Sunday, February 28, 2010
Yet, things changed when a plague began sweeping through the Roman Empire and claiming victims on all sides. It seemed that the disease cared little for whom allegiance was paid to as it killed both Christians and non-Christians with ease and speed. Alexandria was particularly hard hit by the plague with over 5,000 people dying every day in its deadly grip. Soon, people began abandoning those who showed any trace of a symptom of the disease and fleeing to the countryside so that they might escape with their lives. With the density of the urban population, the disease spread quickly. Many fled even going so far as to abandon their children, parents, and spouses in the streets because of fear of infection. Having escaped they did their best to keep a watch on the city so that the infection might die out with its victims and they might return.
Once their persecutors had fled in the wake of the plague, the Christians of Alexandria began to come out of hiding and to take care of the sick and dying. They knew that it would likely cost them their lives yet they felt compelled to care for the abandoned and dying by the faith they refused to deny even under threat of torture and death. Soon, the non-Christians who had fled Alexandria began to hear that many of the Christians had stayed behind and had chosen not to save their own lives so that they might comfort those who were already losing theirs Since the city had been abandoned by all those who could afford to escape, there was little persecution of the Christians even though they had come out of hiding. They met in public to worship and proclaim their faith and were welcomed by those who remained because they offered hope and healing when everybody else had run for their lives. Most of those who remained died and were buried with the ones they cared for. Since their faith bade them stay and the world bade them go, they are martyrs having died on account of a faith that changed and held them.
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Francesco's sister--Mary Louisa--died from cholera some time later and Francesco was shaken to the core by her death. After their mother's death it had been Mary Louisa who had become a second mother to him. He had been shaken by his older brothers' deaths (one from suicide) but the death of Mary Louisa was distressing in a way he could not clearly or cleanly articulate. The clergy of Spoleto processed an icon of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, through the streets as an act of healing and prayer for the community then beset by cholera. As the icon passed by, he was enthralled and heard a voice questioning him, saying, "Why are you still part of the world that you've been called out of?" He didn't have an answer. So, he finally became serious about a life devoted to ministry and decided to join the Passionist order. At first, his father laughed him off since he had declared his devotion before only to back out after some time. Yet, he persisted and his father finally sent him to the monastery with his blessing.
As Francesco traveled, he visited relatives along the way to see how they were doing. Yet, his father had primed them with questioning speeches and thoughts in hope that if this was yet another insincere commitment that he would return before he ever arrived at the monastery. They were unsuccessful in persuading him to give up on the life he had finally truly committed to. While a novice at the monastery, he was an excellent student and obedient to a fault to his superiors. He took his vows and the name Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows. Yet, he contracted tuberculosis before he was ordained a priest. He thanked God when he was diagnosed because he had prayed for some time that he might die slowly and make his dying a spiritually formative experience in his life. He spent his remaining days praying and practicing the Faith that held him. Shortly before his death, he ordered all of his writings but his letters to be burned so that he might not be arrogant or puffed up with regard for his own writing or intellect. The man who had so long avoided the vows he had made had finally found comfort in a life of devotion and service. He died peacefully and was buried shortly thereafter.
Friday, February 26, 2010
A Samaritan woman named Photina came to get water from the well while Jesus was there but the disciples had gone to the city to get food. Jesus asked Photina for a drink and she responded: "Aren't you a Jew? Would you really ask a Samaritan woman like me for a drink?" She knew well that Jews refused to associate or share with Samaritans.
Jesus responded, "If you really knew what was happening here, then you would have asked me and I would have given you living water."
"You have no bucket, sir, and this well is very deep so where are you going to get this 'living water' you're talking about?" she asked, "Whether you like it or not, Jacob dug this well and his sons and flocks--the ones the Jews claim as only their own--drank from it. Are you greater than Jacob?"
Jesus said to her, "If anybody drinks the water from this well, they'll become thirsty again but the water I offer is different. When you drink the water I offer, within you it becomes a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." Still not quite getting it, the woman relented and, perhaps somewhat incredulously, asked Jesus for some of his water so that she might never be thirsty again and might never have to return to the well. Jesus understood that she still didn't quite get it and so he said to Photina, "Go, get your husband and come back with him." Photina told Jesus in a small voice that she did not have a husband and he responded with all the truth, "You're right when you say you have no husband but you've had five before and you're living with a man now who is not your husband." Photina was shocked and perhaps struggled to find the words, at first, but she was starting to get it.
She responded, "Sir, I can tell you're a prophet, so answer a question for me: Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain here but you Jews say that the right place to worship is in Jerusalem. Which is correct?"
Jesus said to her, "Believe me, the time is coming when that question won't matter. Right now, you worship what you don't know and we worship what we know--don't forget God's promise to Abraham that salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming--in fact, it's here right now and right at this well--when the true worshipers of God will worship God not in Jerusalem or in Samaria but in spirit and truth. This is what God desires is worship, after all. God is spirit, and those who worship God must worship in spirit and truth."
25Photina said to Jesus, "Oh, I know that Messiah--salvation--is coming and when he comes, he will proclaim all things to us."
Jesus smiled and said to her, "I am he. I am the one you're waiting for."
As he said that, his disciples rounded the corner with food in their arms. They were astonished that he was speaking with a Samaritan woman by himself at the well but they knew better than to rebuke either Jesus or Photina. Photina returned to the city and gathered people to come with her saying, "You won't believe whom I met at the well. I met a man who knew everything I had ever done. Could this one be the Messiah?" The Samaritans came out to the well with Photina.
31At the same time, the disciples were urging Jesus to eat but he said to them, "I have food to eat that you know nothing about." They didn't understand what he meant. They were not quite getting it. So, he continued, "What sustains me is doing the will of God and to complete my mission and work. Don't you say, 'Look at the fields...only a little while longer to the harvest?' Stop for a second and look around and you'll see how the fields are ripe for harvest--people are ready for salvation. Some are already being brought into the fold. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' You've been sent out to reap and harvest what you didn't sow. You've not started salvation, you've joined in with salvation already in progress."
Thursday, February 25, 2010
So, Nestor was arrested by the order of the emperor Decius through his servant Publius and held by Roman soldiers against his will. The Christian communities responded in a way that confounded Publius when they praised God for Nestor's faith and prayed that he would not relent under the pressure that Rome would predictably apply. Meanwhile, Nestor had a vision while sleeping in his cell. In the vision, he watched as a lamb was led from its pen to the place appointed for its sacrifice. He watched as it was bound and laid upon an altar. After the lamb was slaughtered, Nestor awoke with confidence and resolve. He eagerly told of his dream to those Christians brave enough to visit him in prison and offered only one interpretation: his Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb that was Slain, had called him to follow after him in martyrdom. His visitors rejoiced with him even while they mourned their own loss as Rome prepared to deprive the Church of a bishop and provide for the Church another martyr. Publius was shocked to see Nestor's apparent lack of fear but he proceeded with his horrible task.
Publius followed through with Decius' wishes and tortured Nestor cruelly. After all, if Publius wished to keep his position and his favor with Rome, then he had no choice but to punish and kill Rome's enemies--loyalty has its benefits but it also has its costs. When Nestor refused to deny his faith and make a sacrifice to the gods of Rome, Publius encouraged him to make the sacrifice even if he didn't mean it. Publius didn't understand why Nestor found this proposal so horrid but then Publius didn't understand that for Nestor to do so would be to place his faith in the saving power of Rome over that of his Lord who also died innocently. So, Nestor was crucified by Roman command and eagerly followed his Lord from this world to the next. The Church that Decius and Publius hoped to crush by murdering one of its bishops grew even more in the gruesome wake of Nestor's martyrdom. Publius had been so confident that he was right--surely, killing their leader should crush their spirits!--but he was magnificently wrong. What Publius and Rome never quite understood, and what they still don't understand today, is that there was another Shepherd who watched over all the little sheep who followed after him, of which Nestor was only one. Publius had known he was right, but--praise God--he was gloriously wrong.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Matthias Chosen to Replace Judas
12So, when they had been given their mission and a new understanding of their calling they returned to Jerusalem. When they had entered the city, they went to the room where they had been staying. The eleven remaining members of the twelve--for Judas had taken his own life in remorse for his betrayal of their Lord--were all there and they must have felt not only the absence of their Lord but also the absence of their friend Judas. 14Those of the twelve who remained, Jesus' brothers, and several important women--including Mary the mother of Jesus--devoted themselves to one of the things that Jesus had been devoted to: prayer.
15After a little while, Peter--the one who had denied Jesus, had been reconciled with a calling to feed Jesus' sheep, and would eventually become a martyr--stood up among the disciples gathered there (there were approximately 120 there) and said to them, "Brothers and Sisters, we all know what happened to Judas. He went out and took his own life in the field that his blood money had purchased. We all know that nobody owns that field of blood, now. It was terrible but it had to happen because it was part of God's plan and it had been foretold by the Holy Spirit through David. Yes, he was one of us and he shared in our ministry but he became the guide of those who arrested our Lord. Remember that it is written in the psalter: 'Let his homestead become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it' and 'Let another take his position of overseer.' So one of the disciples who have been with us throughout our Lord's time among us must become a witness with us to his resurrection. One of Jesus' disciples must help us fulfill this new calling he has given us. It must be one of the disciples that was with us from the time John the Baptizer baptized Jesus. This person must have been with us until Jesus was taken to be murdered." 22
So two men were suggested: Joseph called Barsabbas--who was also known as Justus--and Matthias. The disciples prayed, "Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take Judas' place in this ministry. Judas turned aside from your will to work his own will. Show us the one who will become an apostle in his place." 26And so they cast lots to determine which of the two men would take Judas' place and the lots indicated Matthias. With unanimous agreement, Matthias became the thirteenth member of "the Twelve." He would go on to live a life much like the other apostles even dying a martyr in later years. He would devote himself to his calling--Jesus' calling--even if he wasn't one of the original twelve. He was aware of the need and was willing to play his own role in the grand story of the Faith.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
One of the men that Polycarp taught and mentored was Irenaeus who would go on to grow Polycarp's investment of time and attention by guiding the Church through another challenging and nebulous time of his own. Polycarp's love for Irenaeus quite literally changed the world even if Polycarp himself never saw or knew it. Looking back, this kind of love and devotion is what differentiated Polycarp from his opponents. While there was much argument it was not always full of love and compassion. Polycarp on the other hand seemed to be genuinely affected and transformed by the faith that held him. He was not brilliant or well educated but he was sincere and loving and this lent weight to his arguments. The marks of transformation on his life suggested that he had truly consumed and been sustained by the Bread of Life and the life-giving water of Jesus' teaching. When he told the story of what God had done in his life people were inspired to hand their lives over to the same God he followed. He led by example and not simply be beautiful, rhetorical flourishes.
When he was an old man (as old as ninety years by some estimates), he was arrested for being a Christian by a government that was growing increasingly hostile to those who were devoted to another power. On some level he had seen this coming for Ignatius and John had already been murdered for their faith. He was accused of being Christian and, ever sincere and honest, he gladly admitted that he was--he could see no reason to be ashamed for his faith. They gave him an opportunity to deny his faith in public or be executed. He responded: "How am I supposed to blaspheme my King and Savior? Do whatever you will." They did whatever they willed by building a large pyre of sticks and flammable items. They tied him to the top of it and prepared to drive nails through his body so that he might not escape. He smiled at the worker and assured him: "Don't worry about the nails. The God who gives me strength to endure the fire will give me enough to sit still without your help." They didn't nail him down but they must have expected him to cry out once the pyre was lit. Yet, he didn't. Instead, it seemed that he was unscathed by the flames as he prayed and sang hymns. The crowd looked on amazed and many would be converted because of this sight but his executioners were enraged that he didn't have the courtesy to die screaming like they had hoped he would. Finally, they stabbed him in the chest with a dagger and he died as a martyr.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Sophie and Hans must have been anxious as they approached the university building where hundreds of students were attending class. They carried suitcases and this would be very conspicuous for two young people during the day. But they had no other easy way to carry the leaflets into the hall without the suitcases and so they did it anyway. Few knew who the members of the White Rose were but loyalists were on the lookout for suspicious behavior. They arrived at the class building and began quickly unloading the leaflets into several piles in the common area to where the classes would be dismissed. Once the classes began to empty, the students would pick up the pamphlets and read yet another stirring argument against passive acceptance of evil. The Nazis had recently lost the battle of Stalingrad and so the White Rose hoped to capitalize on it and convince yet more people that the Nazi campaign was not only evil but doomed to failure. Its writing hearkened back to the first leaflet they had released: "Isn't it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? Who among us can imagine the degree of shame that will come upon us and our children when the veil falls from our faces and the awful crimes that infinitely exceed any human measure are exposed to the light of day?"
Hans and Sophie had dropped off the pamphlets and were fleeing before classes were dismissed when they noticed a handful of pamphlets still in the suitcase. Sophie grabbed them quickly and ran back to the building. She ascended the stairs and in a poetic--and partially prophetic--gesture she flung them into the air and let them flutter down to the floor. She was witnessed by the custodian who turned in Hans and Sophie. Soon, Sophie and all those who associated with her were arrested and facing trial for treason. They had dared to speak ill of those who would not accept the truth. For this, they were tried and condemned to be beheaded. On February 22, 1943, they were executed in the guillotine. Sophie was strong and confident to the end of her life and was not deterred by those who hoped to whitewash their sins. She died a martyr because she refused to stop seeing and decrying the atrocities that were being perpetrated. Her dying words were: "God, you are my refuge into eternity" while Hans preferred the prophecy of "...your heads will fall as well."
Sunday, February 21, 2010
So, soldiers came in and began torturing hm by raking his body with iron combs. His aged skin came off in strips and chunks and his blood flowed easily but he did not cry out or even stop smiling. He patted one of the soldiers on the hand and thanked him for what he was doing by saying, "Thank you, brothers, for scraping off my old body and further preparing my soul for new and eternal life." The sincerity in his voice, his remarkable endurance, and the soldiers' discomfort at torturing an old man combined to effect the conversion of the soldiers. They confessed their faith and trust in Charalampus' Lord because of the sermon he preached with his suffering. The soldiers were immediately beheaded for this treason and others continued the task of his torture. When agonized screams could not be brought out of him, it was decided that he would be transferred to the emperor--Septimus Severus--to be punished and killed more effectively. At this pronouncement, three onlooker women began to loudly praise God and were immediately martyred as well.
Charalampus was brought into the presence of Septimus Severus but already rested within the presence of his God as he devoted himself to prayer on the journey while the soldiers had dragged him along by his beard. When he arrived, he was tortured with a variety of cruelties including fire and being impaled. When he remained alive, the emperor was incredulous and demanded to know by what power he maintained his life. Charalampus responded that it was by the power of Christ. The emperor had a task for Charalampus and brought a man before him who had been possessed by a demon for many years and asked what Charalampus might do about that. With a prayer and one spoken word he cast the demon out of the man and infuriated the emperor. Claiming that he must be a sorcerer, the emperor condemned him to be executed. As the executioner approached with his sword drawn Charalampus yelled: "Lord, you know that all people are only flesh and blood...forgive them for what they do and bless them all." With these words, he died before the executioner had even begun to strike. The daughter of Septimus Severus became part of Charalampus' legacy as well when she converted on the spot and became a devoted follower of Jesus.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
It was while he was serving the Auld family near Baltimore that he first encountered the written word as anything more than another way for those with power to maintain it. The slave master's wife taught twelve year old Frederick the fundamentals of reading and writing. Frederick took to it with his natural intelligence and was soon beginning to read and write on his own. But the slave master found out and insisted that this was inappropriate on the grounds that slaves who could read might question their lot in life and become dissatisfied with slavery. Hugh Auld knew well that education was a liberator and literacy was the gateway to education. What he didn't know what the already powerful dissatisfaction that brewed in the hearts of Frederick and his brothers and sisters. Auld put a stop to the lessons but the fire of knowledge burned bright and quick in Frederick's mind and he continued to teach himself to read even though he was warned not to. After honing his skills, the adolescent Frederick took to teaching reading to other slaves on Sundays. Given time by their oppressors to worship, they did so but Frederick was keen to teach them to read their New Testament. In it, they found stories of liberation and freedom. In these stories, they began to be freed from their many bonds--all except their most physical and real. Frederick was beaten for these lessons and suffered severe punishments but would not stop teaching or questioning the injustice of slavery upon religious grounds. He was turned over to a particularly cruel slave master for his persistence.
When he was twenty years old, Frederick finally escaped slavery on his third attempt. He boarded a train, he adopted a guise, and in twenty-four hours he was a man finally freed from his physical bonds. He became an ardent activist and abolitionist campaigning not only for the end of slavery but also the end of all injustice and oppression--he even ran to be the first African-American Vice President on an equal rights ticket with Victoria Woodhull (the first woman to run for President). He was quick to strike at the hypocrisy of the religious elite in their use of the scriptures that proclaimed liberation and life as tools of oppression and death and insisted that true religion was not a matter of control but of love and freedom. His work as an abolitionist hastened the end of slavery in the United States and testified to a Christian faith that found its root and power in a Lord who had been oppressed by the powerful.
Friday, February 19, 2010
Rome was exceptionally adept at discovering and identifying Christians. By most accounts, they were also fairly successful at breaking the faiths of those whom they captured. They knew well that those who visited Christians in prison and slave camps were likely to be Christians themselves. When Elias and his companions visited their brothers and sisters, they marked themselves for Rome's attention. As they were returning home they were stopped in Caesarea by a group of soldiers assigned with their interrogation. Their captors asked them why they had made the journey and probably expected to hear some complicated lie that might cover over what Rome knew very well: these men were Christians and therefore unwelcome in the Empire. What they heard however was a frank admission by the men that they were Christians and they had traveled to comfort their brothers and sisters. Surely, they were surprised at the ease with which they had confessed--it was as if they weren't ashamed of the fact. The men had counted the likely cost of their journey--their own lives--and found it to be an acceptable price for serving God. They were tortured and asked to deny their faith but they did not. They would not be broken. Finally, they were beheaded.
Yet, after their deaths two men came forward named Porphyry and Pamphilus and insisted that these men who had traveled far to provide comfort deserved to be buried. They confronted the Empire and insisted on kindness. They must have known the likely outcome of their insistence since Rome was not interested in being kind so much as they were interested in controlling and dominating the minds and hearts of the people. They were accused of being Christian because of their insistence that the men be buried and mourned. They admitted that they were and were tortured before being burned to death. This wasn't the end, however, as another man named Seleucus came forward and spoke loudly in praise of the men who had been willing to lay down everything to follow after their executed Lord. He spoke highly of Pamphilus' and Porphyry's courage and bravery in the face of a grisly death. The soldiers seized Seleucus and he was also exposed as a Christian. For this crime and for the crime of speaking highly of those whom Rome despised and had killed, he was beheaded. It seems that all had indeed counted the cost and were willing to pay it for the privilege of following after a God who had been executed for loving too much, as well.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Philothei became a widow after three years of torturous marriage and she inherited his great wealth. She moved back into the home of her parents and continued to age and mature. She was unwilling to marry again and her family did not push her to do so. Perhaps they realized that the first marriage has been harmful and were unwilling to try again. Regardless, she spent his wealth in a variety of ways that aided the poor and the hungry. She didn't see the great wealth as a thing to be used to defend or secure herself but as a commodity best used by distributing it among those with the most need. Her parents died when she was twenty-five and she was once again the recipient of a large estate. Now that she was no longer bound to a home and now that she had considerable wealth to spend on others, she took up a live of prayer and service that exceeded even her earlier devotion. The money was put into able hands that would administrate its use. In so doing, many churches and monasteries were built with it but Philothei had already turned her attention to founding a convent for women that she felt she had been directed to build by Andrew the Apostle in a vision. She did so and the convent became a refuge and sanctuary for women to flee to from abuse or persecution. A particular group of women--members of Turkish harems--became aware of this convent's willingness to take them in and soon they were coming in droves. For her willingness to shelter these women from abuse such as she had received, she would be further abused.
The Turks who controlled Greece at the time were enraged that Christian women were helping their harem women to escape and so they began to apply pressure to Philothei and the women she was like a mother to. The politically minded hoped to crush her because of her resistance. The religiously minded hoped to afflict her and persecute her until she converted to their own religion. If they could crush or convert her, they suspected that they could do the same to all who shared her devotion to Jesus. They reasoned that she was a prime target because she was a woman and would be unable to stand up their abuses because of her sex. Neither group was successful. When they had given up on coercion, they resorted to violence. They knocked down the doors of the convent and drug her into the street by her hair. They beat her savagely while demanding she renounce her faith. She refused their demands and offered forgiveness to them for their abuse. For this, they beat her further. She died of her wounds while professing a faith that taught her to love her abusers and give her life for others.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
As we prepare to journey with Jesus through the desert that leads to Golgotha, we must take time to prepare for what it will cost both us and our Lord. We know that Easter will follow shortly in the devastation of that fated day because Jesus has come to offer life more abundant and not even death and sin will prevail over him. But, we cannot see that day from here. So, we must take time to prepare for the journey.
On this day, Christians all over the world will gather together to take their first step in the season of Lent that anticipated Good Friday and places its hope in Easter. It is in this time that we invest ourselves in hope for we need strength for the journey. It is as this time that we take time to repent and lay aside the burdens that will wear us down as we seek resurrection. So, we take a sign upon our head--a cross made of last year's palm ashes--to remind us that the beginning of this journey toward death and resurrection begins with repentance. May this cross remind us that it is from the dust that we were made and it is to the dust that we return.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
It was January 16, 1977, when Janani was arrested along with two other cabinet ministers. Idi Amin and his henchmen immediately went to work spreading slander and lies about Janani's politics and offenses. He was labeled a traitor and paraded before a crowd. As he and a large audience looked on, other men were brought onto a stage who confessed to knowing about and participating in illegal activities with Janani and his companions. Idi Amin insisted to all who would listen that Janani had been trying to initiate a coup against him and was intent on violent insurrection. The men who had confessed had never met Janani but Idi Amin had used them to implicate the Janani and his companions. The "confessors" were freed for they had done their part and there was never any intention to punish them--they were merely there to win the crowd's approval. After the supposed "confessions" were heard, Janani and the men were put into a car to be transferred to an interrogation center. The next day, it was reported that they had crashed on their way to the interrogation center and all three had died from their injuries.
Yet, when they found the bodies and prepared them for burial they noticed that Janani had been shot multiple times are relatively close range. He had been shot once with a pistol in his mouth and three times in the chest. The story leaked out that they had been transferred to a military base where they were beaten, tortured, threatened, and finally shot to death. Idi Amin himself pulled the trigger that stole the life of Janani. He died a martyr because he refused to compromise the truth and he would not be frightened by the threats of those in power. For this offense, he died. By this offense, he proclaimed life deeper and more real than any that the world's powers could offer.
Monday, February 15, 2010
When asked why he refused to serve he cited his faith and insisted that he didn't have the right to wage war on those that Christ called him to love. For this, he was the object of a military court martial and sentenced to death. This sentence was later reduced to twenty-five years in prison but it cannot be forgotten or avoided that the State was willing to impose death upon somebody because of their refusal to support State-sponsored death. He was routinely moved from prison to prison because he refused to do any work that might be related to the military system or might support a war he saw as a compromise of the his Christian calling. Even after the war was ended--shortly after he was incarcerated--he was held by the State as a prisoner. For long periods of time he was held in solitary confinement, sustained on only bread and water, and forced to live in hot, small, dark cell over the the sewers. He would write why all this happened in a letter: "Far more than two years I have been illegally imprisoned because I refused to kill or help to kill."
Eventually, Ben engaged in a hunger strike with the intention of either being freed or being starved to death. He was no longer even willing to cooperate in the State's abuses that kept him alive. He wrote to a military group: "My hunger strike is not a negative program, but a positive appeal to humanity that they substitute Love for Force. If I succumb in this attempt to hold myself aloof from Militarism — organized murder — I hope that you gentlemen, who are mainly responsible for my predicament, will, with your co-murderers, make some provision for the needs of my widowed-mother, wife and child. whom you have thus far robbed of their breadwinner, and whom, in the event of my demise, will be prevented from obtaining the support that I could otherwise provide." They forced milk down his throat and did their best to keep his hunger strike secret from the public. Yet, when his hometown paper found out about it they referred to him as a "slacker" and "the man with a yellow streak down his spine as broad as a country highway." He found few friends in his quest to proclaim life and peace. He was denied the sacraments by priests, he was labeled a heretic for not supporting the State's war and suggesting that Christ called us to peace, and he was vilified and abused with regularity. Finally, though, they released him because of his hunger strike. He was free from his bonds but not from the reputation he had developed. He died shortly after his release because of his deteriorating health. He died a man who remained convinced of his early suggestions: “The justice of man cannot dethrone the justice of God” and “There is no such animal as a ‘just war.'”
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Luckily--or perhaps unluckily--Claudius took a liking to Valentine. Perhaps it was because of Valentine's association with marriages or perhaps it was because Claudius felt that Valentine was associated with love. Surely, Claudius felt he understood love--he was the emperor, a divine being according to the senate--but he did not truly understand what Valentine had been doing and preaching. Instead, he knew a love that took, demanded, coerced, and manipulated. Yet, he conversed regularly with his prisoner and found it enjoyable. At least, he found it enjoyable until Valentine tried to preach to him. He was outraged that anybody would try to preach to the emperor as if the emperor didn't already know everything. He ordered Valentine to be beheaded for this offense.
As Valentine was bound in chains and retrived from his cell, the jailer seemed to want to ask something. Finally, the jailer could withhold himself no longer and told Valentine about his deaf and blind daughter. Though the jailer was the emperor's man he recognized true power and true love in Valentine and felt that he might be his daughter's last chance. With a smile that denied he was headed for death, he pronounced a prayer of healing for the jailer's daughter. When he would return home later, he would find her cured of her blindness and deafness. In that moment, he would feel the beginnings of his own conversion away from the empire and toward the God who had called Valentine. Before he would find out, though, he would take Valentine to the place where the emperor demanded. There, Valentine was beheaded for swearing allegiance first to a God who is love after he refused to deny his God in favor of the emperor.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
We're not sure if it was before or after Paul's arrival in Corinth that Prisca and Aquila were converted but it is certain that they were involved in his ministry in Corinth regardless of when they vowed to follow after their crucified Lord. The three of them shared a profession and worked together so that they might find stability again. The preaching of Paul was infectious and soon they found themselves encourage and invigorated in their faith. Paul even lived with them for nearly eighteen months. Paul had decided to move on to Syria--to continue to preach the Gospel and found churches--and Prisca and Aquila went with him. Along the way, they stopped in Ephesus and when Paul moved on from there, they remained behind as pillars of the Church community. Often, the services would take place in their own home. They were leaders and foundational members of the Church in Ephesus. In fact, when Apollos was preaching an incomplete Gospel--he only knew about John's baptism--they took him aside and tutored him in Christian theology. In this way, they were committed to the health of the Body of Christ and were willing to spend their time and attention building up fellow believers in a world that was increasingly less accommodating for Christians--even Christians who were successful business people.
Prisca and Aquila moved back to Rome through Corinth once the ban was lifted and were known as encouragers along the way. At some point, they saved Paul's life by risking their own. This couple was united behind one cause: a Gospel that proclaimed life even at great risk and cost. After they had been returned to Rome they were victimized by the Empire. Their possessions were seized, they were beaten severely and humiliated, and finally they were beheaded. Though they had hoped to return to their home from far away, they had changed much in their travels. Their faith was a vibrant and surprising thing that led them to work alongside Paul to do great things in a rapidly expanding world. They were instrumental in the founding of the Church at both Corinth and Ephesus and although those congregations had challenges, the communities were also pillars of the Body of Christ for many years.
Friday, February 12, 2010
It was her practice to meet once a year with her brother to discuss the spiritual life and to read scripture together. The communities that they led were only five miles apart but they met on some neutral ground partly to emphasize that there was some special connection between brother and sister that was worth honoring with a change in location. The last time they met they weren't certain that it would be a final meeting but Scholastica was aware of her own failing health. They met for longer than they ever had and even longer than they had intended to meet. They discussed scripture. They prayed together. They broke bread and communed with one another. They encouraged and challenged each other as only a brother and sister in the Faith can. Then, as night was falling Benedict got up to go and return to his monastery where he might rest in his cell. Scholastica asked him to stay even longer so that they might continue in their fellowship--perhaps she even intuited that this would be their last chance. He insisted that he must return home as it was his calling to be there. She simply nodded, folded her hands, and began to pray.
As Benedict watched his sister pray, he felt the sudden cold gust of wind that preceded a thunderstorm. His eyes widened in surprise and confusion. At the first peal of thunder, he went to the window and looked outside to see the first large rain drops strike the dirt outside of the building. Turning to Scholastica, he said, "May God forgive you, sister," and asked, "What have you done?”
She responded simply: "I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery." With these words, she began packing up her things knowing very well that he would now stay but she wanted to indicate to him his freedom to choose. Benedict stayed with his sister and they talked later into the night. Shortly thereafter, Scholastica died and Benedict mourned the loss of his sister but thanked God that he had had a little more time with her.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Eventually, he became a minister in a congregational church but he was committed to non-violence after his experience of World War I and the people whom he met with and with whom he conversed. This was an odd stance for a man such as A.J. but it became a hated stance as he persisted in it through the years approaching and including World War II. But, he was convinced that God had called him to a way of peace and nonviolence that revoked any right he felt toward self-defense or preemptive violence. By A.J.'s reasoning, there was no just war and so not even World War II could be rationalized or accepted. When a son of a member of the congregation where was pastor died in the war, he did not veer from his intended topic for the Sunday sermon: "The Futility of War." It was another opportunity for him to raise his famous question: "The problem after a war is the victor. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence will pay. Who will now teach him a lesson?" By A.J.'s thinking there was no time when war or violence would pay or would be acceptable. When he had said this, he must have known he would suffer for it. That afternoon the congregation called a meeting and voted to terminate him as their pastor. He, his wife, and his children were forcibly moved out of the parsonage that night and had to find somewhere else to live.
He remained a minister, associated finally with the Quakers, and committed to nonviolence even if it had cost him his job. He was at one time an advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr. and considered an authority on nonviolent resistance. He and his colleagues and associates were arrested repeatedly for hopping fences at military facilities, paddling their boats into nuclear test sites, and sympathizing with those whom the State insisted they hate and fear. For these things, A.J. received and still receives derision but he could not more veer from these convictions than he could stop being who he was. He had become an advocate for peace and nonviolence at all costs and had proven repeatedly that he was willing to lay down anything for a chance at peace. If it is true that the peacemakers are blessed--and I do believe it so--then surely A.J. Muste has a share of blessedness for his refusal to abandon the way of peace even in the face of adversity.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Paul knew sailing would be rough and so he told his captors--Roman soldiers transferring him as a prisoner to Rome for trial--that it would be a costly trip because of a storm. But the pilot said differently and the centurion was convinced that the pilot was right. The harbor wasn't a good place to be in the winter and so the crew felt pressure to get out on the water and arrive in a different port--maybe Phoenix?--to weather the winter. So, they disembarked and began their journey when a decent wind blew from the south and they became confident that they could make it to the next stop. Yet, they stayed close to the shore.
13Soon after, the wind picked up and changed direction. The crew fought with the wind but were unable to gain control and were forced to go where the wind willed. 14The storm beat upon the poor boat for days and drove it a great distance. They began throwing cargo overboard like Paul had predicted but it wasn't enough. Each hour their hope for escape weakened until eventually the crew had given up any hope for safety. At this time, Paul came to the crew and said, "I told you that we shouldn't have sailed but it's okay. Don't worry--we'll lose the boat but nobody will lose their life because of this storm." The crew was convinced that they were facing the end and so they laughed at him and asked why he was so confidence since he was in the same place as them. Paul replied, "Last night an angel of God--whom I belong to and whom I worship--appeared and said, 'Don't be afraid, Paul, you'll make it safe to Rome where you will be tried. God is protecting the people on the ship.' So, don't worry friends--I have faith that God will do this thing that God has promised. We'll end up shipwrecked but we'll be alive."
21After two weeks of persisting in the storm, Paul noticed that some members of the crew were anxious about how close they were getting to the land. They began testing the depth of the water compulsively and eventually determined that it wasn't safe to continue in their boat. They tried to deceive the rest of the crew and the prisoners by releasing anchors and saying they would wait for morning to determine what to do. Under the cover of night and storm, they also released a raft and were preparing to get into it when the centurion stopped them because Paul had said any who did not stay with the boat would die. They cut the raft loose and remained on the boat. Before morning broke, Paul was found eating while the crew continued to be anxious about what they would do. Paul encouraged them to eat and stop worrying because soon they would wreck and the food on their stomachs would be more valuable than the work they did to save a boat destined for wrecking. So, all 276 people ate while Paul broke bread and gave thanks to God for God's blessings in the midst of the storm.
33In the morning, they saw land and rejoiced. Though they did not know precisely where they were the crew was prepared to land at all costs. So, the sailed the boat toward the shore. As they drew closer, they struck a reef and the ship was immobilized upon it. The waves beat against it and they were forced to abandon their boat and swim for land. The soldiers knew their duty and so they drew their swords with the intention of killing the prisoners so that none might escape. The centurion stepped in and stopped them, though, and ordered all people to swim for the shore if they were able. Those who weren't able picked up pieces of the boat to float upon and made their own way to land at a slower pace. All 276 of them made it safely to land just as Paul had insisted they would.
39Upon the shore, the crew and passengers were cold and wet but greeted warmly by the native people of the island they learned was called "Malta." The Maltans built a fire and gathered the shipwrecked passengers and crew around it. Paul wanted to do his part in helping to sustain this generous act and so he gathered a bundle of wood. The warmth of the fire had roused a viper and when Paul released the wood, the serpent struck out and bit his hand. It held on and released its poisonous venom with speed. The Maltans began to speak under their breath about Paul that he must be some terrible murderer if justice would pursue him so far as to strike at him with poison after he survived a shipwreck. All eyes were on Paul as he shook off the serpent and went about his business with no anxiety of fear. All those gathered on the beach waited for Paul to succumb to the terrible venom and became increasingly surprised as Paul remained healthy and fine. They insisted he was a god. He insisted he was God's. He didn't see the big deal--God had promised he would be safe and he had no reason to doubt the one who had called him on that road to Damascus. He preached the faith that gripped him and many were converted from among the Maltans and the boat's passengers and crew.