Tuesday, August 22, 2017

August 22 - Anne Hutchinson, Teacher, Dissident

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.

Monday, August 21, 2017

August 21 - Abraham of Smolensk, Orphan Monk, Falsely Accused, Vindicated

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.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

August 20 - Geert Groote, Founder of the Brethren of the Common Life, Rekindled Minister

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.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

August 19 - Blaise Pascal, Scientist, Follower of Truth

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.

Friday, August 18, 2017

August 18 - Emygdius, Martyr, Healer, Pagan Convert

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--whom you 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.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

August 17 - Mammes of Caesarea, Martyr, Youth, Steeped in Stories

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.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

August 16 - Tarcisius, Martyr, Bearer of Mysteries

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.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August 15 - Mary of Nazareth, Mother of Jesus, Theotokos

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.

Monday, August 14, 2017

August 14 - Maximillian Kolbe, Martyr, Prisoner #16670, Lover of Life

Maximillian Kolbe was born Rajmund Kolbe in part of Poland that was, at the time, part of the Russian empire. His father--Julius--and mother--Maria--moved the family around in an attempt to find both freedom and a measure of stability. They worked a variety of jobs before Julius enlisted in a Polish force that hoped to fight and gain the independence of Poland from Russia. Rajmund and one of his brothers decided to become priests and did so by sneaking across the border into Austria-Hungary. There, they studied in seminary in preparation. When Rajmund took the vows that began his process of becoming a priest, he changed his name to Maximillian. This was, in a way, a new birth into life that was free of Rajmund's fear of the Empire and the oppression it so easily dealt in. It was a turning point for Maximillian.

Eventually, Maximillian would be ordained a priest and he would return to Poland. However, now Poland was a free nation andMaximillian was a spiritual leader who knew how best to resist an Empire. This would come in handy when, years later, the Third Reich began to sweep into Poland bringing death and destruction to Jews, outcasts, and those who resisted the Empire. Maximillian used the radio station he had founded and supervised to vilify the encroaching Nazis. Further, he used the resources and buildings at his disposal to provide shelter and sanctuary to more than 2,000 Jewish refugees. He refused to submit to an Empire that demanded submission or torturous death. This kind of resistance to the Empire was, is, and will always be noticed by the powers. Consequently, the Gestapo came--hiding behind their titles and uniforms that were supposed to make their evil actions legitimate--and arrested Maximillian. He was shipped to prison and, then, to Auschwitz.

They tried to strip him of his identity. They did not call him Maximillian--his chosen Christian name. They did not call him Rajmund--the name his family had given him. They called him prisoner #16670. They hoped that they could quell this resistance by crushing the spirit of one who refused to submit. Whereas they could have used their power and simply killed him, they hoped to crush his will and make an example of him. In the case of Maximillian, they failed.

Eventually, one of the men in Maximillian's block was found missing. The Nazis were enraged at the idea of a person escaping their exquisitely crafted hell and their rage flowed out in a series of commands: ten random people from that block would forfeit their lives as punishment--by starvation in a locked bunker. They rounded up ten men and paraded these condemned ones before the inhabitants of Auschwitz. They proclaimed the cause of their death--the "missing" man who would later be found dead in a latrine--and hoped to spread fear through the people like a poison to destroy their hope and capacity for cooperation with each other. The Empire dealt in terms of death and was skilled at wielding it willfully.

One of the men--Franciszek Gajowniczek--cried out in fear and desperation for his wife and children that he would leave behind. The hearts of the Nazis were not moved but the heart of Maximillian was. Maximillian stepped forward and volunteered to die in the man's place. Maximillian--lover of life that he was--hoped to purchase the life and future of another man with his own excruciating death. The Nazis agreed to this for whatever reason and led the ten men into a bunker, locked the door, and gave the men over to death and desperation. Maximillian led the condemned in songs and prayers while they slowly died from starvation and dehydration. After three weeks of torturous death, Maximillilan and three others were still alive and still singing and praying. They were weak and they were, most assuredly, dying and yet they were offering love to their executioners. The guards removed them from the bunker and injected them with carbolic acid. They died there on August 14th, 1941. Though the Nazis dealt in death and believed themselves powerful, Maximillian dealt in love and life and knew the true power of a redeemed heart willing to make sacrifice for another.Maximillian died that day but he resisted and defeated an Empire that couldn't begin to comprehend the redemption and conversion at work in Maximillian.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

August 13 - Tikhon of Zadonsk, Theologian, Monk, Called to Follow

Tikhon of Zadonsk was born to poor peasants in Russia in the 18th century. He was a gifted and intelligent child who would grow up within the loving arms of the Church. His talent and intellect were identified early and, after feeling a call from God to service, he was encouraged to pursue a clerical life. For Tikhon, he understood his calling as being to the monastic world. His strong desire to be a monk made other vocations unappealing to him, at first. His intellect and earnestness earned a scholarship for him to attend seminary and so he did. At the age of 30, he was ordained a priest.

As a recently ordained priest, it is likely that he was joyful of his indubitably imminent calling as a monk and mystical servant of God in some distant and disconnected monastery. This was, for sure, a high calling and one that Tikhon was suited for given his desire to pray and increase the spiritual quality of the surrounding people. Further, Tikhon desire silence and solitude so that he might have peace and comfort in a busy world full of hurting people. And, yet, this was not where Tikhon was assigned. Instead, he was assigned to teach theology.

Many people may have railed against the power structure of the Church at this point and insisted that God had called them to a monastic life. It wouldn't be surprising if Tikhon refused to serve in a position where he wasn't comfortable. Instead, though, Tikhon became a teacher of theology and devoted himself to doing it well even if it wasn't enjoyable for him, at first. Though he became a gifted theologian, he still harbored a strong calling to the monastic life. Seven years later, he was called as bishop of Novgorod. He protested that he felt this wasn't the best use of his skills and reminded his mentors that he felt called to the monastic life but they insisted that they needed him--the Church needed him--as a bishop. This is an odd experience given that many priests have eagerly sought this kind of power. Rather, Tikhon was seeking the solitude and life of prayer that he had, initially, felt called to. He did, however, consent to be bishop.

Tikhon was a gifted and skilled bishop. He would go on, two years later, to become the Bishop of Voronezh. He was highly respected as a leader and holy man. His priests looked up to him as a mentor and inspiration. Through his work, he strengthened the spirituality of not only the clergy in his congregations but, also, the families and lay-people under his care. Further, Tikhon couldn't see how poverty was still possible within a land so saturated by the Church. Once, he wrote: "There ought to be beggars and destitute persons no longer. All should be equal." In Tikhon's estimation there was plenty of ministry to be done within the Church even as the Church was doing ministry for those without it.

Several years later, Tikhon became ill and was, finally, allowed to enter a monastery near Zadonsk. Though Tikhon had served wherever God had called him, he was finally at the place that God had initially called him to. Often, we forget about the path between us and our eventual goal and forget that God has called Christians to be ministers along the path and not just at the goal. For Tikhon, happiness was found in the simplicity and regularity of the monastic life among poverty-stricken peasants. As a monk, he kept an open door and--perhaps because of the path he took--it was always well used. People came seeking Tikhon from all around and seeking spiritual formation and counsel. As a minister of God--regardless of current location or perceived calling--Tikhon offered this to any who would come. Tikhon grasped something that so many of us miss: to be a minister of the Kingdom of God is not about place or profession but, instead, is about being a different kind of person--clerical or lay--in a world that detests difference and blessed assurance.

Tikhon is, ultimately, wrapped up in his own quote: "For love does not seek its own, it labors, sweats, watches to build up the brother: nothing is inconvenient to love, and by the help of God it turns the impossible into the possible...Love believes and hopes...It is ashamed of nothing...As an animal cannot exist without bodily warmth, So no good deed can be alive without true love; it is only the pretence of a good deed." Tikhon got it. Tikhon understood that the Christian life is about the everyday living and loving and not about works or accomplishments. Tikhon of Zadonsk was, truly, called and, truly, willing to follow.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

August 12 - Cassian of Imola, Martyr and Faithful Teacher

Cassian was a bishop at Brescia near Milan. With the rise and power of the emperor Julian the Apostate, Cassian was forced from his position as bishop and caused to flee before the encroachment of the Empire into the Church. In a very real way, the Empire had set itself against the Kingdom and hoped to wage a war that would result in the surrender of lives and souls at the defeat of the Kingdom. Oblivious to the nature of the Kingdom of God, the Empire thought (as empires still think) that power is about control and territory is about domination. Cassian fled but became nowise less powerful since the Empire was unable to uproot the Kingdom from the world much like a gardener is unable to keep out weeds.

Cassian fled to Imola where he soon took on another position of service and guidance. He became a teacher of young people so that he might have an impact upon their lives. He taught themthe subjects that they were expected to learn but he, also, taught them about life through his own life well-lived. Though it was not one of the assigned areas of study, Cassian could not help but give testimony to the Christian life through his every action and thought. That's the thing about the Gospel: it transforms and renews in a radical way. Cassian could no more turn it off than he could stop breathing.

Cassian taught his pupils many things but of particular note was a type of shorthand that allowed them to write as quickly as they could speak. For Cassian, it was important that his students be well-equipped for life. This speaks volumes about Cassian's character: he was not simply using his position as teacher to try to proselyte youth but, rather, he was teaching them out of an enduring love for them and a desire to see them prepared for life and well-educated. This kind of commitment is laudable--especially in consideration of Cassian's eventual demise.

Eventually, a local official found out about Cassian's past and seized the opportunity to increase his own standing with Julian. The official realized that he would be commended if he punished Cassian and, consequently, was willing to buy a little more status and influence with the blood of another person. After all, this is the way of the Empire--crush or be crushed and always look out for yourself. Cassian was arrested and brought before the judge. He was offered a chance to sacrifice to the idols and deny his faith in Jesus--to purchase his freedom with his integrity and soul--but he denied the offer and, instead, remained steadfast in the Faith he confessed. Cassian was ordered to be executed for sacrilege against the Roman gods and rebellion against the empire.

As a means of execution, Cassian was stripped of his clothing and tied to a post with his arms behind his back. His students--non-Christians compelled by Imperial powers--were commanded to punish him. They started by breaking their slates over his head and continued by stabbing him repeatedly with their iron styli. Each stylus from each student drew a little blood and inflicted untold emotional damage upon Cassian as his former students whom he loved drew his blood and extinguished his life. Having been whipped into an ecstatic frenzy, the students and the crowd slowly bled Cassian to death. Cassian died having confessed his faith in word and deed and the Empire stamped out yet another life oblivious to the nature of the Gospel upon the lips of their victims.

Friday, August 11, 2017

August 11 - St. Clare of Assisi, Poor, Devoted, Obligated

Clare of Assisi was a noblewoman of some renown and considerable affluence. Her position and birth guaranteed that she would never be in want or ever have a desire unsatisfied. She lived in a position that was envied by most, if not nearly all, of her contemporaries. One evening, she went to hear the new preacher who had arrived in town. Francis was returning to Assisi where he had started and offering Lenten services. This recent founder of a new religious order of willfully impoverished priests was preaching about his new order and the Gospel of his Lord Jesus Christ when Clare happened to overhear it.Her heart was warmed and she found that he seemed to be speaking directly to her. Indeed, she began to wonder if there might be more to life than things and status.

Later, as she attended a Palm Sunday service she 
watched the Bishop as he processed down the aisle handing palms to the eager parishioners. They surged forward grasping for a palm hoping to be a blessed spiritual experience. Clare remained where she was and watched. The bishop noticed her and pushed through the crowd to hand one to her, specifically.Evidently, Clare took this as a final confirmation of God's calling in her life. She left her family that night and fled to where Francis was. At her request, he cut her hair, gave her a rough brown robe to wear, and helped her start a journey of devotion to the Gospel and love. As she laid aside her expensive clothes and donned a rough brown robe with a rope for a belt, she continued the process that started with her first profession--the redemption of her heart, mind, soul, and body.

Clare became the founder of an order of women much like Francis' Order of Friars Minor. They depended upon the alms of the people and established, even, a vow of corporate poverty--meaning that 
even the order, itself, would be impoverished and not just its members. This was not typical for the majority of monastic orders--Benedictine in nature--but was the vow of Francis' order. Since Clare looked to Francis as a spiritual father, she took this vow for herself and her order, as well. Her connection to Francis was significant and even included her taking care of him as he died. Clare took care of Francis as she had taken care of so many others--with the compassion and mercy that she hoped she would offer Jesus himself. For Clare, there was no distinction between the poor and the powerful. She had left that world behind and, instead, had become a part of a Kingdom where the last were first, Jesus was among sinners and outcasts, and life-worth-living was only found through death.

Many would endeavor to release some of the restriction that Clare placed upon herself and her order (who would become known--after her death--as the "Poor Clares"). 
They hoped to rescind the vow of corporate poverty and provide for the needs of the women by providing corporate possessions since they viewed an order of cloistered women in abject poverty as impractical. Clare resisted this change because she understood the vow she and her compatriots had made as important and formative. They had cast away everything so they might find the Kingdom. They had died to self so that they might find life and they had no interest in anything less. Pope Gregory IX suspected that Clare was afraid to change because she would be violating a vow she had made and, therefore, sinning. He offered to absolve her of the sin. She responded: "Holy Father, I crave for absolution from my sins, but not from the obligation of following Jesus Christ." The vow of poverty was upheld at Clare's insistence.For Clare, a life that lacked devotion and obligation was of no value. She turned away from the life of privilege that her Count father and Countess mother had provided her because she understood is as saccharine sweet indulgence. She yearned for life more abundant and deeply lived than what the world could offer. In her devotion--in her much sought obligation--she found the Kingdom. In finding the Kingdom, she was transformed into an instrument of mercy, grace, peace, and love in the world. Her life, and the life of her order, impacted many in their pursuit of the narrow way of self-sacrifice and love that is the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

August 10 - St. Laurence, Martyr, Deacon, Keeper of the Church's Wealth

Laurence was a deacon in Rome during the 3rd century. Like so many 3rd century Roman Christians, he faced innumerable pressures from the Roman Empire and the expectations of the imperial mindset. Also like many 3rd century Roman Christians, he faced down death because of refusal to cooperate with the imperial lies and deceptions. In the case of Laurence, it was the persecutions executed by Valerian that would result in his eventual death. Valerian, like other emperors, disenfranchised and exiled powerful Christians in the Senate and murdered priests, deacons, bishops, and powerless Christians. Laurence, indeed, was well accompanied in his death and died a faithful follower along with his other brothers and sisters in the faith.

As a deacon, he was a leader within the early Church and intensely connected with the lives of many other Christians. He helped officiate the services of the early Church and offered hospitality and compassion to countless needy individuals and families. As an officiant and leader in Rome, he was well-acquainted with Pope St. Sixtus II. Valerian had Sixtus seized and ordered his execution. This surely had a significant impact on Laurence. As Sixtus walked to his death and martyrdom, Laurence met him and asked him: " Father, where are you going without your son? Holy priest,where are you hurrying off to without your deacon? You never mounted the altar of sacrifice without your servant, before, and you wish to do it now?" Sixtus looked at his dead friend and took a moment from his own walk to death and glory and remarked to Laurence, "Soon, you will follow me." Sixtus wasn't wrong.

Only a couple of days later, the Roman prefect demanded the wealth of Laurence's church. Since there was great persecution, the prefect was astute enough to know when he could take advantage of the disenfranchised to pad his own pocket. Laurence asked for three days to gather it together for the prefect and, perhaps thinking it was gracious, the prefect granted the time. Laurence quickly distributed the wealth of his congregation to the poor, sick, needy, and crippled people in the community. He took the wealth intended to provide for the needy and gave it over into the hands of the needy. After three full days of pouring himself out, Laurence lead a group of needy people to the prefect. When the wealth of the Church was demanded, Laurence spread his arms wide and indicated the needy people around him. He stared into the eyes of the prefect and said, "You want the wealth of the Church? Here they are." Looking into the eyes of imperial Rome, Laurence insisted that these poor and oppressed people that Rome placed no value on were, in fact, valuable and worthy of love and devotion. Seeing the shock and rage upon the face of the prefect, and knowing that he had likely signed his own death warrant, Laurence continued: "Yes, prefect, the Church is rich, indeed. Far richer than the Empire."

His death was ordered. He was seized and beaten. Finally, he was chained to a metal gridiron. He was given a chance to deny his faith but he refused. He had been baptized into death of self and remained comfortable with his commitments even if it infuriated the Empire that didn't get it (it never does). They lowered the gridiron over the fire and began to grill Laurence. They hoped to prolong Laurence's pain and suffering. They hoped to demonstrate the power of the Empire over the death and destruction of the body.They reveled in the power of fear over the minds of people. Yet, Laurence had already demonstrated the failure of the Empire to ever change or heal even one person. It was, instead, the love that Laurence offered and the Church taught that was, truly, transformational. He died on the gridiron but not before calling out to his executioners: "This side is already done and if you want me cooked just right you better turn me over." In his death, as in his life, Laurence offered a mockery of the values and methods of the Empire and the world. For Laurence, as for the rest of us, the only hope for life and change dwelt in a God who was love, a Lord who was a lamb, a Spirit who dwelt in the hearts of people, and a death that brought life.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

August 9 - Franz Jagerstatter, Martyr, Conscientious Objector, Blessed

Franz Jagerstatter was born in Austria near Salzburg. His father and mother were not married when he was conceived and his father left shortly after Franz's mother, Rosalia Huber, discovered that she was pregnant. Franz was raised, at first, by his mother and his grandmother--Elisabeth Huber. Though his father--Franz Bachmeier--was not quite the strong father figure Franz might have hoped for,it was impacting and painful when Franz Sr. died in World War I. Franz's mother would, eventually, marry Heinrich Jagerstatter and Franz would take his new father's surname as his own.

He lived a fairly typical life for an Austrian peasant in the early to mid 20th century. There were particular indicators of any religious or spiritual life of note. Like his father, he had a child with a woman outside of marriage.Eventually, he settled down and married a local woman by the name of Franziska Schwaninger. They would go on to have three children of their own. In many ways, this story could be the story of countless others if we stopped right here. But, Franziska had an interesting effect on Franz. Her quiet and confident faith kindled, anew, the embers of Franz's faith buried deep within him.They honeymooned in Rome. Spiritual experiences there coupled with Franziska's steady compassion for her new husband resulted in renewed dedication of Franz to his faith and the Church. He, soon, found himself serving as sexton of a local parish when he wasn't busy providing for his family in the fields.

Shortly thereafter, the Nazis annexed Austria. When talk began of the annexation, Franz was a vocal opponent of the Nazi regime and philosophy. To anyone willing to listen he described the Nazi regime as a train "going to hell." He begged his friends and families to understand that cooperation with this evil was unacceptable. And, yet, annexation continued. The Nazis offered sums of cash to the Austrian people in an attempt to raise morale and public feelings about the annexation and Franz refused to accept the money offered to him and his poor family.Terrible hail storms destroyed many of Franz's much needed crops and, yet, he refused the emergency subsidies offered to him by the Nazi regime. Franz exhibited startling clarity of mind by refusing and rejecting the opportunities to cooperate with the Nazis when it would have, perhaps, benefited him in the short-term. Instead, he chose to be an example of non-cooperation with evil. He labeled their subsidies and gifts a "crooked game" and said: "I cannot play the game. The game is a lie."

Eventually, the second phase of the game fell into place and the men of Austria were called to serve in the military of the Third Reich. He was drafted but vowed disobedience to the Empire. He was advised by friends, family, and ministers to serve in the military because he was a husband and father. They assured him that it would be okay because they didn't think you could really blame a soldier but, rather, that you should blame the officer for the commands.This rationalization did not, ultimately, convince Franz. Instead, he refused military service and told his friends and family: "I believe God asks me to live by my conscience." He refused service and the Empire threatened death in retaliation. If he would not lay down his life for the aims of the Empire, then the Empire would seize his life and break it.Ultimately, Franz refused to play their game and was beheaded as a traitor to the Third Reich.

Franz would confide to a priest shortly before his execution that he knew that his one small death would not stop the Imperial war machine. Rather, he understood his death--his martyrdom--as "a sign that not everyone let themselves be carried away with the tide." Franz did not, in fact, get carried away with the deceptive and destructive tide of the Third Reich. Refusing to lay down his life in cooperation with the Empire, he sacrificed it in front of them and testified to a powerful faith that refused violence and powers even when they came with a strong rationalization or the illusion of benevolence.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

August 8 - St. Dominic, Friar Preacher, Champion of Orthodoxy

Dominic was born to a wealthy family of some renown. His father was well-known in his community and highly respected. His mother lived a fairly typical life for a woman of wealth and social standing. However, she had a peculiar dream when she was pregnant with Dominic. She dreamed that a dog burst forth from her womb into the world. This dog carried a torch in its mouth and began to run from the home no matter how hard they tried to contain it. It began to set the world on fire. Dominic's mother was confused and slightly frightened by this dream but it would prove to be, at the very least, slightly prophetic. Further, Dominic was also raised by his uncle who was an archbishop--for better and worse.

Dominic was an intelligent boy and was eager to learn. He studied the arts for many years but, also, gave many years to the study of theology. His skill and intellect was apparent to his tutors and guides and he was given considerable admiration by his colleagues and fellow students. However, in 1191 a famine ravaged Spain and people became desperate for food and sustenance. Dominic was finishing his studies and felt a strong conviction concerning the lives of those who were suffering. It shocked his colleagues and tutors but Dominic began selling his clothes, furniture, books, and other possessions so that he might give his money away to the hungry. He began a process started in his conversion--pouring himself out for others so that they may have life and know compassion, mercy, and grace.Dominic was motivated by the love that God had shown him and when his colleagues asked him how he could sell his precious books he replied: "Would you have me study off these dead skins, when men are dying of hunger?"

For Dominic, moments like this would mark the time of his life. In many ways, Dominic set the world on fire with astounding love and heartbreaking compassion. But, more than this, he was marked by being a champion of orthodoxy. He spent many years combating heresies and teaching. He, primarily, debated and disputed with the Cathars. He was keen to note and comment that heretics did not seem to be ignorant people but, rather, people who had strayed from orthodoxy and found it to their liking. In a way, this means it was the Church's failure to teach and guide its members. In other words, Dominic feared that the Church had many members but less disciples. Further, heretics did not offer respect to the pomp and pageantry of the religious elite like the elite expected. Noting this, Dominic once replied to a confused but richly adorned group of rejected priests:

"It is not by the display of power and pomp, cavalcades of retainers, and richly-houseled palfreys, or by gorgeous apparel, that the heretics win proselytes; it is by zealous preaching, by apostolic humility, by austerity, by seeming, it is true, but by seeming holiness. Zeal must be met by zeal, humility by humility, false sanctity by real sanctity, preaching falsehood by preaching truth."

Dominic grasped something that all else had missed. Heresy thrives when the Church fails to be what it is called to be. When the Church does not demonstrate the life of faith and, instead, settles for bland control, then it no longer proclaims redemption but, rather, reinforces the status quo. In this vacuum, heresy abounds because it takes up the mantle the Church should be wearing. It, ultimately, fails because only the Church can live into the mantle but they do damage to themselves and the world while they try.

Dominic, of course, would go on to found an order of "Friar Preachers" that would combat heresy by orthodox teaching and ministry to the needy. Starting as Dominic and six trusted friends, they traveled and preached hoping to move the Church to live into its calling and mission. Though they had their failures, the Dominicans (noted by the initials O.P. after their name) have followed after Dominic's calling to provide teaching and preaching throughout the world. As his mother's dream suggested, Dominic's life helped set the world on fire both in terms of compassion and formation but, also, by the reformation that Dominic's life led many other Christians to experience.

Monday, August 7, 2017

August 7 - St. Victricius, Soldier of Peace, Bishop

Victricius was born the son of a Roman Legionnaire. Like his father, he was set aside for military service to the Empire. He was trained from a young age to serve the Emperor and execute his directives. He followed in his father's footsteps and was on a path that led to acclaim, wealth, relative comfort, and power over other people.But, his path was interrupted when he began speaking with Christians like St. Martin of Tours. They introduced him to a crucified and suffering King. They told stories about heroic and willing martyrs and missionaries. They followed after a crucified king. To give honor to a victim of crucifixion was nonsense to those within the Empire--especially to those who had crucified others. And, yet, they spoke of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world and Victricius was intrigued.

They spoke of how the "warrior" they followed carried no sword and, yet, was still powerful.They shared the way of their Lord which proclaimed love stronger than death, sacrifice as true peace, love of enemies, and the revolutionary ideas of Jesus' ministry and message. Victricius, though conditioned by the Empire to reject such ridiculous notions as power through love and forgiveness, converted to Christianity. In his moment of conversion he began the process of changing who he was into who God was calling him to be.

Moved by his conversion, he laid down his weapons in front of his fellow roman soldiers on the parade ground. This action, though misunderstood by those without eyes to see, was a testament to his conversion and his conviction that security and peace gained through manipulation and dominance were not, truly, worth having. He was arrested. The Empire hoped that he would come to his senses when his military upbringing jarred with his arrest and, yet, Victricius' conversion had taken hold in his life and he accepted it. He was charged with desertion and, yet, was not shamed by it.Their attempts at manipulation and dominance did not cause Victricius' submission to their gospel. Recognizing that they had not been able to manipulate his mind or emotions to deny Jesus, they decided to appeal to their more familiar weapon: pain and threat of death.

They beat him severely--hoping that the pain would cause him to give in. They hoped to purchase his repatriation with a promise to stop the pain and, yet, Victricius simply accepted the beating without giving into their demands. They hoped to manipulate him but his conversion was already at work in his life showing him that their power was fleeting at best and not, truly, able to provide any peace or redemption. He rejected their paltry offerings of momentary "comfort" knowing that true comfort transcends pain--true peace transcends domination. Though they undoubtedly would have moved on to execution, for some reason they did not execute Victricius. Instead, they hoped to exile him. Perhaps, they were afraid of the message it would send if one of their chosen soldiers had rejected their deceit and been converted by the Christians. Perhaps, they hoped to shame him by stripping him of his title and, thereby, produce his rejection of Christianity. Regardless, he was not executed.

Victricius went on to be a traveling preacher for many years. He preached to the Flanders, Hainault, and Brabant peoples before, eventually, being name Bishop of Rouen in 386. His reputation as a peacemaker was notable. He was, occasionally, called to various places to provide mediation and peace between disagreeing parties.This man of war--trained by the Empire to engage in the Empire's gospel--had become a man of peace. He had given up a gospel of power through control, safety through dominance, happiness through material goods, and justice through vengeance and retribution. Instead, he had embraced the Christian Gospel: Jesus was born, lived, died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, was raised again after three days, and was seen by many prior to his ascension. These facts had changed his mind and life--and the minds and lives of many others.