Friday, July 21, 2017

July 21 - Victor of Marseilles, Martyr, Opponent of Idolatry

Victor was raised as many Roman military officers might have been. He showed great promise as a soldier of the empire. He was well known for his bravery and intelligence. He had the right pedigree—a noble background that assured him advancement and power within the imperial system. He was well-equipped for imperial success. Indeed, one would imagine that a man like Victor would have too much to lose to abandon an empire and imperial success for a crucified Lord.

And, yet, Victor—who served the empire—refused to offer sacrifice to the gods and values of Rome. Instead, Victor called the imperial gods what they were: idols. His opponents seized this opportunity and denounced him before the empire. Mighty Victor the intended role model of so many Roman citizens was brought before two prefects, Asterius and Eutychius, who recognized that such a notable man should instead appear before the emperor. And, so, Victor was brought before Emperor Maximian and given a chance to repent of his verbal sin against the empire—they asked him to deny the truth he had seen and proclaimed. They asked him to lie and become an idolater.

Surely, Victor knew the eventual cost of his truth-telling and, yet, he endured Maximian’s tortures. He was severely beaten and, still, would not deny the charge of idolatry. They put him on the rack and tortured him slowly in hopes that his resolve would crack and he would escape pain into the arms of poisonous agreement. They underestimated Victor's commitment. They drug him through the streets hoping, still, that humiliation and abuse would shake loose Victor’s conviction and “bring him to his senses.” Victor accepted their abuse and would not take part in their blindness—the one who had seen could not simply un-see like they were demanding of him.

Maximian threw him into prison under a guard of three soldiers thinking that isolation, abuse and brokenness would have the desired effect if left to simmer and stew. While in prison, Victor ministered to his guards and the three of them were converted. Longinus, Alexander and Felician were liberated from the imperial lie and brought into the Kingdom of God that day.

When Maximian heard this he had the three converts brought before him and beheaded. He had to stop the hemorrhaging while he still had a chance. Still, Victor would not participate in the imperial lie. Maximian was becoming enraged and confused at Victor’s actions. Maximian could not understand how Victor could take such abuse and, yet, still be reaching out in mercy to his abusers. Maximian could not understand how the Kingdom of God’s values differed from the Empire’s. Maximian didn’t understand the process of conversion—- all he understood was self-deception and a bland hope for security through domination. So, Maximian ordered Victor to the temple of Jupiter—perhaps hoping that the grandeur of the temple would change Victor’s mind. Maximian hoped to woo Victor back to the comfortable lies of the Empire.

As Victor stood before the statue of Jupiter he was expected to burn incense to Jupiter and the Empire. Everybody held their breath as every eye was on Victor. As they watched, Victor kicked the statue of Jupiter and it fell over. In one defiant and powerful act, Victor reinforced what he had been saying all along: the gods and values of Rome are dead and useless. He was immediately seized by the shocked mob and Maximian ordered the offending foot cut off. After his foot was cut off, Maximian ordered the beaten and bloody Victor to be crushed to death by a millstone. And, so, Victor of Marseilles was martyred for refusing to believe and preach the imperial lie. St. Victor died for the Kingdom of God in opposition to the damning self-deception of the imperial machine.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

July 20 - Elijah, Truth-Teller

In our world, there is no shortage of people who claim an intimate relationship with God and an innate sense of God's desires and will. Very often it seems that you don't even need to ask to receive advice from somebody about what God wants--specifically--for you to do. Regrettably, many of these people take the Lord's name in vain by granting divine authorship to personal opinion. For those who speak with power and certainty the story of Elijah can be unnerving--in a good way. For Elijah was a truth-teller and a man who knew the life-giving intimacy of the Lord God Almighty.

Elijah was born nearly 2900 years ago. He is noted as a prophet but we must be clear not to call him a fortune-teller but, rather, a truth-teller. After all, there is no room within the faith of Moishe, Eliyahu, and Yeshua for sorcery and idle predictions of the future--the future is in Adonai's hands and not a matter of concern. Instead, Adonai (God) spoke with Elijah and told him about the evil acts of the King and Queen of Israel (Ahab and Jezebel). They had forgotten Adonai and begun worshiping idols of Baal because they thought it would bring them good rain and crops. The people had tried to make life for themselves not knowing that any life they could make for themselves wouldn't stand the test of time. In a haphazard pursuit of life, they had chosen a bland mockery of life because it was easy instead of pursuing life more abundant in Adonai.

Adonai sent Elijah to teach a lesson about life to those who had abandoned it intentionally or ignorantly. Elijah came before them and told them the truth God had given to him: a drought was coming because of the rejection of Adonai. The cheap security and supposed power of Baal was being called into question by Elijah's prophecy. If the people had chosen predictability and a god they could control over life/Adonai, then they should know what they were choosing: death. And, so, in a very visceral and symbolic way the water was withdrawn from those who had withdrawn themselves from Adonai.

As the flower wilts when removed from the soil and its life-giving moisture, so also go those created by Adonai when removed from God—the ground of their being—and the spiritual sustenance of Adonai—King of the Universe. This truth, however, was missed by those who refused to see it. Instead of accepting their own complicity in their disconnection from Adonai, they blamed Elijah and, so, Elijah fled for his life. While fleeing from those who claimed to be the people of God, Elijah was provided for first by unclean birds and, then, by a poor widow. It is of no little importance that the prophet of Adonai was cared for not by the people who claimed such intimacy with God but, rather, by the least equipped and least likely of the world. For, you see, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob does not dwell only in a temple built with mortal hands—an idea that we must all relearn repeatedly.

Elijah would go on to do many other things including raise the widow's son from the dead, provide for her and her family, contest with the priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel, flee again from the wrath of Ahab and Jezebel, hear the “still small voice” of Adonai, be assumed into the presence of Adonai on a chariot of fire, and be present for the transfiguration of Jesus the Christ. Elijah was, truly, a prophet who spoke powerful truth about the nature of our lives and connection to the Lord God Almighty. His story speaks volumes about what intimacy with God looks like: life-giving as in the raising of the widow's son,sustaining as in the provision of oil and flour for the widow's family,among the unclean as in the ministrations of the ravens to Elijah,gentle, humble, and personal as in the still-small-voice,concerned with the weak and powerless as in Elijah's community with the widow, empowered but prayerful as in the contest with the priests of Baal, dependent as in Elijah's constant need for intimacy and affirmation from Adonai, and transfiguringElijah reminds us all what it looks like to tell the truth in a powerful way. Elijah reminds us all of the life-sustaining-and-redeeming power of the still-small-voice of the Lord God Almighty.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

July 19 - Macrina the Younger, Devoted Sister

Some have argued that the basic unit of Christianity is not the individual but, rather, the family unit. If this is the case, then one of the great families in Christian tradition must be St. Macrina's family. St. Macrina the Younger's grandmother was St. Macrina the elder. Her brother's include St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Basil the Great, and St. Peter of Sebaste (all three were bishops at some point). Macrina's parents were St. Basil the Elder and St. Emmelia. In such a canonized family it seems that young daughter Macrina could be overlooked or overshadowed--brothers Gregory and Basil were, after all, two of the three Cappadocian fathers who went on to be great champions of orthodoxy and significant influences for Christian theology. And, yet, Macrina was not a bit player to be overlooked or mentioned in passing but, rather, was inspiration and encouragement to all who met her and fell within the sound of her teachings.

Young Macrina was lucky enough to receive an incredible education which included memorizing large sections of the scriptures that her family was devoted to. She memorized the entirety of the Psalter and was formed and informed by the great stories of the scripture. Her intelligence was remarked upon by her well-educated brothers and her beauty was well-known by many. It is easy to say that Macrina had many advantages. However, unlike many she did not take these things for granted. Rather, she understood her gifts as not her own but given for the use of the Kingdom.

She was betrothed to a young man of considerable reputation and whom she, apparently, loved but this young man died after the betrothal and before the wedding. For the sake of fidelity, Macrina considered herself already a wife--of a man hidden in Christ with God--and took no other husband. Instead, she remained committed to taking care of her family as they--one by one--died.

When Basil the Great had returned from receiving a wonderful education in Athens, it was Macrina who grounded him in faith and in opposition to the ivory towers of academia. Clearly, learning was highly valued in their family and, yet, Macrina grasped that education is not saving and Christianity is not a religion of redemption through knowledge or intelligence. And, so, Macrina became a spiritual center for the great Cappadocian fathers: Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus. Though they would fight and debate and champion orthodoxy, Macrina reminded them of the spiritual and essential nature of the faith. Though the Cappadocians may be well-known there is no doubt that they owed more than we can articulate to Macrina.

Basil and Gregory would remark following her death that she seemed to grasp innately and essentially at what it meant to be a servant and follower of Jesus. Her love for and devotion to her family helped to link them together even as the ravages of disease and time whittled them away. From her deathbed she consoled brother Gregory about death and redemption. As Gregory suffered grief for Basil and Macrina so closely together it was Macrina who comforted him with her prayers and teachings.

There is much to be said for the great mentor of such great teachers (Gregory would go on to write a biography of Macrina to share her life with others as she had shared it with him) but there is, perhaps, more to be said for a sister devoted to love and compassion for her family and her brothers and sisters in humanity. In this way, Macrina is not solely the devoted sister of Gregory, Peter, and Basil but, also, the devoted sister of all of us--constantly calling us back to a spiritual reality she experienced so clearly.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

July 18 - The Great Burning of Rome

Nearly 2,000 years ago on this day someone started a small fire. But, a fire never consents to remain small and, so, it began to ravage the homes of many Romans near the Circus Maximus. Regrettably, these houses were close together and made of wood and cloth. Soon, the "great city of Rome" was set alight and burning with abandon. Even in our day--nearly 2 millenniums later--fires are terrifying forces of destruction that can become unquenchable if left unchecked. Consider the wildfires that plague the American west consuming fuel and producing nothing more than ash and death. This great fire was left unchecked and the burning continued.

The fire burned for an entire week. Those who stood in its way were made to cower and flee or to be consumed and feed the horrific onslaught. There was little room to run given that of the fourteen districts of Rome, four were consumed entirely and seven more were crippled. Devastation had taken residence in great Rome. Rome! So many powers and principalities had quaked before it and acquiesced to its commands and demands. So many had bought into the gospel of "Pax Romana" that declared protection and security to be more valuable than free will and community. The great flames offered no quarter or peace to mighty Rome and, tragically, many lives were lost.

Where, then, did the fire come from? Some say Nero set it because of insanity--that the Pax Romana had prepared those who gave their lives to it to execute atrocity for insanity. Some say Nero set it because he wanted to remove the poor from around the Circus Maximus and rebuild it in a new and beautiful fashion--that the greed and lust of one man burned up the least of Rome. Some say Nero was nowhere near Rome when it happened and, instead, rushed back to fight the flames of an unquenchable destroyer--that bad things happen in this world and the flames of chance consume even those dear to us: Christian or Roman. Nero said it was the Christians. And the words of the Emperor are the gospel of the empire.

Nero, feeling the pain of accusation from the people he likely tried to save, shifted blame away from himself and toward another group. Tacitus writes, "Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace." Christians were known as incestuous (even wife and husband called each other brother and sister) atheist (having denied the Roman Gods) cannibals (met at night and ate the body and blood of their leader). They were an easy target for the flames of Nero's vengeance. These people who refused to deny their Lord--Jesus Christ--were gathered together and punished for the great fire that stripped Rome of its greatest value: protection and security. They were commended to the flames of sacrifice to appease the quailing hearts of an empire that had realized--all too suddenly--that it could bring the "Pax Romana" but not peace.

And, so, Christians were crucified like their Lord. They were wrapped in animal skins and mauled by animals. They were wrapped in flammable garments and set ablaze to provide light for Nero and the people of Rome. They did not fight back. They did not deny their faith. Instead, they stepped forward and into the flames that had mastered Rome. They died in a different way that would be apparent to all who saw. While Nero capitalized on the loss and rebuilt Rome and a "golden palace," more Christians died--for some most certainly died in the fire--with the words of their Lord on their lips: "Father, forgive them for they don't know what they're doing."

They were right; Rome was fleeing from death in a panic and Christians proclaimed a different gospel with a different set of values: There is no peace in domination and control--there is only peace in love. The Empire cannot and does not want to save you. And, so, the flames of vengeance and retribution found no fuel and were suffocated. Yet, another fire was fueled: the fire of the Christian witness and the good news of redemption for all people.

Monday, July 17, 2017

July 17 - Bartolome de las Casas, Priest, Bishop, Opponent of Slavery

Bartolome de las Casas was born in Seville, Spain, in 1484 and so he was only nine years old when Christopher Columbus returned to Seville to tell of the world he had discovered to the west.Columbus had gained the favor of queen Isabella and king Ferdinand II by insisting that there was another route to the East Indies that didn't involve traveling through Arabia but, instead, meant sailing west from Spain to approach the Indies from the other side. This interested the Spanish nobles because access to the East Indies, unencumbered by Italian and Arabian merchants and rulers, meant a lucrative trade in spices. In other words, the rich could get richer if Columbus was right. Columbus, of course, was wrong and had severely underestimated the circumference of the Earth but in his error he had stumbled upon the land we call the Americas. Bartolome was fascinated by the tales of a distant land and different people and so he was thrilled when Columbus brought several of their men and women off of his ship and paraded them before the curious crowds. They came in chains and did so unwillingly but this fact was overlooked by those who were enchanted with dreams of foreign riches and conquest. When Columbus returned for his second voyage, Bartolome's father and uncle went with him and Bartolome was left behind to imagine.

Bartolome's father brought him a slave to be his servant and he developed a friendly relationship with the man. When Bartolome was eighteen, he went with his father and uncle to what we now know as Hispaniola aboard the ship captained by Nicolas de Ovando. Bartolome had spent years imagining that foreign land and it had become something mythical in his own imagination. Consequently, Bartolome was horrified to see the brutality and cruelty being perpetrated against the people of the island by virtue of their different appearance and different language. The Spanish settlers were given land to which they had no legitimate claim and slaves with which to work their ill-gotten gains. Bartolome was uncomfortable with the savage approach the Spaniards were taking and, as a Dominican priest, began to wonder if this wasn't a repudiation of Jesus' way of love and mercy. Columbus was sending native peoples back to Spain as currency to repay his debts to the crown and wealthy financiers. Bartolome began to question the rightness of such barbarism. Bartolome began ministering to the native people in whatever little ways he could but it never seemed to be enough. Then, one day, Bartolome heard a Dominican priest named Antonio de Montesinos preach about the evil being committed against the people and being called "progress." Antonio's preaching--he was the first clergy member to vocally oppose the Spanish actions in the colonies--seemed to give Bartolome permission to join the fight for liberation and love.

Bartolome's first decision was to free every slave on his settlement and to renounce the land he had been gifted. Having set an example of the way of the Kingdom of God he called upon other settlers to do the same, yet they refused and Bartolome was forced to travel back to Spain to seek reform. At his impassioned request he received permission to establish a settlement at Cumana in the northern portion of the region we call Venezuela. Bartolome imagined a settlement where native people and Spaniards would co-exist and help each other to live peacefully and comfortably. The problem, though, was the tension that had already developed between the Spaniards and the native people in the region. When Bartolome left the settlement, fighting would break out and people would die. Eventually, Bartolome left the settlement after Spanish raids took most of the native people as slaves and went to the Dominican monastery in Santo Domingo. From there he began to write accounts of the brutal murders of native people by Spaniards who claimed the yoke of Christ the Crucified. He lobbied Spain for laws that would protect the people upon whom they had intruded so much already. Meanwhile, he engaged in missionary work among native tribes and led many to place their faith in Jesus even though counter-arguments abounded in the colonists with whom they were acquainted. Though it meant defending himself against treason, Bartolome returned to Spain and was able to bring about new laws that abolished Columbus' way of doling out land for support and slaves for loyalty. When Bartolome died in July of 1566 he was in Madrid but his heart still rested with the people he had learned to love in a distant and fantastic world.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

July 16 - The Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne

Constance was only one of the sixteen women who were now facing their own imminent deaths at the hands of those who were the self-proclaimed enlightened minds of a new world order. Yet, she was the youngest and least experienced of all of the women. Constance was still in her novitiate with the Carmelite order when they had been arrested and dragged before a judge to answer charges of treason, espionage, and fanaticism.Thus, Constance was distressed that she would face death without having ever professed her vows as a nun. However, the prioress of the community--Teresa--invited Constance to profess her vows with the community as the older and more experienced women reconsecrated themselves in service to God at the foot of the guillotine. Having finally become a full member of that sacred community, Constance was more than willing to ascend the steps to the revolution's enlightened butchery, but first she knelt before her prioress and asked for permission to go and die as a martyr for their common Lord Jesus.When Teresa granted her permission, Constance stood quickly and walked confidently up the stairs while singing the hymn "Laudate Dominum omnes gentes"--"All peoples praise the Lord." Fifteen other voices joined with her as Constance set her own neck in the path of the suspended blade but the rest of the crowd remained deathly silent. Once the blade had fallen and made Constance a martyr, there were only fifteen voices left to sing the hymn.

The women had once lived peaceful lives in a cloistered community of service and devotion. They fed the poor, treated the sick, and offered love to their enemies. But, in 1792 there had been a revolution in France that overthrew the absolute monarchy and aristocracy that strongly favored Roman Catholic clergy and monastics. In the aftermath of that upheaval, the new leaders had favored a viciously anti-religious government that discounted all expressions of faith regardless of their goodness or peacefulness. They ruled by more modern ideas and according to the teachings of those thinkers we call members of "the Enlightenment."The nuns of Compiegne had not fought against the revolutionaries and had, in fact, helped to reduce oppression upon the poor and hurting but in the aftermath of the revolution their vows of allegiance to Jesus Christ meant that they were targets for elimination. At first, they were simply outlawed but they continued to meet in secret in spite of the commands of the new government. Eventually, they were arrested and tried. In accordance with the demands of Robespierre, their trial and sentencing happened in less than twenty-four hours. The charges were trumped up and they were eventually found guilty of the catch-all crime for those the revolutionaries detested: "fanaticism."

As each woman climbed the steps that led to her death and martyrdom there was one less voice singing the hymns that sustained them and spoke beautifully of the faith that motivated their actions. The crowd remained silent as they watched each woman approach their death with courage and forgive their executioners. Their song became a trio and then a duet but it had lost none of its passion. Finally, it was a solo performance by Teresa, the prioress of a community of martyrs. Teresa ascended the stairs and followed in the footsteps of Constance and all the other faithful women who had died in the last few hours. She continued the song they had shared. When Teresa finished the song, she offered forgiveness to the executioner and surrendered her neck to the guillotine with a quiet prayer. The lever was pulled and the blade, having not grown tired of carnage, rushed to kill Teresa and reunite her with her sisters in the presence of God.With the death of the last nun, the crowd remained silent and began to leave that place with doubts in their mind--who would claim such savagery as enlightened when it was covered over in the blood of sixteen innocent and loving women? As they left the place, one of the crowd observed, "Look at them and see if they do not have the air of angels! By my faith, if these women did not all go straight to Paradise, then no one is there!" As the crowd left, perhaps some went away humming the hymn the women had sung and left behind for the crowd as an inheritance of a Kingdom-not-of-this-world.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

July 15 - Julitta and Cyricus, Martyrs

Julitta had known that eventually she would be recognized--one of the costs associated with influence and power was the loss of anonymity. Julitta had anticipated that the potential gain offered to the "good" citizens of Rome would prove too enticing for some poor soul and that, eventually, somebody would turn her over to the authorities as a Christian and a traitor to Rome. Diocletian's campaign against Christians was a popular one among those who sought power and influence and at the time there were few better ways to advance in society than to denounce one above you as a Christian--especially if they truly were one. So, it came as no surprise that the authorities eventually captured Julitta in Tarsus where she had fled after spending time hiding in Seleucia. Julitta had left behind the estate and wealth of her family in Iconium. In doing so, Julitta left everything her dear, departed husband had ever given to her except for the blessed memories she carried with her as she fled and the son she concealed behind her: a little boy named Cyricus. Julitta had expected all of this but what came as a surprise to her as she was interrogated by the governor Alexander was his intentions to make Cyricus a ward of the state.

Julitta had always known that her confession of Christ as Lord and Savior would likely cost her her life if she was ever identified and arrested but she had been too afraid to consider what might happen to her only son Cyricus. Perhaps Julitta assumed that Cyricus would escape her capture and be cared for by her Christian brothers and sisters. After all, she wanted Cyricus to be raised as a Christian but since he was only a very little child she knew that he had not yet made confession of his sins or profession of his faith and trust in Jesus. As the soldiers beat and tortured her she repeatedly insisted that she was a Christian and would never deny her faith in her Lord. But Julitta's mind and eyes drifted to Cyricus' face and while the lashes of her tormentors only made her bleed, fear for her son's soul caused her far more pain and suffering. Alexander refused to allow Cyricus to go to his mother as she bled and offered forgiveness to her torturers and, instead, decided to capitalize on Julitta's love for her son. Alexander sat the boy on his knee and tried to soothe him so that Julitta might look up and know that her son would be raised by those who outlawed the saving faith for which she was willing to die. Cyricus would be raised as a "good" Roman citizen before ever able to make a confession and profession of faith. Alexander wagered that Julitta was willing to die for her faith but that she might rethink her stance if it meant Cyricus would be raised by the deniers of Christ.

Cyricus continued to struggle to break free from Alexander's grasp and continued to cry out to his mother as she bled and prayed. Cyricus knew why they were torturing his mother: she trusted Jesus more than them--more than anybody. He had heard her many stories about Jesus and he loved every one of them. Cyricus had spent many days with adoptive uncles and aunts in the congregation where his mother worshiped and he knew the Christians to be a loving people devoted to a loving God. As he watched the soldiers beat his mother for her allegiance to Jesus he thought about what she had said it meant to be a Christian. Cyricus needed no more evangelism than to see the stark difference between the way of the Kingdom of God and the way of Rome. Cyricus pulled away from Alexander and yelled, "Let me go to my mother! I am a Christian, too." In this powerful statement of defiance, Cyricus made his first profession and officially placed his trust in the Lord that had led his mother to die while muttering her forgiveness for her executioners. Cyricus didn't understand everything about the faith of his mother but he knew the difference between Rome and the Kingdom of God and he knew whom he trusted. Alexander kicked Cyricus down the stone stairs and he bashed his head against the corner of one of the stairs. Cyricus died a martyr seconds after confessing Christ. Julitta rejoiced that his profession had come so easily and quickly and that she would be with Christ to welcome her in a few moments. Disgusted with the whole ordeal and the defiance of the child, Alexander ordered the soldiers to kill Julitta. They complied and sent her to rest in Christ with her beloved husband and son.

Friday, July 14, 2017

July 14 - Camillus de Lellis, Neglected Child, Converted by Love, Caretaker of the Sick

Camillus de Lellis' father was a soldier and an officer in not only the army of Naples but, also, at one time the army of France. It wasn't unusual for a boy's father to serve in the military in the sixteenth century but it set Camillus up for a series of circumstances that would change the nature of his life. When Camillus was only a boy his mother became ill from some disease that swept through the countryside where they lived while Camillus' father and her husband was away at war. Camillus watched as his mother's life slowly faded and knew that he was abandoned when she finally passed from this world into what he only knew as the dark and irrevocable fog of death. With his father far away and seemingly uninterested in him, young Camillus joined the army of Venice in their fight against the Turks. Though he was young he was exceptionally tall and strong being nearly six feet and six inches tall and so he made an excellent soldier in the eyes of the Venetian officers and commanders. Though he must have resented his father, he followed in his footsteps as he sought both direction and understanding.

After his military service he ended up serving in a hospital with patients deemed hopeless and incurable. He must have been able to see the face of his mother in the face of many of the ones he cared for in that hospital--people who had been labeled by the world as the walking dead and utterly without hope.He tried to care for them but he was no more able to pull them out of their despair and illness than one panicked and drowning shipwreck victim is able to save another flailing in the water beside him. Camillus had become a heavy drinker to deal with his own dark thoughts and fears and had taken up gambling as he traveled to and fro with the soldiers of his regiment.Somebody who had experienced so much "bad luck" must have thought that his luck would soon turn but it didn't. His compulsive gambling began to consume more and more of his life as any addiction will do if given the chance. Eventually, he was dismissed from his job at the hospital because he had become more and more aggressive and unreliable as the hooks of his addiction sank more deeply into his flesh. Shortly after losing his job he had incurred so many gambling debts that he had to find a job--any job--so that he might try to dig his way out of the hole he had dug for himself. He found a Capuchin monastery.

Camillus ended up at the monastery because he had taken a job in construction and the monastery was adding on to its buildings. He began listening to the monks when he took a break from his work and soon he found himself looking forward more and more to their prayers and readings and less and less to the games that had once consumed and ruled him. Camillus was soon converted to the Christian faith through the teaching and love of the monks and tried to take their vows upon himself as a monk, but he could not forget the time he had spent with those labeled hopeless and incurable. Furthermore, Camillus could not escape a leg injury he had incurred while serving in the military and this persistent pain prevented him from taking the Capuchin habit as his own. Instead, he returned to the hospital of years ago and began spending time with the sick and dying. Camillus prayed over their wounds and held out hope when everyone else said it was foolishness. Having found the dry land of the Faith, Camillus was able to help those still adrift in the shipwreck that he had once known and in the waters of addiction and sin in which he had once nearly drowned.After he was ordained to the priesthood, Camillus established an order of Christians devoted to the sick and dying known as the "Congregation of the Servants of the Sick." Their charge and goal was to treat each sick and dying person as they would treat Jesus himself and to do so with hopeful confidence in their recovery from sickness. In the end, the boy who had been abandoned by indifference and illness found his way through to redemption and a life of healing and service.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

July 13 - Silas, Missionary, Leader Among the Brothers, Companion of Paul

Contrary to what many might think, it wasn't easy figuring out how to be "the Church" in that first generation after Jesus--in the days of Peter and Paul. In fact, Paul and Barnabas once were forced to insist that some of their brothers and sisters misunderstood the nature of Christ's Body because they required that gentile converts first be circumcised if they were going to become Christians.They did so because a party of Jewish Christians from Jerusalem had taught this to some of the gentiles converted under their mission and ministry. The debate was not quickly resolved and so they took it to Jerusalem and the other Apostles so that they might return to unity and cooperation under the trusted decision of those who had walked with their common Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As they traveled to the Church where reconciliation would be gained and unity reinforced, Paul and Barnabas preached to all who would listen and many of the gentiles were converted to faith and trust in the Slaughtered and Resurrected Lamb of God. 

At that Church meeting, Peter and the others decided that Paul and Barnabas were correct and praised God for the work that God was doing among the gentiles through Paul. In that moment, the Church trusted its leaders and placed its faith in the saving grace and mercy of their forgiving Lord and in doing so came back together again as one Body devoted to their one Lord. the ability of the whole Body of Christ to interpret the movements of the Holy Spirit than in their own individual abilities to sense God's movement among them. They sent Judas (the one they called Barsabbas) and Silas with the letter because these two were leaders among their brothers and sisters in the faith and would capably represent the whole body. The letter they carried with them read:

So, the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem decided to choose men from among themselves to go to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas to deliver a letter of blessing and encouragement. They did this with the reconciled and united consent of the whole congregation--none abstained because of hurt feelings but, instead, even those who had resisted placed greater faith in
"To our Gentile brothers and sisters,
We've heard that some have left our congregation and have said things that disturbed and unsettled you--suggesting that you must first become a Jew to become a follower of Jesus the Crucified. Know that they did so not as representative of us but, instead, as representatives of themselves. The men who bring you this letter are our representatives and they come alongside Barnabas and Paul whom we love and who have risked their lives for the sake of our common Lord. These men are Judas and Silas and they will tell you all of what we have discussed and decided and you should understand them to represent each and every one of us. The Holy Spirit has taught us not to impose a further burden of faith upon you but only to ask you to abstain from a few things: food that has supported idolatry, consuming blood, consuming what has been strangled, and from illicit sex. If you will avoid these things then you will be fine. Farewell."
The congregations received the letter with much jubilation and were heartily encouraged by the unity and reconciliation that continued to sweep through Christ's Church like a mighty wind. Silas (and Judas) spoke not only for the congregation of Jerusalem but, also, for God and said much to edify, teach, and encourage the gentile believers who they encountered. There with Paul and Barnabas they taught and engaged in the ministry of the Church among both the converted and unconverted.

Paul and Barnabas split after a few more days over a dispute about whether or not John Mark should be brought along in their missionary journeys. Paul was unwilling to travel with him because he felt that John Mark had abandoned them in Pamphylia. So, Paul and Barnabas split. Silas joined Paul and began traveling alongside him as a missionary to the early Church in its many diverse and distant cities. He was arrested alongside Paul, he was beaten alongside Paul, and he sang hymns of praise while he sat in prison alongside Paul. They strengthened the Church wherever they traveled and encouraged the Body of Christ always to seek God's will and to be reconciled one to another. Silas had been selected to represent a congregation to a people they had been desperate to be reconciled to and had, in the process, become a missionary who worked with Paul to reconcile the world to God.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

July 12 - Anne Askew, Martyr, Reformer, Victim of Religious Persecution

Anne's older sister Martha had been betrothed to a man named Thomas Kyme and their marriage was being arranged with much haste. It made sense, by Sir William Askew's judgment, to marry off Martha to Thomas because he was a successful businessman. Thomas promised to take the care of Martha off of his hands and William was eager to gain the influence that such an arranged marriage might afford him. After all, he had become a successful businessman himself by such shrewd and calculated analyses. But Martha died unexpectedly and the plan was stalled as her death was mourned by the families. But the death of one daughter was not enough to annul the promise in the eyes of either William or Thomas. After all, it had never actually been about Martha but, instead, had always been about the negotiation of power and influence. So, Anne made a perfectly sufficient substitute in the eyes of her father and soon-to-be-husband. She was married to the man against her will by ministers who had strayed from their high calling and were willing to overlook something like the bride's resistance. She refused to call herself or answer to the name of either Anne Kyme or Mrs. Thomas Kyme. With the help of priests who were willing to abandon the faith for expediency, Thomas was able to manipulate and rule over his unwilling bride for years.

Eventually Anne began to understand herself as the wife of Thomas Kyme and she bore two children to him even as she still refused to take his name as her own. She began to seek a divorce on the grounds that she could not believe that any man who would force marriage upon her and any priests who would be a part of such an act could have any part of the Kingdom of God. So, since Anne considered herself a Christian she thought herself to be unequally yoked with Thomas and insisted that this was reason enough for a divorce in a nation where Henry VIII had found divorce for far worse reasons. Soon she was traveling abroad, spreading the Gospel, and campaigning for the reform of the Church that had allowed such injustices to be perpetrated against her. She was not an opponent of the Church--she was an opponent of the Church's broken and unwilling insistence that all it did was consecrated and the work of God. She needed an apology and they needed to give one. For these reforming activities and her refusal to be quiet even though she was "just a woman" she was arrested and threatened with torture. While she sat in the tower of London the king's men devised a plan to reveal more reformers within the ranks of the elite and influential.

They decided that torture would loosen Anne's lips and so Henry VIII appointed Anthony Kingston to stretch her upon the rack until she revealed the names of others who opposed the king's brand of savage faith in power and influence.Anthony hesitated because she was a woman and was released from the task. Instead, it was given over to Thomas Wriothesley and Richard Rich. They did their best to execute the king's worst and Anne was viciously tortured in the tower of London. She refused to name any names but repeatedly insisted that she was willing to suffer for her Lord Jesus. This only infuriated the men because they claimed Jesus as their own even as they tortured and abused the woman--they missed the irony of this dark joke perhaps because they were so thoroughly invested in drastically broken values. She was stretched taut half-a-foot over the rack and her tendons, bones, ligaments, and muscles were broken and disfigured. When she still refused to do what they asked she was condemned to death and the condemnation was blessed by the same type of ministers who had erred so colossally before. They had to carry her to the stake where they burned her because the rack had left her unable to walk. When she arrived, they seated her on a post attached to the stake that would be her last earthly support. They covered her in gunpowder, set the stake ablaze, and foolishly prayed that God would have mercy on her soul while she prayed that God would forgive them for their sins against her. On that day in July of 1546, they made a martyr of Anne Askew and sinners of themselves.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

July 11 - Benedict of Nursia, Monastic, Abbot, Disciplined

Benedict never thought he'd become a hermit or a monastic but he did both. All he meant to do when he left Rome around the year 500 A.D. was to leave behind a society that simultaneously repulsed and enticed him.There was much left behind in Rome that called out to him and offered him a life of relative ease and comfort instead of a life of discipline in the wastes.But, Benedict knew the comforts of that world for what they were--the wreckage of a society adrift from God--and he knew the voices of his friends and colleagues calling him back to Rome for what they were--sirens leading him back to the rocks that had wrecked so many before--as well. So, although he was the son of Roman nobility and, therefore, in line for a career as a man of influence and prestige, he took stock of what the world had to offer and weighed it against what the Kingdom of God had to offer. On one side he saw a life that included not only the free pursuit of pleasure but, also, the ever haunting possibility of heartache. He knew well the pleasures and joys of the life of an affluent young man but on the other side he saw a life of discipline and renunciation with the pervasive promise of life. He didn't think the decision was very hard to make and so he set out for the desert to escape temptation and discover life more abundant. Later, he would be followed by his twin sister Scholastica, but that first day he went out alone into the unknown in pursuit of God's wild call and furious love.

Benedict found a home in a cave near some monasteries populated by more spiritually mature leaders and one of these men eventually brought to him a habit so that he might officially take up the life of a monk. He spent three years in seclusion and solitude learning the way of the Kingdom of God and developing himself spiritually. Often, he would break solitude to meet with the other monks in the area. Over these years of intense spiritual development he developed a reputation as a disciplined teacher and teacher of discipline. When a local abbot died the monks of the community approached Benedict with the request that he would become their abbot and leader. They recognized that they were in need of spiritually mature and disciplined direction but it seems that this recognition was not enough to tame their wild spirits, though.

After Benedict agreed he began to impose an ordered and disciplined life upon the monks who had requested his guidance and teaching but they chafed under his rigorous schedule and high expectations. He reminded them that the path he had always followed to understanding of God's high calling was a narrow one and was often uncomfortable--after all, discipleship is an uncomfortable process that winnows away from us that which must be abandoned. Eventually, one of the monks conspired with others to poison Benedict at their evening meal. They slipped the poison into his cup and into the bread before their evening meal and waited to see him die. Before the meal, though, he offered prayer and blessed the cup. As if the cup itself was unwilling to be a part of the monks' dark conspiracy, it cracked and spilled its venom harmlessly on the table. Remarking on the oddity of this moment and considering what it might mean, Benedict went on to bless the bread that they prepared to break together. When he lifted up the bread a raven flew in through the window and snatched it away. Benedict realized that God was protecting him from what the monks were trying to do and so he left them to their own devices and returned to his solitude.

Benedict's fame only spread further into the surrounding countryside and soon there were monastics and lay people seeking to become novices seeking him out at his cave. Benedict knew that God had placed a call upon his life and so he submitted once again to the mantle of leadership and spiritual direction. He founded twelve different monasteries--each group having twelve members and one prior--of which he was the abbot. He built a smaller thirteenth monastery where he remained with a small collection of followers who received their instruction directly from Benedict. This small group changed often since the men and women who came into contact with Benedict's disciplined spiritual life found themselves propelled into disciplined ministry of their own--it was as if his "Rule" was contagious and proximity to Benedict developed spiritual leaders. He taught his many disciples to follow a rule that was easily summarized by the phrase ora et labora--pray and work. He spent the remainder of his life passing on the life of disciplined adherence to Christ's calling and devotion and loyalty to the Kingdom that had called him out of Rome.

Monday, July 10, 2017

July 10 - Felicitas and her Seven Sons, Martyrs

Felicitas was well acquainted with the costs of her faith. She had lost her beloved husband in service to the Church--likely to the transforming furnace of martyrdom--and been left behind to raise her seven sons without his help. She was very wealthy thanks to the considerable financial resources that she and her husband had accumulated together. Of course, like nearly all of the early Christians, she understood herself--and her husband as well when he was alive--to be a steward of gifts given to the Church. The Church was obligated to pour itself out for others and its stewards were charged with putting the wealth and valuables of the Church into the hands of those in need of God's gifts and blessings. She provided food to the hungry and shelter to the homeless and in doing so she advanced the Kingdom of God among a people outcast from polite Roman society. But those who had something to lose with the advancement of the Kingdom of God--those with power and influence in the empire--were understandably uncomfortable with Felicitas and her seven sons: Januarius, Felix, Philip, Silvanus, Alexander, Vitalius and Marcial. If they wanted to stop her and her sons then they would have to devise a plan to manipulate those who had the power to put an end to Felicitas and her seven sons.

So, the priestly advisers to the emperor Marcus Aurelius plotted against Felicitas and decided that she could be forced into denying her faith and affirming the values of Rome if the leverage was sufficient. They dressed up in their most impressive ceremonial regalia and came before Marcus Aurelius with deceit in mind. They insisted that the gods demanded a sacrifice to appease their terrible anger and stay their horrible wrath. Furthermore, they said that there was a particular woman being called upon by the gods to make this sacrifice: Felicitas. Marcus Aurelius conceded to their demands and called upon the prefect of Rome--Publius--to arrest Felicitas and force her to make sacrifice to the Roman gods.When they brought her in, they decided to bring her seven sons along with her to serve as leverage because they had heard of her considerable commitment to the God of the Christians and suspected that she might resist their demands--they had no idea how right they were. At first, they simply demanded that she do it to appease the gods of Rome and protect its people. But Felicitas identified their deception for what it was and so Publius questioned her sons, as well. Publius was furious to find out that her sons were equally as devoted to the Christian faith. He didn't want to report his failure to Marcus Aurelius--especially considering the glares he was receiving from the emperor's advisors--and so he decided to try one more tactic.

Labeling Felicitas and her seven sons as traitors to Rome, Publius commanded them to make sacrifice or suffer the consequences. One by one, the sons were dragged before the judges appointed by Publius and forced to kneel to accept their punishment. Publius offered to stay his wrath if Felicitas would make sacrifice and then, each time when Felicitas refused, he ordered the executioners to kill one of her sons. First, her eldest son Januarius was whipped to death while Felicitas was forced to watch. He forgave his murderers and professed his faith and each of his brothers followed in his footsteps. Each of them knew that it was their calling to profess their faith in God's mercy and grace even if it cost them their lives. Each of them knew that it was their mother's calling to refuse sacrifice no matter the cost. Second, they beat Felix to death with a club. When this proved especially gruesome, they decided to beat Philip to death with the same club. Amazed that Felicitas still refused to make sacrifice, they threw Silvanus from the balcony and he died on impact with the ground. Fifth, sixth, and seventh, they beheaded Alexander, Vitalis, and Martialis as if they had grown tired of slaughter and simply wanted the task done. Finally, when Felicitas still refused to make sacrifice, they threw her into prison for several months hopefully to dwell in her grief. When she was brought again before Publius she maintained the faith that had cost the lives of her seven sons and was herself killed for it. Felicitas and her seven sons knew the costs associated with faith in Jesus and paid them willingly and eagerly because it was meager in comparison to the rewards of their calling.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

July 9 - Augustine Tolton, Ex-Slave, Priest

Augustine was born in Missouri to Peter Paul Tolton and Martha Jane Chisley in the year 1854.They were slaves of a white man named Stephen Elliott who suffered under the delusion that men, women, and children could be held in bondage simply because of the color of their skin. Perhaps Stephen rationalized that the men in charge had made the decision and it wasn't his place to rebel against the status quo but, ultimately, he was a part of the problem if for no other reason than his refusal to be a part of the solution. All of this meant that their four children--Charles, Augustine, Cordella, and Anna--were born into the slavery that held their parents captive. The Elliot family was Roman Catholic and insisted upon all of their slaves being baptized into the faith of their choosing. Peter Paul and Martha Jane had developed a faith of their own in a Lord who promised liberation to those held captive and life to those who dwelt with death. Their children were raised in this faith and began to claim it as their own long before Peter Paul escaped slavery to help put an end to the heinous institution. Peter Paul joined the Union army at the beginning of Civil War and served as best he knew how to put an end to the system that so many others refused even to acknowledge as problematic. Peter Paul died in some battle now lost to the fog of history.

Martha Jane and her children, including Augustine, soon fled the land where they were enslaved and forced to work. Taking advantage of the uproar that gripped their area, they slipped away from the farm at night and began travelling for the"free state" of Illinois. When they crossed the Mississippi river she told her children never to forget the day that they had gained their freedom and, more importantly, never to forget the goodness of God to lead them out of bondage. Augustine, his mother, and siblings went to work in a cigar factory but after the death of his older brother Charles it became clear that he would need to find a better and safer life if he was going to help take care of his mother and sisters.The priest in the church they attended--Peter McGirr--took a liking to Augustine and decided to take a stand on his behalf: he admitted Augustine to the parochial school of St. Peter's Roman Catholic church. This caused an uproar among even those who had fought against slavery--they were comfortable with freeing slaves but not freely offering equal opportunities to ex-slaves. Father McGirr was constantly berated and criticized for this decision and it indubitably cost him much of his credibility in the community but he was not willing to be complicit in a system that dehumanized ex-slaves.

Augustine received an excellent education and professed a calling to become a priest like the man who had given him a chance at a better life. He applied to seminaries throughout the United States and was rejected from each and every one. So, instead, Father McGirr talked to those he knew in Rome about Augustine received his education at the Pontifical Urbaniana University. He was admitted and received the training he needed to enter the priesthood. He became fluent in Italian, Latin, and Greek and, finally, was ordained to the priesthood in Rome in the year 1886. He returned to the United States where he tried to establish a parish in Quincy, Illinois, but he was resisted heavily by both the white and the black residents of the town. He stood in the middle and insisted that both black and white citizens were welcome in the church even as both sides insisted that the other should be outcast.Eventually, he was transferred to Chicago where he was able to establish a parish church that had over 600 parishioners. In this place they welcomed people of any color and nationality in a hope to banish the status quo of the past from the minds of men and women set free from the evils of slavery. When Augustine died in 1897 his body was taken back to Quincy and buried in the priest's cemetery next to St. Peter's Roman Catholic church where his new life had begun in the ashes of slavery left behind.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

July 8 - Elizabeth of Portugal, Mother, Queen, Peacemaker,

As soon as Elizabeth heard about prince Affonso's revolution and the impending civil war against the king Diniz, she set out from the hospital where she was staying to see if she could not bring peace between them. She rode the fastest horse she could find because the armies were marshaling against each other with bloodshed on their minds and there was little time left to retrieve peace from the grip of war. Her work at the hospital where she provided food to the hungry and medical care to the sick was put on hold as she rode off to stand between the two armies to insist upon peace. It seemed a fool's errand but if there was anybody who could bring reconciliation between Affonso and Diniz then it was Elizabeth. After all, she was the queen of Portugal and, thus, the wife of Diniz and the mother of Affonso. As a child she would never have guessed where her life would lead her but, then, none of us ever really do. When she was only a child in Aragon and her father told her that she would soon be marrying a man named Diniz who was the king of Portugal, she must have imagined what it would be like to be queen of Portugal instead of princess of Aragon but indubitably she never expected it to involve risking her life and life's work to negotiate peace between her own husband and son.

Elizabeth married Diniz when she was only twelve years old but it was expedient for both Aragon and Portugal to make such a political move and so she entered into matrimony with a man she barely knew. Diniz was captivated with young Elizabeth as she grew and while still a teenager she gave birth to two children: the prince Affonso and the princess Constantia. But the appetites of Diniz went unchecked and he became an adulterer as was his supposed privilege as king. Elizabeth remained faithful to her unfaithful husband and continued to practice the loving faith instilled in her by her family and the Church she loved. While Diniz practiced debauchery, Elizabeth practiced charity and often secreted bread from the royal table to the beggars who waited in the streets for an act of mercy from the queen they loved and who loved them. She opened a hospital and a convent of "Poor Clares." She would later become a member of this convent after the death of Diniz and before Affonso's second war against family but for years she was simply the founder and benefactor of this group that daily lifted up her and others in prayer. Though she was abused by Diniz for her devotion to her Lord Jesus she refused to turn aside from her commitments to love, faith, hope, mercy, and grace. Her life had been changed not by the royal positions she had attained but by the humble guidance of a crucified Lord.

When she arrived at the field of battle she could see the blood lust creeping through the armies that had been fed steadily on a diet of both hatred and fear. The men who prepared to wage war stood to gain little in victory and lose everything in defeat but they could not escape the grim march that led to battle and so they prepared to take the lives of their brothers as they also prepared to offer up their own in sacrifice to royal ambitions.Once again it would be the lives of the poor that were the burnt offerings before the gods of war. Elizabeth placed her body and her life between the two armies and called to her husband and her son. Neither were willing to be the one who ended her life and so the three met together between the soldiers who were afraid to hope for peace because they knew all too well the ways of royalty. We don't know what she said but she was able to reconcile father and son to each other at the cost of being cast aside by her husband the king. She made a sacrifice so that others would not be forced to do so. Years down the road, she would be called away from the monastery of her devotion to negotiate peace again between Affonso and his son-in-law. She did so, again, but the exertion and stress cost Elizabeth her life. She died having made yet another sacrifice for her Lord and his Kingdom.

Friday, July 7, 2017

July 7 - Acacius of Sinai, Monastic, Humble, Obedient

Acacius of Sinai was a novice at an Asian monastery of Christians. As a novice his daily routine varied remarkably little from day to day and afforded him many excellent opportunities to pray and consider what God's will might be in his life. Daily he was given a chance to struggle with the question of calling and whether or not he was one of the ones called to take vows before God. At any time, Acacius could have quit and walked away from the novitiate and any potential vows he may or may not feel called to make before his brothers and sisters as well as God. He attended both the regular prayer services of the monastery and the special classes given only to novices as they did their holy work of discernment. Furthermore, he labored as he was directed to do so by the elder in charge of his novitiate. It is the lot of novices to be obedient to their elder until either the day they take permanent vows of obedience to God and their leaders and resign their will or the day they withdraw from the novitiate and regain their own will as one not called to religious service and devotion in the ways of the monastery. But, Acacius was obedient to an elder who was especially good at making novices want to leave the monastery and abandon any pretenses of calling.

The elder would regularly impose fasts upon Acacius that went beyond those prescribed by the abbot and the other leaders of the Church. Acacius did as he was instructed to do because he understood the elder's work to be a holy one that was designed to drive Acacius closer to God. The elder would beat and punish Acacius for perceived wrongs and even the slightest of errors but Acacius would accept his punishment gladly and would thank the elder after the whipping and humiliation. With each wound he received at the hand of his elder, Acacius understood himself to be learning the humble path of devotion to the meek Lord he loved.The elder forced Acacius to work longer and harder in more challenging conditions than any other novice at the monastery even to the point of exhaustion and breakdown. But until he was physically unable to do as he was ordered, he continued to be obedient to his elder's instruction. Even after he had been broken down, he still tried to continue. Acacius felt called to a religious vocation but the elder prolonged his novitiate for many years. Because the elder spoke with the authority of the Church, Acacius obeyed as if it was Jesus himself who commanded him. After nine years of ruthless discipline and little food from the elder and furious and complete obedience on the part of Acacius, Acacius died of exhaustion and was buried in a nearby cemetery.

The elder told the tragedy to a friend and brother of his who was, also, a guide and teacher of novices and the second elder refused to believe that Acacius had died. He had been repeatedly impressed with the loyalty and obedience of Acacius whenever he visited and noticed again and again with surprise that Acacius had not yet taken his vows. So, the elder of Acacius took his friend to the grave of Acacius to confirm the tragic story he told. The friend was amazed but asked something laid upon his heart,"Brother Acacius, are you really dead?" The elder of Acacius must have thought his friend was out of his mind with grief to be talking to a dead man and so he contemplated what he might say to ease the man's grief at the death of the most obedient novice either had ever known. But,then, something amazing happened:

"No, father," the voice of dead Acacius began as it rose from the grave below their feet, "surely it is not possible that an obedient man could ever truly die." The two elders were shocked--one had not known what to expect in response to his question and the other had expected nothing and heard something amazing. The elder of Acacius fell to his knees in tears and begged Acacius to forgive him for his harsh treatment and ruthless punishments. The elders who had been given charge over instructing novices in the path that leads to God were instructed that day on the nature of eternal life and obedience by a novice who never professed vows before God and his brothers and sisters. Acacius had passed from this world but the faith he shared with the elders and his many brothers and sisters insisted that death could not claim the obedient and life was the inheritance of the humble.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

July 6 - Jan Hus, Martyr, Eager to be Corrected, Unwilling to Lie

Jan Hus wanted to be wrong. He had read the works of Wycliffe and been convinced that there was something within the Church that was in desperate need of change. Jan feared that the further developing practice of the sale of indulgences was, at its heart, the sale of the Church's soul. He advocated for reform but he eagerly hoped that somebody would correct him and demonstrate to him that he was the one who was mistaken. After all, Jan loved his Church and was devoted to the Head of that Body: Jesus Christ. Jan would have much preferred to believe it was his error that left him feeling that something within the Church was drastically wrong than to believe that the Church had drifted from its high calling and holy mission. But every time Jan sought correction and guidance he only found the threat of horrible consequences offered to him by a group of men ordained to serve Jesus Christ the Crucified. Jan was barred from the services and sacraments of the Church he loved because he had the audacity to suggest that something might be going wrong and ask for clarification and correction. Eventually, all of the city was placed under papal interdict because of Jan's residence there. All Christians were ordered not to feed or shelter him on penalty of excommunication. For asking questions and advocating reformation, Jan was outcast.

Eventually, those in power convened the Council of Constance to bring reformation and unity to the Church so long travailing. Sigismund, the emperor of the "Holy" Roman Empire made a promise to Jan that he would have safe passage to Constance to help sew together the fragmented pieces of God's holy Church. Jan finally thought that correction would be achieved even if it had to be the Church that was corrected. He wasn't keen to face the thought that the Church had erred but he was very eager to see it righted again. But when he arrived at Constance he was ambushed by those who were still anxious to punish him for his questions and reforming intentions. He was labeled a heretic--even though he openly sought correction if he was wrong--and questioned at great length.Meanwhile, those in power endeavored to convince Sigismund that a promise to a heretic was not legally binding and so could be rescinded without penalty. They hoped that Sigismund would turn Jan over into their hands so that they might complete their vengeful desires and vindicate themselves in the eyes of all the others who were pained at Jan's questions and suggestions. He was held captive in increasingly dire conditions before eventually being held in a dungeon beneath a Dominican monastery. Sigismund was furious at first but was eventually convinced that he need not feel guilty for abandoning Jan and so he rescinded his promise of safe passage. With this change, Jan must have known that his end was soon approaching even as the answers to his questions continued to drift farther and farther away.

They tried him as a heretic but the trial was little more than a formality--a judicial hoax that covered over a vindictive punishment. He was asked if he supported Wycliffe and he informed those who judged him that though he did not agree with everything Wycliffe had wrote he thought that he was, at least, partially correct--the Church was in need of reformation and all too often in captivity to civil powers. He continued to ask them, as often as possible, to demonstrate to him the error of his ways and the ignorance of his questions. If they would only do this, he insisted, he would gladly recant everything he had ever suggested to the contrary. He wanted to be wrong but he was increasingly confident that he was dreadfully correct about the state of the Church he loved. Though they offered him no answers, and were unwilling to listen to his defense, they were willing to find him guilty heresy and punish him as they saw fit. With the blessing of civil powers increasingly uncomfortable with a man like Jan who seemed all too willing to "rock the boat" and question the rightness of the Church's complicit involvement in the desires of the State, he was condemned to be burned to death as a heretic. They labeled him who feared the Church's downfall a heretic and tied him to a stake so that he might burn as punishment for seeking correction in a way that demonstrated loyalty first to God and only second to ecclesiastical and civil powers. Though his request to make confession before his execution was denied he proclaimed the following before they set him on fire: "God is my witness that I have never taught that of which I have by false witnesses been accused. In the truth of the Gospel which I have written, taught, and preached, I will die today with gladness." He died on the sixth of July in the year 1415.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

July 5 - Zoe and Nicostratus of Rome, Martyrs, Complicit in Conversion, Guilty by Association

Guilt by association is a peculiar thing because it criminalizes not an action but a state of being. In the days that Diocletian persecuted and pursued the Church at every opportunity and every turn, Zoe of Rome was guilty by association in the eyes of the empire and Diocletian. Her husband was a man by the name of Nicostratus who was a jailer and officer within Dicoletian's empire. Zoe, however, was mute and could not speak no matter how hard she tried and no matter how much she desperately wanted to do so. Then, one day, Zoe and Nicostratus heard that Sebastian was preaching nearby and that he had been known to heal and cure the people whom he touched and for whom he prayed. So, they went seeking life and the one who seemed to carry it with him in his words and actions.When they found Sebastian Zoe knelt before him and indicated her muteness with signals and the help of Nicostratus. Sebastian looked upon her for only a moment before making the sign of the cross over her and offering a short prayer to God on her behalf. She was healed and both she and Nicostratus became convinced of the truth behind Sebastian's preaching. After all, the wonders Sebastian worked made it apparent that he spoke holy words of life in opposition to an empire bent on destruction and the threat of death. By taking the Faith of Sebastian as their own faith they both became guilty by association since the empire already despised Sebastian's words and works.

Zoe and Nicostratus were soon baptized and asked Sebastian and the other Christian leaders what they should do with their new found faith. They sensed that their faith made demands of them--in fact, they wanted it to do so--but could not readily identify what it was that they should do. Since Nicostratus was a jailer and there were many Christians in prison, Sebastian insisted that he had an obligation to share his faith with them. Nicostratus sent his clerk to the prison to fetch the prisoners and bring them to the home he shared with Zoe and where they were resting currently. The prisoners arrived and listened to the preaching of Sebastian. The unbaptized Christians among them were soon baptized at the hands of the priest Polycarp. Among those who were not Christian there were numerous converts. But this audacious act of evangelism and love did not go unnoticed even though the prisoners soon returned to the prison in which Nicostratus served. The powers of the empire soon found out what Nicostratus had done and with whom he and Zoe were associating. So, they decided to arrest them and apply the pressure of their own faith to them.

They found and arrested Nicostratus with ease because he was an official within the empire. All they had to do was wait for him to show up to the prison and place him in chains to await his trial. Zoe, however, was much harder to track down. It wasn't that she was avoiding the people she must have known would soon come to arrest her but she was not as easily known as her husband. Zoe was arrested at the grave of Peter. She had gone there to connect with the man who had been called by Jesus to feed and care for the sheep of God. She must have wanted to connect to a tradition older than herself and a man much beloved and admired by the Church of which she was now a part. When they found Zoe praying at that sacred site they knew it was her and so they took her from the grave of Peter to her own grave with a short detour for a sham of a trial. At the trial, they both bravely confessed their faith even when promised forgiveness in return for their apostasy and threatened death if they refused. Though Nicostratus was only beheaded because of his former service to the empire, Zoe was hung by her hair from a tree branch and slowly roasted over a fire. Both died with forgiveness and mercy on their lips and both bodies were thrown into the river so that the empire could try to forget about yet another couple who had chased after life even if it meant walking through imperial death.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

July 4 - Theodore of Cyrene, Martyr, Bishop, Scribe

Theodore's work was complicated, difficult, and consuming. Though he was a priest and a bishop he had given himself over also to a task that few could do in the third and fourth century and even fewer were willing to do. Theodore did not have to dig ditches or perform any sort of manual labor--that is to say nothing more difficult than picking up a book and turning pages--but his work still drained him of his life's energies. Day by day Theodore made it his practice and profession to copy the sacred books of the Church so that others might benefit from the penetrating and comforting power of the holy words therein. With each stroke of his pen he committed yet another letter to a blank page that would be read countless times by those able to read and be heard by crowds of Christians throughout the empire. He was meticulous in his careful copying work because he understood it to be a holy calling--but it was not his only calling. He didn't only copy books during his days in this world but he, also, cared for the Body of Christ as a priest and, eventually, a bishop. He was forced to do so mostly in secret so that he would not be forced to risk his own life or, worse yet, the lives of those to whom he ministered.

Since it was in the reign of Diocletian Theodore knew well that there was a likely cost associated with his copying work. Diocletian wanted the Church annihilated and felt that the quickest way to accomplish this task was through brutal executions of its members. Priests were especially prized victims because their death symbolized not only an extra dose of fear for the Christian community but, also, the Church's loss of another leader. Furthermore, a bishop was, likely, the most highly prized victim because it represented a significant attack on the faith of the priests and members of the Church but, also, presented the opportunity to cripple the leadership of the Church. So, as a priest and a bishop Theodore knew that he was a prime, potential target for the death-workers of the empire. Added to the list of his extensive qualifications was his work copying books that helped to preserve the Faith even as Diocletian campaigned against it. Problematic for those who copied books, though, was that the better the job they did the sooner they were found out and executed.After all, if they copied and distributed many books than they were that much more likely to be betrayed. In the case of Theodore, though, it was not some acquaintance who finally betrayed him--it was his own son.

Theodore's son Leo knew his father was breaking the law of the empire not only by being a Christian, a priest, and a bishop, but, also, by copying the sacred texts of the Christians for distribution. For some unknown reason--perhaps it was a simple lust for power--Leo went to the empire's governor Dignianus with betrayal in mind. He informed Dignianus that his own father was in possession of many Christian books to be distributed to illegal congregations throughout the empire and that he was encouraging Roman citizens to abandon the faith of Rome and to trust in Jesus Christ as both Lord and Savior. The governor's men went and dragged Theodore before Dignianus and Leo as he was accused of his crimes.Theodore knew that it was his own son who had betrayed him but he offered forgiveness in the same breath that he refused to submit to governor's demand that he make a sacrifice to the Roman gods. They beat him with rods until he was bruised and bloody and placed an offering before him to sacrifice. Using what little strength he retained he cast the offering to the floor and insisted that his faith would not be shaken. They continued to beat him savagely. Eventually, they tired of his prayers and forgiveness and cut out his tongue so that he could no longer speak to them. While he remained alive, though, he continued to mouth his prayers and love. They threw him into prison for the night with the intention of further torturing him in the morning if he made it through the night, but he did not survive the night. Theodore passed from this world but the texts he had so lovingly copied were copied again and again by yet others who picked up his work and continued his vocation. The empire had killed one God's priests and bishops but had not killed the spirit that animated countless others or crushed the power of the stories that spread in the words that were copied under penalty of death.