Saturday, October 31, 2015

October 31 - Alphonsus Rodriguez, Porter, Victim of Tragedy, Sacramental Doorkeeper

Alphonsus' life was a pleasant one when he was young. He was the son of a wealthy wool merchant in Segovia, Spain. This meant that he lived a life of relative comfort and affluence and had little worry over where his next meal might come from. Also, it meant that he received a quality education at the nearby Jesuit college. Perhaps he even had a clerical career in mind. But, things took a turn for the worse in 1545 when his father died suddenly and unexpectedly. He left his studies behind because his mother needed him to come home. Even though it meant he would not be able to finish the education he valued, he left the Jesuit college and moved back home to take care of his mother and run the family business. Though crisis had afflicted the family and there was much grief for the loss of Alphonsus' father, it seemed that life had regained some of its normalcy.

In 1560, Alphonsus was doing a good job of running the business and taking care of his mother. He had met and courted a devout woman named Maria Suarez. They were married and she soon gave birth to two children. Alphonsus had a happy family and a career and it seemed that life could not get better. Alphonsus was happy to tellsome of his clients that he would soon be a father three times over since his wife was pregnant yet again. Business was not as good as it had been but he was still able to support his family. Then, tragedy found a home in Alphonsus' life.

Maria died in childbirth and the baby died with her. As Alphonsus was grieving and mourning the loss of his beloved wife and child, another affliction infiltrated his family and took another of his children. His ailing mother soon died, as well, and Alphonsus was left with one child and a business that was only getting worse. As the business got worse his remaining child seemed to get sicker and sicker with both grief and some unknown malady. Both his business and the life of his remaining child failed him at around the same time. Grief-stricken and broken-hearted, Alphonsus barely had the will to keep living. In less than three years, Alphonsus had lost everything and been reduced to homelessness and begging. It was at this time--in his late thirties--that Alphonsus decided to pursue a clerical career. Tragedy had stripped him of everything and he found nothing left that he could subsist upon. When he applied to the Jesuits, his application was denied because of his lack of education and his relatively advanced age. It's hard to imagine the yawning expanse of nothingness and darkness that dwelt within the life of Alphonsus when it appeared that even God had no use for him. But, at his darkest hour there was a single sliver of light: they offered him a position as a lay brother and house porter at a Jesuit college in Majorca. He took it. He jumped at a chance at hope.

As porter, he was a doorkeeper and caretaker of one of the halls at the college. It was a humble job and one that involved serving students who were receiving the opportunities that had been denied to him. But, there was something different about Alphonsus. Though he practically refused to talk about himself, he was keen to talk about God.Having been stripped of everything, he found himself further connected to the God that remained in the void left by tragedy. The love of God shined through Alphonsus to such a degree that his every word, action, and conversation became a type of sublime ministry. Soon, students were asking the college to allow Alphonsus to be their spiritual director. One such applicant was Peter Claver. People became very aware of the love that poured out of Alphonsus' broken heart and longed to be close to him and learn from him. Alphonsus longed to find and see God in the face and heart of every person who walked through his door. When he died in 1617, his funeral was attended by rulers and large crowds. This victim of tragedy had become an inspiration to many.

Friday, October 30, 2015

October 30 - Marcellus of Tangier, Martyr, Centurion, Loyal to a Higher Power

Everybody loves a parade, right? Well maybe not everybody. You see, Marcellus knew that Maximian's birthday was approaching but he wasn't looking forward to the festivities. Of course, he was careful to reveal this to nobody except those closest to him--his secret Christian brothers and sisters. When they gathered, Marcellus spoke of his anxieties for the coming celebration and his brothers and sisters offered comforting and inspiring words for him. They would not share in his decision or its consequences but they suffered similar threats and anxieties as Christians were persecuted and repressed by the Roman Empire.

Marcellus remained nervous as he stood in front his own soldiers near the end of the parade route. Maximian was being conveyed along the road on the way to the temple where sacrifice would be made in his honor. The expectation, soundly fulfilled by every unit of soldiers he had already passed, was for the soldiers to kneel before their lord Maximian as he passed. Marcellus swallowed hard as he saw Maximian's entourage approach and heard the rustling sound of the soldiers around him dropping to their knees in loyalty to Maximian. Marcellus remained standing and could hear gasps around him as people silently willed him to kneel. The people began to fear for him as he refused to kneel and removed his belt.As he dropped it, it clattered on the stone. The soldiers around him lifted their eyes enough to see what had caused the noise and were confused to find Marcellus removing and dropping his weapons, as well. If that wasn't enough, Marcellus removed the vine insignia that represented his loyalty to and status in the Empire and dropped it to the ground as Maximian passed.He was immediately seized by the Praetorian guard and hurried away from the crowd. His weapons, belt, rank, status, and history remained on the ground in the place where he had refused to kneel.

He was brought before a judge who ordered him to be taken to another judge. The praetorian guard conferred among themselves about the judge who was to decide Marcellus' fate. They knew that this judge was known to be merciful to Christians--even Christian soldiers who had defected--and so they conspired to avoid this possibility for lenience. Instead, they brought him before one of their leaders. He was beaten and tried. When asked how he plead, he responded that he had laid down his worldly rank instead of denying his loyalty to Jesus Christ. He proclaimed his faith over the jeers of the assembled guards and when asked if he could not be loyal to both he insisted that he could only be supremely loyal to his slaughtered King and Savior. They beheaded him as a traitor to their lord Maximian but only made him a martyr in the name of his Lord Jesus.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

October 29 - James Hannington, Martyr, Missionary

It may not be fair to say that James was a poor student but it is fair to say that he was a very erratic student. His attendance was fairly regular but his grades seemed unpredictable and his tutors had a variety of opinions on his strengths and weaknesses. He dropped out of his formal education at the age of fifteen to work in his father's business. It was here that he worked primarily with numbers and relatively rarely had intensive interaction with other people. Though he never intimated displeasure with the job, it's safe to assume he didn't feel called to it given his erratic past and his eventual departure from the position. Instead, James felt called into the ministry. More specifically, James felt a calling to be a minister in the Anglican church.

He entered again into the academic world so that he might receive the degree needed to be ordained a priest. He was no better a student this time than he had been previously but he was slightly more determined to continue because of the firm hand of his calling at his back. As he approached graduation, his mother died and his life lost some of its luster for quite some time. His grief and his sober reflection pushed him to be a better student and he eventually graduated and was ordained as a deacon and given to a small parish in England. Several years later, he heard a story of missionaries to Africa who had been martyred because of their missionary calling.

Perhaps he was tired of the parish life. Perhaps he felt God's distinct calling yet again. Regardless, he soon enlisted to go to Africa with the Church Mission Society. He arrived in Zanzibar with six other missionaries in 1882. It was not an easy calling by any means. As they traveled, preached, and tried to meet the needs of the people they were coming into contact with, they suffered physical and emotional setbacks because of the changes in climate and diet.Having contracted dysentery and a fever that persisted regardless of treatment, James returned to England in 1883 against his wishes but with sound medical advice. James left his heart behind in Africa, however, and soon found himself returning in 1884 having been ordained Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa.

He arrived with a party of missionaries and they committed to reaching out to the people of Uganda. They traveled into Uganda and found that their arrival was an unwelcome one for the rulers. King Mwanga II sent word that the missionaries were to be captured and imprisoned.When the missionaries arrived in Busoga, they were seized and held captive. They were held captive as their fate was decided. Eventually Mwanga decided to have them killed and sent word that they should be executed. One by one, the missionaries were dragged from the cell and put to the tip of a spear. Finally, James was brought out and stabbed on both sides in the abdomen. He slowly and painfully died. With his last breath, he drew one of his executioners to him and said, "Go, tell Mwanga I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood."

Other missionaries would follow for like James, they saw the powerful witness of a martyr for those caught up in the flame of the life of a missionary. James became a model like the one who had modeled the missionary life for him. He died at the hands of the people he was desperate to reach and love but, in doing so, he provided a stream of missionaries and prayers that would eventually bring about the redemption of some of those whom he loved and who hated him.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

October 28 - Simon the Zealot, Apostle, Martyr

He had known it was going to happen. He had told Jesus repeatedly that he was hitting too close to home with the powerful and influential people. It seemed that Jesus didn't care if he upset the people with enough power to do something about it. In one way, Simon admired that kind of fearless provocation of the powerful and yet, he also knew what happened to people who irritated and provoked Rome. He had scars and old wounds to remind him. He had memories of friends and compatriots who had spilled their blood in resistance to Rome and Rome's allies. Now, Jesus hung from a cross. It was humiliating! Simon couldn't understand how this was appropriate for somebody who proclaimed the dawning of a new Kingdom.

For Simon, it had always been clear that Rome was the enemy--that Rome was the problem. As a member of the Zealots, Simon was very familiar with a philosophy of resistance at every turn to repel the occupying Roman forces. If Rome wanted to stay in Israel, the Zealots meant to make them pay for it with their blood and eventual fear. Known as "dagger men," the Zealots manipulated their small numbers to their advantage and began targeting the powerful for assassination. Willing to sacrifice themselves to shed enemy blood, they knew well that powerful people died as easily as any other when their throat was slit.

Zealots like Simon forsook and forbade any appeasement to the Romans. Tax collectors and Jews who cooperated with the Roman Empire were additional targets for the sharp blades of the Zealots. Though they may not have expressed it, their hope was to overturn Roman dominance of Israel and replace it with their own control. When Jesus began preaching about a "new Kingdom," Simon took notice. It sounded as if Jesus might be advocating resistance to Rome. In a way, Jesus was but it didn't look like what Simon was expecting. So, when he was arrested, Simon surely wondered if this would be the moment that Jesus would direct his many followers to rise up and overthrow the Romans. When Jesus was whipped and beaten, Simon surely wondered if he would turn on his torturers and bring judgment upon Rome and its allies. When Jesus carried his cross on the road to his crucifixion, Simon surely recognized the throngs of people around him and wondered if Jesus might not start the revolution then. What Simon surely didn't expect was for Jesus to die and offer forgiveness to the people who had killed him.

Simon couldn't help but look back at how he had changed by following after and listening to Jesus. Simon had spent time with the other apostles--even Matthew the tax collector--and had not felt the need to punish them for any of their cooperation with Rome. Simon had heard Jesus tell people that they should not only walk the one mile that a Roman solider could compel them to walk. Rather, they should walk more of their own will to love the soldier who expected only hate and resistance. The Zealots would have advised you to plant a dagger in the back of the soldier at the first opportunity so that you might deal with your enemies, but Jesus was saying to forgive and love them for no other reason than that they were your enemy and brother.Simon had seen Jesus talk about judgment and a new Kingdom but had also seen Jesus offer grace and mercy as signs of the coming of the new Kingdom. It didn't make sense from a Zealot frame of mind and, yet, Simon somehow knew that Jesus was right.

The Zealot way of resistance only brought more violence and domination. By wielding daggers against their enemies, Simon saw that the Zealots had also wounded themselves. Jesus died on a cross not in resistance of the Roman power but because of a love more furious than the great raging zeal of the Zealots. Simon clearly saw into the heart of Jesus' new Kingdom's way of looking at things:Love Wins. Simon was there when Jesus rose from the dead and finally understood victory in a way that proclaimed good news instead of different bad news. He could not truly be called a Zealot anymore because he had given up the path of violence and vengeance and chosen the path of peace and love for enemies.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

October 27 - Clarence Jordan, Farmer, Founder of Koinonia Farm, Opponent of the Status Quo

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had hosted many people before Clarence and would host many after him but Clarence Jordan was something different. In 1938, Clarence had just received his Ph.D. in New Testament and felt equipped to do whatever it was that God was calling him to. The challenge, of course, is that what had seemed so clear for so many years was suddenly cloudier. This further calling had descended upon Clarence as he studied the scripture and would not let him go. He was challenged by what he read and translated and would not allow himself to rationalize away its scandal and strength. Clarence was challenged and rebuked by the stories he enveloped himself in and found his increasing discomfort with the status quo a powerful witness to the possibility of redemption.

Clarence had been raised in a small city in Georgia named Talbotton. It seems that Clarence was always disgusted with the racism that he found everywhere he looked. Further, he was confused by the poverty of the communities around him. He didn't get why "the way things are" included a lack for people that the Church claimed to love and care for. He didn't get "the way things are." He studied agriculture at the University of Georgia so that he could use his mind to carry knowledge back to the people who needed it but couldn't afford to go and get it. In other words, he hoped to be a vessel of grace and equality for a people so far from the source. This was his path--taking farming knowledge back to poor rural farmers--for many years but he was changed when he began to see a more essential and more fundamental problem: the spiritual roots of poverty.

Not wanting to simply apply a bandage to a wound with a deep cause, Clarence went to Southern to learn and prepare to address spiritual concerns and the spiritual foundation of the system that fed on the lives of the poor. It would be no use to fix the symptoms of the problem if the disease of a broken system was allowed to incubate within society. With degree in hand and his new wife, he moved back to Georgia to begin his life's work--to continue in the path of God's calling. He and his wife joined with former American Baptist Missionaries to found a community called "Koinonia Farm." This community was racially equal. Further, they rejected all violence and materialism. They lived together sharing everything and invited any who were truly willing to take up their cross to come and live and work on the farm. This was not received well by the powers in Georgia. They were investigated. They were harassed and threatened. They were called Communists. Yet, they didn't seek recourse in political power. Instead, they insisted that the only way to change the region, the nation, and the world was to live out a different life in sight of the "the way things are." They lived equality instead of demanding that others do so. Their impact is not easily overstated.

Clarence translated the New Testament into English in a translation called the "Cotton Patch" translations. For Clarence, the process of translation was about more than words or phrases but also the context of the scripture. In the Cotton Patch Gospels, Jesus was born in Gainesville, condemned by the politicians in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and was lynched. This was a powerful difference that challenged people in new ways. The scripture as Clarence translated it was not something you could simply put down and out of mind. It stuck in your brain because it shared your context. Clarence was a prolific writer and translator until the day he died in 1969.

Monday, October 26, 2015

October 26 - Abba Iscu, Martyr, Model of Forgiveness

Iscu was going to die in a cold and dark prison in Romania. His prison, Tirgul-Ocna, had been designed for those who resisted the Communist party's will and wishes. Iscu had refused to concede to the Party's statements concerning the Christian faith and had, consequently, been arrested and imprisoned. The State had exercised its power over Iscu's body by confining him and slowly working to convert him to the Party's desires. They need not convince him rationally, they suspected, if they could simply make him want to believe with all the gruesome torments they could devise. So, they tortured Iscu repeatedly. They blocked out the day from him and left him to fester in a dark and dank hole they called a prison. When they weren't torturing him, he was comforting his fellow prisoners but there were relatively few times they weren't torturing him.

Iscu still refused to deny his faith. They left him in the cell for a while expecting that death was right around the corner. They could see the life draining from him as they dropped him to the floor under the staring eyes of other captives. In his every breath they could hear the beginning of a death rattle. As the guards turned to leave the cell, they noticed that one of the sets of eyes watching them were the eyes of their former comrade. They looked away for fear of being associated with this one who had been sacrificed on the altar of state loyalty. For some reason he had been cast down from his position as interrogator and torturer. He had been disloyal to the Party in some way and so they had turned the tables on him and viciously tortured him to the brink of death before throwing him into the cell with his former victims. Now, he lay dying near Iscu whom he had tortured.

The former guard wept and despaired at his situation. Most of the prisoners there were Christians that he had been unable to convert away from the Faith and so he begged for their prayer. "I have done awful things and deserve what I am getting" he yelled. The prisoners watched in surprise as he loudly apologized for his sins but found no relief. He didn't see himself worthy of the forgiveness he so desperately needed and desired. So, he wept and despaired.

Iscu called with a soft and fading voice to nearby friends. They came to him and he whispered instructions to them. The men lifted Iscu and placed him beside the former guard on the floor. The two men--Iscu and the former guard--breathed heavily as they prepared to die. Iscu weakly raised one hand to stroke the hair of the former guard and said, "You were young and did not know what you were doing. I forgive you and love you, as do all the other Christians you mistreated." The former guard was captivated by Iscu's forgiveness and did not doubt it. Iscu continued, "If we sinners who have been saved by Jesus can love like this, how much more is He himself ready to erase all the evil you have done, to cleanse you fully. Only repent." The former guard offered repentance and converted to the Faith he had forced others to deny. Iscu had pardoned his torturer and murderer. The guard had converted to the faith of his victims. They embraced before slipping into death.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

October 25 - Jerzy Popieluszko, Martyr, Victim of Communism, Enemy of the State

Innocent and uninteresting sounds in the middle of the night had a different meaning for Jerzy. That scratching or tapping noise might be a tree branch but it might also be a Soviet agent coming to intimidate or execute him while he slept. Worse than the occasional sound was the oppressive and seemingly unnatural silence. He'd find himself wondering aloud if it wasn't perhaps too quiet as if there was somebody trying to be silent. Jerzy had reason to worry: he was an enemy of the state and considered a type of thought criminal. He encouraged the Polish trade union movement known as "Solidarity." Weekly, he could be heard at worship services where he would say mass and offer reflections that condemned the Communist infiltration of Poland. These sermons were broadcast on the radio and, in practically no time at all, Jerzy was at odds with a powerful enemy.

As he continued to speak on Sunday morning, he began to notice new and intimidating faces among the people worshiping with him. He noticed that cars seemed to be following him and waiting outside of the church and his home. He knew well that they were hoping to intimidate him into silence. He also knew that if they failed in this then they would find other ways to end his resistance. As he drove back to his home one Saturday night in October, he barely saw the obstruction in the road. He jerked the wheel and found himself skidding out of control. He miraculously escaped the car accident and made it back to his parsonage. It was now very clear to him that the Soviet secret police had tired of trying to persuade and intimidate him and would now be content with destroying him. He continued his pastoral duties until the next Friday.

The agents crept into his home and seized him in the middle of the night. They hoped that they could break the back of the Solidarity movement by kidnapping Jerzy. Once they had him secreted away, they murdered him away from the public eye. They had tried to do it in a deniable and secretive way by engineering a car accident. When that hadn't worked, they killed him and dumped his body in a river. This is a powerful testament to the fear inherent among the Soviets. Their actions--and all evil actions--could not face the light of day and scrutiny. They could not afford to act powerfully and in public because their control over the people would not hold. Instead, they had to work by secret and subterfuge so that they might manipulate the wills of the people. Jerzy died a martyr because he refused to stop speaking truth to the Imperial Communist State.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

October 24 - Isaac Jogues, Twice Captured, Slave, Missionary

Isaac didn't struggle. The Mohawks had captured him--again--and they were busy tying his hands so that he couldn't struggle or resist. They didn't need to but they did anyway. Perhaps it helped them do what they were doing to imagine him fighting back. After all, their accusation was that he was a sorcerer. They feared the magic he might work on them and were confident that it was he who had brought the plague and bad weather. Isaac had seen this before when he had first been captured and, so, he knew what was coming as they secured him to a tree and walked away.

Isaac had been born in France and had studied to become a Jesuit.They had accepted him as a priest and given him an assignment in New France in the French colonies of North America. He was to be a Christian missionary to the Huron and Algonquin tribes of native Americans. These peoples were allies of the French even if it didn't always serve them well to be so. Consequently, the French felt a need to bring Christendom with them and provide opportunities for the Huron and Algonquin to convert.

One morning, he was canoeing with some other missionaries across a lake on their way to some of the Huron people. As they drifted across the lake with mist rising from the lake as the sun broke through the trees, they noticed that there were people in various spots around the lake.When they landed, they were seized by the Mohawk people who were furious with their intrusion. They were dragged back to the Mohawk camp and beaten. They were further tortured in a variety of painful ways. Some were slowly put to death. Isaac was hurled to the ground by a nearby tree and his hand was lashed to the trunk. One Mohawk took a hatchet and buried its blade in the trunk of the tree--severing some of Isaac's fingers. They didn't cut off all his fingers but they did leave him noticeably scarred and disfigured. He was forced into slavery to the Mohawk. As he served them and was abused, he tried to teach them about Christianity. Surely, some of it was heard and comprehended but he was not freed for his attempts.

Finally, he was smuggled from the camp by Dutch merchants who had come to deal with the Mohawk and seen a battered Jesuit serving them and trying to offer them the faith that kept him going.Under the cover of night, they secreted Isaac away and helped him get back to friendlier territory. He found a place on a ship headed back to France and left the colonies behind. When he arrived in France, people greeted him joyously and listened to his story with rapt attention. When he said the mass, people flocked to hear him and to watch him lift the host and cup with disfigured hands. They began calling him a "living martyr" but his new life in France did not make him happy or comfortable. Rather, he felt out of place. A few months later, he sailed back to the colonies in better health.

Peace had been brokered between the French and other native tribes and it became the order of the day. Having spent time among them, Isaac was called to go to the Mohawk people with other missionaries to serve an ambassador for peace between the French and the Mohawk. Regardless of any fear that may have dwelt within his heart, Isaac went where he was called.When he arrived, he saw that not only had he not forgotten the Mohawk but the Mohawk had not forgotten him. They whispered among each other that he was a worker of magic and could not be trusted. They had seized him out of distrust and fear.

This was how Isaac ended up tied to another tree among the Mohawk. He watched them approach with their war clubs and recalled his memories of seeing others executed in this fashion. With a yell, they began to beat him ruthlessly with the clubs until he died. He had not resisted them--not when they had disfigured him, not when they had enslaved him, and not when they planned to kill him--because he was gripped and held by a higher and more hopeful power: a slain King who forgave his captors.

Friday, October 23, 2015

October 23 - Ptolemaeus and Lucius, Martyrs, Victims of "Justice"

Ptolemaeus had spread the story to any who would listen. He talked about Jesus--who had died, been buried, rose from the dead, and was coming again--and people had responded as if they were thirsty and he was offering water. In a way, he was. One of the women in the crowd had encountered the God he spoke of and came away from the moment a different person. She had found conversion in his words and stories. Ptolemaeus had passed the spark of the Holy Spirit onto her and she had taken it with her back into the life she came from. 

A few days later, Ptolemaeus noticed something as he preached. Soldiers were lining up at the periphery of the crowd and various officials were accompanying them. At the very back he saw a very angry man whispering into the ear of the officials. The crowd scattered. They knew full well that this couldn't be a good sign. The soldiers seized Ptolemaeus and he was charged with corrupting one of the women. The man was her husband and he accused Ptolemaeus of a variety of terrible crimes because his wife had come home different than when she left and had left him. Ptolemaeus was paraded before a judge who heard charges against Ptolemaeus ranging from adultery and sexual immorality to murder and robbery. Ptolemaeus defended himself but it became abundantly clear that the prosecution was willing to do nearly anything to punish him and be victorious. They perverted justice into personal vendetta and had Ptolemaeus executed for the crimes of which he was innocent.

An onlooker in the court by the name of Lucius protested when Ptolemaeus' verdict was handed down. He continued to protest as Ptolemaeus was executed savagely. Though he was advised by those around him to be quiet, he continued to point out loudly how justice had been perverted so that those with power might maintain their influence and control. He proclaimed Ptolemaeus' innocence of the charges and was warned by the judge and soldiers that he would share Ptolemaeus' fate if he didn't restrain himself. When Lucius refused to be quiet in the face of evil, he was executed, as well.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

October 22 - Alodia and Nunilo, Martyrs, Brides of Christ

Alodia and Nunilo despaired that their mother was marrying another Muslim man. Their father had died only recently. Their mother found security by marrying another powerful man but this man had little tolerance for his step-daughters' variations from his expectations. When he found out that his step-daughters were Christians like his sister-in-law, he was furious. Their mother could do little to protect them as he began a process of abuse and persuasion meant to convert them away from their Christian faith. He threatened them and pleaded with them. He beat them and bribed them.Nothing he could do convinced either of them to abandon their faith. One night, they silently left the house and fled to their aunt's house. Upon arriving, they were welcomed by their Christian aunt and invited to live with her. However, the story doesn't end here.

Their apostasy from Islam became wide-spread knowledge as their step-father told their story to others.Their father had kept it as secret as possible but their step-father held no similar reservations. Soon, people knew that this devout man's step-daughters were Christians and they became increasingly unwelcome within the culture. They were harassed and assaulted and life became more restricted and dangerous. Finally, they were dragged before a Moorish judge and charged with apostasy. This was a charge that they would not deny.

The judge began by reasoning with them. He pointed out all that they stood to lose by continuing to profess their Christian faith and all that they could quickly regain if they would only deny their faith. When this proved unproductive, he offered them wealth and the promise of wealthy and influential husbands. He offered them security while they faced indecision and death but they refused his offer. Finally, he resorted to threatening them with death if they would not deny their faith. They asked him, "How can you threaten us with death as if it is something to be feared?" They insisted: "for having given and entrusted our youth into Jesus' keeping, we hope eventually to become his bride?" They laughed and asked, "Would you threaten us with a glorious wedding day? Would you try to offer us something less in exchange for something far greater?"

The judge had a clever idea. He would not kill them. Instead, he would separate them from each other and forcibly put them into homes where they would serve under influential Muslim women. They were assigned to families and became servants and students to these women. Daily, they received education about Islam and were cajoled to renounce their Christian faith in favor of the Muslim teachings. They neither resisted nor fled their assignment. They listened.

Years later, they were brought back before the judge and he asked how they now felt? Without a moment's hesitation, they professed their faith in Jesus and thanked their captors for whatever hospitality had been offered to them. At these words, they were taken out to the courtyard and beheaded for apostasy.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

October 21 - Malchus, Captive Monk, Husband, Brother

The walls of a cave are greedy things that suck the warmth from your bones and offer no comfort or consolation. Malchus was getting stiff waiting in the mouth of the cave for his pursuers. They intended to kill him when they found him and that is understandable--he had run away from them in hopes of escaping slavery. He was an asset to them that had become a liability. He could resist the call of home no longer so he had seized some food and water and set out to flee with a companion. He had seen their camels approaching speedily and knew that he could not outrun a camel. Further, he and his companion were running out of food and water and needed to find some place to stop and rest.As he awaited his master and another slave who would kill him and his fellow slave where they hid, he reflected back upon how he had ended up in this place.

He had strongly desired to follow after Jesus by living the monastic life of prayer and service. His family had resisted this calling because they expected it would not be especially profitable--and it wasn't. In fact, Malchus had given up much to live a life of prayer and service but felt that he had gained much, too. He had crept out of his home in the middle of the night and was living among the monks by the time his family knew he was missing. He enjoyed the monastic life but wondered if there wasn't something more waiting for him--if maybe he was called to something else. He heard word that his parents had died and he was grief-stricken. Then, he heard that they had left him a sizable inheritance and he became apprehensive about material gain. Under his superior's direction, he returned home to receive the inheritance and visit the graves of his parents. However, that's not what happened.

The Bedouins had come over the hill and surprised him. He suspected that this would not go well. They seized him and the woman he was traveling with and enslaved them. They were torn from their plans and intentions and dehumanized as commodities to be traded and spent. For many years, Malchus served his new master without letting the poison of hatred seep into his heart. He was a good servant to the man and earned a reward for his consistent and dependable service. Malchus' master thought it would be a great reward to give the woman he had been traveling with to Malchus in marriage. He didn't understand that Malchus had two problems with this: (1) Malchus had taken a vow of celibacy, and (2) the woman was already married. Malchus could not do what was asked of him and prepared to take his own life so that he might not sin in this way. As he drew his blade he said, I must fear your death, my soul, more than the death of the body. Chastity preserved has its own martyrdom.Let the witness for Christ lie unburied in the desert; I will be at once the persecutor and the martyr." 

The woman stopped him and said: "Take me then as the partner of your chastity; and love me more in this union of the spirit than you could in that of the body only. Let our master believe that you are my husband. Christ knows you are my brother. We shall easily convince them we are married when they see us so loving." They had been "married" by their master but remained celibate and took care of each other in captivity.

Malchus looked ahead when he heard the men dismount their camels and approach the mouth of the cave. "This is it," Malchus thought, "this is where I die and where my bones will lie and be bleached by desert winds." Yet, as they approached and called out to Malchus--right before Malchus revealed and refused to defend himself--a lion leaped from the mouth of the cave and snarled menacingly at the two men. They rushed back to their camels but were unsuccessful in escaping and the lion killed both of Malchus' pursuers before slinking off away from Malchus. Malchus stood awestruck as he called his "wife" from the cave and to the untouched camels. There was food and water and plenty of supplies to get them out of the desert and back to Malchus' monastery. They had left so that they might return to their homes and found that God was providing for them in unpredictable ways.

When they returned, Malchus was excited to find that his monastery welcomed him back with open arms. But, his companion's husband had died in the time she had been a slave. She mourned his death but moved to a nearby convent where she could live a life of prayer and service like Malchus. They continued to take care of each other and perpetuate the bond that had brought them together in captivity. Their unorthodox union became one of mutual support and sustenance and preserved them until the day they died.Jerome would distill their story, years later, by writing:"Tell the story to them that come after, that they may realize that in the midst of swords, and wild beasts of the desert, virtue is never a captive, and that he who is devoted to the service of Christ may die, but cannot be conquered."

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

October 20 - Henry Martyn, Missionary, Witness to Calling

This was nothing like what he had hoped for. Henry Martyn was kneeling among the bodies of friends and enemies who were slowly and painfully dying following the Battle of Blaauwberg in South Africa.The Cape of Good Hope no longer seemed an appropriate title for the area. The British had won the battle but Henry feared that they were inexorably losing the hearts and minds of people throughout the world. As he tried to soothe their pain and suffering, he could not help but fear that he had witnessed a tragic shortening of the lives of many who might have heard the Gospel and been redeemed from their brokenness.Instead, their brokenness was cemented by the cold hands of time and finality. Henry shook his head and reflected back upon that fateful day years before in England.

Henry had considered a clerical career like so many of his equally intelligent contemporaries. He had graduated top of his class from St. John's College at Cambridge University. It was his intention to pursue a career in law and politics but God intervened with a different calling. One day, Henry had the pleasure of hearing a challenging and disturbing story about a man named William Carey. He was amazed that William had given his life to share the Christian Gospel with the people of India. He was disturbed by Carey's life because it loudly proclaimed a Gospel that seemed foreign to Henry--a Gospel that called people to lay down their lives.In his quest to understand what he was seeing, he read the biography of David Brainerd--a missionary to Native Americans. This only kindled the calling burning within Henry. He resolved to lay down his professional desires to become a missionary to India.

But, it hadn't been that easy. He had studied for the priesthood in the Anglican church and been ordained. He had prepared himself and packed his things. But, financial difficulties intervened and left him and his unmarried sister in a position where neither of them could continue to live on the money their father had provided for them. Consequently, Henry had taken a job as a chaplain to the British military. This seemed a compromise for Henry because it allowed him to continue in the ministry while still collecting a wage to support himself and his sister. This was how Henry had ended up on his knees among the dead and the dying in South Africa. This was how Henry arrived at the moment that changed his vision of the Church and Britain. He prayed that, Britain "might not remain proud and ungodly at home; but might show herself great indeed, by sending forth the ministers of her church to diffuse the gospel of peace." Among the horrors of war, Henry was converted to a gospel of peace that transcended all nationalities and boundaries.

Later, Henry would go on to India and, eventually, Persia. He would use his education and intelligence to translate the scriptures into the languages of the people and become like them so that he might be with them in meaningful ways. He was not hoping to make them British--he was hoping to show them Jesus. In this, he succeeded. Stories abound of his devotion to a people who were his only by adoption and devotion. He was routinely forced to take vacation and rest because he did not take it without being forced to. It's easy to imagine that it's not because he loved working but, rather, because he didn't understand hislife as a missionary as work. For Henry, it was a calling and a vocation but far from a profession or job. Being sick, he was often recommended to travel by sea as his doctors felt it would be good for him.

At the age of thirty and in poor physical condition, he was sent back to England to recruit missionaries and recover his health before returning. He only got worse as he traveled and died in a plague-infested Turkish village. As he lay dying, he reflected on his life and his calling. In anticipation of God's redeeming work in the world, he wrote of God's coming Kingdom: "There, there shall in no wise enter in any thing that defileth: none of that wickedness which has made men worse than wild beasts, none of those corruptions which add still more to the miseries of mortality, shall he seen or heard of any more." It's not hard to imagine that the horrors of war, neglect, and disease were on his mind as he looked forward to their end and the salvation of those he loved.

Monday, October 19, 2015

October 19 - Paul of the Cross, Mystic, Passionist, Spiritual Director

Paul was born at the end of the seventeenth century in northern Italy. As he grew, he received spiritual direction from the Capuchin monks near where he was raised. Paul felt a distinct calling to a life of prayer and mystical union with the God he experienced regularly. Intoxicated by his experience of the God who is Love, Paul continued to explore what kind of God had left this kind of mark and calling on his life. Intoxicated as he was, he was regularly trying to find his way back into the communion that salved and comforted his soul so sublimely and so completely. Paul began to realize that he could only think of one guaranteed place to find and commune with God: in the passion and death of Jesus Christ.

Paul wrote:
"It is an excellent and holy practice to call to mind and meditate on our Lord's Passion, since it is by this path that we shall arrive at union with God. In this, the holiest of all schools, true wisdom is learned, for it was there that all the saints became wise."
Paul advised any who would listen to engage in a regular process of contemplative prayer with Jesus' passion and death as their focus. In the passion,Paul saw a condensation of God's love into one body undergoing great suffering because of furious and unrelenting love. Jesus' crucifixion and death are the holy ground where we are confronted by the scandal of God's love for sinners and outcasts.

Paul would spend his whole life begging people to take a few moments and consider the ridiculous and amazing idea of the crucifixion and death of God Almighty--the King of the Universe. He was eventually granted the right to go and become a hermit so that he might found an order of people devoted to dwelling on the holy ground of the passion. They became known as the "Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ" and later known as "Passionists" for short.They found great sustenance in thinking on the incredible and incomprehensible love of God--the root and ground of all being and reality--who chose to die so that we might live.

Paul went on to draw others into the new group and establish "retreats" where others might take a moment to escape the pressures of the world and encounter a God who was changing the people of the world. When other groups were growing explosively, Paul opted to grow slowly and methodically. The vowed state of the order meant that few people immediately felt much desire to join with them in prayer and contemplation. But, people were called to join with them and did so gladly once they too found the God who is Love in the crux of the moment where Love was displayed most grandly.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

October 18 - Luke, Evangelist, Physician, Friend of the Prodigal

Luke was a physician. But not like what we think of when we think of a physician. There was no white coat. There was no large salary (in fact, many physicians were slaves). There was no immediate cultural respect. There was no fancy degree or education. There were no easily dispensed medications or diagnostic tools. But, in Luke's case,there was an intense desire to help those who suffered. Luke seems intimately connected with prodigals and misfits. Whether he was eating with them and listening to them or doing what little he could to soothe their physical pain and suffering, Luke loved and was devoted to the people that the world said were worth nothing.

Luke learned this from his master--Jesus.

Luke was a Greek gentile who had, at least, some familiarity with the person of Jesus even if he never actually saw Jesus.Instead, he heard the stories and found a faith growing in him that spurred him to change. He couldn't sit still and listen to these stories--they were too important simply to hear--and so he had to tell them to others. He would record the stories that meant so much to him by listening to others and reading what others had written. Beyond that, Luke knew that the stories of Jesus' disciples were critically important, as well. If Jesus had really brought a new Kingdom into the world, then his disciples would do amazing and wonderful things. Luke recorded these things in a letter that would be known as the Acts of the Apostles. Luke makes a few cameo appearances in this second work but does so in support of the Apostle Paul. When we see him, his character matches the voice in his text: intimatelyconcerned with the lives of the oppressed and unrepresented. Luke had been set on fire with a message of good news about a Kingdom that was changing the world and could only find relief in telling this story to others. His desire to heal became a desire to offer hope to desperate people.

Luke's mercy and soft heart for the invisible people can be seen in the stories that he chooses to highlight.Consider that Luke's gospel is the only gospel to tell the radical story of the Prodigal Son. Luke was a friend of the Prodigal and was excited about the God he saw in Jesus that was willing to love and forgive with fury and passion. This was no meek and mild god that stood aloof from creation but, rather, was a God who was elbows deep in the process of healing the voiceless and abused. Jesus was the Great Physician. Luke desired to be his apprentice. Luke's Gospel is the only Gospel to record Mary's response to God's calling: ""has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty."

Luke was energized by the work of healing that had begun in the Church. He recognized that the Kingdom was the possession of those who had no other possessions to prioritize. In this way, Luke characterized the prodigal nature of the Kingdom of God and their common savior Jesus.

He begins his Gospel by writing:
"Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you..."
Luke recognized the healing power of stories to change the minds and outlooks of people. He knew that the stories that we tell inform the way we think about things and so he wanted to pass them on. These were the possessions of the citizens of God's new Kingdom. These were the valuables that established value in the New World. This is what Luke passed on to us.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

October 17 - End of Exile

They had been hearing rumors of the Persians for quite some time. Of course, it was wise to keep their heads low and act like they knew nothing. The Babylonians were not happy to hear the name of Cyrus or of his Persian army. The Jews in Babylon didn't know what to suspect with the coming of a new conqueror. They were still getting over their own conquest. In 586 BCE, the Babylonians had stormed through Israel and crushed the people under their feet. The Temple--the very dwelling of God almighty--had been torn down and the Babylonians had sneered at them asking them where the Jews' powerful God was when Babylon came around. Was he scared? Most of them had no idea why the God they had slowly filtered through their nationalism seemed silent. Some had heard Jeremiah and others talk about the coming of judgment from the east. They remembered what Jeremiah had said about conquest and exile. Then, the Babylonians had seized the powerful and the wealthy and put them in chains. They were carried back to Babylon before their captors. All the while, they were mocked and asked to play some of their beautiful songs. Their joyous songs of God's power and protection turned to ash in their mouth as they smelled the smoke coming from the ruins of their lives.

Time had passed. In fact, almost fifty years had passed since they had been exiled from the land God had promised them. Surely they wondered if it was a land of broken promises. They had been exiled from the god they had made when they had tried to break the almighty God into easily pocketed pieces. The people had found God in the wastes when taken away from all the things that distracted them. They found that they could sing their songs again when they came into intimate contact with the One who had inspired them. They found that God was in the world in more places than the Temple.They had lost their nation but gained an identity.But, now, there was another conqueror bearing down upon them.

Cyrus the Great and the Persians conquered Babylon by marching in at night and seizing the city. It was a remarkably quick conquest and resulted in the Babylonian rulers being seized and deposed. Cyrus looked around and declared himself "king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters of the world."There were few that could deny this in the wake of his impressive campaigns. Though he attributed the success to his own gods, the Jews' hearts beat with hope that it was the one God that had ordained this change. Soon, Cyrus issued an edict that there would be changes under his rule and that one of these changes was granting freedom to the Jews to return to Israel.Stories say that approximately 40,000 Jews elected to return to Israel but it is perhaps more notable that some chose not to return. Surely, some did not return because they had found a new successful life in Babylon and had given up on any faith--they had nothing to make them want to return. Some returned because their faith was renewed and they wanted to take it back with them. Yet, others remained in Babylon knowing that their faith transcended geography and location. In the exile, they had found redemption. In the destruction of religion, they had found God.

Friday, October 16, 2015

October 16 - Gerard Majella, Victim of Abuse, Falsely Accused, Lay Brother

Gerard's family life was fairly typical for the nearly Neapolitan families of Italy. That is, it was fairly typical until his father died when Gerard was twelve. The family was plunged into poverty because of a lack of income and a lack of social power. As a widow, Gerard's mother was often incapable of providing for her family because she was so easily overlooked. Like so many other widows, she was overlooked because her tragedy made others uncomfortable--almost as if they feared it was contagious. She did, however, realize that her son Gerard could be apprenticed to a tradesman and help provide for himself and for his family. So, Gerard was sent to his uncle (his mother's brother) to learn the trade of a tailor.

He was an eager student if he was slightly weak and small for his age. He learned the trade under his uncle's tutelage but Gerard's uncle was very busy and not always around. Isolation and loneliness would have been preferred to what happened, however. Gerard's uncle sent a man to help teach Gerard and watch over him as he continue to learn the trade that he had been apprenticed to. The man his uncle sent was abusive to Gerard and took advantage of him. For whatever reason, Gerard remained silent and did not share with his uncle what his hired man was doing in addition to teaching his trade. The uncle found out one day and confronted the man who immediately resigned and fled Gerard's uncle. Damage had been done, however, and it's hard to say what baggage Gerard carried with him as he pushed onward.

He longed to join the clerical professions and take vows at a nearby Capuchin monastery. He was rejected from the monastery--partially because of his ill health and weakness--and applied instead to a Redemptorist monastery known as the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. He was accepted as a lay brother and took on a variety of labor-intensive jobs that were of incredible service to the monastery. His work ethic was spoken of with glowing words. He was described as a model of Christian obedience because not only did he seek to do as he was told to do but to intuit why so that he might know what to do when not told specifically. In other words, Gerard wanted to do right because it was right and not because it gained him something. So, it came as a great surprise many years later when a young--obviously pregnant--woman came to the monastery.

She insisted that Gerard was the father of her child but he refused to fight her. Instead, he withdrew to silence and prayer. There was an outrage in the nearby villages and towns that one of the brothers of the monastery had broken his vows and, furthermore, had fathered a baby out of wedlock. As Gerard's reputation was eviscerated and defiled, he remained silent and focused on prayer. Surely, his brothers must have doubted him and considered that the woman was telling the truth--after all, he offered no defense. But, Gerard felt that the truth needed no defense and was confident that the Truth would set him free.Months later, she recanted her story and denied her previous accusation.

It was not Gerard's desire to rage against injustice and pain. Instead, Gerard wanted to find God through pain and suffering.This was not masochistic pleasure but joy inspired through a willingness to lose everything if it meant following after his slaughtered savior. He had given every penny he didn't need to barely survive to his mother or to the poor of the nearby cities. He knew obedience in a way that so few people can comprehend partly because he knew suffering intimately and deeply. About all this, though, he was known to say, "Consider the shortness of time, the length of eternity and reflect how everything here below comes to an end and passes by. Of what use is it to lean upon that which cannot give support?" He found no rest or solace from things of the world and, instead, endeavored to find his support in Jesus. When the brothers came to his cell and found him dead they noticed that obedient and quietly-faithful Gerard had left a small note on the cell of his door. This note fitly summarized Gerard's outlook on life: "Here the will of God is done, as God wills, and as long as God wills."

Thursday, October 15, 2015

October 15 - Teresa of Avila, Mystic, Nun, Doctor of the Church

Teresa was brought up as a Christian by parents who were converts from Judaism.They had worked hard to assimilate into Spanish Christian culture because of her paternal grandfather's condemnation as a denier of the faith and one who returned to Judaism.Teresa found great comfort and inspiration in the stories of the martyrs and greatly desired to imitate their lives. At the age of nineteen, she left her family and joined the local Carmelite monastery as a nun.

Teresa knew sin well. In fact, she spoke about it passionately as a subject she had received divine inspiration on. She described sin in terms of estrangement and alienation from God. Teresa, the one who said "It is love alone that gives worth to all things," knew that sin was essentially a lack of life-giving love, mercy, and grace. However, Teresa was best known for her ecstatic and mystical moments. She had visions and felt that the way to union with God was through love and through self-abnegation and resignation. She taught first that to find God we must begin by focusing on our own failures with a penitent and contemplative heart. She called this part of the ascent of the soul to God "heart's devotion."

The second stage of the ascent of the soul to God through the self is called the "devotion of peace." In this, God delivers a state of spiritual peace upon the person as they continue to meditate upon love, grace, and mercy knowing that they cannot save themselves but that salvation is assured to those who trust in God. This peace does not mean the destruction of distraction but only that the person is becoming closer to God and being helped along the journey toward God by God's prevenient grace. Memory, reason, and imagination are still humanly focused.

The third stage of the ascent of the soul to God is called the "devotion of union." In this state, the reason of the person becomes subsumed by God's will and the person becomes further united with God and, therefore, less united with sin. As they walk the path of love that leads to God--and God alone--they find that sin has less of a hold on their life. As they give more of themselves over to God, they find that it rests securely in God. In this stage of mystical union with God, the soul begins to rest comfortably in the overwhelming love of God.

Finally, the soul ascends to the "devotion of ecstasy." In this place of prayer, the soul divests itself of all that is self and becomes intimately associated with God who is Love. Teresa described this state as being a type of sweet and happy pain. The person is changed and sin is ripped from them as they no longer have a place where it can dwell. Of course, they must again return to the world as we know it but their momentary intimacy with God has fortified them and strengthened their growing faith. In many ways, this was the essence of Teresa's teaching. There was hope for escape from sin but only in providing less room for it to dwell. Ultimately, sin was only destroyed by the soul's ascension to God and the incubation of love within the heart.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

October 14 - Petca Parasceva, Friend of the Poor, Stranger in a Strange Land

Petca knew she was in trouble for what she had done but she couldn't even force herself to regret what she did. Her parents were very upset with her and she didn't want them to be upset, because she loved them, but she didn't see how she had any other option. After all, she had fallen under the conviction of her Lord and Savior Jesus. While attending worship with her parents and her older brother, Petca had suddenly been struck--like an arrow to her chest--with the reality of God's calling in her life. Her ears rang with the pronouncement, "Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me." It was like she was hearing these familiar words for the first time. Something within Petca vibrated to the note that was sounded by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of a preacher.In short, she had found something worth living and dying for and she wasn't willing to give it up for anything. So, Petca took up her cross as best she knew how and followed after a Lord with whom she was falling in love.

So, it had seemed like the most natural thing to do when Petca began to give away her clothing to the poor. Her parents, wealthy and influential people that they were, had given her much fine clothing and had made it clear with their gifts that she was very special to them. Petca gave these items away so that the hungry and the poor might wear them or sell them and buy food. Her parents were shocked at first but their shock turned to displeasure when they discovered that Petca had given away a particularly fine dress to a poor woman in exchange for her filthy rags. They felt scandalized, as if the radical generosity of their daughter reflected poorly on their ability to raise children. "After all," perhaps they reasoned, "people will think we didn't teach her common sense and how the world really works." Petca's parents had taught her these things but Petca had learned a message more true and a Gospel more powerful. When her parents forbade her from repeating her generosity, Petca insisted that refusing wasn't a choice that she was allowed by their Lord Jesus. So, at the age of fifteen, Petca left and sought out the immersed and prayer-structured life of a monastic.

Petca went first to Constantinople and found teachers there who showed her a path to God's blessed presence. Petca spent five years devoting herself to prayer and fasting for the purpose of preparing her for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Though, her parents searched for her for some time but were never able to find Petca and take her back home. In Jerusalem, Petca lived among those who had taken vows of service to God for some time. But, eventually she felt called to cross the Jordan river and go into the wilderness to find where God waited for her there. After years spent in prayer in the wilderness, she had a vision where an angel instructed her, "Leave the wilderness and return to your native land, for there you are to leave your body on the earth and ascend with your soul to the Lord." She returned to Serbia as a stranger that nobody recalled. She died shortly thereafter while whispering her prayers and rejoicing at the thought of resting in God's presence. She had carried her cross for quite a while but laid it down at the feet of her God to take one last step into the arms of her Lord.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

October 13 - Mollie Rogers, Missionary, Maryknoll Sister, Nun

"Love, work, prayer, and suffering will sustain us in the future as they have in the past. All who are here now, all who will come after us, will have no others tools than these with which to build."

Mollie heard singing outside of her window. It wasn't uncommon to hear large groups of her peers making noise or singing songs in the middle of the night at Smith college. It wasn't especially raucous but it was a collegiate lifestyle full of idealism and visions for a better future unimpeded by cynicism and experience.In other words, they hadn't yet been informed that they couldn't change the world. As she opened her window she heard their song:"Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; forward into battle see his banners go!" It was drifting up from the throng of protestant students exiting one of the campus buildings. She was able to surmise that they had made a commitment to go to China as missionaries. In their heart burned a passion for a largely unreached people and a desire to make a difference in the lives of those whom they had never met.

"At the sign of triumph Satan's host doth flee; on then, Christian soldiers, on to victory! Hell's foundations quiver at the shout of praise; brothers, lift your voices, loud your anthems raise."Mollie was excited to hear their passion and it caught in her heart like the contagion it was. However, she regretted that there was no similar Roman Catholic movement that she could covenant to serve. She went to a nearby church and knelt before the altar. The strains of the song fresh in her mind, she made commitment that shook the foundations of hell--she committed to do God's work as a missionary and servant of God regardless of what it looked like or how it worked out.

"Like a mighty army moves the church of God; brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod. We are not divided, all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity." Mollie began working with Roman Catholic priests to do the work of the people of God. She became very involved in a journal entitled Field Afar that focused on kindling greater interest for mission activity within the American parishes of the Roman Catholic church. Though America was, itself, considered a mission front until 1908, Mollie and the priests she worked with were able to convince the American bishops to allow them to found a mission seminary in America called "Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America" which later came to be known as Maryknoll.

"Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, 
but the church of Jesus constant will remain. Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail; we have Christ's own promise, and that cannot fail." Mollie became increasingly involved in the missionary lifestyle even though she never left American soil as a missionary. She realized that the participation in missionary life that she had committed to would likely require her to become a nun. And so, she did. She became known first as Sister Mary Joseph and campaigned for female involvement in the missionary life not just as assistants to priests but as workers of the Church by themselves. Eventually, this meant that she founded the Maryknoll Sisters and became Mother Mary Joseph. She was insistent that the Maryknoll sisters not be a cloistered group of women but, rather, a group that lived among the people and lived out the missionary life. At first, this meant being missionaries to the Japanese on the west coast. Later, Mollie would have the grand opportunity to see some of her own sisters go to China as missionaries. Eventually, they would go to Korea and the Philipines as well. She traveled to visit and survey their progress but it was not her calling to be among them. Rather, she guided and comforted them.

"Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng, blend with ours your voices in the triumph song. Glory, laud, and honor unto Christ the King, this through countless ages men and angels sing." Mollie was distinguished as being fairly atypical from the average mother superior of a missionary convent. She preferred women of adaptability and flexibility as nuns instead of women rooted in traditional ways of doing things. In this, she knew the missionary spark of becoming all things to all so that she might win some. She called countless sisters to join with her and others to reach a world that was desperate for faith, hope, and love.

Monday, October 12, 2015

October 12 - Edith Cavell, Martyr, Nurse, Victim of War

It was a long walk from her cell to the yard where she would meet her calling. She had been in the cell for several weeks but the last two had been the worst. For the preceding two weeks, Edith had been kept in solitary confinement as she was tried by the German courts in Belgium. World War I was in full swing and Edith was being accused of helping British and allied soldiers within Belgium and aiding some to escape to the neutral Netherlands. This was unacceptable to the suspicious German officers and they insisted on her condemnation and execution. Both of these goals were achieved in the military tribunals.

As a nurse, she had found much work in Belgium as the war made shreds and husks of people. She was indiscriminate in whom she chose to offer medical assistance to. It was her earnest desire not to wage war by healing her "allies" and refusing her "enemies" but, rather, to limit and the seemingly unstoppable ravages of war. She saved many lives--Britons, Belgians, Germans--and helped those looking for sanctuary to escape. When asked about her indiscriminate mercy--even for her "enemies"--she would say, "Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone."

Many important and influential people lobbied for her release on the grounds that she had helped so many regardless of nationality or political position. Britain and the United States of America petitioned the powerful among the Germans first on the grounds that they would interpret her execution as another act of ruthless aggression. In essence, they made a threat and when this didn't immediately achieve their goal, they appealed to the mercy of the German officials. This happened too late, however, because the Germans who had captures Edith were aware that a pardon was likely coming and so hurried to have her dragged from her cell at dawn and shot by a firing squad. She had been given multiple opportunities to explain herself but her only defense was to insist: “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved."

Sunday, October 11, 2015

October 11 - Joao Bosco Bournier, Martyr, Priest, Champion of the Oppressed

Joao Bosco Bournier had an especially unremarkable clerical career for the majority of his life. He wasn't somebody you would have looked at and predicted great things of. You couldn't see the fire of a martyr in his eyes but circumstances would move in that direction, anyway. Joao had a gift for administration that made him very welcome in positions of ecclesiastical leadership including the nine years he spent at the central office of the Jesuits in Rome. From his ordination in 1946, he dreamed of missionary work abroad but served in a support role mostly in his native Brazil. In 1966, he was called as a missionary and his dreams seemed fulfilled. He was being asked to carry the Gospel he confessed to a people who did not know it. However, as he prepared to go he learned that this calling was the native people of Brazil and not some distant land. He was prepared to minister to them and, so, he went.

He went to a place that was still the land of the native peoples but was slowly being eroded by developers and speculators. They saw a land full of natural resources and plenty of room to build. As they began to build, it became apparent that they were interested in building luxury accommodations for the wealthy and powerful. At first, they didn't come into direct conflict with the native peoples. But,the developers were spurred onward by the wealthy's desire to have more and control more and, so, conflict developed as more was seized and less was conceded. Joao went to these native peoples that were little more than an interference to those with power. There was much room for fertile ministry to a people who were being devalued for the value of their land and resources. Joao found that the people were regularly being abused and taken advantage of by those who had the power to do so and lacked reverence for the lives they were destroying.

On October 11th, in the year 1976, Joao found himself in one of the many villages that he was missionary to. He heard that two peasant women had been seized by the police who were working with the speculators and developers. While in jail, they were being tortured and abused in an attempt to further dehumanize and break them. Joao and his bishop went to the jail to demand their release and plead for justice but were denied their request. They insisted upon the release of the women and were labeled communists by the police. One police officer struck Joao with his pistol and it discharged--allegedly by accident--and the bullet pierced Joao's body. As he laid dying on the floor, the police panicked in response to where their power had led and abandoned them. The bishop offered prayer and last rites to Joao and he slipped into the embrace of the triune God as a martyr. The native people recognized the power of what he had done. They remembered Joao fondly and told stories of his love and devotion to a people that were not his own by birth but had become his own by choice. They planted a cross near the spot of his martyrdom where they inscribed:
"On 11 Oct 76 in this place of Ribeirao Bonita, Mato Grasso, was assassinated Father Joao Bosco Bournier, for defending the liberty of the poor. He died, like Jesus Christ, offering his life for our liberation."

Saturday, October 10, 2015

October 10 - John Woolman, Quaker, Abolitionist, Lover of Life

"I bet I can hit it from here" said John Woolman to his friend.

"No, you can't," retorted his friend snidely "it's too far away for you." John picked up a small stone and took aim at the robin on a limb of the nearby tree. It was hopping among the branches and keeping guard over its nest. The quiet peeping of the baby birds was inaudible at this distance but John knew that they were nearby. He hadn't expected his friend to challenge him to do it. But, he had and now John stood with a stone in his hand and a burden on his conscience.

"I'll hit the branch underneath it and scare it" he thought to himself. He reasoned "If I do that, then it will be good enough and maybe my friend will think I succeeded." He hefted the stone and threw it. It missed wide of the bird. He selected another stone and felt the tension rise a little as his friend watched intently. He took a little more time before throwing a second time. This time it missed to the other side but was getting closer. "Almost there" he said to his expectant friend. He selected another stone and concentrated on hitting the branch that the robin rested upon. He threw the stone and his heart sank as it hit the robin squarely and caused it to fall from the branch.Anxious to see it fly away, John ran to see if the bird was okay and found it dead on the ground--killed by the errant stone. He was awestruck and so he failed to notice his friend running away for fear of getting in trouble. He was frightened by the death of the bird and repeated to himself that he hadn't meant to do it. But, he couldn't escape the memory of deciding to gamble with the life of the robin. He had decided to risk the robin's life (and the lives of its hatchlings) on a silly wager and game--it had cost him nothing but the robin everything. He collected the baby birds from the nest and fretted over what to do. They would die slowly without their mother and John could not care for them himself. His willful stone had condemned these baby birds to a slow death. He killed them, as he recalled in his journal, out of a desire to offer merciful and quick death to the victims of his lack of consideration. John was changed by this event and began to realize how this scenario played out time and time again in the world that he would grow into.
John was a clerk and a tailor by trade and did what he could to make enough money to live on in the North American colonies. In the colony of New Jersey, he was a reasonably successful tradesman. As a clerk, however, he had one particular challenge. Having learned an incredible respect for life, he could not reconcile it with the colonial attitude toward slavery. When asked to write a "bill of sale" for a slave, he bucked initially before being forced into it. He salved his mind by rationalizing that it was a sale of a slave to a woman who would treat the slave kindly but his conscience continued to sear him inwardly and he regretted the sale bitterly.He feared that his lack of consideration had cost another human more of their life and he resolved not to support slavery in any way from then onward. He was called to the home of a friend to write their will. He wrote out the will but left out the portions concerning who would gain possession of the man's slave when he died. He recorded in his journal, "I could not write any instruments by which my fellow creatures were made slaves without bringing trouble on my own mind. I let him know I charged nothing for what I had done, and desired to be excused from doing the other part in the way he had proposed. We then had a serious conference on the subject; he, at length, agreeing to set her free, I finished the will."

John had effected redemption in one through relationship and love. Having thus started, John would go on to change many people's opinions on bondage and slavery. He did not seek to confront or create conflict--John wasn't interested in arguing with people about freeing slaves so much as he was interested in redeeming the slaveholder and letting that redemption take its own path in freeing slaves. Later he would begin to resist the tides leading to the French and Indian war. His commitment to life continued to push him further as he endeavored not to make the same life-stealing mistakes that he had made in his past.

Friday, October 9, 2015

October 9 - Innocencio of Mary Immaculate, Martyr, Confessor, Priest

Emanuele Canoura Arnau was born in Spain in the late nineteenth century. Like many in his generation, he aspired to the priesthood from a relatively young age. In fact, he began his seminary training with the Passionists at the age of fourteen. At the dawn of the twentieth century), Emanuele was preparing to serve a new generation in an increasingly divided Spain. As Emanuele was finishing up his studies and beginning to serve as a minister of the people, the Bolsheviks were gaining power in Russia. He took the name Innocencio of Mary Immaculate. The crown of martyrdom was still a long way off but circumstances were being prepared that would cost Innocencio everything that he was willing to give up. His confession would be tested and his life would be weighed against another Empire's desire to stamp out other stories.

As a priest, Innocencio was especially gifted at hearing confession. He accepted the words of the people of God and cradled them lovingly regardless of their content. He understood that confession is a holy thing--a healing thing--and that it requires a sacred touch and approach. As he held the confessions of the people and offered them up to God, he served as a conduit for grace and forgiveness giving permission to the people to walk away from their bondage to sin. His touch and his willing ear were highly esteemed. It is for this reason that Innocencio was in the Roman Catholic school in Turon in 1934. Spain was preparing for what would be known as the Spanish Civil War but the brothers at Turon were preparing the children of the community for their first communion. Innocencio had come to hear their confessions and pronounce absolution.He had come to invest himself further in the lives of the people of God.

The loyalist soldiers that invaded the school were worried about the impact that the brothers were having on young children and the people of Turon. They arrested the priests and brothers in the school because of their commitment to a power that wasn't of their own allegiance. In some ways, Innocencio was not one of their number but he was present with them hearing the confessions of the people. For this sacred calling of companionship with the people of God, Innocencio was condemned to die. On the morning of October 9th, 1934, Innocencio (and nine others with him) was executed for treason to a worldly kingdom. Since the loyalists could not convert him, they chose to end his life so that he might not continue to spread peace, absolution, and forgiveness that they did not sanction. The martyrdom of Innocencio stands as his own confession of his faith and willingness to prefer the Kingdom of God to the promises of the world.