Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November 30 - Andrew, Apostle, Protocletos, Martyr

"Come on, Peter," Andrew called, "we have too much work to do to stay here any longer." Andrew and Peter were on their way to the shore to continue fishing and working the sea. With net and boat, they ventured daily into a great terror--a sea where storms killed men and refused to supply fish and sustenance. In the first century, the waters could be a very risky and intimidating place to be. Yet, Andrew went there regularly to support himself and his family. But on the walk, that day, Andrew wanted to talk about the figure that he and Peter had been talking to, recently. Andrew was inspired and vivified by the presence and words of John and found himself spending more and more time out in the wilderness with the wild man who proclaimed a new and imminent Kingdom and baptized people for the remission of their sins. One day, Andrew had gone forward to John and been baptized because of his intense and growing passion for the Kingdom of God. Peter had heard Andrew say much about John but there was something different in his voice. Recently, another man had come and John had seemed to be gripped by the same rapturous amazement that so many of John's audience felt in John's presence. Then--much to John's confusion--the man had requested to be baptized by John. John baptized the one he called "the Lamb of God" and "Jesus" but he insisted that Jesus should be baptizing John. Andrew had shaken his head in confusion and uneasiness but his heart had burned within him as he watched Jesus be baptized.There was something different about this one--this one that John said he had been preparing everybody for.

"Do you think this Jesus could be the one?" Andrew asked Peter while casting the nets over the side of the boat, "I mean...do you think this one could be the messiah?"Peter was about to respond when Andrew saw Jesus standing on the shore nearby. Jesus waved to them and indicated that they should come in as he had something to say. Andrew looked to Peter and noticed that Peter was already taking in the nets and preparing the boat to return to land. When they got there, Jesus was smiling at them and asked them how they were doing with their fishing. They responded but they were waiting to see what this potential messiah might say to confirm or deny their hopeful suspicions.

"Follow after me, Andrew and Peter, and I will make you a different kind of fisherman--a fisher of people." Andrew's heart jumped in his chest and he suddenly knew what his only response could be: yes. Peter soon followed and the two became apostles and members of "the Twelve." They began following after Jesus and learning how to cast nets of words and actions that could catch people in them. They were learning to be what it was that Jesus called them to be. Andrew was, by no means, always faithful or given to believing but he continued to come back to the one that he had learned to trust. It was Andrew who said: "There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fishes: but what are these among so many?" His question is a question that so many of us ask in so many ways in our daily lives. What difference does a little help make when compared to such great need? When there are thousands dying every day from hunger, does my little bit of help do anything? When there are wars and rumors of wars surrounding us, does my stance for peace do anything? Jesus knew, however, that the little could be made to be sufficient and that it mattered deeply both for the giver and the recipient. It is this lesson that Andrew learned that day when he gathered in the fragments of fish and bread with awe written across his face.

Andrew would follow Jesus in mission after Jesus' death and resurrection and become a missionary to people who had never heard the good news of mercy and grace for all sinners. He would preach a gospel that mattered even if the nets of the faith only gathered one person at a time. Over time, this meant that thousands came to know faith in and fellowship with Almighty God because of the faith of one fisherman. Years after Jesus' death, Andrew also would be martyred. His final request was that his crucifixion should not mimic his Lord's because he didn't feel worthy even to die like his Lord.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

November 29 - Dorothy Day, Convert, Mother, Champion of the Disenfranchised

Life didn't feel like what Dorothy felt it should. It felt like there was something missing--something askew--and that she was constantly and consistently on the verge of true happiness but never breaking through. It felt like happiness should be such a natural thing but that it still eluded her. As a child, she had been baptized Episcopalian but had never really been a part of the Church. As she aged, she became concerned with the plight of the poverty stricken and disenfranchised. Seeing the oppression of the people that surrounded her struck her with a vague desperation but watching churches ignore this same issue only further convinced her of the irrelevance of most Christians. So, she sought change and had left the Church behind because the Church was leaving her and her concerns behind.

Yet, something felt different as she sat alone in her apartment. Her boyfriend wasn't around and she was pondering something she hadn't yet told him: she was pregnant. Dorothy was pregnant and her boyfriend was the father. She enjoyed her bohemian life but was aware that a child might change things. Yet, in spite of all of the looming change she was quietly and powerfully happy. She later described the feeling as being "natural happiness." This happiness combined with an increasing realization that her life wasn't a solution to poverty so much as a desperate reaction to the Church's inattention effected a conversion within her. Soon, she realized that though she had been running away from God she had been running toward God because God had promised the Kingdom to the poor and the outcast. She decided to have her baby baptized into the Roman Catholic church and followed along with her child in 1927.

Yet, she was still uncomfortable with the Church's inattention to the plight of the poor and the causes of social justice. A self-proclaimed anarchist and pacifist, Dorothy was unafraid to break down existing structures that no longer served any beneficial purpose and it became clear that Dorothy would not sit by and watch the Church protect itself at the cost of the lives of the needy and its own damnation. She prayed that she might do something about it instead of simply talking about it and in 1932, she met Peter Maurin. Peter gave her the idea she needed to get started about the business of changing the Church and the world. Soon, Dorothy was publishing a newspaper entitled The Catholic Worker that connected the people of the Church to the people of the Kingdom. She opened up the Catholic Worker offices as a house of hospitality to provide shelter and food for the poor. She committed herself to vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity but never became a nun or took a position in the Church.

She remained active in protesting wars and acts of vast inattention and ignorance concerning the needy and outcast.She was investigated by the FBI and CIA as a spy and a revolutionary. Though her citizenship was truly in another Kingdom, she was not promoting insurrection anywhere except in the souls of the people whose hearts had been hardened to the cries of the needy. She was shot at, threatened, and assaulted because of her radical stance of peace and love as superior to vengeance and control. She actively resisted people who tried to insist that it was possible for her to do great things but impossible for them.In a very real way, Dorothy called everybody she met to live a life worthy of the Gospel and the cross of her Lord.Though she had rejected the Church as a youth because of its inattention to the poor, she spent the majority of her life (all the way until November 29, 1980) reforming the Church she loved to care for the people she loved.

Monday, November 28, 2011

November 28 - Herman of Alaska, Missionary, Evangelist, Monk

Herman could hardly believe what he was hearing and Herman was used to incredible stories. As a younger man in Russia he had experienced a terrible throat infection that was quickly
rendering him mute. Day by day, his friends and family became increasingly uncomfortable with his voice devolving into series of croaks and sputters. He spent days in prayer for the health of his voice and throat but nothing seemed to happen. His family and friends prayed for him, as well. The thought of a monastic like
Herman becoming mute was more than a little frightening--a learned man of prayer and words without a voice seemed especially tragic. Yet, it still seemed as if his prayers remained unanswered. As days passed, Herman's prayers became increasingly wordless and more and more desperate. One night he prayed before retiring for the night and felt an unmistakably odd sensation of hopeless desperation and faint, white-hot hope. Moving his lips in silence, he prayed: "Thy will be done." As he slept, a vision of the virgin Mary came to him and touched his ailing throat. A brief flash of pain and relief surged through him and he awoke with a start. "Was that a dream?" he asked himself aloud. In surprise, he heard his own voice and gratefulness flooded through his body. He had been miraculously healed. It was incredible--truly hard to believe.

Yet, Herman could not believe that other men claiming the yoke of Christ would mistreat the Aleutian people so cruelly. They had arrived and insisted that they convert to their particular doctrinal position upon penalty of death. This was especially tragic for Herman since he had been sent as a missionary to Alaska from Russia to bring the Aleutian people the faith they were now being asked to suffer for. He had arrived with other missionaries to live and make room for a monastery among the Aleuts. They had been welcomed tentatively at first but had proven their love and compassion for the Aleuts and had become welcome dwellers in the often unforgiving wilds of Alaska. Regrettably, some of Herman's companions had gone back to Russia for a variety of reasons. Others had been martyred. Herman had stayed and made himself a more permanent resident. He had experimented in the Alaskan soil and found a way to grow a garden. Now, only Herman remained as Orthodox monastic at the New Valaam monastery. His brothers and colleagues were now Aleutian converts. It was these men that were now in the grips of the others and facing martyrdom. It was one of these men who was telling him the incredible story.

"They threatened us with torture," said the escapee, "and then they followed through and started cutting off our fingers and toes one by on." Herman shook his head sadly. "They insisted that we could go free if we'd only 'convert,' but Peter kept insisting that he was already a Christian," continued the escapee. At the mention of Peter's name, Herman called up the image of his dear brother in his mind.

"What did they do to Peter?" asked Herman.

"They... they..." stuttered the escapee,"...they killed him because he refused to say anything but 'I already am a Christian.'" A bright light seemed to shine in Herman's eyes at this statement. He nodded vigorously and walked swiftly to the iconostasis of the monastery.

Kneeling in prayer, he crossed himself and cried out loudly in a mixture of joy and sorrow: "Pray for us new martyr Peter." His brother and sisters followed in his footsteps as they reflected upon the faithful death of their brother at the hands of the misguided.

Years later, Herman called for the Acts of the Apostlesto be read so that he might hear them at his death. One of the men he had guided to the Faith read the whole of the book in Herman's hearing and then turned to see if Herman needed anything else. Herman smiled and embraced his friend and colleague. Then, he died in the arms of his beloved friend. It was many weeks before a priest could come to officiate a funeral for Herman--he had remained alone as a missionary in the New World and found faith, hope, and love in the forbidding Alaskan wilderness.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

November 27 - John LaFarge, Artist, Faithful, Caretaker of Christian Heritage

John LaFarge was a man with many questions who was
willing to challenge the expectations and standards of most of the world. Yet, he was still a faithful member of the Roman Catholic church even as he asked questions and cultivated a life of investigation and consideration. For John, there was no tension between a life of faith and a life of intellectual and artistic pursuit.From an early age he had a passion for art and showed a natural talent and gift for it. He was encouraged to pursue a more reliable and lucrative career and so he considered becoming a lawyer for some time. Eventually, though, he came to a place in his life where he stood at a fork in the road: pursue the dependable and predictable or follow his calling and passion. John chose the right path and returned to the United States to study and produce art.

With his inquisitive mind he approached and addressed problems in art that had been labeled lost to the annals of history. John was one of the first to reinvent the medium of stained glass and produce art that was truly original and of equal quality to that produced in the middle ages. His stained glass masterpieces adorned many churches who recognized his talent and calling. All the while, he was faithful to attend and follow after God in congregations of people who may not have even known his prodigious talent--for John, art wasn't about fame; it was about following a passion and a call.

John knew well why art was important for the Church. It is far too easy to cast aside art as an idol or as something of no rhetorical or didactic purpose. In a culture enraptured with words and turns of phrase, there is little room for the power of art to communicate in different and--at times--more powerful ways. Oftentimes, it is argue that church art--specifically the stained glass windows--is the scripture for the illiterate. This argument is often used to justify religious art historically but doesn't hold the same force in our culture. John rejected the idea that religious art was a vain pursuit or idolatry and insisted that there was a calling and need for art within congregations--even in a mostly literate culture. Just as Jesus had been an image of the Father, there was room for art to transcend word and communicate Truth in ways that language failed. In a very real sense, Jesus' incarnation paves the way for the use of image to point toward the transcendent. It was John's passion--though not his exclusive practice--to do religious art that pointed toward a God who loved and cared for the people of the world as a father cares for his children.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

November 26 - Sojourner Truth, Abolitionist, Crusader for Truth

Some stories are best told by the subject:
Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the Negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what's all this here talking about?

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne five children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?

Then they talk about this thing in the head; what's this they call it? [member of audience whispers, "intellect"] That's it, honey. What's that got to do with women's rights or Negroes' rights? If my cup won't hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn't you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it. The men better let them.

Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say.

Friday, November 25, 2011

November 25 - Catherine of Alexandria, Martyr, Evangelist, Contagious

Catherine's father was the governor of Alexandria so emperor Maxentius felt pressure to accept Catherine into his presence and company. Of course, he wasn't forced to do anything--he was the emperor--but he knew that it would be wise to pick his battles prudently and spend some time with Catherine if she wanted it. After all, he had a little extra time to entertain guests of influence and importance. Yet, as their meal dragged on, the Maxentius came to regret his agreement more and more. She wouldn't stop bringing up the cause of those cursed Christians. For some reason, this noble born woman of influential blood seemed to have a soft heart for Christians who he thought of as atheist, cannibalistic, crypt-dwelling scavengers.

Catherine insisted that the ethic that governed all of the Christian activities was one of love and mercy. This grated sharply across Maxentius and his nose wrinkled in disgust at the idea. How could sacrificial love and merciful forgiveness accomplish conquest and change? Surely, this was some idealistic fantasy and nothing more. When Catherine asked again if Maxentius would cease the persecution and execution of Christians, he flatly refused. He turned to his wife to share with her in a conspiratorial life and found tears in her eyes. "What have you done?" he asked Catherine as his rage began to bubble up in him.

"I've done nothing, Maxentius," Catherine responded, "but it seems that my Lord Jesus has found fertile soil in the heart of your wife. Will you not open your heart to him, as well?" In rage, Maxentius cast his cup aside and backed away from the table. If all of this was true then Maxentius was determined to punish Catherine and his own wife if need be. He called for his advisers and ordered them to dispute with her and prove her wrong. Seeing only awoman as their opponent, they confidently started arguing with her but found that she was surprisingly convincing. Within a few hours, they were converting to the faith she had--a faith that love could conquer death and sin and that mercy was more powerful than vengeance--and rejoicing with each other in their new found life.

As his advisers wondered aloud with each other how they could have been so blind, Maxentius fumed and gawked at what was going on. It was as if Catherine--who he now understood to be one of these Christians she defended--was contagious and her story was spreading quickly to those around her. Calling to his guards and hoping they hadn't been infected yet, he ordered the whole group--Catherine, his wife, and his advisers--arrested. They were thrown into prison and Maxentius hoped that this was enough to stop the spread of Catherine's faith.When people came to visit her they came away converted,however, and were imprisoned with them. When his cells were filling up he had the group brought before him again and had his own wife and advisers killed first while Catherine watched.Expecting that the crowd would shrink in fear and beg for their lives, he was surprised to see them laughing, clapping, and singing songs. It seemed that everything he did was playing into their hands. He had the rest of them killed--all except for Catherine. Catherine offered prayers of thanksgiving loudly with each cut of the blade and soon found herself condemned to die in a brutal, public and painful way--the breaking wheel--because of her refusal to be broken before Maxentius' will.

As they drug her to the public place, the crowd fell silent as they looked upon the condemned. She was marked for a gruesome death. The breaking wheel was a torturous way of dying that involved being tied to a wooden wheel with radial spokes. The soldiers would beat the condemned and apply pressure to the bones of the victim until they cracked and popped under the blows from the hammers. The gaps in the spokes allowed the bones to be broken in loud, agonizing, and mutilating fashion. Catherine seemed unfazed as they carried her to the wheel and the guards were frightened by her calm. When they laid her back on the wheel, the wheel broke as it came into contact with her skin. What resolve had remained now dissolved as they thought that surely this one was different from the others they had tortured and killed. The crowd murmured and to stem the possibility of yet another revival,Maxentius ordered her beheaded quickly before her contagion could spread to the crowd and guards.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

November 24 - Columban, Monk, Missionary, Voluntary Refugee

Columban was born in Nobber, Ireland--in the County of Meath--and grew into a competent and attractive young man.He was so attractive that women noticed him passing by through the towns and on the roads and began to seek him out. He became something of a local celebrity on account of his appearance and he was distressed by the steady decreases of his private life as more and more women sought him out to have him as their own. Columban received a piece of advice: flee from temptation so that you cannot succumb to it. In this advice, Columban saw hope and promise--he had always dreamed of becoming a monk and living a life of retreat and prayer and this path offered that opportunity.

So, Columban decided to flee from the temptations of an overly sexual existence and join a monastery. But, when he had packed his things and was headed to the door, his mother stopped him and begged him not to go. He insisted that he felt a call toward the monastic life but his mother refused to listen. She pleaded with him to stay again and again he insisted on following God's call. In desperation, Colulmban's mother laid down in the doorway to prevent her son from leaving. Columban struggled with what to do: should he concede to his mother's wishes or should he follow the call he felt on his life. He looked at his mother and made his decision. He stepped over his dear mother and left her behind to follow after the calling God had placed on his life.

After some time as a monk and after he had become a noted speaker and counselor, he was appointed a missionary to a foreign land. The Roman empire had fallen only a few generations prior but the people of continental Europe still saw the outlying regions--such as Ireland--to be a barbarous place devoid of education or sense. The very idea of an Irish missionary to France was unthinkable to the French Christians--they were a people who sent missionaries not who received missionaries. Yet, this is where Columban and twelve others arrived. In France, they found a sickly and anemic Faith that subsisted on dead ritual and vague memories of spirituality. This was a mind bending experience for the Irish missionaries who knew that the Irish had received their faith from the world they now ministered to. They were bringing the faith that had been brought to them back to the ones who had sent it.They were met with a mixture of resistance and open arms. Many found the Irish spirituality to be an oasis in a dry and dusty land. There were many who ended up being guided by Columban to follow in the footsteps of Patrick who had been one of them (having been born in Roman Britain) but had gone to provide sustenance to the Irish who had enslaved him. In essence, Columban brought back spiritual sustenance to a people who had forgotten that they had stored it away in Ireland.

Eventually, they were met with resistance from local rulers and became enemies of the King of Burgundy. It seems that the Frankish bishops and leaders were uncomfortably with the Irish being in a seat of authority. They held on to their memories and nostalgia instead of drinking deeply from the cool waters Columban brought with him. They were forced to flee from their monastery and became voluntary refugees who lived by charity and good fortune. Eventually, they walked across the Alps to Milan and were received gladly.Columban would spend the remainder of his days far away from the formative places of his childhood in Ireland and in a land that God had called him to--regardless of the cost.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

November 23 - Clement of Rome, Martyr, Fellow Laborer with Paul, Church Father

As he knelt on the beach by the Black Sea, Clement recalled the time he spent working with Paul. Clement had been born in Philippi and had worked with Paul when Paul came through. In fact, Clement had been one of the people who Paul mentioned in his letter to the Philippians.Perhaps Clement had been one of the young men who told the story of Paul's conversion in hushed tones of awe. He hadn't stayed in Philippi for his entire life, of course, but his interaction with Paul and Paul's interaction with him had left a powerful mark on young Clement. Years later, after Paul had been executed and the Philippian congregation had undergone yet even more persecution,Clementwas bishop in Rome and in charge of helping and guiding the house churches and congregations in Rome.

As they tied the rope around his neck, Clement turned to look at the anchor the other end of the rope was affixed to. They were very careful to make sure that Clement would be unable to untie the rope in just a few moments when they expected him to beg and be desperate to escape their intentions. As they checked the knots, Clement remembered how he had stepped into the supervisory role of bishop of Rome and reflected on the letter he had written to the church in Corinth. His letter--now known as 1st Clement--had demonstrated his commitment to taking care of the Church Universal even if it might not fall under his jurisdiction. Years later, when councils were deciding on what letters and books to include in the New Testament, there was a strong contingent of Christians who argued for its inclusion in the canon. Clement had lived into the role he had been called to and become a shepherd of shepherds and a man concerned with a greater flock than simply the ones he came into regular contact with.

As they led him into the boat with the anchor, they shook their heads in mock pity at his impending fate. They rowed away from the shore into the Black Sea but Clement's mind was far away from the water. Instead, it was on the day he had been arrested for being a Christian by the soldiers directed by Domitian. After a short trial, Clement was exiled and sent away from Rome. He was sent to work in the stone quarries of Chersonesus. When he arrived, he was amazed at theterrible conditions that the workers were in. Among the prisoners and slaves, he began to provide pastoral care to the sick, suffering, grieving, and dying. Through a miracle, he provided water when they were thirsty. He spoke of a Faith that was foreign to so many of them but stripped of their status as citizens and people, they were perhaps especially well prepared to hear the Gospel message of freedom and forgiveness for all people and mercy and grace for even the least of God's children. A great revival had spread through the camps and soon the Emperor was outraged that the Faith he had tried to eliminate had only been spread by Clement's exile. Because of this, Clement was ordered to be executed.That's how he had ended up in the middle of the Black Sea in a boat with soldiers and a rope tied around his neck and attached to an anchor.

They picked up the anchor and dropped it into the water. Clement could not help but follow. He died a martyr.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November 22 - C.S. Lewis, Apologist, Author, "the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England"

C.S. Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1898 to a middle class family doing what they could to get by. He had an older brother and a dog named Jacksie. When Lewis was only four years old Jacksie was hit by a car.In only a few days, the understandably and clearly disturbed Lewis insisted to his family that they call him Jacksie. His family resisted little Clive's insistence because of how ridiculous it would sound to call their son after the name of the dead dog. Yet, Clive refused to answer to any other name and would go long stretches of time in silence as his parents called to him by the name "Clive." Perhaps to humor him, they compromised and started calling him Jack. As is the way of things, the nickname stuck and soon everybody was calling him Jack by habit.

Jack spent the majority of his childhood and youth at various schools. These times had an incredibly formative role in the development of his personality and identity. He was a good student but suffered from various maladies and illnesses. Though he had been born into the Church of Ireland and baptized as an infant, he soon fell away from the faith at the age of 15. He would later describe himself as a boy furious at God for not existing. There was a deep and passionatehunger for the spiritual within Jack but he found it snuffed and crippled within the confines of the walls of the Church. So, he went looking for it in the occult and in Celtic and Norse mythology. He was unsatisfied in his findings but he was satisfied with the freedom to explore.

It was only after receiving his education at Oxford and becoming a professor, he began having regular conversations with J.R.R. Tolkien and a few otherfriends at the university. When they made overtures about the Christian faith he brushed them away by insisting that he was an atheist and had no desire to think of the Christian God he had never experienced. They were persistent in their kind conversations and he trusted them as friends--even if he refused them--but he still responded with the words of Lucretius: "Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see." Despite his rejections, his Christian friends continued to love him and socialize with him. He was not simply the target of their evangelistic machinery. Rather, he was their friend and because of their deep love, they could not help but mention the Faith that had changed their lives. Eventually, the persistent God that led Tolkien soon gripped Jack. Jack insisted that he came"kicking and screaming" into the Faith and later wrote about that night: "You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England." At the age of thirty-five, Jack found a home in the Faith. At first he only admitted theism but it was not long before he was won over to Christianity.

Lewis' conversion is a story told by many Christians to this day because of the nature of it as the pursuit of a man by an unrelenting and loving God. Jack's life had its share of suffering--from the abuses suffered as a child in boarding schools and his service and wounding in the British army during World War I to the death of his beloved wife (inspiration for perhaps his most beautifully personal book--A Grief Observed) and his own suffering with renal failure at the end. In spite of this suffering and pain, Lewis was never again persuaded to reject the God that had so eagerly pursued him. He wrote many books and articles that have been an inspiration to countless Christians for many years [note: my personal favorite is The Great Divorce]. Jack's life was a life defined by flight and chase.He fled from the God he so desperately wanted. As he did, he looked over his shoulder to make sure God would follow. Eventually, he was caught once again by the God of his mother, father, and childhood.

Monday, November 21, 2011

November 21 - Miguel Pro, Martyr, Priest, Man of Prayer

Miguel had spent many years among the mining towns of Mexico. Born the son of a miner and his wife in Guadalupe, Zacatecas, he didn't experience the same kind of affluent lifestyle of some other saints. Rather, Miguel was born on the poverty line and was one of eleven children. As one of the elder children, he helped take care of his siblings. The Mexican people were Miguel's passion even as a child and he studied so that he might become a priest and serve them. Of particular interest to Miguel were people with similar humble beginnings who struggled to survive in a world that was rarely suited for their success and health.Throughout his life, Miguel was a man of prayer--often saying that the only thing that truly kept him going was prayer. At the age of 20, he began his studies with the Jesuits so that he might offer himself to the clerical life among the people of Mexico.Regrettably, however, he could not stay in Mexico long after this time.

In 1915, the surging tide of opponents to Roman Catholicism in Mexico became too much for Miguel and his superiors. He was sent to Spain to continue his studies so that he might not be arrested or killed by the government that had taken power after a rigged election. After finishing his studies, he was sent as a professor to Nicargagua. His heart yearnedto be back in Mexico but it was becoming increasingly less hospitable to priests and he was assigned to Belgium. As his heart pined for the people of Mexico, his health deteriorated and the laws of Mexico became increasingly restrictive. The people who dared to follow after Jesus were forced to meet in secret and avoid detection--again. Priests were being framed for crimes and executed. Others were being arrested and abused. It was a bad time to be Christian in Mexico. It was a worse time to be a minister in a country that now forbade the wearing of clerical vestments or the speaking of clerical thoughts and commentary in public. The goal was the excision of the Roman Catholic church from Mexico and it was very nearly successful. It very well may have been if not for Miguel's testament to the faith in his dying words.

In Belgium he was ordained to the priestly ministry. His life was even more prayer filled after his ordination and after a short time in Belgium, it became clear that his deteriorating health was partially due to his discomfort with the climate and his homesickness for the people of Mexico. Against the better judgment of some of his superiors, he was sent back to Mexico. Miguel prayerfully thanked those over him and went gladly. His life in Mexico included priestly duties held in secret. He was overjoyed to visit and pray with the people entrusted to him and broke bread in many homes under the cover of darkness and the confident peace of prayer. When the ruler of Mexico--Plutarco Elias Calles--was nearly assassinated, he took a chance to put a stop to Miguel's work. He insisted that the planning had been the work of Miguel and had him arrested. There was a short--and ludicrous--trial but eventually Plutarco simply decreed that Miguel be executed.The pretext for the execution was an attempted assassination but the real reason was theconstantly grasping desire of the State to subvert and excise the Church in Mexico. Miguel was drug from his cell in the early morning and granted one last request: to be allowed to kneel and pray (see above picture). They took him to the firing range and secured him so that he might present a target for the rifles. They did not secure his arms and so he offered a blessing and prayer over the men holding the rifles that would soon bring his death. He declined the blindfold offered to him,--he was not afraid to look upon the State's atrocities-- grasped his crucifix in one hand and his rosary in the other and offered a loud shout proclaiming his desire to forgive the ones who now held his earthly life in their hands. "Ready," yelled the commander and Miguel offered a sweet smile as the men raised their rifles."Aim," continued the commander and Miguel stretched his arms out as if he were being crucified (see picture). The firing squad directed their rifles at his heart now exposed in his cruciform posture. "Fire!" yelled the commander. The men shot and hit Miguel who crumpled to the ground. He was not dead but he was dying. As the commander approached the bleeding body of Miguel, Miguel cried out:"Viva Cristo Rey!" or "Long live Christ the King!" The commander drew his sidearm and shot Miguel in the head at pointblank range.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

November 20 - Shubal Stearns, Preacher, Evangelist, Traveler

Shubal Stearns slowly and silently surveyed the congregation in the little backwoods church. He gripped the sides of the crude wooden pulpit without uttering a single word and allowed his gaze to rest upon the people as he swept through them with his eyes. The congregation eagerly anticipated the word that would release them from the silent thralldom to this imposing man of God. He held back his words and they only craved the next one more. It seemed as if the silence got even more quiet yet nobody would consider saying something to break the tension. When it was getting close to being too awkward, Shubal broke the silence with five words: "You must be born again."Though he only said it loud enough to barely be heard at the back of the room, it seemed to thunder through their ears and minds. "Yes," they thought, "he speaks the truth. He must be right."

Shubal had moved to Sandy Creek in what is now called North Carolina from Virginia most recently and Boston, originally. This was before the Revolutionary war and before it was easy to travel long distances into the rural south. He and his wife--Sarah--joined with seven other couples to found a church in a land that was not their own. Shubal was chosen as the pastor for these people and so their church started with sixteen people and no connections. Shubal had been convinced of the necessity of an inner spiritual experience by the preaching of George Whitefield. This conviction was only furthered by the Baptists he spent time with and who formed his understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. For the people of North Carolina, Shubal's preaching was abrasive and challenging. They had been so comfortable with a nominal type of Christianity that allowed them to identify themselves with Jesus yet not be changed. It was the best kind of change, in their opinion, because it cost them nothing. Shubal was unconvinced.

It was Shubal's desire to awaken true discipleship in the minds and lives of the people he came into contact with. In many ways, Shubal hoped to bring Jesus to people who already claimed to knowhim. In many ways, he succeeded. In just a little while the 16 members of the church became 606. Soon, the congregation was founding and spreading yet more churches into the world. When Shubal finally died, there were 125 ministers who named Shubal as their minister and mentor.There were 42 churches that had been started by Shubal and his people.Following in the model of the early Church, the congregations that Shubal founded constantly grew and birthed other congregations.

Shubal was not known for theological brilliance or homiletical sophistication.Rather, he was known for simply and powerfully proclaiming the Gospel in a way that left the listener with little room to retreat into themselves. He had a bright and brilliant passion for the Church that he served and loved. When he passed on, he was well remembered as a joyful servant of the Body of Christ in the middle of geographical and social obscurity. He may not have had a huge impact on polite society but he had a life changing impact on the people who sat rapturously under his preaching.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

November 19 - Obadiah, Prophet, Soldier, Writer

"Be quiet. You can hide here but only if we can keep it secret. You need to remember that we'll all be killed if they find out what we're doing."Obadiah closed secret entrance to the cave after raising his finger to his lips to indicate the silence he hoped for. Then, he walked a few hundred feet to the entrance of the other cave and repeated himself to another group of prophets. Obadiah was a servant of Ahab and Jezebel but could not follow through with their orders to have the prophets killed. He had remained loyal to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob even when it seemed the rest of his people and peers had turned their backs on their heritage in favor of the illusion of power and sophistication.

Worship of Baal was widespread through Israel yet Obadiah continued to worship the one God of Israel. The only major difference now was that he had to do it in secret most of the time. Obadiah had hidden prophets in caves so that Jezebel might not find them and slaughter them.He had split the groups into two smaller groups so that they could be hidden in separate caves. This way, if one cave was discovered and raided, the prophets in the other cave could escape quickly and some of them might be saved from Jezebel's bloody hands.

Eventually, Ahab and Jezebel grew tired of the prophet Elijah who resisted them and seemed untouchable. They gathered up three detachments of soldiers and sent them out to arrest Elijah and bring him back to answer their questions. Obadiah was one of the soldier leaders who led the third detachment of soldiers. The three groups went off to do the dirty work of the idolatrous rulers and seize God's prophet. As the first detachment approached Elijah, they noticed that he did not seem prepared to resist them. Instead, they found him kneeling and wordlessly moving his lips in prayer. As they approached--calling out to him loudly with mockery in their voices--fire consumed them as if it had fallen from the sky.With more hesitation, the second detachment continued their advance on Elijah and soon fell to the same fate of incineration. As Obadiah's detachment approached, Obadiah offered his own prayers and was surprised to see that the same fate did not befall the frightened group of soldiers. "All of you have been spared," shouted Elijah as he pointed at Obadiah, "because of this man's devotion to the one true God of Israel."

Obadiah and Elijah shared the Faith with the soldiers and as they were preparing to return to Ahab and Jezebel empty handed they were surprised to see that Obadiah was removing his weapons and armor."Take these back with you and give them to Ahab and Jezebel," he said, "I shall serve them no longer." They did as he requested and Obadiah stayed with Elijah to learn more about the life of a prophet. He felt a strong calling to speak truth in a powerful way regardless of cost or threat. He became a prophet to Edom and prophesied of a coming day of judgment for all nations. Before he died, or perhaps shortly thereafter, some of his words were recorded. It was Obadiah who said, "For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head." The man who had remained faithful even in the face of great threat and danger called all people to remember God's justice and judgment even before it became so powerfully apparent.

Friday, November 18, 2011

November 18 - Romanus of Caesarea, Martyr, Encourager, Proclaimer

Romanus was a deacon at the church in Caesarea. He was also a thorn in the side of the Roman rulers and leaders. He had encouraged the Christians in Caesarea to constantly remember their first allegiance was to God and not to Rome. This attracted the kind of Imperial attention that was generally avoided by the Roman populace. Romanus was not afraid of whatever the Empire might threaten or do but was still sent to another congregation--this one in Antioch--when persecutions increased in Caesarea. As he arrived in Antioch, he met a congregation that was gripped by dread of the Emperor's legions and power. They knew all too well what happened to people like Romanus and the people that Romanus led.

The governor of Antioch--Asklepiades--had made it known that he was considering the destruction of the Christian house of worship. Romanus spoke tenderly to the people of his congregation and called them to stand in support of one another and their common bond in brotherhood and sisterhood as the Body of Christ. "If we deter the governor from this evil, then the Church everywhere will join with us in celebration," he said, "and if we fail and he slaughters us in our defense of the Church, then the heavenly Church will welcome us in as sons and daughters of God baptized again in blood." The people joined Romanus in protesting the governor's plans and prepared for the expected retaliation. Instead, the governor was deterred by their unwavering solidarity and commitment.

A little while later, Romanus was shocked to see that there was yet another festival being held in the streets of Antioch. Idols lined the streets and enthused worshipers were prostrate before many of them. The festival was in high gear when Romanus took up a position on a corner to preach the Gospel. Along with the Gospel, he denounced the idols as sinful distractions from the one true God. The crowds railed against him and threatened him yet he did not cease his preaching. Eventually, he was arrested to keep the peace. When the governor realized who had had finally seized, he took his opportunity to put an end to this annoyance. He had him bound and tied to a stake in the middle of the city. They whipped and beat him in the sight of the many people there. Finally, they prepared to burn him alive at the stake. As they were setting the fire, a harsh rain storm descended upon the city and the fire was extinguished. Romanus laughed loudly--though bleeding and beaten from the torture--and continued to proclaim the Gospel to the angry crowd. "Could your idols not keep away a single storm?" he asked the crowd. The governor had his tongue ripped out.With wordless utterances he sang hymns and continued to preach as he bled yet more profusely. Finally, he was strangled to death with the words of the Gospel and hope upon his blood-stained lips.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 17 - Hilda of Whitby, Nun, Abbess, Mother

The Venerable Bede wrote about Hilda: "All that knew her called her Mother." Raised by a foster father of power and influence, Hilda eventually found her way to the monastery as a nun. She had followed in the footsteps of her widowed sister and after the calling that God was placing on her life. She expected the life of a monastic to be a pleasing one that gave her time for prayer, reflection, and intimacy with the God she loved. All of this was while growing up among leaders who did not follow the faith that gripped her. When her father and protector was slain in battle, she planned to go to her sister. While on the way, however, she received a letter from Aidan of Lindisfarne. He asked her to come to Northumbria and help found a monastery there. She went because she heard the voice of God speaking through Aidan's letter.

When she arrived, she was comforted in her decision by a calm assurance that she was doing what God had called her to do. As nun and monastic in Northumbria, she learned quickly about the life of one devoted to prayer and service. So quickly that soon she was appointed abbess of a local convent. She wore the pectoral cross of the abbess and led her sisters in Christ in lives of prayer to and adoration of God. The sisters loved her and fittingly called her "Mother." It seems likely that this monastery was a "double monastery" in the Celtic tradition and would have involved both men and women living in separate houses but worshiping together.As most of the Celtic monasteries, it was not uncommon for the abbess of the nuns to lead both houses in worship. After a year or so, she was called away and appointed abbess of the new monastery at Whitby.

The monastery at Whitby was, most definitely, a double monastery and it is known that many of the young men found Hilda to be a spiritual mentor of incredible gifts and leadership. Five of the monks who she was "mother" to became bishops and several became saints. It seems that the monastic life that she had been called to by her Lord and equipped with by Aidan gave her room to be a mother to those who hoped to serve God in prayer and leadership. These young monks and nuns named Hilda as their mother as they went out into the world to lead and shepherd the flocks of the Church. By extension, Hilda became mother and grandmother to many Christians in the West in the 8th century. Years later, after her painful and slow death from disease and exhaustion, Bede would write a history of her for she had become a type of mother to him, as well. She offered hospitality and guidance to any who asked and taught those under her tutelage to do the same. In so doing, she shared the Faith that had gripped her and saved her from a young age while the foster child of a foreign king. Nursing leaders and shepherds was her calling and she did so gladly and ably. Indeed she was truly called "mother."

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

November 16 - Hugh of Lincoln, Bishop, Monk, Reformer

Hugh hadn't asked for power. He had been content in his positions of leadership within the Carthusian monasteries of England. He had been born in France and raised in a Christian family. He loved to tend to the garden near his monastic cell and to live the life of prayer and reflection that characterized the Carthusian life. As people recognized the natural leader within him, he was appointed prior of a monastery and, eventually, prior of a larger monastery. It became increasingly clear that Hugh had been set apart to lead but Hugh never sought power for the sake of power--he was content to be a monk and follower of Jesus and didn't feel any need to dictate, command, or control.

Henry II was still doing penance for the murder of Thomas Becket. As part of his penance, he was ordered to establish a Carthusian monastery in England but it had experienced quite a bit of trouble in getting started. The first prior had retired without building the monastery and the second had recently died. Henry knew that he was expected to find a prior who would establish and strengthen the group so he sent a group to go and bring Hugh to England to lead this group of unorganized monks. Hugh and the Carthusians knew that this was a dangerousthing--to go to the country that had murdered Thomas and lead a monasticmovement--but it was agreed that Hugh could do great work for the Kingdom so Hugh went willingly with a touch of anxiety.

Hugh found that there had been negligible leadership at Lincoln before he arrived. Not only was there not a monastery building but there were no plans to build one. He organized the monks to work together and campaigned with Henry to provide money to them. He insisted that if Henry truly wanted a Carthusian monastery in Lincoln, then he would have to help support them as they established themselves. Realizing that this was the kind of leader he had recruited, Henry supplied an official charter to the Carthusians and helped to fund their endeavors. Further, he was known to attend their worship services when he was nearby.

Eventually, Hugh was elected bishop of Lincoln by the king and the king's people. He thanked the king but refused to accept it until he could meet with his colleague and they could vote. Hugh wasn't keen on allowing a king to command the affairs of the Church. Hugh's colleagues agreed and Hugh became bishop of Lincoln. As bishop, he was not afraid of the king, however. He remained convinced that the king had no room to command or dictate Church policy and did not hesitate to exact Church discipline upon errant members who were connected to the king.Their relation to the king of England did not absolve them from their sins, he insisted. He resisted the king's appointments to ecclesial positions and even refused some of the king's direct orders. All of this was done in a culture that keenly remembered the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. Hugh had no fear, however. Further crusading against the culture, Hugh was known to condemn violence against the Jewish people of Lincoln and England. The Jewish people soon learned that they were safe with Hugh.

By the end of his life, Hugh had made it very clear that he wasn't the average bishop. He had resisted the commands of a king and a kingdom that had shown no hesitation in murdering people like him before. He stood by his commitments because they were his calling. Indeed, he had not asked for power but when given the yoke of leadership, Hugh did not balk or hesitate. He understood that leadership and power were not things to be sought for selfish gain but things to be used for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God and in service to the will of God.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

November 15 - Elisabeth of Hungary, Princess, Caretaker of the Poor, Victim of an Inquisitor

She had done it again. Ludwig loved his wife and admired the Christian practices she had learned from the Franciscans and engaged in openly within the kingdom. It was a good thing--most of the time--and inspired greater acts of love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness within the kingdom. As king, this was clearly a good thing. Yet, sometimes Elisabeth went too far by Ludwig's standards. One of his trusted servants had come to him and said that Elisabeth had brought a leper into their home and taken the leper to rest and sleep in their shared bed. Ludwig couldn't help but think of the open sores and bodily fluids that were coming into contact with his sheets. He shuddered and cringed as he ran to the room. When he arrived, he saw the mass of flesh under the sheets and blankets and cried, "No no no no no!" He ripped back the covers and sheets to expose the leper and order him out of the bed Elisabeth had offered him. He fell back surprised. He didn't see a leper. He saw Jesus stretched out as if being crucified and bleeding on his sheets. He stared. He didn't know what to do. He covered over Jesus with the sheets and blankets again and backed out of the room.

Elisabeth had been betrothed to Ludwig at the age of four or five. It had been a political maneuver by the Hungarian royalty to promise the princess in marriage to the German prince. When Elisabeth turned fourteen, she was married to Ludwig and began a life as a member of the German people. While learning her way around the German world and learning who her new husband really was, she had the opportunity to meet some Franciscan monks.From them, she learned about love and sacrifice and the power of a committed and devoted life to impact the world. She would often relate to her personal confessor--Konrad--that this has been such an important moment in her life.
Ludwig died only seven years into his marriage with Elisabeth. He died while traveling to participate in war. His remains were returned to his widow and a funeral was held. Then, twenty-one-year-old Elisabeth was put into the care her confessor Konrad. This was not a good day in the life of Elisabeth. She was restrained from practicing her radical charity. She was punished severely for lapses in character no matter how small. Konrad ordered her to be physically beaten for some sins yet was also keen to stop her from going forth and practicing the faith she had learned from the Franciscans.Konrad--who would one day become an inquisitor--stopped her one day to look in the basket she was carrying.Elisabeth was frightened by the surprise inspection and knew that Konrad would be displeased by the loaves of bread she was secreting from the residence to the poor. When he opened the basket, however, miraculously he found only roses. Shaking his head in confusion, he allowed her to leave and when she arrived among the poor, the loaves were bread again and she distributed them to the people.

Konrad's treatment and abuse of Elisabeth shortened her life substantially. She died four years after her husband at the age of twenty-five. She likely had contracted disease from the people she ministered to and she was physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted by Konrad's rigors and "disciplines." Her death was mourned by the people of Germany and by anyone anywhere who has suffered under a restrictive religious leader while wanting to serve and heal those close to Jesus' heart.

Monday, November 14, 2011

November 14 - Philip, Apostle, Martyr, Guide

Philip found it hard to keep quiet about something that he thought other people should know about. It wasn't a part of his personality to find something out and keep it to himself. Once he had become a follower and disciple of Jesus, this tendency led him to guide others to God and introduce them to the Lord he had met and become devoted to. It had all began with Nathaniel. "Nathaniel," Philip called, "you must meet the man whom I met and know him as I am coming to know him." Of course, Nathaniel had taken the opportunity to be introduced and followed shortly thereafter in Philip's footsteps as a disciple of Jesus. It was second nature for Philip to share Jesus with Nathaniel and he never thought twice about it.

As Philip followed after Jesus he had another opportunity to introduce people to Jesus in a grander and more impressive way. Philip spoke Greek fluently and was able to use this skill for the Kingdom when Jesus and his disciples found themselves among a community of Greek-speaking Jews. A group of themapproached Philip at the perimeter of the crowd and said, "Sir, we want to meet Jesus." Philip was instantly excited about being able to make this important introduction again. He tapped Andrew on the shoulder and said, "These men want to meet Jesus!" Andrew and Peter ushered them through the crowd and introduced them to the man who was ushering in a Kingdom founded on forgiveness and redemption through the power of love. Because of Philip's eagerness and gifts, he was able to introduce them to Jesus and his Kingdom. Philip had, once again, been a guide for the wandering.
We don't know what Philip did specifically when Jesus was arrested and crucified. We know that like the other disciples, he fled and avoided the punishment that he and the others anticipated for associating with the condemned Lord. Further, we know that he was present when Jesus appeared again unto the twelve and when the Holy Spirit descended upon them all at Pentecost. Through Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection Philip--the great guide--was introduced to the power of sacrificial love and redemptive forgiveness for the broken and the sinful. It was this introduction that had the greatest impact.

Philip himself traveled to Greece, Syria, and Phrygia to share the news. While there, he began preaching the Gospel of love for enemies and forgiveness for sinners that he had been introduced to by Jesus. He began the process of slowly introducing more and more people to the one who had come, died to forgive sins and inaugurate a new Kingdom, and had promised to come again. He did miracles and attracted a good deal of attention. All of this went reasonably well for some time until he introduced the wife of the proconsul of Hierapolis to Jesus. For this offense, he was arrested and crucified upside down as a deterrent to any other who would dare try to tell the same story of a God who became human and died to reintroduce the lost sheep of the flock to life and truth.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

November 13 - Eugene Bossilkov, Martyr, Blessed, Enemy of the State

The trial was for show. Eugene knew it. The judge knew it. Everybody knew it. Yet, it allowed the Soviets to varnish over their fear and hatred with a thin patina of justice. While everybody watched, Eugene was paraded into the court and sat before a crowd hungry to condemn this enemy of the Party. Or, at least, they were hungry to move the Party's intense focus and hatred toward a sacrificial and innocent victim. Eugene was asked to testify on his behalf but Eugene was not allowed to tell his story.

Instead, a story was suggested to him where he was a revolutionary and a spy for Western Imperial powers. He insisted that this was a lie but the trial was never about finding out the truth and so it continued on as if he had said nothing or perhaps agreed with them. They paraded out evidence of guns and incriminating artifacts and papers. All of these items pointed even more strongly at the story that said Eugene was an insurrectionist and criminal. Of course,the guns were returned to the museum that they had been lifted from at the end of the day and nobody really cared much for the evidence--after all, they had already agreed on a verdict and sentence.
What nobody bothered to find out was how he had been born Vincent Bossilkov in Bulgariaand had pursued a calling as a Passionist monk. Nobody bothered to consider how joyous he had felt when he was ordained in 1926 and how his passion was to bring life and light to the Bulgarian people. They noticed that he had spent time studying in Rome and insisted that he had been trained to combat communism but they failed to point out that his personal passion had been taking care of the laity within the diocese he returned to. He had opportunities to exercise power and influence but was more interested in caring for the flock. Further, Eugene had not fled the Soviet conquest of Bulgaria after World War II and had, instead, remained to take care of those who were left behind. While the Soviets began implementing laws and directives designed to curtail, hinder, and eventually eliminate religion in Bulgaria Eugene was appointed Bishop. It was this appointment that hastened his arrest, trial, and death sentence.

Eugene was martyred on November 13, 1952 as an enemy of the State and opponent of the Party. Yet, he never raised a weapon in resistance and his only crime was loving a people he was ordered not to associate with.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

November 12 - Margaret of Scotland, Queen, Friend of the Poor

"Come in! You are welcome here my brothers and sisters. Come, eat, and rest."With words like these, Margaret began a practice that would continue for the rest of her life. The poor around the royal residence had come there because there was a slightly better chance of receiving alms when near the king and queen--not because people were more merciful or generous but because people could hardly bear to look upon the sick and destitute without offering something to salve their consciences. The homeless were--and often are--very used to playing this dehumanizing game to survive. They sell their dignity for a crust of bread--their confidence for a cup of water. So, when Margaret flung the doors open and invited them in, they hesitated. It didn't make sense to these people so used to being objects of pity and scorn.But, then, the seven or eight that were there slowly ventured through the grand doors.

They knew Margaret and much of her history. She had been one of the last Anglo-Saxon royals that had fled England after the Norman conquest. She had been twenty-one years old when she fled with her family and had been unmarried. When she arrived, she was noticed by kingMalcolm and three-years-later, she was the queen-consort of the king of Scotland by marriage. Nearly every Scot could tell the story of her impact upon the king and Scotland. It was clear that Malcolm was devoted to his beautiful young wife and her values and faith had influenced him enough to change his life and attitude. Scotland was finding Christendom in the loving embrace of Margaret.

She brought the beggars and homeless into the dining room and sat them at her own lavishly appointed table.Each of them must have gasped in awe of the beautiful settings and luxurious furniture. She sat the first of them down in a chair worth more than all his possessions and brought a bowl of water and towel out from underneath it. Without a word, she lifted his foot and washed it with the water and the towel. On her knees before a beggar, the queen offered love in a wordless and powerful way. One by one, she washed the feet of each of her beloved and esteemed guests.

Then, they sat at the table and were served as if they were foreign dignitaries. At first, they took only a few small pieces of food and a little to drink. They were worried about taking advantage of Margaret's hospitality and so Margaret jumped from her seat and personally heaped more food onto their plates. "Eat," she said to them, "there is plenty to go around for my beloved brothers and sisters." So, they ate until they were full and could eat no more. Margaret herself waited until all had begun eating before joining them in the meal. She found sustenance in serving the least of Scotland's people. In the faces of those she served, she saw the face of her Lord and in the footwashing bowl she saw the dirty water that had fallen from her Savior's feet as she had washed them.

This was the practice that Margaret kept for most of her life as she was able. During Lent and Advent, she held great parties and invited hundreds of people into her home and fed and cared for them. She died in 1093 after a life of devoted service to Scotland, Malcolm, and the poor. Having passed on, she left Scotland forever remembering the queen who had been a friend of the poor because of the great love she had for Jesus.

Friday, November 11, 2011

November 11 - Martin of Tours, Soldier, Defector, He Who Clothed Jesus

Upon his horse, Martin was clearly visible to the crowd he rode through. The people knew a little about this man who had been raised in a military family of high regard. They knew that his father and father's father were respectable men. They knew that his cloak and symbols designated him as powerful and influential. Some even knew that he had been meeting with Christians in one of the churches that had been recently been legalized. Martin was legally allowed to attend but it caused a degree of uncertainty in so many of the common citizens of the Empire. These thoughts traveled through the minds of the crowd as they looked to see what this powerful and influential man would do in their presence. Martin's eyes and mind were in an entirely separated location--on a man who seemed to have fallen on terrible times.

The beggar barely had enough clothing to cover his nakedness. He looked weak from hunger and exhaustion. Most people in the crowd passed over him quickly because he made them uncomfortable. He was "somebody-else's-problem" and they felt he probably had more problems than they could count or determine.They salved over their discomfort with rationalizations that allowed them to avoid this destitute beggar in mind and sight. Yet, Martin couldn't look away. His heart burned at the sight of the nakedness of the man and he wondered if there wasn't something he could do.He was astounded at the way people ignored and avoided the man and wondered if itwasn't possible that he was seeing things since it seemed that this man was invisible to the crowd. The words of his Christian friends echoed in his mind and he was moved to help. He dismounted his horse, drew his sword and cut his cloak in half. He gave half of the split cloak to the man. The man accepted it wordlessly but with a smile.Not knowing what else to do, Martin mounted the horse and rode off wondering what he had just done.

That night, while he slept, he had a vision of Jesus standing among the angels wearing the given half of the cloak that Martin had split. Jesus pointed at Martin and said to the angels, "See, this is Martin. He is the Roman soldier who hasn't been baptized but who has clothed me." Martin woke with a start and considered what he had seen. It had an immediate impact upon him that he couldn't shake. He shared it with his Christian friends and they reminded him of the passage of scripture that insisted that Jesus would be among the poor, the sick, the prisoners, and the naked. He rejoiced with them in his encounter with their Lord. He was slowly being changed. He finally requested to be baptized and his Christian brothers and sisters did so gladly and with much joy. As the glow of his vision and baptism began to fade slightly, however, he soon began to be burdened by his profession of soldier. He struggled with this for nearly two years before the call was made for all soldiers to prepare to go to battle the Gauls. Martin went to his commander and dropped his sword in the dirt and said, "I am a Christian. I cannot do as you command. I cannot fight."

The commander ordered him jailed and mocked him before the other soldiers. He questioned what kind of faith Martin held that would prevent him from fighting for the Empire. The commander didn't understand a faith that wanted to love enemies and promote peace even at the cost of death. He jeered at Martin and tried to undermine the calling that Martin felt. As people labeled him a coward and questioned his courage, he responded:"I'm not afraid to die. I'm afraid to kill. Send me into battle unarmed--even at the front lines--and I will go gladly but I will not kill my enemy. I am called to love them." His commander responded with a sickly smile and agreement to send Martin forward on what was clearly a suicide mission. Yet, that night the opposing army changed its mind and sued for peace. The battle never happened and Martin was released from his bondage as a soldier. He went from there to become a monk and lead others along the path of faith that he followed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

November 10 - Leo the Great, Theologian, Pope, Diplomat

Sure, Leo was a highly accomplished theologian. After all, it is no accident that he was the first pope to receive the title of "the Great." Leo's Tomewas a theological masterpiece that confronted heresy, championed orthodoxy, and insisted upon the fully humanity and divinity of Jesus.Great theologians dedicated their works to Leo out of appreciation for the inspiration that he had been to them. His resistance against heresy brought many who had erred back within the bounds of the Church. This was accomplished by an insistence upon the unity of the Church and a precise argument for what is considered orthodox teaching.

Sure, Leo was a highly accomplished leader. He had been selected to be an emissary of the Church in brokering peace between leaders in Gaul before becoming the pope. While Leo was traveling, the pope died and Leo was selected as the next pope in the intervening time.When he became pope, he was a leader unlike many others by helping to calm and comfort a Rome that was quickly and painfully falling apart. His leadership involved having the power to speak powerfully and truthfully to those who erred in their dogma and doctrine. His letters were received by his audience with a heart nearly as heavy as the one that Leo had in writing them.These letters offered rebuke and called upon the audience to return again to their calling as part of the one Church.

But, when Atilla came to Rome and was preparing to sack and loot it, Leo proceeded out from the city with two assistants and met the mighty warrior on the field of battle. Leo brought a ransom from the vaults of Rome and appealed to Atilla's greed. With the money, Leo also brought an argument against the destruction and violation of the city. He was keen to point out that there were many innocent and uninvolved people in the city that would suffer simply so that Atilla could take home more of the wealth he had already been stripping from the Roman Empire. Atilla was impressed by Leo's demeanor and quiet confidence. Further, he was enticed by the money offered since it came with no risk of life or time. He took Leo's words and money and left Rome.Regrettably, Leo was unsuccessful in negotiating with the Vandals a few years later. They sacked the city but Leo accomplished something else in his negotiations. The Vandals agreed not to burn the city down or murder non-resisting citizens. Though Rome was sacked, its people were offered mercy because of Leo's pleas. Leo died shortly thereafter.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

November 9 - Kristallnacht - Reichspogromnacht

Not all stories that matter are especially flattering to the people involved. In fact, some of our most important stories are the ones that speak truthfully but poorly about us. We must remember to tell these stories, as well, because they serve an essential role within our collective storybook: they don't allow us to be comfortable with the good in us and continue to confront us with the bad in us. For Christians, this can be a challenge because we have a tendency togloss over travesties and atrocities within Christendom by labeling the perpetrators as "not really Christians." Indeed, they may not have been but there were, most assuredly, real followers of Christ who stood idly by and watched such things as the Inquisition and the Crusades for example. One of these stories isKristallnacht--the Night of Broken Glass.

The Jews were ordered to leave Germany in October of 1938. 12,000 Jewish people of Polish descent were gathered up by the Gestapo and left at the border of Germany and Poland. 4,000 were admitted into Poland as refugees but 8,000 were left on the border to suffer and struggle as outcasts. Word was passed by letter and postcard and soon a Jewish relative of one of the 8,000 refugees--Herschel Grynszpan--who was living in Paris decided that he would exact revenge. He went to the Germany embassy in Paris on November 6th and shot the diplomat in the chest while claiming it to be "in the name of 12,000 persecuted Jews." Herschel had struck back but had also unknowingly given the German leaders a rationale for atrocity. Kristallnacht soon followed.

Clothing themselves in indignity and the cover of "self-defense," they censored all Jewish publications on November 8th. This represented a severing of the ties between disparate Jewish groups and silenced the voice of the Jewish people prior to Germany's atrocity. This move was the gag that made travesty more palatable in the days to come. Jewish children were expelled from their German schools and it soon became very clear that trouble was building like a thunderhead and would soon break.

On the night of November 9th, 1938, the German leaders executed a series of attacks, seizures, and crimes that are now know as Kristallnacht--the name given to it by the perpetrators--or Reichspogromnacht--the name given to it by those who recognize the atrocity therein. Over two hundred synagogues were looted, ransacked, and burned to the ground.Thousands upon thousands of Jewish businesses were broken into. The broken glass from the storefronts covered the sidewalks in so many places that it gave the name to this event--the Night of Broken Glass. These shops were shut down. Ninety-two Jews were killed on the night of Kristallnacht as some resisted the evil that was being perpetrated. Somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 Jews were gathered together at gunpoint by secret police, loaded onto trains, and shipped to concentration camps.

The reaction in the days to follow? Despicable for sure. Some clergy applauded the actions of the German leaders and the people who had rioted. They commended the people for their anti-semitism and used Luther's birthday as an additional point of celebration. TheGerman people who had rioted and broken into stores had also been the ones who had killed some of the Jews who died that night. Yet, there was little outrage.There was little resistance. It seemed that the Church who claimed to follow after a tortured, persecuted, and Jewish savior did not see or want to see what was happening. They did not want to consider their complicity in this atrocity. They did not see how atrocious it truly was.
The "success" of Kristallnacht for the German leaders paved the way for greater tragedy. The relative lack of outrage and resistance convinced them that it was entirely possible to perpetrate worse evil since they had seen that the Church would not resist or exercise its prophetic voice enmasse. The continued evil that followed may have been lessened or limited by an appropriately horrified response--yet, it didn't happen and the Nazi war machine continued on fueled by the lives of the outcasts it consumed.

Kristallnacht should not ever be forgotten. In fact, it is best for us to adopt new language and call it Kristallnacht no longer--let us join with others who recognize the evil in the night and call it for what it is: Reichspogromnacht. The story should be--must be--told and remain an irritant in the Church's eye. Awful things were done and the Church watched them happen.