Sunday, September 24, 2017

September 24 - Henri Nouwen, Priest, Author, Assistant

Henri was born into a Dutch family in 1932. Recalling his childhood, he was known to say: “I grew up in a very protected and safe environment and I learned to know that I was Dutch and I was Catholic. It took me quite a long time to discover that there were people, many people, who were neither!” His upbringing was religious and he would remark that he was familiar with two voices growing up: the voice of his mother offering unconditional love and the voice of his father spurring him onward to achievement and effort. For Henri, these voices would serve as constant companions and narrators for his life's actions. At the age of six, he says he first felt a calling to be a priest and servant of God's people. This is a calling that he would follow through school and eventually see realized when he as ordained a priest at the age of 25.

Henri's gifts were clearly disposed toward teaching and writing. His writing is--to this day--regarded highly among protestants, orthodox, and roman catholics. The decided difference in Henri's approach was his incredible passion for pastoral theology. This passion led him to study the relatively novel discipline of psychology (a discipline still distrusted by much of the Church) with vigor and apply it to his already considerable theological understanding. In this, Henri began cautiously to plumb the depths of the minds of those he served. He taught psychology and pastoral theology for many years at schools such as the University of Notre Dame and Yale University Divinity School. During this period, he wrote prolifically and magnificently. But, he still felt something was missing and he was haunted by many of his own personal terrors and challenges.

In 1981, Henri moved to Peru to serve the poor and discern if God was calling him to work among the people of the developing South. He left the academic regard and salary to serve among the poor and needy of Peru but, ultimately, found that this didn't feel like where God was calling him even if it was good work that he would continue as he served in other places. This work changed Henri for the better and further deepened his commitment to social justice and ministry to the poor but wasn't the last stop on his journey of calling.

In 1983, he accepted a position at Harvard University Divinity School that many academics would covet--he was required to teach only one semester and was encouraged to write as much as he wanted to. His classes were popular. His influence and fame were notable. Yet, Henri was overcome by the depression that had haunted him for most of his adult life. He found this to be a place of darkness and discomfort. In his journals, he would confess to conflict over his vow of celibacy and his incredible desire for physical and emotional intimacy with another person. This was a place where Henri continued his long struggle with his own sexuality and its implications for his spiritual life. Henri felt that Harvard was a great school but lacking in any feelings of communion. The competition and ambition of its students overtook their calling to love one another and be with each other. Henri resisted this place of darkness and isolation throughout his life--as far as we know--but it was at Harvard where so much of it came to bear upon him and lead to what he alternatively referred to as "burnout" and "spiritual death."

A seeming coincidence brought Henri together with Jean Vanier who told Henri about the communities that he was starting called L'Arche. These communities were meant to be places of intentional communion for people of all varieties. They were noted for taking in many people with intellectual disabilities. In 1986, Henri became the pastor of one of the L'Arche communities--called "Daybreak"--outside of Toronto, Canada. Still deep within his own depression and darkness, this was a challenging time that he relates in his book Adam, God's Beloved. Henri--the famous and influential author, priest, and activist--was asked to take care of a man named Adam who had a severe intellectual disability. Henri felt unappreciated and belittled at first. After all, surely he could be more useful in some other capacity. Yet, Adam became the key to Henri's release from his own darkness. Taking care of Adam--waking him, dressing him, helping him bathe--reminded Henri of the power of love to redeem even the darkest pits. As Henri loved Adam and Adam loved Henri, they were both further converted to life. It was at Daybreak that Henri finally found community and happiness. It was in the simple act of offering unconditional love that Henri found rest and comfort to his soul. Henri died from a heart attack in 1996. He was buried near Daybreak.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

September 23 - Pio of Pietrelcina, Monk, Stigmatic, Mystic

Pio's parents were shepherds in Southern Italy and it was into this life that he was born thirteen years prior to the end of the 19th century. As was his family's custom, he was intimately involved in the local church and served as an altar boy. His family was in attendance with regularity. When Pio looked back at his childhood many years later, he would recollect that he had made a decision to commit himself wholly to God at the young age of five. From then on, he recalled, he strained after intimacy with the God who called him into being and the priesthood. Pio's family helped guide and push him onward in his relationship with God and taught him to pray and memorize the scriptures. As Pio went to sleep at night, he was ushered there on the stories of the scripture told in the voices of those close to him.

When Pio was ten, his family had the opportunity to listen to a Capuchin friar seeking monetary and prayer support for the monastery that was hoping better to live into God's calling upon the life of St. Francis. Pio was awestruck by the friar and subsequently became convinced that this was the particular calling that God had placed upon his life: the monastic life of prayer and mysticism. His family supported this calling and took him to the Capuchin monastery to inquire if he could join them. They had heard of the boy known for prescribing his own penance, have ecstatic visions, and dwelling upon the mysteries of the faith. They assured him that they would accept him if he would receive the education he had missed while tending his family's flocks. Pio's father moved to the United States of America to make enough money to pay for Pio's school and he was soon initiated and ordained into the order.

Pio served as spiritual director of two separate monasteries and became known as a worker of miracles. These miracles--including healing and miraculous discerning--are what occasioned his discharge from the Italian military he was conscripted into (as a chaplain) for World War I. As a spiritual director, he was interested in a daily life of discipleship that involved recognition of one's place before God and acceptance of unmerited suffering as the fertile ground of spiritual growth. In this way, Pio claimed to appreciate the considerable suffering he underwent with his own illness and physical weakness. He advised those under his direction to be as regular with confession as you would be with dusting your house because, ultimately, they had the same effective purpose: removing tarnish and corruption from that which is valuable to you. Pio was quick to advise any who would listen that the practice of Christian teaching amounted to: "Pray, hope and don't worry."

Controversy was not far from Pio's life, however. He experienced great physical pain and suffering because of his poor health but also, he felt, because he was under attack by demonic beings. His understanding of suffering and penance is clear: the pain we experience purifies our souls and is, therefore, good. Pio's visions became intermixed with visions of demons and the Adversary masquerading as angels of light. He was tormented by the confusing aspects of these visions but also, he felt, by the physical attacks of the demons. For Pio, the key to understanding the terrors was in seeing what fruit they bared in his heart and mind. When he felt despair and darkness, he knew that this was not the work of the God of hope and light. Further, Pio experienced the stigmata and became notable to many because of this gift and pain. As he bled from wounds that matched the wounds of Jesus, he found comfort in knowing that he was being purified through his suffering. These marks--and others--remained as a continual calling to Pio to continue onward in his imitation of the slaughtered Lord he loved and followed. Many called him a liar or an impostor. He denied their accusations but had little interest in arguing with them. Investigations found no fraud in what he was doing and affirmed the mysterious and mystical nature of what was going on.

Pio died in 1968 surrounded by his brothers and sisters in Christ. He had offered a mass before retiring to his bed for the last time. A brother came and received his last confession and Pio renewed his own vows as a monk and priest. Death came quietly for Pio who slipped away muttering the name of Jesus and Mary. His funeral was highly attended and people were surprised to see the stigmatic wounds present at his death to have healed completely and left only two red marks--one on each palm. In his death, Pio rested with the God he had so long pursued with abandon. Pio passed through suffering to find himself purified, redeemed, and in communion with the one who had called him so many years prior.

Friday, September 22, 2017

September 22 - Maurice and the Theban Legion, Martyrs, Soldiers, Radicals

Maurice had accompanied his men to the place where the battle was soon to be held. His men were the Theban Legion of the Roman Army. The legion was comprised of almost entirely Christians from Northern Egypt by this point. Over the years, the life and words of the Christian soldiers had an influence on their companions in arms and many conversions were reported as the days and battles wore on. They had now been called to battle to put down a peasant revolt. The peasants had grown tired of being oppressed and abused by the Roman Empire and had begun to resist them. They were known as the bagaudae and they were the reason that the Theban legion (all 6,600 of them) had been called to Gaul.

When they arrived, they discovered two things that made them balk: (1) they were being asked to make war on peasants, and (2) they were asked to make a sacrifice to the Roman gods on the night before battle. Maurice and his legion resisted both of these requests. They continued to proclaim their faith and refuse to sacrifice even as they were threatened and coerced. Finally, the Emperor ordered the decimation of the legion. This meant that all 6,600 men were lined up and every tenth soldier was murdered. 660 men died because they refused to comply with the Emperor's orders. The remaining 5,940 men were asked again if they would make a sacrifice and spare their own lives. When the legion refused, they were decimated again. 594 more men died because they refused to submit their lives and wills to the Emperor. As they were decimated, some of the men tasked with executing them were converted by the Christians' nonviolent resistance. Even as they held weapons, they allowed themselves to be killed. Each murder made a strong statement about the inability of the Empire ever to win a single heart and will. Some were converted because, in the midst of death, they had seen true life.

The remaining 5,346 were given another chance to make sacrifice and appease the Empire. As they stood among the dead bodies of 1,254 people who had already made the sacrifice of their life for their soul, they refused again. Maurice offered some words to his superiors:
"We are your soldiers, but we are also servants of the true God. We owe you military service and obedience; but we cannot renounce Him who is our Creator and Master, and also yours, even though you reject Him. In all things which are not against His law we most willingly obey you, as we have done hitherto....We have taken an oath to God before we took one to you; you can place no confidence in our second oath if we violate the first....We confess God the Father, author of all things, and His Son, Jesus Christ. We have seen our companions slain without lamenting them, and we rejoice at their honor. Neither this nor any other provocation has tempted us to revolt. We have arms in our hands, but we do not resist because we could rather die innocent than live by any sin."

After this, the Emperor ordered the slaughter of the remaining 5,346 soldiers. They stood still and allowed their executioners to take their lives. Though it cost them their lives, they refused to sin. Though it cost them their lives, they maintained the Faith that held them to a higher calling than the Empire. Their oath to God held them stronger than any other and they laid down their lives in the proclamation of their faith and hope in God.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

September 21 - Matthew, Apostle, Evangelist, Beloved Outcast

Matthew had known desperation. That day he had been in the public square when Jesus came by. In his presence, he felt like he should hide his face from the teacher and healer of so many. Jesus had been healing and teaching some of the very same people that Matthew had been bilking out of even more of their precious little money. He avoided Jesus' eyes as he came by and his coin-purse felt a little heavier and a little more obvious than usual. It became apparent that Jesus was going to do a miracle and Matthew couldn't take it anymore. He turned to slip away in the crowd noticing the eyes of his fellow Jews that were glad to see Matthew leave. He was desperate to get away from Jesus before his shame ate him alive. Just as he was about to slip past the edge of the expectant crowd, he heard somebody call his name. He turned around to see Jesus looking at him with a knowing and somehow loving look. He noticed that everybody else was looking at him, too. Jesus said, "Come follow me." Matthew's heart could stand it no longer and agreed to give into the shame that broke through to repentance and healing. He walked through the death of his self and found life more abundant on the other side.

Yes, Matthew had known desperation. Jesus had been arrested and beaten severely. He had run like the rest of the twelve. They left their life-giving master so that they might not be expected to give up their lives. They didn't get it but Jesus forgave them. Matthew had heard and seen parts of the story and knew that Jesus had been crucified and had died. He met with the twelve--at least, most of them--to talk about what had happened and see if there was anything they were planning on doing. In the midst of his own desperation, he began to see what Jesus had been talking about. He started to get the revolution that Jesus was leading and the Kingdom that he had been bringing into the world. He began to see the fruits of repentance and the nature of the already present and still arriving Kingdom. Then, Jesus rose from the dead and it all clicked together. Once again, his life was changed in a desperate moment of calling and hope in the midst of hopelessness.

Matthew had known desperation. But as he hung upside down with the blood rushing to his head, he wasn't feeling shame or hopelessness. Rather, he was feeling love for those who had tied him to the post and forgiveness for the ruler who had ordered his execution. What did they expect him to do? Be quiet? Surely not after God had dwelt within him at Pentecost and called him to foreign lands to spread the good news that grace and mercy were redeeming the world. He had preached good news and, for its sake and the sake of his Lord, they had condemned him to death. He had brought people into life but those who dwelt in death resented it. As they piled the logs around him and the torches approached, he remembered his Lord forgiving his executioners and prayed for his own approaching murderers. This time, he found truth without the desperation or crisis. So even as the last few grains of his life fell through the hourglass, he understood what Jesus had meant when said, "Come, follow me." Matthew had followed his Lord by proclaiming a Gospel of life to the dead and healing to the sick.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

September 20 - Paul Chong Hasang, Martyr, Son of a Martyr, Missionary

Paul was the child of a powerful legacy. Growing up in Korea in a time that was hostile to Christians, Paul was only seven when his father and oldest brother were martyred on account of their faith. Paul's father had been one of the first Korean converts to Christianity and wrote the first Christian catechism in Korean. His father and brother refused to deny the Lord that had never denied them and this left a distinct and indelible mark upon Paul. They could not turn loose of their faith because their faith wouldn't let them go. Finally, it cost them their lives which they gave as a testament to the truth of their Gospel and love of their Lord.

Paul and his mother were spared execution and exiled into the rural parts of Korea in the Empire's desperate attempt to apply a tourniquet to the spread of the Faith. They hoped that the execution of some would give the survivors a fear to spread with them into exile. As is so often the case when the World hopes to stop the spread of the Faith, this only fanned the flames and the story that Paul and his mother carried with them was of valiant faith and unquenchable passion. Paul's mother raised Paul and his other siblings in the faith that their father and brother had died in the embrace of.

As Paul grew older he began to work for a government interpreter and travel with him to Beijing with some regularity. This gave Paul a particular set of opportunities that included speaking with the Chinese bishop and sending letters to the Pope through the bishop. His constant request was a plea for bishops and priests to be sent to Korea to provide leadership, teaching, and training. There was some hesitancy to do so because of Korea's stance toward the Faith they viewed as an infestation needing to be exterminated. However, much to Paul's relief and in answer to his prayers (and the prayers of many other Korean Christians) ministers were sent. They found Paul to be an eager student of theology and scripture and the bishop was prepared to ordain him to ministry when the Korean empire cracked down upon them and instigated a new wave of persecution.

Paul was drug before the judge and commanded to renounce his faith upon threat of execution. Echoing the voice of his father, brother, and countless other Christians, he provided a defense of his faith and continued to profess it to the judge. The judge was amazed at the clarity and passion in Paul's argument and admitted that it sounded to him that Paul was right but begged him simply to pretend to deny his faith so that his life might be spared and he might spread the faith he so loved. Paul refused because he knew well that denying his faith may grant him more days but it would not give him life. Instead, it would destroy any hope he had of offering life more abundant and free to those who sought it. So, Paul refused to deny his faith. The judge said, “You are right...but the king forbids this religion, it is your duty to renounce it.” Paul responded, “I have told you that I am a Christian, and will be one until my death.”

For this, Paul was tortured. He did not offer anger or malice to his torturers but instead proclaimed the good news that Jesus had died for them and been raised from the dead victorious over all things. They continued to torture him until he was crucified. He died 38 years after his father and joined them in their rest and comfort in the presence of God.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

September 19 - Rich Mullins, Singer, Songwriter, Kid Brother of Francis

Rich Mullins, the son of a mid-western farmer and his Quaker wife, was born in Indiana but traveled much throughout the course of his life. He attended Quaker services with regularity but his own spiritual pedigree is muddy at best--just how Rich would like it. He had connections to Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, and Roman Catholics among yet even more congregations. On more than one occasion, Rich advocated a certain kind of spiritual authenticity that seemed to make denominational divides and distinctions that once seemed so important and daunting to fade away into a kind of inconsequential haziness. Rich wanted to follow Jesus and didn't really care what that meant he was called or how others might identify him. At a very young age, his great-grandmother gave him a gift that he would spend the rest of his life giving to the world--she taught him to play piano and started his musical development. He took to it with a prodigious amount of natural talent and was an accompanist for a local, touring congregational choir. Rich attended several different schools while he studied music as a young adult but didn't stay in any one school for very long. It was always clear that his first passion was the Lord Jesus who loved him. It is his second passion for which he is best known: honest and soul-searching music that glorifies God.

Shortly after earning his B.A. in Music Education from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, he moved to Tse Bonito, New Mexico, with his dear friend Mitch McVicker. He already had a remarkably successful career as both a singer and a songwriter. He had two hit songs that were fast becoming popular praise choruses and had released a few albums to much critical acclaim. After reading Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel, Rich was so touched by the text that he named his new band "The Ragamuffin Band." They were in high demand in Christian music circles and it seemed that his career was set to "take off" even further. If this were the story of most men, then we'd expect to hear more of awards and material gains but Rich had moved to Tse Bonito to live on a Navajo reservation and teach music to the children that he met there. Though his performances were regularly sold out, Rich never accepted more than $24,000 a year as a salary. Instead, he gave over every check he received to his accountant. Rich's accountant paid Rich the salary of the average "working person" in the United States and gave the rest away as per Rich's instructions. Rich turned down the world's brand of success to follow after his Lord Jesus like his hero Francis of Assisi had done. Rich cast aside the world's gains because he recognized them for what they were: weights around his neck as he tried to ascend into God's presence.

Rich and Mitch McVicker were headed north on I-39 from Bloomington, Illinois, on September 19th in the year 1997. They were headed to a benefit concert in Wichita, Kansas. The jeep flipped for some uncertain reason and the two men were thrown from the vehicle as a tractor-trailer truck bore down upon their wrecked jeep. Both were badly injured from their wreck but Rich would be killed when the truck veered to one side to avoid the wrecked jeep and killed Rich instantly. Mitch was seriously injured but he survived the wreck. Rich died only days after having recorded an album on micro-cassette in an abandoned church. The Ragamuffin Band had been there and Rich had recorded it so that they could hear the ten songs that Rich wanted to include on the next album (entitled "The Jesus Record"). This final recording had none of the professional editing so common in music but still communicated the authenticity and passion that Rich had for God and for his music. Even though Rich died, the band went on to record "The Jesus Record" and release it not only with a copy of Rich's final recording but, also, with a tribute album where Rich's part was played by Christian musicians who had been friends and admirers of Rich. In the end, you can't help but wonder if Rich might not have preferred it that way--God getting the glory, his friends serving God, and Rich being allowed to hang on for the ride.

Monday, September 18, 2017

September 18 - Joseph of Cupertino, Healer, Monk, Ecstatic

Joseph's mother gave birth to him in a stable. She had been driven from her home because of the debts of her recently deceased husband. Joseph's father had been generous but not wealthy. He had guaranteed the debts of many of their poorer neighbors and when they had failed to pay, their debts became his debts. When he died unexpectedly, Joseph's family no longer had any means to support itself. Joseph's childhood was, at times, painful. He was not a good student and was given to staring vacantly into the distance. His teachers could not understand how Joseph could study and, yet, fail his exams. Looking back, it seems apparent that Joseph had some form of learning disability but at the time it was easier to call him ignorant and unsuitable for any profession that involved thinking.

It was Joseph's earnest desire to be a monk--even though he had been apprenticed to a cobbler--and so he applied to a monastery. He was rejected because of his apparent ignorance and inability to pay attention for longer periods of time. Undeterred, he applied to yet another monastery. They accepted him and tried to work with his difficulties at learning but ultimately dismissed him when they could not find a way to work around his challenges. Finally, he applied to the Franciscan monastery and was accepted. This was hardly an easy calling but the Franciscan brothers were willing to accept that he had a deep desire to live the life of prayer and devotion. They recognized a call upon Joseph's life that transcended intelligence or education.

Joseph was known for being given to moments of ecstasy and deep contemplation of the Lord he loved and followed. One gift only made him more unpopular with some: he seemed to be able to discern the hidden sin in a person's life. He would directly approach them and tell them that they smelled and needed to go be cleaned. He would then direct them to the confessional at the local church, chapel, or monastery. He was not allowed to hear confession or preside over masses because of his lack of education and knowledge but he was known for healing people who came to him seeking aid. His daily life soon became inundated with individuals recognizing holiness and calling in his life that his ignorance could not diminish. Joseph was far from intelligent but it didn't matter to the people who came near to him because he loved them and wanted to help them.

Joseph was pushed around throughout his life by people who thought they knew better than him because of their comparatively greater intelligence. His final years involved much travel because of the throngs of people who constantly came to him seeking his love and healing. Joseph was content to stay among them but his superiors moved him around because they detested the scenes that were created around him. When Joseph died among his brothers and sisters, he refused their request that he heal himself saying, "No! God forbid!" He, then, comforted them with soothing words before passing on to his eternal rest.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

September 17 - James Carney, Martyr, Missionary, Revolutionary

James Carney struggled his way through seminary. Not because he wasn't smart--he was--and not because it was the hardest thing he'd ever done--he had recently finished serving in World War II--but because it challenged him in new ways that only Jesuit training could. He studied philosophy and theology for hours and hours doing so in Latin. He reflected back upon his time in the military and what it meant for his life. He engaged his own self-discipline as he was formed in the crucible of his seminary experience and when he emerged, he was prepared for the calling that God had placed upon his life: the life of a missionary priest to a poverty-stricken people. James Carney--who asked to be called Padre Guadalupe in honor of "Our Lady of Guadalupe"--had been called and appointed to Honduras.

James lived a fairly typical life in Honduras as a local priest among a people who struggled daily to know where they would find their next meal and how to make sure their families were cared for. He said mass every week, he baptized, he offered the sacraments, he taught children, and otherwise did what any other priest was doing throughout the world. But James felt that in pursuing his calling and moving to Honduras he had somehow missed it. Instead, he began to consider the poverty of his people and the suffering they labored under. He knew it only indirectly. After all, he was an American citizen who was provided for and comfortable even if living among those who struggled. He began to become intimately acquainted with their lives by leaving the church buildings and entering into the homes of his people. Eventually, he would become a Honduran citizen and give up his American citizenship and passport. He donned the clothes of the people and slept on dirt floors, in hammocks, and wherever he was invited. James Carney found that within his calling was a deeper calling to become intimately associated with a people that the government did not care about.

Eventually, James Carney began to argue that the Church could not stand passively by and watch the poverty-stricken suffer but should, instead, try to alleviate their pain. He began arguing for social and economic justice in Honduras and this attracted the ire of those with power--those who had benefited from the broken Honduran system. Suddenly, he was accused of being a communist and heretic by those with power and the Bishop began to hear criticism of the priest who was a friend of the poor and outcast. As often happens to those who confront power with truth, the influential and powerful people exacted their revenge for James' slight against them and had him exiled from Honduras to Nicaragua. James' citizenship in the country he loved--where the people he loved lived--was revoked and he was told not to return.

While in Nicaragua, James Carney continued his ministry among the Nicaraguans while still dreaming of his beloved in Honduras. There had recently been revolution in Nicaragua where the Sandinista forces had overthrown a government that had failed and oppressed the poor. This was an inspiring event for James who began to associate with a guerrilla force intending to try to start the same thing in Honduras. They crossed the border into Honduras and James went with them as their "priest chaplain." James knew well that he would essentially sign his own death warrant by returning to the country where he belonged but was not welcome. The force was caught, interrogated, and tortured. This included James Carney. Finally, James Carney was taken in a helicopter over the jungle and tossed out of it alive. He fell to the ground and if he survived the fall, then he died of exposure, hunger, or thirst in the days that followed.

James Carney was clearly a man who was willing to fight for what he felt was worth fighting for. This is somewhat troubling for some people who are uncomfortable with the idea of a revolutionary priest that fights for a politicized cause. James' Marxist leanings further complicate the discussion for many Christians who distrust Marxism and its political trappings. Regardless, James can and should be remembered as a person willing to die for those he loved. By living with the poor and outcast of Honduras, he became so attached and connected to their lives that their suffering was his suffering. Their pain was his pain. Their yearning for revolution and change burned in his heart, as well. Because of this and God's calling upon James' life, James Carney was martyred because he refused to stop loving those that the powerful had deemed inconsequential and unlovable.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

September 16 - Cyprian, Martyr, Bishop, Received Second Chances

Cyprian had been raised as a non-Christian and received a fine education before converting to Christianity in the early third century. It is clear that he was a man of means and affluence because of his possession of a villa and his considerable influence among the citizens of Carthage before his conversion. When he converted to the Faith, he gave away a significant portion of his wealth and possessions to the poor people of Carthage. This was greeted with joy and appreciation from the poorer citizens and respect from others. In a short time, he was ordained to ministry in Carthage. Years later, he was elected Bishop of Carthage.

From his position as bishop, he began to hear the rumblings of a terrible set of events that would soon befall North Africa. Emperor Decius had been speaking against Christians and had started persecuting Christians within the Roman Empire. Eventually, these edicts were picked up in North Africa. Carthage was considered a significant target for these persecutions because of the growing number of Christians there under Cyprian's watchcare. Ministers of the Faith were being rounded up and compelled to sign statements of allegiance to the Emperor and sacrifice before the Roman gods and powers. If they refused, there were drastic and dire consequences. When the edict was pronounced in Carthage, however, Cyprian was nowhere to be found.

He had fled Carthage claiming to have seen a vision and heard God's calling to avoid the persecution. He was accused of cowardice and lack of faith before other clergy and their common superiors. In many ways, Cyprian had lost the credibility that allowed him to speak so forcefully to the people he guided and ministered to. He still administered Carthage as its bishop but did so through intermediaries and without stepping foot into the city. The general disapproval of other Christians was abundantly clear to Cyprian who received letters and messages intended to rebuke and question his decision to leave Carthage.

For years, the battle that Cyprian would fight was two-fold: (1) defending his flight from Carthage as ordained by God, and (2) whether or not to accept Christians that had denied their faith back into the embrace of the Church. This was a tenuous position for Cyprian who argued against allowing "lapsed Christians" back into the Church except in exceptional circumstances. His argument was constantly weighed against the public consideration that he had fled the persecution. For Cyprian's enemies, he behaved hypocritically by refusing mercy to those who had crumbled under the same pressure they accused Cyprian fleeing from. Cyprian would wage this battle to the day he died even after he returned to Carthage (following the Decian persecution).

The edicts and actions that would eventually be referred to as the "Valerian Persecutions" began in 256. Roman priests and ministers were martyred (including Sixtus II, and Laurence) and the persecution crept its way into Carthage. This time, however, Cyprian remained in Carthage to face the persecution. As was the practice of the persecutors, the leaders of the Christian communities were called out first and commanded to deny their faith. Cyprian was brought before the Proconsul and proclaimed his faith boldly. For this, he was exiled from Carthage. And, so, he left Carthage again because of persecution but this time he was forced to do so. While in exile, he ministered to others who had been exiled by the persecutions and provided Christian discipleship and formation for those who had refused to deny their faith. The Christian community in exile had maintained their faith and Cyprian had received a blessed second chance to stand in an exiled Kingdom.

A year later, he was summoned again to his villa in Carthage because of a new edict demanding the execution of all Christian clergy to suppress the growing Faith. He refused to deny his faith and was threatened with execution. When this did not deter him, the proconsul condemned him to be decapitated by sword. He responded, "Thanks be to God!" They took him into an open place in the city so that people could watch what happens to those who follow God and refuse the Empire. He was followed by his flock to the place of his execution where he removed his own clothes without assistance from the Empire. He knelt down and prayed for Carthage, for his persecutors, and for himself. Finally, he tied his blindfold and bowed his head. Then, the Empire showed its weakness in its ferocity--in it, the Church showed strength in its weakness.

Friday, September 15, 2017

September 15 - Martyrs of Birmingham

It was just barely past 10:20 a.m. on Sunday morning when the children made their way downstairs. They had just finished listening to the pastor's sermon: "The Love That Forgives." Perhaps their minds dwelt on the incredible calling that the pastor's sermon placed on the lives of those who followed after Jesus--love your enemies so much that you can't help but forgive them? Sure, maybe that stuff worked for Jesus but it would be so hard for a black person in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. This was the city where dogs and hoses had been turned on peaceful demonstrators. This was the city often described as the "most segregated" city in all of the nation. This was the city of "Bull" Connor who, in response to Brown v. Board of Education had said, "You're going to have bloodshed, and it's on them [the Supreme Court], not us." They were supposed to learn to love and forgive these people?

As they gathered in the basement of 16th Street Baptist Church their minds might have only been concerned with what fun the teacher might have in mind for them. Perhaps they were focused on what everybody else was wearing and doing. We know that one little girl had asked another older girl to help tie her belt--it must have been coming undone. In this sanctuary--this haven from the hate and destruction of the world--where they tried to worship and follow after a crucified and abuse Lord, they were not as scared as they were used to being. For a brief moment, perhaps, they felt some respite and comfort in the basement of this place. Then it happened.

A bomb--nineteen sticks of dynamite--went off.

The cement and glass of the basement wall became a horrible mess of shrapnel and death. One poor girl was so thoroughly mutilated by the blast that she was unrecognizable to all but her father who knew her by the ring she wore. One child's eyes were lacerated and filled with glass. How does one adequately describe a singular blast of indiscriminate hatred that murders children in a church basement in cold blood? Regardless, it is a powerful testament of the conversion of the bombers to the wide way that leads unto destruction.

As people flocked to the site of the bombing, they soon found out that four children had been killed and over twenty other people had been injured physically. The amount of emotional, mental, and spiritual wounds on that day cannot--and perhaps should not--be quantified. That was a day when hatred and darkness struck out and caused inestimable damage. As the gathering crowd looked up, only one stained glass window had not been blown out in the blast: an image of Jesus gathering the little children unto himself. The face and head of Jesus had been blown off by the blast but the remainder of the image stood as an eerie statement about where Jesus was in the blast--about who else the bombers were bombing.

This event--the martyrdom of four little girls (Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins)--would demonstrate the brutality and evil of the kind of people who would be willing to bomb a church and children because of their own fear and ignorance. The four men who were eventually implicated in the plot (three of whom were found guilty, one died before being charged) remain nameless here because it is best that the world forget their stories entirely. They thought they were doing it to protect themselves and their families from integration of black citizens with white citizens. All they did was further show the world what it was that they truly believed in: a supposed gospel of peace and happiness through domination, destruction, and willful power.

As one of the men was led away after being found guilty, he was asked if he had anything to say. He retorted: "I guess the good Lord will settle it on judgment day." Of this, I have no doubt but, perhaps it is most fitting to remember the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in response to this atrocity:

And so my friends, they did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city....And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.
This was the "Love that Forgives." This was, truly, the seed of redemption that brought about integration and healing. This was the spirit of conversion that leads unto God.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

September 14 - United in Repentance

Admittedly, the Church does not have the best record when it comes to apologizing for its mistakes. However, the Church is made up of individuals who freely and openly admit their own brokenness and inability to redeem themselves by their own power. Regrettably, this admission does not necessarily entail a corporate willingness to repent of our corporate wrongs and brokenness. For example, for far too many years some who have claimed the Church's banner have also exhibited a virulent strain of antisemitism that persists even to today. The self-described followers of a crucified Jew have labeled Jews as "Christ-killers" or some other dehumanizing and ignorant epithet. This has not been good for either Jews or Christians because hate destroys those who is directed at and those who wield it.

In 1965 (starting on September 14), the Roman Catholic church met for the fourth session of the Second Vatican Council. One of the primary concerns was coming to grips with the history of hatred and oppression within the religion that had led people to discriminate and despise Jewish brothers and sisters. Hidden behind a facade of "righteous indignation" over the Jewish part in Jesus' crucifixion, people hated openly and forsook the words of the Christ they claimed to follow. At this council, they released a statement that should be echoed by all Christians everywhere:
"True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ. Furthermore, in her rejection of every persecution against any man, the Church, mindful of the patrimony she shares with the Jews and moved not by political reasons but by the Gospel's spiritual love, decries hatred, persecutions, displays of antisemitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone."
In this statement, the Church can be united in repentance for our personal and ancestral failures to live up to Jesus' calling. Jesus has called his followers to a sacrificial love and spiritual worship that cannot abide hatred and dehumanization. Language such as speaking of Jews as "accursed" or "rejected" cannot contain the seeds of love because of the brokenness of the communication. Instead, we must align ourselves with the "spirit of Christ" and learn to see ourselves as Christ's accuser--for, surely, our sin and brokenness are the great wound our loving Lord bore on the cross.

If we can be united in repentance, then we shall learn that it is in repentance and humility that the Church finds power. If we can reject the posturing and pretending that says that it's not our fault or that we are somehow different and "better," then we shall be on the path to salvation. If we can admit how truly broken and sinful we are, then we might see redemption. If we can proclaim to our loving and merciful God how full of hell and nothingness we are, there might be heaven in our lamentation.

But if we cannot be united in repentance, then we have no good news--no Gospel--to offer the world that so eagerly and desperately yearns for truth, love, light, and life. If we cannot embody the spirit of the Second Vatican Council--the same council that included a joint declaration of brokenness by Western and Eastern churches that resulted in the Great Schism--then there is no hope, faith, or love in us and we remain full of that which is destroying us: ourselves.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us--sinners that we are.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

September 13 - Edward Pusey, Theologian, Oxonian, Preacher

Edward Bouverie was born to a family of wealth and influence whose father took the surname "Pusey" when he moved into the manorial estates of the village of Pusey in England. Edward was a good student at Eton College, and later the University of Göttingen, but had trouble making and keeping friends. It seemed, regularly, that his nose was so deeply buried in his studies that he failed to cultivate some of the social skills that his colleagues had. He was appointed a fellow at Oriel College even while he continued studying theology. Though he struggled with friends and to make himself understood--even so far as to make the German Pietists he tended to agree with think that he disagreed strongly with them--he was a gifted teacher.

He received an occasional opportunity to preach once he was appointed to teach Hebrew at Oxford. Only two years after his wife died, he preached a significant sermon at Oxford entitled, "The Holy Eucharist, a Comfort to the Penitent." This sermon had an incredible impact upon the hearers not because Edward was a gifted orator--he was an enthusiastic but generally mediocre speaker--but because it affirmed traditional church teachings to a modern society consumed with itself. By reaching back in time to expose the current Church to the historic Church, Edward forced the audience to deal with a strong witness from a communion of saints that transcends time and the grave. After preaching, he was suspended for preaching for over two years but this suspension created a wave of publicity that meant selling more than 15,000 copies of the sermon to interested parties. Edward's challenging message spread out and further projected his voice into the world of the Church.

Edward continually challenged the Church that was with the historic Church. For him, that meant confronting other Anglicans with their disconnect from other manifestations of the Church andcalling upon the Church to be united.Pusey remained within the bounds of the Anglican church while persistently driving backwards to the communal holdings of the Church Universal. He continued to write about the Eucharist--that which brings all Christians into communion regardless of geography, time period, or theology--and about ecumenical questions. The man who struggled to make and keep friends spent his life pushing himself and others to join closer in communion. Though he indubitably had frustration with the Church he was working to reform, he maintained a loving relationship with the very same institution that caused his anxiety and frustration. He died in 1882, two years after he watched his own son--an academic like his father--die. Though he did not live an easy life, he lived a life of reformation of and devotion to the Church that had formed him and loved him even when he was misunderstood and disagreeable.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

September 12 - John Patteson, Martyr, Bishop, Champion of Melanesia

John Coleridge Patteson was a well-educated British man who had the privilege of attending both Eton and Oxford. He was a near-relative of Samuel Taylor Coleridge and was, apparently, a very proficient cricket player. Thanks to his education and his family's influence in English society, he became a fellow at Merton College before becoming curate of Alfington, Devon, a year later. Finally, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England after another year of study and service. He was contacted by George Augustus Selwyn--one of John's tutors when he attended Eton--about missionary service in the Melanesian islands east of Australia and New Zealand. Selwyn was the first Anglican bishop of New Zealand and was looking for a reliable and capable man to minister to the many diverse peoples of Melanesia. John Patteson agreed and set off for a very different world.

One of the challenges of being minister in Melanesia was the incredible linguistic diversity of the islands. These islands did not share much culturally or linguistically and, so, John had to learn nearly twenty different languages to serve the people of these islands. He would travel between the islands on his ship the "Southern Cross" and bring supplies and the Christian faith to the inhabitants. John's willingness to learn so many different languages suggests the character of his mission work. He did not want to make English converts out of the people of Melanesia. In opposition to many of the then-popular theories of mission work, John did not want to import a culture into the islands. Rather, he wanted to form Melanesian Christians from the inhabitants. His service and love of the people was easily recognized and he was ordained Bishop of Melanesia in 1861.

As Bishop, he oversaw the various Christian communities on the islands of Melanesia and was regularly traveling between the various islands. He was called to take care of the people under his watch care. One particular scourge that John worked to resist was British abduction of Melanesian men to serve as laborers and servants for the British. Often, these abductors took on the appearance and speech of a missionary so that the people would trust them. In a sense, they stole John Patteson's reputation to perpetrate great cruelty upon the people that John loved. This was a common area of conflict between the Melanesians and the British. For John--who did not want to Anglicize but, rather, convert the people--this was a tragic abuse of power.

In 1871, John brought his ship to the island of Nukapu in the Santa Cruz group of islands. When he landed, the natives mistook him for one of the abductors who had recently landed at Nukapu. Seeing that John was dressed as a missionary, they connected him with the fiends who had recently abused them. They rushed at John Patteson--who had come to love and provide for them--and killed him. Some of John Patteson's crew escaped but many were wounded. When the inhabitants realized their error they recognized the tragic nature of his death. They gave him a Melanesian funeral by putting him into a canoe covered over with palm fibers and with a palm branch in his hand.

John's death had an impact upon not only the Melanesians who now recognized his incredible love for them but also upon the British world. Many letters and editorials were written and the story of what had happened spread quickly among the British people. Legislation was introduced that severely limited the process by which people could be brought into service. The abominable practices of abduction and enforced servitude were further limited and criminalized through John's death. In the end, John Patteson was a martyr having died on account of the faith that led him to love the people of Melanesia and in the place of abusive abductors so that they might repent and be forgiven their sins.

Monday, September 11, 2017

September 11 - Mychal Judge, Chaplain, Priest, Opponent of Hatred

When Robert Judge was a young boy he had his own share of problems. In fact, Robert had enough trouble that many would consider him doomed to a life of desperation and struggle. He had been born into the "Great Depression" of the 1930s and all of the desperate poverty that this entailed for a family of recent Irish immigrants in Brooklyn. When Robert was only six years old he watched his father die slowly and painfully from some dreadful sickness that seemed to steal into their lives by night and rob them of their peace and their hope for a future. In the aftermath of his father's death Robert began shining shoes to supplement the loss of income. Each day he would go to New York city's Penn Station to shine the shoes of anybody willing to pay. Robert took occasional small breaks to go and visit the nearby St. Francis of Assisi church. In this church he received an education in the life of Francis of Assisi and in what it meant to be a Franciscan friar. As the day turned to evening, Robert would walk back home to deliver all but twenty-five cents of what he had made that day to his mother. The quarter he kept for himself he put into the hands of the first beggar he came across--Robert knew what it meant to give even when there wasn't much to give.

As he grew older, Robert decided to pursue the priesthood because he recognized the power of the path of renunciation and sacrifice. As a boy he had learned to give and now he felt a calling to continue to give even if it cost him more dearly. So, Robert studied and eventually received his B.A. from St. Bonaventure University before going on to be ordained a priest at Holy Name College in Washington, D.C. When he became a Franciscan (a member of the Order of Friars Minor) Robert took the name Mychal as his own. He served in a variety of positions but for the last fifteen years of his life he was a member of the monastery at St. Francis of Assisi church in New York city--the same church where he had first felt the stirrings of God's call upon his life. Though he battled loneliness and alcoholism for many years he was able to overcome these destructive forces and through the help of Alcoholics Anonymous he was able to remain sober. He was known to do such amazing things as to give away his clothing to the poor and homeless and to sit for hours with those that many in the Church rejected--gays and lesbians, alcoholics, people with AIDS, and those who had been hurt and alienated by the Church. Mychal--who had learned to give even when there was little left to give--was a friend to the friendless. In 1992, because of his stunning reputation as a man of God who truly cared for the downtrodden and outcast he was appointed Chaplain of the New York city fire department.

On September 11, 2001, Mychal heard the shocking news that two passenger jetliners had been hijacked. When these civilian aircraft were turned and flown into the World Trade Center buildings he dropped what he was doing and rushed toward the site where hatred and death were unfolding. When he arrived he was stopped by the mayor Rudolph Giuliani and asked to pray for the victims of the attack, their families, and their city. Mychal wasn't content simply to sit back in prayer and, instead, he surged forward to live out his prayer and offer the sacrament of extreme unction (last rites) to the wounded and dying among the victims. Realizing that there was more work to be done, he entered the north tower and began praying over the rescuers who had set up a command post in the lobby. He offered prayers and assistance to the men and women escaping unexpected hatred and continued to offer the prayers of the Church and the last rites to those who were approaching death. Mychal had learned a life of giving and sacrifice supported by prayer and faith and in those last moments he was found pouring himself out for those whom he loved and for whom his Lord had died. When the collapse of the south tower began to rumble through the lobby, Mychal began repeating the prayer: "Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!" With this prayer on his lips, debris from the collapsing tower rushed into the north lobby and struck Mychal in the head. He died shortly thereafter and became the first official victim of the tragedy of September 11.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

September 10 - Petr Chelčický, Prophet, Reformer

Petr Chelčický (hel-chits-kee) was known for a prophetic voice. Like other prophets, Petr would be threatened and attacked because he refused to deny uncomfortable truth. After all, one thing the Empire has no use for is a prophet and a truth-speaker--prophets don't know how to behave or respect the power and control that the Empire exercises and demands. Prophets follow after a different power than the Empire and speak a truth that often challenges the Empire. They cannot be tolerated by the Empire.

Petr was above all things, a man seeking the reformation of the Church he loved. Having seen some of its failures and glimpsed its potential and calling, Petr could not and would not settle for anything less than the Body of Christ and Church Triumphant. In contrast, Petr could see the Net of Faith--the means by which the people of the world were brought into the ark of the Church--being torn into shreds by the corroboration of the Church with the State. Petr described the net being torn apart by two "whales" that represented the outcome of the affiliation of State with Church and vice-versa. This was not an attack upon the Church but, rather, an attack upon any part of the Church that had abandoned the Gospel and the Kingdom of God for the story and kingdom of the world.

Though parts of the Church had tried to bring the State within the reign of the Church they had failed to realize that you cannot baptize the State. Therefore, it cannot enter through the same baptismal waters that give birth to all Christians. In the Church, we do not baptize ideas, or groups, or causes because baptism is only fit for those who follow after a crucified Lord. Some had hoped to Christianize the Empire but ended up imperializing the Church. Petr cried out loudly to the people that the Empire cannot save people. It cannot redeem people. It controls people. It executes those who resist it. The only route to salvation and redemption is through the humble gate of death that leads into life. Petr hoped to expose something essential: the difference between the Gospel and the gospel of the Empire.

Petr did not advocate anarchy but cared little for politics. He did not understand his calling to be that of a political reformer but, rather, as a reformer of the Church. He knew that the State had its place in the world and that it did many things that were beneficial but his earnest fear was that in the State's adoption of Christianity, the Church had adopted the values and gospel of the State. This was unacceptable. This was abominable. The Empire was not to be resisted with violence. There was to be no revolution that installed a new ruler because Christians were already called to serve a different ruler: Jesus. Instead, Petr's call to the people of his day and the people of our day is the same: follow the one you are committed to and don't get that one confused with any other.

Petr would be largely unknown for many years until he was picked up in the teachings and emphases of peoples like the Moravians, Quakers, Anabaptists, and Baptists. Not only do we not know where or how Petr died but we only vaguely know when he died. He was largely overlooked and disregarded in his time because of the power of what he spoke--the power of his demands for the Church. But, being ignored and rejected is the way of many prophets. For Petr, it was not his goal to be known or influential but, rather, to share the message he had for the Church so that the Net of Faith might be mended and the redeeming work of the Church could continue boldly and effectively.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

September 9 - The Martyrs of Memphis

They had come to Memphis, Tennessee, to provide education to local young ladies at the St. Mary's School for Girls. They were prepared for the lives of teachers at a religious school and excited about the possibilities that their future held. They had committed themselves to God's service and felt that it was God's guiding hand that had led them to Memphis to teach and guide young people. These Episcopal ladies followed after their headmistress Constance in the living of their lives and the administration of the school. In some ways they were entirely unprepared for what awaited them, while in other ways they had been guided to this point by the unerring hand of God.

They had been teaching for five years and experiencing moderate success. The cathedral they were associated with--St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral--had become a religious center for the city by regularly keeping its doors open and its sacraments and servants available to those who would come. But, the women began to notice that some of their students were not showing up to classes. Others appeared sick and jaundiced. Telltale signs of sickness and ill health began to confront them repeatedly as they went about their lives. Word began spreading that Yellow Fever was spreading quickly through the city of Memphis. The masses panicked and fled but for many it was too late. So many people died and fled that Memphis no longer had enough people to maintain its charter as a city and would not be reorganized for another fourteen years. However, while able bodied people were fleeing and carrying their loved ones with them, the ladies of the Episcopal school, led by Constance, stayed behind to care for the sick. They were joined by Roman Catholic and other protestant Christians. Unexpectedly, but quite encouragingly, they were joined by some local prostitutes, as well.

Many people came to the cathedral seeking healing and sanctuary from the plague and pestilence that stalked by day and night. For many, the only thing left to do was to provide comfort and love as they died. They did not know that it was the mosquitoes spreading the disease and assumed it was human contact. For the ladies and men who stayed behind to tend to the sick and dying, they were tending to the sick that they would soon become. By staying in the area, they were steadily increasing their chances of contracting the disease. They provided care for the people at the cost of their lives because they were convinced that they had been called to Memphis to take care of its people. They could not flee because they belonged among the sick and needy and the sick and needy could not leave, either. So, they stayed. Consequently, they died. Though their reason bid them flee with the rest, their faith and Lord bid them stay and lay down their lives for others. In this, they loudly proclaimed that life was more than simply "not dying"--life was the very breath of the one who had formed and called them.