Monday, July 28, 2014

July 28 - Stanley Rother, Martyr, Priest, Shepherd of Guatemala

Stanley Rother experienced a life quite like that of many Midwestern Roman Catholic priests. He was born in 1935, attended seminary, and was ordained in 1968 (though he struggled with Latin enough to make this a challenge at times). He served as an associate minister at a few churches before being commissioned and called to the congregation of Santiago Atitlán in Guatemala. Stanley Rother, with his heart full of love and anxiety, left the United States of America and became shepherd of a people miles away in geography and culture.

After some time, he had mastered the language of his flock: a Mayan dialect of the Tzutuhil. He was the first to translate the scripture into Tzutuhil. More than that, he offered services in the language of his flock and became greatly endeared to them. Soon, more than 3,300 people were attending the Sunday masses. Stanley did not accomplish this with flash and programs aimed at reaching the unreached but, rather, by slowly pouring his life our for those whom he comforted, baptized, buried, married, counseled, trained, taught, and assisted. When he wasn't busy about his priestly duties, he lent a hand in a field and offered love wherever he might be. Stanley did not see his life as something that was his own to hoard but, rather, a gift that he could gleefully spend on others to ease their pain and buoy them up in their distress. In short, Stanley Rother was much loved by the Guatemalan people because he loved them much. Because of this great love, he was honored with a Tzutuhil name: Padre A'plas.

Guatemala's history is rife with violence and kidnappings. Santiago Atitlán had, for many years, been a haven from this violence and the country's political distress had not stepped across the threshold of parish for some time. However, this peace would not hold once some politically minded people had determined to escalate the violence to accomplish their destructive goals. After all, the way of violence leads only to more violence and not into the way of life and peace. Stanley diagnosed the problem as such: "The country here is in rebellion and the government is taking it out on the church...The Church seems to be the only force that is trying to do something about the situation, and therefore the government is after us."

Stanley was urged to flee and return to the United States but Stanley refused saying, "At the first signs of danger, the shepherd can't run and leave the sheep to fend for themselves." He stayed and, eventually, one of the lay leaders from the congregation was kidnapped during the day by armed men. One day, as he walked through the streets, he was accosted and informed that his name was on a list of those condemned to death by the powers.He resisted leaving but, upon the advice of his friends and parishioners, returned to Oklahoma so that his flock might not be harmed because of him.

Yet, being the shepherd that he was, he was unable to stay away from the place where he belonged and where he was, truly, home. He left the chalice his parents had gifted to him with his parents and said good-byes to his family and friends. Stanley knew well that he was likely walking back into his death. Yet, As Archbishop Salatka said, "Father Stanley Rother did not go back to Guatemala to die. He went back to help his people." He left Oklahoma near Holy Week and returned to Santiago Atitlán to celebrate the Gospel story: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. In the early morning hours of July 28th, 1981, armed men broke into rectory and seized Stanley. Apparently, they were intending to kidnap him and torture him. Stanley did not beg for his life or cry out in fear or pain but, rather, told his would-be-abductors: "Kill me here." Stanley Rother died when one of the armed men shot him in the head twice. He died where he requested and where he had returned: among the people of Guatemala.

For Stanley Rother, there was no other place he'd rather be than in Guatemala among his flock whom he cared for. The powers could not stand that this one person would dare oppose them and help the people they couldn't help. With closed fists they had tried to aid the people not knowing that it was only with a peaceful and loving open hand that aid can be given to the broken. His body was returned to Oklahoma for burial but his heart was buried where it truly belonged: Santiago Atitlán.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

July 27 - Panteleimon, Martyr, Physician, Opponent of Death

Pantaleon (meaning "like a lion in all things") was born to a non-Christian father and Christian mother in Nicomedia in 275 CE. His mother repeatedly shared the Christian faith and way with him throughout his childhood but he fell away from his mother's beliefs and never claimed them as his own. His academic pursuits and able intellect led him to study medicine. His skill in the field was apparent from the beginning and his practice gained attention from many people--including the emperor Maximian. It was, in fact, as a physician that he was first reached by the convicting faith of his mother. Hermolaus, a physician himself, appealed to him arguing that Jesus was "the great physician" and, therefore, worthy of emulation and great consideration.

Hermolaus connected the life and viewpoint of Pantaleon to that of his childhood and his mother's teachings. For Pantaleon, this resulted not only in the changing of his name to Panteleimon (meaning "mercy for everyone") but, also, the changing of his approach to medicine. By bridging the gap between Panteleimon's childhood and his identity,Hermolaus unleashed a great healer upon not only the persecuted Christians but, also, the sick and suffering. Panteleimon truly did offer mercy for anyone and everyone. Though he was employed by Maximian he offered healing and mercy even to the poorest of the poor.

Eventually, he was denounced to the authorities and charged with being a Christian. Given Panteleimon's incredible reputation as a healer and worker of good, the emperor Maximian hoped to convince Panteleimon to renounce his faith and become an apostate--a well-rewarded and highly-regarded apostate. Panteleimon refused to deny the faith he once had cast aside and, instead, he confessed it boldly regardless of what he stood to lose in doing so.

Further, he challenged the imperial delusions to a test. He challenged Maximian's best doctors to a challenge: there was a certain paralytic who was considered unable to be healed--Panteleimon invited this man in and gave the doctors sufficient time to try all that they knew to heal the man's paralysis. Though they were esteemed in imperial eyes, the doctors failed. Panteleimon offered prayer and requested healing and the man stood up free from paralysis. Perhaps Panteleimon expected to be released or to convert Maximian but this was not to be as hatred and shame had filled the heart of Maximian. Maximian--so lost in imperial delusions and unable truly to see life--labeled this healing as trickery and sorcery. He had the healed paralytic executed in a show of savage domination and power.

As punishment for healing the paralytic and being a Christian, Maximian brought some of Panteleimon's friends--including Hermolaus--before himself and threatened them with beheading if Panteleimon would not renounce his faith. These men were martyred as Panteleimon stood strong and proclaimed that there is more to life than a heartbeat and more to death than a grave. In doing this, Maximian made a statement about life and death and made the point that the empire's power was death and the control of it. However, even as he condemned Panteleimon--instrument of life and mercy to so many and his own personal physician--to death, his power of death could not restrain the power of life held by the God of Panteleimon.

In anger and desperation for power, Maximian ordered Panteleimon beheaded to make his point concerning death and power. As Panteleimon prayed, the blade failed to cut his neck. As he finished his prayer, Panteleimon heard a voice from heaven calling him home and he lovingly permitted the soldiers to execute him. Having shown the power of life over death and God over the empire, Panteleimon was beheaded and martyred as a servant of life and opponent of the power of death in the year 303.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

July 26 - Titus Brandsma, Martyr, Priest, Opponent of Nazi Germany

Titus Brandsma was born Anno Sjoerd in the Netherlands in 1881. He was raised Roman Catholic and, eventually, became a Carmelite and priest. He was awarded the Ph.D. at Rome in 1909. He was a well-known authority on Carmelite mysticism. This principled man had the fortune of intersecting the Nazis in the Netherlands. Though it resulted in his martyrdom, it cannot be described as bad fortune because Titus knew his life was a story of the power of love in the face of death and domination--this was the only appropriate end.

Titus was the Roman Catholic adviser to the Netherlands' several dozen Roman Catholic newspapers. This was a position of importance and one which Titus was equipped to do well. Holland was invaded by the Nazis in 1940 and tensions were high. Many Roman Catholics wanted to resist the Nazi occupation but were unsure of how much or how to do so. It is, most assuredly, a black mark that those bearing the banner of Jesus Christ--a crucified Lord--would compromise with the Nazi regime in trade for limited safety and security and, yet, that is often what happened. Many were willing to fight only for the safety and security of fellow Roman Catholics and felt that the Church should solely be concerned with the protection of its members. Titus disagreed and did so vocally. For Titus, there was no compromise to be had with those who dealt in death, destruction, torture, and pain.The Church has no room to join with others who promise only "controlled evil."

Referring to Nazism as "the new paganism," it was clear that Titus opposed the treachery and tragedy of the Nazi empire. Titus resisted the Nazi oppression of all people regardless of the religion, creed, race, or sex of those who were oppressed. After all, if oppression was evil, then it didn't matter who did it. He publicly denounced and fought a German law prohibiting students of Jewish lineage from attending Roman Catholic schools. This further drew the ire of the Nazi empire. In late 1941, a Nazi edict demanded that all newspapers run Nazi propaganda.Titus Brandsma organized an effort to refuse and resist this edict. This was, apparently, the last straw for an empire that depended upon domination, control, and fear.

January 19th, 1942, was the day that Titus was arrested and seized by the Nazi death machine. Eventually, he was transferred to Dachau to be with the nearly 3,000 other clergy who were swept up by the empire that accepted no resistance. He was beaten and tortured before being transferred to a "hospital" for execution.

On July 26th, 1942--70 years ago, today--Titus Brandsma was injected with acid and murdered.Though the Nazis felt that they were punishing him for his resistance to the empire, they only spread his influence and further proved their own savagery. They killed a sickly, 61-year-old man who offered no physical resistance with a needle to make it "clean" but acid to make it vindictive--observing their methods, one wonders if there wasn't the spark of fear in their hatred of Titus. They hoped to punish him for the state of his mind that offered resistance to their "new world order" but, instead, they crowned him as a martyr for the cause of a sacrificial and loving savior who resisted evil done to any and all people.

Friday, July 25, 2014

July 25 - James, Son of Zebedee, Apostle, Martyr

James the Apostle and John the Evangelist were brothers. Their father, Zebedee, was clearly a man of wealth and influence. He was a fisherman by trade and, therefore, so were James (the older) and John (the younger). Zebedee provided for them in their youth and education. Their mother, Salome, was one of Jesus' followers and would, later, be one of the women who followed after Jesus and provided for him as he engaged in ministry prior to his death.

Growing up in Galilee, their family likely knew Jesus' family and, perhaps, were even distant relatives. As they grew older they engaged in the fishing trade of their father until, one day, Jesus came alongside the Sea of Galilee and called out to the brothers on the boat and proclaimed that if they would follow him, then he would make them "fishers of people." Along with his brother, James accepted the call and became one of "the twelve disciples." He abandoned the life of affluence that his father provided for the life of a wandering disciple of an itinerant teacher.This sacrifice should not be overlooked. After all, James would follow Jesus loyally for years forsaking his own life in pursuit of the Kingdom--even if he wasn't entirely sure what it might look like.

As Jesus and his disciples approached Jerusalem for the last time, Salome ambitiously decided to take some initiative and convince Jesus of her sons' worth as leaders in the new Kingdom. Salome said to Jesus, "Jesus, I want you to tell me that my sons can be your inner circle when you finally start this Kingdom you've been talking about." Oblivious that the Kingdom had already started and they were missing it in their ambition, her sons joined in with her and placed their hope in worldly gain and power. For a moment, James bought into the lie of success through power--a new kingdom just like the other kingdoms except with himself on top.They bought into that old lie that says, "The only thing wrong with this world's kingdoms is that I'm not the one in charge." Jesus, knowing how the Kingdom worked and hoping to get it through to them asked: "Can you drink the cup I'm getting ready to drink?" In their ambition, they exclaimed, "Yes!" Jesus knew they still didn't get it and so he said to them, somewhat cryptically, "Yes, you will drink the same cup but the Kingdom is not about power like you understand it. No, it's different--it's not about domination and control. It's about love and sacrifice."

James would, later, be present at the transfiguration of Jesus at Gethsemane. James, along with Peter and John, would see their Lord and Savior conversing with Moses and Elijah. The effect of this event for James' change of outlook and character should not be underestimated. Even as James gazed upon Jesus transfigured that night, parts of James were being transfigured.

Jesus would, of course, go on to lay down his life and die for the sins of the world. He would offer forgiveness to the death-dealers surrounding him and love to those intent on being his enemies. This frightening inauguration of a new Kingdom scattered the Twelve--including James. Perhaps the words of Jesus about the cup he would drink came back to haunt James. Regardless, James would help lead the disciples and early Christians in living into the Kingdom they understood so late. He who had been given much and who had come from an affluent family would give it all up for a chance to be a part of a new and different Kingdom--the Kingdom of God.