Friday, April 30, 2010

April 30 - James Walsh, Missionary, Bishop, Prisoner

She was furious with the boy but she had to admit that she should have seen it coming. James Walsh and his brother were intelligent and clever and she should have known that this wasn't a battle she wanted to fight. Yet, she had decided to call their bluff when they claimed to be able to recite their lesson while standing on their heads. Now, she had no doubt that they understood the lesson perfectly well and would be able to utilize what they had learned and apply it to their studies. But, James and his brother seemed so confident that she found it hard to resist to put them to a challenge she felt them unequal to. She doubted they could even stand on their heads, let alone recite the entirety of their lesson in front of the class. Surely they would laugh or forget some important part and when they did she would win this battle of wills and claim her victor's prize of their silence and obedience for a little while longer. But, then James and his brother had turned themselves upside down--as if they anticipated she would take them up on it--and began with the opening words of the lesson. She followed along as they recited it word for word and her confidence turned first to surprise and then to anger with each correct word. They returned to their seats after doing exactly as they claimed they could and were excused from doing the work that they had not wanted to do on account of their clear understanding of the lesson. At the insistence of the teacher, their father soon transferred them to a Roman Catholic parochial school.

Hearing the stories and feats of missionaries always seemed to make James' heart sing. He imagined himself living into these stories and he found that they resonated deeply within his mind and soul as he learned to value what missionaries value: a felt and met need. As he grew older he eventually took a job as a timekeeper in a steel mill. This job helped him meet his needs and allowed him some comfort but it was not what he felt called to do. Eventually, he followed his dream and entered the seminary and Maryknoll brotherhood so that he might become first a priest and then a missionary. He wrote that the calling of a missionary was an odd one because they were called "to go to a place where [they are] not wanted, but needed, and to remain until [they are] not needed but wanted." James was sent with three other missionary priests to China. He became the Superior of the order in China and eventually was appointed bishop of Kongmoon where they were. He was happy in China and found great joy and peace in serving the priests there as a supervisor and pastoring bishop. But in 1936 he was called back to Maryknoll, New York, to become the second Superior General of the Maryknoll order.

While he led the Maryknoll order he expanded their missionary efforts to include Central America and Africa. It was clear to any that knew him that James' passion was with those who had an unrecognized need to hear the Gospel message he and his brothers and sisters in the faith carried with them. After his term as Superior General he answered a call to go back to China. When he returned, though, in 1949 China was very much a different country than when he had left and the communists had taken power. It was harder to speak openly and they were indirectly opposed by the government at every turn. That is to say, until 1951 when James' group was outlawed and the missionaries were told to go home. James refused to go--even when asked to do so by his superior--and was arrested. He wrote to the Vatican: "To put up with a little inconvenience at my age is nothing. Besides, I am a little sick and tired of being pushed around on account of my religion." He was sentenced to serve twenty years in jail and during this time he was forbidden visits from anyone he knew except for one visit from his brother who was the Attorney General of the State of Maryland. After twelve years of confinement, he was released and he walked alone across the bridge into Hong Kong where he was greeted warmly. He would live another eleven years in which he would spread his love of mission work and continue to advocate for Chinese Christians even while far away from them.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

April 29 - Catherine of Siena, Mystic, Monastic, Betrothed to Christ

The boy was talking very fast and trying his hardest to impress his six-year-old sister Catherine. He knew it was his job and duty to not only take care of her but to entertain her as they walked back from the home of their older and married sister. Catherine was the youngest of twenty-five children since her twin had died shortly after birth and was a treasure to the family. So, he joked with her and told her stories so that the journey home might be a little easier on her. When he turned to see why she wasn't responding to his best jokes and funniest voices, he noticed that she was no longer walking beside him. Like a good brother, he was instantly terrified that he had lost his youngest sister. He began to look around frantically while yelling at himself for his negligence and carelessness. He was gripped by that horrible combination of certainty that she must be nearby and confidence that an awful mistake has been made that will exact a terrible cost. When he didn't see her in the immediate area he began to sprint back on the path they had been traveling. He finally found her standing in the middle of the road and staring up into the sky with tears streaming down her face.

He knew that those tears--probably tears of fear at being lost, he suspected--would purchase his punishment with their father and so he began to think of a way to dry them up along with any story Catherine might be tempted to tell before they got home again. He called her name sweetly but she didn't adjust her gaze away from the blank spot on which it was focused. He became frightened and called out to her louder and more harshly yet she still mouthed silent words with her eyes focused on some invisible subject. When he grasped her hand, she suddenly gasped and seemed ripped back into the world she shared with her family and the rest of humanity. Six-year-old Catherine began speaking of seeing the throne of Heaven with Jesus seated upon it. Around him were Peter, Paul, and John and they joined together with others in worship. The little girl who was nicknamed "Joy" by her family had been overwhelmed by the joy that radiated from the communion and unity of that glorious scene. Even telling it to her brother had an infectious nature and when they got home her family found this to be a miraculous vision of things unseen. This little girl would commit then and there to a life of devotion to the one who had inspired such joy and peace by his mere presence. She would go on to become a leader in the Dominican monastic movement among the devoted laity. Her appointment was not without controversy but it is undeniable that she was called to and suited for this position of service.

When she grew older she was pushed toward marriage by her family. They had raised her in the Faith that they professed alongside her but it seems that Catherine's childhood vision had faded in their minds over the years while it still burned white hot in her own. When they began to speak of marriage and betrothal, she took a shocking action and cut her long, beautiful, golden-brown hair to a strikingly short length. She was punished for this act and forced to do menial tasks around the home and denied the solitude and silence she craved so eagerly. Yet, it was through this punishment that she learned to find solitude within herself--deserts that could not be denied to her and always held the promise of the presence of God. Eventually, she had another vision wherein she was brought up to heaven by Jesus himself. Once there, she was betrothed to Jesus. He slipped a ring upon her finger to seal her as his and she was taken back to the world she knew and shared with her family. From that day onward she said she could always see the band upon her finger even as others claimed that nothing was there.

Catherine answered a calling to devote herself to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In doing so she became an advocate of reformation within the Church that called clergy and leaders to hold themselves to a high standard even as they called others to join with them in this standard of excellence and service. She would write numerous letters and treatises on the mystical life of communion with Jesus and the way of love that she knew as the way of her Faith. She cared for the sick and the plague-stricken with her own hands and walked with many weeping and mourning families as they escorted their loved ones to the grave. The little girl who had been inspired by a vision of joy and communion spent her life on others in a way that brought this joy and communion a step closer in her own world.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

April 28 - Oskar Schindler, Businessman, Enemy of the Nazis, Righteous Among the Nations

Oskar Schindler had an eye for business even if he didn't seem to be all that gifted at maintaining businesses long term in challenging economies. So, when the Nazis breached the Polish defenses and began seizing the assets and valuables of the country, he recognized that there would most surely be opportunities to purchase and run successful business in Poland. Her purchased an enamelware factory in Krakow and quickly set out figuring how he might make it profitable and self-sustaining. The Nazis had a limited need for enamel in their war effort so Oskar wanted to hire workers as cheaply as he possibly could to insure profitability. His accountant--a German speaking Jew by the name of Itzhak Stern--convinced him to hire Jews who had been forced into labor camps as they would be cheap but able to do the work. Oskar took Itzhak's advice and soon he was in the business of enamel in Poland and employed over 1,000 Jews.

At first, he had hired the Jews because they would be cheap. Oskar bought into the Nazi lies that insisted the Jews were vile but his opinion was slowly being changed by regular interaction with them. He found that unlike what he had been told, his employees were good and decent people who seemed very much like himself. It was only after a little while that he began to defend them against raids, probes, and harassment. He turned the Gestapo aside and used his charm to convince others to overlook him and his little factory. When they came to take the children and handicapped, he insisted that they were highly skilled and essential workers who could not be taken if the factory was to survive. Since the factory had been labeled "important" to the Nazi war effort, Oskar's workers--often referred to as Schindlerjuden or "Schindler's Jews"--were allowed to remain under Oskar's watchful care. Oskar had found that he loved those who worked for him and could no longer believe the lies of the Nazis who had tried to make him hate people so that he might better obey their Imperial commands.

In 1942, Oskar had the painful experience of seeing the Nazis ply their trade in a ghetto in Krakow. The soldiers beat, humiliated, and dragged away the Jews that they could find. They were loaded onto trains and shipped to concentration camps where they would likely work until they died from hunger and exhaustion or until they were murdered for being Jewish and undesirable to those in power. After this, Oskar began using more and more of his money and charm to protect more and more Jews. He arranged for 700 Jews to be assigned to work in a nearby factory where he could keep his eye on their welfare. He began buying some of their possessions and valuables off of the black market so that they might not lose them forever. He bribed officials and powerful people so that those he protected might continue to be protected. In other words, Oskar sacrificed the values of good business and economics to care for the people he had learned to love and adore.

When the Soviets began to make progress against the Nazis and encroach upon their conquered territory, Oskar knew that soon his workers would be evacuated to concentration camps if the Nazis became nervous about their proximity to liberating Soviet forces. So, he made a request that he and his nearly 1,200 workers be shipped to another factory in Czechoslovakia where he might "better serve" the Nazi war effort. The factory he had purchased produced missile and hand grenades and his willingness to seemingly strengthen the Nazi army was smiled upon. He and his workers were shipped to the factory and began to produce missiles and hand grenades. Not a single one of the weapons they produced ever worked successfully, though. He had bought a factory that would ultimately cost him far much more money than it was worth but by this point he was far more concerned with those he loved and was protecting than he was for himself or his business ventures. He protected his workers at great cost to himself and the ruination of his own business and economic life. At the end of the war, he was nearly penniless because of his steadily increased devotion to the people God had called him to love.

Oskar tried many more business ventures over the course of his life but none were especially successful for any significant period of time. He had saved over 1,200 Jews from certain death because he knew that the Faith he professed called him to lay down his life for those he loved. He died in 1974 and is remembered as a great savior and protector of the Jews in Germany. He found a way to protect even those who were within the jaws of the Nazi war machine by laying down his present and his future so that they might live. He was declared one of the "Righteous Among the Nations" during his lifetime and is memorialized by a tree planted at the Yad Vashem in Israel.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April 27 - Toyohiko Kagawa, Poet, Pacifist, Friend of the Poor

When Toyohiko Kagawa was asked to come and speak to the seminarians at Princeton--one of his alma maters--he went willingly and eagerly. Toyohiko had been displeased with much of his own seminary experience because he found that the students there were far more interested in arguments, rhetoric, persuasion, and the fine points of doctrine and textual study. He repeatedly begged them simply to live out what Jesus had taught in the parable of the Good Samaritan. He knew he was asking for much of the seminarians but he hoped that they would--as far as people go--be the most likely to answer a call to genuinely and sincerely practiced allegiance to Jesus as Lord and Savior. When he finished speaking to the assembled Princetonians he accepted some questions and then dismissed them quietly and gathered his things from the podium. As he was doing so, two of the seminarians turned to each other in their seats and discussed his lecture.

One insisted that it had not been quite what they had expected from a man who was so well respected around the seminary. Turning to his friend, he quipped, "He didn't have much to say, did he?" They shared their own little laugh knowing that they were better educated than Toyohiko but not knowing that they were still fools. Both of them had heard of his background and how he had been the illegitimate child of a powerful Japanese man and a geisha. He was hated by his mother and liked by his father but soon both his mother and father had died and he was orphaned. He was given over as the ward of the widowed wife of his father. She and her mother struggled not to resent little Toyohiko because it had not been his decision to be a child of infidelity but they failed in their struggle and Toyohiko knew he was hated by them. They sent him away to a boarding school. He began attending a bible study given by a Christian minister so that he could learn and practice his English. Yet while he was learning the language, he was hearing and considering the truths and teachings of the Faith of the minister. When he was a teenager, he converted to the Christian Faith that had gripped him by the heart over a long time of reflection and meditation. Soon after this conversion he knew clearly that he would be a minister of the Gospel that had spoken to him when he had walked in darkness, desperation, and death.

Though they didn't seem to prize it, those two young seminarians knew that after receiving more education in preparation for the calling he was already living into, Toyohiko had stepped out in faith and moved into the Shinkawa district of Kobe. These slums were some of the worst--if not the absolute worst--in all of Japan. He lived in a three-walled dwelling so filthy and small (only six feet wide by six feet long) that it would be an overstatement to call it a shack. For nearly fifteen years he tended to the sick, suffering, hungry, poor, and dying in Shinkawa. Toyohiko was able to make a little money (not nearly as much as he would have been able to if he had moved out of Shinkawa, though) but he spent it all on medicine, food, and clothing for those who came to him asking for it. He was regularly abused and beaten for his love and compassion. At one point, a band of thugs accosted him knowing him as an "easy mark" who would give over anything to them not out of fear but out of love. They demanded his clothing and mentioned that they knew he was a Christian. He took off his clothing and handed it over to the criminals and they walked away with filthy rags and an increasing awareness of the goodness of Toyohiko's God and their own inherent sinfulness shown by their willingness to beat and strip a poor and loving man in the slums.

Those two young seminarians probably had no idea that Toyohiko had spent nearly every night for nearly fifteen years tending for the sick and homeless in his own meager dwelling. He gave over his bed to the sick and filthy people he loved and slept in the cold with little to protect himself from the elements. He gave over his food and drink with such regularity that he was regularly ill from hunger. He did not have intense theological debates but he regularly lived out the teachings of Jesus in a way that granted him an inherent understanding of the Gospel that Jesus brought into this world. Every night for four years he held the hand of a murderer as that murderer drifted off into a fitful sleep in Toyohiko's own bed. The murderer could not bear what he had done any longer but Toyohiko still spoke of forgiveness to and refused to abandon the poor man who feared isolation and judgment. He organized workers in the slums and shipyards all while fighting for increased voting rights in Japan. Eventually, he was arrested and held in prison for two particular crimes: 1) he organized the voiceless so that they might speak in unison to those with power and be heard, and 2) he apologized to the Chinese for the Japanese occupation of portions of China. Toyohiko's commitment to peace--one he felt compulsory for all who hoped to follow Jesus even if it cost them their lives--made him a dangerous criminal in the eyes of Japan.

Perhaps the two young seminarians knew that a terrible earthquake hit Tokyo and Yokohama in 1923. The ruins of those cities were flooded with the sick, suffering, hungry, poor, and dying. The government was overwhelmed by the need and was uninitiated into taking care of its citizens since it had been so long practicing power and control and forsaking compassion and mercy. So they came to Toyohiko in prison and released him. They knew he had made a difference in the lives of those needing help and they also knew that it was Toyohiko who would be able to do it again. They made him Chief of Social Welfare and offered him a home and a sizable salary. He rejected them and insisted that he could neither help the poor from a position of comfort nor allow his Christian duty to be purchased. He slowly helped rebuild cities devastated by earthquake, neglect, and need. For this he was lauded and honored even as he insisted that he was only doing the bare minimum of what God had called him to do.

As the two seminarians continued to share their own criticism of Toyohiko they ignored that Toyohiko was struggling to see the steps he was trying to descend. He had acquired a serious eye disease because of his practices of offering hospitality even in the slums. Those he lived with were sick and soon so was Toyohiko. As the two men missed the point of all they had heard and continued to pass the drug of intelligent pride back and forth an elderly lady overheard them and interrupted them. She leaned forward to interject one simple sentence into their conversation while pointing at Toyohiko as he carefully descended the stairs: "You don't need to say much when you're hanging on a cross."

Monday, April 26, 2010

April 26 - Basil of Amasea and Glaphyra, Martyr and Near-Martyr, Bishop and Refugee

Glaphyra was the servant of the empress--Constantia--who was married to the emperor named Licinius. Licinius lusted for Glaphyra in such an obvious way that it was apparent even to his wife whom he hoped to hide it from. To be honest, this was surely not the first time that Constantia was faced with her husband's infidelity since he seemed to be accustomed to getting what he wanted from women whether they liked it or not. Glaphyra, however, was a Christian and had taken a vow of celibacy so that she might focus on devoting herself to service and her calling as a woman of God. Constantia knew that soon her husband would force Glaphyra to transgress her vow and ruin yet another young woman. So, she dressed Glaphyra in the clothing of one of her male servants and undertook careful measures to disguise Glaphyra in a way that would not attract Licinius' attention. Then, she gave her a large sum of money and sent her to Amasea where she might refuge with the Church there. Once Glaphyra was away Constantia conspired with her servants to deceive Licinius and tell him that Glaphyra was insane and on her deathbed.

Glaphyra was very frugal with the gift that Constantia had given her. In fact, she still possessed nearly all of it when she arrived in Amasea and was taken in by the bishop there. His name was Basil and he was committed to taking care of the people of God and those that God willed to pass through his life. He took Glaphyra in and found a home for her within the congregation. She found comfort and spiritual solace in Amasea under Basil's leadership. Eventually, she donated all of the gift she had received to build a meeting building for the congregation that had welcomed her as a refugee and exile. It wasn't nearly enough and so she sent a letter back to Constantia by secretive means asking for more support. Constantia was very willing to support the Church in Amasea and so she sent along the money and the building was finished. But as it was being finished Licinius stumbled upon the letter and was outraged. He was not furious because he could not have Glaphyra's body but because he had been deceived and outwitted. He was embarrassed and allowed his embarrassment to fuel a rage. He ordered the governor of Amasea to send Glaphyra and Basil to him so that he might punish them for their audacity. He complied because of his allegiance to Licinius but Glaphyra died before the journey could be made and was buried among the bones of the congregation she had been grafted into. She had found a home and a calling and rested peacefully knowing her life's journey was over.

Basil, however, was sent to Licinius--brought in chains--to pay for the heinous crime of taking in a lonely, refugee woman. Basil was found guilty of the charge of subverting the empire and being an enemy of the state. For the treason of loving those the emperor raged against he was beaten and tortured. Licinius thought that a promise of money and power would win Basil over and so he offered to make brave Basil into a pagan priest of his own personal religion. Licinius must have been even more enraged when Basil laughed at the idea and insisted that it was foolishness to trade faith for life. So, he was carried to the place where he would be made a martyr and he stopped to pray with some of the Christians who had come from Amasea to be with him. They were worried he wouldn't hold up to the emperor's worst intentions but they were comforted to watch him follow through in his commitment and mount the platform where his life would be stolen from him. He knelt down and looked up to his executioner. "Do what he wants you to do," Basil said, "it's alright." Having forgiven his killers, he died a martyr and an example of what it means to follow Jesus regardless of the cost.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

April 25 - John Mark, Martyr, Disciple, Missionary

John Mark, better known now simply as Mark, was there that day in Cana when a wedding became not only a happy celebration of love and devotion but also the inauguration of an entirely new ministry by God almighty incarnate in one single, mortal, human being. Mark was among the servants who were tending the celebration and keeping its embers of joy stoked and glowing. But there was a problem--they were out of wine. Maybe there had been a miscalculation or maybe the servants had overestimated how much wine they had left as they freely poured it out into the cups of the guests. Maybe the guests were so jubilant that they were simply drinking more than had been expected. Regardless, the servants knew this was a big problem and they were hastily conferring over it in the kind of whispered voices that do the exact opposite of what a whisper is supposed to do. Mary overheard their frenzy and smiled serenely because she knew what to do. She brought her son Jesus--Mark had heard quite a bit about this one already and much of it was hard to believe--and conferred to him quietly about the problem. At first he seemed distressed by her request but then he seemed to acquiesce to his dear mother's pleas. She turned to Mark and the other servants and said, "Trust him and do whatever he tells you to do. No matter what."

Mark watched as Jesus pointed at six stone water-jars and asked them quietly to fill the jars with water. This was some task because each jar held nearly thirty gallons of water. But Mark wanted to trust the man and so he did as he was asked. When they had secretly filled the jars they returned to Jesus to hear what next he would ask of them. Was it possible he knew something about those jars and their problem they they didn't? Surely, Mark must have thought this was a crazy idea but he had heard some startling rumors about Jesus and he had nothing to lose so he went with it. Jesus nodded when they returned to him and said, "Now draw some and take it to your boss to taste." Some must have scoffed at this. Sure, after the good wine had been served and the guests had lost some of their ability to appreciate the quality of the wine they might be able to pass off worse wine as good but not water as wine. That's when Mark drew a cupful and saw it was red and smelled of wine. He took it to his boss and was surprised to hear it described as better than the first. He looked over his shoulder at Jesus and as he locked eyes with this man Mary's words ran through his head again: "Trust him and do whatever he tells you to do. No matter what." That day he became a follower and disciple.

Mark was not one of "the Twelve" but he was surely one of those who regularly traveled around listening to him preach and teach. He was sent out among the seventy to preach the Kingdom that Jesus could see coming and was anticipating eagerly. He did it not because he felt especially gifted or skilled but because Jesus had told him to do so and he was willing to trust Jesus and do whatever he instructed. Of course, this didn't always hold because--like everybody else--he abandoned Jesus on the night of his crucifixion. But, he was quick to return and further commit himself to trusting Jesus--God incarnate--who had died and been resurrected. Then, on that beautiful day when Jesus ascended again to the Father he gave a parting message to those who were assembled with him. Mark heard him command his followers to go into the world and take the Gospel that Jesus had taught and lived to anybody and everybody. Mark took this calling and commissioning very seriously and set out among the early Christians to share the faith at great cost to himself. He traveled with Paul and Barnabas for some time. He went far from his home in North Africa to the Church at Colossae at Paul's leading and teaching. He even went so far as Rome to help Paul in his missionary journeys.

When Paul was executed, Mark traveled back to near where he was born and raised. He ended up in Alexandria and he openly preached the Gospel message he had received: that God had loved us so dearly and furiously that God became human to show us the way back to God and died at our hands so that our sins might be placed upon God as a burden previously unknown and forever incalculable. But that wasn't the end because death and sin had been unable to hold God down in all of God's glory and God had broken them even as they worked their dark magic to destroy and dissolve the Creator and Lord of All Things. Having risen from the dead, God told us that this was only the first of many resurrections since God had broken and conquered death so that we might be forgiven and healed. This resurrection was an earnest promise of the future reconciliation and healing of all creation. For preaching this message, Mark was hated and despised by many Alexandrians. They wished to continue worshiping their Egyptian gods regardless of Mark's continued compassion and love for them. In the face of the forgiveness and love he offered them they could not continue to abide his presence and his message of hope and faith. So, in the year 68, they tied him to the back of some horses and dragged him through the streets until he was beaten to death by the rocks and people that awaited him on his route leading to death. In the end, he still heard the words of Mary: "Trust him and do whatever he tells you to do. No matter what." So, he had trusted him and done what he had taught without regard to cost.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

April 24 - Max Josef Metzger, Martyr, Priest, Pacifist

Max Josef Metzger had followed the calling that spoke to him inwardly and demanded his greatest allegiance and devotion. It had led him to the priesthood of the Roman Catholic church. When World War I began to rampage through Europe he became a chaplain for the Imperial Army of Germany. He served his country while he served his Lord and calling but the war left an increasingly bitter taste in his mouth. With each funeral he officiated and each atrocity he witnessed he became more and more convinced of the world's great and desperate need for peace. At one point he wrote that “future wars have lost their meaning, since they no longer give anybody the prospect of winning more than he loses.” Max was receiving a quick and painful education in the futility of violence and domination. With each act of violence they found themselves only further away from the peace they were hoping for. In this desperation, Max began earnestly to hope for the peace that he knew God could bring and for which the world hungered and thirsted.

After the end of World War I, Max became committed not only to personal pacifism and renunciation of violence but, also, the spread of nonviolent thought among other people. Furthermore, Max feared that there was no hope for peace in the world if there was no hope for unity in the Church. If the people who were called to be the Body of Christ could not be reconciled one with another then it seemed that there was no hope for the fallen systems of the world to be raised from the ashes of death, violence, and war. He started a pacifist organization in Germany and tried to unite his group with international groups. He became active in peace demonstrations and in works to reunite the various broken portions of the Church. He drew heavy criticism for this but was allowed to do his work for many years. But as Adolf Hitler rose to power, Max found his influence and capacity for free speech and thought curtailed. Soon, it was a regular occurrence for the Gestapo to arrest Max on some trumped up charges. He went with them but he continued to resist them in his writings and sermons.

In 1943--during the heart of World War II--Max attempted to promote the cause of peace even while war was consuming the hearts and minds of the people of Germany and other countries. He did not agree with the Nazi policies and was considered by them to be an enemy and traitor. He sent a letter to the Archbishop of Sweden that looked forward to the fall of the Nazis and planned for a future of peace and reconciliation that might rise from the death of World War II and the great seduction and confusion of the German people. His letter was intercepted and turned over to the Gestapo. They interpreted his hope for peace in the future as treason in the present and he was arrested. For daring to dream of a world that might escape the need for domination, manipulation, and death he was condemned as a criminal and enemy. He was tried for this crime and found guilty. The man who was the judge at the trial pronounced his sentence--death--by noting that people like Max should be eradicated. In a world of acceptable civilian casualties and security by destruction, Max's hope for peace and reconciliation was an oddity worthy of death. He was executed on the seventeenth day of April in the year 1944.

Friday, April 23, 2010

April 23 - George of Nicomedia, Martyr, Beloved of Diocletian, Hero

Geronzio had been a servant of Diocletian before Diocletian had risen to the status and rank of emperor in Rome. He had served Diocletian loyally and had gained his respect and admiration. He was, however, a Christian and though Diocletian knew this he did not expect Geronzio to change his allegiance as long as Geronzio did not openly betray him. Geronzio was also married to a woman named Policronia. The two of them had used their connections and influence to elevate themselves to a noble status and to shore up possessions and wealth. They used this wealth and status to provide comfort and aid to their brothers and sisters in the Faith and to prepare their newborn son--whom they named George, meaning "worker of the land"--for his life and whatever it might hold. As George grew in age and education he also grew into the faith of his parents and his many new brothers and sisters that came to his family's home for services of worship and communion. Tragically, Geronzio died when George was fourteen and within three years Policronia had taken that fateful step beyond mortality and into life more ideal and true. George was among many who were like family to him and he was the inheritor of his family's considerable wealth but he was without direction and no longer had his father as his mentor. So, George went to the man who had so loved and favored his father: Diocletian.

George became a soldier under Dicoletian's watchful care and guidance. Diocletian was heartbroken when he heard of Geronzio's death but was overjoyed at the prospect of guiding George's career and continued service to Rome. He was aware that George was a Christian but underestimated George's allegiance to his faith. Eventually, George was promoted to the rank of Tribunus and set upon a career that would likely end up with him in a powerful political position within the Roman empire. Further, he served as one of the Emperor's personal guards and soldiers--living into Geronzio's favor with Diocletian. While in this position he had many opportunities to use his wealth and influence to better the lives of those with whom he came into contact. At one point he arrived in a village of non-Christians who had taken to a bloodthirsty ritual of human sacrifice. They would cast lots and the young woman who was indicated by the lots would be sacrificed to appease the dark god they feared. When George arrived he was stricken at the ruthlessness of such a ritual and stopped them in the midst of their ceremony of slaughter. He spoke at length with not only the leaders but the assembled crowds and told a story of a God who did not demand blood and death but had, instead, given blood and died so that we might be forgiven. At his words, their hearts turned and they abandoned their ways of death and many came within the fold of the Christian faith. They gave over their allegiance to a slaughtered and risen Lord and gave up faith and hope in slaughter and domination. For this he was labeled a hero because he had slain the dark beast that dwelt within them and brought them into the way of life more abundant and free.

Tragically for both George and Diocletian, Diocletian began to be swayed by Galerius and his own fear of a loss in power. Having heard so many lies about the Christians, Diocletian issued a command throughout the army. All soldiers were to give a sacrifice to the roman gods and values to demonstrate their allegiance and deny any faith in the Christian God. Those who refused were to be executed as Christians and traitors to the Roman army. Diocletian was stuck deciding between his beloved friend George whom he knew as a Christian and the power he hoped to consolidate with this bloody edict. He begged George to renounce his faith and offered him great gifts of land, money, and slaves if he would give his greatest allegiance to Diocletian and Rome. George refused and still Diocletian begged. Diocletian still offered him his most persuasive gifts but George did the incredible by giving away all that he already owned to the poor and to the Church that he had served so eagerly and willingly. He was tortured and finally he was beheaded so that Rome might make a statement about power. Eventually, George was turned over to the executioners with many other Christians for torture and death.However, Rome and Diocletian also made an unintentional statement about the faith of the Christians of whom they made martyrs. George died in good company and died so that others might know there was more to death than a grave and more to life than comfort.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

April 22 - Corrie ten Boom and Family, Friends of Refugees, Opponents of the Nazis, Righteous Among the Nations

When Corrie ten Boom heard the knocking at the door she checked to make sure that the family was ready for her to open it. This was a habit--and a good one--because they never knew who might be standing outside their door in Haarlem, Holland, in the year 1942. The Nazis and their brutal gestapo were always keen on surprise searches and raids. So, a family like Corrie's knew that they should tie down any loose ends--or visible refugees--before they opened the door. The challenge was, of course, making sure that there wasn't much hesitation in answering the door, however, because the Nazis were always looking for an excuse to rationalize their violating searches. Casting glances around her--while her family did the same--she decided that they were ready for whoever might be on the other side of the door. As the door swung open and obscured her view she readied herself to be courageous and to stand by her faith regardless of who waited for her on the threshold. As her expectation turned to vision, she was glad to see a finely dressed woman in traveling clothes with a briefcase. She didn't need the woman to tell her what she was there for but she knew it was important to the woman to say. The woman told Corrie that she was a Jew--quietly so that any nearby informants might not have cause to run to the Nazis--and that her husband had been arrested by the Nazis. After finding a hiding place for their son she had left the watchful eye of her city's predators and arrived at the house of Corrie and her family seeking refuge and a sanctuary. Corrie led her inside without a moment's hesitation.

Corrie and her family were committed to offering a haven of protection for those that the State despised and abused. They had given refuge to Jews and members of the Dutch resistance for over two years by the point that the young woman arrived on their doorstep. They had a special place in their home--a small room accessed in Corrie's closet--where those that the Nazis pursued could hide when they inevitably came looking. Otherwise, they were the honored guests of Corrie and her family. They observed the Sabbath with their guests and kept their kitchen kosher so that they might not present any problem to those the world called refugees and they called brothers and sisters. Their Christian convictions led them to understand the Jews as their kin and family--the chosen people of God to whom they had been joined by their faith. However, as this heroic work continued they were presented with a challenge. The members of Corrie's family each had a ration card but none of the Jews were ever given ration cards. This meant that they had a limited amount of food for an increasing number of people. They shared what they had but it wasn't enough.

Corrie, who was known to say not only "Let God's promises shine on your problems" but, also, "Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God" went at night to a man who was a government employee and was connected to the ration cards. Corrie had once cared for this man's mentally handicapped daughter and had even run a special Church service for the girl and others like her. She had shown love and kindness to another of those whom the world avoids and fears and in doing had shown God to the girl and her mother and father. She knocked on his door and began to tell her story but eventually he cut her off because he knew what she must be preparing to ask him for. He asked her how many cards she needed. She had been planning on asking for five because that would have made the situation at home much easier. But, then when she went to say how many she needed she realized that she had an opportunity to expand her family's ability to protect those they loved. She asked for one hundred and received the man's help with some hesitation.

Eventually, their goodness became public knowledge and shortly thereafter a Dutch informant sold them out to the Nazis. The Nazis raided the house and took the family captive along with all their beloved guests. Corrie and her family were sent to Scheveningen prison for their efforts and her already ailing father died only ten days into his captivity. Corrie's nephew, brother, and younger sister were all released after some time in prison but Corrie and her older sister were transferred first to Vught concentration camp and finally to Ravensbruck. Corrie's older sister died at Ravensbruck but, perhaps sensing Corrie's growing desperation, she told her: "There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still." Inspired by her sister's faith, she continued offering comfort and solace to those she was captive with until she was released--because of a clerical error--on Christmas Day in the year 1944. They had not meant to release her but they did and so she was spared the death that was scheduled for her in a week's time.

Perhaps the most shocking moment, though, came two years later when she was in Germany and brought face to face with one of the guards from Ravensbruck. She was immediately furious with him but this would not last. Instead, she reminded herself of her call to love and forgive even her enemies and that "Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart." She forgave the man and held his hands and prayed for him. She would look back at this event for the remainder of her career as a speaker and storyteller as the one moment when she most felt the love of God surging through her. In that moment, she had slipped the bonds of broken sinfulness and attained to the great calling that Jesus had placed upon her life: to redeem a broken and sinful world by laying down herself and loving others.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

April 21 - Anselm of Canterbury, Theologian, Archbishop, Doctor of the Church

Anselm's home life was troubled when he was a little boy. His mother--Ermenberga--took the role of educator and spiritual director for Anselm and guided him on the path that led to being a disciple of her Lord Jesus. From his mother, Anselm learned the power of obedience and the high calling that God has placed upon his life. Consequently, Anselm also learned the gravity of his own sin and the frustration of his own brokenness from his dear mother. However, his father--Gundulph--owned much property and felt the weight and burden of noble birth and blood. Much had been given to Gundulph by the powers of this world and so much more was expected of him. Gundulph expected his son Anselm to help him bear these burdens of affluence and become more like himself and less like the heroes of the faith his wife taught. Anselm was less impressed by his father's view of things but he was captivated by a vision born to him from his mother: serving God as a monk. When he expressed this desire to his father, Gundulph was adamant that this could not be the place where his son would end up. He forbade his son to go and Anselm was heartbroken at his father's refusal.

Anselm's thoughts soon turned to others matters because his dream had been crushed by his father. He felt a distinct calling to go and to be what it was that God willed but he also felt obligated to honor his father even when his father didn't have his best interests in mind. Perhaps he still held out hope for a change in his father's mind or perhaps his mother advised him to continue growing spiritually where he was until God opened a door for him to go elsewhere and serve God. Regardless, he gave up his studies and became a man of leisure. This must have simultaneously comforted and frustrated Gundulph who was happy still to have his son nearby to work and be groomed for his own burdens but distressed that his son seemed given to either a monastic life or a life of nothing of consequence. Gundulph had got what he wanted but it tasted bitter once he had it. Some years later--years full of Anselm's uninterested participation in Gundulph's dreams--Ermenberga died and both father and son were cut deeply by the loss. Without Ermenberga, Anselm found it hard to continue to relate to his father and Gundulph could find no way back to reconciliation with his son. Gundulph became more unbearable at home and began lashing out at Anselm. Eventually, Anselm left home and traveled West through the Alps before arriving at a monastery in France. He became a monk over a decade after his first calling and attempt.

Eventually, he would become abbot of his community and begin to take positions of leadership within the Church. His highest position would be becoming the Archbishop of Canterbury and regularly wrestling the English authorities for control of the Church. Wherever he served and worked became a place of education and spiritual formation. Many of his writings have survived to this day and are read widely by those interested in what became known as Scholastic theology. Anselm's writings possessed a character of a hopeful seeker of truth who found that understanding and knowledge could only be found through the lens and filter of faith. In his writings he advanced many theological positions including a detailed understanding of the doctrines of substitutionary atonement in his work entitled Cur Deus Homo ("Why God Became Human"). Though he is best known as an author, theologian, and archbishop it should not be forgotten that he was also one of the earliest opponents of the atrocities that would be called "The Crusades." He took criticism for this stance but he maintained anyway. He died on this day 900 years ago and has been considered a "Doctor of the Church" for nearly 289 years.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

April 20 - Justin Martyr, Martyr, Apologist, "Samaritan"

Justin Martyr was born in a place known as Flavia Neapolis some 70 miles away from Jerusalem. But he was thoroughly influenced by the Greeks and Romans in his birth, childhood, and upbringing. Evidently his family was of some influence and considerable wealth because he had the relative luxury of an education in a time when education was a nice thing largely available only to the wealthy and powerful. He excelled in his studies and moved on to study philosophy in an anxious pursuit of wisdom and truth. He professed to be a lover of wisdom but at times it must have been easier to believe he was a lover of the comfort and security that money and education afforded him. Justin sought truth but found it nowhere that he looked until a Christian--one of those that Rome abhorred and detested--began to speak with him about the faith that he or she professed. Justin asked his questions and wondered openly if it might not be the case that this Jesus was right when he claimed to be "The Truth." As he studied the faith of the Christians more and more he found himself falling further and further into the grips of a faith that enlivened and comforted him in ways that influence, money, and acclaim could not. Soon, he became a convert and made it well known to his colleagues, peers, and students that he was no longer on a philosophical quest to find truth because he had met "The Truth."

He identified himself in his numerous writings as a Samaritan even though he was most definitely a Roman citizen and he had been raised to serve and follow the gods of his father and his father's father. Perhaps he identified himself as a Samaritan because he knew that in his faith he was the unlikely heir of the covenant promised to Abraham and others. He knew that he had been grafted into a story that was not his own but was, in fact, a story that ended in redemption and resurrection. Thus, he was an outsider who had been loved and cared for by Jesus and and he was an outsider that was on the route that led to salvation and healing. Or, perhaps, he identified himself as a Samaritan because he longed to live into the role of the Good Samaritan that Jesus had talked about. Perhaps Justin hoped to go where others refused to go to be with those the world rejected so that he might find Christ among the stranger and refugee. Regardless, he continued living a life of a philosopher and rhetorician but his speech turned to a testimony of what God had done in Jesus and what God wanted to do in the lives of those who heard Justin's words.

Given the incredible position that Justin had within Roman society he began to deliver the Gospel to ears that might never have heard it. He argued that while Rome was killing Christians it was missing the point and pronouncing Christians evil while being seduced to do so by evil itself. He insisted that Christians were not evil and were, in fact, following after "The Truth" even while others failed to see it. Eventually he was arrested for having the audacity to say such things as: "We pray for our enemies; we seek to persuade those who hate us without cause to live conformably to the goodly precepts of Christ, that they may become partakers with us of the joyful hope of blessings from God, the Lord of all." and "Wherein is it possible for us, wicked and impious creatures, to be justified, except in the only Son of God? O sweet reconciliation! O untraceable ministry! O unlooked-for blessing! that the wickedness of many should be hidden in one godly and righteous man, and the righteousness of one justify a host of sinners!"

Finally, those whom he preached to brought him to trial with other soon-to-be martyrs. The prefect said to them, "Sacrifice to the gods or you will be mercilessly tortured."

Justin replied, "Nobody in their right mind would give up faith for apostasy and your merciless torture is what we desire because it leads to our salvation and gives us confidence to face a greater trial--the judgment to which all men will come before our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Then he joined with the others to be martyrs and invited the Romans to do whatever it was that they desired since they professed the Christian faith and refused to become apostates and sacrifice to the idols. So, they were tortured mercilessly and finally beheaded as an example to the Roman citizens of how evil the Christians were and how good the Romans were.

Monday, April 19, 2010

April 19 - Alphege of Canterbury, Martyr, Peacemaker, Refused to be Ransomed

Alphege had known from a very early age what he wanted to do; he wanted to take vows and become a monk. So, at the earliest possible date for Alphege to make this commitment he applied and became a monk at Deerhurst. He proved not only his commitment but devotion to his calling and soon was transferred to Bath. At Bath he continued to demonstrate his devotion and eventually became the abbot of the community at Bath. In many ways he had been a spiritual leader among them for many years--leading them to take better care of the poor and practice compassion more intently--but his elevation to the role of abbot made the leadership official. His leadership and compassion had attracted the attention of the Archbishop of Canterbury and after years of service at Bath he was called to become the Bishop of Winchester at the age of thirty so that he could further serve the Church he loved.

He served as Bishop of Winchester for ten years of relative peace before a fateful day in the year 994 when the Danish vikings landed on the coastline of England and began rampaging through the nearby villages. They slaughtered and pillaged the Britons they encountered and eventually an envoy of ministers was sent by the Archbishop to negotiate a peace. Alphege was one of the men sent to speak with the leader of the vikings: Anlaf. A deal was brokered thanks to Alphege's willingness to relate to Anlaf. The group had purchased peace from Anlaf's raids with a regular tribute payment. Further, Anlaf agreed to listen to Alphege's preaching and was soon converted to the Christian way. It's hard to say whether or not Anlaf's conversion was solely because of its political expediency or because of an inner conviction but regardless of Anlaf's intentions it points to Alphege's willingness to relate and commune even with his enemies. After his great success and the death of the Archbishop, Alphege was elevated to the role of Archbishop of Canterbury. He went to Rome to receive this position and its symbols.

When he returned to England he was shocked to see viking raiders pillaging the Canterbury cathedral. These were not Anlaf's vikings--at least Anlaf was not there--so there was no treaty between them and the British people. These vikings were seeking a similar tribute as to what Anlaf had received and also copious amounts of ransom money. They captured Alphege and forced him to watch the burning of the cathedral and the brutal murder of many monks and priests. Finally, they let him know that he would be their prisoner until somebody paid them a ransom of 3,000 pounds of gold. He was an important figure and it was possible that his name could have fetched such a huge ransom but Alphege refused to be ransomed. He informed the vikings that he would not pay it or solicit anybody else to pay it because if it were paid by the government then it would come out of the hands of the poor. Alphege was unwilling to hurt the people he loved so that he might be given his life back. So, they beat him savagely and then busted his head open with the back of an axe. He was the first Archbishop of Canterbury to by martyred.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

April 18 - Apollonius of Rome, Martyr, Apologist, Not Afraid to Die

Apollonius had spent years in study and was strikingly familiar with the major philosophers and schools of thought in the second century Roman empire. He had converted to Christianity because of the witness and testimonies of the early Church members but had continued to study the beliefs and convictions of those he had left behind and hoped to bring to faith with himself. He was a Roman senator and knew that his power brought a modicum of protection with it. He knew that there was a law against being a Christian but he knew two other things, as well: 1) the Roman rulers would not simply betray him without cause, and 2) he was called to share the grace and love that he had freely received. Eventually, one of his slaves betrayed him as a Christian to a praetorian prefect by the name of Perennis. It's likely that Perennis and others knew but they were turning a blind eye to Apollonius' faith because they had no desire to enforce the law upon their friend and respected colleague--they were comfortable enforcing the law upon "the little people" who didn't matter but feared what might happen if the laws were enforced fairly and equitably. So, Perennis had Apollonius arrested so that he might come to trial. He also had the slave's legs crushed as punishment for forcing the hand of the Empire.

As Perennis brought Apollonius to his trials he pleaded with him to renounce his faith--even if he "didn't mean it"--because those in power were all too willing to find him not guilty of the crime. He reminded Apollonius that the punishment for being a Christian was death and insisted that the right course of action for a senator like Apollonius was to renounce his faith and maintain his influence and power in the world. When Apollonius refused to apostatize before the court he was given over to the senate of which he was a member to be tried by his peers and--hopefully--dissuaded from his faith. This was the moment that Apollonius had been counting on and so he shared his faith with the whole senate. He knew they would give him a charitable ear because of their respect for him and that his arguments--well crafted by many years of education and the passion he now felt for life and truth because of his faith--would be heard without interruption. He ended his great testimony by praying, "O Lord Jesus Christ, give us a bit of your spirit so that we might be helped to obey your teachings to: make peace over anger, join in pity with others and for others, temper our desires, always increase in love, put away our sorrow, cast aside our foolish pride, not love vengeance, and not fear death. Help us to trust our spirit to God the Father who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit now and forever." Perennis couldn't understand why Apollonius wasn't taking the easy and reasonable way out of death and yelled at him, "Are you determined to die today?"

Apollonius responded, "Oh no." He continued, "I very much enjoy life but my love of life does not make me afraid to lose it. There's something better waiting for me: eternal life! There is something better given to the person who has lived well on earth." He admonished the listening crowd to cast aside their pride and self-obsession but they were unwilling to pay the price of faith. He was convicted for his crime not because the senate was willing to convict one of its own but because he was unwilling even to pretend not to trust God. For his crime his legs were crushed and he was decapitated. He died a martyr who had been given a rare chance to preach the Gospel to his executioners.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

April 17 - Kateri Tekakwitha, Orphan, Persecuted by Both Sides, Lily Among the Mohawks

Kateri Tekakwitha had two parents and an older brother. All of them were part of the Mohawk people who lived in the northeastern parts of what is now known as North America. Her father was a Mohawk warrior and leader while her mother was ethnically Algonquin but she had been raised by French settlers and had been taught the Christian faith. She was captured by the Mohawk and became the wife of one of their men (the man who would be Kateri's father). Three years later she had given birth to a son and a newborn daughter. Her faith was tolerated as long as she kept it to herself but she seemed incapable of that task and shared it with both of her children as best as she knew how. When Kateri was only four years old an outbreak of small pox swept through her village. There seemed to be no escape from the contagion and, when it finally faded, little Kateri was the only one of her family who had survived it. In the aftermath she discovered that she had been left with a remembrance of this awful time: disfiguring facial scars. She was adopted by an uncle and two aunts in the village but her life was forever changed by this horrific outbreak.

As she grew older, she had no connections to the faith of her mother and knew of the European settlers only as insurgents and usurpers. When Kateri was only ten years old her village was raided and burned by the French. They came with their weapons and hatred and left a swath of destruction in their wake. Furthermore, these soldiers were accompanied by priests who seemed no more merciful or kind than the one who wielded the weapons. Kateri had every reason to distrust and despise the people who came bringing death and suffering in the name of Jesus but for some blessed reason she was able to look beyond their poor example and see the Lord they were unable faithfully to represent. When missionaries visited the new villages they were met with understandable and justifiable hostility. It turns out that you can't proclaim grace and love to a people whose neck you step on. Kateri, however, couldn't escape the feeling that God was calling to her and so she made a leap of faith that the God they claimed to follow did not guide them to do their evils. She met in secret with a priest, converted, and was baptized. For this conversion and baptism she was labeled a problem by her people and persecuted viciously. By taking up the cross of Jesus, she became an enemy both to her people and her people's enemies.

She tried to show her people the Christ that the Christians were obscuring but their evils had darkened the view for all who would find the one who offers life more abundant and free--the one who died on a cross for all peoples. Most of the Mohawk were resistant to listening to Kateri and the persecution only continued. Eventually--after many threats and a few attempts to take her life--she was forced to flee and find refuge elsewhere. She escaped at night and traveled with a few other young Christian Mohawks to Sault-Sainte-Marie where other Christian natives were living in community. She devoted herself to a life of prayer and took a personal vow of chastity so that she might further devote herself to the Lord she had found in spite of all the odds. At one time she wanted to start a convent of native Christian women but this did not happen before she died at the age of twenty-four. Her last words were a testament of love for her Savior: "Jesus, I love you!" She died an inspiration to those who knew her. She had been willing to give up anything and everything to follow after a foreign Lord who was not well-represented but who had called her anyway.

Friday, April 16, 2010

April 16 - Benedict Joseph Labre, Beggar, Unsuitable for Communal Life, Fool for Christ

Benedict Joseph Labre was the oldest child of a wealthy and successful business man in northern France but he didn't feel a calling to a life of comfort and prosperity as the caretaker of his father's business. Instead, he felt called to an oddity--an abnormal life of special penance--and struggled to explain it to those he loved and who loved him. He left his fourteen brothers and sisters at the age of sixteen to find a place in a local monastery so that he might expand upon his regular confession and penance with vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity. First, he was rejected from the order of the Trappists and labeled "unsuitable for communal life" because of his incredible zeal for penance and reformation of self. He then applied to the order of the Carthusians but was rejected for the same reasons. Finally, he was rejected from the Cistercians for precisely the same rationale. It seems that each of the orders found him to be excessively solitary and doubted his ability to adhere to a vow of obedience in a communal life. So, Benedict had nowhere to go to become a monk. So, instead, he became a holy fool.

Benedict gave away all of his possessions and decided to go on a continual pilgrimage to the holy places of his Faith. Though he never traveled to Israel, he did make pilgrimage to the western cities of spiritual and ecclesial significance. Additionally, and most peculiarly, he made his pilgrimage on foot with no possessions and no plans. He traveled first to Rome and found the journey challenging but formative. He had no food except that which was given to him and he had nowhere to sleep except the open places of the fields and an occasional corner of a room from a caring family or congregation. He was a beggar by choice and by calling. His begging helped remind the communities he encountered of their strict calling. He was no monk and yet he lived a life of devotion and service--this kind of commitment shocked those who saw him and must have made them rethink their own lives. Having no possessions, he had nothing to lose and so he reminded the Church of its early years and its essential commitments. He talked very rarely and prayed almost constantly and thereby called the Church back to attentive listening to God and away from careless talk and posturing with words.

Over the course of his life--and his unending pilgrimage--he traveled to Loreto, Bari, Einsiedeln, Paray-le-Monial, Assisi, Compostela, and Naples. That is to say he traveled through Italy, France, Spain, and Switzerland in his many and constant travels. In fact, as he traveled, his life became nothing more than one extended pilgrimage which became an example to the Church of the transience of our own place and existence in this world. Those who looked upon Benedict could not help but be reminded that the Christian's first allegiance is to a Kingdom "not of this world" and to a calling that sometimes demands what the world deems irrational. He was rarely fed well enough to fill his stomach--and it's likely he would have refused this comfort anyway--but Benedict was also well known for distributing what the gifts he did receive to the poor he met and loved. He dwelt with the homeless--for he was indeed homeless--and prayed for their healing with regularity. Often, they found it through his prayers and ministry. In Holy Week of 1783, Benedict was in Rome and attending a worship service when he collapsed from hunger and malnutrition. He was carried to one of the Church's hospitals and cared for but he died shortly thereafter from the complications of a self-selected hard life. He was only thirty-five when he died and though he might have been "unsuitable for communal life" he was most definitely suitable for the calling placed upon him by his Lord.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

April 15 - Damien of Moloka'i, Priest, Missionary, Leper

The kingdom of Hawaii had one particular advantage when it came to the spread of disease since they were a chain of islands they were quarantined from the rest of the world. Of course, this boon carried a danger with it: the inhabitants were especially susceptible to infection and disease when ships began bringing more and more merchants to the Hawaiian islands. The influx of commerce and foreign visitors was accompanied by crippling outbreaks of influenza that weakened and killed many. But whereas influenza was a fast killer and survivors were able to develop a fairly sufficient immunity in a little while, there was another disease that proved to be a slow and torturous killer. This killer was "Hansen's Disease" but it is also known as leprosy and those who contracted it were known as lepers. It was hard to hide and soon the king--Kamehameha the Fifth--decided to quarantine those affected to protect the rest of his people. They were forcibly detained and sent to live on the island of Moloka'i at a place called Kalaupapa. Contrary to common assumptions, leprosy does not cause body parts to fall off and isn't especially contagious but it does cause extensive nerve damage and can cause permanent damage to the skin, eyes, and lungs. The other--perhaps intentionally forgotten--damage it does is the relationships it crushes by fear of contagion and threat of quarantine.

Damien de Veuster had been ordained a priest in Belgium but due to the coaxing of his brother he became interested in becoming a missionary. He became determined to travel abroad in service of the Church when it was determined that his brother would be unable to go himself. Damien stepped into the opportunity and was sent to Hawaii shortly before the outbreak of leprosy there. The lepers had been sent to their isolated place and given little in supplies, though, and Damien began to worry for them. They had been given some help in growing their own food--having been fully divorced from their land and people--but this support also proved to be insufficient. They were disconnected from those they loved and made to feel as if the world didn't want to--couldn't afford to--associate with them. There wasn't any semblance of community and the 816 lepers outcast to Moloka'i fended for themselves. Damien couldn't stand their abandonment and petitioned the vicar to be sent to them as their priest. The vicar made sure that Damien knew he was likely signing his own death warrant but Damien insisted and was sent by boat to the people. By becoming one of them, he was effectively exiling himself as he would no longer be able to leave once he lived among them. He went without hesitation for his Lord had called him to take up his cross and follow. In this case, it meant going to Moloka'i.

Damien built a church with the help of the lepers there and organized them into a community around himself. He treated their pains and lesions with his own hands. He conducted services of worship. He heard confessions and gave spiritual direction to the willing. He built furniture and homes. He painted houses to give their place another measure of comfort. He built coffins, dug graves, and performed funerals. In short, he became a devoted member and leader in the community at Moloka'i. Because of his involvement, the people gathered around him and joined together as one people to share in their suffering and carry each other's burdens. Because of his leadership they were able to work together to sow and reap crops each year and sustain themselves in their exile. One night he went to soak his feet in hot water--as he did every night after a hard day's work--and was frightened to find that he could not feel the heat of the water. He had contracted the disease but he kept it as his secret for a little while he worked hard to prepare the citizens of his community to go on without him when he was forced to leave them by death. As he got more and more sick the Church sent three people to take over his duties and one to care for him as he died. They carried on his legacy of love and compassion while he slipped out of this life and into the arms of the Lord who had called him from before time began. Damien died on the fifteenth day of April in the year 1889 after serving the people the world wanted to forget for over sixteen years. He was buried where he belonged: Moloka'i.