Thursday, March 31, 2011

March 31 - Francis Asbury, Missionary, Circuit-Rider, Preacher

Francis was well-acquainted with the highways and byways of the British Colonies in North America. This wasn't because he was native to the land. No, Francis had been born in England--Staffordshire to be precise--to parents who were associated with the fledgling methodist movement within the Church of England. He only moved to the colonies after he had become a minister and accepted a calling and commission to be a missionary there. His familiarity with the many roads and paths in the land that would eventually be called the United States of America was not due to his social status within the territories. He did not simply sit back and look at maps and engage in artful political maneuvers. Throughout his life and ministry he was forever moving and always about the business of God. When he was asked what his approach to ministry was, he said "I'm going to live for God and get others so to do." Instead, Francis' familiarity with the highways and byways of the nation were due to use and due to the many miles he committed into God's hands as he traveled ceaselessly to preach and minister.

Francis wasn't the only methodist minister at work in the colonies but as the altercation that would later be called the "Revolutionary War" began to heat up and spill over into bloodshed, British ministers returned home for fear of reprisals.Francis, however, stayed where he was even as every other methodist minister returned to England. Eventually, he was the only one of his kind in the territory. This added to his workload but did not deter him from his mission. As worldly powers waged war over money, territory, and pride, Francis was proclaiming the Kingdom of God every night and every day as he rode horseback from meeting to meeting.While war was waged with bullets and blades, Francis engaged in spiritual guerrilla tactics in a world that opposed the Gospel he preached and professed. He preached anywhere that could hold the larger and larger crowds that flocked to him and often found himself preaching one of his powerful sermons in a field.

Francis Asbury traveled an average of 6,000 miles a year on horseback to preach and proclaim a faith that had clearly gripped him and motivated him to reach out to a world in need of good news. He was bishop to many ministers and spiritual director to many of the faithful. After his ministry, the number of people who could point to Francis as a spiritual father, guide, or mentor was nearly 214,000. This was up from the 1,200 or so that claimed methodist influence before the war. Methodism had grown in and even found a home on foreign soil. Though Francis had been the only one to stay through the war, there were over 700 ordained methodist ministers in the United States of America when Francis died. Francis Asbury died a leader and bishop of God's people in a land that was not his own by birth or blood but that had been claimed with every fall of his horse's hooves.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

March 30 - The Meeting of Mary and Elizabeth, The First Meeting of Jesus and John the Baptizer

So, all this happened during the time that Herod was ruler of Judea because of Roman allowance. There was a priest named Zechariah who had a wife named Elizabeth (who had priestly ancestors--even Aaron!). These two were righteous before God and followed God's commands. Everything seemed wonderful except they had no children because Elizabeth was barren. What made it worse, though, was that they were getting older and running out of time to conceive.

One day, Zechariah was called to do his duty and be the individual who carried the incense into the Holy of Holies in the Temple. While everybody waited on Zechariah to return from the place where they believed God rested, Zechariah was having an intense conversation with an angel. The angel informed Zechariah that he shouldn't worry about having a child because God had decided to fulfill part of God's plan by giving Zechariah and Elizabeth a baby--a very special son who would be called and appointed to ministry before his birth. He would be the one who prepared people for the coming of the Messiah. The angel insisted that he should be named John. Zechariah struggled to believe it and asked the angel for some proof. The angel identified itself as Gabriel and said it had been sent to share good news but if Zechariah wouldn't trust it, then he'd get his proof.Zechariah lost the ability to speak and when he finally left he had to motion and gesture to make people understand. He returned home a few days later and each day he was confronted by his muteness and consequently the reality of what had happened to him when he encountered God.Elizabeth conceived like they had been told. She rejoiced at her pregnancy.

---

Six months later, Gabriel was sent to a little town of no consequence called Nazareth. There, he met with a virgin named Mary who was engaged to a man named Joseph. He greeted her with joy and said, "Greetings, Mary. You are favored by God to do God's will and even now God is with you." She didn't know how to respond and wondered what Gabriel meant by "...favored by God to do God's will..." Gabriel saw her confusion and continued, "Don't worry, Mary, for you have pleased God with your faith. You will conceive a son and you should name him Jesus. He'll be like nobody before him or after him. He will sit in king David's throne buthis kingdom will have no end."

Mary finally squeaked out a question: "How can this be, since I am a virgin?"

Gabriel responded, without a moments' hesitation--as if he knew she would ask it--by saying, "God will overshadow you and the child will be set apart--special for God's purpose. The boy will be called the Son of God for he will truly be the Son of God." As Mary marveled at this thought, Gabriel continued, "Your relative Elizabeth whom you thought was barren has also conceived a son--a very special one--by God's will. That child's father is Zechariah, though, and not God. So Elizabeth who once was barren will give birth in her advanced age because nothing is an obstacle to God's will.

Then Mary confessed her faith by saying those sweet words: "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." At that, Gabriel departed from her.

---

After all this happened, Mary decided to go and visit Elizabeth. Maybe she was going to confirm what she had been told and now believed. Regardless, when she arrived she entered the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth with a friendly greeting toward Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary's voice, Elizabeth and Zechariah's baby jumped in Elizabeth's womb. In the voice of Mary, John could already hear the sound of salvation and redemption at work. Elizabeth was shocked at the reality of what was going on and was moved by the Holy Spirit to proclaim, "You are blessed among all women, Mary! Your son is most surely blessed, too! What have I done to deserve this great honor--for the mother of my God to come into my home. Mary, as soon as I heard your voice the son I now carry jolted within me because of its joy to be near your child. Mary, you are truly blessed for your faith and trust that God will do for you what God has decided." Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months before returning home. Elizabeth gave birth to her son and they named him John--the one who would be known as "The Baptizer"--at Zechariah's insistence and Zechariah regained his ability to speak. His first words were praise to God who had worked such a wonder in his life and in the lives of those dear to him.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

March 29 - Charles Wesley, Younger Brother of John, Musician, Composer

Charles Wesley was younger than his brother John and followed him in many of his pursuits. Their father had been a priest of the Church of England in the 18th century as England expanded and struggled in colonial America. In many ways, Charles lives in the shadow of his brother John. Both were on the ship that sailed from England to Georgia where they observed the Moravians lack of fear in face of the great storm that assailed the ship. They both were instrumental in forming the group known as the "Oxford Methodists" that included themselves and George Whitefield among others. Both felt called into a ministry that simultaneously emphasized both right teaching and right practice of the Christian faith. Yet, Charles is not remembered with the same academic prestige as his brother John. It's not that Charles was not as gifted a theologian as brother John but, rather, that his theology was set to music.

Charles Wesley's name is repeated time and time again in the average hymnal because he composed and arranged over 6,000 hymns. In these beautiful pieces of music, Charles tugs at the hearts of those who would draw close to God in a moment of worship. Because of his musical gifts and talents, he was able to influence the way people thought by changing the way people sang. In many ways, his hymns are a more subtle theology that teach us not only a faith we know and believe, but also a faith we sing. About his brother's many hymns, John wrote "Ma­ny gen­tle­men have done my bro­ther and me (thoughwith­out nam­ing us) the hon­our to re­print ma­ny of our hymns. Now they are per­fect­ly wel­come to do so, pro­vid­ed they print them just as they are. But I de­sire they would not at­tempt to mend them, for they are real­ly not able." Though this might sound insulting it points to the confidence that John and others had in Charles' gifts--his theology should not be tinkered with by inexpert hands because Charles' compositions were exquisitely crafted pieces inspired by the movement of the Holy Spirit. In other words, Charles' hymns were far more than music.

In spite of the fact that Charles is considered a co-founder of the methodist movement, he never considered himself anything other than Anglican. It was only years after Charles that people truly began to identify themselves primarily as Methodist Christians and not methodist Anglican Christians. In essence, "methodist" was a word that indicated a methodical approach to the faith for Charles. Before he died on the 29th day of March in the year 1788, he called for the rector from the local Anglican church to come and hear him. When the priest arrived, Charles said to him, "Sir, whatever the world may say of me, I have lived, and I die, a member of the Church of England. I pray you to bury me in your churchyard." He died and was carried to his grave by eight members of the Anglican clergy.

Monday, March 28, 2011

March 28 - Maria Skobtsova, Martyr, Twice Divorced, "Righteous Among the Nations"

The woman who would eventually be known as Mother Maria or Maria Skobtsova was born in Latvia and named Elizaveta Pilenko. Elizaveta's family was considered "upper class" in Latvia in the year of 1891. When she was a teenager, tragedy visited her family in the death of her father. She was crushed at this loss and began to doubt the faith she had been taught as a child. Soon, she was an avid proponent of atheism because of a hurt that viciously denied the presence of a loving God. Shortly after the death of her father and Elizaveta's faith, the family moved to St. Petersburg in Russia to hopefully leave behind bad memories and start a new and hopeful life. When she was a almost twenty-years-old--and nearly seven years before the Bolshevik Revolution--she married a man named Dimitri Kuzmin-Karaviev. He was a Bolshevik and heavily involved in the intellectual and revolutionary circles of Russia at the time. The marriage didn't last long (ending approximately three years after it started) but Elizaveta became involved with poetry and literature because of it and gave birth to one child named Gaiana. She began writing her own poetry and this talent would serve to sustain and inspire her for years to come. More than that, though, it helped effect her conversion to the Faith of the Christians. She began writing about the crucifixion and death of Jesus because of its dramatic cultural importance. As she wrote and contemplated that terrible and wonderful moment, she felt her faith rekindled. When she considered that God has not simply left us alone in our suffering but had joined with us in all of it--even the lamenting--she converted.

Following the Bolshevik revolutio in 1917, she became deputy mayor of a small town in Southern Russia. When the imperial army came to take the town back, the mayor fled and Elizaveta became mayor. She was arrested for being a Bolshevik and put on trial but her judge was a teacher she had studied under in years past by the name of Daniel Skobtsova. She was acquited with Daniel's help and they soon fell in love and married. They were forced to flee because of political complications. First they fled to Georgia where she gave birth to a son named Yuri. Second, they fled to Yugoslavia where she gave birth to a daughter named Anastasia. Finally they fled to Paris and found a place to call home for a little while.Elizaveta began studying theology and the faith that now gripped her but this was interrupted when Anastasia died from influenza. Elizaveta's daughter Gaiana was sent to boarding school and the marriage between Elizaveta and Daniel soon broke into pieces. Daniel left Paris with Yuri and Elizaveta further devoted herself to ministry among the poor and outcast. She had now been divorced twice but she eventually agreed to become a nun--at the urging of her bishop--on the condition that she did not want to be isolated from the people she was learning to love. It was she took her vows that Elizaveta became Maria.

Maria's home became a convent of sorts but mostly it was a house for refugees and the poor. She served meals, she provided beds, and she listened to stories of heartbreak and tragedy--in the part of Paris she lived in there were plenty of stories and not nearly enough meals or beds. The Nazis eventually occupied Paris and began rounding up Jews, outcasts, and dissidents to send them to concentration camps. Maria waged a war of mercy against the Nazi efforts to destroy. She convinced sanitation workers to do something revolutionary--they would carry garbage cans out of the city once Jewish children had been secreted in them. This worked for some time but soon her home also became a hiding place for Jews and others the Nazis wanted dead. She and her priest offered baptismal certificates to Jewish children and families so that they could wear the cloak of Jesus even if they were not his disciple--they offered mercy wrapped up in deception. Eventually, Maria was arrested and sent to the concentratio camp at Ravensbruck, Germany. There, she again served as minister to outcasts and those in need. Finally, on Good Friday in 1945, she felt called to lay down her life for another. She was inspired by memory of that terrible and wonderful when Jesus laid down his life for us. She took the place of a Jewish woman on the way to the gas chamber and died that day only a little while before the camp was liberated.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

March 27 - Eckhart von Hochheim, Theologian, Dominican, Mystic

Eckhart von Hochheim--more commonly known now as Meister Eckhart--was unusual for his time but this isn't apparent from his childhood or his education. He was born in Germany in the year 1260. His family was wealthy and considered to be of "noble" blood. Yet, we know very little else about his family. He attended the University of Paris and was raised as a Christian. After receiving some of his extensive education he joined the Dominican Order and committed himself to a life of preaching and teaching. He continued to study and receive academic validation and support from his brothers and sisters in the Faith. Eventually, he was named as a lecturer and teacher of theology in more than one institution. As far as this goes, it seems that he was absolutely typical for an educated man with an affluent background in the 13th and 14th centuries. But, as his name got around and more people were exposed to what he had to say, the commentary became focused on how unusual his sermons were.

Though he wrote in the ecclesial Latin of the day when functioning as a minister, he preached in the native German language of the people. He was unafraid to use their dialect and their words to make his preaching especially relevant to his audience. By casting his words in familiar tones and phrases, he was able to pierce through the silent indifference of many in his audiences. As for the subject of his sermons he seemed to be almost specifically concerned with one particular topic. He wrote, "When I preach, I usually speak of detachment and say that a man should be empty of self and all things; and secondly, that he should be reconstructed in the simple good that God is..." This kind of mystical theology made some of his contemporaries nervous. It was a turbulent time in the life of the Church with the Pope living in France and the continued skirmishes between the Dominicans and Franciscans. So, when his preaching stood out it gathered attention from people who were already on edge and looking for heretics and schismatists.

Eckhart once wrote that "if the only prayer you ever prayed was 'thank you,' it would suffice." This upset people who stood to gain by dictating prayers and processes for encountering God. To boil Faith down to gratitude was unacceptable for Eckhart's opponents. He is reported as insisting: "All God wants of man is a peaceful heart." For those who wanted more than simply peaceful hearts, this was outright heresy even if they wouldn't take the time to consider what Eckhart really meant. He once advised people to "Do exactly what you would do if you felt most secure" because of the power of God's grace and mercy but this made those in power--and those who had bought into the idea of earning grace--uncomfortably. He further drew his opponents' wrath with his contention: "The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won't let go of your life."

Eventually, he was accused of heresy and no matter how many people continued to vouch for him he eventually had to face his accusers. They accused him of heresy and he denied it but finally he agreed to make a conditional statement that disproves all allegations of heresy. He insisted that he didn't think he was wrong but that if he was then he enthusiastically renounced anything he might have erred on in speech or written word. This open and eager admission means that he was not a heretic even if he erred because heresy is an act of the will and not the intellect. He had only about a month after his trial to continue in ministry before dying but he did so as a teacher and preacher of unusual truths in unusual ways. He died secure in the grace that had been given to him by God and died preaching unusual grace to a people trained not to believe it.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

March 26 - Larissa and Companions, Martyrs, Victims of Gothic Persecution, Burned Alive

The Gothic king Athanaric despised the Christians within the territories that he called his own.This was at the same time that Christians were despised and persecuted in Roman territories, as well. In this case, the enemy of Athanaric's enemy was not his friend. He was admittedly surprised with the incredible speed at which Christianity grew within his people--it seemed that the faith the Christians professed was infectious and subtle in its transmission. The Christian faith was able to grip hearts and bring peace when Athanaric found he could only command and threaten.Further, Athanaric was well aware that his military goals could be compromised by split loyalties among his people. So, he devised a plan to eliminate these split loyalties and draw his people together around a god he could easily control and manipulate.

The Gothic Christians met for their worship in tents in the countryside. They weren't meeting in secret but they were meeting far enough away from those with power to make an attack relatively implausible.Yet, they were gathering attention from non-Christians and conversions were happening at a quicker and quicker pace. As they met in their tents they would tell stories of brothers and sisters who had been arrested under some pretense and executed without a trial or with only the illusion of a trial. They spoke to each other prophetically about how it seemed that Athanaric and his people were less concerned with justice than they were with the execution of power and control. Yet, even as their numbers were being thinned by Imperial calculation, they continued to meet and converts continued to stream to the tents and ask how they, too, might becomes a disciple of the Risen Lord.

Under Athanaric's command a stone statue of one of his preferred deities--an idol--was loaded onto a chariot and accompanied to the meetings of the Christians with a compliment of soldiers. When they arrived at each tent--each place of worship--they drew their swords and interrupted the Christian worship. They demanded that the Christians come out and worship what the Goths deemed worthy of adoration. Some would indubitably come out and prostrate themselves before Gothic power but others remained in the tent--even going so far as to continue worshipping and ignoring the demands of their oppressors. The soldiers lit their torches and gave the Christians one more chance. When they were at Larissa's tent she continued to ignore their demands because her allegiance was to a Kingdom not of this world.So, the soldiers lit the tents on fire and refused to let anybody escape who would not worship the Gothic powers. Larissa led her brothers and sisters in singing a hymn as the fire consumed them and made them martyrs. As they were dying, a non-Christian man shrieked out his confession of faith while sprinting to the tent. Before any of the soldiers could stop him, he leaped into the flames and joined the smoky worship service. He had become a Christian only moments before his death but he was numbered with the 308 faithful Christian brothers and sisters who died because of Athanaric's calculated evil.

Friday, March 25, 2011

March 25 - Dismas, Guilty Criminal, Victim of Capital Punishment, Good

When Jesus was crucified he was not crucified alone. In fact, he received Rome's great humiliation between two people that Rome esteemed equally well: Dismas and Gestas. Dismas and Gestas had committed an offense against Rome that Rome refused to tolerate--they had suggested that Rome was less than holy and may have even gone so far as to try to incite rebellion. When they all came to the place that is called "the Skull", they crucified Jesus there with Dismas and Gestas--Gestas on his left side and Dismas on his right. Rome had lifted the three men up and "exalted" them so that they might mock them even in death. Crucifixion was Rome's cruel way of punishing those who "got above their station." In Rome's eyes what they were doing was poetically appropriate: they were lifting up people who had tried to lift themselves up above Rome.

After the soldiers had finished the task of abusing and stripping the men they took their clothing and cast lots for it. Jesus had offered forgiveness for those who were present for this atrocity but it seems that few understood how a crucified man could offer forgiveness to his captors--they didn't get it. A great crowd watched the men as they slowly died and one of the more vocal members of the crowd had the gall to cry out, "He's done so much for other people, right? Well, let him save himself if he really is the Messiah!" Jesus offered no response except silent love and yet more forgiveness. All the while, Dismas and Gestas looked on and began to realize they were playing minor parts in this spectacle but that their parts would be sufficient enough to result in their own deaths, as well. Over Jesus' head was a piece of wood inscribed with a sentence: "This one is the King of the Jews!" Oh how they must have laughed at that clever joke to see a naked and bleeding man proclaimed king even as he died at the hands of Rome.

Finally, Gestas could take no more and turned to Jesus and cried, "So they say you're the Messiah, right? So save yourself and us! Do something besides forgive these Roman pigs." At Gestas' words, though, Dismas could put up with the mockery and abuse no longer.

He yelled back, "What's the matter with you? Don't you fear God? Or have you forgotten that you're part of this crucifixion, too? We deserve what we're getting--we've earned every bit of it. But, this man doesn't deserve it. He doesn't deserve any of this but he handles it better than either of us." He shook his head at how much Gestas was missing the point. "Jesus," he cried, "remember me when your Kingdom finally comes." In that moment, redemption was born in the heart of Dismas as he recognized his own brokenness and the imminent advent of Jesus' kingdom. Whereas the powers had missed it and even his fellow criminal Gestas had missed it,Dismas got it. In that moment, he placed his entire trust and faith in a fellow victim of Rome's method of winning hearts and souls.

Jesus turned to him and pronounced sweet words when he said, "I tell you the truth when i say today you will be with me in Paradise." Soon, all three of the men became victims of coldly calculated death. Jesus would rise again having overcome both sin and death and Dismas would find rest in God through Christ.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

March 24 - Oscar Romero, Martyr, Friend of the Poor, Enemy of the State

Oscar Romero spent most of his free time around the Church when he was a little boy. Sure, he was active among his friends and did all the things that little Salvadoran boys did but when he had a stretch of free time you were likely to find him down at one of the local church buildings. He had been raised in a Christian family--son to Santos Romero and Guadalupe de Jésus Galdámez--and received a limited education. His limited education was not because of lack of intelligence or priorities but because of a relative lack of need for education within El Salvador in the early twentieth century. Oscar's school, for example, only offered three years of education for its students. After that, a student would need to receive private tutoring if they were going to received further education.So, for the Salvadorans it was better to learn a skill or a trade than to receive an education and so Oscar learned carpentry from his father. Oscar showed some talent at carpentry but it did not prove to be the calling that was first and foremost upon his life. He did have receive private tutoring but academia was also not his primary calling. Instead, he became a priest in 1942 and answered to a calling that had been brewing in his young mind on those lazy afternoons when he was likely to be found around the Church and its ministers.

Oscar's ordination took place in Rome and he stayed a little while longer to continue his studies in theology. In 1943, however, things were becoming increasingly tense on the geopolitical scale and Oscar was summoned to return to El Salvador. When he finally made it home--he was held and detained occasionally because of his presence in Mussolini's Italy during World War II--he began to serve the Church as best he knew how. Eventually, this entailed becoming bishop and even archbishop in El Salvador. His appointment to these positions of power was not always well received because he was not fully invested in the liberation theology that was so popular in El Salvador at the time. Further, he seemed to have no Marxist leanings and Marxism was becoming more and more popular with the less politically conservative members of the priesthood in Latin America. Everything changed, though, when Oscar's friend Rutilio Grande was assassinated for advocating for the poor and politically undesirable.

Oscar had been a friend of the poor for years but not the extent of Rutilio. With the deafening thunder of the machine guns that made a martyr of Rutilio, Oscar was awakened to the incredible struggle that was already going on in El Salvador. He would later explain that Rutilio's death impressed upon him that Rutilio's cause had been good and just. In other words, the martyrdom of Rutilio Grande convinced Oscar Romero that the poor and disenfranchised were worth dying for. As archbishop, he was called to shepherd the People of God and care for its ministers. When Oscar realized that both were being killed, he said,"When the church hearts the cry of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that give rise to and perpetuate the misery from which the cry arises." He wrote letters to Jimmy Carter--the President of the United States of America--asking that the United States stop sending money to the Salvadoran government because of the injustice that was being perpetrated with those funds. As he further invested himself in the life of the people he began to be questioned about why he would agree to do this since it likely meant he was signing his own death warrant. He responded, "I am bound, as a pastor, by divine command to give my life for those whom I love, and that is all Salvadorans, even those who are going to kill me."

In 1980, he was officiating the Mass at a chapel and knew he was woefully under protected according to the security expectations of world leaders. Yet, he understood his calling to be a matter of commitment regardless of danger or potential cost. Just a few days before, he had told a reporter what it was he wanted to say to any who might be planning on killing him: "You can tell the people that if they succeed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish." As he lifted the bread during the Eucharist the doors at the back of the chapel were flung open and gunfire was heard. A single bullet hit Oscar in the heart as he lifted the bread above his head and spoke of a God who loved the world--the poor and the rich, the powerful and the hopeless--enough to die for it. He had been executed by one of the governing body's death squads. At his funeral, they threw bombs into the crowd--numbering nearly 250,000--and snipers fired into the panicked masses. The struggle was not over but Oscar had played his part well and with passion. He died a martyr and drew the attention of world leaders who began to suspect that something wasn't right in El Salvador. He purchased this attention with his blood.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March 23 - Peter O'Higgins, Martyr, Lifesaver, Thought Criminal

William Pilsworth was the vicar of the Church of Ireland in Donadea and had given room and board to Roman Catholic friars even though they disagreed on some theological matters. In 1641, there was a rebellion on Ireland and many fled the countryside to find refuge in Dublin. William was one of the last to do so and was detained by the rebel army outside of Dublin. When they searched his things they found a letter from a brother-in-law who asked William to kill a rebel and bring the head with him so that their family might purchase security from the powerful by spilling the blood of the hated. Though William had done no such thing and had no plans to do so, he was given a political choice: attend a Roman Catholic mass as an ally or die as an enemy.He refused to be manipulated and so he was marched to the gallows. Before the trapdoor released and William could plunge to his death, a Roman Catholic priest by the name of Peter O'Higgins intervened. Peter had never met William and knew nothing of him but gave a detailed and impassioned speech insisting that this execution would be an unholy and reprehensible act. Having been chastised by Peter O'Higgins, William's captors released him.

The protestant government soon cracked down on the rebellion and moved into the area with speed and vicious efficiency. Peter remained in his parish even though he had been advised to flee the expected vengeance against Roman Catholics in the area. He was arrested and turned over to the military powers. The commander of the force, a man by the name of Ormonde, handed him on down the line to a lesser officer but expected that the Peter--a Dominican priest--would find mercy from those in whose hands he found himself.Almost twenty protestant clergymen wrote letters begging mercy and leniency for Peter but these appear to be ignored. He was beaten, abused, tortured, and finally marched to the gallows to die. He was accused of trying to convinced protestants to give up their protest but could only be found guilty of simply being Roman Catholic.When he stood on the gallows, he was presented with two pieces of paper: one was a warrant for his execution and the other was a pardon to be given to him on the condition that he recanted his faith.He had requested that the pardon be printed up for him to consider upon the gallows and his accusers had complied.

The assembled crowd looked on as Peter considered both documents. They couldn't decide what they wanted more: to see the priest die or to see the priest sacrifice his faith for his life. They had long ago left behind devotion to the one who was the Bread of Life. He picked up the pardon and some in the crowd were excited as they imagined he would now recant his position and join with the protestants. Instead, he spoke loudly and for all to hear: "For some time I was in doubt as t the charge on which they would ground my condemnation; but, thanks to heaven, it is no longer so; and I am about to die for my attachment to the catholic faith. See you here the condition on which I might save my life? Apostasy is all they require; but, before high heaven, I spurn their offers, and with my last breath will glorify God for the honor he has done me, in allowing me thus to suffer for his name." With these words, he threw the pardon to the dirt below the gallows. The trapdoor was released and he was hung for refusing to give up on his faith--the faith that this accusers claimed but had long ago forgotten. This was not a protestant or Roman Catholic faith alone; it was a faith that transcended political labels and rested solely in devotion to Jesus. As he slowly died at the end of the rope--and even as they were preparing to kill Peter--William Pilsworth stood at his feet repeatedly yelling: "This man is innocent! He saved my life!” Peter O'Higgins died on the 23rd day of March in the year 1642.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

March 22 - Jonathan Edwards, Preacher, Theologian, Leader in the Great Awakening

Jonathan Edwards had seen something and in the seeing he had lost the happy ability to avoid its truth for the rest of his life. While serving as a minister, he had become aware of a startling truth that rattled his soul and demanded proclamation. At first, he struggled with the idea and the calling and described the idea as "horrible." Jonathan had realized that the people he interacted with on a day to day basis were walking in the valley of the shadow of death. They couldn't see it but there was a sword hanging over each and every one of their heads. Jonathan became overwhelmed by the ease of the path of sin and destruction but had been startled to find out that even he himself was regularly choosing the path of sin and death. Of course, this was not often a conscious or informed decision. Instead, it was found in the everyday, little decisions. In each little decision was the seed of redemption or the choice of destruction. Once he had seen this reality, he couldn't believe that others were failing to see it. So, he decided he would spend the rest of his life trying to wake people up.

On the 8th day of July, in the year 1741, Jonathan preached a sermon that would become linked with his name through the ages. It was in Connecticut that he preached this sermon entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Though the modern reader is likely to recoil at the shocking imagery that Jonathan selects it must be remembered that this was Jonathan's goal--not to persuade people to give the Christian faith a chance but to wake them up to the state of their soul and the impact that all the little things had on their lives. Though this sermon is often portrayed as nothing but "fire and brimstone" it's not entirely fair to focus on the hellish imagery when Jonathan's express purpose was to highlight God's mercy in the face of our continued practice of choosing the things that were and are destroying us. Again and again he repeated "There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God." Jonathan wanted to highlight that our condemnation was not something heaped upon us but, rather, something that we've freely chosen and definitively deserve. Justice decreed consequences for choices and yet we seemed to miss that point. He preached, "The sword of divine justice if every moment brandished over their heads, and it is nothing but the hand of arbitrary mercy, and God's mere will, that holds it back."

In response to Jonathan's (and others') work and preaching, people in the colonies began experiencing a revival that would later be termed the "Great Awakening." Further, he endeavored to challenge the people of the colonies not simply to be Christian in name but Christian in thought and deed, as well. Though many fainted, swooned, and had emotional reactions to his sermons, he did not let this go to his head. Instead, he wrote at length about the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church.He concluded that the movement of the Holy Spirit was often occasioned by emotional reactions but that these reactions themselves were not sufficient evidence to confirm the presence of the Holy Spirit in the meeting. Near the end of his life, he struggled with the politics of a local congregation and eventually his position was terminated by the congregation he served. In 1757, he went on to become the acting President of the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton University). As part of his position there he was inoculated against smallpox. He did not survive the inoculation and died on the 22nd day of March in the year 1758.

Monday, March 21, 2011

March 21 - Nicodemus, Pharisee, Member of the Sanhedrin, Convert

There was a man named Nicodemus. He was a pharisee and a leader among the Jews in Jerusalem. Under the cover of night--and with his face concealed--he approached Jesus to have a conversation but he did it at night so that he might not be accused of associating with the man that had become such a controversy. He started by speaking well of Jesus and saying, "Teacher, we know that you have come from God and you seem to get it. After all, nobody could do the wonders you do apart from God."

Jesus responded quickly in a way that perplexed Nicodemus. He said, "You're right. Further, let me assure you that nobody can see the Kingdom of God without spiritual birth."

Nicodemus balked at this saying and decided to test Jesus a little further and so he said, "How can an old man be born? Do you expect people to return to their mother and be born again?" By asking this, Nicodemus was attempting to clarify the process that Jesus was talking about.

Jesus answered, "Let me assure you that nobody enters the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. Like comes from like. The flesh gives birth to flesh. The spirit gives birth to spirit. Don't pretend that you're surprised that I said, 'You must be spiritually born.' After all, the wind blows wherever it wants without your input, right? You hear it blowing but you don't know where it's coming from or where it's going. It's the same way with everybody who has experienced spiritual birth."

Perhaps Nicodemus was confused because he asked, "How can this be?"

Jesus chided Nicodemus and asked, "Are you a great teacher and yet you don't get it?" He continued to teach Nicodemus by saying, "So, people talk about what they know and tell stories about what they've seen, right? Yet, you don't accept what we know and have seen. So, if you're not, at least, going to do that then how do you expect me to teach you about spiritual things? After all, nobody has rested fully in the presence of God except the one who came from there--that is to say, except me. And remember how Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness so that those who looked upon it might be healed? Well, I must be lifted up so that whoever believes in me may me healed even more fundamentally--may be healed from death and have eternal life."

While this sank in, Jesus continued, "God loved the world--the same world that has rejected him--so much that God gave God's son so that everybody who trusts in him might not destroy themselves but might have eternal life. Surely, God didn't send the Son into God's beloved creation to punish but so that the whole thing might be fixed. Those who put their trust in the Son won't be punished but--now, pay attention here--those who don't trust are already condemned because they have no room for trust or faith."

While Nicodemus was still reeling from Jesus' insistent statements and wondering where he himself might be in Jesus' dichotomy, Jesus continued, "This is what judgment looks like: light has come into the world but people preferred darkness because it was easier--even if it wasn't good for them. After all, accepting the healing and light means confession of sin and admission of guilt. So, instead of accepting life that begins with pain, they've chosen to continue walking in death. Those who do right and have faith step into the light and they and their actions are clearly seen by God." As Jesus finished saying this, Nicodemus couldn't help but notice how he had come under cover of night and in secret to talk. He had much to think about.

---

Shortly before Jesus' crucifixion, the temple police were sent to arrest Jesus. The temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, "Why didn't you arrest him?"

The police answered, "This is a first! Nobody talks like this guy."

Then the Pharisees replied, "Don't tell me that you have been deceived, too! Has any one with any power believed in him? Any one that matters? But this rabble--these common people who do not know the law--doesn't matter. Now what kind of people are you?"

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, "Does our law judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing? Surely not!"

So there was a trial at Nicodemus' insistence but Jesus was found guilty in a clever and tricky way. Eventually, he was crucified--lifted up so that everybody might look upon him and have a chance at spiritual rebirth--and died.

---

Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, came with Joseph of Arimathea. He brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes that weighed about a hundred pounds. Nicodemus and Joseph took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths. They wrapped him according to the burial custom of the Jewish people. Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. So, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and the tomb was nearby they laid Jesus there.

Some time later, after Jesus was resurrected, Nicodemus was willing to come out into the light a little more and accept the truth that was spoken silently in his heart for some time: this Jesus was God and represented the hope of all creation. He placed his faith and trust in the Risen One and in doing so he became a Christian. He would die as a martyr--unable to stop preaching the good news first given to him under the cover of night--a little while later.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 20 - Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, Monk, Bishop, Hospitable

When Cuthbert was a boy in Northumbria he didn't have a father (since his father had died when Cuthbert was very young) but he did have many friends to spend countless hours with in the countryside. As was and is the case with boys of that age, they spent much of their time competing against each other in games and silly contests. They had footraces and wrestling matches. They goaded each other into doing foolish and silly things. In short, they did the things that boys do in their youth and tell increasingly fantastical stories of for the rest of their lives. One day, however, a boy barely old enough to be out with them and nowhere near old enough to compete or keep up with them approached the boys as Cuthbert held one of his friends down on the ground. The group of boys were excited to watch the wrestling match and were not surprised to see Cuthbert win since he was the best wrestler and most athletic among them. The boy--barely older than a toddler--started crying as he watched Cuthbert wrestle. The other boys were shocked--and to be honest a little embarrassed--at the little one's tears. The boy said, "Cuthbert, stop being so silly and quit goofing around like this." The crowd of boys jeered and laughed at him hoping that this would convince the little one to leave but he continued weeping. Cuthbert's soft heart was stung by this and so he took the boy to the side and tried to soothe him. The boy said, "Cuthbert, showing off like that isn't right for a holy bishop and priest like yourself." As Cuthbert walked home that night, he reflected on the boy's words and wondered if there was a hint of prophecy in them--was he really destined to be a priest and bishop?

Many years later, he was shepherding the flocks of his employer at night. It was the 31st day of August in the year 651 and Cuthbert was resting beneath a tree and looking up at the starry sky in wonder. Again his mind was drifting to questions of "calling" and "destiny" as his colleagues and friends told jokes and stories nearby under another tree. Suddenly, Cuthbert was amazed to see a bright orb descend to earth with piercing clarity. A moment later it rose more slowly while seeming to accompany another flaming orb back to the heavens before disappearing. Immediately, Cuthbert's mind went to angelic visitation and the faith that his widowed mother had given to him. He rushed to ask his friends if they had seen it. He insisted that some great man or woman must have just died and their soul was taken up to heaven by one of God's angels. When he entered the town the next day he asked around and found out that the revered Aidan of Lindisfarne had passed the night before and immediately Cuthbert knew what he had seen--the retrieval of the soul of Aidan. He dropped his shepherd's crook and went to a nearby monastery. Soon thereafter he took vows and became a monk.

As Cuthbert served in the Church he became known for being gentle and hospitable even in the face of strong opposition. When the Synod of Whitby finally concluded that the Celtic churches must come into agreement with the Roman way of things it was Cuthbert that helped broker reconciliation by insisting that unity was more important than marginal disagreement. Through hospitality and furious love, Cuthbert was able to mend the wounds of the Church. Eventually, he became prior of his monastery and he served the Church well by taking care of the monks that he had been entrusted with. At one point he even became a hermit. He lived on an island by himself but was rarely alone due to the constant stream of visitors who came to seek his counsel, blessing, or healing prayers. Cuthbert accepted his visitors with a kind and welcoming heart even as he hoped for a little solitude in which he might worship the God who had called him from a young age to be a servant. Finally, he was called from his island to become bishop and serve the Church by overseeing its monks and ministers. He was reluctant but willing to accept this calling and served in the position capably for many years. At the end of his life a group of monks were sent to the island where he was living to take care of him in his final days. Having known that they were coming, the severely ill Cuthbert had dragged himself down to the beach to greet the men. When asked why he had come so far to greet them he had insisted that he wanted to save them the time and hassle of searching him out since they had never before visited Cuthbert's little island. He finally died after being bishop--a ministry he had been called to from his youth--for only two years. In those years he distributed alms, prayed for the sick and worked many wonders in the surrounding countryside of Lindisfarne. He died on the 20th day of March in the year 687.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

March 19 - Joseph, Descendant of David, Husband of Mary, Father of Jesus

Listen closely because the birth of Jesus--the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah--happened just like this: His mother Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph. This was in the period before they lived together as part of their betrothal. Miraculously--and scandalously--she discovered that she was pregnant. Of course, you'll remember that this was a miracle that God had accomplished to effect the incarnation of God into creation. Now, Joseph was a good man and he paid attention to the laws and traditions of his people and his family so he decided not to publicly shame her for her mysterious pregnancy. He could have made it public knowledge and cast her out and broken the bonds of their engagement in a humiliating way--in fact, this was what was expected and typical. Instead, he decided to annul the engagement quietly and in private.

The night after he had made that decision but before he had followed through with it God sent an angel in a dream to him. The angel said to him, "Joseph, descendant of David the king, do not follow through with your plan. Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife because the child that she has conceived is the Son of God and she has conceived this child by God's miraculous intervention. This child will be a son that you should name Jesus--which means God is saving--because he will save people fromtheir sins." Now, make sure you notice that all of this took place to fulfill what God had spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel", which means, "God is with us."

When Joseph woke up he did exactly as the angel had commanded him because he believed it to be true. He completed the betrothal process and took the pregnant Mary as his wife but he didn't consummate their marriage until after the birth of God into this world. They named the baby boy Jesus just as Joseph had been told.

...

After the magi had left, an angel of the Lord came again to Joseph in a dream and said, "Hurry, take the boy and his mother and get out of town. Go to Egypt and remain there until I call you out of it. Herod is about to do a terrible thing and slaughter many innocent children in an attempt to kill your son." So, Joseph got up under the cover of night, woke his wife and dressed his child while his mind imagined cruelty to come. They went to Egypt and remained there until after the death of Herod. Again, notice that this was to fulfill what God had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt, I have called my son."

...

As is the way of all men given enough time, eventually Herod died. After the death of this terrible man, an angel suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph while he lived in Egypt. The angel said, ‘Now is the time, take your son and his mother, and return to Israel. Those who were hoping to destroy the son you are guarding and taking care of have died and it is safe again to be in the land of your fathers." So, Joseph gathered his family and prepared his son while his mind imagined redemption and salvation to come.They returned to Israel but when Joseph heard that Archelaus--Herod's son--was ruling over Judea he hesitated to return there. So, after receiving another dream confirming his hesitation he settled in Galilee. Specifically, he settled in Nazareth and another prophecy was fulfilled which read, "He will be called a Nazorean."

Friday, March 18, 2011

March 18 - Cyril of Jerusalem, Theologian, Bishop, Church Father

Cyril of Jerusalem was raised within the Christian community in the early fourth century. As a result he was well versed in the theological disputes of his day. At the age of twenty-two he was ordained as a deacon of the Church by Macarius of Jerusalem. This is an important event because it represents the trust that the Church was willing to place in Cyril. As a deacon he was expected to further devote himself to God in ways that would strengthen and further the Kingdom of God as it was born into the world. Under Cyril's circumstances this meant a theological battle with those members of the Church who had fallen under the heretical spell of Arianism. Perhaps with good intentions--and at times with nefarious aims--members of the Church had begun professing views that ran counter to the accepted Christian teaching. In this case, the Arians insisted that Jesus Christ was not fully divine. Rather, they suggested that Jesus had been created by God to be an emissary of God. This was an unacceptable departure from Christian teaching because it undermined what Jesus had taught and also the efficacy of the resurrection. When those professing this view were approached with their error they chose to persist in the belief even if it ran counter to the established and orthodox position. In doing so, they became heretics but they didn't necessarily lose their influence in the Church. A battle raged and Cyril was asked to become one of the champions of orthodoxy. He accepted the calling.

Eight years later he was ordained a priest by Maximus--a bishop. This ordination further entrenched him in the struggle for orthodoxy. As a priest he was called to care for the people of God and look after them. He could not simply proclaim the heretic to be wrong--he had to worry for their soul, as well. All the while, he was tasked with taking care of the flock that gathered around him in Jerusalem. After seven years of struggling under this calling he was appointed to take the place of Maximus and become the bishop in Jerusalem. With this ordination came the calling to tend also to the priests who served the Church daily. He shouldered this burden with as much grace and mercy as he could muster and spent the majority of his time trying to broker peace and reconciliation between the two factions. Meanwhile, he continued to meet the needs of the poor and even sold some of the Church's property to feed some local poor people. Seeing their chance, the Arians had him deposed from his position using their newly acquired ecclesial power to cast him out of the ministry. He refused to deny his ordination as they had requested of him and became a wandering minister.

As was often the case at the time, Cyril did not stop ministering to the people of God simply because he had been defrocked and deposed. Instead, he continued to minister and eventually was reinstated when the orthodox faction regained control of the necessary power positions. Shortly thereafter he was again deposed by the Arians. After yet another little while he was again reinstated.Whether he was officially labeled a minister or not he continued to seek peace and reconciliation while comforting and teaching the people entrusted to his care.Though he had been resistant to compromise he was eventually worn down and agreed upon theological terminology and language (homooussios) that he had originally rejected for the sake of peace and healing. Cyril died on March 18, 386, having spent his life and his time holding a hemorrhaging Church together through love, peace, and the sacramental mysteries he bore with him wherever he went.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March 17 - Patrick of Ireland, Slave, Bishop, Missionary

Patrick's father was a leader in his community and was named Calpornius. He was a deacon in the congregation they attended in Wales. Calpornius' father--Patrick's grandfather--was named Potitus and he was a priest in the area where they grew up. He offered the sacraments and mysteries of the Church to those who had ears to hear and eyes to see. Patrick had roots within the Church and found himself drawn to the ministry that his father and grandfather had likewise felt themselves called to. He was receiving an education that would likely end up with him becoming yet another member of his family in service to the Church when one day he was kidnapped by Celtic bandits and slavers on the Western coast of Wales. They forced him into chains and carried him back aboard their ship so that they might force young Patrick--only sixteen years old--to work for the highest bidder. In this case, he was bought by a man who made him a shepherd by trade. Patrick ended up on some lonely hillside--a stranger in a strange land--watching over sheep that were not his own.

For his six years as a slave to Celtic leaders he was mostly in isolation on some verdant Irish hillside. Since he was alone as he worked he began praying to himself. He began with the prayers he had learned as a child and these expanded into his own spontaneous prayers. He sang songs and hymns to sustain himself as he spent many lonely night with only sheep and goats for company. Finally, he began to hear God speak of liberation and escape. He heard a voice saying he would soon be free. A few days later a voice told him his ship was waiting for him and so he fled from his master that very day. He travelled for some time and through harsh conditions until he arrived at a port in eastern Ireland (200 miles from the place of his captivity). He boarded the ship and finally returned to his home in Wales. They greeted him with joy and gladness and toasted his return but after the parties had faded Patrick came to the stunning realization that he had missed six years of his life. All of his peers were well into their professions and careers and he had fallen woefully far behind in his education. His dreams of becoming a minister like all of the others had been shattered aboard the slaver ship that had stolen him away.Patrick ended up in the home of family--a stranger in a familiar land--watching his friends go on without him.

He didn't know what to do with his life but he couldn't shake the strong calling he felt upon his life. As he was adrift in his life and uncertain how he should continue he had a vision. In the vision a man named Victoricus came striding across the Irish Sea toward Patrick. In Victoricus' hands were many scrolls. Each scrolls was a letter--written to a certain person--and he was handing them out to those God had called to serve. Patrick waited eagerly in his vision and received a scroll titled "The Voice of the Irish." In it he heard the laments of the Irish people who begged the former slave to come back and bring the Gospel that taught love for enemies and forgiveness from all sins. He must have wondered if this wasn't a mistake to be sent back to the people who had enslaved him as a missionary. Yet, as he reflected upon the vision he became more and more certain that God was calling him to be a missionary to the Irish. So, he went--one of the first Christian missionaries to leave the Roman Empire. Patrick ended up in some foreign boat on his way back to Ireland--a stranger crossing the Irish Sea--following after a calling that God had given him.

Patrick baptized thousands of people in Ireland as he brought his own particular style of preaching and teaching to them. He did not have the same education as his many peers and colleagues but he knew well the people he had been called to serve. He confronted Celtic warlords with bravery and courage knowing that they would respect him for it and want to know what faith he held that gave him such courage. He brought the faith to the Irish in a way that mediated the sacraments and mysteries of the Church to a people unfamiliar with the history and symbols of the Body of Christ. Patrick became the vehicle by which the grace of God was translated into Irish hearts. He ordained thousands and became a bishop missionary welcome in countless homes throughout the hills of Ireland. Patrick ended up in the land of his enslavement--a hero in a beloved land--watching over sheep that had become his own.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

March 16 - Sebastian Castellio, Preacher, Theologian, Champion of Religious Liberty

Sebastian Castellio received such a comprehensive education that he was fluent in French, Italian, German, Latin, Hebrew, and Greek when he had finished. Other writers, including Voltaire, wrote and spoke about his magnificent intelligence and keenly trained mind.Though John Calvin was better known perhaps it was considered evident that Sebastian was, at the very least, his intellectual equal if not his superior. He was a faithful Roman Catholic with a vibrant faith and it was because of this faith that he had received his education in the first place--he felt called to use his intellectual gifts in the service of God through the Church. Yet, when he was only twenty-four years old he was in Lyon when the French Inquisition was punishing heretics. They tied the reformers and the heretics to posts and incinerated them for disagreeing. Sebastian was sickened by this and was aware that he could no longer deny that there was something wrong in the Church. If leaders in the Church could consciously destroy others who disagreed with them--could wield a sword made of steel instead of love--then there was something horribly wrong in the Church. Sebastian resolved to be a part of the solution and joined with the reformers.

He traveled to Strasbourg where he met John Calvin. John and his wife were so impressed with Sebastian that their relationship bloomed quickly. In 1542 Sebastian was asked to become rector at the College de Geneve and was licensed to preach the Gospel in that area.His theological work was looked upon with charity and esteem not only because of his noted intellect but also because of his friendship with John Calvin. But things began to turn sour as time went on. Perhaps Sebastian's first inkling that things weren't okay was when a great illness swept through Geneva claiming victims. Sebastian went about the work of the Church and offered pastoral care and the last rites to the sick and dying in Geneva. While he was doing this he was informed that this was unusual. When he asked why he was told that Calvin and the other ministers had labeled themselves too important to risk dying to comfort a small part of the Church. In other words, they had decided that their death was more costly than the deaths of unknown Christians. Later Sebastian went to John to received his endorsement for a translation of the New Testament into French that Sebastian had penned. John denied Sebastian's request because John's cousin had recently asked for the same thing. The pain was not in the denial or rejection but the stinging and mocking words that John offered to Sebastian.

Perhaps the last blow to John and Sebastian's relationship came when Sebastian rose to his feet in a public meeting of ministers to insist that ministers should not persecute or slander those whom they disagreed with. At the heart, Sebastian's suggestion was that lay people be considered as important as the clergy and that clergy not abuse power simply because it was within their grasp. This idea--not persecuting those whom you disagreed with--was deep seated with Sebastian and would become a point of contention with many throughout his life. When Sebastian saw John and his friends mock and deride somebody they disagreed with he could smell the smoke in Lyon all over again. For this insistence he was charged with "undermining the prestige of the clergy" and removed from his position. His license was cancelled and he was turned out of his home. He and his family were abandoned by a group of religious leaders who had given up reformation for a new power structure with themselves at the top. Sebastian and his family struggled for years until he eventually found work again as professor at the University of Basel.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, a doctor and theologian by the name of Michael Servetus was being tried for heresy and blasphemy by John Calvin's power structure. Michael had denied the trinity among other teachings and was ordered to change his mind to agree with John. John Calvin even inserted himself among the judges at work in Michael's conviction. When Michael refused to recant he was burned at the stake in Geneva. When Sebastian heard of this he began writing articles and letters to alert the general population of the blood that dripped off of John Calvin's hands--the blood of Michael Servetus. Though he never claimed Michael to be orthodox in his theology he did insist that his heresy should have been rebuffed by reason and rhetoric and not shackles and flames. Further, he disagreed with John's definition of heresy as "anybody who disagrees with me on a theological point." Rather, he insisted that there was room for liberty within the bonds of the Church--or at the very least there was room if there was any hope for reformation. Sebastian was successful in convincing some but yet more remained in support of John Calvin's ruthless theological efficiency. Before he died (and his enemies dug up his body and burned it), he wrote: "We can live together peacefully only when we control our intolerance. Even though there will always be differences of opinion from time to time, we can at any rate come to general understandings, can love one another, and can enter the bonds of peace, pending the day when we shall attain unity of faith."

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 15 - Louise de Marillac, Motherless Daughter, Widow, Founder of the Daughters of Charity

Louis de Marillac was an important man with influence that spread across national boundaries and obtained power and control for him by wooing others to do his will. His place within the Parisian courts was firm even though he had conceived a child with a woman he wasn't married to--this child was a daughter who would be named Louise. Louise's mother died during childbirth but Louise survived the ordeal. Though she was a child of a recently deceased mother and had been born outside of the bonds of wedlock she was exceedingly well cared for by her father and the people her father appointed to care for her. She received an excellent education in a nearby monastery and felt the beginnings of a growing and vibrant spiritual life. Yet, she lacked a stable home life and often lamented this lack. Her well-appointed and pleasant life had no strong foundation, though, and this left her feeling adrift in a world that only became more and more confusing and perplexing as she grew up as a motherless daughter among Parisian nobility.

Louise sought the order and simplicity of the monastic order "the Daughters of Passion" in Paris but was rejected. She was crushed because she had begun to think of monastic vows as an escape from the chaos that marked her life. She was not informed as to why her application was rejected and this left her questioning most of her life and all of her calling. She was advised that God had "something else" planned for her. She was once again set adrift in an increasingly tumultuous world and went to what remained of her family for advice on how to proceed from her place of rejection. Her family suggested that she marry and so she consented because of the possibility that it would finally offer a family life like she had been coveting all these years. She was married and she had one child within the first year of marriage but soon thereafter her husband grew very sick. She cared for him very well but she could not quell the doubts that this marriage had been a mistake. She had vowed to remain with him and so she did but she wondered if this was what she had been called to do. In a service of worship near Pentecost she received stunning and sudden certainty. She wrote, "I was advised that I should remain with my husband and that the time would come when I would be in the position to make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and that I would be in a small community where others would do the same." She took care of her husband for two more years before he died.

Having fulfilled her previous vows she sought out a spiritual director to provide direction and guidance to her rudderless life. She found Vincent de Paul and he spent his time with her by guiding her to a life of spiritual moderation and calm.Her tendencies had always been toward chaos and directionless action but under the direction of Vincent she became increasingly comfortable and peaceful. Together the two of them founded a group known as the Daughters of Charity. This group focused on remembering two essential principles: (1) in any situation they should act as Jesus would act, and (2) they must remember to "Love the poor and honor them as you would honor Christ Himself." Under the guidance of Louise and Vincent they formed a group of women who endeavored to become family one to another and provide the calm and moderate direction to individuals that only a loving community can truly offer. Louise's direction expanded their charity and teaching to include hospitals, orphanages, institutions for the elderly and mentally ill, prisons, schools and the battlefield. Louise died on March 15, 1660, after having devoted her life todeveloping loving communities among those set adrift by life and circumstances.

Monday, March 14, 2011

March 14 - Fannie Lou Hamer, Civil Rights Activist, "the lady who sings the hymns," "that illiterate woman"

Reverend James Bevel had preached several sermons just like the one he had just preached. In it he proclaimed the liberation and healing that Jesus promised to those who would take up the yoke of discipleship. He fearlessly identified the racism inherent in the system and the use of it by those in power to oppress and repress black Americans. James Bevel was a part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was a friend and colleague of Martin Luther King, Jr. He was well aware that there were costs associated with activism because he had been involved in the activist life that led to pain and punishment at the hands of those who opposed them all. Yet at the end of his sermon he went ahead and asked if any of those who had heard it would volunteer to be a part of the solution--to register to vote even though it might cost them something significant. Fannie stood up and volunteered nearly immediately. She had already suffered at the hands of the powerful when she had been unknowingly sterilized a year before. The powers had decided that black citizens in Southern Mississippi could be controlled if they weren't allowed to reproduce--so they took it upon themselves to perpetrate atrocities. Fannie volunteered to become a voter and have her voice heard.

Fannie lost her job as soon as her employer found out she had registered. She would later say of that night: "I guess if I'd had any sense, I'd have been a little scared - but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they [white people] could do was kill me, and it seemed they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember." Fannie's faith lent her a prophetic awareness of what was happening in the United States--people were giving up their lives piece by piece so that they might not lose it all at once. They were purchasing a degree of security by selling any hope of future security or equality. Given the lynchings and abuse suffered by those who did not agree to this Faustian bargain it is understandable but tragic. Fannie boarded a bus that was loaded with people like herself who were going to register. As they traveled and anticipated the vicious resistance that would meet them there, Fannie began singing hymns and inviting others to join her. As they sang "This Little Light of Mine," Fannie must have considered how this bus ride represented a painful commitment not to "hider [her light] under a bushel." Fannie's use of the hymns underscored to those who joined her that this was a spiritual struggle and not simply a matter of politics and influence.
In the summer of 1963 she and others on a bus returning from a literacy class were arrested on a trumped up charge by police officers looking to punish black people for being unsatisfied with the status quo. They were taken to prison and were offered the opportunity to leave by the police officers. Though they were tempted to do so they refused because they knew what was down that path--the police officers would shoot them in the backs and later claimed that "those savage blacks" had attacked them and tried to escape. Instead, they were incarcerated, beaten savagely, and left unfed in their cells to defecate and urinate on themselves. Some nearly died from these abuses. They were eventually released when it was determined that their nonviolence could not be manipulated to defame or kill them.

A year later she became a leader in a new political group known as the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. These "Freedom Democrats" insisted that Mississippi was unfairly represented at the Democratic National Convention--all of the delegates were white and there were active black voters in Mississippi. They insisted that changes be made and that Mississippi democrats needed to send black delegates. Lyndon Johnson became upset with this group because they represented a thorny political issue that would eliminate his southern support. Fannie was an easy story to cover for the news outlets because of her hymn-singing and soon Johnson was wondering what it would take to shut up "that illiterate woman." He sent a delegation to negotiate a compromise that might leave him politically powerful but Fannie was unpersuaded by their attempts to buy off their support and play political games. Her faith guided her and she rejected their compromise. She said she would "pray to Jesus" for them. She did but it cost her her seat on the negotiation committee. Eventually, a compromise was struck that stipulated that one of those delegates could not be Fannie Lou Hamer because she could not be trusted to play the political game.

Fannie Lou Hamer died in 1977 and was buried under a grave marker that read: "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

March 13 - Rutilio Grande, Martyr, Priest, Friend of the Poor

Rutilio Grande was born and raised in El Salvador. It was in El Salvador that he was brought into the Faith that would preserve and empower him for years to come and it is in El Salvador that he would lay down his life as a witness to the liberating and saving power of his Lord Jesus Christ. His family was very poor and so he was well acquainted with the life of poverty and the uncertainty that follows in its wake day after day. At the age of twelve he expressed a desire to become a priest. This was perhaps partly because it represented a way out of "accidental" poverty by entering into a vow of poverty--if he was going to be poor at least he could choose it and find some comfort in it as a calling. He joined the Jesuits five years later and studied to become a priest. The life of a priest represented comfort to Rutilio and so he adhered to the many rules and regulations with zeal since they gave his life structure. Yet, as he further invested himself in administration and education he began to drift slowly away from a life of grace and mercy and into a life of regulation and comforting security. He was ordained into the priesthood but he feared that it was beyond him and that he was painfully inadequate in this calling.

In 1965 he returned to El Salvador from abroad (mostly Spain) to serve as the Director of Social Action at the Jesuit seminary in El Salvador. He had an incredible impact on the formation of new ministers in his years there. Though it was the norm for priests to be socialites and people of status in El Salvador, Rutilio was beginning to feel like there was a different calling at work in his life and in the lives of those close to him. He beganinsisting that seminarians spend more time with the poor and that priests become deeply and emotionally invested in the lives of the poor in their parishes. He coordinated ministers and ministries so that the poverty of many became the concern of those who expressed a desire to be the hands and feet of their homeless Lord. This work continued even as Rutilio took a position as priest of a parish. He began to attract attention from the government because of his compassion on the poor and disenfranchised in El Salvador. The powers that ruled El Salvador feared that Rutilio would excite people to rebellion in his preaching and in his proclamations of liberty for the poor and outcast. Men like Rutilio and Oscar Romero were increasingly unwelcome in El Salvador. This point was driven home when a priest was kidnapped, abused, and then exiled from the country.Soon after, Rutilio preached a sermon that would cost him his life. In it he said:

I’m quite aware that very soon the Bible and the gospel won’t be allowed to cross our borders. We’ll only get the bindings, because all the pages are subversive. And I think that if Jesus himself across the border to Chalatenango, they wouldn’t let him in. They would accuse the man…of being a rabble-rouser, a foreign Jew, one who confused the people with exotic and foreign ideas, ideas against democracy—that is, against the wealthy minority, the clan of Cains! Brothers and sisters, without any doubt, they would crucify him again. And God forbid that I be one of the crucifiers!
Less than a month later, Rutilio Grande--the man who had said, "It is a dangerous thing to be a Christian in this world"--was killed by government agents with machine guns. He was gunned down and the government's role in his death was covered up. It was only through the tireless work of his friends (including Romero) that the truth was finally uncovered. Rutilio Grande was a friend of the poor and a proclaimer of liberty to the disenfranchised. It cost him his life in 1977.