their higher allegiance was to the Roman empire and its values. What the prefect, and so many other imperial leaders, failed to realize was that the Christians could not simultaneously put anything higher than their devotion to Jesus and still call themselves Christians. To slip--even "in word only"--and place something higher than Jesus was to deny their Faith. That was the kind of saving faith they had learned: complete trust in a complete redemption. So, it came as some surprise to the powerful, then, when Christians refused the offer that Rome had deemed reasonable. The non-Christians soon learned, however, that they could accuse their Christian neighbors before Rome and then profit by taking the possessions and valuables of the seized and martyred Christians. As the number of martyrs increased daily, Theodotus--a local innkeeper--began doing the unheard of: he began taking the bodies of the martyrs and giving them a Christian burial. He didn't do it because they "needed it" for some special reason but simply because they deserved it. He would try to take them from the site of execution but often had to bribe the guards to be able to take them. Since he was a prosperous innkeeper this was not especially difficult at first but as the number of bodies rose, his funds dwindled further and further.
Eventually, Rome shut down the building where the Christians met. By forbidding entrance to anyone, those drunk with imperial lies masquerading as power thought they were closing the Church! In reality, they were only moving it and so for some time it met in the inn that Theodotus owned and operated. This increased his visibility to the empire and likely shortened his days. When he realized this he let the priest know that soon he expected to join the martyrs because he didn't suspect that the empire would continue to overlook his presence and his activities. Soon after Theodotus' conversation with the priest, seven women were arrested for being Christian. These women had committed themselves to celibacy and a life of singleness so that they might focus on seeking the will of God and taking care of the poor and sick.The rulers whose minds had been warped by the twisted values of the empire and the world felt that these women should be raped and then murdered as punishment for their convictions and values. The youths who were given the charge of raping the seven women refused when they met the women and one of them had gray hair--perhaps they couldn't get past the idea of raping a woman who could be their mother and in shock their twisted values had been exposed to them. So, the prefect ordered heavy stones tied to their legs and each of them was dropped into the lake to drown.
That night a guard was posted at the shore because the bodies of the Christians had been missing far too often and if they were receiving burials then Rome's powers to frighten and terrify were weakened. The eldest of the women appeared to Theodotus in a dream and so the following night he went with a dear friend--Polychronius--to the lake to rescue the bodies of all seven women. As they approached in prayer, the guard received a vision of a Christian martyr commanding him to leave. In fear, he abandoned his post and Theodotus and Polychronius were able to do the hard work of releasing the bodies from their submerged prison. They took the bodies back and buried them but their actions were found out the next day when the seven women no longer rotted in the lake. Polychronius and Theodotus were arrested and tortured. Under torture, Polychronius broke and told his accusers that it had all been Theodotus' idea. Polychronius was set free after he made the sacrifice of his own faith--sacrificing that of inestimable value for a cheap trinket--but Theodotus was condemned to death. He was martyred and his body joined those of the other martyrs who were rescued from desecration not because they "needed it" by any means but because they deserved it.
Friday, May 17, 2013
In the year 1540 Pentecost came on May 24th and it was celebrated by Christians around the world. On the same day, a baby boy was born in the city of Torrehermosa, in the country of Spain. His mother and father named the little one Paschal Baylon--Paschal in honor of the fact that he was born on the day of Pentecost which was called the "Pasch of the Holy Ghost" in Spain at the time.Paschal was born into the poverty that his mother and father shared and brought a little brightness to their otherwise difficult lives. He helped provide for the family as much as he could as he grew older by taking a job as a shepherd for those with money to pay and flocks to mind. He did his job well and soon found himself working nearly every day. This was a great boon to his family but meant that he received little to no education and was illiterate even as a youth. As a poor young man in a world that has little room for those stricken with poverty and frustration, he soon learned that he would be unable to purchase or earn education but he still endeavored to learn to read. So, he started doing something shocking: asking people who passed his way to teach him "just a little" of how to read.
With each passing person, Paschal either found a willing tutor for a moment or yet another person unconcerned with the face he doesn't know. Person by person Paschal slowly learned to read. Every lesson he received was an act of charity that produced knowledge in his own mind and good fruits in the soul of the one who spared their time and attention for the other. Some would have been ashamed to ask those who passed by for help and assistance but Paschal knew a very important thing: he wasn't the only one who benefited from these lessons. In accepting an act of charity, he was helping the other to grow and mature spiritually. Soon, he had repeat tutors coming by to teach him "a little more." When there was no tutor and nobody coming down the road, Paschal tried to read the book he carried with him and it grew progressively easier and easier as time went on and his knowledge increased. Eventually, he had learned to read and so he applied to be a lay brother among the nearby Franciscans. But, once again, he did something shocking: he only spent time in the especially poor monasteries.
Paschal was certain that poverty was formative and healing for him and so he refused to abandon it by residing in a monastery of some comfort and means. He is recorded as insisting, "I was born poor and am resolved to die in poverty and penance." He had found the powerful road that led through poverty into spiritual formation and growth. He had learned the power of asking others to be charitable and giving others the opportunity to prove their allegiance to a Kingdom not-of-this-world.The rest of his life was lacking in riches and filled with prayer and opportunities for charity. His many mystical and ecstatic experiences only confirmed his calling in his heart until he died on May 17th, 1592.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
Brendan was born in the country of Ireland, the county of Kerry, and the city of Tralee. Like so many other Irish boys near the turn from the fifth to the sixth century, he was raised in a Christian home and put to bed at night hearing the stories of Patrick the Great who had returned to the island that Brendan and his family loved so dearly. After all, Patrick had been a missionary and had ignited furious passion for missions among the Irish Christians. Furthermore, Brendan was born when Brigid was already about her calling and life's work among the monastics. He surely heard the good things that this wonderful woman was doing and must have spent some of that peaceful time right before sleep and during our most vivid daydreams imagining a life for himself like hers. Some stories suggest that when Brendan was born a chorus of angels accompanied the moment to announce its importance and his significance for the future of Irish Christianity. He was baptized by the bishop Ercwhen he was but a baby and when he was ready to begin his education he was sent to Ita (the woman who would become known as the "Brigid of Munster") in Killeedy for her careful guidance and teaching.
After several years at the knee of Ita he was sent back to receive the remainder of his education and training from the hand of Erc in Tralee. This was a powerful experience for Brendan but as he aged and began to experience the strengthening of his own calling he desired to travel and study under yet more great Christian leaders and teachers. Erc gave his approval but made one significant request: Brendan should return for his eventual ordination. Brendan honored Erc'srequest after several more years of study under the great Irish minds including Finnian of Clonard, Enda of Aran, and Jarlath of Tuam. He was ordained at the age of twenty-six and went out into the Irish countryside with missions in mind and monasteries to build. Because of his masterful education he soon became a master in his own right and attracted many disciples to himself. They built monasteries in several places (including Ardfert, Shanakeel, and at the foot of Brandon Hill) and Brendan oversaw their development and expanding mission. He even appointed his sister as abbess over one of the monasteries. He became known throughout Ireland as a master of Christian spirituality and a peer of Patrick and Brigid.
Near the end of his life he had a vision in which God called him to do something preposterous: to travel far from Ireland. For a man with as much influence in Irish life as Brendan had this seemed to be a disastrous idea. To travel far away would be to abandon the work he had done for a people who would not know him and who would not give him any of the respect or attention that he naturally received in Ireland. But, he was loyal to God's will and willing to do God's work. So, he gathered to himself sixty of his closest disciples and prepared a boat for travel. Their first voyage was a colossal failure so they stopped to regroup. After praying and fasting for forty days, they set out again and traveled for nearly seven years aboard their boat. They landed in Iceland and Greenland and may have gone as far as the North American continent. Though this seems unlikely, recent tests have even proven that it's possible with the ship that they built. Along the way, they shared the faith that motivated them and expanded the Kingdom of God into places where it had never seen the light of day. As his days drew short, he returned to Ireland (stopping first in Scotland and Iona) and founded yet one more monastery at Annaghdown. It was in this monastery where he finished his days teaching his disciples and guiding the shape of Christianity in an increasingly new world.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Peter Maurin's mother and father were poor farmers in a village named Oultet in Southern France. As is often the case for those who make their living by the land, life was a challenge from sunrise and sundown that was punctuated with many moments of uncertainty and rare moments of quiet confidence. He was one of twenty-four children that indubitably did their best to help on the farm and fill each other's lives with the comfort and solace of the community of family. When he was sixteen, though, Peter departed his family home and joined up with a Christian group called "The Institute of the Brothers of Christian Schools." He trained to be a teacher and to move into some community in need of education and guidance and start a school. They professed vows of simplicity and piety as well as a passion for educating and caring for the poor. He found this life fulfilling but just as he was really beginning to enjoy the community he was conscripted into mandatory military service. He was uncomfortable with the nature of the relationship between politics and religion--how the State so often took upon itself the cloak of the Church in a manipulative and dangerous way--and this thread would run through the remainder of his life.When he was released from his mandatory service he found out, with much frustration, that the French government was shutting down religious schools throughout the country. Peter responded by joining a lay group known as Le Sillon which advocated for worker's rights and democratic ideals. Though he tried to assimilate into Le Sillon he could not escape the pervasive suspicion that the conflation of politics and religion created problems. So, in 1909 he emigrated to Canada to escape the political life that so dominated his existence in France.
He had chosen Canada--specifically Saskatchewan--because they did not have obligatory military service or conscription and, so, it seemed to hold the promise of a life of piety without politics. He built a home and shared it with others but soon found that the life of escape was not one to which he was called even if he was still called to a life of poverty. He left Saskatchewan and began taking odd jobs in the United States or, in hard times, wherever he could find them. He worked hard and asked for little. When he was able and life and funds permitted him to do so he would go to New York and teach the poor the skills they might desperately need. Often, he was unpaid for this service because of the expansive quality of the poverty he struggled against. He would spend his time teaching in the public library or sharing his life and experiences with people on the streets. He had minimized his own interaction with politics while emphasizing his own relationship with his God and his Faith. One of the people whom he regularly had conversation with gave him the name and address of a new convert and freelance writer by the name of Dorothy Day. Peter sought out Dorothy and his life took another turn.
The two developed an intense and passionate relationship as two friends and beloved coworkers in the Kingdom of God. Dorothy was a gifted writer and Peter had ideas that had true potential to rock the world. Before they did anything, though, Peter insisted that Dorothy receive an education about how to look at the world through truly Christian eyes. It was always Peter's insistence that the Kingdom of God operated on a different set of values and procedures. He didn't think that the old world and the corrupt systems needed to be conquered so much as allowed to destroy themselves.Peter taught Dorothy and others that the Christian way was to focus upon piety and faith and allow broken systems to self-destruct. This is how Peter and Dorothy proceeded and this is how Peter finally understood himself to escape the worst part of the painful grasp of the political machines. The two of them started The Catholic Worker and it soon became a widely read and appreciated newspaper. Through the paper, Peter advocated a return to the practice of Christian hospitality, the increased importance of farms, and the value of community among other things.Insisting that "there is no unemployment on the land," Peter moved to a communal farm in Pennsylvania and spent the remainder of his days aiding in the publication of The Catholic Worker, teaching those willing to hear, and advocating for the poor against systems that tried to undo them all. He died in 1949 and was buried in a second-hand suit in a donated grave.