Tuesday, May 23, 2017

May 23 - Christian de Cherge and Companions, Martyrs, Monks, Hospitable

There had been Christians in Algeria before the monastery in Atlas had been built and dedicated to prayer and service. But, this monastery represented an entirely new possibility--a new opportunity for the spread of God's Kingdom. The Cistercian monks who populated its halls were French by birth but Christian monks by intention and devotion regardless of what national or social pressures they were forced to face. This monastery was to be--and truly did become--the contemplative and prayer-filled center of Christian life in Muslim dominated Algeria. There were no local people joining in with the monastery--Christianity came at a very high price to the locals--but there were always monks willing to move to Atlas regardless of the potential costs involved. Their lives were disciplined lives of prayer, contemplation, and service. This consistency and regularity gave a strong foundation and foothold to the rapidly growing Algerian Christian community that was in need of leadership and education. In the monastery, they could find both leaders and teachers.

By day, the monks did what they were called to do. Each of them was acquainted with hard work and knew how to farm and coax the warm earth to give its life to the people who needed its sustenance. They grew their own food and planted their own gardens but they did far more than this, as well. They were eager and willing to teach their agricultural techniques--techniques that worked very well but may have been unpracticed by the local farmers in Algeria at the time--to any who was interested regardless of religious conviction or persuasion. They didn't practice hospitality and give the gifts of their knowledge because they hoped to convert the Muslims but because the Muslims were their neighbors and worthy of their love and care. Furthermore, the monastery's doors were open to those seeking refuge or medical care. Regardless of the injury or the need, the monks were willing to care for the one whom God had delivered into their benevolence. Perhaps most shocking was the time when they offered their sanctuary--the space in which they worshiped together--to some local Muslims whose mosque had been destroyed. These Muslims met in the Christian space and worshiped as they desired because of the hospitality of the Christians with whom they disagreed theologically.

Christian and the monks got along well with the Muslims near Atlas and with the majority of those they met. But there were some who were repelled by the hospitality that Christian and his companions offered and desired for the monks to be removed from Algeria. If they would not go willingly or convert to Islam, then they would have to be killed. Twenty Muslim men stormed the monastery on March 26th, 1996, and took the first seven monks they found because they had been told to go and get "those seven monks." Christian was among the seven that were taken.They were taken away from their home and held captive for some time. While captive, they were accused of various crimes and punished for being Christian. Christian had written a letter in 1995 that began "If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners living in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country." He went to ask the reader to "associate such a death with the many other deaths that were just as violent, but forgotten through indifference and anonymity. My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value." The seven were killed on May 21st, 1996, and their deaths were announced on May 23rd, 1996.

In the final paragraphs of his letter, Christian addressed his would-be-murderer and wrote: "And you also, the friend of my final moment, who would not be aware of what you were doing.Yes, for you also I wish this 'thank you'—and this 'adieu'—to commend you to the God whose face I see in yours. And may we find each other, happy "good thieves," in Paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen."

Monday, May 22, 2017

May 22 - Julia of Corsica, Martyr, Captive, Slave

In 489, something horrific happened in North Africa: Genseric and those he had brought under his leadership crossed the sea from Spain and began wreaking havoc on those who stood in their way. They were Arians and felt that the time for talk had ended. Consequently, they began demanding the orthodox to become Arians or suffer for their faith. Genseric even succeeded in taking Carthage where Julia lived with her noble family and Christian brothers and sisters. When Genseric's people encountered Julia they found her unwilling to renounce her faith or even listen to their attempts to convert her their particular brand of heterodoxy--Julia knew well that beliefs offered at the tip of a sword were not worthy of consideration without the threat of the blade. Because of he steadfast denial she was sold into slavery and shipped away from Carthage. This was a fairly typical practice for Genseric who reasoned that those who refused to be converted should be exiled from the land he wanted as his own. So, Julia who had been raised as a Christian in a noble family was suddenly a captive and a slave. She was sold to a man name Eusebius from Syria.

Eusebius was a merchant and did much business all around the Mediterranean Sea. He was not a Christian and, in fact, was willing to worship any of the gods of the peoples with whom he traded if it might help him make a little more money or gain a little more influence. Julia made the decision demonstrate the virtue of her faith in daily service to Eusebius. This did not make it likable or easy but it did give it an ultimate purpose and allowed her to connect her own story to that of other slaves who had escaped not only worldly chains but the more insidious mental and spiritual bonds--like Joseph, the son of Jacob. In only a short time, she was considered the greatest of all of Eusebius' servants. He was astounded at the love she showed even as he demanded service of her and treated her as a possession. When she wasn't working, she was praying or reading and drawing nearer and nearer to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This devotion frustrated Eusebius at first but when he realized how much she did for him he learned to overlook this irritation. On Julia's last trip with him they were sailing to the southern coast of what would be known as France with a ship full of expensive cargo. They landed on the upper peninsula of Corsica and as they were preparing the ship for the night, Eusebius noticed that there was a great sacrifice happening nearby. He gathered all of his people--all except Julia who refused to take part--and went to see the bull slaughtered by the governor of the region (a man named Felix).

At first, Felix was very happy to have unexpected guests who would come and pay homage to the gods he worshiped. However, word got back to Felix that not all of Eusebius' servants had come to the sacrifice. He inquired after the one that remained on the ship and found out that she was a Christian and refused to have any part in the festivities. Not knowing that Genseric had already failed at the task, Felix resolved to convert Julia to his own evils. He asked Eusebius if he wouldn't command her to come and he said that he had decided long ago that her service was so excellent that he'd rather not risk any damage to her. Felix volunteered to give Eusebius any four of his female slaves for Julia but Eusebius laughed it off and insisted that he wouldn't accept everything Felix owned for Julia. Eusebius was a Roman citizen and so he was protected from any direct assaults upon his property from Felix, so Felix pretended as if it was over and offered Eusebius another drink. In only a little while Eusebius was thoroughly intoxicated and he passed out. As Eusebius fell to the ground in a stupor, Felix sent his men to bring Julia to him.

Julia came in chains and was commanded by Felix to make a sacrifice to his gods. She refused and so he made her an offer: perform one sacrifice and I will set you free as governor. Indeed the power to do so rested squarely in his hands but Julia was uninterested and responded, "My liberty is the service of Christ, whom I serve every day with a pure mind." In other words, she claimed that she was as free as anybody could be and it was Felix who was in need of release from slavery--slavery to that far more deadly master: sin. Because of her refusal, Felix had her beaten severely by some of his strongest men. When that proved unsuccessful at securing her apostasy, he had her hair torn out slowly and painfully. She was asked if she would now renounce her faith to save herself further pain and eventual death. She responded that Jesus had been wounded and killed for her and it was appropriate that she be willing to do the same for him. So, they nailed her to a cross and crucified her. She died a martyr who was a slave that was more free than any.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

May 21 - Rita of Cascia, Wife, Mother, Nun

Rita's received the kind of spiritual education that can only be received in the home and by the careful guidance of a loving mother (Amata) and father (Antonio). Antonio and Amata were eager to pass on the faith that had gripped them to their only daughter and took nearly every chance that presented itself to demonstrate and explain what it was they believed. At a young age, Rita professed the faith of her parents and made it her own. When asked what she wanted to do with her life she quickly responded that she wanted to become a nun. But as the only child--and a daughter, as well---this could be a frightening prospect for her parents. Antonio and Amata worried that there would be nobody to take care of them when they were old if their daughter--their only child--disappeared behind the walls of a convent and undertook a vow of poverty. So, instead, they arranged for Rita to marry a man whose promise was strong, but not as strong as his temper and tongue. Rita married Paolo Mancini at the wishes of her mother and father and began to forge a life as a wife and soon to be mother.

Rita gave birth to two sons by her husband Paolo: Giangiacomo Antonio and Paolo Maria. Regrettably, life with her husband was not easy or pleasant. He was verbally abusive to her and nearly everyone with whom he came into contact. He was nominally Christian but his faith extended no further than his occasional words and meager attendance on Sunday. But Rita knew that love was a transforming force and so she endeavored to love him even when he was unlovable. Furthermore, she spent her life raising Giangiacomo and Paolo Maria in the faith in which she had been raised. Day in and day out her love had a slow and steady effect on those around her. It took nearly eighteen years but eventually Rita's husband came to profess a vibrant and saving faith that changed his outlook and approach to life. Rita's love had led Paolo to God's love and this transformed Paolo's corruption into redemption. Yet, tragedy was right around the corner and soon after his conversion he was murdered by those he worked with--perhaps because of the chance that had occurred in his life. Giangiacomo and Paolo Maria were both adults by this time and so they vowed a vendetta against the murderers of their father.

Rita knew well the spiritual carnage that would be wrought in the lives of her sons if they followed through on their disastrous vendetta. She begged them to renounce it and abandon the lie that said vengeance would "make things even." Rita knew well that more violence would not solve the problem and would only amplify the tragedy and in this she knew the power and value of peace.When Giangiacomo and Paolo Maria refused to abandon their awful course, Rita did the only thing she knew to do: pray. She prayed that God's will would be done and that he sons would be saved from spiritual death because of their haste and fury. They were Christians and so she prayed that--no matter the cost--they not be allowed to destroy their faith with rash actions.Within the year Giangiacomo and Paolo Maria died of natural causes and with a sudden unexpectedness. Rita understood this to be God saving her sons from impending sin and destruction. Following the death of Giangiacomo and Paolo Maria, Rita worked hard to reconcile the rest of her family with her husband's murderer.She was successful in this and retired to a convent as a nun and spiritual leader.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

May 20 - Michael Sattler, Martyr, Reformer, Anabaptist


Perhaps it exposed a vestige of naivete but Michael Sattler was honestly surprised when he became prior of the little Benedictine monastery -- St. Peter's -- near Freiburg. Michael was devoted to a type of ministry that included not only prayer, fasting, and disciple but, also, regular education at the nearby university. Through this program of spiritual development and formation he had grown to a level of maturity that made him the ideal choice for prior--and perhaps eventually for abbot. But when he began to take an inventory of the spiritual health of the monastery he was painfully surprised and woefully underwhelmed. Sure, he had known that there were those among his peers who seemed less interested in their common calling but he had never questioned their calling to this peculiar life of service and prayer--he had assumed that they all approached the cloistered life with the same sincerity and passion that he brought to this withdrawn, spiritual life. Sadly, Michael was mistaken and when it suddenly hit him that not all who claimed a calling to ministry and service were doing it because of an increasing intimacy with God--or a desire for that intimacy--it was crushing. He still found it awkward to question their calling and so he questioned his and left the monastery. He married a woman named Margaretha and gave up the spiritual life he had been taught.

Slowly--very slowly at first--Michael began to see abandonment as a path unworthy of traveling and so he considered the path of reformation. Indeed, there were those in the Church who were misguided but Michael became increasingly aware that the Church was not made up of the sainted and would always have more than its fair share of hypocrites. How could it not? After all, if the Christian Gospel was the highest of callings, then it made the most room for hypocrisy within its ranks. So, slowly at first Michael began circulating in reformer circles--particularly among the Anabaptists--and advocating for reformation of the One Church. Because of this controversial stance he and Margaretha were forced to flee to Switzerland. While he served as a minister and theologian among the Swiss brethren he relearned a way of spiritual life and leadership that was life-giving to him. In Schleitheim they convened a council of Christians who drafted a confession of faith (now known as the Schleitheim Confession) and Michael was the leader of the party that wrote the document. Both within their lives and within their document they resisted coercion within the Church, denounced the use of violence for Christians, forbade the swearing of vows on the basis of the Sermon on the Mount, called for an increasingly intentional approach to the Faith, and denied the ability of civil power to serve in the Church's place among other things.They published this document under the title "Brotherly Agreement of Some Children of God." They sought reformation but they were labeled heretics. They sought unity through healing but were labeled the disease.

For daring to suggest that the Church had problems they were targeted by the civil arm of the Church. Those in power within the State took up arms against Michael and the Swiss Brethren. He was given a trial but was not asked to defend his arguments for the need of healing and reformation within the Church--that was never considered a possibility by those within power. Rather, he was given a chance simply to deny all he had said. He refused. So, they decreed: "Michael Sattler shall be committed to the executioner. The latter shall take him to the square and there first cut out his tongue, and then forge him fast to a wagon and there with glowing iron tongs twice tear pieces from his body, then on the way to the site of execution five times more as above and then burn his body to powder as an arch-heretic." As they prepared to kill him he cried out, "Almighty and eternal God you art the way and the truth. I have not been shown to be in error and, so, I will--with thy help--on this day testify to the truth and seal it with my blood."And so they made a martyr of a reformer of the One Church. Two days later they also killed Margaretha by drowning her.

Friday, May 19, 2017

May 19 - Dunstan, Blacksmith, Archbishop of Canterbury, Light to England

Dunstan was a monk--he hadn't been one very long but he did have a notable pedigree since his uncle was the Archbishop of Canterbury. Once upon a time had been popular in a king's court but his popularity had threatened others among the king's servants who began to despise him. So, they lied and accused Dunstan of witchcraft and black magic. Though it was a lie, sometimes lies have a way of being believed even when they're unbelievable and so it was enough for Dunstan to be sent away from the court by the king and to be beaten severely by his enemies. In his exile he became a monk and hermit. In his solitude he began once again to practice the art of the forge that he had learned as a youth. In fact, one day Dunstan was in his shop and working on a fine metal chalice. The chalice was to be used by some Christians to hold the Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. So, he took his work very seriously and endeavored to apply the full breadth of his skill to its completion. While he worked though he heard a soft pitter-patter of feet as a young woman approached his forge.

Actually, he smelled her before she ever entered the room as the breeze that preceded her carried her scent to him on a wave. It was a refreshing and enticing thing and so he looked up to ask her how he could help her and the words caught in his throat. She was gorgeous and he found he could not look away.The way she moved entranced him and reminded him of the many days he had spent in indecision about a potential vow of celibacy--he had remained unconvinced for quite some time until finally he fell under a conviction that God was calling him to the eremitic, monastic life. She leaned forward in an alluring way and it was only then that he realized how provocatively she was dressed. It wasn't that she was scantily clad or garishly risque by any means--that would be far too obvious--but as he looked upon her he noticed several things about her that seemed to call softly to his lust. It was in the little things like the turn of the collar of her dress, the gentle wave of her long, chestnut hair, the purse of her lips as she considered some clever thing to say to Dunstan, and the apparent honesty in her eyes. By Dunstan's estimation she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and he was enchanted as she coyly conversed with him. Each pose and stance she struck seemed effortless and without forethought but maddeningly attractive and innocently unaware. There seemed to be so much right about her.

But there was something about the way she flirted with him that made him hesitate. He was eager to join with her in "harmless fun" but became aware that there was something else at work. Though the illusion of the gorgeous woman had been fundamentally persuasive at first its sincerity faded as his lust cooled. Those soft and genuine looks began quietly to whisper sex and not sincerity. The way she turned her body to walk to another point in the shop revealed some desire in her to be lusted after. With each passing second, Dunstan became more and more aware that she knew exactly what she was doing and that there was poison beneath the sweetness. He realized with startling clarity that only that which was evil would dare masquerade as the beautiful and in this realization he began to see all the things his lust had blinded him to. He picked up the tongs that had so recently held the chalice being set aside for God's use and turned to the woman as she twirled her skirt--and perhaps gave too much of her true nature away. With stunning speed he reached out and grabbed her nose with the tongs knowing that she was no woman and only a dark spirit sent to bewitch and undo him. The story goes that the woman begged and pleaded with him at first but could not convince him that she was not the devil himself. Under the pressure, the facade began to slip and Dunstan's captive--perhaps the devil himself--began to cry out in pain and beg to be released. Finally, Dunstan let him go and the poor thing ran as fast as its legs would carry it with the tattered rags that had masqueraded as a comely dress flowing behind it.Recognizing the temptation for what it was, Dunstan knew that even the sweetest of poisons was still deadly.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

May 18 - Theodotus of Ancyra, Martyr, Defender of the Martyrs, Rightfully Accused

The prefect of Ancyra could feel how the political winds were blowing with Decius at the helm of the empire. So, the prefect decided to command all Christians to come forward and make sacrifice to the Roman gods and idols or be tortured and killed. The way the prefect saw it the Christians didn't have to give up their beliefs--they just had to demonstrate that their higher allegiance was to the Roman empire and its values. What the prefect, and so many other imperial leaders, failed to realize was that the Christians could not simultaneously put anything higher than their devotion to Jesus and still call themselves Christians. To slip--even "in word only"--and place something higher than Jesus was to deny their Faith. That was the kind of saving faith they had learned: complete trust in a complete redemption. So, it came as some surprise to the powerful, then, when Christians refused the offer that Rome had deemed reasonable. The non-Christians soon learned, however, that they could accuse their Christian neighbors before Rome and then profit by taking the possessions and valuables of the seized and martyred Christians. As the number of martyrs increased daily, Theodotus--a local innkeeper--began doing the unheard of: he began taking the bodies of the martyrs and giving them a Christian burial. He didn't do it because they "needed it" for some special reason but simply because they deserved it. He would try to take them from the site of execution but often had to bribe the guards to be able to take them. Since he was a prosperous innkeeper this was not especially difficult at first but as the number of bodies rose, his funds dwindled further and further.

Eventually, Rome shut down the building where the Christians met. By forbidding entrance to anyone, those drunk with imperial lies masquerading as power thought they were closing the Church! In reality, they were only moving it and so for some time it met in the inn that Theodotus owned and operated. This increased his visibility to the empire and likely shortened his days. When he realized this he let the priest know that soon he expected to join the martyrs because he didn't suspect that the empire would continue to overlook his presence and his activities. Soon after Theodotus' conversation with the priest, seven women were arrested for being Christian. These women had committed themselves to celibacy and a life of singleness so that they might focus on seeking the will of God and taking care of the poor and sick.The rulers whose minds had been warped by the twisted values of the empire and the world felt that these women should be raped and then murdered as punishment for their convictions and values. The youths who were given the charge of raping the seven women refused when they met the women and one of them had gray hair--perhaps they couldn't get past the idea of raping a woman who could be their mother and in shock their twisted values had been exposed to them. So, the prefect ordered heavy stones tied to their legs and each of them was dropped into the lake to drown.

That night a guard was posted at the shore because the bodies of the Christians had been missing far too often and if they were receiving burials then Rome's powers to frighten and terrify were weakened. The eldest of the women appeared to Theodotus in a dream and so the following night he went with a dear friend--Polychronius--to the lake to rescue the bodies of all seven women. As they approached in prayer, the guard received a vision of a Christian martyr commanding him to leave. In fear, he abandoned his post and Theodotus and Polychronius were able to do the hard work of releasing the bodies from their submerged prison. They took the bodies back and buried them but their actions were found out the next day when the seven women no longer rotted in the lake. Polychronius and Theodotus were arrested and tortured. Under torture, Polychronius broke and told his accusers that it had all been Theodotus' idea. Polychronius was set free after he made the sacrifice of his own faith--sacrificing that of inestimable value for a cheap trinket--but Theodotus was condemned to death. He was martyred and his body joined those of the other martyrs who were rescued from desecration not because they "needed it" by any means but because they deserved it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

May 17 - Paschal Baylon, Poor, Mystic, Friar

In the year 1540 Pentecost came on May 24th and it was celebrated by Christians around the world. On the same day, a baby boy was born in the city of Torrehermosa, in the country of Spain. His mother and father named the little one Paschal Baylon--Paschal in honor of the fact that he was born on the day of Pentecost which was called the "Pasch of the Holy Ghost" in Spain at the time. Paschal was born into the poverty that his mother and father shared and brought a little brightness to their otherwise difficult lives. He helped provide for the family as much as he could as he grew older by taking a job as a shepherd for those with money to pay and flocks to mind. He did his job well and soon found himself working nearly every day. This was a great boon to his family but meant that he received little to no education and was illiterate even as a youth. As a poor young man in a world that has little room for those stricken with poverty and frustration, he soon learned that he would be unable to purchase or earn education but he still endeavored to learn to read. So, he started doing something shocking: asking people who passed his way to teach him "just a little" of how to read.

With each passing person, Paschal either found a willing tutor for a moment or yet another person unconcerned with the face he doesn't know. Person by person Paschal slowly learned to read. Every lesson he received was an act of charity that produced knowledge in his own mind and good fruits in the soul of the one who spared their time and attention for the other. Some would have been ashamed to ask those who passed by for help and assistance but Paschal knew a very important thing: he wasn't the only one who benefited from these lessons. In accepting an act of charity, he was helping the other to grow and mature spiritually. Soon, he had repeat tutors coming by to teach him "a little more." When there was no tutor and nobody coming down the road, Paschal tried to read the book he carried with him and it grew progressively easier and easier as time went on and his knowledge increased. Eventually, he had learned to read and so he applied to be a lay brother among the nearby Franciscans. But, once again, he did something shocking: he only spent time in the especially poor monasteries.

Paschal was certain that poverty was formative and healing for him and so he refused to abandon it by residing in a monastery of some comfort and means. He is recorded as insisting, "I was born poor and am resolved to die in poverty and penance." He had found the powerful road that led through poverty into spiritual formation and growth. He had learned the power of asking others to be charitable and giving others the opportunity to prove their allegiance to a Kingdom not-of-this-world.The rest of his life was lacking in riches and filled with prayer and opportunities for charity. His many mystical and ecstatic experiences only confirmed his calling in his heart until he died on May 17th, 1592.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

May 16 - Brendan of Clonfert, Monastic, Student of the Greats, Navigator

Bendan was born in the country of Ireland, the county of Kerry, and the city of Tralee. Like so many other Irish boys near the turn from the fifth to the sixth century, he was raised in a Christian home and put to bed at night hearing the stories of Patrick the Great who had returned to the island that Brendan and his family loved so dearly. After all, Patrick had been a missionary and had ignited furious passion for missions among the Irish Christians. Furthermore, Brendan was born when Brigid was already about her calling and life's work among the monastics. He surely heard the good things that this wonderful woman was doing and must have spent some of that peaceful time right before sleep and during our most vivid daydreams imagining a life for himself like hers. Some stories suggest that when Brendan was born a chorus of angels accompanied the moment to announce its importance and his significance for the future of Irish Christianity. He was baptized by the bishop Ercwhen he was but a baby and when he was ready to begin his education he was sent to Ita (the woman who would become known as the "Brigid of Munster") in Killeedy for her careful guidance and teaching.Brendan was born in the country of Ireland, the county of Kerry, and the city of Tralee. Like so many other Irish boys near the turn from the fifth to the sixth century, he was raised in a Christian home and put to bed at night hearing the stories of Patrick the Great who had returned to the island that Brendan and his family loved so dearly. After all, Patrick had been a missionary and had ignited furious passion for missions among the Irish Christians. Furthermore, Brendan was born when Brigid was already about her calling and life's work among the monastics. He surely heard the good things that this wonderful woman was doing and must have spent some of that peaceful time right before sleep and during our most vivid daydreams imagining a life for himself like hers. Some stories suggest that when Brendan was born a chorus of angels accompanied the moment to announce its importance and his significance for the future of Irish Christianity. He was baptized by the bishop Ercwhen he was but a baby and when he was ready to begin his education he was sent to Ita (the woman who would become known as the "Brigid of Munster") in Killeedy for her careful guidance and teaching.


After several years at the knee of Ita he was sent back to receive the remainder of his education and training from the hand of Erc in Tralee. This was a powerful experience for Brendan but as he aged and began to experience the strengthening of his own calling he desired to travel and study under yet more great Christian leaders and teachers. Erc gave his approval but made one significant request: Brendan should return for his eventual ordination. Brendan honored Erc'srequest after several more years of study under the great Irish minds including Finnian of Clonard, Enda of Aran, and Jarlath of Tuam. He was ordained at the age of twenty-six and went out into the Irish countryside with missions in mind and monasteries to build. Because of his masterful education he soon became a master in his own right and attracted many disciples to himself. They built monasteries in several places (including Ardfert, Shanakeel, and at the foot of Brandon Hill) and Brendan oversaw their development and expanding mission. He even appointed his sister as abbess over one of the monasteries. He became known throughout Ireland as a master of Christian spirituality and a peer of Patrick and Brigid.

Near the end of his life he had a vision in which God called him to do something preposterous: to travel far from Ireland. For a man with as much influence in Irish life as Brendan had this seemed to be a disastrous idea. To travel far away would be to abandon the work he had done for a people who would not know him and who would not give him any of the respect or attention that he naturally received in Ireland. But, he was loyal to God's will and willing to do God's work. So, he gathered to himself sixty of his closest disciples and prepared a boat for travel. Their first voyage was a colossal failure so they stopped to regroup. After praying and fasting for forty days, they set out again and traveled for nearly seven years aboard their boat. They landed in Iceland and Greenland and may have gone as far as the North American continent. Though this seems unlikely, recent tests have even proven that it's possible with the ship that they built. Along the way, they shared the faith that motivated them and expanded the Kingdom of God into places where it had never seen the light of day. As his days drew short, he returned to Ireland (stopping first in Scotland and Iona) and founded yet one more monastery at Annaghdown. It was in this monastery where he finished his days teaching his disciples and guiding the shape of Christianity in an increasingly new world.

Monday, May 15, 2017

May 15 - Peter Maurin, Teacher, Visionary, Radical

Peter Maurin's mother and father were poor farmers in a village named Oultet in Southern France. As is often the case for those who make their living by the land, life was a challenge from sunrise and sundown that was punctuated with many moments of uncertainty and rare moments of quiet confidence. He was one of twenty-four children that indubitably did their best to help on the farm and fill each other's lives with the comfort and solace of the community of family. When he was sixteen, though, Peter departed his family home and joined up with a Christian group called "The Institute of the Brothers of Christian Schools." He trained to be a teacher and to move into some community in need of education and guidance and start a school. They professed vows of simplicity and piety as well as a passion for educating and caring for the poor. He found this life fulfilling but just as he was really beginning to enjoy the community he was conscripted into mandatory military service. He was uncomfortable with the nature of the relationship between politics and religion--how the State so often took upon itself the cloak of the Church in a manipulative and dangerous way--and this thread would run through the remainder of his life.When he was released from his mandatory service he found out, with much frustration, that the French government was shutting down religious schools throughout the country. Peter responded by joining a lay group known as Le Sillon which advocated for worker's rights and democratic ideals. Though he tried to assimilate into Le Sillon he could not escape the pervasive suspicion that the conflation of politics and religion created problems. So, in 1909 he emigrated to Canada to escape the political life that so dominated his existence in France.

He had chosen Canada--specifically Saskatchewan--because they did not have obligatory military service or conscription and, so, it seemed to hold the promise of a life of piety without politics. He built a home and shared it with others but soon found that the life of escape was not one to which he was called even if he was still called to a life of poverty. He left Saskatchewan and began taking odd jobs in the United States or, in hard times, wherever he could find them. He worked hard and asked for little. When he was able and life and funds permitted him to do so he would go to New York and teach the poor the skills they might desperately need. Often, he was unpaid for this service because of the expansive quality of the poverty he struggled against. He would spend his time teaching in the public library or sharing his life and experiences with people on the streets. He had minimized his own interaction with politics while emphasizing his own relationship with his God and his Faith. One of the people whom he regularly had conversation with gave him the name and address of a new convert and freelance writer by the name of Dorothy Day. Peter sought out Dorothy and his life took another turn.

The two developed an intense and passionate relationship as two friends and beloved coworkers in the Kingdom of God. Dorothy was a gifted writer and Peter had ideas that had true potential to rock the world. Before they did anything, though, Peter insisted that Dorothy receive an education about how to look at the world through truly Christian eyes. It was always Peter's insistence that the Kingdom of God operated on a different set of values and procedures. He didn't think that the old world and the corrupt systems needed to be conquered so much as allowed to destroy themselves.Peter taught Dorothy and others that the Christian way was to focus upon piety and faith and allow broken systems to self-destruct. This is how Peter and Dorothy proceeded and this is how Peter finally understood himself to escape the worst part of the painful grasp of the political machines. The two of them started The Catholic Worker and it soon became a widely read and appreciated newspaper. Through the paper, Peter advocated a return to the practice of Christian hospitality, the increased importance of farms, and the value of community among other things.Insisting that "there is no unemployment on the land," Peter moved to a communal farm in Pennsylvania and spent the remainder of his days aiding in the publication of The Catholic Worker, teaching those willing to hear, and advocating for the poor against systems that tried to undo them all. He died in 1949 and was buried in a second-hand suit in a donated grave.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

May 14 - Boniface of Tarsus, Martyr, Convert, Defender of the Martyrs

Aglaida had a favorite servant by the name of Boniface. The two of them spent many nights together in Aglaida's bed. Though he was bound to serve her as she bid him, Boniface was completely comfortable with the sexual nature of their relationship. As time went on, the two became increasingly uncomfortable with the carnal and broken nature of their lives. They couldn't point to anything specifically wrong in their lives--and they hadn't stopped having sex--but they couldn't shake a steady and intense feeling of conviction. It seems that even before they knew to name their self-obsessed actions sin they had some intuition to the fact. They wanted some relief from this anxious tension and so Aglaida had a horrible but wonderful idea. By Aglaida's reasoning, they would be relieved if she could own and display some of the bones of the Christian martyrs being made in Rome.When she sent Boniface to go and purchase or otherwise acquire the relics she did so with an amulet against emptiness in mind.

Boniface went willingly because he was commanded to do so and his affection for Aglaida led him to trust her grim rationale. As he had traveled, he had planned and brainstormed about how he might be able to coerce some poor or desperate person in possession of relics to surrender them into non-Christian hands. Boniface arrived in Rome and was very surprised to see that martyrdom was far more common than he imagined. He began to suspect that he might not have to purchase the relics because he might be able to steal or seize them in the chaos that followed the executioner's blade. But as Boniface surveyed the places where Rome practiced the power of fear and death, he began listening to and hearing the words that the Christians preached even as they approached their deaths. He was astounded to watch martyr after martyr refuse release because of a desire to maintain a faith foreign to Boniface. Soon, he had a name for the affliction that discomforted Aglaida and himself: sin.Under the power of conviction he began to trust the God and Lord of the Christians and soon repented of the ways that led to a death more profound than Rome's variety.

Having been converted, Boniface could not hide his passion and began to decry the evils that Rome perpetrated in the name of justice. Whereas he had come to profane the relics of the martyrs, he was now a defender of their sanctity. Eventually, he was arrested for the crime of being a Christian and after he refused to return to a life of freedom and death by denying his Lord, he was marched to the site of his own execution. As they prepared to make Boniface a martyr the thought must have passed through his mind that Aglaida would finally receive her relics when they sent her servant's body back to her. When she received them--courtesy of a faithful group of Christians--she learned what it was that Boniface had learned. Under the guidance of the Christians she was soon converted and found release from her sin and brokenness in a faith that made martyrs and opposed death at every turn--sometimes going so far as to crush death by dying.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

May 13 - Julian of Norwich, Anchoress, Writer, Dreamer


Julian of Norwich was a contemplative anchoress in the fourteenth and fifteenth century. Her life consisted primarily of prayer and contemplation in the small cell attached to the church where she was called. When she was approaching her own death she received a series of visions that impressed upon her the powerful and overwhelming nature of God's furious love. After the visions she recovered and wrote down what she had seen so that others might learn from God's gift to her. Though she was a woman in a time when this should have excluded her from having significant influence in the theology and movement of the Church she wrote and distributed her visions so that the Church might hear what God had to say through her anyway. What follows are some selections from Julian's work Revelations of Divine Love.

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"But in this I stood beholding things general, troublously and mourning, saying thus to our Lord in my meaning, with full great dread: Ah! good Lord, how might all be well, for the great hurt that is come, by sin, to the creature? And here I desired, as far as I durst, to have some more open declaring wherewith I might be eased in this matter.

And to this our blessed Lord answered full meekly and with full lovely cheer, and shewed that Adam’s sin was the most harm that ever was done, or ever shall be, to the world’s end; and also He shewed that this [sin] is openly known in all Holy Church on earth. Furthermore He taught that I should behold the glorious Satisfaction for this Amends-making is more pleasing to God and more worshipful, without comparison, than ever was the sin of Adam harmful. Then signifieth our blessed Lord thus in this teaching, that we should take heed to this: For since I have made well the most harm, then it is my will that thou know thereby that I shall make well all that is less."

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"Full preciously our Lord keepeth us when it seemeth to us that we are near forsaken and cast away for our sin and because we have deserved it. And because of meekness that we get hereby, we are raised well-high in God’s sight by His grace, with so great contrition, and also compassion, and true longing to God. Then they be suddenly delivered from sin and from pain, and taken up to bliss, and made even high saints.

By contrition we are made clean, by compassion we are made ready, and by true longing toward God we are made worthy. These are three means, as I understand, whereby that all souls come to heaven: that is to say, that have been sinners in earth and shall be saved: for by these three medicines it behoveth that every soul be healed.Though the soul be healed, his wounds are seen afore God,—not as wounds but as worships. And so on the contrary-wise, as we be punished here with sorrow and penance, we shall be rewarded in heaven by the courteous love of our Lord God Almighty, who willeth that none that come there lose his travail in any degree. For He [be]holdeth sin as sorrow and pain to His lovers, to whom He assigneth no blame, for love.The meed that we shall receive shall not be little, but it shall be high, glorious, and worshipful. And so shall shame be turned to worship and more joy.

But our courteous Lord willeth not that His servants despair, for often nor for grievous falling: for our falling hindereth letteth not Him to love us.Peace and love are ever in us, being and working; but we be not alway in peace and in love. But He willeth that we take heed thus that He is Ground of all our whole life in love; and furthermore that He is our everlasting Keeper and mightily defendeth us against our enemies, that be full fell and fierce upon us;—and so much our need is the more for [that] we give them occasion by our falling."

Friday, May 12, 2017

May 12 - Pancras, Martyr, Adolescent, Determined to Resist

Pancras never knew his mother. As he was coming into this world to begin his life's journey and draw
his first few breaths, his mother Cyriada was passing from the same world and drawing her last few breaths. For all of Pancras' life so far he had shared the body of his mother but she soon faded from view (but never from the memory of her family) as she died following his birth. Pancras was raised by his father Cleonius and thanks to his father and mother's roman citizenship he had a fairly comfortable upbringing in Phrygia. He received a little education and as much love as his grieving father could offer but life wasn't done taking from Pancras and when he was only eight years old his father died from causes covered over by the thick fog of history. With both Cyriada and Cleonius dead it was necessary for somebody to take in orphaned Pancras since he was only eight years old and deemed incapable of protecting himself from life's cruel hand. So, he was given over to the care of his uncle Dionysius. Perhaps looking for a change of scenery from Phrygia, Dionysius and Pancras moved to a Roman villa on the Caelian hill.

To live on one of the seven hills of Rome was an honor and was only the right of those with both considerable power and significant wealth. However, to live on the Caelian hill at the time was an even greater honor because of its prominence among those with plenty of social status and sufficient leisure time to determine which hills should be and were the most popular. The Romans might have assumed that such a wealth-infused upbringing would be the perfect curative to Pancras' losses and griefs but, then, those with money and power often succeed themselves into believing that those things are necessary for happiness (and in doing so teach themselves to need the needless). But Pancras' location with his uncle was very beneficial in one particular way. It put him and his uncle in the path of some Christians and soon they became interested in the words the Christians offered and the inextinguishable hope that burned within them. Perhaps it was words of life eternal that resonated within Pancras or perhaps it was some other deep truth but, regardless, Pancras soon found himself converted and baptized. Dionysius joined him in the waters of death-that-leads-to-life. This was a risk on their part but it was one they took willingly.

In the year 303, Pancras was only fourteen years old but he was a devoted follower of his Lord Jesus. He knew that his faith may very well cost him something very dear--perhaps even his own life--but he was undeterred by the threats of an empire only interested in bringing him into worthless submission. He was eventually arrested for being a Christian during the reign of Diocletian. The imperial captors were confident that an adolescent from a wealthy section of Rome would be all too easy to break and convert away from Christianity to worship of what Rome deemed worthy. After all, if he had much wealth to lose and many years to forfeit by remaining Christian then it seemed that a boy would quickly kneel before the imperial demands. When Pancras refused their demands and acknowledge but didn't care about their threats, Diocletian was impressed. Pancras was determined to resist and so this made him appealing to Diocletian who hoped yet to convert him. He was offered the favor of the emperor and much wealth and power but still refused to deny his Lord and make sacrifice to the Roman lords. After an extended period of alternating threats and promises--the two confused arms of imperial coercion--he was labeled a hopeless case and condemned to die. At fourteen years old, Pancras walked to the place where he was to be decapitated and accepted his martyrdom with a calmness that astonished the crowd. Pancras had finally found something worth living for in a God who not only cared about orphans and widows but had entered into the world of pain that Pancras knew all too well so that it could be redeemed. He died a martyr knowing that the battle for the world had already been won and the Kingdom was on the rise.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

May 11 - Christopher, Martyr, Christ Bearer, Seeker of Something Worth Believing

Reprebus was a big man. He was a strong and very capable warrior at the service of the king of Canaan. He had no relation to or even understanding of the Christian faith and it wasn't expected of him that he would have any interest in it if he was told of it. He was good at what he did--the bidding of those he served--and nearly all of the people must have known he lived a fairly comfortable life. But Reprebus had a strong desire to devote his life to something or someone greater than the ruler he served. He thought on his predicament for some time until he finally decided to seek out the greatest ruler in the world and become a servant to this great ruler. With his great strength and determination he knew that he could become a powerful and influential servant of any ruler and knew that serving the greatest of rulers meant that he would become the greatest of the ruler's men.So, he left the king of Canaan and sought out the ruler most widely regarded as a king above all other kings and pledged his allegiance to this man.

Reprebus' life was fairly comfortable in service to this new king--his new master--but it would not remain that way. One day while he was guarding his new king he happened to overhear the king in conversation with another man. The other man spoke of someone he called "the devil" and in response Reprebus' king made a gesture of crossing in the air as if to ward off the presence of this "devil." Reprebus knew what this meant that the man he served hoped to ward off another who was spoken of in hushed tones: it meant that there was somebody that even this great king feared. So, Reprebus committed himself to finding this one known as "the devil" so that he might serve him. What he found, though, was a band of marauding bandits led by a man who claimed to be the same devil that Reprebus was pursuing. Reprebus fell in with the bandits and became a man to be feared on the highways and byways of the Roman empire. He hurt many people in service to the devil that even the great king had feared but witnessed another disturbing turn of events when the devil he served balked at trampling upon a cross that had been left beside a road. Instead, the devil veered widely around it and demonstrated his own fear.Again, Reprebus knew that this meant there was another who was greater and so he went looking for someone who could tell him the meaning of this cross.

What Reprebus found out was that the cross was a symbol of the Lord of the Christians: Jesus Christ. He sought out a local teacher who could tell him how to follow Jesus since he had learned from the Christians that Jesus had died, been raised from the dead, and ascended again into the heavens. The teacher was a hermit who, when Reprebus asked him how he might follow Jesus, taught Reprebus to fast and pray and seek the will of God. Reprebus didn't know how and was unaccustomed to such physical and spiritual disciplines. So, instead, the hermit found another discipline for Reprebus to practice. Noting Reprebus' great strength and stature he told him to go down to the raging river nearby where people routinely lost their lives trying to cross it. When he got there, his job was to help people cross safely. With a walking stick in hand, Christopher began carrying people across the river to safety. He was thanked profusely but he always insisted that it was his calling to be there and that he would not accept but the most meager and necessary of gifts. He was, after all, serving the King of all Kings and could find no reason to want anything else.

One day, after helping many travelers cross the river a little boy came to the bank of the river and looked across it to the other side. Reprebus had helped children cross before and it was always an easy task because of their small size. When the boy asked to be carried over, Reprebus gladly obliged and picked up the child to put him on his shoulders. As he started to take a step he suddenly felt as if the child was the heaviest burden he had ever carried. He nearly stumbled but instead he took one slow and plodding step. He understood himself to be serving God almighty through helping people across the river and so he was unwilling to refuse assistance to anybody. So, he took another laborious and difficult step across the river with the boy on his shoulders. "Even if the boy was made of pure lead he couldn't be this heavy," reasoned Reprebus to himself. When he finally, after quite some time, let the boy down to the ground on the other side he was exhausted. Drinking deeply from the river he exclaimed to the boy: "That was far harder than I ever imagined...it was like carrying the whole world upon my shoulders."

The boy responded, simply, "You had on your shoulders not only the whole world but him who made it. I am Christ your king, whom you are serving by this work." Having said this, the boy vanished from before Reprebus' eyes. From then on he took another name: Christopher. After all, Christopher means "Christ bearer." Having been confirmed in his faith, Christopher traveled to the city of Lycia to comfort two other Christians who suffered under heavy burdens: two who were being martyred. By showing up and visiting them, though, he was targeted for interrogation himself.Soon, he was arrested and accused of being a Christian. This was a charge he could not and did not deny. The ruler of the city hoped to woo him to his side by offering him money, power, and women if he would deny his faith and become the king's servant. What the king didn't know, though, was that Christopher had finally found something worth believing and would not be convinced to accept anything less. He converted the two beautiful women the king sent to seduce him as he had converted many of those whom he had helped to cross the river when they found out why he was exercising such charity at risk to his own life. For the offense of refusing a lesser king's request and for converting the two women he was put to death and made a martyr.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

May 10 - Isaiah, Prophet, Truthteller, Sealed by the Fire of God for the Service of God


Remember that it was in the year that the king named Uzziah died that Isaiah saw God sitting on God's throne high and lofty in God's heaven. As Isaiah stood in the temple--the place where God was said to dwell--he noticed that even the bottom of God's garment more than filled up the temple. As he looked heavenward he saw that there was a special kind of angel--a seraph--given to attending to God. Each of them had six wings but only used two to fly about in God's glory. With two of the wings they covered their faces to shield themselves from God's glory and with the other two they covered over their feet. They sang a joyous song one to another in a voice unlike singing and unlike yelling. The words of their proclamation were:"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; God's glory fills the whole earth."

At the sound of the seraph's proclamations and under the weight of God's glory the whole temple shook and groaned as it was filled with smoke. Isaiah was overcome by this fabulous vision and he cried out in a mix of awe and fear, "Woe is me and for me there is no hope. I am lost for I have seen God--the Lord of hosts--with my eyes and cannot tell others for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips." One of the seraphs removed a single coal from the fire that burned before God with a pair of tongs. It flew down to Isaiah and Isaiah quaked in recognition of what was happening. The seraph reached out the coal and touched it to Isaiah's lips. As it burned Isaiah the seraph said, "Now that God's fire has touched your lips your guilt is cast aside from you, your sin is blotted out and you are a man of clean lips."

Finally, God spoke and Isaiah listened. Indicating the people of Israel and the temple that Isaiah stood in, God asked, "Who should I send, Isaiah? Who will go and speak for us?"

Isaiah plucked up his courage and through lips burnt by God's spire he squeaked out, "Me, God. I'm here. Send me!"

Some time later after Isaiah had begun being a prophet of God he was sent to Ahaz to speak on behalf of God. Ahaz and many of the people were afraid that the foreign invaders at their door would overwhelm the city and slaughter the people. God had promised that these invaders would fail but Ahaz found it very hard to believe. Isaiah insisted that God would keep God's promises but Ahaz still balked. So, Isaiah said to Ahaz, "Ask for a sign of God's faithfulness. It can be as deep as Sheol or as high as God's heaven. God will prove it to you." Ahaz refused to do so and so Isaiah spoke again, "It's not enough that you worry the people but you feel the need to worry God, too? Fine, then, but listen closely because you're still getting a sign because God is still faithful even if you refuse to see it." Walking to another point in the room he pointed at a woman and continued, "Look here at this young woman. She is already carrying a child within her. She'll give birth and they shall call the boy 'Immanuel' (or God is with us).By the time the boy is old enough to refuse evil and choose God for himself God will already have solved Israel's problem and taken care of the two kings that terrify you so much. So keep your eyes open and know that God will keep God's promises."

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

May 9 - Pachomius, Monastic, Hermit, Founder of Communities

Pachomius was raised in a non-Christian family and like many of his contemporaries and peers he was taught to view the Christians as subversive radicals in need of suppression and, at times, extermination. He had been taught that strange mixture of hatred and fear that can only be the product of a social program designed to vilify a largely unknown, "problem-making" group. As was the habit of Rome, there was a conscription movement sweeping through Egypt near the date Pachomius turned twenty years old. Being an ideal candidate for forced service in the Roman legions, Pachomius was picked up and carried to a nearby prison where he could be held in preparation for his forced servitude to the empire. He did not want to fight or make war but it had been determined by the powers-that-be that he would be willing to shed his blood as a down-payment on imperial dreams and aspirations. Being held in a prison against his will--not as a prisoner but as a conscripted soldier--led Pachomius to a painful kind of desperation until one day he was visited by Christians bearing food and blankets. They gave these costly gifts away to the soon-to-be-soldiers and said they did so because their Lord loved all people and taught his followers to do the same. Pachomius was struck by this simple act of charity and pity and vowed to investigate the Christian way of life when he finished his forced servitude.

Luckily for Pachomius, he had a very uneventful time of service in the Roman military. He was released after only two years and in obedience to his earlier vow--and the now demanding memory--he sought out some of the hated Christians to learn of their way. In only a matter of time he was converted to the Christian Faith which promised that the way of life led through the way of death and that resurrection was in the power of their Lord. He learned the way of radical love and reckless charity that had first gathered his attention and now understood more fully why they had reached out to him in the first place. After his baptism he spent a significant amount of time learning his new found faith and devotion. After nearly three years in study of and service to his Lord he sought out an ascetic and monk and hermit named Palaemon. This study prepared him to become a Christian leader and teacher and he took to Palaemon's teachings and rigors with eagerness. He learned the life of a hermit and monk from Palaemon for seven years before one fateful night when he heard a voice.The voice--which Pachomius knew to be the voice of God--told him to build a community for hermits. This was a ludicrous idea at the time because the very substance of the eremitical idea was to forsake community for solitude. But Pachomius was not one to argue with a divine command or his own calling. So, he set out to build a community for hermits.

Pachomius was the first monastic to call upon other Christians and monastics to live in community with each other and share all of their possessions. Though it must have been slow at first, Pachomius' community grew quickly and was soon filled with monastics who were devoting their lives one to another and joining together as one Body to serve their one Lord.Pachomius wrote a guide for how a monastic should best live the life of prayer and service within the community. This became known as the rule of the monastery and it maintained the social cohesion of the people gathered together. The monastics began calling Pachomius "abba" (father) and this became more of a title than a moniker after some time.This is where we get the word abbot for the spiritual overseer of a Christian community. Soon the monasteries were expanding throughout Egypt. As each one filled up, they would send out a small group of missionary monks to travel and establish another monastery with another abbot or abbess. When Pachomius died in the year 348, there were nearly 3,000 monasteries throughout Egypt. Over the next generation it continued to spread and left Egypt until it numbered nearly 7,000 monasteries.

Monday, May 8, 2017

May 8 - Arsenius the Great, Tutor, Monastic, Ascetic

When Arsenius knocked on the door of the monastery, he brought with him the air of a man who had lived a life of luxury. He had been brought to the eastern Roman empire by the emperor Theodosius I to become a tutor for his sons who would later rule the empire as well. He had been well recommended by leaders in the Church at the time and so he had been gladly accepted into the world that accompanied the role of imperial tutor. He was given to standing and lecturing while his two students sat but Theodosius put an end to this and insisted that the students stand and the teacher rest. Furthermore, though Arsenius was not given to a life of luxury and pleasure at the first he was expected to live a life worth of envy in the empire since he was specially and personally chosen from among many to represent the emperor to his own sons. Theodosius could not imagine one of his men living in less than opulence and so he fitted him with fine clothes and provided him with rich foods. Slowly, Arsenius became accustomed to the pleasures and vanities of the imperial life and though he had been raised in a Christian family and taught to fear the seductive power of material goods, he became comfortable with their sway and pull upon him. All of this continued for some time until one day he realized how deeply into the grip of the world he had fallen. With each comfort, he had increasingly lost the ability to relate to and love the God who had called him to take up a cross and follow. So, he ran away.

He had done a good job of educating his students--the emperor's two sons--but he could stay no longer within the grip of luxury and comfort and feel that he was living into the calling that God had placed upon his life. Though he identified himself as a "wretched wanderer" and wore tattered rags when he arrived at the monastery in Scetes, Egypt, it was clear to those who met him that he was a man accustomed to culture and comfort.Accordingly, they expected that he would balk at the commitments expected of an ascetic monk like themselves. They put him in the care of John the Dwarf so that he might be tested. He went with other monks to John's cell for a meal. John loudly and brightly greeted each man but passed over Arsenius as if he was unworthy of recognition. After some time talking to everybody--that is to say everybody except Arsenius--John invited all of them to sit and eat at his table. There were enough chairs for everybody except Arsenius and John told each man where to sit conveniently leaving Arsenius out of the invitation. They ate and paid Arsenius no mind as he stood by watching. Finally, about half way through the meal, Arsenius threw a small piece of bread onto the floor of the cell at Arsenius' feet and said, "I guess you can eat that if you want." In the climax of the test, every monk waited to see what noble Arsenius would do. Would he finally suffer no more indignation and give up his foolish quest to renounce everything to gain Christ? Instead, Arsenius sat on the floor and quietly ate the piece of bread. John knew at that moment that there was hope for Arsenius yet.

For the rest of Arsenius' life he lived within the walls of the monastery and accepted only the most basic of comforts (and occasionally not even those). Daily he grew in humility and devotion and soon he was well known in the monastic circles as a man who never seemed to cease in his prayer. By praying so constantly his prayers had escaped the need for words and became the ever present silence on his lips and dwelling in every beat of his heart. Prayer had become a way of life for Arsenius and renunciation had become the path that led him to salvation. Willing to cast aside anything and everything he was able to rise to meet his God. At one point the emperor Arcadius--one of Theodosius' children he had tutored--found him and offered him the job of imperial almoner. If he accepted, he would be given the opportunity to care for poor and hungry people by distributing alms on behalf of the emperor. It seems that Arsenius' lessons had stuck with Arcadius but Arsenius refused the position because he did not want to return to a world where might be tempted to regain his comfort and lose his calling. Eventually, he was forced to flee the monastery because of raids by the Mazici. The remainder of his life was spent wandering in the desert. He did so for fifteen years before finally stopping to dwell and rest in a monastery long enough to die and pass on his blessing and teaching to another group of monastics who had decided to give up everything to gain salvation.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

May 7 - John of Zedazeni and Disciples, Monastics, Ascetics, Missionaries

John of Zedazeni committed himself to the monastic calling from a young age. In fact, he was still a youth when he received the traditional marks of his monasticism and withdrew to the wilderness to pursue God without distraction. His religious education had been extensive but it was far less important in the wilderness than his own moral commitments and his intentional disciplines and asceticism. John was well known as a man who refused distraction but was often the recipient of visitors in the wilderness because God had gifted him with the power to heal disease and cast out demons. Crowds sought him out seeking healing and exorcism but also seeking the opportunity to follow his words and teachings. After only a little time in the wilderness he had many disciples who were following his every teaching and depending upon him for spiritual guidance and direction. He did not seek this kind of influence but it was given to him by virtue of his grand calling and particular spiritual gifts. John's desire, however, was to retire even further into the wilderness and take up more ascetic and more isolated disciplines. He was willing to teach and lead but he found that it was becoming increasingly easy to become distracted by the wonders God was working through him.

So, John took some of his disciples--very close ones--and retired deeper into the wilderness. The others were left behind to continue growing in their devotion to Jesus under different leadership and direction. He built a monastery with the help of his disciples deeper in the wilderness and it was built exactly to his specifications. Each of the men present in the monastery had a cell that was barely large enough for their bed roll. They planted a garden and worked while they continued to draw closer to their God in seclusion. All of this changed, though, when God gave John a vision, a message, and a calling. In the vision he was called away to the country we call Georgia. He was told the story of Nino and told to go, serve, and teach the peoples of this foreign land. He was instructed to take with him twelve--and only twelve--of his disciples. Each and every one of John's disciples were willing to follow John wherever God had called him and so John only had to pick with God's guidance. He picked Abibus of Nekresi, Anthony of Martqopi, David of Gareji, Zenon of Iqalto, Thaddeus of Stepantsminda, Jesse of Tsilkani, Joseph of Alaverdi, Isidore of Samtavisi, Michael of Ulumbo, Pyrrhus of Breti, Stephen of Khirsa, and Shio of Mgvime. These thirteen men moved to the Zedazeni mountains and established another monastery in the remains of a pagan temple.

John and his disciples continued the labor and prayer that they had started in the Syrian wilderness but now they did it in Georgia. It was only a little while until the Christians of Georgia--those who had a legacy including Nino--began to flock to John's monastery and receive instruction at his feet and at the feet of his disciples. Having established a monastic foothold in Georgia, they worked together to build each other up in their faith and devotion. The Zedazeni mountains even became a spiritual hot spot to which people would make pilgrimage. One night, John received another vision in which he was instructed to send his twelve disciples in different directions to infiltrate Georgian life and establish yet more monasteries. These twelve disciples who had long been under the tutelage and direction of John had become masters of the monastic path in their own right and now they were ready to have an astounding impact upon the people who were willing and eager to hear what they had to say. They departed soon thereafter and began establishing small monasteries and centers of spiritual formation throughout the Georgian landscape. John remained in the small Zedazeni monastery alone for some time before moving into a nearby cave. The twelve disciples of John changed the way of life in Georgia and converted many to a life of faith and trust in Jesus.

Many years later, John sent out word to his disciples that he was close to death. They returned from their monasteries and churches to attend to their teacher and director in his dying days. They found that for many years he had been living in a cave and subsisting on vegetables and prayer. He broke bread with his disciples and shared one last conversation. He asked them to bury him in the cave that had become such an integral part of his calling and then he died while gazing into the heavens receiving yet another vision. This time it was the open arms of the God he loved and served and had found in Syria and in Georgia. The God who had called him to lead, teach, and pray now welcomed him into eternal rest from his many labors.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

May 6 - Job, Long-Suffering, Blameless, Beloved by God

Job was the kind of guy to which blame and shame won't stick. He feared God and turned away from evil thoughts and actions. Job had many sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys, and servants but he was so blameless you know what Job did? When his seven sons and three daughters would gather for a feast at one of their houses he would figure out when the feast was over and would then rise early in the morning to offer a burnt sacrifice on their behalf before God. Just in case one of them had sinned--that is to say cursed God in their hearts--Job offered sacrifices for them because of his great love and his blamelessness. This is what Job always did.

One day, though, the heavenly beings assembled before God Almighty and the Adversary came in among them God said to the Adversary, "Where have you been?"

The Adversary responded, "Oh, here and there and everywhere in between as I've been looking around Earth."

God said to the Adversary, "Well, if you've been on Earth have you noticed my servant Job? That one is unique among all people." Then, God told the Adversary all about how blameless Job was and how he offered sacrifices just in case. He continued, "Job is a man who turns his back on evil."

So, the Adversary responded, "Of course he's blameless, you haven't given him an obstacle for him to fail upon. You've fenced him in with your protection and you've blessed everything he touches. Of course, he turns to you and away from evil--you've made it worth it!"As the words of the Adversary's dismissive accusations began to register with the heavenly audience, the Adversary continued, "If you want to see how blameless and good the man is then give him some pain and see how long he praises you. He'll curse you to your face!

God responded, "So be it. I'll withdraw my protection and allow you to assault him. You cannot harm him, though. You can only take from him the parts of life you seem to think of as bribes." At these words, the Adversary departed from the presence of God.

Shortly thereafter Job's seven sons and three daughters were having one of their feasts in the home of the eldest son. Thus began one of the worst days, of not only Job's life but perhaps, of all days. A servant of Job came to him looking beaten and tired--still panting from his run--and told Job that the Sabeans had attacked the servants minding the donkeys and oxen while they were plowing and feeding. The Sabeans had killed the servants--except the one messenger--and stolen all of Job's oxen and donkeys.

As this was sinking in another servant arrived to tell Job that fire had descended from the skies and consumed the sheep and the servants who tended them. Job was already overwhelmed with his loss but as he was reeling another servant arrived and told him that the Chaldeans had come and stolen all of the camels and killed the servants who were watching over them. He was stunned and the three servants already there must have been amazed at the suddenness of this loss but even more surprised when a fourth servant arrived who looked as only somebody with terrible and life-changing news can look. He told Job that a great wind had ripped through the land where his children had been eating and the house collapsed upon them and all the servants--none had survived. The servants shook their heads at the seeming incoherence of so much death and destruction and Job seemed unable even to take all this sorrow in.

Finally, after what must have felt like days, Job stood up and tore his robe in a sign of mourning. He drew his blade and used it to shave his head. He mourned the loss and fell on the ground and wept uncontrollably at his monumental loss.

As he sobbed, he began to pray and worship even in the midst of such horror. He said,"I entered this world with nothing and that is also how I will leave this world. The Lord has given me everything I've ever had and now the Lord has taken nearly all of it away." The final sentence of his tearful worship may have been proclaimed through gritted teeth, "Blessed be the name of the Lord God Almighty." The Adversary had done its worst and been unable to get Job to sin or accuse God of wrong.
But that wasn't enough for the Adversary--the one who opposes us and God at every turn--and so the Adversary came again before God almighty before the heavenly audience. God said to the Adversary, "Where have you been?"

The Adversary responded, "Oh, here and there and everywhere in between as I've been looking around Earth."

God said, "Then surely you've seen my servant Job? Remember him? The one who is blameless and who turns toward me and away from evil? Sure you do! He's the one you were confident would curse me if he no longer had the blessings I gave him. Well, I'm sure you've noticed that he never cursed me or turned his back on me."

With a wounded ego and prideful confidence the Adversary responded, "You wouldn't let me go far enough! He is good--assuredly--but even the best humans will give anything to save their lives. Take away his physical comfort and his health and he will surely curse you!"

God responded, "So be it. You may take more from Job but you cannot kill him."

So, the Adversary left the presence of God to afflict Job with painful and open sores all over his body from the top of his head to bottoms of his feet. In his pain, Job took a piece of broken clay pottery and used it to scrape the painful, weeping sores that covered his body. He sat in the ashes of his mourning and suffered. Finally, his wife came to him--exasperated and deep in her own grief--and asked him, "Are you still refusing to curse God? Can't you see that it is God's fault that you now suffer? Maybe if you curse God, then God will kill you and you'll at least have some small comfort in that."

Job responded, "You speak foolishness! Should we happily accept the good things that God gives us and then be like petulant children when we are given the bad? Do you believe that God owes us something that God isn't giving us?" With this refusal and with every other word and action, Job did neither sinned against nor cursed God.