Friday, October 31, 2008

October 31 - Alphonsus Rodriguez, Porter, Victim of Tragedy, Sacramental Doorkeeper

Alphonsus' life was a pleasant one when he was young. He was the son of a wealthy wool merchant in Segovia, Spain. This meant that he lived a life of relative comfort and affluence and had little worry over where his next meal might come from. Also, it meant that he received a quality education at the nearby Jesuit college. Perhaps he even had a clerical career in mind. But, things took a turn for the worse in 1545 when his father died suddenly and unexpectedly. He left his studies behind because his mother needed him to come home. Even though it meant he would not be able to finish the education he valued, he left the Jesuit college and moved back home to take care of his mother and run the family business. Though crisis had afflicted the family and there was much grief for the loss of Alphonsus' father, it seemed that life had regained some of its normalcy.

In 1560, Alphonsus was doing a good job of running the business and taking care of his mother. He had met and courted a devout woman named Maria Suarez. They were married and she soon gave birth to two children. Alphonsus had a happy family and a career and it seemed that life could not get better. Alphonsus was happy to tell some of his clients that he would soon be a father three times over since his wife was pregnant yet again. Business was not as good as it had been but he was still able to support his family. Then, tragedy found a home in Alphonsus' life.

Maria died in childbirth and the baby died with her. As Alphonsus was grieving and mourning the loss of his beloved wife and child, another affliction infiltrated his family and took another of his children. His ailing mother soon died, as well, and Alphonsus was left with one child and a business that was only getting worse. As the business got worse his remaining child seemed to get sicker and sicker with both grief and some unknown malady. Both his business and the life of his remaining child failed him at around the same time. Grief-stricken and broken-hearted, Alphonsus barely had the will to keep living. In less than three years, Alphonsus had lost everything and been reduced to homelessness and begging. It was at this time--in his late thirties--that Alphonsus decided to pursue a clerical career. Tragedy had stripped him of everything and he found nothing left that he could subsist upon. When he applied to the Jesuits, his application was denied because of his lack of education and his relatively advanced age. It's hard to imagine the yawning expanse of nothingness and darkness that dwelled within the life of Alphonsus when it appeared that even God had no use for him. But, at his darkest hour there was a single sliver of light: they offered him a position as a lay brother and house porter at a Jesuit college in Majorca. He took it. He jumped at a chance at hope.

As porter, he was a doorkeeper and caretaker of one of the halls at the college. It was a humble job and one that involved serving students who were receiving the opportunities that had been denied to him. But, there was something different about Alphonsus. Though he practically refused to talk about himself, he was keen to talk about God. Having been stripped of everything, he found himself further connected to the God that remained in the void left by tragedy. The love of God shined through Alphonsus to such a degree that his every word, action, and conversation became a type of sublime ministry. Soon, students were asking the college to allow Alphonsus to be their spiritual director. One such applicant was Peter Claver. People became very aware of the love that poured out of Alphonsus' broken heart and longed to be close to him and learn from him. Alphonsus longed to find and see God in the face and heart of every person who walked through his door. When he died in 1617, his funeral was attended by rulers and large crowds. This victim of tragedy had become an inspiration to many.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

October 30 - Marcellus of Tangier, Martyr, Centurion, Loyal to a Higher Power

Everybody loves a parade, right? Well maybe not everybody. You see, Marcellus knew that Maximian's birthday was approaching but he wasn't looking forward to the festivities. Of course, he was careful to reveal this to nobody except those closest to him--his secret Christian brothers and sisters. When they gathered, Marcellus spoke of his anxieties for the coming celebration and his brothers and sisters offered comforting and inspiring words for him. They would not share in his decision or its consequences but they suffered similar threats and anxieties as Christians were persecuted and repressed by the Roman Empire.

Marcellus remained nervous as he stood in front his own soldiers near the end of the parade route. Maximian was being conveyed along the road on the way to the temple where sacrifice would be made in his honor. The expectation, soundly fulfilled by every unit of soldiers he had already passed, was for the soldiers to kneel before their lord Maximian as he passed. Marcellus swallowed hard as he saw Maximian's entourage approach and heard the rustling sound of the soldiers around him dropping to their knees in loyalty to Maximian. Marcellus remained standing and could hear gasps around him as people silently willed him to kneel. The people began to fear for him as he refused to kneel and removed his belt. As he dropped it, it clattered on the stone. The soldiers around him lifted their eyes enough to see what had caused the noise and were confused to find Marcellus removing and dropping his weapons, as well. If that wasn't enough, Marcellus removed the vine insignia that represented his loyalty to and status in the Empire and dropped it to the ground as Maximian passed. He was immediately seized by the Praetorian guard and hurried away from the crowd. His weapons, belt, rank, status, and history remained on the ground in the place where he had refused to kneel.

He was brought before a judge who ordered him to be taken to another judge. The praetorian guard conferred among themselves about the judge who was to decide Marcellus' fate. They knew that this judge was known to be merciful to Christians--even Christian soldiers who had defected--and so they conspired to avoid this possibility for lenience. Instead, they brought him before one of their leaders. He was beaten and tried. When asked how he plead, he responded that he had laid down his worldly rank instead of denying his loyalty to Jesus Christ. He proclaimed his faith over the jeers of the assembled guards and when asked if he could not be loyal to both he insisted that he could only be supremely loyal to his slaughtered King and Savior. They beheaded him as a traitor to their lord Maximian but only made him a martyr in the name of his Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

October 29 - James Hannington, Martyr, Missionary

It may not be fair to say that James was a poor student but it is fair to say that he was a very erratic student. His attendance was fairly regular but his grades seemed unpredictable and his tutors had a variety of opinions on his strengths and weaknesses. He dropped out of his formal education at the age of fifteen to work in his father's business. It was here that he worked primarily with numbers and relatively rarely had intensive interaction with other people. Though he never intimated displeasure with the job, it's safe to assume he didn't feel called to it given his erratic past and his eventual departure from the position. Instead, James felt called into the ministry. More specifically, James felt a calling to be a minister in the Anglican church.

He entered again into the academic world so that he might receive the degree needed to be ordained a priest. He was no better a student this time than he had been previously but he was slightly more determined to continue because of the firm hand of his calling at his back. As he approached graduation, his mother died and his life lost some of its luster for quite some time. His grief and his sober reflection pushed him to be a better student and he eventually graduated and was ordained as a deacon and given to a small parish in England. Several years later, he heard a story of missionaries to Africa who had been martyred because of their missionary calling.

Perhaps he was tired of the parish life. Perhaps he felt God's distinct calling yet again. Regardless, he soon enlisted to go to Africa with the Church Mission Society. He arrived in Zanzibar with six other missionaries in 1882. It was not an easy calling by any means. As they traveled, preached, and tried to meet the needs of the people they were coming into contact with, they suffered physical and emotional setbacks because of the changes in climate and diet. Having contracted dysentery and a fever that persisted regardless of treatment, James returned to England in 1883 against his wishes but with sound medical advice. James left his heart behind in Africa, however, and soon found himself returning in 1884 having been ordained Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa.
He arrived with a party of missionaries and they committed to reaching out to the people of Uganda. They traveled into Uganda and found that their arrival was an unwelcome one for the rulers. King Mwanga II sent word that the missionaries were to be captured and imprisoned. When the missionaries arrived in Busoga, they were seized and held captive. They were held captive as their fate was decided. Eventually Mwanga decided to have them killed and sent word that they should be executed. One by one, the missionaries were dragged from the cell and put to the tip of a spear. Finally, James was brought out and stabbed on both sides in the abdomen. He slowly and painfully died. With his last breath, he drew one of his executioners to him and said, "Go, tell Mwanga I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood."

Other missionaries would follow for like James, they saw the powerful witness of a martyr for those caught up in the flame of the life of a missionary. James became a model like the one who had modeled the missionary life for him. He died at the hands of the people he was desperate to reach and love but, in doing so, he provided a stream of missionaries and prayers that would eventually bring about the redemption of some of those whom he loved and who hated him.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

October 28 - Simon the Zealot, Apostle, Martyr

He had known it was going to happen. He had told Jesus repeatedly that he was hitting too close to home with the powerful and influential people. It seemed that Jesus didn't care if he upset the people with enough power to do something about it. In one way, Simon admired that kind of fearless provocation of the powerful and yet, he also knew what happened to people who irritated and provoked Rome. He had scars and old wounds to remind him. He had memories of friends and compatriots who had spilled their blood in resistance to Rome and Rome's allies. Now, Jesus hung from a cross. It was humiliating! Simon couldn't understand how this was appropriate for somebody who proclaimed the dawning of a new Kingdom.

For Simon, it had always been clear that Rome was the enemy--that Rome was the problem. As a member of the Zealots, Simon was very familiar with a philosophy of resistance at every turn to repel the occupying Roman forces. If Rome wanted to stay in Israel, the Zealots meant to make them pay for it with their blood and eventual fear. Known as "dagger men," the Zealots manipulated their small numbers to their advantage and began targeting the powerful for assassination. Willing to sacrifice themselves to shed enemy blood, they knew well that powerful people died as easily as any other when their throat was slit.

Zealots like Simon forsook and forbade any appeasement to the Romans. Tax collectors and Jews who cooperated with the Roman Empire were additional targets for the sharp blades of the Zealots. Though they may not have expressed it, their hope was to overturn Roman dominance of Israel and replace it with their own control. When Jesus began preaching about a "new Kingdom," Simon took notice. It sounded as if Jesus might be advocating resistance to Rome. In a way, Jesus was but it didn't look like what Simon was expecting. So, when he was arrested, Simon surely wondered if this would be the moment that Jesus would direct his many followers to rise up and overthrow the Romans. When Jesus was whipped and beaten, Simon surely wondered if he would turn on his torturers and bring judgment upon Rome and its allies. When Jesus carried his cross on the road to his crucifixion, Simon surely recognized the throngs of people around him and wondered if Jesus might not start the revolution then. What Simon surely didn't expect was for Jesus to die and offer forgiveness to the people who had killed him.

Simon couldn't help but look back at how he had changed by following after and listening to Jesus. Simon had spent time with the other apostles--even Matthew the tax collector--and had not felt the need to punish them for any of their cooperation with Rome. Simon had heard Jesus tell people that they should not only walk the one mile that a Roman solider could compel them to walk. Rather, they should walk more of their own will to love the soldier who expected only hate and resistance. The Zealots would have advised you to plant a dagger in the back of the soldier at the first opportunity so that you might deal with your enemies, but Jesus was saying to forgive and love them for no other reason than that they were your enemy and brother. Simon had seen Jesus talk about judgment and a new Kingdom but had also seen Jesus offer grace and mercy as signs of the coming of the new Kingdom. It didn't make sense from a Zealot frame of mind and, yet, Simon somehow knew that Jesus was right.

The Zealot way of resistance only brought more violence and domination. By wielding daggers against their enemies, Simon saw that the Zealots had also wounded themselves. Jesus died on a cross not in resistance of the Roman power but because of a love more furious than the great raging zeal of the Zealots. Simon clearly saw into the heart of Jesus' new Kingdom's way of looking at things: Love Wins. Simon was there when Jesus rose from the dead and finally understood victory in a way that proclaimed good news instead of different bad news. He could not truly be called a Zealot anymore because he had given up the path of violence and vengeance and chosen the path of peace and love for enemies.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

October 26 - Abbot Iscu, Martyr, Model of Forgiveness

Iscu was going to die in a cold and dark prison in Romania. His prison, Tirgul-Ocna, had been designed for those who resisted the Communist party's will and wishes. Iscu had refused to concede to the Party's statements concerning the Christian faith and had, consequently, been arrested and imprisoned. The State had exercised its power over Iscu's body by confining him and slowly working to convert him to the Party's desires. They need not convince him rationally, they suspected, if they could simply make him want to believe with all the gruesome torments they could devise. So, they tortured Iscu repeatedly. They blocked out the day from him and left him to fester in a dark and dank hole they called a prison. When they weren't torturing him, he was comforting his fellow prisoners but there were relatively few times they weren't torturing him.

Iscu still refused to deny his faith. They left him in the cell for a while expecting that death was right around the corner. They could see the life draining from him as they dropped him to the floor under the staring eyes of other captives. In his every breath they could hear the beginning of a death rattle. As the guards turned to leave the cell, they noticed that one of the sets of eyes watching them were the eyes of their former comrade. They looked away for fear of being associated with this one who had been sacrificed on the altar of state loyalty. For some reason he had been cast down from his position as interrogator and torturer. He had been disloyal to the Party in some way and so they had turned the tables on him and viciously tortured him to the brink of death before throwing him into the cell with his former victims. Now, he lay dying near Iscu whom he had tortured.

The former guard wept and despaired at his situation. Most of the prisoners there were Christians that he had been unable to convert away from the Faith and so he begged for their prayer. "I have done awful things and deserve what I am getting" he yelled. The prisoners watched in surprise as he loudly apologized for his sins but found no relief. He didn't see himself worthy of the forgiveness he so desperately needed and desired. So, he wept and despaired.

Iscu called with a soft and fading voice to nearby friends. They came to him and he whispered instructions to them. The men lifted Iscu and placed him beside the former guard on the floor. The two men--Iscu and the former guard--breathed heavily as they prepared to die. Iscu weakly raised one hand to stroke the hair of the former guard and said, "You were young and did not know what you were doing. I forgive you and love you, as do all the other Christians you mistreated." The former guard was captivated by Iscu's forgiveness and did not doubt it. Iscu continued, "If we sinners who have been saved by Jesus can love like this, how much more is He himself ready to erase all the evil you have done, to cleanse you fully. Only repent." The former guard offered repentance and converted to the Faith he had forced others to deny. Iscu had pardoned his torturer and murderer. The guard had converted to the faith of his victims. They embraced before slipping into death.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

October 25 - Jerzy Popieluszko, Martyr, Victim of Communism, Enemy of the State

Innocent and uninteresting sounds in the middle of the night had a different meaning for Jerzy. That scratching or tapping noise might be a tree branch but it might also be a Soviet agent coming to intimidate or execute him while he slept. Worse than the occasional sound was the oppressive and seemingly unnatural silence. He'd find himself wondering aloud if it wasn't perhaps too quiet as if there was somebody trying to be silent. Jerzy had reason to worry: he was an enemy of the state and considered a type of thought criminal. He encouraged the Polish trade union movement known as "Solidarity." Weekly, he could be heard at worship services where he would say mass and offer reflections that condemned the Communist infiltration of Poland. These sermons were broadcast on the radio and, in practically no time at all, Jerzy was at odds with a powerful enemy.

As he continued to speak on Sunday morning, he began to notice new and intimidating faces among the people worshiping with him. He noticed that cars seemed to be following him and waiting outside of the church and his home. He knew well that they were hoping to intimidate him into silence. He also knew that if they failed in this then they would find other ways to end his resistance. As he drove back to his home one Saturday night in October, he barely saw the obstruction in the road. He jerked the wheel and found himself skidding out of control. He miraculously escaped the car accident and made it back to his parsonage. It was now very clear to him that the Soviet secret police had tired of trying to persuade and intimidate him and would now be content with destroying him. He continued his pastoral duties until the next Friday.

The agents crept into his home and seized him in the middle of the night. They hoped that they could break the back of the Solidarity movement by kidnapping Jerzy. Once they had him secreted away, they murdered him away from the public eye. They had tried to do it in a deniable and secretive way by engineering a car accident. When that hadn't worked, they killed him and dumped his body in a river. This is a powerful testament to the fear inherent among the Soviets. Their actions--and all evil actions--could not face the light of day and scrutiny. They could not afford to act powerfully and in public because their control over the people would not hold. Instead, they had to work by secret and subterfuge so that they might manipulate the wills of the people. Jerzy died a martyr because he refused to stop speaking truth to the Imperial Communist State.

Friday, October 24, 2008

October 24 - Isaac Jogues, Twice Captured, Slave, Missionary

Isaac didn't struggle. The Mohawks had captured him--again--and they were busy tying his hands so that he couldn't struggle or resist. They didn't need to but they did anyway. Perhaps it helped them do what they were doing to imagine him fighting back. After all, their accusation was that he was a sorcerer. They feared the magic he might work on them and were confident that it was he who had brought the plague and bad weather. Isaac had seen this before when he had first been captured and, so, he knew what was coming as they secured him to a tree and walked away.

Isaac had been born in France and had studied to become a Jesuit. They had accepted him as a priest and given him an assignment in New France in the French colonies of North America. He was to be a Christian missionary to the Huron and Algonquin tribes of native Americans. These peoples were allies of the French even if it didn't always serve them well to be so. Consequently, the French felt a need to bring Christendom with them and provide opportunities for the Huron and Algonquin to convert.

One morning, he was canoeing with some other missionaries across a lake on their way to some of the Huron people. As they drifted across the lake with mist rising from the lake as the sun broke through the trees, they noticed that there were people in various spots around the lake. When they landed, they were seized by the Mohawk people who were furious with their intrusion. They were dragged back to the Mohawk camp and beaten. They were further tortured in a variety of painful ways. Some were slowly put to death. Isaac was hurled to the ground by a nearby tree and his hand was lashed to the trunk. One Mohawk took a hatchet and buried its blade in the trunk of the tree--severing some of Isaac's fingers. They didn't cut off all his fingers but they did leave him noticeably scarred and disfigured. He was forced into slavery to the Mohawk. As he served them and was abused, he tried to teach them about Christianity. Surely, some of it was heard and comprehended but he was not freed for his attempts.

Finally, he was smuggled from the camp by Dutch merchants who had come to deal with the Mohawk and seen a battered Jesuit serving them and trying to offer them the faith that kept him going. Under the cover of night, they secreted Isaac away and helped him get back to friendlier territory. He found a place on a ship headed back to France and left the colonies behind. When he arrived in France, people greeted him joyously and listened to his story with rapt attention. When he said the mass, people flocked to hear him and to watch him lift the host and cup with disfigured hands. They began calling him a "living martyr" but his new life in France did not make him happy or comfortable. Rather, he felt out of place. A few months later, he sailed back to the colonies in better health.

Peace had been brokered between the French and other native tribes and it became the order of the day. Having spent time among them, Isaac was called to go to the Mohawk people with other missionaries to serve an ambassador for peace between the French and the Mohawk. Regardless of any fear that may have dwelt within his heart, Isaac went where he was called. When he arrived, he saw that not only had he not forgotten the Mohawk but the Mohawk had not forgotten him. They whispered among each other that he was a worker of magic and could not be trusted. They had seized him out of distrust and fear.

This was how Isaac ended up tied to another tree among the Mohawk. He watched them approach with their war clubs and recalled his memories of seeing others executed in this fashion. With a yell, they began to beat him ruthlessly with the clubs until he died. He had not resisted them--not when they had disfigured him, not when they had enslaved him, and not when they planned to kill him--because he was gripped and held by a higher and more hopeful power: a slain King who forgave his captors.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

October 23 - Ptolemaeus and Lucius, Martyrs, Victims of "Justice"

Ptolemaeus had spread the story to any who would listen. He talked about Jesus--who had died, been buried, rose from the dead, and was coming again--and people had responded as if they were thirsty and he was offering water. In a way, he was. One of the women in the crowd had encountered the God he spoke of and came away from the moment a different person. She had found conversion in his words and stories. Ptolemaeus had passed the spark of the Holy Spirit onto her and she had taken it with her back into the life she came from.

A few days later, Ptolemaeus noticed something as he preached. Soldiers were lining up at the periphery of the crowd and various officials were accompanying them. At the very back he saw a very angry man whispering into the ear of the officials. The crowd scattered. They knew full well that this couldn't be a good sign. The soldiers seized Ptolemaeus and he was charged with corrupting one of the women. The man was her husband and he accused Ptolemaeus of a variety of terrible crimes because his wife had come home different than when she left and had left him. Ptolemaeus was paraded before a judge who heard charges against Ptolemaeus ranging from adultery and sexual immorality to murder and robbery. Ptolemaeus defended himself but it became abundantly clear that the prosecution was willing to do nearly anything to punish him and be victorious. They perverted justice into personal vendetta and had Ptolemaeus executed for the crimes of which he was innocent.

An onlooker in the court by the name of Lucius protested when Ptolemaeus' verdict was handed down. He continued to protest as Ptolemaeus was executed savagely. Though he was advised by those around him to be quiet, he continued to point out loudly how justice had been perverted so that those with power might maintain their influence and control. He proclaimed Ptolemaeus' innocence of the charges and was warned by the judge and soldiers that he would share Ptolemaeus' fate if he didn't restrain himself. When Lucius refused to be quiet in the face of evil, he was executed, as well.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

October 22 - Alodia and Nunilo, Martyrs, Brides of Christ

Alodia and Nunilo despaired that their mother was marrying another Muslim man. Their father had died only recently. Their mother found security by marrying another powerful man but this man had little tolerance for his step-daughters' variations from his expectations. When he found out that his step-daughters were Christians like his sister-in-law, he was furious. Their mother could do little to protect them as he began a process of abuse and persuasion meant to convert them away from their Christian faith. He threatened them and pleaded with them. He beat them and bribed them. Nothing he could do convinced either of them to abandon their faith. One night, they silently left the house and fled to their aunt's house. Upon arriving, they were welcomed by their Christian aunt and invited to live with her. However, the story doesn't end here.

Their apostasy from Islam became wide-spread knowledge as their step-father told their story to others. Their father had kept it as secret as possible but their step-father held no similar reservations. Soon, people knew that this devout man's step-daughters were Christians and they became increasingly unwelcome within the culture. They were harassed and assaulted and life became more restricted and dangerous. Finally, they were dragged before a Moorish judge and charged with apostasy. This was a charge that they would not deny.

The judge began by reasoning with them. He pointed out all that they stood to lose by continuing to profess their Christian faith and all that they could quickly regain if they would only deny their faith. When this proved unproductive, he offered them wealth and the promise of wealthy and influential husbands. He offered them security while they faced indecision and death but they refused his offer. Finally, he resorted to threatening them with death if they would not deny their faith. They asked him, "How can you threaten us with death as if it is something to be feared?" They insisted: "for having given and entrusted our youth into Jesus' keeping, we hope eventually to become his bride?" They laughed and asked, "Would you threaten us with a glorious wedding day? Would you try to offer us something less in exchange for something far greater?"

The judge had a clever idea. He would not kill them. Instead, he would separate them from each other and forcibly put them into homes where they would serve under influential Muslim women. They were assigned to families and became servants and students to these women. Daily, they received education about Islam and were cajoled to renounce their Christian faith in favor of the Muslim teachings. They neither resisted nor fled their assignment. They listened.

Years later, they were brought back before the judge and he asked how they now felt? Without a moment's hesitation, they professed their faith in Jesus and thanked their captors for whatever hospitality had been offered to them. At these words, they were taken out to the courtyard and beheaded for apostasy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

October 21 - Malchus, Captive Monk, Husband, Brother

The walls of a cave are greedy things that suck the warmth from your bones and offer no comfort or consolation. Malchus was getting stiff waiting in the mouth of the cave for his pursuers. They intended to kill him when they found him and that is understandable--he had run away from them in hopes of escaping slavery. He was an asset to them that had become a liability. He could resist the call of home no longer so he had seized some food and water and set out to flee with a companion. He had seen their camels approaching speedily and knew that he could not outrun a camel. Further, he and his companion were running out of food and water and needed to find some place to stop and rest. As he awaited his master and another slave who would kill him and his fellow slave where they hid, he reflected back upon how he had ended up in this place.

He had strongly desired to follow after Jesus by living the monastic life of prayer and service. His family had resisted this calling because they expected it would not be especially profitable--and it wasn't. In fact, Malchus had given up much to live a life of prayer and service but felt that he had gained much, too. He had crept out of his home in the middle of the night and was living among the monks by the time his family knew he was missing. He enjoyed the monastic life but wondered if there wasn't something more waiting for him--if maybe he was called to something else. He heard word that his parents had died and he was grief-stricken. Then, he heard that they had left him a sizable inheritance and he became apprehensive about material gain. Under his superior's direction, he returned home to receive the inheritance and visit the graves of his parents. However, that's not what happened.

The Bedouins had come over the hill and surprised him. He suspected that this would not go well. They seized him and the woman he was traveling with and enslaved them. They were torn from their plans and intentions and dehumanized as commodities to be traded and spent. For many years, Malchus served his new master without letting the poison of hatred seep into his heart. He was a good servant to the man and earned a reward for his consistent and dependable service. Malchus' master thought it would be a great reward to give the woman he had been traveling with to Malchus in marriage. He didn't understand that Malchus had two problems with this: (1) Malchus had taken a vow of celibacy, and (2) the woman was already married. Malchus could not do what was asked of him and prepared to take his own life so that he might not sin in this way. As he drew his blade he said, I must fear your death, my soul, more than the death of the body. Chastity preserved has its own martyrdom. Let the witness for Christ lie unburied in the desert; I will be at once the persecutor and the martyr." The woman stopped him and said: "Take me then as the partner of your chastity; and love me more in this union of the spirit than you could in that of the body only. Let our master believe that you are my husband. Christ knows you are my brother. We shall easily convince them we are married when they see us so loving." They had been "married" by their master but remained celibate and took care of each other in captivity.

Malchus looked ahead when he heard the men dismount their camels and approach the mouth of the cave. "This is it," Malchus thought, "this is where I die and where my bones will lie and be bleached by desert winds." Yet, as they approached and called out to Malchus--right before Malchus revealed and refused to defend himself--a lion leaped from the mouth of the cave and snarled menacingly at the two men. They rushed back to their camels but were unsuccessful in escaping and the lion killed both of Malchus' pursuers before slinking off away from Malchus. Malchus stood awestruck as he called his "wife" from the cave and to the untouched camels. There was food and water and plenty of supplies to get them out of the desert and back to Malchus' monastery. They had left so that they might return to their homes and found that God was providing for them in unpredictable ways.

When they returned, Malchus was excited to find that his monastery welcomed him back with open arms. But, his companion's husband had died in the time she had been a slave. She mourned his death but moved to a nearby convent where she could live a life of prayer and service like Malchus. They continued to take care of each other and perpetuate the bond that had brought them together in captivity. Their unorthodox union became one of mutual support and sustenance and preserved them until the day they died.

Jerome would distill their story, years later, by writing:
"Tell the story to them that come after, that they may realize that in the midst of swords, and wild beasts of the desert, virtue is never a captive, and that he who is devoted to the service of Christ may die, but cannot be conquered."

Monday, October 20, 2008

October 20 - Henry Martyn, Missionary, Witness to Calling

This was nothing like what he had hoped for. Henry Martyn was kneeling among the bodies of friends and enemies who were slowly and painfully dying following the Battle of Blaauwberg in South Africa. The Cape of Good Hope no longer seemed an appropriate title for the area. The British had won the battle but Henry feared that they were inexorably losing the hearts and minds of people throughout the world. As he tried to soothe their pain and suffering, he could not help but fear that he had witnessed a tragic shortening of the lives of many who might have heard the Gospel and been redeemed from their brokenness. Instead, their brokenness was cemented by the cold hands of time and finality. Henry shook his head and reflected back upon that fateful day years before in England.

Henry had considered a clerical career like so many of his equally intelligent contemporaries. He had graduated top of his class from St. John's College at Cambridge University. It was his intention to pursue a career in law and politics but God intervened with a different calling. One day, Henry had the pleasure of hearing a challenging and disturbing story about a man named William Carey. He was amazed that William had given his life to share the Christian Gospel with the people of India. He was disturbed by Carey's life because it loudly proclaimed a Gospel that seemed foreign to Henry--a Gospel that called people to lay down their lives. In his quest to understand what he was seeing, he read the biography of David Brainerd--a missionary to Native Americans. This only kindled the calling burning within Henry. He resolved to lay down his professional desires to become a missionary to India.

But, it hadn't been that easy. He had studied for the priesthood in the Anglican church and been ordained. He had prepared himself and packed his things. But, financial difficulties intervened and left him and his unmarried sister in a position where neither of them could continue to live on the money their father had provided for them. Consequently, Henry had taken a job as a chaplain to the British military. This seemed a compromise for Henry because it allowed him to continue in the ministry while still collecting a wage to support himself and his sister. This was how Henry had ended up on his knees among the dead and the dying in South Africa. This was how Henry arrived at the moment that changed his vision of the Church and Britain. He prayed that, Britain "might not remain proud and ungodly at home; but might show herself great indeed, by sending forth the ministers of her church to diffuse the gospel of peace." Among the horrors of war, Henry was converted to a gospel of peace that transcended all nationalities and boundaries.

Later, Henry would go on to India and, eventually, Persia. He would use his education and intelligence to translate the scriptures into the languages of the people and become like them so that he might be with them in meaningful ways. He was not hoping to make them British--he was hoping to show them Jesus. In this, he succeeded. Stories abound of his devotion to a people who were his only by adoption and devotion. He was routinely forced to take vacation and rest because he did not take it without being forced to. It's easy to imagine that it's not because he loved working but, rather, because he didn't understand his life as a missionary as work. For Henry, it was a calling and a vocation but far from a profession or job. Being sick, he was often recommended to travel by sea as his doctors felt it would be good for him.

At the age of thirty and in poor physical condition, he was sent back to England to recruit missionaries and recover his health before returning. He only got worse as he traveled and died in a plague-infested Turkish village. As he lay dying, he reflected on his life and his calling. In anticipation of God's redeeming work in the world, he wrote of God's coming Kingdom: "There, there shall in no wise enter in any thing that defileth: none of that wickedness which has made men worse than wild beasts, none of those corruptions which add still more to the miseries of mortality, shall he seen or heard of any more." It's not hard to imagine that the horrors of war, neglect, and disease were on his mind as he looked forward to their end and the salvation of those he loved.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

October 19 - Paul of the Cross, Mystic, Passionist, Spiritual Director

Paul was born at the end of the seventeenth century in northern Italy. As he grew, he received spiritual direction from the Capuchin monks near where he was raised. Paul felt a distinct calling to a life of prayer and mystical union with the God he experienced regularly. Intoxicated by his experience of the God who is Love, Paul continued to explore what kind of God had left this kind of mark and calling on his life. Intoxicated as he was, he was regularly trying to find his way back into the communion that salved and comforted his soul so sublimely and so completely. Paul began to realize that he could only think of one guaranteed place to find and commune with God: in the passion and death of Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote:
"It is an excellent and holy practice to call to mind and meditate on our Lord's Passion, since it is by this path that we shall arrive at union with God. In this, the holiest of all schools, true wisdom is learned, for it was there that all the saints became wise."
Paul advised any who would listen to engage in a regular process of contemplative prayer with Jesus' passion and death as their focus. In the passion, Paul saw a condensation of God's love into one body undergoing great suffering because of furious and unrelenting love. Jesus' crucifixion and death are the holy ground where we are confronted by the scandal of God's love for sinners and outcasts.

Paul would spend his whole life begging people to take a few moments and consider the ridiculous and amazing idea of the crucifixion and death of God Almighty--the King of the Universe. He was eventually granted the right to go and become a hermit so that he might found an order of people devoted to dwelling on the holy ground of the passion. They became known as the "Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ" and later known as "Passionists" for short. They found great sustenance in thinking on the incredible and incomprehensible love of God--the root and ground of all being and reality--who chose to die so that we might live.

Paul went on to draw others into the new group and establish "retreats" where others might take a moment to escape the pressures of the world and encounter a God who was changing the people of the world. When other groups were growing explosively, Paul opted to grow slowly and methodically. The vowed state of the order meant that few people immediately felt much desire to join with them in prayer and contemplation. But, people were called to join with them and did so gladly once they too found the God who is Love in the crux of the moment where Love was displayed most grandly.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

October 18 - Luke, Evangelist, Physician, Friend of the Prodigal

Luke was a physician. But not like what we think of when we think of a physician. There was no white coat. There was no large salary (in fact, many physicians were slaves). There was no immediate cultural respect. There was no fancy degree or education. There were no easily dispensed medications or diagnostic tools. But, in Luke's case, there was an intense desire to help those who suffered. Luke seems intimately connected with prodigals and misfits. Whether he was eating with them and listening to them or doing what little he could to soothe their physical pain and suffering, Luke loved and was devoted to the people that the world said were worth nothing.

Luke learned this from his master--Jesus.

Luke was a Greek gentile who had, at least, some familiarity with the person of Jesus even if he never actually saw Jesus. Instead, he heard the stories and found a faith growing in him that spurred him to change. He couldn't sit still and listen to these stories--they were too important simply to hear--and so he had to tell them to others. He would record the stories that meant so much to him by listening to others and reading what others had written. Beyond that, Luke knew that the stories of Jesus' disciples were critically important, as well. If Jesus had really brought a new Kingdom into the world, then his disciples would do amazing and wonderful things. Luke recorded these things in a letter that would be known as the Acts of the Apostles. Luke makes a few cameo appearances in this second work but does so in support of the Apostle Paul. When we see him, his character matches the voice in his text: intimately concerned with the lives of the oppressed and unrepresented. Luke had been set on fire with a message of good news about a Kingdom that was changing the world and could only find relief in telling this story to others. His desire to heal became a desire to offer hope to desperate people.

Luke's mercy and soft heart for the invisible people can be seen in the stories that he chooses to highlight. Consider that Luke's gospel is the only gospel to tell the radical story of the Prodigal Son. Luke was a friend of the Prodigal and was excited about the God he saw in Jesus that was willing to love and forgive with fury and passion. This was no meek and mild god that stood aloof from creation but, rather, was a God who was elbows deep in the process of healing the voiceless and abused. Jesus was the Great Physician. Luke desired to be his apprentice. Luke's Gospel is the only Gospel to record Mary's response to God's calling: ""has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."

Luke was energized by the work of healing that had begun in the Church. He recognized that the Kingdom was the possession of those who had no other possessions to prioritize. In this way, Luke characterized the prodigal nature of the Kingdom of God and their common savior Jesus.

He begins his Gospel by writing:
"Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you..."
Luke recognized the healing power of stories to change the minds and outlooks of people. He knew that the stories that we tell inform the way we think about things and so he wanted to pass them on. These were the possessions of the citizens of God's new Kingdom. These were the valuables that established value in the New World. This is what Luke passed on to us.

Friday, October 17, 2008

October 17 - End of Exile

They had been hearing rumors of the Persians for quite some time. Of course, it was wise to keep their heads low and act like they knew nothing. The Babylonians were not happy to hear the name of Cyrus or of his Persian army. The Jews in Babylon didn't know what to suspect with the coming of a new conqueror. They were still getting over their own conquest. In 586 BCE, the Babylonians had stormed through Israel and crushed the people under their feet. The Temple--the very dwelling of God almighty--had been torn down and the Babylonians had sneered at them asking them where the Jews' powerful God was when Babylon came around. Was he scared? Most of them had no idea why the God they had slowly filtered through their nationalism seemed silent. Some had heard Jeremiah and others talk about the coming of judgment from the east. They remembered what Jeremiah had said about conquest and exile. Then, the Babylonians had seized the powerful and the wealthy and put them in chains. They were carried back to Babylon before their captors. All the while, they were mocked and asked to play some of their beautiful songs. Their joyous songs of God's power and protection turned to ash in their mouth as they smelled the smoke coming from the ruins of their lives.

Time had passed. In fact, almost fifty years had passed since they had been exiled from the land God had promised them. Surely they wondered if it was a land of broken promises. They had been exiled from the god they had made when they had tried to break the almighty God into easily pocketed pieces. The people had found God in the wastes when taken away from all the things that distracted them. They found that they could sing their songs again when they came into intimate contact with the One who had inspired them. They found that God was in the world in more places than the Temple. They had lost their nation but gained an identity. But, now, there was another conqueror bearing down upon them.

Cyrus the Great and the Persians conquered Babylon by marching in at night and seizing the city. It was a remarkably quick conquest and resulted in the Babylonian rulers being seized and deposed. Cyrus looked around and declared himself "king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters of the world." There were few that could deny this in the wake of his impressive campaigns. Though he attributed the success to his own gods, the Jews' hearts beat with hope that it was the one God that had ordained this change. Soon, Cyrus issued an edict that there would be changes under his rule and that one of these changes was granting freedom to the Jews to return to Israel. Stories say that approximately 40,000 Jews elected to return to Israel but it is perhaps more notable that some chose not to return. Surely, some did not return because they had found a new successful life in Babylon and had given up on any faith--they had nothing to make them want to return. Some returned because their faith was renewed and they wanted to take it back with them. Yet, others remained in Babylon knowing that their faith transcended geography and location. In the exile, they had found redemption. In the destruction of religion, they had found God.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

October 16 - Gerard Majella, Victim of Abuse, Falsely Accused, Lay Brother

Gerard's family life was fairly typical for the nearly Neapolitan families of Italy. That is, it was fairly typical until his father died when Gerard was twelve. The family was plunged into poverty because of a lack of income and a lack of social power. As a widow, Gerard's mother was often incapable of providing for her family because she was so easily overlooked. Like so many other widows, she was overlooked because her tragedy made others uncomfortable--almost as if they feared it was contagious. She did, however, realize that her son Gerard could be apprenticed to a tradesman and help provide for himself and for his family. So, Gerard was sent to his uncle (his mother's brother) to learn the trade of a tailor.

He was an eager student if he was slightly weak and small for his age. He learned the trade under his uncle's tutelage but Gerard's uncle was very busy and not always around. Isolation and loneliness would have been preferred to what happened, however. Gerard's uncle sent a man to help teach Gerard and watch over him as he continue to learn the trade that he had been apprenticed to. The man his uncle sent was abusive to Gerard and took advantage of him. For whatever reason, Gerard remained silent and did not share with his uncle what his hired man was doing in addition to teaching his trade. The uncle found out one day and confronted the man who immediately resigned and fled Gerard's uncle. Damage had been done, however, and it's hard to say what baggage Gerard carried with him as he pushed onward.

He longed to join the clerical professions and take vows at a nearby Capuchin monastery. He was rejected from the monastery--partially because of his ill health and weakness--and applied instead to a Redemptorist monastery known as the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. He was accepted as a lay brother and took on a variety of labor-intensive jobs that were of incredible service to the monastery. His work ethic was spoken of with glowing words. He was described as a model of Christian obedience because not only did he seek to do as he was told to do but to intuit why so that he might know what to do when not told specifically. In other words, Gerard wanted to do right because it was right and not because it gained him something. So, it came as a great surprise many years later when a young--obviously pregnant--woman came to the monastery.

She insisted that Gerard was the father of her child but he refused to fight her. Instead, he withdrew to silence and prayer. There was an outrage in the nearby villages and towns that one of the brothers of the monastery had broken his vows and, furthermore, had fathered a baby out of wedlock. As Gerard's reputation was eviscerated and defiled, he remained silent and focused on prayer. Surely, his brothers must have doubted him and considered that the woman was telling the truth--after all, he offered no defense. But, Gerard felt that the truth needed no defense and was confident that the Truth would set him free. Months later, she recanted her story and denied her previous accusation.

It was not Gerard's desire to rage against injustice and pain. Instead, Gerard wanted to find God through pain and suffering. This was not masochistic pleasure but joy inspired through a willingness to lose everything if it meant following after his slaughtered savior. He had given every penny he didn't need to barely survive to his mother or to the poor of the nearby cities. He knew obedience in a way that so few people can comprehend partly because he knew suffering intimately and deeply. About all this, though, he was known to say, "Consider the shortness of time, the length of eternity and reflect how everything here below comes to an end and passes by. Of what use is it to lean upon that which cannot give support?" He found no rest or solace from things of the world and, instead, endeavored to find his support in Jesus. When the brothers came to his cell and found him dead they noticed that obedient and quietly-faithful Gerard had left a small note on the cell of his door. This note fitly summarized Gerard's outlook on life: "Here the will of God is done, as God wills, and as long as God wills."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

October 15 - Teresa of Avila, Mystic, Nun, Doctor of the Church

Teresa was brought up as a Christian by parents who were converts from Judaism. They had worked hard to assimilate into Spanish Christian culture because of her paternal grandfather's condemnation as a denier of the faith and one who returned to Judaism. Teresa found great comfort and inspiration in the stories of the martyrs and greatly desired to imitate their lives. At the age of nineteen, she left her family and joined the local Carmelite monastery as a nun.

Teresa knew sin well. In fact, she spoke about it passionately as a subject she had received divine inspiration on. She described sin in terms of estrangement and alienation from God. Teresa, the one who said "It is love alone that gives worth to all things," knew that sin was essentially a lack of life-giving love, mercy, and grace. However, Teresa was best known for her ecstatic and mystical moments. She had visions and felt that the way to union with God was through love and through self-abnegation and resignation. She taught first that to find God we must begin by focusing on our own failures with a penitent and contemplative heart. She called this part of the ascent of the soul to God "heart's devotion."

The second stage of the ascent of the soul to God through the self is called the "devotion of peace." In this, God delivers a state of spiritual peace upon the person as they continue to meditate upon love, grace, and mercy knowing that they cannot save themselves but that salvation is assured to those who trust in God. This peace does not mean the destruction of distraction but only that the person is becoming closer to God and being helped along the journey toward God by God's prevenient grace. Memory, reason, and imagination are still humanly focused.

The third stage of the ascent of the soul to God is called the "devotion of union." In this state, the reason of the person becomes subsumed by God's will and the person becomes further united with God and, therefore, less united with sin. As they walk the path of love that leads to God--and God alone--they find that sin has less of a hold on their life. As they give more of themselves over to God, they find that it rests securely in God. In this stage of mystical union with God, the soul begins to rest comfortably in the overwhelming love of God.

Finally, the soul ascends to the "devotion of ecstasy." In this place of prayer, the soul divests itself of all that is self and becomes intimately associated with God who is Love. Teresa described this state as being a type of sweet and happy pain. The person is changed and sin is ripped from them as they no longer have a place where it can dwell. Of course, they must again return to the world as we know it but their momentary intimacy with God has fortified them and strengthened their growing faith. In many ways, this was the essence of Teresa's teaching. There was hope for escape from sin but only in providing less room for it to dwell. Ultimately, sin was only destroyed by the soul's ascension to God and the incubation of love within the heart.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

October 14 - Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, Convert, Jewish, Bishop

Samuel was born in Russian Lithuania in 1831. Though he inherited his name from his father he had the misfortune of becoming an orphan as a young boy due to the loss of his parents. However, he did not lack family support in any way as he grew and matured. Instead of becoming a ward of an impersonal but efficient state, he was turned over to his older brother who became a sort of father to him. What was left of Samuel's family clung tight to each other so that they might weather the storms of life and challenges thereof. Samuel's older brother was a successful timber merchant and this allowed for Samuel to receive a quality education during his childhood. He proved to be an exceptional student who valued the expense of his education by working hard to make the most of it. Samuel knew that sacrifices had been made to provide for him and that sacrifices of self were powerful things not meant to be overlooked. He and his family were regular attendees of the local synagogue that they were a part of. It was there that they had learned the power of sacrifice and the importance of love in the world.

When he had grown to the age of fifteen, Samuel traveled to rabbinical school so that he might fulfill his family's great desire for him: to become a rabbi. He provided for himself as he studied by tutoring other students and installing and maintaining glass throughout the city of Zhitomir where he was in school. A group of Christian missionaries put a copy of a Hebrew translation of the New Testament into his hands and he took to it with his notable academic acumen. In it, he found a story of sacrifice and love that shocked him. He met Jesus in the text and found a longstanding hope fulfilled. Samuel became persuaded that Jesus had been the Messiah and that Jesus truly was God and savior. He began a regular struggle with Jesus in the text but was never far from the New Testament he had received. He transferred out of rabbinical school to attend school in Germany (in Frankfurt and at the University of Breslau) and added German to the list of languages he already spoke. During this time, he continued to struggle with his growing faith and the challenges it presented to him. He knew he was no longer becoming a rabbi but he didn't know what he was becoming.

In 1854, he moved to America for a little while where he united with other Christian Jews (which he now considered himself one of) in New York. He joined with a Baptist congregation where he made his confession and was baptized. A short while later for unknown reasons he began attending a Presbyterian church but, soon, left there for an Episcopal church. Having found a comfortable home among the Episcopalians, and seminary training under the Presbyterians and Episcopalians, he soon heard a calling upon his life that asked for sacrifice, faith, hope, and love. Having not yet completed his seminary training, he committed to become a missionary to China. He was ordained and sent. While in China, he began translating the scripture into the Shanghai dialect and devoting himself to the people he met there. Further, he founded St. John's University in Shanghai so that others might be afforded the opportunity to be educated and meet the Jesus who had changed him in the scriptures he had received. Eventually, he became the bishop of Shanghai and served there until he was so poverty-stricken and ill that he had could no longer perform his duties as a bishop. It was to Lithuania that he retired from the bishopric in favor of ministry to those close to him as his days waned.

Monday, October 13, 2008

October 13 - Mollie Rogers, Missionary, Maryknoll Sister, Nun

"Love, work, prayer, and suffering will sustain us in the future as they have in the past. All who are here now, all who will come after us, will have no others tools than these with which to build."

Mollie heard singing outside of her window. It wasn't uncommon to hear large groups of her peers making noise or singing songs in the middle of the night at Smith college. It wasn't especially raucous but it was a collegiate lifestyle full of idealism and visions for a better future unimpeded by cynicism and experience. In other words, they hadn't yet been informed that they couldn't change the world. As she opened her window she heard singing: "Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; forward into battle see his banners go!" It was drifting up from the throng of protestant students exiting one of the campus buildings. She was able to surmise that they had made a commitment to go to China as missionaries. In their heart burned a passion for a largely unreached people and a desire to make a difference in the lives of those whom they had never met.

"At the sign of triumph Satan's host doth flee; on then, Christian soldiers, on to victory! Hell's foundations quiver at the shout of praise; brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise." Mollie was excited to hear their passion and it caught in her heart like the contagion it was. However, she regretted that there was no similar Roman Catholic movement that she could covenant to serve. She went to a nearby church and knelt before the altar. The strains of the song fresh in her mind, she made a commitment that shook the foundations of hell--she committed to do God's work as a missionary and servant of God regardless of what it looked like or how it worked out.

"Like a mighty army moves the church of God; brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod. We are not divided, all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity." Mollie began working with Roman Catholic priests to do the work of the people of God. She became very involved in a journal entitled Field Afar that focused on kindling greater interest for mission activity within the American parishes of the Roman Catholic church. Though America was, itself, considered a mission front until 1908, Mollie and the priests she worked with were able to convince the American bishops to allow them to found a mission seminary in America called "Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America" which later came to be known as Maryknoll.

"Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
but the church of Jesus constant will remain. Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail; we have Christ's own promise, and that cannot fail." Mollie became increasingly involved in the missionary lifestyle even though she never left American soil as a missionary. She realized that the participation in missionary life that she had committed to would likely require her to become a nun. And so, she did. She became known first as Sister Mary Joseph and campaigned for female involvement in the missionary life not just as assistants to priests but as workers of the Church by themselves. Eventually, this meant that she founded the Maryknoll Sisters and became Mother Mary Joseph. She was insistent that the Maryknoll sisters not be a cloistered group of women but, rather, a group that lived among the people and lived out the missionary life. At first, this meant being missionaries to the Japanese on the west coast. Later, Mollie would have the grand opportunity to see some of her own sisters go to China as missionaries. Eventually, they would go to Korea and the Philipines as well. She traveled to visit and survey their progress but it was not her calling to be among them. Rather, she guided and comforted them.

"Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng, blend with ours your voices in the triumph song. Glory, laud, and honor unto Christ the King, this through countless ages men and angels sing." Mollie was distinguished as being fairly atypical from the average mother superior of a missionary convent. She preferred women of adaptability and flexibility as nuns instead of women rooted in traditional ways of doing things. In this, she knew the missionary spark of becoming all things to all so that she might win some. She called countless sisters to join with her and others to reach a world that was desperate for faith, hope, and love.