Wednesday, October 18, 2017

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

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

Luke learned this from his master--Jesus.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

October 17 - End of Exile

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

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

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

Monday, October 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 14, 2017

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 9, 2017

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 8, 2017

October 8 - Council of Chalcedon

In 451, so much of the Faith was up for debate. Yes, they were closer to the time of Jesus but they were not always closer to the heart and mind of Jesus. The Council of Nicea in 325 had established that Jesus was divine without any doubt. It had rejected the idea that Jesus had been a creation--even a highly esteemed and very unique creation.With the deft strokes of words to paper, they excised heresy from the Church and insisted upon the real divinity of Jesus. To fail to do so would be to surrender the teachings of atonement, salvation, and all other christological questions. Though it is never the Church's first desire to cut out those it calls "brother," there comes a time when the Church must name brokenness for what it is. When those you might call "brother" or "sister" are not in communion with you, then you do not aid them by telling them that they are part of what they're not.

The Church met again in Chalcedon in 451. Now, the debate was the nature of Jesus'divinity. Having labeled Jesus divine had not brought an end to disputation--as nothing except Christ's second coming will do this--but, rather, changed the nature of the conversation. Now, there were those who said that Jesus was human with a divine soul and one divine nature. This allowed them to maintain Jesus' divinity and humanity without dirtying God's hands. It seemed clear that the way it worked was a divine nature dwelling within a corruptible human form. The problem was that this bordered dangerously close to the Gnostic believe that spirit was good and flesh was evil and, therefore, salvation was through escape of this world. For the Church, this wasn't a safe place to center their teaching. God had become human to redeem the world not to offer some metaphysical escape hatch.God had labeled creation "very good" in Genesis. Jesus had said he would come back to this world and also that he was "making all things new." This understandable desire--to avoid sullying God with our brokenness--was earnestly motivated but theologically flawed: it underestimated God's furious love for God's creation.

At Chalcedon, there was a stunning declaration:

Following the holy Fathers, we unanimously teach and confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ: the same perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, the same truly God and truly man, composed of rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father as to his divinity and consubstantial with us as to his humanity; "like us in all things but sin." He was begotten from the Father before all ages as to his divinity and in these last days, for us and for our salvation, was born as to his humanity of the virgin Mary, the Mother of God.
We confess that one and the same Christ, Lord, and only-begotten Son, is to be acknowledged in two natures without confusion, change, division, or separation. The distinction between natures was never abolished by their union, but rather the character proper to each of the two natures was preserved as they came together in one person and one hypostasis.
The fathers of the Church had declared that Jesus was not half and half and that this opinion though perhaps well-intentioned was poisonous and broken. Instead, they confessed that Jesus was fully human and fully divine in a way that transcended reason and understanding. This was a phenomenal statement that rested upon the foundation of a mysterious God who accomplished the impossible because of a love that transcended reason and understanding.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

October 7 - Thieleman J. van Braght, Storyteller, Historian

Thieleman J. van Braght was born to a cloth merchant and his wife in Dordrecht. As Thieleman grew, he took after his father and learned the commercial life. He traveled with his father when necessary to buy and sell cloth and learned much about how the world worked. Thieleman's childhood has an enormous impact on his future life and his father's influence should not be understated. One particular place of influence was Thieleman's life of faith and willingness to believe what he felt called to believe and not simply what he was told. Thieleman was given freedom by his family to explore his faith and how it impacted his life and the world around him. Having been set free to explore, he found a vibrant faith amidst the stories of Christians who had come and gone before him. For Thieleman, these stories kept him tethered to the Faith that he held in common with the subjects.

As he traveled, he heard more and more stories. He developed a discerning ear and sharp memory for what he was told. Thieleman knew well the power of a story to inform our values. Hearing the stories of the early martyrs, Thieleman knew that his faith very well may cost him something personal. He found this message in so many of the stories he was told. As the stories had an impact on him, they became his stories and he shared them with others.Instead of simply telling people that faith should be important and something worth sacrificing for, Thieleman learned to tell the stories of those who valued the life of faith and laid down their lives for their convictions. This storytelling gift served him well when he became a pastor of a local Mennonite community in Dordrecht. Lovingly, he recalled the stories of his people and those who had gone on long before them to be hidden in God with Christ. He would reach into his satchel of stories, gingerly bring one out, blow the dust off, and unfold it before a crowd of hungry minds desperate for a story that explained life to them--for a story that really meant something.

In this way, Thieleman was a caretaker of the Church's greatest artifacts and relics--its stories. He condensed the stories into a collection that he entitled, The Bloody Theater or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians who baptized only upon confession of faith, and who suffered and died for the testimony of Jesus, their Saviour, from the time of Christ to the year A.D. 1660. This is, most often, shortened to the Martyr's Mirror or The Bloody Theater. This collection of stories is a powerful testament to what it is that Christians like Thieleman and so many others hold dear. In many ways, if you want to know what somebody really believes all you need to know is what story resonates with them. When you find the story that a person uses to explain life, then you know where their values lie--you know what they worship and love. For Thieleman, it was the story of men and women willing to die rather than deny their faith. These were the stories he collected, told, and cherished.These were the stories that changed his life along with the lives of countless others who have come into intimate contact with the God who is love and promises life through death.

Friday, October 6, 2017

October 6 - Thomas, Apostle, Martyr, Doubter and Believer

It had all been too much for Thomas. He had been traveling with Jesus for nearly three years and then, suddenly, Jesus had been arrested, tried, and executed. Thomas had invested so much of his hope in Jesus. He had started following him because he talked about having the words of life and about a new Kingdom where things were different. Like many of his friends and family, Thomas dreamed of a world free from Roman rule and oppression. He saw his opportunity to follow after a man who had a plan and so he took it. He hadn't regretted it until recently. Jesus had always been provocative and unafraid of challenging the powers--Thomas like that--but he had gone too far. He had said too much and it had cost him his life.

Thomas could remember running away from the garden. They had been gathered there while Jesus prayed. Jesus had been talking strangely about going somewhere that his disciples could not go. Thomas was full of zeal for following after this man in whom he placed all of his hope for a better day and a better life. He wanted to go with him like had before when he had met the prospect of a dangerous journey with courage and exclaimed--perhaps, before he thought it out--'Come on! Let's go with him so that we might die with him!"Thomas was willing to risk much for the hope he now kindled within himself. Yet, he had run like the other disciples when his hope was seized by the powers, abused, tortured, and murdered. When Jesus breathed his last on that cross, Thomas' hope faded. The man whom he had trusted and followed had died like so many other leaders who dared to resist the powers of the world.Thomas settled back into a life of bleak--but safe--despair.

Then, he started hearing word from the others who had followed Jesus--"Jesus is alive!" He couldn't believe it. He had risked so much of himself to believe and trust Jesus that it hurt him even to think about doing it again. As long as Jesus was in the grave, Thomas didn't have to risk himself ever again. Yet, he kept hearing the joyful but distressing news. They said they had seen him. Thomas shook his head sadly and told them, "He died. They killed him. They won. They always do." He knew what happened to people who resisted the "way things are." They insisted he was wrong. Afraid to hope, Thomas said he'd only believe if he could see Jesus alive before him with the wounds they had laid on his body. For Thomas, it mattered that Jesus still bore the wounds of the powers--Thomas wanted the whole thing to be real and true. He figured his friends were still hanging on to hope and being deceived by acon-artist masquerading as their master. If he could put his hand on the wound, then Thomas felt that he might have room for real hope again. Even as he said it, he painfully hoped to be proved wrong but was confident that he wouldn't be. Never in his life had he hoped so much to be so absolutely fundamentally wrong.

Jesus came to them. Thomas was amazed. Jesus said to him, "Thomas, go ahead. Touch my wounds. Know that I have been killed but also know that I have beaten death." With tears in his eyes and hope swelling in his soul, he fell to his knees before the resurrection of hope and life and proclaimed, "My Lord and my God!" With these words, Thomas was converted. He suddenly knew what it was that Jesus had been doing. The change he had brought was more than a temporal change of circumstances--it was a fundamental change of reality. In the face of doubt, fear, domination, abuse, and death Jesus had proclaimed: Love wins.Hope wins. Peace winsForgiveness winsLife wins.

Thomas was changed and given back his hope but now his hope rested not in a new world order but in a Kingdom not of this world. He went on to be a missionary for the Lord he so gladly professed. He would be martyred, eventually. It would seem that even after he had been arrested for healing and preaching that he continued to preach the hope that had changed his life. He proclaimed the death of death and the end of evil. For this, he was killed so that might not spread his hope among others. In his death, he only further proclaimed a loving God with a life changed by faith, hope, and love.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

October 5 - Uyaquk, Convert, Missionary, Translator

Uyaquk was amazed. He had just listened to yet another missionary talk about a faith that was foreign to him in a way that was foreign to him. Each of the missionaries had quoted the same words that their Lord had given to them with impeccable precision. They all used the same words and did so for large and varied sections of the text. These men--they didn't look superhuman, in fact they looked as if they might not survive the harsh Alaskan seasons without much help--could quote multiple passages exactly the same every time regardless of when they were asked or how they coordinated the words. As a shaman, he knew the power of words for forming followers and respected the excellence that these Christians approached the spoken word. However, he was unprepared for his father to join them. His father spoke of conversion and eternal life.

And it was then that Uyaquk learned the secret of their precision in recitation: the leather bound paper they held. Their scriptures were more than oral tradition. The words that told the stories they held dear and told to others were recorded with symbols. For Uyaquk, this was a revolutionary idea. While he studied the idea of a written language from within his own illiteracy, he continued to hear the stories they would tell. Like his father, he could not hear the stories and remain unchanged. He was converted even as he began experimenting with symbolizing his own spoken language.

As a convert, he began sharing the same stories he had heard with others like him. As he learned more of the stories, he began translating them into his own language. Many other languages had followed this familiar path from spoken to symbolic writing but Uyaquk was doing it without any knowledge of languages or literacy. His symbols stood for words, at first, and eventually for syllables that made up words. In a little over five years, Uyaquk had crafted what had taken some languages hundreds of years. He brought the oral tradition that he had bought into--the stories of a slaughtered God who rose from among the dead to bring real life to those whom he loved--into his own language in a way that could be preserved and prepared for others. He traveled among his people and preached forgiveness and salvation while also spreading literacy and written tradition. While many can and should be commended for overcoming illiteracy by learning to read, Uyaquk overcame illiteracy by inventing literacy. For him, it was a small obstacle to be able to present the stories that had changed him and preserve them for generations after him.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

October 4 - Francis of Assisi, Friar, Disappointment to his Father, Inspiration to Many

Selling cloth was something he was very familiar with. Francis was there because he had been ordered to be there by his father to sell their wares and increase the family fortune. His brothers were there, as well, helping to provide for the family by convincing prospective customers of the quality of their cloth. Francis did as his father told him to but his mind wasn't totally on commerce. Rather, it was on the beggar who was sadly walking away from the stand. He had come and asked for alms and been turned away by Francis and his family. Francis had spoken his denial before he had even stopped to think about the person under the filthy rags. Now, he stood with his eyes fixed on the back of a person who was quickly embodying Francis' every flaw and failure: his street fights, his crude humor and mockery of the less fortunate, his disdaining of the poor when with his rich friends, his expensive and gaudy clothing, and all the other things that made Francis who he was. With every step, the reverberations of the beggar's foot upon the ground sounded a chorus of condemnation in Francis' heart. Having reflected upon his own life and that of the beggar, he was shocked to notice that he had lost track of the man. The man had slipped into the crowd and rounded a corner before Francis even realized what it was he wanted to do. He dropped the wares he was holding and bolted through the crowd. He struggled with the mass of people and finally found the beggar in an alley a few hundred yards away. With tears in his eyes he begged forgiveness from the startled and bemused beggar. He began handing over the possessions he had on him and begging the beggar to take them. The gifts he had received, the money he carried--all of these things he gave to the beggar.

When he returned to his father's stall, he saw his father shaking his head sadly in disappointment. "That's your son..." he muttered to his wife--Francis' mother. "It's your fault! You wanted to name him after John the Baptizer and you had him baptized on that day. You wanted him to serve God" he continued.

"He may yet do so," she replied. "That is--if he hasn't already begun" she added to herself with a smile.

"God forbid that Francesco should do that. He has so much opportunity. He has so much potential. God forbid he should waste it" he exclaimed. Francis came back and picked up the wares he had dropped and accepted the chiding and mockery of his brothers and friends. They mocked him for his compassion and soft heart. Perhaps, Francis regretted it. But, regardless, something had taken hold in him that would not let him go.

When he was older, he began serving the poor and the diseased in Assisi. He took care of them as they died knowing that those with power did not care--did not even know--about the least of their brothers dying alone in the streets. The mockery his friends dispensed did not let up and, perhaps, only intensified. They asked him if he planned to marry and he would say--with his mother's smile--that, yes, he did intend to marry a woman fairer than all. Francis' darling bride was the life of service and poverty that he was already living into.

One evening, while praying in a church, he had a vision of the crucified Christ speaking to him. Jesus said, "Francis, Francis, go and repair My house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins." Francis was shocked and overwhelmed by the vision. Indubitably, he questioned his sanity. Perhaps to alleviate his anxiety he took the vision literally and sold his horse to buy some materials and began repairing the building that he had been praying in. For this, he was mocked yet again by his father and friends. As he was realizing that his vision was a calling from God to bring peace and healing within the Church, his father was beating him and demanding that he give up his life of service. Finally, he renounced the father to whom he had been a perpetual disappointment in favor of service to his Father who loved him and called him.

He sold his things. He became poor so that he might love the poor more fully. Francis devoted himself to that which many only speak about in theoretical and abstract terms. Whereas many had said, "Wouldn't it be nice if..." about poverty and sickness, Francis said "How can I best serve those whom God has called me to?" Francis--never ordained but always a minister--went on to found a monastic order and become an inspiration to countless Christians and non-Christians. As a man of peace and love, he changed the world he was a part of. He preached confidently, prayed fervently, and learned to love as he had been called to that day in the market when he dropped everything related to his father's business to be about his Father's business.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

October 3 - Sergius and Bacchus, Martyrs, Soldiers, Brothers

Sergius and Bacchus were brothers--not of blood but of volition. They had formed a strong friendship and relationship while serving with each other within the Roman army ruled over by Maximian. Both were officers and commanders within the army and unknown to most of the soldiers, they were both Christians, as well. Their lives had become entwined as they further devoted themselves to their Lord and Savior. They had been appointed leaders and called to lead within the Roman Empire and yet they had also been called to serve as witnesses and confessors of the Faith that they held and cherished. Their conversion away from the things of old and toward the new creation at work in the Kingdom required certain things of them that they gave willingly. Their greatest test loomed ahead of them as their service and leadership attracted even more attention to them.

Some had observed Sergius and Bacchus and suspected that they might be members of that hated group--the Christians. They had noticed that Sergius and Bacchus never seemed to make sacrifice to the Roman gods and values and this aroused their suspicion. Perhaps realizing that they stood to gain from their supervisor's falling, they turned in Sergius and Bacchus as suspected Christians. This was unacceptable for Maximian who ordered the two men to appear before him. Their hearts must have raced as they walked through the doors knowing what would be asked and what would be expected. Perhaps they feared that the Faith that had carried them this far might be consumed in fear. However, when they were asked to make sacrifice to prove their loyalty they refused. They insisted that they were good soldiers but that they worshiped and served the One, True God. Maximian was outraged and furious. He ordered Sergius and Bacchus to be stripped of the symbols of their rank and importance. Their rings, belts, and pendants were taken from them but they maintained their faith. Seeing that this hadn't had the crippling effect he was hoping for, he had them stripped of their clothing as well. They continued to profess and share the Faith that inspired and guided them. Maximian, in fit of rage, ordered them dressed in women's clothing and paraded through the streets. With chains around their neck, they were dragged in front of the masses to be stripped of their dignity and self-respect. Yet, they were not converted to the cult of the Emperor. Humiliation and denigration were painful but not persuasive. Even the pleas of the Emperor and promises of the return of their power were unproductive.

They were branded traitors and rebels and sent to Syria for their punishment. There, they were handed over to the governor: Antiochus--a man notorious for his brutality to Christians. Antiochus had not forgotten, however, that Sergius and Bacchus had been the ones who had helped him receive his placement as Governor of Syria. He begged them to give up their Faith so that he would not have to kill them but they refused and instead proclaimed the Faith that irritated Antiochus. He promised them power and a return to Imperial influence but they remained unconverted to the Imperial gospel. Enraged by their attempts to preach to him and his failure to convince them, he had Bacchus beaten repeatedly until he died from his injuries. Questioning Bacchus as he laid dying, he asked "Where is your God, now?" Bacchus smiled lovingly and gave up his spirit into the hands of the God that Antiochus couldn't see. Having forced Sergius to watch his dear brother die, he then nailed metal plates to the bottoms of Sergius' feet and forced him to run nine miles to another city. When Sergius arrived--already in great pain--he was beheaded. The story goes that Antiochus and Maximian were outraged that they could inflict such terrible tortures and pains upon these two and only receive their love and forgiveness back. In the face of true conversion and redemption, the Empire could not then--and cannot now--comprehend what was going on. Even still, the love of God is deeper than any hatred or curse.

Monday, October 2, 2017

October 2 - William Tyndale, Martyr, Translator, Reformer

William was born a Briton and died a Briton--but he died as something even more than a citizen of the British empire. He had the wonderful opportunity to receive a high quality education in languages and religion. He attended Oxford where he received the Bachelor and Master of Arts degrees. Apparently, William thought that the amount of religious instruction he was receiving was inadequate for an ordained minister and he organized groups of students and ministers to study together. These small groups became sources of sustenance for William as he struggled through a desert of doubt and confusion. William felt that the Church was holding its treasures for itself and not offering anything to the huddled masses that filled the pews. There was a tension between being qualified to read the words of Jesus and being entitled to read the words that were the common possession of all of the People of God.

The language of the people was English and the language of the scripture was Latin. William wanted to throw open the doors of the Church and was particularly equipped to do so. As a student of languages and scripture, he had learned French, Greek, Hebrew, German, Italian, Latin, and Spanish in addition to his native tongue. William's passion was soon kindled and he found himself thinking of making a translation of the scripture so that any could read the written record of God's self-revelation to humanity--so that any could meet and become intimate with the God who was revealed there. So William began translating. As he did so, the powerful in the Church began to approach him and order him to stop. The division served the powerful well and helped cement the dichotomy between leaders and followers. William recognized that what he was doing could break down the entrenched attitudes and approaches to Church governance but he was willing to take the risk to move the Church back toward being a people consumed by and enveloped in the scripture. Some clergy went so far as to say that it would be better to follow the teachings of the Church than to follow the teachings of the scripture but William remained unconvinced. The goal was not to destroy the place of leaders within the Church and in the interpretation of scripture but, rather, to allow the People of God once again to interpret together and be formed by their common possession.

William published portions of his translation and was met with nearly immediate resistance. He was condemned by the powerful--those with something to lose by William's translation--and labeled a heretic for resisting the commands of the powerful. He fled their attempts to seize him and worked on his translation in secret. Eventually, after publishing more of his translation, he was betrayed to the authorities and arrested. They held him in prison before trying him on charges of heresy. Though he defended himself against the charged, he was found guilty and condemned to death. As is often the case, those with power were not afraid to use it to maintain the power--no matter who they had to put down. Tyndale was tied up. He loudly proclaimed the importance of returning community goods--the scripture--to the community. He prayed that the powers might see what they had done and what they were doing. This prayer would be answered but not in his lifetime. He was then strangled and his body burnt. This was in 1536. 75 years later, his translations were used heavily in the translation of the scripture unto English. This new version was the Authorized Version (the King James' Version) and approved of by the powers. It cost William his life but in laying it down he influenced the world for the better. His passion was contagious and could not be put down with condemnations, arrests, and executions.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

October 1 - Therese de Lisieux, Nun, Doctor of the Church, Little Flower of Jesus

Therese was the youngest child of nine children born in Alencon, France. Louis, her father, was a man of vibrant and life-changing faith who had applied to be a monk in his younger days. Though his passion and earnestness was not questioned, he did not know (and didn't have much prospect of learning) Latin. Consequently, he was rejected from the monastic life. Azélie-Marie Guérin, Louis' wife and Therese's mother, shared the same eager and deep faith that her husband professed and proclaimed. She had considered becoming a nun but had been rejected as unfit for the convent on lack of skills. Though Therese's parents were rejected from the cloistered life, they were gladly and lavishly accepted into Christ's Kingdom and guided their children toward this same goal. Therese's mother died when Therese was only four years old and this caused Louis to move the family to Lisieux to be closer to family in this time of crisis.

Therese had a passion within her that seemed unnatural for a child of nine but when her older sister became a Carmelite nun Therese wanted to, as well. She appealed to the abbess but was rejected because she was only nine years old. Five years later, another one of her sisters became a Carmelite nun in the same convent as their older sister. At the age of fourteen, Therese felt that she was finally prepared to take her vows as a devoted minister of the Christian faith. She was, again, rejected because of her age. She must have felt some of the same pain her mother and father had felt before her. But, she was grounded in the reality of the faith they had passed on to her and continued to persevere in her desire. When her father took her to Rome, she had an opportunity to speak with the Pope for only an instant. In this moment, she asked if he would make it possible for her to take the vows that stood for the devotion she already possessed. Her greatest desire was to formalize what already was within her. He advised her to trust the movement and decision of the ministers in charge.

At the age of fifteen, the bishop allowed her to enter the convent and she did so gladly. Her life and her writings were characterized by a certain way of looking at life. Her repeated rejection--and her family's heritage of rejection from service--had formed an attitude and approach in her that prepared her to do great things by doing little things. Therese's life was characterized by small actions that she ascribed great importance to. She wrote, "I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul." It is in this thought, saved for all generations of Christians to remind themselves, that we see the beauty of the story of Therese de Lisieux. She knew that love could change the world if people would practice it. She saw the redeeming and saving power of love and held onto it fiercely. She would advise all who asked not to endeavor to do great things because works and feats were of no consequence for the salvation of the world--rather, they should endeavor to be loving in the small and insignificant moments of the day. By loving more greatly, she reasoned, the person was being saved and sharing redemption with those along her way. Though her mother and father has been rejected for not being fit for service, Therese found true service to be an act of daily redemption and love and not works or gifts.