Sunday, August 31, 2014
Christianity was known among the Roman Britons but it had waned recently. Christianity had come into Britain in wrapped up in the pax romana but had begun to become less popular and populous within the reach of the Imperial rulers. Instead, the people were returning to their own religions and beliefs and rejecting the religion that had been compelled upon them. In Northumbria, an exiled king--Oswald--returned from Scotland to become ruler once again. He had been forced out of his home land and had taken refuge among the Scottish and Irish Christians near Iona. While at Iona, he had been converted to the Christianity that his companions professed and, so, when he returned to Northumbria he sent for missionaries from Iona and not from Rome.
The first missionary was a man by the name of Corman who experienced little to no success and, eventually, left Northumbria and returned to Iona. He reported to his friends, colleagues, and superiors that the people were too stubborn to be converted and too entrenched in their polytheistic ways. When met with the legacy of bad discipleship and spiritual formation, Corman found that what he had to offer the people was not of interest to them. He gave up when growth was not immediate and went home where he was comfortable. One man openly criticized Corman's methodology and approach to ministry in Northumbria. This man is the one that Iona sent to replace Corman. His name was Aidan.
Aidan was different. When he arrived, he founded a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne and slowly involved himself in the lives of those whom he hoped to minister to. Instead of showing up and simply preaching fiery sermons and expecting the immediate movement of the spirit and explosive growth, Aidan recognized the importance of relationships. He started a monastery and devoted himself to prayer, worship, and investing himself in the lives of others. He wasn't trying to recreate Iona in Northumbria but, rather, recreate the situation and circumstances that gave rise to Iona--committed followers of Christ gathering together in relationships to worship, pray, and devote themselves to the ministry of the Kingdom of God.
Aidan made it a habit to walk between the villages of Northumbria and converse with any who might walk along the way with him. He spent many days simply walking and talking with people and learning to love them as they learned to love him. His conversations were not engineered attempts to "witness" to the people but, rather, he understood his life to be his witness and the relationships he built as ways for others to partake of his life. Oswald gave Aidan a horse, once, because he had heard that Aidan was walking between villages as he went about his ministry. Aidan gave the horse to a nearby beggar and insisted that he'd rather walk. Aidan knew that a horse would disconnect him from the people he loved and was invested in.He knew that spiritual formation and invigoration of people was accomplished slowly and through prayer, worship, and healthy, sincere relationships.
Aidan's monastery grew slowly and steadily and was intentionally composed of people from Northumbria.So, as the people of Northumbria needed more Christian leaders they were provided with people who they knew and trusted already. This was part of Aidan's plan all along--not to make the Northumbrians over in his own image but, rather, to help them follow after God who had made them in God's image. Aidan would die in Northumbria many years later but his monastery and ministry would continue on as a witness to those who had ears to hear and as an example to all of us.
Saturday, August 30, 2014
Jeanne Jugan was born in Brittany, France, in the late 18 century. Her father died when she was young and this forced Jeanne's mother and sisters to take care of the large Jugan family. She was devoted to her family and helped to provide for their needs in whatever ways she could. As the sixth of eight children, however, she was one of the younger ones. She wasn't called to be a surrogate mother but, rather, a little sister to her family.
When she was sixteen, she took a job as a maid for a local countess. These circumstances could have been bad for Jeanne--as they had been for so many other young women--but the countess was a devoted Christian who saw a kindred spirit in young Jeanne. The countess was very active in visiting the sick and the needy and providing for their various needs. Though Jeanne was hired as a kitchen-maid, at the request of the countess she began traveling with her to visit the sick and poor and assist in providing for their needs.The older countess used her young maid to help her in providing the love and support needed by those they visited. Jeanne was not called to be a countess and benefactor but, rather, a little sister to the countess.
Several years later, Jeanne would take a job caring for an elderly woman in the community.They, too, recognized a similarity in each other and began to work together intimately to provide for the poor and unfortunate in the area. Further, under the elderly lady's direction, they began to teach catechesis to the interested children in the community. This was a chance for Jeanne to serve as a leader to some but still be guided by those whom she loved and who loved her. Jeanne did teach the faith to the people and was, in many ways, a teacher at heart but she was not called to be a schoolmaster but, rather, a little sister to her elderly friend until she died and went to her rest in God.
Jeanne would, then, join with another elderly lady--Francoise Aubert--to rent a small cottage. They were joined by Virginie Tredaniel--a seventeen-year-old orphaned girl. These three women joined together in regular prayer and reflection. Their small Christian community offered hospitality to any who might request it and offered teaching to all who were interested. Upon one occasion, Jeanne brought a blind widow into their home and slept on the floor so that the widow could sleep in her bed. As she slept on the floor and her widowed friend slept comfortably for the first time in who knows how long, she felt the call that had been on her life for so long. She was not called to succeed by the standards of the world but, rather, to be a little sister to widows and the elderly. Any elderly woman was welcome and well-provided for in their home. They were fed and loved. This community would daily and beg for assistance to provide for those in their care. They became known as the "Little Sisters of the Poor."
When Jeanne died, in 1879, there were nearly 2500 little sisters spread across the world providing assistance, love, and hospitality to widows and the elderly. In all things, Jeanne lived by an ethic of love and sacrifice for others. She had learned from an early age that Christians should be known for their love and that there was far more to love than words and good intentions. She was a little sister to many and an example to all.
Friday, August 29, 2014
John the Baptizer wasn't the kind of person you'd likely invite over for dinner on Sunday afternoon. By our modern sensibilities, he's a little odd. By first century sensibilities, he was frightening and perplexing. He wore garments made out of rough camel hair and subsisted on an odd diet of locusts and honey. In a sense, he had rejected the comforts and pleasures of the world he lived in to set an example and proclaim the truth in an intriguing way. Like a modern day Ezekiel, he became an object of derision and mockery so that people would hear the message he was proclaiming: "Repent, for the God's Kingdom is right around the corner!" The people began to wonder if this wasn't the person that Isaiah had been talking about when he described: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight.'"
John the Baptizer was known for preaching repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins. Though he went to a fairly inhospitable part of the land, people streamed out to him to hear his message of repentance and to be baptized by him. They recognized that there was something different about him. They could see it went beyond weird clothes and a scavenger's diet--it had something to do with the truth of his message. In the face of that present darkness of spirit, John was proclaiming truth as if he had no fear of reprisal--as if God had anointed him to speak. He took those who could feel the tension in the air--the seeming climax of the ages--and baptized them hoping to begin the inauguration of a new Kingdom.
Seeing some of the religious professionals come out to him he preached, "I see you, you children of serpents! You clearly didn't see it for yourself so who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? If you're sincere, then produce fruit in keeping with repentance. I can hear you saying to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I know that makes you feel better but I tell you that God can make children for Abraham out of these stones. Your heritage isn't enough, anymore. This isn't some far-off judgment--the ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire like the scrap wood it is. Oh, yes, something is going on here. I baptize people with water on account of repentance. But there is somebody else coming--somebody more powerful--whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. You think this is amazing? You think this is 'out there?' Just wait. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear the threshing floor. That's right, he'll gather the wheat into the barn and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Eventually, John would baptize Jesus and indicate that this one was the one he had been talking about. Though he begged Jesus to baptize him, Jesus insisted that John live into his calling and be the baptizer. After all, John would soon have his own baptism--a baptism of blood. Being a truth-teller, John would speak truth to the Empire and Herod. Herod had taken his brother's wife as his own and John had spoken out against it. For his truth-telling, John was arrested, bound, and thrown into a prison. The hope was that John would rethink his truth and deny it to purchase his own freedom. They underestimated John the Baptizer and, consequently, he remained in prison for some time--until Herod's birthday to be precise. A beautiful woman--his new wife's daughter--performed a special dance for Herod and pleased him. Herod, in a fit of ignorant lust, agreed to give her anything she asked for. Her mother had trained her well and, so, she asked for the head of John the Baptizer. The demand had been made for the Empire to behave like the Empire and execute a person who told uncomfortable truths. Herod knew this was a bad idea--people loved John and would be enraged when he was executed for sport--but he did it anyway.He had John beheaded and the head presented on a silver platter.
John died for telling the truth--like many prophets--and for refusing to purchase his freedom at the price of his soul. He had lived into his calling: to be a voice in the wilderness and to prepare the way of Jesus in the world. Jesus would praise John when John's disciples came to him and told of his execution. Many of John's disciples would become disciples of Jesus--both at Jesus' baptism and at John's death. Jesus was aware that John's death foreshadowed his own impending execution and, so, likely felt some intimate kinship with this truth-teller knowing that he, too, would be executed for telling the truth. As we look back at the life and words of John the Baptizer, we must recall that living into our calling and refusing to live a life of deception and destruction will cost us dearly. It may cost some of us our lives in one instant moment of martyrdom, while others it will cost our lives a moment at a time as continue to tell the truth to a world that doesn't want to hear it--as we continue to prepare the ways of our Lord.
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Augustine was born into a divided family where his mother--Monica--was a Christian and his father--Patricius--was a non-Christian. He was raised within the bounds of the Church at his mother's insistence but he received a top notch education at a non-Christian school nearly twenty miles away from home at his father's insistence. Because of the incredible opportunity that his education presented, Augustine became an articulate and intelligent expounder of the philosophical systems he had studied and learned to love--namely, Platonism. He found great comfort in the predictable and consistent halls of academia and decided to pursue a career within the walls of the ivory tower of academia--Augustine aspired to be a professor of rhetoric.
Augustine moved around teaching rhetoric to popular academic acclaim for many years. He was repeatedly disappointed with his students' behavior and lack of professionalism but so loved the academic world that he continued on gaining more and more acclaim. Eventually, he was appointed Professor of Rhetoric for the Imperial Court at Milan. This was, very likely, the most highly regarded rhetorical profession in the western world. Augustine took it gladly but, on the way there in a carriage, noticed a homeless beggar on the street and remarked: "Surely, this man lives a happier and more carefree life thanI do." Even at the zenith of his academic career, Augustine was aware that countless accolades and voluminous praise could not satisfy the man who would, eventually, write: "Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee." Happiness eluded Augustine even as success dwelt in his lap.
Augustine sought happiness and fulfillment in women throughout his adult life. He was famed for his voracious sexual appetite. He lived with a woman--Flora--for nearly fifteen years and had a son by her without marrying her. He wasn't interested in loving her as much as experiencing her as an object and thing meant to provide him pleasure. He would, eventually, become part of an arranged marriage with a girl too young to be wed. He broke off his relationship with Flora because of the arranged marriage but could not wait long enough to marry his betrothed and started a new relationship with another woman. This is the man who is famed to say,"Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet." Augustine hoped to fill the aching void within him with pleasure and women but found that he still felt unsatisfied.
Augustine sought fulfillment in the Manichaean religion that followed their founder Mani. Mani suggested that good and evil were equal and opposing cosmic forces--neither was more powerful or more capable than the other--that fought out their eternal battle within the lives and minds of humans who were composed from good and evil. They identified goodness with the soul and evilness with the body. This linked with Augustine's love of Platonic philosophy and he remained convinced for some years. He sought meaning to life in Mani's philosophy and sought the release promised if humans could only learn to identify solely with their soul and cast aside the foreign domination of the body upon the soul. Augustine would, eventually, have a chance to sit down with one of the greatest living teachers of Manichaeanism and question him. Augustine was painfully disappointed to find out that this "enlightened teacher" knew less than he did andwas tripped up on simple philosophical questions related to the religion he was described as knowing expertly. Finding that even the great enlightened teachers were unable to attain to Mani's theoretical salvation, Augustine left the Manichaeans unfulfilled and unsatisfied.
In recollection, Augustine learned much of himself. He revealed in The Confessions that as a child he and some friends had crept into a neighbor's land and found a cluster of pear trees. There, he and his friends tasted some of the pears and found them to be either sour or bland and absolutely unpalatable. Yet, they stole armloads of the pears and destroyed them. Augustine would look back and find great meaning in this moment--meaning that would help him understand his incredible lack of satisfaction and peace throughout his life: he had stolen the pears not because they were something of value but, rather, because he wanted to steal. Augustine was, finally, prepared to turn his critical eye inward and realize that so much of his life had been spent in rebellion to God not because of some value in it but because it was part of his very nature--he was alienated from the only true source of peace and satisfaction in the universe.It was with this dawning realization that Augustine met Ambrose in Milan.
Ambrose was a skilled and educated rhetorician and priest who welcomed Augustine into his home and his church. He encouraged Augustine to ask questions--knowing that it was in Augustine's nature to do so--and answered what he could and taught Augustine to answer others. His openness to the intellectual aspects of Christianity and his skillful presentation of its teachings slowly won over Augustine. Eventually, Augustine would convert to Christianity--much to his mother's happiness--and become one of the staunchest defenders of orthodoxy in the history of the Church. He would apply the skills that he had acquired in the world to the service of the Kingdom of God and write numerous treatises and books. Augustine, upon looking back over his life, would come to the slow and steady realization that "...man wishes to be happy even when he so lives as to make happiness impossible." Looking back upon his aimless wandering and pursuit of satisfaction and peace, he reflected,"I found thee not, O Lord, without, because I erred in seeking thee without that wert within."
Even now, Augustine's life raises his question: "Don't you believe that there is in man a deep so profound as to be hidden even to him in whom it is?" For Augustine, there was no rest until he found it in God and he found this rest in 430 as the Bishop of Hippo and an inspiration to countless millions of Christians.
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
Monica was born in Africa, near Carthage. She was born to a Christian family and grew up within the bounds of the Church. However, when she was older her parents agreed to marry her to an older non-Christian man by the name of Patricius. Patricius was known to be an abusive man with a volatile temper. However, Monica continued to attend church services nearly every day and prayed for her husband with an undeniable fervor. Her love and devotion to a man who she hadn't chosen or known had a marked influence on Patricius. Though he did not convert until the end of his life, he never beat her or physically abused her. Over time, his verbal abuse stopped as he realized that it was having no effect on her or her love for him. They had three children--the eldest of which was named Augustine.
To say that Augustine was the apple of his mother's eye is quite the understatement. Through his writing we learn much of Monica's fabled devotion and love for those near her. Augustine was not a Christian and, as a youth, seemed to show no interest in his mother's faith. She prayed for him daily in spite of his mockery and derision. When he joined the Manichean cult, she prayed for him and sought direction from spiritual leaders and mentors. She received a vision in which an angel told her: "Your son is with you."She joyfully told Augustine about her vision and he dismissed it. He insisted, cruelly, that this could tell of her own apostasy as easily as it could tell of his conversion. Overlooking her son's cruelty and mockery, she responded: "No, the angel didn't say I was with you. The angel said you were with me."
Monica shed many tears for her prodigal son who seemed to flee his mother and avoid her prayers. She continued to pray for him at every opportunity. Eventually, a bishop she had been talking to told her, "Go now, please...It is not possible that the child of so many prayerful tears should be unaffected." The bishop was right but Monica would not know this for many more long prayer-filled days. After her husband had converted and died, she went to live with Augustine in Italy and eventually, and partially through her own engineering, he began conversing with St. Ambrose the bishop of Milan. It was there--in Milan--that Augustine finally converted and Monica's hopes and dreams for her son were realized. Her prodigal son had come home and she ran to meet him at the gates. He was baptized, much to her joy, in 387.
They enjoyed a scant few worship experiences together before Monica's death at the age of fifty-five. She told Augustine, prior to her death, "There was only one reason that I wished to remain longer in this world: to see you profess the Christian faith before I died. I have seen this, what else is left for me?" As she died, someone asked her, "Aren't you afraid to die so far from your home?" They expected that Monica wanted to die near Carthage. However, Monica responded with the wisdom and spirituality that had sustained her through many prayer and tear filled nights:"Nothing is far from God."
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Louis of Toulouse was born in Brignoles, France, to Charles the Lame and Maria Arpad of Hungary. He was their second son and, as such, had no claim to the throne that his father was appointed to (King of Naples) by Pope Clement IV. Clement had been the secretary of Louis' uncle--Louis IX of France (better known as Saint Louis). Louis' older brother Charles Martel d'Anjou was in line to take the crown and a position of power in the world as he grew older. Louis would be well taken care of but would not need to engage in the political game to the same degree as his older brother.
In 1288, Charles lost a naval battle off the coast of Naples to some Sicilians and Aragonians. His fleet was defeated and he was taken prisoner. In exchange for the life and liberty of king Charles, his three sons (Charles Martel, Louis, and their youngest brother--Robert) were made to be hostages to the Aragonian rulers. The boys were taken captive and forced to live in Barcelona among their captors.There, they were cared for by Franciscan friars and given a competent education. Though all three were competent in their academic studies, Louis seemed to "get" the deeply Christian spirituality of the Franciscans in ways that his brothers seemed to miss. In a time of great personal crisis, he vowed to become a Franciscan friar when he was released--a vow that included poverty, chastity, and obedience.Further, he was appointed Archbishop of Lyon by his own people even while he was still a captive and unable to perform the duties of the office. In many ways, there was a life of promise awaiting him after his release and, yet, he still asserted his vow to be obedient to God's calling upon his life.
Shortly before they were released, the eldest brother--Charles Martel--died. With his death, Louis became the heir to the throne and crown of their father Charles the Lame. They were released and Louis was expected to come and accept the crown but he rejected it in favor of his vow to become a Franciscan. He gave up his right to his father's inheritance and passed these honors and titles on to his younger brother Robert. Louis, instead, took the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and became a Franciscan friar like he had vowed. He was, also, consecrated as the Bishop of Toulouse in a region much sought after by warring powers and players. In this tenuous position, Louis devoted his life to taking care of the poor and needy. He rarely took a moment to himself and spent most of the hours of his day providing aid and care to the neediest of the needy. Doing so took its toll on him and he died young--at the age of 23--from a fever.
In so many ways, Louis' life would have been easier if he had taken up the secular titles of his father. He could have experienced a life of leisure and political influence but, instead, he lived into a calling on his life to care for the poor and oppressed. He rejected the easy life of appointment and privilege for the hard but fulfilling life of the Christian called to service.
Monday, August 25, 2014
Genesius was not raised in a Christian family but he was a member of a class of people who were not highly esteemed or respected--actors and comedians. He sacrificed to the Roman gods and said all the right things but the Roman world seemed to offer him no opportunities to attain its great reward of wealth and a life of leisure and influence. Diocletian had made it clear that it would not be profitable--or even safe--to be a Christian but he had not been very clear on how anybody else could attain the rewards of the Empire. Genesius was an enterprising man and deduced that Diocletian would be making a rare trip to Rome to celebrate the 20th year of his rule and devised a plan. Knowing Diocletian's hatred of Christians, he endeavored to work with his troupe and develop an improvisational comedy act mocking Christians and their rites. He expected that this would convince the Emperor to smile upon him and earn him the rewards of the Empire and so he cast himself in the role of the main character with the intention of viciously satirizing Christian practice.
Using his skills as an actor, Genesius was able to become involved in Christian circles to perform the research necessary to do the act well. He was taking significant risk to do so--Christians were being persecuted and arrested--but he knew that he could always offer sacrifice quickly if captured and keep his freedom. Genesius convinced the Christian leaders that he was sincere and began to be educated by them about what it was they believed and trusted.While a catechumen of the Church, he learned about the Church's mysteries and rites--including baptism. The idea of sacramental rebirth by water intrigued Genesius who decided to focus the act upon this rite in particular. After he had received enough information to do the show, he stopped attending the meetings and classes of the people he had duped.
On the day of the show, the troupe was excited because Diocletian was present for the performance. Knowing that he loved comedy, the troupe knew that Diocletian's amusement meant their success and benefit. They took the stage and the mockery commenced much to Diocletian's delight. Genesius played a Christian in the catechumenate and his fellow actors played the stereotypes and comedic parts to the hilt. Subtle and not-so-subtle satire of the Christians pleased Diocletian as the actors must have been aware as they performed. Genesius--in character--requested baptism and an actor playing a priest came out from the wings of the stage area. Much laughter accompanied the baptism of Genesius but something changed as the water left the priest's bowl and poured over Genesius' head. Genesius saw a vision and all of his catechumenate came to bear upon his soul. He found himself painfully aware that he was mocking something that had taken seen in his heart and that he found himself truly to believe. He was being converted even as he mocked his newfound Lord and Savior. He had professed his faith in mockery but now it was made real as he found that the seed of faith planted by his time with the Christians had bloomed within him.
Actors playing soldiers came forward and gripped Genesius by the shoulders. They noticed that something had changed about Genesius' demeanor who had stopped delivering lines and, instead, was staring into space at some unseen vision. They continued on with the play likely thinking that Genesius was planning some particular gag or, perhaps, in accordance with the maxim: "the show must go on." They dragged him before the feet of Diocletian in the audience and presented him to the Emperor. Thinking it hilarious and excited to have a part in the show, Diocletian demanded the same of Genesius as he had demanded of so many Christians--denial of their faith and sacrifice to the Roman gods. Genesius looked up into the face of Diocletian and said, "I can deny neither my faith nor my Lord Jesus Christ." Nervous laughter stole through the crowd and Diocletian looked to his aides with confusion in his eyes--he didn't get it. The other actors froze knowing that Genesius had left the script--he was supposed to have agreed to the Emperor's demands and make a mockery of all that had preceded and been said.
Diocletian did not like that he thought a joke was being played on him and so he had soldiers--real soldiers--come out and bind Genesius before the crowd. It may not be funny but he refused to allow some actor to rob him of his dignity and aura of fear and adoration. He demanded Genesius' denial under threat of torture as audience and acting troupe looked on. Genesius responded: "There's nothing you can do or threaten to remove Jesus Christ from my heart and my mouth. Once I mocked his holy name and now I detest and regret that time. I came so late to the Kingdom and cannot leave it now." On Diocletian's order, Genesius was beheaded and made a martyr. He had not received the rewards of Rome but he had received the rewards of the Kingdom of God. He had earned the Martyr's Crown.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Bartholomew had followed after Jesus through most of Jesus' ministry and had seen many miracles. Jesus had preached, shared, died, and been raised again from among the dead. After this, he had appeared to the disciples and many others before ascending to the Father with a promise that he would be returning and a command to go into all the world to spread the Gospel he had accomplished and offered to any. Bartholomew took Jesus very seriously and set out east for what would have then been called "India" but included Armenia. Having arrived in Armenia, he went to one of the peoples' temples where they worshiped an idol. Possessing nothing more than the clothes on him, and perhaps a staff, he began to dwell among the poor and sick who desperately sought healing from the idol.
A demon--Astaruth--dwelt in the idol and received the worship and adoration of the sickly and needy. In a particularly cunning ploy, it oppressed many and caused sickness and suffering to those around it. Occasionally, it would release one of them from enough of the pain and sickness to be noticed. This person would, inevitably, attribute their new found "health" to their worship of Astaruth. In relenting slightly from physical abuse and oppression, Astaruth was able to inflict great damage to the soul of its victims. When Bartholomew arrived and began building relationships with the people, they began to notice that Astaruth no longer responded to their worship. They no longer received any manifestations of Astaruth's power and began to worry that Astaruth had forsaken them. None of the idols in the temple that Astaruth used were of any use to the people and they began to fear in their ignorance and desperation.
Some of the desperate people traveled to another temple to seek help and answers as to the silence of their god Astaruth. When they had arrived and made sacrifice to the demon of this temple--Becher--they asked why Astaruth no longer answered their pleas and sacrifices. Becher, perhaps compelled by fear or some other means, informed them that a man named Bartholomew--a friend of the Almighty God--had taken up residence among them and that on his account, Astaruth was being held in chains and bound from coming to the people. They asked how Bartholomew did this and Becher mentioned that Bartholomew was a disciple of Jesus who had died, descended to hell, and overcame death and the lord of Evil. In amazement, they returned to their temple and sought out Bartholomew who had begun healing people from sickness and possession.
King Polymius of Armenia heard of this miraculous healer and called on Bartholomew hoping to convince him to heal his daughter who was possession by a demon. Bartholomew consented and was led to the princess who was bound in chains and shackles because she had become dangerous. She had torn at her own flesh and bitten anybody who came near to her. Bartholomew asked the guards to release her from her chains--even though she did not look healed--and they balked. "Do you not know what she will do to us and you?" they asked. "Let her go, for I have bound the enemy within her. Loose her and give her food and bring her to me in the morning." He retired and, in the morning, they brought the girl to him and he exorcised her. In doing this, he did not simply cast the spirit out of her in a show of sudden and instant power but, rather, demonstrated that the demonic and evil powers that the people of the land struggled against were at the beck and call of Bartholomew's Lord and Savior. Having demonstrated God's power and majesty, he cast the demon out and the girl was fine. Polymius tried to pay him but the wealth was refused. Polymius and his family, and most of the city, converted in awe and amazement.
Having heard of his younger brother's conversion, Astreges--a ruler and opponent of Christians--was enraged at Bartholomew's teachings and actions and sent an army to capture Bartholomew and execute him. They descended upon Armenia and punished many for their conversions before finally seizing the fearless Bartholomew. They demanded that he worship their gods but Bartholomew refused to save his own life by wounding and corrupting his soul. They stripped the skin off of his body and crucified him upside down. Though they hoped to terrify onlookers and purchase their allegiance with fear, Bartholomew died willingly and without resistance and onlookers remembered the majesty and power of Bartholomew's Lord who had overcome death and evil, already, and promised life more abundant and free to all who would have it.
Saturday, August 23, 2014
William Booth was born to a family that had wealth and was able to provide him with an education but his father made some bad financial decisions that resulted in the loss of their wealth and a slow and painful descent into poverty. Eventually, William's education was no longer affordable and he was withdrawn from school and apprenticed to a pawnbroker. While undergoing his apprenticeship, he began attending services with a nearby Methodist congregation. Among these people, he began the process of his conversion away from sin and into God's calling upon his life. After he had finished his apprenticeship, he fled from the profession and sought work anywhere except pawnbroking. He tried preaching for a living but found it hard to make enough to supply even his most basic needs. Finally, he took a job at a pawnbroker in London--even though he detested the job--so that he could supply his basic needs and also preach to the people of London.
Catherine was born into a family of modest means that moved several times in her upbringing before settling in London. By the time she was twelve years old, Catherine had read the Bible through eight times.Her familiarity with the scripture made her a stunning interpreter to those who were willing to listen to a young girl and woman interpret the scripture. She would, during these years, seriously question the validity of prohibitions against the involvement of women in the inner workings and leadership of the Church. At the age of fourteen, she was very ill but would recover and used the time she was bound to the bed to read and also to write articles about social ills like alcoholism.
The two would meet in London in 1852 when William preached to the congregation that Catherine was a part of. They would be married in 1855 in a simple ceremony in order to save money for missions and ministry. Though they were Methodist, at first, they left when William was continually assigned to pastorates he did not feel called to. William and Catherine felt called to the evangelistic life of meager means and much travel.When his requests to be an evangelist were denied yet again, he and his wife resigned the pastorate and were barred from Methodist circles. Their theology and doctrine, however, remained essentially the same. During these formative years in the pastorate, Catherine began teaching children and young people and, then, speaking aloud in worship services and offering her testimony before the other adult members. These years were a time of formation for Catherine who believe in the rightness of women speaking in the church. Their heart, however, was in missionary evangelism in London.
They started a mission in London for the poor and needy. William cared for the destitute and downtrodden providing them with sustenance and support. They opened their doors to criminals and prostitutes, as well. They hoped to associate with the kind of people that Jesus had associated with. Finding themselves in good company, Catherine began reaching out to the wealthy in the community and seeking their financial assistance for the good work being done at the mission. She was surprisingly effective at persuading the affluent to share their wealth with the needy and the mission was well-supplied even if its workers were never well-paid.
Eventually, they renamed the mission the "Salvation Army" and utilized military imagery to govern and inform those that were involved with it. They were admittedly an army with no weapons. William took the title of "General" and Catherine took the title of "Mother." Their mission was exploding and expanding. It reached out throughout not only Britain, but also to other countries in need of hearing a message of salvation by grace through faith and conversion away from brokenness. During only William's life the Salvation Army started missions in 58 countries and colonies on the principles that salvation and redemption were free things and not commodities to be traded in or marketed. They hoped to provide for the poor and love them in a society that didn't even want to acknowledge them. Upon Catherine's death, their home was given to a cause that helped children with learning disabilities. Catherine died in William's arms with her family around her. When William died, years later, he was buried beside his beloved wife. Upon their deaths, they were not wealthy but they were well-respected and much-loved. They were not powerful but they were influential. They were not repaired--yet--but they were converted.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Anne Hutchinson was born Anne Marbury to a family that was well known for its dissent and disagreement. Her father had been jailed and persecuted for his dissent with ecclesiastic officials in England. He had insisted that so many of them were unprepared, untrained, and incompetent. For this, he suffered. In this, he taught his daughter the value of dissent and the likely outcome. Though, it would seem that Anne needed little help finding room for dissent and challenging the Church to be what it is called to be instead of what it is comfortable being.
Surely, she thought back to her father's punishment as she stood in the courtroom in Massachusetts undergoing trial for dissenting from the popular opinion of the Puritan officials. Anne had taken to teaching bible studies in her home. She started by inviting her female neighbors and friends but there was something very different about Anne's approach to the scripture. She wasn't teaching the same interpretations that the Puritan preachers repeated in the pulpit. She welcomed questions and confusion and did not label them as marks of a lack of faith. Instead, she encouraged the participants to question things like the enslavement of the native peoples and the subordination of women.
She spoke and taught as a minister and authority on the scripture and Christian teaching. She invited the listeners to imagine a radically equal and welcoming Church. She suggested, upon occasion, that the clergy were inappropriately expressing their authority by confining and repressing her brothers and sisters. She suggested that the clergy were using moral and legal codes to insure their own place of power and influence by stripping others of their capacity for action and thought. This would, eventually, cause her great suffering but not before it started to catch among the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Eventually, her home bible-studies were full and being attended by men in addition to women. She had to move the meeting into the local church because her home could no longer accommodate the large crowds. The clergy opposed her teachings under the pretense that she wasn't qualified to teach and might misinform them but this pretense gave way when they realized that their power over the people was waning and they were choosing to listen to Anne, anyway. They decried her teaching because of her sex and she responded from scripture that her actions were acceptable and in line with orthodox teaching. They were losing their power over those whom they drew it from and they began to get nervous. As is the case with most who oppose the status quo in favor of divine calling, she was attacked and vilified by the powers-that-be.
Governor Vane--one of Anne's supporters--lost his position to John Winthrop who had Anne arrested, charged, and tried. They resented that she was teaching that women were equal with men and worth equal treatment and consideration. They suggested that she was inciting rebellion and sedition. Further, they were enraged that she would criticize the clergy--the professional religious--even though she was a woman. They forced her--even though she was pregnant--to stand for days and answer the interrogations and accusations of the male board. She responded to all of their charges and accusations and stood firm in her right to say and do what she had done. She is quoted as saying to them, "You have no power over my body, neither can you do me any harm. I fear none but the great Jehovah, which hath foretold me of these things, and I do verily believe that he will deliver me out of your hands..." In desperation, they found her guilty and banished her from the colony "as being a woman not fit for our society." They were correct but it was by far more of a charge against their society than it was against Anne. Before her exile, she was made to suffer the indignity of a religious trial on the basis of a charge of blasphemy. Further, they felt it was inappropriate that she had allowed men to be present at her house studies and she was also condemned for this. Of these charges, she was also found guilty and excommunicated from the Puritan communion.
Before she was exiled, many of her followers (including Roger Williams) voluntarily left the colony and started a new one in Rhode Island. Due to the abuses of the Puritan judges and officials, Anne suffered a miscarriage. Regrettably, she was mocked for this and informed that this was the judgment of God upon her for her sins. A follower of hers suffered the same fate. She was exiled and found a home with her husband and followers in Rhode Island where she helped lead and manage the colony for many years before her death at the hands of Native Americans while traveling.
In many ways, Anne's life was proof that dissenting from the powers-that-be can cause suffering and persecution but, yet, it is still worth doing when the powers cannot see the Kingdom. Anne taught Christian doctrine freely and without regard for how it would be received by those who stood against her. Anne dared to profess the radical notion of the dignity and equality of women against a people who stood to gain by repressing women. Consequently, she was crushed in the gears of a system made for maintaining power for those who have it. But in being crushed, she bore a powerful witness to the sin and corruption within the system.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Abraham was born to wealthy parents in the 12th century, so you might say he
was fortunate. However, his parents died when he was very young and he was left to live with others in Smolensk, Russia, who loved him but who could never replace his father and mother in his life. Abraham was raised in the Church and was familiar with its teachings from a young age. Perhaps, his guardians thought that the Church, with all its many brothers and sisters, could be the family that Abraham needed so desperately. In many ways, it was, but it never made up for his deceased parents and their absence in his life. When he was deemed "old enough" to make decisions about his family fortune, he could only think of one thing to do with all that wealth--he gave it to the poor, took up the life of a monk, and moved to the Bogoroditskaya Monastery. He grew into his calling and vocation and was known as a forceful and convicting preacher, as well as being a scholar of the scriptures and the Church's teachings concerning the scriptures.
But what he was best known for during his service at Bogoroditskaya was his ministry to the poor and sick that always seemed to be growing. Abraham's genuine affection for those in trouble and need made him stand out from the average monk at Bogoroditskaya at the time and attracted much attention to his compassionate care from both those in need and other clergy. We could offer many reasons why his upbringing and fatherless and motherless childhood led Abraham to care for such as those whom he loved, but one thing is for certain beyond all other things: whatever it was that formed Abraham, formed him to be more loving and more caring--to be more like his savior, Jesus Christ. Many of Abraham's peers and colleagues at Bogoroditskaya became jealous of, or convicted by, his compassionate care and genuine love for those who were troubled. Consequently, they leveled charges of heresy and pride against him, insisting that what was genuine was actually corrupt. Abraham's enemies had reasoned that it was better to put out the light he produced, than to have others see clearly what little light shone from their hearts. The wealthy condemned Abraham for preaching against poverty and greed. After all, when your god is your wealth or your security, then even love and grace must bleed upon your altar. So, an investigation was opened into the character and orthodoxy of Abraham. Abraham avoided the conflict by moving and joining the Monks of the Holy Cross.
But, the accusations followed Abraham and soon he was forbidden to preach. Even though two consecutive investigations acquitted him of any wrongdoing, he was stripped of all priestly functions by his bishop and sent back to Bogoroditskaya to be obedient to his superiors and abandon his ministry to the sick and poor. But, soon a drought gripped Smolensk and the people cried for the Church to pray to God to grant rain to the city and its
fields. When the Church assured the people that it would though, the people demanded that Abraham be asked to do so because they knew personally what great love Abraham held for them. Because of the outpouring of support, the bishop reopened Abraham's investigation, cleared him of all charges, and renewed him to his priestly role and ministry to the sick and the poor. After Abraham prayed with the people for rain, he hadn't made it back to his cell when the first drops of rain began to fall on Smolensk. Abraham spent the rest of his life teaching and caring for the poor and the sick, because he had learned the power of love in the lives of those who need it so much. Abraham the fatherless and motherless had become father and mother to so many in need of God's love and grace and that had made all the difference in the world.
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Geert was a prodigious talent of considerable note among his peers and teachers. He received a highly regarded and expensive education that made him a person of status and envy. His primary areas of study were medicine, theology, and canon law. As a student of these disciplines, he received a well-rounded and enviable education that prepared him for an enjoyable life. Further, Geert was gifted in these disciplines and received numerous honors for his work. He had found that success in the world could be gained with consistent and concerted effort and a little bit of talent. Geert was appointed as a professor of theology and philosophy. Further, he received a portion of the cathedral's revenues and was very wealthy. So much of Geert's life was enviable for those who might look upon it--he had wealth, honors, respect, and influence. But, Geert was called to something greater and better.
Some of his dear friends contacted him and warned him about the seductions of wealth, power, and influence and insisted that he should pursue the higher calling that God had placed on his life. The love and devotion of his devoted friends had an impact on him and he,eventually, turned aside from his honors and wealth and sought out a monastery where he might rekindle what had been smothered in him--his calling as a minister of the Kingdom of the Slaughtered Lamb. He spent three years at the monastery in seclusion and prayer. His devotion only increased until the day he left and shocked people with the change that had been kindled in him in the monastery. Geert--who had become intoxicated with the pleasures and values of the world--had retreated from its temptations and found rest for his soul and invigoration for his devotion. Upon leaving, he became a traveling preacher of renown because of his incredible zeal and his uniform rejection of the things of the world.
A man of such zeal and skill drew disciples and followers who desired to follow after their leader. Eventually, one of his followers asked him, "Teacher, why don't we work together and coordinate our efforts? Why not work and pray together under the guidance of our Common Father?" Geert saw the wisdom in the leading of his disciple and guided his followers in joining together as the "Brethren of the Common Life." This group was a type of brotherhood that hoped to kindle in others the fire that had been kindled in them and in Geert. In many ways, Geert is one of the fathers of the devotional life and the idea of daily prayer and pious reflection. It was Geert's time in the monastery that formed the aspirations of this new group as they shared their devotion, kindled the fire within them, and led countless others to the fire that was consuming them--the fire of the Spirit filled life of conversion.
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Blaise Pascal had a very keen mind and a tendency to apply it freely and easily to the thoughts and concerns of his day. He was born in provincial France but his mother died when he was only three years old. Consequently, his father raised him and his two sisters alone. They were taken care of but they lacked their mother and would spend many long hours yearning for her presence.Further, though they were Roman Catholic by birth and self-description their faith can best be described as nominal and insincere. Blaise found consolation, adventure, and release in mathematics. He was comfortable in the ivory tower of academia. He applied himself fully to his studies and was soon noted for his astounding brilliance and was acclaimed as a child prodigy.
He was already publishing mathematical studies and proofs as a teenager. It cannot be denied, even for a second, that Blaise was a brilliant man with a mind fit for precise calculation and consideration. He expanded the disciplines of geometry by leaps and bounds, pioneered new patterns and theories in probability, laid the groundwork for the disciplines of calculus and economics, added to knowledge about fluid dynamics, clarified thoughts concerning pressure and vacuums, helped construct a mechanical calculator, and provided other advancements to knowledge in applied sciences and mathematics. Neither his academic rigor nor his value to modern science and mathematics can be dismissed. And, yet, he found himself unfulfilled and unsatisfied by these pursuits. So--he turned to philosophy and theology hoping to find meaning.
Blaise wrote, "Nothing gives rest but the sincere search for truth." In writing this, he engaged in confession and autobiography. For Blaise, there was no rest unless it was found in truth and knowledge. He had been so trained to chase after truth that it permeated his every thought and action. Though this sounds like a good argument for ignorance, Blaise had the awareness to identify this human drive for truth. It wasn't simply a personal preoccupation he was naming, it was an innate restlessness common to all people living in a world of shadows searching for something of substance.
Blaise's much hallowed reason was justifiably dear to him but his philosophical and theological explorations led him to a place where he could see its limitations. Blaise never came to a place where he dismissed reason--as it was a valuable and important tool worthy of respect and appreciation by all--but he did, eventually, arrive at an understanding of reason rightly known--a tool (and a fallible one at that). So, even though reason was to be used continuously to analyze and consider the events and circumstances of the world, it was to be understood to be as weak as the wielder of it--in other words, reason and science aren't the problem, misuse of them is. For Blaise, reason was unfit for the ultimate pursuit of truth because truth was more than "the case that is" or some long list of propositions but, rather, it was a person(John 14:6). Blaise writes, "It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason. That is what faith is: God perceived by the heart, not by the reason." Further, he deduced: "It is incomprehensible that God should exist, and it is incomprehensible that he should not exist." For Blaise, reason was an incomplete tool by itself and required right use to be effective. When he attempted to fill the hole he felt, he found that reason and rationality could not persuade and were, in fact, as weak as his will to use them. He concluded: "For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either. The ends of things and their beginnings are impregnably concealed from him in an impenetrable secret. He is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness out of which he was drawn and the infinite in which he is engulfed." This was not because he doubted reason and science but because he doubted the ability of the part of the system to understand the whole that formed it--he doubted the ability of the creation to comprehend the creator. Blaise had found the right place and limitations of not only reason but, also, himself and everybody else.
Ultimately, for Blaise, truth was found in earnest seeking after God. He experienced numerous mystical events including a healing of a woman with fistula lacrymalis and a mystical vision. It was in these moments of mystical truth that Blaise found comfort--not in his moments of great academic achievement. For a man to whom astounding intellect was a foregone conclusion, it is notable that he found his greatest satisfaction and fulfillment in the pursuit of an elusive mystery like love of enemies and redemption of broken people and sinners.It was not cold rationality that brought about Blaise's conversion to truth but, rather, the hallowed pursuit of the one who is Truth. In the end, Blaise contributed again and again to theology and philosophy and died as a Christian committed to following The Truth. He died a Christian and found the rest in the Truth that he had been seeking all those years.
Monday, August 18, 2014
Emygdius was born to a family of non-Christians in the third century. He was born in Trier in what would eventually be known as Germany. His noble family scorned him when he converted to Christianity at the age of twenty-three but he was not deterred from his faith. Instead, he hoped to win them as he had been won. Whether they turned him out or simply continued to refuse him, eventually Emygdius found some other place to live and joined with three other Christians who felt a burning desire to share their faith in Rome. Knowing Rome to be a dangerous place for a Christian--especially one with a steadfast love for its citizens--they went aware that they may be walking to their own death.Their love compelled them go when their reason bid otherwise.
After arriving in Rome, he was taken in by a wealthy man by the name of Gratianus. Gratianus had a paralyzed daughter and Emygdius was moved in compassion for her and her devoted father. In his compassion, he prayed for and cured her. Gratianus and his family soon converted and Emygdius' fiery ministry of healing and evangelism had started in a powerful way.
Soon thereafter, Emygdius prayed for and cured a blind man in the streets of Rome. This miracle gathered the attention of the crowds. They had seen this new man--Emygdius--make the sign of a cross across the face and eyes of a local blind beggar and, then, seen that the blind man was no longer blind. They must have wondered how he did it. He had made the sign of that group--those Christians--and the man's eyes had gained that which they had never had.He had made the sign of the Empire's great torture but, apparently, he was taking this sign as a holy thing. In their amazement, they picked him up and carried him to the temple of Aesculapius crying out, "This one is the son of a god! Let's take him to the temple where he belongs!"
Setting him down, they stared at him in anticipation of the great works he would do now that he was in a temple and being adored. Afraid to blink in case they missed it, they stared at him in rapt attention. Looking around Emygdius noticed that there were hundreds of sick people praying to idols for healing. He offered a simple and quiet prayer on their behalf and many were healed at that moment. The crowd gasped and prepared to worship him when Emygdius stopped them and proclaimed, "I am a follower of Jesus--whomyou have crucified--and a Christian." As the crowd gazed in shock, Emygdius tipped over and shattered the idols in the temple. In a flourish, he pushed over the great statue of Aesculapius demonstrating the superiority of the Crucified King over dead idols. For Emygdius, there was no hope in religious observation and adoration--rather, there was only hope in pursuit of and trust in Jesus. Many were converted to the Gospel of love for enemies and forgiveness for all that day in that temple to other gods.
Eventually, Emygdius ended up in Ascoli Piceno where the local governor--Polymius--demanded an audience with him. Polymius had heard the stories of Emygdius' healing and evangelistic efforts. He knew how the people responded to this loving and compassionate man. He sensed that Emygdius was the name on the lips of Ascoli Piceno. He wanted Emygdius to join with him and, thereby, to gather the allegiance of the people behind him. He hoped that Emygdius could be convinced and seduced by Imperial offerings of power and glory because he had heard that many Christians could not be converted by force. He offered power to Emygdius but Emygdius refused it insisting that it was not real. He offered power and influence if only Emygdius would worship at the statue of Jupiter. Emygdius refused. He offered his beautiful daughter's hand in marriage along with the power and influence and left them alone hoping that Emygdius' desire for the beautiful woman would win him over. Instead, Emygdius shared the message of Christian hope and faith with her and converted her. As Polymius returned to find the two, Emygdius was baptizing his daughter. Enraged, Polymius had Emygdius decapitated.
For Emygdius, the sweet seduction of power and influence was of no interest because it was not real--the promises of power were vain illusions and delusions. Emygdius had seen through the Imperial lie of power and happiness and, instead, knew that true power was found in submission and sacrifice. He had sworn allegiance to the slaughtered lamb instead of the rampaging lion and this allegiance held him regardless of even the greatest threats.
Sunday, August 17, 2014
Mammes of Caesarea served time in prison even before he was arrested and convicted. His mother gave birth to him in prison while she and his father were awaiting punishment for the crime of being Christian.Mammes was, thus, orphaned by his parents shortly after his birth at the will of an Empire that hoped to crush the spread of Christianity through fear of death. Mammes' parents--Theodotus and Rufina--were executed but their message lived on in their martyrdom. Young Mammes was, soon, taken care of a Christian by the name of Ammia.
Ammia was a wealthy older woman who had been widowed by the Empire. She was, also, a member of the underground Christian community. She, indubitably, would have told Mammes about her own life but, also, the lives of his father and mother. He had no memories of them and, yet, the Christian community held their memories with them as if his mother and father were present with them every time they gathered--every time theyshared the Lord's Meal. Mammes was raised on a healthy diet of stories that informed his values. He knew well the stories of Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection. He knew well the stories of the lives of countless Christians who had chosen death or torture instead of denyingtheir faith. He, likely, knew the circumstances of his own parents' painful death because of a refusal to bow before the Imperial lords and rulers. Mammes was taken care of and steeped in the stories of his people. He had been raised to know that some things were worth dying for and some things weren't worth doing even if it meant living. Mammes had learned that there was more to life than a heartbeat and more to death than the grave.
Mammes was arrested for the crime of being a Christian by the governor of Caesarea. The governor beat and tortured him but Mammes, like his father and mother before him, refused to deny his faith. In exasperation, the governor sent Mammes to Emperor Aurelian in expectation that such a powerful man could win and claim Mammes' heart and will. Aurelian beat and tortured Mammes, as well. But, like his parents and like his brothers and sisters, Mammes refused to deny his God by bowing before the supposed majesty of the Empire that came enforced by threats and pain. As he languished in jail, he was set free by an angel and fled to Caesarea at God's direction.
In Caesarea he was eventually captured and thrown to the lions. At a word, the lions became docile before Mammes. Mammes made a companion out of the ravaging beast primed for his destruction. In many ways, this is emblematic of Mammes and other martyrs--he redeemed even the weapons of his murderers. Like the sandalwood, he perfumed the axe that laid him low. Mammes, finally, went to Duke Alexander of Caesarea and proclaimed his allegiance to the Kingdom of God--a Kingdom with no end--and his faith in Jesus. Duke Alexander ordered Mammes' death and Mammes was, quickly, stabbed in the stomach with a trident. He offered no words of hatred or condemnation for his executioners but, rather, died peacefully knowing that his death proclaimed a powerful witness to the Kingdom. Mammes followed in the footsteps of the parents he never knew. Though he never knew them, he was formed by the same people, the same experiences, and the same God that had formed them. Like his parents, he was prepared to live into the story written for him and make a bold statement about the reality of the Kingdom and the unreality of the Empire's power.
Saturday, August 16, 2014
Valerian's persecutions were in full force and had driven the Christians underground to the catacombs. Meeting among the graves and bodies of the catacombs, the Christians worshiped together in secret knowing very well that their discovery would result in their death at the hands of the Empire unless they were willing to deny their faith and their Lord. And, so, the cautious Christians met among the dead and in a place of death so that they might preach life more abundant and free. Among their own fallen friends and martyrs, they passed the cup and the loaf that proclaimed a silent witness to the union they held with each other, those who had gone before, and those who could come after. This communal meal they shared--the innermost of the Christian mysteries--was a powerful thing that they held sacred and holy and that held them together.
After the Christians had joined together in their holy meal,they reserved a portion of the elements for those who could not make it to the meeting because of the Empire's interference--as was their custom. The priest knew that his face was marked for execution and, therefore, he knew he would be unable to visit the prisoners awaiting martyrdom. Usually, this meant giving the elements to a deacon who would be less recognizable. The deacon would be able to visit their brothers and sisters in jail and provide them with the elements that proclaimed their unity and united all of them as one body with their Lord. On that particular day, however, no deacons had made it to the service. Likely, they had been unable to make it because of the Empire's interference and invasions. Unwilling to betray the secret place of worship of their brothers and sisters, they did not make it to the service. And, yet, their brothers and sisters awaiting martyrdom under the Imperial persecutions were waiting for the elements.
Sure, they could have simply not sent anybody for fear of the Empire but this was absolutely inconceivable for the Christians. To fail to send the elements of their unity and communion would be to abandon their brothers and sisters and pay an homage of fear to the Imperial beast. The martyrs--those who had not abandoned the Church even in the face of death and torture--could not be abandoned by the Church. Even if it meant risking life and limb, the Church was unwilling to abandon its own or allow fear and persecution to snuff out love, grace, and mercy. So, Tarcisius--a twelve year old boy who had helped the priest in the service--volunteered to secret the elements to the prisoners that day. He took them and left the catacombs.
Tarcisius held the elements close to himself to conceal them from the crowds he crept through. This holy mystery of the Church was priceless to the boy and to the Church. As he approached the prison, a group of boys called to him. They were his non-Christian friends and they hoped he would join in the game they were playing. Tarcisius declined the invitation and held the elements closer as he walked a little faster toward the prison. The boys called after him to ask what it was that he was carrying and being so careful to hide. Tarcisius wouldn't lie but he couldn't imagine exhibiting the holy and special mystery of the Church before the boys as if it were some thing or product. Instead, he said nothing.
One of the boys, somehow knowing that Tarcisius was a Christian, shouted to the others that he must be carrying part of some Christian mystery. Eager to know what it was that the Christians did in secret--there were rumors that they were cannibals, atheists, and incestuous--they rushed at Tarcisius demanding to see what he had. Tarcisius refused to make the Christian mystery common and profane their holy unity with their Lord. So, his friends jostled him and shook him. They wrestled him to the ground hoping to pry it from his grasp but he refused. They punched him and kicked him thinking that they might knock his grip loose. When it failed, they hit him harder and tore at his flesh with their hands. He refused to fight back and he refused to submit. The boys, finally, gathered stones and proceeded to throw at the injured and weakened Tarcisius. Whether they did it intentionally or things got out of hand, the boys killed Tarcisius. Turning over his corpse, they moved his hands hoping to see the Christian mystery and keep it for themselves as their prize. They found nothing.
Later that night, Christians gathered the body of their brother Tarcisius and brought it back to the place of their meeting. They buried him in the catacombs. Their mystical unity and communion had been preserved by this young boy and they upheld him as a brother even in death. They continued to meet throughout the persecutions in those catacombs and look to young Tarcisius' grave to remind themselves that they could not abandon each other and that some things are worth dying for. Every time those Christians gathered together around the table, they proclaimed a unity that transcended death and foreshadowed the already present and, yet, still arriving Kingdom of God. In that mystery--the mystery that Tarcisius gave his life to keep--the Christians enveloped each other and endured death in the name of love.
Friday, August 15, 2014
That pain was sickening. The anticipation of his reaction fanned the flames of panic within her as she prepared to tell her soon-to-be-husband something that he, surely, would not believe. Something he would hate and something for which he very well may hate her. Her life had made so much sense and been comfortably predictable. She had been betrothed to a nice man who loved her and desired to provide for her. They would have children. She would provide for them and, then, the angel came and destroyed her predictable plans. It had told her that she was blessed. Yet, in this moment of anxiety she definitely didn't feel it. It had told her not to be afraid but it did not comfort her in this moment. It had told her that she would give birth to a son who she should name Yeshua--God is saving--and that he would be called "The Son of the Most High." It told her that her baby would sit on David's throne and reign over the house of Jacob for all time. It told her that her baby's Kingdom would never end. She had protested, "But... but... I'm a virgin!" The angel had smiled and said, "I know but God is going to work it out. The God who formed you will work this out." She had swallowed the lump in her throat and said, "Okay...if that's what God wants." She struggle to believe it herself--how could she expect Joseph to believe it? And, yet, it had worked out. Joseph believed--eventually. God had worked it out.
That pain was overwhelming. It was the kind of visceral pain that made your skin crawl and made you want to be anywhere but where you were. Yet, she could no more escape it than she could will the dirty stable she was reclining in to become a beautifully-appointed palace. Her midwives were the animals and Joseph looked panicked at best. She was giving birth to her promised son--the one she would call Yeshua--but it didn't feel like or look like what she expected. They had been compelled to travel far by the Empire and they had no choice but to obey the power that commanded them. It was on a crowded night, then, that they found themselves in a stable giving birth to the "Son of the Most High." This, surely, could not be the birthplace of a King with a never ending Kingdom...could it? This couldn't be safe. It couldn't be appropriate and she didn't feel ready. And, yet, it had worked out. He had been born and was healthy. God had worked it out.
That pain was seductive. It was the kind of pain that whispers in your ear that it would only take a few quick tasks to make it vanish. Yet, as you chase it down you become consumed with it. She had heard the terrible things they were saying about her son. They thought that they were shielding her from their hurtful words but she was hearing it in their anxious and downcast eyes and seeing it in their covert whispers. They thought her beautiful son was crazy and unfit for the world. The worst part was, when the fear started seducing her, she wondered if they weren't right. He was traveling around the land erratically. The one whose Kingdom was supposed to have no end was not gathering an army but, rather, eating with sinners and outcasts. He was touching and loving lepers. He mocked the religious leaders that he had been raised to respect. He was offering a strange kind of resistance to the Empire where he essentially begged them to crush him and, then, offered his bare neck as a show of defiance. In return for their hatred, he was offering love. Surely, he understood that the world only like love on its own terms--that it resisted the kind of radical love he was offering. She had even begged him to quit upon occasion and he had looked at her--oh, the pity mixed with love in his eyes--as if she didn't get it. She wanted to run to him and beg him to give it up. She wanted to protect him where he refused to protect himself. Oh, how she longed to gather him to herself like a chick to a hen. And, yet, it had worked out. He had continued his ministry and healed countless thousands. He had understood what he was doing and knew it to be important work. God had worked it out.
That pain was the worst. She would have given anything to release him from it. And, yet, the cruelest part was that she could do nothing to help him. Nothing. He had crossed the wrong people and resisted the powers too stridently to get away with it. They had arrested him, beaten him until she barely recognized him, and now they had nailed him to a cross--naked and bleeding--so that he might die a humiliating death. She longed to scream at the crowds that waited for her beautiful son to die. Instead, she sobbed uncontrollably willing the world to fall in around her so that she and her beloved son might be done with this. He looked down to his good friend and said, "Don't worry about me. Take care of my mother." Her heart broke again for her soft-hearted and loving son who thought of her at the moment of his death. He looked into her eyes and said, "Don't worry about me, mom. Take care of this man--he's your son." She was panicked and overwhelmed and couldn't comprehend the love that consumed her son. He died a criminal's death. They took him down and buried him. And, yet, it had worked out. He had brought redemption even to a criminal on the cross. He had sowed the seed of conversion in the heart of, at least, one of his executioners. He had died but in his death he had inaugurated a Kingdom founded on love, peace, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. He had been raised from the dead after three days. He had ascended to Heaven. His Kingdom truly had and would have no end. God had worked it out.
Her pain was intense throughout life--she who was so close to the heart of the Son of God. She had been his mother and, perhaps, his most loving disciple. She had been present for his first miracle--she had even suggested it--and had been present for his greatest miracle--dying and being raised for the sins of the world. She had been the ewe who gave birth to the lamb that takes away the sins of the world. And, at that waning moment of her life she wondered what he might say to her when she saw him. Maybe, he would call to her as he had as a child: "Mommy!" She had been given a hard life and a hard calling. She had been made to suffer greatly. And, yet, it had worked out. She had been a vessel that bore God into the world. She had followed after her son Yeshua--God is saving--as he saved the world. Now, she was ready to see her son, again. God had worked it out.