Thursday, February 22, 2018

February 22 - Sophie Scholl and Companions, Martyrs, Opponents of the Nazis, Nonviolent

Hans and Sophie Scholl had allied themselves with a secretive group within Germany. In the early 1940s, this was akin to signing your own death warrant given the subject that the group was concerned with: Nazi atrocities and how they might be stopped. They were university students and they were proponents of nonviolent resistance. Instead of planning assassinations and armed coups, these people--including Sophie's brother Hans--formed a group that became known as "The White Rose." Encouraged by their philosophy professor--Kurt Huber--the White Rose wrote, published, and distributed pamphlets about what the Nazis were doing. In their own words: "We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!" They published statistics about the numbers of Jews and political dissidents arrested and executed in the name of "Nazi progress." Along with these statistics they appealed to the people of Germany to refuse to be a complicit part of genocide and atrocity.They also took to graffiti with a tar based paint on university buildings. Their graffiti proclaimed a great desire for freedom that they felt Hitler and his ilk were slowly strangling in Germany.

Sophie and Hans must have been anxious as they approached the university building where hundreds of students were attending class. They carried suitcases and this would be very conspicuous for two young people during the day. But they had no other easy way to carry the leaflets into the hall without the suitcases and so they did it anyway. Few knew who the members of the White Rose were but loyalists were on the lookout for suspicious behavior. They arrived at the class building and began quickly unloading the leaflets into several piles in the common area to where the classes would be dismissed.Once the classes began to empty, the students would pick up the pamphlets and read yet another stirring argument against passive acceptance of evil. The Nazis had recently lost the battle of Stalingrad and so the White Rose hoped to capitalize on it and convince yet more people that the Nazi campaign was not only evil but doomed to failure. Its writing hearkened back to the first leaflet they had released: "Isn't it true that every honest German is ashamed of his government these days? Who among us can imagine the degree of shame that will come upon us and our children when the veil falls from our faces and the awful crimes that infinitely exceed any human measure are exposed to the light of day?"

Hans and Sophie had dropped off the pamphlets and were fleeing before classes were dismissed when they noticed a handful of pamphlets still in the suitcase. Sophie grabbed them quickly and ran back to the building. She ascended the stairs and in a poetic--and partially prophetic--gesture she flung them into the air and let them flutter down to the floor. She was witnessed by the custodian who turned in Hans and Sophie. Soon, Sophie and all those who associated with her were arrested and facing trial for treason. They had dared to speak ill of those who would not accept the truth. For this, they were tried and condemned to be beheaded. On February 22, 1943, they were executed in the guillotine. Sophie was strong and confident to the end of her life and was not deterred by those who hoped to whitewash their sins. She died a martyr because she refused to stop seeing and decrying the atrocities that were being perpetrated. Her dying words were: "God, you are my refuge into eternity" while Hans preferred the prophecy of "...your heads will fall as well."

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

February 21 - Charalampus, Martyr, Old Man, Evangelist by Peace

Charalampus had been born roughly fifty years after Jesus' death. This means that he was born before any of the Christian Gospels had been written down. Yet, he did not die until the turn of the second century into the third. This means that he was over one hundred years old when he finally died. In this time, he had become a Christian even though it was frowned upon by the Roman Empire he was a part of. He had been a part of a congregation of people who met regularly to worship and practice their devotion to their savior. Over time, he had become a priest and eventually a bishop. His service to the Church stretched on through the years and his face was welcome in many Christian homes in the area--even if at times only because he had been the pastor to some of their grandparents. For his preaching--even at his advanced age--he was arrested and commanded to stop. Clearly not too keen on torturing an old man, the ruler insisted that if Charalampus didn't stop preaching he'd be forced to torture and kill him regardless of his age. The ruler insisted that Charalampus should stop for his own good. To this, Charalampus responded: "You don't know what's good for me. You don't know what makes me well. Nothing is more pleasing to me than to suffer for my Lord. So, don’t hesitate to put my old body to whatever tortures you want and you will learn that the power of my Lord cannot be overcome."

So, soldiers came in and began torturing hm by raking his body with iron combs. His aged skin came off in strips and chunks and his blood flowed easily but he did not cry out or even stop smiling. He patted one of the soldiers on the hand and thanked him for what he was doing by saying, "Thank you, brothers, for scraping off my old body and further preparing my soul for new and eternal life." The sincerity in his voice, his remarkable endurance, and the soldiers' discomfort at torturing an old man combined to effect the conversion of the soldiers. They confessed their faith and trust in Charalampus' Lord because of the sermon he preached with his suffering. The soldiers were immediately beheaded for this treason and others continued the task of his torture. When agonized screams could not be brought out of him, it was decided that he would be transferred to the emperor--Septimus Severus--to be punished and killed more effectively. At this pronouncement, three onlooker women began to loudly praise God and were immediately martyred as well.

Charalampus was brought into the presence of Septimus Severus but already rested within the presence of his God as he devoted himself to prayer on the journey while the soldiers had dragged him along by his beard. When he arrived, he was tortured with a variety of cruelties including fire and being impaled. When he remained alive, the emperor was incredulous and demanded to know by what power he maintained his life. Charalampus responded that it was by the power of Christ. The emperor had a task for Charalampus and brought a man before him who had been possessed by a demon for many years and asked what Charalampus might do about that. With a prayer and one spoken word he cast the demon out of the man and infuriated the emperor.Claiming that he must be a sorcerer, the emperor condemned him to be executed. As the executioner approached with his sword drawn Charalampus yelled: "Lord, you know that all people are only flesh and blood...forgive them for what they do and bless them all." With these words, he died before the executioner had even begun to strike. The daughter of Septimus Severus became part of Charalampus' legacy as well when she converted on the spot and became a devoted follower of Jesus.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

February 20 - Frederick Douglass, Reformer, Abolitionist, Sage of Anacostia

Frederick was born in Maryland but it wasn't his state it was the state where his oppressors lived--Frederick had no place to call his own. Frederick knew who his mother was but he was stripped away from her while he was an infant as if he were only a commodity with no heart or mind to form connections. Frederick knew who his grandmother was because he was raised under he watchful eyes and kind tutelage but he was separated from her when he was only seven years old. Those who held him in slavery did not see any reason they should honor the bonds between he and his grandmother and so they had no problem taking him to another place to do a different job because their lives were and always had been focused on efficiency and profit. Frederick didn't know who his father was though it's very likely that he was the slave of his own father after being separated from his grandmother. Chances are, he was the son of a white overseer who had taken indecent liberties with a slave woman as was his presumed natural and God-given right. After that man died, Frederick was transferred to yet another family near Baltimore.

It was while he was serving the Auld family near Baltimore that he first encountered the written word as anything more than another way for those with power to maintain it. The slave master's wife taught twelve year old Frederick the fundamentals of reading and writing. Frederick took to it with his natural intelligence and was soon beginning to read and write on his own. But the slave master found out and insisted that this was inappropriate on the grounds that slaves who could read might question their lot in life and become dissatisfied with slavery. Hugh Auld knew well that education was a liberator and literacy was the gateway to education. What he didn't know what the already powerful dissatisfaction that brewed in the hearts of Frederick and his brothers and sisters. Auld put a stop to the lessons but the fire of knowledge burned bright and quick in Frederick's mind and he continued to teach himself to read even though he was warned not to. After honing his skills, the adolescent Frederick took to teaching reading to other slaves on Sundays. Given time by their oppressors to worship, they did so but Frederick was keen to teach them to read their New Testament. In it, they found stories of liberation and freedom. In these stories, they began to be freed from their many bonds--all except their most physical and real. Frederick was beaten for these lessons and suffered severe punishments but would not stop teaching or questioning the injustice of slavery upon religious grounds. He was turned over to a particularly cruel slave master for his persistence.

When he was twenty years old, Frederick finally escaped slavery on his third attempt. He boarded a train, he adopted a guise, and in twenty-four hours he was a man finally freed from his physical bonds. He became an ardent activist and abolitionist campaigning not only for the end of slavery but also the end of all injustice and oppression--he even ran to be the first African-American Vice President on an equal rights ticket with Victoria Woodhull (the first woman to run for President). He was quick to strike at the hypocrisy of the religious elite in their use of the scriptures that proclaimed liberation and life as tools of oppression and death and insisted that true religion was not a matter of control but of love and freedom. His work as an abolitionist hastened the end of slavery in the United States and testified to a Christian faith that found its root and power in a Lord who had been oppressed by the powerful.

Monday, February 19, 2018

February 19 - Elias and Companions, Martyrs, Comforters, Inspiration to Others

The five men gathered together and agreed on one particular thing: they felt called to go and be a comfort to brothers and sisters who had been arrested by the Roman Empire. Elias, Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Samuel were Christians in Egypt during a time when Christianity was entirely unwelcome within the bounds of the Roman Empire.Rome had made it explicitly clear that those who were Christians were enemies of the state and would be treated as such with little regard for their nonviolent convictions. Elias and his companions had known people who had been seized and murdered for their faith and therefore they knew well that this calling could be their first step on a path that led inexorably toward their own martyrdom. Yet, they could not shake the conviction that God was calling them to go to Cilicia and comfort Christians that were slaves in the mines there. So, they packed their things and they went out. They arrived without interference and they found the ones they were looking for. They sang songs and prayed with these faithful individuals whose faith could not be deterred by Roman power. When both the comforters and the afflicted had been encouraged by their mutual faith, the men prepared for the journey home. That's when the problems started.

Rome was exceptionally adept at discovering and identifying Christians. By most accounts, they were also fairly successful at breaking the faiths of those whom they captured. They knew well that those who visited Christians in prison and slave camps were likely to be Christians themselves. When Elias and his companions visited their brothers and sisters, they marked themselves for Rome's attention. As they were returning home they were stopped in Caesarea by a group of soldiers assigned with their interrogation. Their captors asked them why they had made the journey and probably expected to hear some complicated lie that might cover over what Rome knew very well: these men were Christians and therefore unwelcome in the Empire. What they heard however was a frank admission by the men that they were Christians and they had traveled to comfort their brothers and sisters. Surely, they were surprised at the ease with which they had confessed--it was as if they weren't ashamed of the fact. The men had counted the likely cost of their journey--their own lives--and found it to be an acceptable price for serving God. They were tortured and asked to deny their faith but they did not. They would not be broken. Finally, they were beheaded.

Yet, after their deaths two men came forward named Porphyry and Pamphilus and insisted that these men who had traveled far to provide comfort deserved to be buried. They confronted the Empire and insisted on kindness.They must have known the likely outcome of their insistence since Rome was not interested in being kind so much as they were interested in controlling and dominating the minds and hearts of the people. They were accused of being Christian because of their insistence that the men be buried and mourned. They admitted that they were and were tortured before being burned to death. This wasn't the end, however, as another man named Seleucus came forward and spoke loudly in praise of the men who had been willing to lay down everything to follow after their executed Lord. He spoke highly of Pamphilus' and Porphyry's courage and bravery in the face of a grisly death. The soldiers seized Seleucus and he was also exposed as a Christian. For this crime and for the crime of speaking highly of those whom Rome despised and had killed, he was beheaded.It seems that all had indeed counted the cost and were willing to pay it for the privilege of following after a God who had been executed for loving too much, as well.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

February 18 - Philothei, Martyr, Spiritual Mother, Domestic Abuse Survivor

Philothei was a good daughter in an affluent family in Athens. She did as she was instructed by her parents and offered them her heart's deepest love in return. When she was twelve, she was courted by a powerful and influential man. He was wealthy and involved in the politics and leadership of the city. She was very hesitant to marry, however, because she felt a calling that seemed to be at odds with marriage--passionate and sacrificial devotion to her Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, she was obedient to her parents who insisted that this man seemed like a good man and would surely give her freedom to express her faith as freely and clearly as she could.So, she was married to the man and she suffered secretly within his house and his embrace. He was an abusive man who routinely punished her for perceived slights and failures and insisted that she was an inadequate wife. She suffered his abuse--both emotional and physical--and continued to express her faith as she could but he worked hard to restrain her and limit her involvement in the Church she loved. But, no matter how hard he tried he could not turn her eyes and her heart away from the object of her devotion: her crucified Lord.

Philothei became a widow after three years of torturous marriage and she inherited his great wealth. She moved back into the home of her parents and continued to age and mature.She was unwilling to marry again and her family did not push her to do so. Perhaps they realized that the first marriage has been harmful and were unwilling to try again. Regardless, she spent his wealth in a variety of ways that aided the poor and the hungry. She didn't see the great wealth as a thing to be used to defend or secure herself but as a commodity best used by distributing it among those with the most need.Her parents died when she was twenty-five and she was once again the recipient of a large estate. Now that she was no longer bound to a home and now that she had considerable wealth to spend on others, she took up a live of prayer and service that exceeded even her earlier devotion. The money was put into able hands that would administrate its use. In so doing, many churches and monasteries were built with it but Philothei had already turned her attention to founding a convent for women that she felt she had been directed to build by Andrew the Apostle in a vision. She did so and the convent became a refuge and sanctuary for women to flee to from abuse or persecution. A particular group of women--members of Turkish harems--became aware of this convent's willingness to take them in and soon they were coming in droves. For her willingness to shelter these women from abuse such as she had received, she would be further abused.

The Turks who controlled Greece at the time were enraged that Christian women were helping their harem women to escape and so they began to apply pressure to Philothei and the women she was like a mother to. The politically minded hoped to crush her because of her resistance. The religiously minded hoped to afflict her and persecute her until she converted to their own religion. If they could crush or convert her, they suspected that they could do the same to all who shared her devotion to Jesus. They reasoned that she was a prime target because she was a woman and would be unable to stand up their abuses because of her sex. Neither group was successful. When they had given up on coercion, they resorted to violence. They knocked down the doors of the convent and drug her into the street by her hair. They beat her savagely while demanding she renounce her faith. She refused their demands and offered forgiveness to them for their abuse. For this, they beat her further. She died of her wounds while professing a faith that taught her to love her abusers and give her life for others.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

February 17 - Richard Wurmbrand, Prisoner, Preacher, Voice of the Martyrs

Richard Wurmbrand just didn't know when to shut up. He had a lot of time to reconsider his calling and his convictions but he simply wouldn't stop preaching the Gospel that had changed his life and set flame to all his previous ambitions, hopes, dreams, and securities. He had much time to consider how he had arrived in prison--his first sentence was eight and a half years and his second was about five years long--but he never found himself turning away from the high calling that had landed him within shackles and isolated in solitary confinement. He had been called to preach and he could not imagine squelching that calling even if he might gain his freedom by doing so.

Richard had been born to a Jewish family in Bucharest, Romania, in 1909. When he was young his family moved regularly and even lived in Istanbul for some time. His father died in 1918 and his family moved back to Romania in 1924. As a youth, he became infatuated with the ideals and methods of the Communist Party. This was less than a decade after the Bolshevik revolution. So, a Romanian teen must surely have thrilled to imagine the dreams that were publicized and suggested by the Party. He moved to Moscow as a young man to study Marxist thought and philosophy. In Moscow, he had not been comfortable or happy. So, he returned to Romania secretly and against the wishes of the Party. They were none too pleased that the young man had escaped and slighted them and so the secret police captured and arrested him. He was imprisoned for a short while for this crime and while in prison he renounced the communism of his youth because of its excesses and failures. After his release, he was married in 1936. In 1938, however, his world was changed when he and wife befriended a Romanian carpenter who seemed especially friendly and loving. Soon, they heard the Gospel from this man--Christian Wolfkes--and were converted to the Faith that would sustain them for the rest of their lives.

As converted Jews themselves, they took part in evangelism efforts through the Anglican mission to the Jews. Eventually, he would be ordained an Anglican minister. After World War II, he was ordained a Lutheran minister in his native country of Romania. The Soviets moved into Romania in 1944 and Richard, his wife, and his congregation were forced to become a part of the underground church. The Communists were unwilling to allow the Church to function in their State and so it became a secretive thing that demanded much and promised adversity. It grew wildly. He began preaching to his fellow Romanians and the Soviet soldiers. In 1948 he was arrested for his ministry and imprisoned. He served his time and continued to be a minister in the prisons that he was held in. In 1956 the Soviets released him and told him never to preach again if he wanted to remain free. He began preaching immediately. In 1959, they arrested him again, beat him, tortured him, and sentenced him to twenty-five years of prison life that promised to be full of more beatings and torture. Roughly five years later he was released from prison as part of an amnesty agreement brokered by western Christian groups.

Richard spent the remainder of his life preaching the Gospel he had been willing to sacrifice everything for. He wrote book after book about his experiences in prison and the stories he saw there. Further, he wrote about the plight of the underground Church so that others might know what was going on in countries where the Church must be hidden to escape the Communist Party.This effort became a group now known as "Voice of the Martyrs" and it worked to raise awareness of the abuses perpetrated against peaceful Christians in the name of State security. Eleven years before his death Richard and his wife were able to return to Romania for the first time since their escape through amnesty. Richard died in California on February 27, 2001.

Friday, February 16, 2018

February 16 - Janani Jakaliya Luwum, Martyr, Priest, Enemy of Idi Amin

Janani Jakaliya Luwum knew that he carried only a letter and no weapons but he was aware that the actions he was setting himself about would carry violent repercussions. As Archbishop of the Anglican church in Uganda, he knew that critical words could very well result in his own death at the hands of the man whom his letter addressed: Idi Amin. Yet, he was gripped with a faith that said it would be better to suffer while speaking truth to the dangerous and powerful than it would be to poison his soul and mind by stifling the movement of the Holy Spirit. He had converted to Christianity when he was approximately twenty-six years old and had gone on to ministerial training the following year. Janani had taken vows before God and the Church that he would not shirk his duties as a shepherd and priest and in doing so he might have been signing his own death warrant. He was ordained a priest in 1954 and Amin came to power in 1971. Yet, Amin's power could not deter Janani. So, he wrote a letter and personally delivered it to Idi Amin. The letter was a group effort of clerical leaders in Uganda protesting Amin's way of keeping power and control through the easy distribution of military death to those who stood in his way. For bringing yet more attention to these deaths and disappearances--and especially for the letter--Janani was arrested and charged with treason.

It was January 16, 1977, when Janani was arrested along with two other cabinet ministers. Idi Amin and his henchmen immediately went to work spreading slander and lies about Janani's politics and offenses. He was labeled a traitor and paraded before a crowd. As he and a large audience looked on, other men were brought onto a stage who confessed to knowing about and participating in illegal activities with Janani and his companions. Idi Amin insisted to all who would listen that Janani had been trying to initiate a coup against him and was intent on violent insurrection. The men who had confessed had never met Janani but Idi Amin had used them to implicate the Janani and his companions. The "confessors" were freed for they had done their part and there was never any intention to punish them--they were merely there to win the crowd's approval. After the supposed "confessions" were heard, Janani and the men were put into a car to be transferred to an interrogation center. The next day, it was reported that they had crashed on their way to the interrogation center and all three had died from their injuries.

Yet, when they found the bodies and prepared them for burial they noticed that Janani had been shot multiple times are relatively close range. He had been shot once with a pistol in his mouth and three times in the chest. The story leaked out that they had been transferred to a military base where they were beaten, tortured, threatened, and finally shot to death. Idi Amin himself pulled the trigger that stole the life of Janani. He died a martyr because he refused to compromise the truth and he would not be frightened by the threats of those in power. For this offense, he died. By this offense, he proclaimed life deeper and more real than any that the world's powers could offer.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

February 15 - Ben Salmon, God's Slacker, Pacifist, Prisoner

Ben Salmon's early life suggested nothing that might be considered saintly or even out of the ordinary. He was an active member of his own Roman Catholic parish and the Knights of Columbus. Further, he was active in labor unions and social justice causes but only to the extent to begin to gather attention. He married his high school sweetheart and it seemed that all was going to be typical for Ben. But, Woodrow Wilson and the United States government joined the then-current "war to end all war" and in 1917, Ben received notification that he had been drafted to serve in his country's military. This presented a particular problem for Ben who insisted that he was a pacifist and would not serve in any war regardless of who said it was a "just war" or a "good war." Ben remained convinced that Jesus did not leave open the option of war to his followers no matter how "just" it was. He applied not only for the status of conscientious objector but also to be totally removed from the military system--he was unwilling to even be a noncombatant within the military. This status was conferred upon the churches known as "peace churches" like the Quakers and the Mennonites. But the Roman Catholics were convinced that this was a "just war" and so Ben's application was dismissed as cowardice.

When asked why he refused to serve he cited his faith and insisted that he didn't have the right to wage war on those that Christ called him to love. For this, he was the object of a military court martial and sentenced to death. This sentence was later reduced to twenty-five years in prison but it cannot be forgotten or avoided that the State was willing to impose death upon somebody because of their refusal to support State-sponsored death. He was routinely moved from prison to prison because he refused to do any work that might be related to the military system or might support a war he saw as a compromise of the his Christian calling. Even after the war was ended--shortly after he was incarcerated--he was held by the State as a prisoner. For long periods of time he was held in solitary confinement, sustained on only bread and water, and forced to live in hot, small, dark cell over the the sewers. He would write why all this happened in a letter: "Far more than two years I have been illegally imprisoned because I refused to kill or help to kill."

Eventually, Ben engaged in a hunger strike with the intention of either being freed or being starved to death. He was no longer even willing to cooperate in the State's abuses that kept him alive. He wrote to a military group: "My hunger strike is not a negative program, but a positive appeal to humanity that they substitute Love for Force. If I succumb in this attempt to hold myself aloof from Militarism — organized murder — I hope that you gentlemen, who are mainly responsible for my predicament, will, with your co-murderers, make some provision for the needs of my widowed-mother, wife and child. whom you have thus far robbed of their breadwinner, and whom, in the event of my demise, will be prevented from obtaining the support that I could otherwise provide." They forced milk down his throat and did their best to keep his hunger strike secret from the public. Yet, when his hometown paper found out about it they referred to him as a "slacker" and "the man with a yellow streak down his spine as broad as a country highway." He found few friends in his quest to proclaim life and peace. He was denied the sacraments by priests, he was labeled a heretic for not supporting the State's war and suggesting that Christ called us to peace, and he was vilified and abused with regularity. Finally, though, they released him because of his hunger strike. He was free from his bonds but not from the reputation he had developed. He died shortly after his release because of his deteriorating health. He died a man who remained convinced of his early suggestions: “The justice of man cannot dethrone the justice of God” and “There is no such animal as a ‘just war.'”

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

February 14 - Valentine, Martyr, Enemy of the State, Priest

Claudius Gothicus was emperor for only two years before dying of smallpox. But in those two years he unleashed wrath upon Christians and those would dare to defy the emperor and his empire by aiding and comforting Christians.His particularly favorite punishment was death for those who opposed him or for those who felt an inclination to lessen his wrath. He also had the opportunity to kill one of the world's best known martyrs: Valentine. Valentine was twice condemned by Claudius' decree: he was a Christian and he gave aid and succor to Christians. Furthermore, he was a prized victim for the empire because he was a Christian priest. As a priest, it was his duty and privilege to administer the sacrament of marriage. Those Christians who wanted to undergo this sacrament would come to him and he would hear their vows and call them to become one flesh and not simply two people living together for mutual benefit. This was a special and unique ceremony and for these ceremonies, he was arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. For hoping to cultivate love among those who were murdered and oppressed, he was required to die.

Luckily--or perhaps unluckily--Claudius took a liking to Valentine. Perhaps it was because of Valentine's association with marriages or perhaps it was because Claudius felt that Valentine was associated with love. Surely, Claudius felt he understood love--he was the emperor, a divine being according to the senate--but he did not truly understand what Valentine had been doing and preaching. Instead, he knew a love that took, demanded, coerced, and manipulated. Yet, he conversed regularly with his prisoner and found it enjoyable. At least, he found it enjoyable until Valentine tried to preach to him. He was outraged that anybody would try to preach to the emperor as if the emperor didn't already know everything. He ordered Valentine to be beheaded for this offense.

As Valentine was bound in chains and retrieved from his cell, the jailer seemed to want to ask something. Finally, the jailer could withhold himself no longer and told Valentine about his deaf and blind daughter. Though the jailer was the emperor's man he recognized true power and true love in Valentine and felt that he might be his daughter's last chance. With a smile that denied he was headed for death, he pronounced a prayer of healing for the jailer's daughter. When he would return home later, he would find her cured of her blindness and deafness. In that moment, he would feel the beginnings of his own conversion away from the empire and toward the God who had called Valentine. Before he would find out, though, he would take Valentine to the place where the emperor demanded. There, Valentine was beheaded for swearing allegiance first to a God who is love after he refused to deny his God in favor of the emperor.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

February 13 - Prisca and Aquila, Martyrs, Husband and Wife, Theologians

Claudius had delivered an edict to be obeyed under penalty of death: all Jews must leave Rome. This meant that those of Jewish blood were forced to leave not the Roman Empire but the portion of the Empire known as "Rome." Prisca and Aquila--a Jewish couple--had conflicting emotions about it. In one sense, they had been expecting something like this for a while. It was clear that the Romans were becoming increasingly annoyed and frustrated by the Jews who didn't seem to want the pax romana they offered. The most opposed of the Jews plunged daggers into the backs of Roman soldiers and officials and the most cooperative were still less than happy to have them there. So, it wasn't surprising that the Romans would do something so rash yet it must have been surprising suddenly to be evicted not only from your home but from your city, region, and nation. They gathered up what they could carry and took enough to restart their business--making tents--and traveled to Corinth in Greece. There, they tried to start over.

We're not sure if it was before or after Paul's arrival in Corinth that Prisca and Aquila were converted but it is certain that they were involved in his ministry in Corinth regardless of when they vowed to follow after their crucified Lord. The three of them shared a profession and worked together so that they might find stability again.The preaching of Paul was infectious and soon they found themselves encourage and invigorated in their faith. Paul even lived with them for nearly eighteen months. Paul had decided to move on to Syria--to continue to preach the Gospel and found churches--and Prisca and Aquila went with him. Along the way, they stopped in Ephesus and when Paul moved on from there, they remained behind as pillars of the Church community. Often, the services would take place in their own home. They were leaders and foundational members of the Church in Ephesus. In fact, when Apollos was preaching an incomplete Gospel--he only knew about John's baptism--they took him aside and tutored him in Christian theology. In this way, they were committed to the health of the Body of Christ and were willing to spend their time and attention building up fellow believers in a world that was increasingly less accommodating for Christians--even Christians who were successful business people.

Prisca and Aquila moved back to Rome through Corinth once the ban was lifted and were known as encouragers along the way. At some point, they saved Paul's life by risking their own. This couple was united behind one cause: a Gospel that proclaimed life even at great risk and cost. After they had been returned to Rome they were victimized by the Empire. Their possessions were seized, they were beaten severely and humiliated, and finally they were beheaded. Though they had hoped to return to their home from far away, they had changed much in their travels.Their faith was a vibrant and surprising thing that led them to work alongside Paul to do great things in a rapidly expanding world. They were instrumental in the founding of the Church at both Corinth and Ephesus and although those congregations had challenges, the communities were also pillars of the Body of Christ for many years.

Monday, February 12, 2018

February 12 - Scholastica, Nun, Twin, Abbess

Scholastica had a brother that everybody had heard about. In fact, he was her twin brother and his name was Benedict. Benedict was the founder of the Rule of St. Benedict and the source of a monastic group known as Benedictines. Yet, Scholastica was reported to be every bit as devoted and pious as her brother if not more so. Yet, as a woman in the sixth century her options were severely limited. She became a nun because of her incredible devotion and faith and eventually became abbess of a community of women who followed after the rule and way of life that Benedict had discerned and pioneered. Her leadership was capable and inspired and she was known for the passion that she brought to a life of prayer and work. This passion was an inspiration to the women she led.

It was her practice to meet once a year with her brother to discuss the spiritual life and to read scripture together. The communities that they led were only five miles apart but they met on some neutral ground partly to emphasize that there was some special connection between brother and sister that was worth honoring with a change in location. The last time they met they weren't certain that it would be a final meeting but Scholastica was aware of her own failing health. They met for longer than they ever had and even longer than they had intended to meet. They discussed scripture. They prayed together. They broke bread and communed with one another. They encouraged and challenged each other as only a brother and sister in the Faith can. Then, as night was falling Benedict got up to go and return to his monastery where he might rest in his cell. Scholastica asked him to stay even longer so that they might continue in their fellowship--perhaps she even intuited that this would be their last chance. He insisted that he must return home as it was his calling to be there. She simply nodded, folded her hands, and began to pray.

As Benedict watched his sister pray, he felt the sudden cold gust of wind that preceded a thunderstorm. His eyes widened in surprise and confusion. At the first peal of thunder, he went to the window and looked outside to see the first large rain drops strike the dirt outside of the building. Turning to Scholastica, he said, "May God forgive you, sister," and asked, "What have you done?”

She responded simply: "I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery." With these words, she began packing up her things knowing very well that he would now stay but she wanted to indicate to him his freedom to choose. Benedict stayed with his sister and they talked later into the night. Shortly thereafter, Scholastica died and Benedict mourned the loss of his sister but thanked God that he had had a little more time with her.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

February 11 - A.J. Muste, Pacifist, Minister, Nonviolent

A.J. Muste was an immigrant to the United States of America, as the 19th century slowly became the 20th, but he didn't have much say in the matter as he was only six years old when his parents moved from Holland. He received a fine education and was a proud resident and citizen of the nation of his parents' choosing. He graduated with honors first with a bachelor's degree and eventually with a master's and doctoral degree. As he matured, he became increasingly involved in social causes even as he tried to figure out the question of his own spiritual calling. He was especially involved in the labor movement and helped organize disenfranchised workers together so that they might negotiate with their employers for a safer and better job. As was expected, he received much resistance from the circles he had been raised in and in which his parents circulated. Yet, he was convinced that he must do something for those in need of help and for the cause of justice and fairness. So, he was willing to sacrifice a good reputation for his convictions.

Eventually, he became a minister in a congregational church but he was committed to non-violence after his experience of World War I and the people whom he met with and with whom he conversed. This was an odd stance for a man such as A.J. but it became a hated stance as he persisted in it through the years approaching and including World War II. But, he was convinced that God had called him to a way of peace and nonviolence that revoked any right he felt toward self-defense or preemptive violence. By A.J.'s reasoning, there was no just war and so not even World War II could be rationalized or accepted. When a son of a member of the congregation where was pastor died in the war, he did not veer from his intended topic for the Sunday sermon: "The Futility of War." It was another opportunity for him to raise his famous question: "The problem after a war is the victor. He thinks he has just proved that war and violence will pay. Who will now teach him a lesson?" By A.J.'s thinking there was no time when war or violence would pay or would be acceptable. When he had saied this, he must have known he would suffer for it. That afternoon the congregation called a meeting and voted to terminate him as their pastor.He, his wife, and his children were forcibly moved out of the parsonage that night and had to find somewhere else to live.

He remained a minister, associated finally with the Quakers, and committed to nonviolence even if it had cost him his job. He was at one time an advisor to Martin Luther King, Jr. and considered an authority on nonviolent resistance. He and his colleagues and associates were arrested repeatedly for hopping fences at military facilities, paddling their boats into nuclear test sites, and sympathizing with those whom the State insisted they hate and fear. For these things, A.J. received and still receives derision but he could not more veer from these convictions than he could stop being who he was. He had become an advocate for peace and nonviolence at all costs and had proven repeatedly that he was willing to lay down anything for a chance at peace. If it is true that the peacemakers are blessed--and I do believe it so--then surely A.J. Muste has a share of blessedness for his refusal to abandon the way of peace even in the face of adversity.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

February 10 - Paul, Martyr, Apostle, Preacher

Paul knew sailing would be rough and so he told his captors--Roman soldiers transferring him as a prisoner to Rome for trial--that it would be a costly trip because of a storm. But the pilot said differently and the centurion was convinced that the pilot was right. The harbor wasn't a good place to be in the winter and so the crew felt pressure to get out on the water and arrive in a different port--maybe Phoenix?--to weather the winter. So, they disembarked and began their journey when a decent wind blew from the south and they became confident that they could make it to the next stop. Yet, they stayed close to the shore.
Soon after, the wind picked up and changed direction. The crew fought with the wind but were unable to gain control and were forced to go where the wind willed.The storm beat upon the poor boat for days and drove it a great distance. They began throwing cargo overboard like Paul had predicted but it wasn't enough. Each hour their hope for escape weakened until eventually the crew had given up any hope for safety. At this time, Paul came to the crew and said, "I told you that we shouldn't have sailed but it's okay. Don't worry--we'll lose the boat but nobody will lose their life because of this storm." The crew was convinced that they were facing the end and so they laughed at him and asked why he was so confidence since he was in the same place as them. Paul replied, "Last night an angel of God--whom I belong to and whom I worship--appeared and said, 'Don't be afraid, Paul, you'll make it safe to Rome where you will be tried. God is protecting the people on the ship.' So, don't worry friends--I have faith that God will do this thing that God has promised. We'll end up shipwrecked but we'll be alive."

After two weeks of persisting in the storm, Paul noticed that some members of the crew were anxious about how close they were getting to the land. They began testing the depth of the water compulsively and eventually determined that it wasn't safe to continue in their boat. They tried to deceive the rest of the crew and the prisoners by releasing anchors and saying they would wait for morning to determine what to do. Under the cover of night and storm, they also released a raft and were preparing to get into it when the centurion stopped them because Paul had said any who did not stay with the boat would die. They cut the raft loose and remained on the boat. Before morning broke, Paul was found eating while the crew continued to be anxious about what they would do. Paul encouraged them to eat and stop worrying because soon they would wreck and the food on their stomachs would be more valuable than the work they did to save a boat destined for wrecking. So, all 276 people ate while Paul broke bread and gave thanks to God for God's blessings in the midst of the storm.

In the morning, they saw land and rejoiced. Though they did not know precisely where they were the crew was prepared to land at all costs. So, the sailed the boat toward the shore. As they drew closer, they struck a reef and the ship was immobilized upon it.The waves beat against it and they were forced to abandon their boat and swim for land. The soldiers knew their duty and so they drew their swords with the intention of killing the prisoners so that none might escape. The centurion stepped in and stopped them, though, and ordered all people to swim for the shore if they were able. Those who weren't able picked up pieces of the boat to float upon and made their own way to land at a slower pace.All 276 of them made it safely to land just as Paul had insisted they would.

Upon the shore, the crew and passengers were cold and wet but greeted warmly by the native people of the island they learned was called "Malta." The Maltans built a fire and gathered the shipwrecked passengers and crew around it. Paul wanted to do his part in helping to sustain this generous act and so he gathered a bundle of wood. The warmth of the fire had roused a viper and when Paul released the wood, the serpent struck out and bit his hand. It held on and released its poisonous venom with speed. The Maltans began to speak under their breath about Paul that he must be some terrible murderer if justice would pursue him so far as to strike at him with poison after he survived a shipwreck. All eyes were on Paul as he shook off the serpent and went about his business with no anxiety of fear. All those gathered on the beach waited for Paul to succumb to the terrible venom and became increasingly surprised as Paul remained healthy and fine. They insisted he was a god. He insisted he was God's. He didn't see the big deal--God had promised he would be safe and he had no reason to doubt the one who had called him on that road to Damascus. He preached the faith that gripped him and many were converted from among the Maltans and the boat's passengers and crew.

Friday, February 9, 2018

February 9 - Apollonia, Martyr, Virgin, Woman of Prayer

Apollonia was a virgin not because she had no desires for or hated men but because she had chosen to remain celibate so that she might more fully devote herself to her Lord Jesus. Those who married took upon themselves vows before God to care for and honor another person--they took upon themselves another obligation. These vows held sway and often kept married Christians from living in the same sacrificing and devoted way that their celibate brothers and sisters were able to. Apollonia's devotion was highly respected in the Church in Alexandria but was beginning to be a cause for disfavor among the non-Christians in the city. Decius had barely taken power but the people knew he was no friend of the Christians and so they had no fear that he would outlaw their abuse and murder. Further, the thousand year anniversary of the beginning of the Roman empire was taking place. Further still, one of the non-Christian poets had predicted a great calamity within the walls of Alexandria because of the presence of Christians within. With all of these circumstances swirling together in one perfect storm, it came as no surprise when many of the non-Christians joined together as one mob to exact their own brand of justice upon the Christians.

The people of Alexandria got an early start to the Decian persecutions. They seized two well-known Christians and tortured them to the thrill of the gathered crowd. When they grew tired of the couple, they killed them. They burned down the homes of suspected Christians and brutally mugged and stripped any reported Christians they met in the streets. The mob went so far as to kick down the door of the home of a prominent and wealthy Christian so that they might loot and pillage the home. Apollonia was not only celibate but was also a deaconess--all of this conspired to make her a perfect target. They took her to an open place and held her down. They began by pounding her face and mouth with clubs and fists with the special purpose of breaking or knocking out her teeth. When this savagery proved too humane, they retrieved a pair of tongs and began slowly and painfully removing her teeth one by one.

The pain was incredible but she endured it without returning evil for their evil. Even though they were torturing her to the best of their abilities, she noticed that they had built up a pile of kindling and logs upon which they planned to burn her alive. They had already started the fire and it was roaring by the time they dragged her before it. Their plan was to throw the faithful woman upon the flames and then rejoice in her agonizing death. As they approached, they gave her an ultimatum: deny her faith or burn to death. She asked one request from a bleeding mouth: "Please give me just a moment to pray about it." Perhaps they thought it would be another great occasion to mock her or perhaps they felt she was beginning to cave to their abuse and would renounce her faith after prayer. They released their hold on her for a moment and she leaped into the flames without a scream. She died an eager martyr who could not even consider denying the faith that had gripped her all those years.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

February 8 - Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs

Paul had been called to preach a Gospel that the world found foolish yet was truer than any story ever told. Paul had been charged to tell the grand story of how God had created humans in God's own image but humanity had turned its back upon God. In the stunning climax, God became human to redeem those whom God loved even as they continued to reject God. For being a preacher and a storyteller, he was regarded as an oddity in Japan at first. Eventually, though, this surprise turned to hatred as those who came to power had no room in their world for a man like Paul who had turned his back upon his nation in their estimation. By swearing their allegiance to God, Paul and his fellow Christians threatened the power that the ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi--known as Taikosama--held.

Ironically, the rulers an leaders of Japan had initially been the ones who welcomed Christian missionaries to Japanese shores. They had welcomed them gladly because they knew that Western powers endorsed the Christian churches and they suspected that this would increase trade possibilities. Further, the rulers had grown somewhat uncomfortable with the Buddhist monks who would not do as they told them to do and felt that an influx of Christianity could limit the power of the monks. Yet, as Christianity grew in both Japan and the Philippines, they became aware that it demanded more and more allegiance from its members than they were comfortable with their citizens giving away. Further, it seemed that the politically savvy among the western powers knew better how to manipulate the Christian churches to gain power in foreign locations.Soon, Christianity was banned in Japan and those who swore allegiance to Jesus were executed for it. Ministers and vocal Christians were martyred and persecuted. Paul and his companions were twenty-six of the victims.

They were arrested and charged with being Christians. They refused to deny their faith and so they were gathered in chains and sentenced to march to Nagasaki while singing a hymn--for all six hundred miles. It took nearly thirty days for the soon-to-be-martyrs to arrive in Nagasaki and they greeted the day that they arrived with renewed singing and rejoicing. They were brought before twenty-six crosses and they met them with joy. One of the twenty-six, a man named Gonsalo, rushed forward unaware of how tragic this experience was supposed to be and pointed at a nearby cross, "Is this one mine?" he asked hopefully. Taken aback, nobody responded to him at first but eventually one of the soldiers indicated which cross was his. He knelt down and embraced it with tears in his eyes. Slowly, they were affixed to their crosses while they sang hymns and joked with each other. Paul was so short that when bound to the cross his feet could not reach the support and so they were forced to bind him to the cross by tying him under his arms and across his chest. One soldier stepped on Paul's chest as he tightened the knot and a minister among them complained at the brutality but Paul insisted that it was okay because the man was just doing his job.

Once the crosses were raised Paul began preaching to the awestruck crowd. They had come to see the power of the Japanese rulers and had found willing martyrs proclaiming life even as they slipped into death. The soldiers were amazed and some were converted. The crowds listened to Paul as he preached and proclaimed his own forgiveness of the people and the powers who persecuted and executed the Body of Christ. All twenty-six of them died as the powers of Japan tried to prove their dominance. All they had proven was that despite their own political machinations, the Kingdom of God had arrived in Japan and could not be turned back.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

February 7 - Helder Camara, Priest, Bishop, Friend of the Poor

Helder was the eleventh of thirteen children born in Northeastern Brazil to a middle class family with roots in the Roman Catholic church. Much to the pain of Helder and his family, five of his brothers and sisters died from the flu epidemic that swept through Brazil claiming souls in 1905 (four years before Helder was born). Even as a child, he showed an interest in the priesthood. His priests and family would often remark to him that they felt something special about him and would ask him if he knew what it meant to be a priest. One of his priests even went so far as to tell him that to be a priest was forever and it meant he would never be his own and would always be pouring himself out for others. This didn't deter young Helder and he continued holding mock masses in his home on an alter he built out of boxes and playthings.

As he grew, he followed God's willing and ended up studying to become a priest. It wasn't especially uncommon for young Brazilian boys in Northeastern Brazil to become priests since it was a region that placed a high value upon the priesthood. But it was surprising that Helder was ordained at the age of twenty-two. He had to receive special dispensation to be ordained prior to the age of twenty-four but it was given and he took his vows. This new avowed state was a good fit for Helder and he spent his time as a minister of a church but, also, as an advocate for the poor.Like many Brazilian priests of the time he was heavily invested in liberation theology and social justice ministries. Eventually, he became bishop and then archbishop and this allowed him to set the tone and pace for ministry within Brazil. Even when he had taken on the political roles of an archbishop he still did not fail to advocate for the poor.

Helder is perhaps best remembered for a quote that summed up his professional life: "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." For his work as a friend of the poor he was nominated for a Nobel peace prize and received the Pacem in Terris award. Though he was not poor, he became associated with the slums. Though he was not oppressed, he became associated with the weak and disenfranchised. Being a priest was a forever commitment and Helder lived into it. When he was vilified and slandered he reminded himself that he had been called not to a profession but to a way of life and part of that way of life was a devotion to pouring himself out for the least of his brothers and sisters. Helder died in 1999.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

February 6 - Dorothea of Caesarea, Martyr, Virgin, Wife of Christ

Dorothea's parents had been martyrs. This filled her with a painful mixture of joy and sorrow since she rejoiced at their courage and reward but mourned the world's loss. Diocletian had ordered them dead as part of his widespread persecutions and those who were hoping to gain the emperor's favor were only all too willing to spill blood to earn it. Dorothea was also a Christian but there were other plans for her. The governor--Sapricius--had her brought before him and he demanded that she take a husband. He did this because he knew she had committed herself to celibacy and devotion to Jesus and he felt that if he could shake her from this devotion, then he would be able to bring about her conversion to the Empire and away from Christianity. She refused immediately, insisting that she was already married to Jesus, and was forced upon the rack and stretched. The tension was set high enough to bring agony but not death and she was offered a choice:take a husband, renounce her faith, and live or refuse and die. She refused.

Sapricius was not ready to kill the woman, yet, and had another idea for how he might effect her conversion. After all, Christians seemed to be producing conversions constantly--surely the emperor could convert people just as easily. He sent her to prison and had two women--Christina and Callista--visit her daily. Christina and Callista had once been Christians and had renounced their faith under threat of torture and death. When faced with the terror of the Empire, they folded and bowed themselves before the emperor as lord. After their bitter renunciations, they fell headlong into lives of sin and darkness. Their every day was marked by regret and sorrow but they didn't admit to erring by renouncing their faith--sometimes, we hold onto a bad decision because it's the only thing we feel we have left to hold onto. They sought out lives of empty pleasure and sin to fill the hole that had been left in them but found no respite in evil. Their task was to convert Dorothea away from her faith as they had been converted but it was Christina and Callista that were converted back by, Dorothea, to the faith they had abandoned. They found joy again and paid for it with their lives--being tied together and boiled to death--but this they did willingly and Sapricius brought Dorothea before him again.

When Dorothea arrived she thanked Sapricius for the opportunity to bring life to her sisters walking in death and made sure he knew she wouldn't have had the opportunity if not for his imprisonment and scheming. He offered her one last chance--perhaps hoping that the brutality of the deaths of Christina and Callista might have changed her mind--but wasn't surprised when she refused. He ordered her to be decapitated in public. As she was being taken away from Sapricius, one of his advisers called to her in a mocking voice, "You're married to Jesus, right? Please send some of your husband's apples or roses from his garden to me when you see him."

He laughed but Dorothea responded, "I shall do it." As they dragged her to the place of her execution she was met by a young girl bearing a gift of three roses and three apples on a tray. Dorothea recognized that this "young girl" was an angel sent by God and asked the girl to take the roses and the apples to the advisor who had mocked her. She was then bound and decapitated. She became a martyr. The advisor, however, was shocked to receive a gift from a young girl--three roses and three apples. He was shocked--apples and roses didn't grow in Caesarea that time of year--and shaken. Soon after, he converted to Christianity and followed after Dorothea's husband whom he had mocked. Shortly before being martyred himself, he changed his name to Theophilus--lover of God.

Monday, February 5, 2018

February 5 - Agatha of Sicily, Martyr, Virgin, Victim of Persecution

Agatha had done at least two unthinkable things in polite Roman society. The first had been becoming a Christian. At the time in which Agatha devoted herself to her crucified Lord, Christianity was a persecuted and detested religion considered to be comprised of atheist (they denied the existence of the Roman gods), incestuous (husband and wife called each other brother and sister) cannibals (they met at night in secret and were said to eat the flesh and drink the blood of their Lord). For a beautiful and wealthy woman like Agatha this was unthinkable. The Romans could understand why the poor became Christians but it was incredible to them that a woman with so much to lose would risk everything by faith. They didn't understand her or her Lord.The other great unthinkable thing had been when she refused the advances of the prefect Quinctianus.

Under the persecutions of Decius, Quinctianus realized he had a unique opportunity. He lusted after young Agatha and made his carnal desires known to her. She rejected his proposals and continued on in her faith as a woman committed to maintaining her virginity before her Lord. Since she was committed to celibacy she was not going to take any husband let alone a prefect of the Roman Empire that wanted to kill her and all her brothers and sisters in the Faith. He engineered a plan to blackmail her into having sex within him whenever he wanted it. He threatened to turn her over to the authorities and have her executed as a Christian. He insisted that he would protect her if she would become his mistress. She insisted that she was a virgin and intended to remain celibate so he had her taken to a brothel so that she might be raped and stripped of the virginity that perplexed Quinctianus. She was able to withstand the advances of the men at the brothel and eventually was turned out of the brothel because she was causing too great a spectacle and distraction.

Quinctianus brought her before him again and threatened with torture and death if she would not give into this lust. She continued to refuse and so he had men come in and secure her. First her breasts were crushed and then they were savagely cut from her body. Quinctianus watched while this evil was perpetrated and Agatha had a few words for him: “Cruel man, have you forgotten your mother and the breast that nourished you, that you dare to mutilate me this way?” But Quinctianus was not deterred and ordered Agatha to be burnt to death--naked and in public.Bleeding, she was paraded before the people and brought to the place of her intended execution. Yet, as they prepared to finalize this atrocity, an earthquake shook the city. She was taken back to a prison cell and died there from her wounds. She died a martyr who did the unthinkable and refused to be deterred from her life of devotion and faith.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

February 4 - Alfred Delp, Martyr, Falsely Accused, Opponent of the Nazis

Alfred Delp's was born in Mannheim, Germany, shortly after the turn of twentieth century. His mother was Roman Catholic and his father was a protestant. He was baptized in the congregation of his mother but was sent to a Lutheran school for his education. At the age of fourteen he was even confirmed in a Lutheran church and it would seem that he had a relatively spiritually involved life up that point. However, he had a falling out with the minister of the congregation and soon thereafter began attending the congregation of his mother. Some time later he was confirmed in the Roman Catholic church and his faith continued to remain stable though within a different tradition. It is suggested that Alfred's ecumenism is a product of his split denominational upbringing but there is no doubt that Alfred was a man with hope for the power of ecumenical theology and fellowship. He was convinced that there was much more to ecumenism than simply pretending to get along and avoiding the points of disagreement. Instead, he advocated that we should learn to "carry the historical burden of our separated churches, as baggage and inheritance." He felt that there was little room for continued infighting between Christians when there was so much room for ministry in the world. On this piece in particular, Alfred was very right.

Alfred eventually joined the Society of Jesus and began pursuing the path of priestly ordination. He was an intelligent man and a capable student and so he asked to be allowed to study for his PhD in Munich. Painfully, he was rejected not because of lack of talent or intellect but because he was affiliated with the Jesuits and they were becoming increasingly unpopular in Germany. As the Nazis gained power, they chafed against the Jesuits and retaliated for perceived slights and injustices. At first, Alfred's resistance was literary and editorial but soon he was hiding Jews in nearby towns and helping them escape to Switzerland. In perpetrating these acts of mercy and grace, he was burning any bridges that might lead him back to the safety of silence before the Nazi oppressors--he had made an indelible statement in his resistance and in his associations and friendships. Eventually, it cost him his life.

Alfred's mentor and guide was retaliated against as an individual Jesuit and this led the man to become increasingly involved in underground resistance to the Nazis. He introduced Alfred to the Kreisau circle and he continued to form friendships with people who recognized what great evil was being committed in the name of nationalism. Alfred's involvement was as a religious adviser and teacher who dreamed of a day when the Third Reich would fall and prepared for the aftermath of its collapse. He worked with his mentor and two Lutheran pastors, as well. But the Nazis brooked no resistance and soon had arrested the members of the Kreisau circle and imprisoned them. While Alfred was imprisoned, he continued to offer pastoral care and say mass for the interested. He continued ministry even though he knew his own death was fast approaching. One day a Jesuit priest was sent by Alfred's mentor to finalize Alfred's involvement with the Jesuits. Behind bars and facing certain death, Alfred took his final vows without the guards having any idea what had happened. He was tried in a mockery of justice and sentenced to die. The guards agreed to set him free if he would deny his faith and the Jesuits but he refused. They murdered him on February 2, 1945. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered across sewage fields near Berlin.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

February 3 - Blaise, Martyr, Physician, Healer

To be honest, the crowd was a little shocked to see the woman at the parade with her child. Didn't she know there would soon be blood and screaming? They were further shocked when she pushed her way to the front of the crowd. What kind of mother was so keen to see the gory death of a man at the hands of the Roman Empire? The greatest shock, however, was to watch her step across the unspoken boundary that separated audience from spectacle and willingly interpose herself upon the death story being written for Blaise. She carried the child before him and knelt down at his feet.What a sight! A free woman kneeling at the feet of a condemned criminal! She even raised up her young son before the man and implored him to help the child who was choking on something. Blaise halted as best he could and considered the situation briefly. To the surprise of the crowd, he simultaneously prayed for the child while manipulating the child's throat. Soon, the child was fine thanks to Blaise and Blaise was kicked forward by the guards to continue upon the previously schedule death march. Blaise was more than willing to insert a little life into the story because that's what he had been doing for years.

Blaise was a physician in Caesarea who practiced his profession differently than so many others. Instead of promising great cures and healing, Blaise did not make a spectacle of himself and his talents. Yet people came from miles around to be healed and cured by his gifted hands and under his gifted prayers. He was known to be a Christian when Christianity was a crime but his goodness and benevolence were able to win over many from their uninformed biases against the Body of Christ. Whereas other physicians offered help at a very dear cost, Blaise offered very dear help at little to no cost for those who needed it most. This kind of radical and ridiculous benevolence and love rankled those who stood to gain by doing the opposite. Then, one day, the bishop of the area died and Blaise was appointed the next bishop to great acclaim from the Christian population.

Blaise was not the bishop of the area for long, though, as he was turned in by those who opposed him and his charity. He was well known for healing and curing the people whom Rome would rather forget and so he was an easy target for the powerful. They marched him to the appointed place of his execution and then raked over his body with iron combs. Each vicious stroke raised fresh blood to his skin that would never be healed by human hands. He died a martyr--having saved a child on his way to his own death--because he refused to deny the faith that caused him to give his life away in small gifts of health and prayer. Blaise died proclaiming life in the face of death and even taking a small break in the midst of a spectacle of execution to bring life to one more person.

Friday, February 2, 2018

February 2 - Cornelius, Centurion, Recipient of Visions, First Gentile Convert

In Caesarea was a man name Cornelius. Cornelius had a life that people desired--he was a centurion among notable soldiers--but something felt out of place in his life. He prayed as best he knew how and he gave alms because he suspected it was right. He was eager to live the best life he possibly could. Then, one afternoon, he had a vision: a messenger from God came into his home and called out to him. Cornelius was petrified in fear of the angel but was able to muster up enough courage to ask, "What is it, Lord?"

The angel said, in a voice both soothing and discomforting, "All your prayers and gifts offered in ignorance have made their way to God. So, send some people to Joppa to find a man named Peter--they'll find him in the home of Simon the Tanner--near the sea. After God's messenger faded into the crowds surrounding Cornelius' home, he called two of his servants with a shaky voice and one soldier who was like him in prayer and the giving of alms. He told them what had happened with a mix of fear and hopeful anticipation and then sent them to Joppa to do their part in the unfolding story.

Meanwhile, Peter was in Joppa, by the sea, at the house of Simon the Tanner and he went to the top of the house to pray at about noon. As he was praying, hunger gnawed at him and demanded to be sated but as his thoughts turned to food for his body, his thoughts were turned to a vision from God. He saw the clouds parted and a great swath of fabric being lowered down like a heavenly picnic. On the sheet were many different animals--fat and ready for slaughter. He heard a voice that sounded like it could be his own or it could be the voice of Jesus saying, "Get up, Peter. It's time for you to kill and eat."

Perhaps thinking this was a test, Peter said, "You know I won't do that, Lord. I don't eat what you have labeled unclean.

The voice insisted, "If God has made it clean, then don't call it unclean." In Peter's vision this exchange happened three times and then the sheet and all its food were gone in a flash. Peter puzzled over the vision all throughout his lunch and then all throughout the rest of the day. As he replayed the vision in his mind, he suspected that God was trying to tell him something. He was still puzzling the vision when Cornelius' men arrived at the gate of Simon's house looking for him. He heard a voice again say to him, "Peter, there are three men outside who are waiting for you. They've come because I sent them to you."

Peter was eager to find some resolution to all of this and so he hurried down to the gate and said, "I'm Peter. Why has God sent you?"

They responded, "Cornelius has sent us to find you. He is a good man who fears God and is highly respected among the Jews. He received a vision and one of God's messengers told him to seek you out and hear what you have to say." Peter took the men into the home and made them his guests and when the sun rose again, he and some of his fellow Christians went with the men back to the home of Cornelius.

Eventually, they reached Caesarea and found that Cornelius had prepared quite the event and audience to hear Peter's words. As Cornelius' messengers went out seeking Peter, he had become anxious and eager to hear what words might come. So eager was Cornelius to know how and who he should worship, he fell at the feet of Peter and offered worship on the spot to Peter. Peter tapped him on the back and said, "Not me Cornelius. I'm human just like you."Cornelius led Peter in to meet the audience and when Peter saw all the ones gathered to hear him, he remarked, "You all know well how Jews do not associate with other nations and have strict laws concerning purity. Well, God has shown me that no person is unclean.So, when Cornelius sent for me I came quickly without knowing why. I was responding to God's guidance, what were you doing?" Hearing this, Cornelius told the story of the vision and the message and asked Peter if he would be so kind as to share what God had laid upon his heart.

So, Peter cleared his throat and said: "I know well that God is not partial to nations but instead looks at the hearts of individuals. But as for the word he sent to Israel--the good news that Jesus is Lord of all--you already know what happened in Judea and how it began with John baptizing Jesus in the wilderness. Jesus was anointed and went about doing good things and casting out evil and the enemy wherever he went. You saw it and so did I. They put him to death by crucifixion thinking it would be an end of him but he was raised again on the third day. After this resurrection, he appeared to many and he was close to us again. He told us what it is that we should do: preach to the people and bear witness that he is the one called to judge the living and the dead. After all, it was Jesus that all the prophets talked about when they said that all those who trust in him receive forgiveness from sin through his name."

But there was more to it than words. While Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on Peter and upon the audience and redemption and salvation came very near to the audience who found themselves transformed by the gospel message of forgiveness and life in the face of sin and death. The fellow Jewish Christians that came with Peter were surprised to see Gentiles receiving the Holy Spirit. But they couldn't deny that the gentiles were speaking in tongues and offering praise to God who had made Jesus Lord of all. Peter turned to his fellow Christians and said, "Surely none of you can hold the baptismal waters hostage from ones such as these men and women who have heard the good news and been filled with the Holy Spirit." So, they were baptized in the name of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and Peter remained with them for a while.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

February 1 - Brigid of Kildare, Convert, Nun, Abbess

At first, Dubhthach attributed the missing flour and pantry supplies to a variety of sources including simply poor estimations of how much they had left. Yet, he hadn't been pestered by a beggar in some time for food and this made him start to wonder. Then, one day he caught his daughter Brigid hastily giving away flour and oil to a beggar at the front door who thanked her profusely. He was furious that she would give away the family's things to beggars and those in particular need. When he confronted her for what she was doing, she reminded him that she felt a calling to do ministry and that she would do it wherever she was with whatever she had access to. He seethed privately over her confident brand of charity and wondered if the faith she shared with her mother really was enough to change lives, values, and outlooks. He had married her mother knowing she had been convert to the Christian religion who had been baptized by Patrick of Ireland. What he hadn't known was the change that had infected her heart the day she gladly accepted the baptismal waters. Their daughter Brigid had clearly been likewise converted upon hearing the Christian story and the specific story of St. Patrick.

He had left her alone because he didn't quite know how to stop her. He didn't want her to leave and become a nun like she desired because he still hoped to persuade to leave her faith. Yet, he couldn't stand the idea of her using his family's wealth to take care of people he had no desire to help. It seems the decision was made for him when she took the jewel-encrusted sword in their home and gave it to a beggar to sell to feed his family and buy medicines. His fury overran his hesitation and he insisted that she pack her things and leave. She had gone one step too far and it was apparent that she would not be happy until she had given away all that she could to help and love the poor. Even in his rage, he didn't want to see her become destitute, though, and so he sent her to a convent. When she arrived, she took her vows and became a nun under the guidance of St. Moel the Briton.

As a nun, Brigid was known for her piety, devotion, and holiness. She did not take vows to make sure she had a life provided to her but because she wanted a chance to pour herself out for others. Soon, her vibrant prayers and eager charity attracted attention of leaders of the Celtic Church. Her faith was not especially mystical or esoteric and was, in fact, focused on finding ways to live and practice her faith in the every day. Mountain top experiences were alright but they weren't the fuel that maintained Brigid's steady and passionate faith. Eventually, she was appointed abbess of a double-monastery in Kildare. As a double-monastery, it meant that she was a spiritual director and guide both to nuns and monks. As abbess of Kildare, she had the authority and influence of a bishop. Even now, Brigid is considered one of the great saints of Ireland and is remembered alongside Patrick whom she hoped to emulate in her life and faith. When she died in 524, she was buried in the abbey near the altar. Her presence among the faithful continued to inspire them toward a practice faith that called all to pour themselves out whatever the cost.