Tuesday, March 20, 2018

March 20 - Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, Monk, Bishop, Hospitable

When Cuthbert was a boy in Northumbria he didn't have a father (since his father had died when Cuthbert was very young) but he did have many friends to spend countless hours with in the countryside. As was and is the case with boys of that age, they spent much of their time competing against each other in games and silly contests. They had footraces and wrestling matches. They goaded each other into doing foolish and silly things. In short, they did the things that boys do in their youth and tell increasingly fantastical stories of for the rest of their lives. One day, however, a boy barely old enough to be out with them and nowhere near old enough to compete or keep up with them approached the boys as Cuthbert held one of his friends down on the ground. The group of boys were excited to watch the wrestling match and were not surprised to see Cuthbert win since he was the best wrestler and most athletic among them. The boy--barely older than a toddler--started crying as he watched Cuthbert wrestle. The other boys were shocked--and to be honest a little embarrassed--at the little one's tears. The boy said, "Cuthbert, stop being so silly and quit goofing around like this." The crowd of boys jeered and laughed at him hoping that this would convince the little one to leave but he continued weeping. Cuthbert's soft heart was stung by this and so he took the boy to the side and tried to soothe him. The boy said, "Cuthbert, showing off like that isn't right for a holy bishop and priest like yourself." As Cuthbert walked home that night, he reflected on the boy's words and wondered if there was a hint of prophecy in them--was he really destined to be a priest and bishop?

Many years later, he was shepherding the flocks of his employer at night. It was the 31st day of August in the year 651 and Cuthbert was resting beneath a tree and looking up at the starry sky in wonder. Again his mind was drifting to questions of "calling" and "destiny" as his colleagues and friends told jokes and stories nearby under another tree. Suddenly, Cuthbert was amazed to see a bright orb descend to earth with piercing clarity. A moment later it rose more slowly while seeming to accompany another flaming orb back to the heavens before disappearing. Immediately, Cuthbert's mind went to angelic visitation and the faith that his widowed mother had given to him. He rushed to ask his friends if they had seen it. He insisted that some great man or woman must have just died and their soul was taken up to heaven by one of God's angels. When he entered the town the next day he asked around and found out that the revered Aidan of Lindisfarne had passed the night before and immediately Cuthbert knew what he had seen--the retrieval of the soul of Aidan. He dropped his shepherd's crook and went to a nearby monastery. Soon thereafter he took vows and became a monk.

As Cuthbert served in the Church he became known for being gentle and hospitable even in the face of strong opposition. When the Synod of Whitby finally concluded that the Celtic churches must come into agreement with the Roman way of things it was Cuthbert that helped broker reconciliation by insisting that unity was more important than marginal disagreement. Through hospitality and furious love, Cuthbert was able to mend the wounds of the Church. Eventually, he became prior of his monastery and he served the Church well by taking care of the monks that he had been entrusted with. At one point he even became a hermit. He lived on an island by himself but was rarely alone due to the constant stream of visitors who came to seek his counsel, blessing, or healing prayers. Cuthbert accepted his visitors with a kind and welcoming heart even as he hoped for a little solitude in which he might worship the God who had called him from a young age to be a servant. Finally, he was called from his island to become bishop and serve the Church by overseeing its monks and ministers. He was reluctant but willing to accept this calling and served in the position capably for many years. At the end of his life a group of monks were sent to the island where he was living to take care of him in his final days. Having known that they were coming, the severely ill Cuthbert had dragged himself down to the beach to greet the men. When asked why he had come so far to greet them he had insisted that he wanted to save them the time and hassle of searching him out since they had never before visited Cuthbert's little island. He finally died after being bishop--a ministry he had been called to from his youth--for only two years. In those years he distributed alms, prayed for the sick and worked many wonders in the surrounding countryside of Lindisfarne. He died on the 20th day of March in the year 687.

Monday, March 19, 2018

March 19 - Joseph, Descendant of David, Husband of Mary, Father of Jesus

Listen closely because the birth of Jesus--the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah--happened just like this: His mother Mary was engaged to a man named Joseph. This was in the period before they lived together as part of their betrothal. Miraculously--and scandalously--she discovered that she was pregnant. Of course, you'll remember that this was a miracle that God had accomplished to effect the incarnation of God into creation. Now, Joseph was a good man and he paid attention to the laws and traditions of his people and his family so he decided not to publicly shame her for her mysterious pregnancy. He could have made it public knowledge and cast her out and broken the bonds of their engagement in a humiliating way--in fact, this was what was expected and typical. Instead, he decided to annul the engagement quietly and in private.

The night after he had made that decision but before he had followed through with it God sent an angel in a dream to him. The angel said to him, "Joseph, descendant of David the king, do not follow through with your plan. Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife because the child that she has conceived is the Son of God and she has conceived this child by God's miraculous intervention. This child will be a son that you should name Jesus--which means God is saving--because he will save people from their sins." Now, make sure you notice that all of this took place to fulfill what God had spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel", which means, "God is with us."

When Joseph woke up he did exactly as the angel had commanded him because he believed it to be true. He completed the betrothal process and took the pregnant Mary as his wife but he didn't consummate their marriage until after the birth of God into this world. They named the baby boy Jesus just as Joseph had been told.


After the magi had left, an angel of the Lord came again to Joseph in a dream and said, "Hurry, take the boy and his mother and get out of town. Go to Egypt and remain there until I call you out of it. Herod is about to do a terrible thing and slaughter many innocent children in an attempt to kill your son." So, Joseph got up under the cover of night, woke his wife and dressed his child while his mind imagined cruelty to come. They went to Egypt and remained there until after the death of Herod. Again, notice that this was to fulfill what God had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt, I have called my son."


As is the way of all men given enough time, eventually Herod died. After the death of this terrible man, an angel suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph while he lived in Egypt. The angel said, ‘Now is the time, take your son and his mother, and return to Israel. Those who were hoping to destroy the son you are guarding and taking care of have died and it is safe again to be in the land of your fathers." So, Joseph gathered his family and prepared his son while his mind imagined redemption and salvation to come.They returned to Israel but when Joseph heard that Archelaus--Herod's son--was ruling over Judea he hesitated to return there. So, after receiving another dream confirming his hesitation he settled in Galilee. Specifically, he settled in Nazareth and another prophecy was fulfilled which read, "He will be called a Nazorean."

Sunday, March 18, 2018

March 18 - Cyril of Jerusalem, Theologian, Bishop, Church Father

Cyril of Jerusalem was raised within the Christian community in the early fourth century. As a result he was well versed in the theological disputes of his day. At the age of twenty-two he was ordained as a deacon of the Church by Macarius of Jerusalem. This is an important event because it represents the trust that the Church was willing to place in Cyril. As a deacon he was expected to further devote himself to God in ways that would strengthen and further the Kingdom of God as it was born into the world. Under Cyril's circumstances this meant a theological battle with those members of the Church who had fallen under the heretical spell of Arianism. Perhaps with good intentions--and at times with nefarious aims--members of the Church had begun professing views that ran counter to the accepted Christian teaching. In this case, the Arians insisted that Jesus Christ was not fully divine. Rather, they suggested that Jesus had been created by God to be an emissary of God. This was an unacceptable departure from Christian teaching because it undermined what Jesus had taught and also the efficacy of the resurrection. When those professing this view were approached with their error they chose to persist in the belief even if it ran counter to the established and orthodox position. In doing so, they became heretics but they didn't necessarily lose their influence in the Church. A battle raged and Cyril was asked to become one of the champions of orthodoxy. He accepted the calling.

Eight years later he was ordained a priest by Maximus--a bishop. This ordination further entrenched him in the struggle for orthodoxy. As a priest he was called to care for the people of God and look after them. He could not simply proclaim the heretic to be wrong--he had to worry for their soul, as well. All the while, he was tasked with taking care of the flock that gathered around him in Jerusalem. After seven years of struggling under this calling he was appointed to take the place of Maximus and become the bishop in Jerusalem. With this ordination came the calling to tend also to the priests who served the Church daily. He shouldered this burden with as much grace and mercy as he could muster and spent the majority of his time trying to broker peace and reconciliation between the two factions. Meanwhile, he continued to meet the needs of the poor and even sold some of the Church's property to feed some local poor people. Seeing their chance, the Arians had him deposed from his position using their newly acquired ecclesial power to cast him out of the ministry. He refused to deny his ordination as they had requested of him and became a wandering minister.

As was often the case at the time, Cyril did not stop ministering to the people of God simply because he had been defrocked and deposed. Instead, he continued to minister and eventually was reinstated when the orthodox faction regained control of the necessary power positions. Shortly thereafter he was again deposed by the Arians. After yet another little while he was again reinstated.Whether he was officially labeled a minister or not he continued to seek peace and reconciliation while comforting and teaching the people entrusted to his care.Though he had been resistant to compromise he was eventually worn down and agreed upon theological terminology and language (homooussios) that he had originally rejected for the sake of peace and healing. Cyril died on March 18, 386, having spent his life and his time holding a hemorrhaging Church together through love, peace, and the sacramental mysteries he bore with him wherever he went.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

March 17 - Patrick of Ireland, Slave, Bishop, Missionary

Patrick's father was a leader in his community and was named Calpornius. He was a deacon in the congregation they attended in Wales. Calpornius' father--Patrick's grandfather--was named Potitus and he was a priest in the area where they grew up. He offered the sacraments and mysteries of the Church to those who had ears to hear and eyes to see. Patrick had roots within the Church and found himself drawn to the ministry that his father and grandfather had likewise felt themselves called to. He was receiving an education that would likely end up with him becoming yet another member of his family in service to the Church when one day he was kidnapped by Celtic bandits and slavers on the Western coast of Wales. They forced him into chains and carried him back aboard their ship so that they might force young Patrick--only sixteen years old--to work for the highest bidder. In this case, he was bought by a man who made him a shepherd by trade. Patrick ended up on some lonely hillside--a stranger in a strange land--watching over sheep that were not his own.

For his six years as a slave to Celtic leaders he was mostly in isolation on some verdant Irish hillside. Since he was alone as he worked he began praying to himself. He began with the prayers he had learned as a child and these expanded into his own spontaneous prayers. He sang songs and hymns to sustain himself as he spent many lonely night with only sheep and goats for company. Finally, he began to hear God speak of liberation and escape. He heard a voice saying he would soon be free. A few days later a voice told him his ship was waiting for him and so he fled from his master that very day. He traveled for some time and through harsh conditions until he arrived at a port in eastern Ireland (200 miles from the place of his captivity). He boarded the ship and finally returned to his home in Wales. They greeted him with joy and gladness and toasted his return but after the parties had faded Patrick came to the stunning realization that he had missed six years of his life. All of his peers were well into their professions and careers and he had fallen woefully far behind in his education. His dreams of becoming a minister like all of the others had been shattered aboard the slaver ship that had stolen him away.Patrick ended up in the home of family--a stranger in a familiar land--watching his friends go on without him.

He didn't know what to do with his life but he couldn't shake the strong calling he felt upon his life. As he was adrift in his life and uncertain how he should continue he had a vision. In the vision a man named Victoricus came striding across the Irish Sea toward Patrick. In Victoricus' hands were many scrolls. Each scrolls was a letter--written to a certain person--and he was handing them out to those God had called to serve. Patrick waited eagerly in his vision and received a scroll titled "The Voice of the Irish." In it he heard the laments of the Irish people who begged the former slave to come back and bring the Gospel that taught love for enemies and forgiveness from all sins. He must have wondered if this wasn't a mistake to be sent back to the people who had enslaved him as a missionary. Yet, as he reflected upon the vision he became more and more certain that God was calling him to be a missionary to the Irish. So, he went--one of the first Christian missionaries to leave the Roman Empire. Patrick ended up in some foreign boat on his way back to Ireland--a stranger crossing the Irish Sea--following after a calling that God had given him.

Patrick baptized thousands of people in Ireland as he brought his own particular style of preaching and teaching to them. He did not have the same education as his many peers and colleagues but he knew well the people he had been called to serve. He confronted Celtic warlords with bravery and courage knowing that they would respect him for it and want to know what faith he held that gave him such courage. He brought the faith to the Irish in a way that mediated the sacraments and mysteries of the Church to a people unfamiliar with the history and symbols of the Body of Christ. Patrick became the vehicle by which the grace of God was translated into Irish hearts. He ordained thousands and became a bishop missionary welcome in countless homes throughout the hills of Ireland. Patrick ended up in the land of his enslavement--a hero in a beloved land--watching over sheep that had become his own.

Friday, March 16, 2018

March 16 - Sebastian Castellio, Preacher, Theologian, Champion of Religious Liberty

Sebastian Castellio received such a comprehensive education that he was fluent in French, Italian, German, Latin, Hebrew, and Greek when he had finished. Other writers, including Voltaire, wrote and spoke about his magnificent intelligence and keenly trained mind.Though John Calvin was better known perhaps it was considered evident that Sebastian was, at the very least, his intellectual equal if not his superior. He was a faithful Roman Catholic with a vibrant faith and it was because of this faith that he had received his education in the first place--he felt called to use his intellectual gifts in the service of God through the Church. Yet, when he was only twenty-four years old he was in Lyon when the French Inquisition was punishing heretics. They tied the reformers and the heretics to posts and incinerated them for disagreeing. Sebastian was sickened by this and was aware that he could no longer deny that there was something wrong in the Church. If leaders in the Church could consciously destroy others who disagreed with them--could wield a sword made of steel instead of love--then there was something horribly wrong in the Church. Sebastian resolved to be a part of the solution and joined with the reformers.

He traveled to Strasbourg where he met John Calvin. John and his wife were so impressed with Sebastian that their relationship bloomed quickly. In 1542 Sebastian was asked to become rector at the College de Geneve and was licensed to preach the Gospel in that area.His theological work was looked upon with charity and esteem not only because of his noted intellect but also because of his friendship with John Calvin. But things began to turn sour as time went on. Perhaps Sebastian's first inkling that things weren't okay was when a great illness swept through Geneva claiming victims. Sebastian went about the work of the Church and offered pastoral care and the last rites to the sick and dying in Geneva. While he was doing this he was informed that this was unusual. When he asked why he was told that Calvin and the other ministers had labeled themselves too important to risk dying to comfort a small part of the Church. In other words, they had decided that their death was more costly than the deaths of unknown Christians. Later Sebastian went to John to received his endorsement for a translation of the New Testament into French that Sebastian had penned. John denied Sebastian's request because John's cousin had recently asked for the same thing. The pain was not in the denial or rejection but the stinging and mocking words that John offered to Sebastian.

Perhaps the last blow to John and Sebastian's relationship came when Sebastian rose to his feet in a public meeting of ministers to insist that ministers should not persecute or slander those whom they disagreed with. At the heart, Sebastian's suggestion was that lay people be considered as important as the clergy and that clergy not abuse power simply because it was within their grasp. This idea--not persecuting those whom you disagreed with--was deep seated with Sebastian and would become a point of contention with many throughout his life. When Sebastian saw John and his friends mock and deride somebody they disagreed with he could smell the smoke in Lyon all over again. For this insistence he was charged with "undermining the prestige of the clergy" and removed from his position. His license was cancelled and he was turned out of his home. He and his family were abandoned by a group of religious leaders who had given up reformation for a new power structure with themselves at the top. Sebastian and his family struggled for years until he eventually found work again as professor at the University of Basel.

Meanwhile, in Geneva, a doctor and theologian by the name of Michael Servetus was being tried for heresy and blasphemy by John Calvin's power structure. Michael had denied the trinity among other teachings and was ordered to change his mind to agree with John. John Calvin even inserted himself among the judges at work in Michael's conviction. When Michael refused to recant he was burned at the stake in Geneva. When Sebastian heard of this he began writing articles and letters to alert the general population of the blood that dripped off of John Calvin's hands--the blood of Michael Servetus. Though he never claimed Michael to be orthodox in his theology he did insist that his heresy should have been rebuffed by reason and rhetoric and not shackles and flames. Further, he disagreed with John's definition of heresy as "anybody who disagrees with me on a theological point." Rather, he insisted that there was room for liberty within the bonds of the Church--or at the very least there was room if there was any hope for reformation. Sebastian was successful in convincing some but yet more remained in support of John Calvin's ruthless theological efficiency. Before he died (and his enemies dug up his body and burned it), he wrote: "We can live together peacefully only when we control our intolerance. Even though there will always be differences of opinion from time to time, we can at any rate come to general understandings, can love one another, and can enter the bonds of peace, pending the day when we shall attain unity of faith."

Thursday, March 15, 2018

March 15 - Louise de Marillac, Motherless Daughter, Widow, Founder of the Daughters of Charity

Louis de Marillac was an important man with influence that spread across national boundaries and obtained power and control for him by wooing others to do his will. His place within the Parisian courts was firm even though he had conceived a child with a woman he wasn't married to--this child was a daughter who would be named Louise. Louise's mother died during childbirth but Louise survived the ordeal. Though she was a child of a recently deceased mother and had been born outside of the bonds of wedlock she was exceedingly well cared for by her father and the people her father appointed to care for her. She received an excellent education in a nearby monastery and felt the beginnings of a growing and vibrant spiritual life. Yet, she lacked a stable home life and often lamented this lack. Her well-appointed and pleasant life had no strong foundation, though, and this left her feeling adrift in a world that only became more and more confusing and perplexing as she grew up as a motherless daughter among Parisian nobility.

Louise sought the order and simplicity of the monastic order "the Daughters of Passion" in Paris but was rejected. She was crushed because she had begun to think of monastic vows as an escape from the chaos that marked her life. She was not informed as to why her application was rejected and this left her questioning most of her life and all of her calling. She was advised that God had "something else" planned for her. She was once again set adrift in an increasingly tumultuous world and went to what remained of her family for advice on how to proceed from her place of rejection. Her family suggested that she marry and so she consented because of the possibility that it would finally offer a family life like she had been coveting all these years. She was married and she had one child within the first year of marriage but soon thereafter her husband grew very sick. She cared for him very well but she could not quell the doubts that this marriage had been a mistake. She had vowed to remain with him and so she did but she wondered if this was what she had been called to do. In a service of worship near Pentecost she received stunning and sudden certainty. She wrote, "I was advised that I should remain with my husband and that the time would come when I would be in the position to make vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and that I would be in a small community where others would do the same." She took care of her husband for two more years before he died.

Having fulfilled her previous vows she sought out a spiritual director to provide direction and guidance to her rudderless life. She found Vincent de Paul and he spent his time with her by guiding her to a life of spiritual moderation and calm.Her tendencies had always been toward chaos and directionless action but under the direction of Vincent she became increasingly comfortable and peaceful. Together the two of them founded a group known as the Daughters of Charity. This group focused on remembering two essential principles: (1) in any situation they should act as Jesus would act, and (2) they must remember to "Love the poor and honor them as you would honor Christ Himself." Under the guidance of Louise and Vincent they formed a group of women who endeavored to become family one to another and provide the calm and moderate direction to individuals that only a loving community can truly offer. Louise's direction expanded their charity and teaching to include hospitals, orphanages, institutions for the elderly and mentally ill, prisons, schools and the battlefield. Louise died on March 15, 1660, after having devoted her life to developing loving communities among those set adrift by life and circumstances.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

March 14 - Fannie Lou Hamer, Civil Rights Activist, "the lady who sings the hymns," "that illiterate woman"

Reverend James Bevel had preached several sermons just like the one he had just preached. In it he proclaimed the liberation and healing that Jesus promised to those who would take up the yoke of discipleship. He fearlessly identified the racism inherent in the system and the use of it by those in power to oppress and repress black Americans. James Bevel was a part of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was a friend and colleague of Martin Luther King, Jr. He was well aware that there were costs associated with activism because he had been involved in the activist life that led to pain and punishment at the hands of those who opposed them all. Yet at the end of his sermon he went ahead and asked if any of those who had heard it would volunteer to be a part of the solution--to register to vote even though it might cost them something significant. Fannie stood up and volunteered nearly immediately. She had already suffered at the hands of the powerful when she had been unknowingly sterilized a year before. The powers had decided that black citizens in Southern Mississippi could be controlled if they weren't allowed to reproduce--so they took it upon themselves to perpetrate atrocities. Fannie volunteered to become a voter and have her voice heard.

Fannie lost her job as soon as her employer found out she had registered. She would later say of that night: "I guess if I'd had any sense, I'd have been a little scared - but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they [white people] could do was kill me, and it seemed they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember." Fannie's faith lent her a prophetic awareness of what was happening in the United States--people were giving up their lives piece by piece so that they might not lose it all at once. They were purchasing a degree of security by selling any hope of future security or equality. Given the lynchings and abuse suffered by those who did not agree to this Faustian bargain it is understandable but tragic. Fannie boarded a bus that was loaded with people like herself who were going to register. As they traveled and anticipated the vicious resistance that would meet them there, Fannie began singing hymns and inviting others to join her. As they sang "This Little Light of Mine," Fannie must have considered how this bus ride represented a painful commitment not to "hider [her light] under a bushel." Fannie's use of the hymns underscored to those who joined her that this was a spiritual struggle and not simply a matter of politics and influence.

In the summer of 1963 she and others on a bus returning from a literacy class were arrested on a trumped up charge by police officers looking to punish black people for being unsatisfied with the status quo. They were taken to prison and were offered the opportunity to leave by the police officers. Though they were tempted to do so they refused because they knew what was down that path--the police officers would shoot them in the backs and later claimed that "those savage blacks" had attacked them and tried to escape. Instead, they were incarcerated, beaten savagely, and left unfed in their cells to defecate and urinate on themselves. Some nearly died from these abuses. They were eventually released when it was determined that their nonviolence could not be manipulated to defame or kill them.

A year later she became a leader in a new political group known as the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. These "Freedom Democrats" insisted that Mississippi was unfairly represented at the Democratic National Convention--all of the delegates were white and there were active black voters in Mississippi. They insisted that changes be made and that Mississippi democrats needed to send black delegates. Lyndon Johnson became upset with this group because they represented a thorny political issue that would eliminate his southern support. Fannie was an easy story to cover for the news outlets because of her hymn-singing and soon Johnson was wondering what it would take to shut up "that illiterate woman." He sent a delegation to negotiate a compromise that might leave him politically powerful but Fannie was unpersuaded by their attempts to buy off their support and play political games. Her faith guided her and she rejected their compromise. She said she would "pray to Jesus" for them. She did but it cost her her seat on the negotiation committee. Eventually, a compromise was struck that stipulated that one of those delegates could not be Fannie Lou Hamer because she could not be trusted to play the political game.

Fannie Lou Hamer died in 1977 and was buried under a grave marker that read: "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

March 13 - Rutilio Grande, Martyr, Priest, Friend of the Poor

Rutilio Grande was born and raised in El Salvador. It was in El Salvador that he was brought into the Faith that would preserve and empower him for years to come and it is in El Salvador that he would lay down his life as a witness to the liberating and saving power of his Lord Jesus Christ. His family was very poor and so he was well acquainted with the life of poverty and the uncertainty that follows in its wake day after day. At the age of twelve he expressed a desire to become a priest. This was perhaps partly because it represented a way out of "accidental" poverty by entering into a vow of poverty--if he was going to be poor at least he could choose it and find some comfort in it as a calling. He joined the Jesuits five years later and studied to become a priest. The life of a priest represented comfort to Rutilio and so he adhered to the many rules and regulations with zeal since they gave his life structure. Yet, as he further invested himself in administration and education he began to drift slowly away from a life of grace and mercy and into a life of regulation and comforting security. He was ordained into the priesthood but he feared that it was beyond him and that he was painfully inadequate in this calling.

In 1965 he returned to El Salvador from abroad (mostly Spain) to serve as the Director of Social Action at the Jesuit seminary in El Salvador. He had an incredible impact on the formation of new ministers in his years there. Though it was the norm for priests to be socialites and people of status in El Salvador, Rutilio was beginning to feel like there was a different calling at work in his life and in the lives of those close to him. He beganinsisting that seminarians spend more time with the poor and that priests become deeply and emotionally invested in the lives of the poor in their parishes. He coordinated ministers and ministries so that the poverty of many became the concern of those who expressed a desire to be the hands and feet of their homeless Lord. This work continued even as Rutilio took a position as priest of a parish. He began to attract attention from the government because of his compassion on the poor and disenfranchised in El Salvador. The powers that ruled El Salvador feared that Rutilio would excite people to rebellion in his preaching and in his proclamations of liberty for the poor and outcast. Men like Rutilio and Oscar Romero were increasingly unwelcome in El Salvador. This point was driven home when a priest was kidnapped, abused, and then exiled from the country.Soon after, Rutilio preached a sermon that would cost him his life. In it he said:

I’m quite aware that very soon the Bible and the gospel won’t be allowed to cross our borders. We’ll only get the bindings, because all the pages are subversive. And I think that if Jesus himself across the border to Chalatenango, they wouldn’t let him in. They would accuse the man…of being a rabble-rouser, a foreign Jew, one who confused the people with exotic and foreign ideas, ideas against democracy—that is, against the wealthy minority, the clan of Cains! Brothers and sisters, without any doubt, they would crucify him again. And God forbid that I be one of the crucifiers!
Less than a month later, Rutilio Grande--the man who had said, "It is a dangerous thing to be a Christian in this world"--was killed by government agents with machine guns. He was gunned down and the government's role in his death was covered up. It was only through the tireless work of his friends (including Romero) that the truth was finally uncovered. Rutilio Grande was a friend of the poor and a proclaimer of liberty to the disenfranchised. It cost him his life in 1977.

Monday, March 12, 2018

March 12 - Maximilian of Tebessa, Martyr, Conscientious Objector, Pacifist

[N.B. This is David Woods' translation of "The Passion of St. Maximilian of Tebessa" in Atti e passioni dei martiri. This is not my original work. In my research for the story I felt that I couldn't realistically make it my own after reading this powerful version.]

On the 12th day of March during the consulship of Tuscus and Anolinus [295], when Fabius Victor had been brought into the forum at Tebessa, together with Maximilianus, and their advocate Pompeianus had been granted an audience, the last declared, "The temonarius Fabius Victor is present, together with Valerianus Quintianus, the praepositus Caesariensis, and the fine recruit Maximilianus, Victor's son. Since he is acceptable, I ask that he be measured." The proconsul Dion said, "What are you called ?" Maximilianus replied, "Why do you want to know my name ? It is not permitted to me to serve in the military since I am a Christian". The proconsul Dion said, "Ready him". When he was being got ready, Maximilianus replied, "I cannot serve in the military; I cannot do wrong; I am a Christian." The proconsul Dion said, "Let him be measured". When he had been measured, an official reported, "He is five feet ten inches tall." Dion said to the official, "Let him be marked." And as Maximilianus resisted, he replied, "I will not do it; I cannot serve in the military."

Dion said, "Serve so that you do not perish." Maximilianus replied, "I will not serve; cut off my head; I do not serve the world, but I do serve my God."Dion the proconsul said, "Who has persuaded you of this ?" Maximilianus replied, "My soul and he who has called me." Dion said to his father Victor, "Advise your son." Victor replied, "He himself knows - he has his purpose - what is best for him." Dion said to Maximilianus, "Serve and accept the seal." He replied, "I will not accept the seal: I already have the seal of my Christ." Dion the proconsul said, "I will send you to your Christ right now." He replied, "I wish that you would do so. That is even my title to glory." Dion said to his staff, "Let him be marked." And when he was resisting, he replied, "I do not accept the world's seal, and if you give it to me, I will break it, since I value it at nought. I am a Christian. It is not permitted to me to bear the lead upon my neck after [having received] the saving seal of my Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, he whom you do not know, who suffered for the life of the world, whom God surrendered for our sins. All of us Christians serve Him. Him we follow as the source of life and author of salvation." Dion said, "Serve, and accept the seal, so that you do not suffer a terrible death." Maximilianus replied, "I will not die. My name is already with my Lord; I cannot serve in the military." Dion said, "Have regard to your youth and serve; for this befits a young man." Maximilianus replied, "My service is for my Lord; I cannot serve the world. I have already said: I am a Christian." Dion the proconsul said, "There are Christian soldiers in the sacred retinue of our lords Diocletian, Maximianus, Constantius, and Maximus, and they serve." Maximilianus replied,"They themselves know what is best for them. But I am a Christian, and I cannot do wrong." Dio said, "What wrong do they who serve do ?" Maximilianus replied, "You know well what they do." Dion replied, "Serve, lest, having scorned military service, you begin upon a terrible death." Maximilianus replied, "I will will not die; even if I do depart the world, my spirit will live with my Lord Christ."

Dion said, "Strike out his name." And when it had been struck out, Dion said, "Because you have disloyally refused military service, you will receive the appropriate sentence in order to serve as an example to others." And he read his decision from his tablet, "Maximilianus, since you have disloyally refused the military oath, it has been decided for you to be punished by the sword." Maximilianus replied, "Thanks be to God." He was 21 years, 3 months, and 18 days old. And when he was being led to the place [of execution], he spoke as follows, "Dearest brothers, with an eager desire, hurry with as much courage as you can so that it may befall you to see the Lord and that he may reward you also with a similar crown." And with a joyous face, he addressed his father as follows, "Give that guard the new clothing which you had got ready for me during my military service, so that I may welcome you with a hundredfold reward and we may glory with the Lord together." And so he suffered death shortly afterwards. And the matron Pompeiana obtained his body from the judge and, having placed it in her carriage, she brought it to Carthage, and buried it beneath a little hill near the martyr Cyprian and the palace. And so, after the 13th day, the same woman died, and was buried there. But his father Victor returned to his home with great joy, thanking God that he had sent on ahead such a gift to the Lord, he who was about to follow shortly afterwards.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

March 11 - Balthasar Hubmaier, Martyr, Reformer, Anabaptist

Balthasar Hubmaier had given up much to follow his own convictions and they led him on a path that led through reformation and ended in death. He had been a priest and student in the Church for many years but was fairly unexceptional in his parentage and education. We do know that he was unable to complete all of his education at one time because of financial difficulties. He finished his education but it took longer than expected because he didn't have wealthy parents willing to finance his educational pursuits--education was something he prized because it cost him dearly. After receiving his education he was assigned to a pastorate and began his work as a minister of the Christian faith.

In 1522 and 1523 he began to become acquainted with the early Anabaptists in Basel and Zurich. Zwingli was a powerful mentor in Balthasar's life and helped guide him through the process of living into the reformation of the Universal Church. Soon, he was involved in the public debates and disputations that were popular at the time and he became convinced that there was a significant problem with the Church process of baptizing an infant. Balthasar and the Anabaptists did not dispute that this had been an historic practice of the Church or that it was rooted within the tradition but they did dispute its place within the process of making disciples. It was easy for the Church and State to become synonymous when citizenship, birth, and baptism were bound together in one moment. Their great fear was that baptizing infants meant a disconnection between individuals and the faith that they were called to live out in their daily lives--without some separation between the rest of the world and the Church the Anabaptists feared that the Church would lose its identity. Soon after making his arguments, he was baptized as an adult with all the political implications.

He was forced to flee because of his decision--a decision to stand with those who loved the Church dearly enough to seek honestly its reformation even if it cost them much. He fled to Zurich and hoped that Zwingli would provide him refuge. Yet, when he got there he was betrayed by Zwingli and cast into prison. As a prisoner he requested a public debate on baptism. At the debate, he gathered the courage to confront Zwingli with some of the things Zwingli had said about baptism a while back. Zwingli surprised everybody when he insisted that he had been misunderstood. Balthasar was dumbstruck that his mentor had recanted and so he agreed to recant his position as his head swam with confusion. The next day he was called upon to recant the position in public but he had spent the night anguishing over his agreement to recant and now refused to deny it even if Zwingli had abandoned him. For his audacity he was placed upon the rack and tortured by those who hoped to gain agreement through torture. He recanted under duress. This would trouble him for years and he would repeatedly lament the moment his body had slipped and allowed his lips to utter words he did not believe.

When he returned to Austria and his opinions became known again he was once again arrested--along with his wife--and thrown into prison. He was asked to recant again and he refused again. They tortured him on the rack again before burning him to death in public as his mournful wife begged him to remain strong and steadfast in his convictions. He hoped to reform the Church and those who burned him hoped to enforce obedience to another power--temporary power in the world. His wife was martyred the following day by being drowned in the Danube river.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

March 10 - Harriet Tubman, Escaped Slave, Abolitionist, Conductor on the Underground Railroad

Harriet Tubman's grandmother had been brought over from Ghana to the United States of America as a slave. She had her freedom stripped from her and her children and children's children were condemned to a life of degradation and inhumanity. Harriet was born Araminta Ross and both of her parents were slaves. By virtue of her birth, she too was a slave. Her earliest job was that of a nursemaid for her owner's baby. At the age of five, Harriet was tasked with taking care of the child and insuring that it did not cry. When the baby cried--as all babies do--young Harriet was beaten and whipped. She carried these scars all her life as a silent reminder of humanity's brokenness and sinful ways. When she was only a child, her mother's owner came to take Harriet's brother--Moses--away and sell him to a slaveholder in Georgia. At first Harriet's mother hid Moses so that he might not be sold and taken away. When it was found out, though, that Moses was at home the men came with their whips and clubs to take him by force. Harriet's mother called out from her quarters, "You can surely come and take the boy--I don't doubt that--but the first one of you through the door will get his skull split in two." The men backed down and decided not to tempt Harriet's mother to follow through with her threat. In this moment, Harriet learned a lesson: even those who had been labeled things and not people could resist evil. This lesson served her well for years to come.

As Harriet grew in years and wisdom she became more and more connected to the Faith she had learned at her mother's knee. Harriet couldn't read and neither could her mother but the Biblical stories were told with regularity when the family would gather together. These stories informed her faith and she found great comfort in the stories of deliverance and liberation.She knew that her deliverer was with her even in the midst of slavery. As she grew yet more she began experiencing visions--perhaps partially linked to a traumatic head injury--that she insisted were a way that God communicated with her (even if they were a form of epilepsy, she was certain that God was speaking through them anyway).The stories she had heard as a child and adolescent continued to brew within her and began to form the way she thought about herself and the plight of her fellow slaves. When her owner began trying to sell her she started praying that God would convert the man and lead him to understand the error of his ways. She prayed with confidence that God could change the man but soon her confidence turned to frustration and she began praying that if God would not change the man then God should remove him as an obstacle. Shortly thereafter her owner died and Harriet felt great regret fearing that she had prayed for the man's death. Soon, Harriet escaped slavery under the cover of night (after one failed attempt) by following the north star and eluding men hired to catch escaped slaves by any means necessary. Eventually, she arrived in Pennsylvania and was free.

Escaping wasn't enough for Harriet because she was convinced that God was calling her to more than simple liberation. Rather, she felt God's will leading her back into slave holding territory to bring others out of slavery. She utilized the extensive Underground Railroad network that Christians abolitionists had developed and became a "conductor" along the railroad.Enveloped in the stories of the Faith that gave meaning to her life and work, she was known as "Moses" because she returned to "Egypt" to lead her people out of slavery and death. She liberated her family and extended family first but then kept returning to free yet more slaves. She was continually risking her own life and freedom because she knew that God was directing her to do so. At one point, there was a sizable bounty on her head but she continued to risk her life for others. She was hated by those who loved slavery but loved by those who sought freedom and peace. She would later describe her astonishing success by writing, "I was conductor of the Underground Railroad for eight years, and I can say what most conductors can't say – I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger." For the rest of her life she fought against slavery and oppression of a variety of types. She campaigned for women's suffrage and took an active role as a spy in the American Civil War. She died on March 10, 1913, after uttering her final words to those around her death bed: "I go to prepare a place for you."

Friday, March 9, 2018

March 9 - Forty Martyrs of Sebaste

The Twelfth Legion (historically identified as Legio XII Fulminata) was a historic and legendary group of soldiers that commanded both fear and respect within the Roman Empire. Their thunderbolt emblem immediately identified them to the populace as the soldiers that had been conscripted, trained, and implemented first by Julius Caesar in 58 BC. They had fought battles that were immortalized in stories told to young men to inspire them to courage and valor. To serve in the Twelfth Legion was to be an integral part of the Roman power system as they served under not only Julius Caesar but, also, Mark Anthony. Thus it was considered unacceptable in 320 when the Twelfth Legion, which was guarding the Euphrates River at the time by order of the emperor Licinius, was found to be harboring forty Christians shortly after persecution of Christians was renewed.These forty were given the opportunity to renounce their faith and when they refused they were condemned to die.

So, they were led to a frozen pond by members of their legion and informed that they would die in the most painful way the emperor could imagine at the time. At the point of their colleagues' swords they were stripped of their clothing and forced to march to the center of the frozen pond so that they might die of exposure. As the forty men huddled together they began rotating who would stand on the outside of the group and who would experience the relative warmth of the interior. They knew that the biting winds would eventually kill them but they comforted each other with prayers and songs. In a moment of diabolical creativity, the guards began building hot baths on the shore of the frozen pond as Licinius had ordered them to do. They called to the huddled Christians that any of them might leave the pond at any time and warm themselves in a bath and by the fire if they would renounce their faith. Finally, one of the Christians broke and ran whimpering to the warm bath. He was willing to sell his faith for relief and though we cannot know his suffering we can look back through history and offer him our pity mixed with knowing compassion.

The remaining thirty-nine were surely shaken by their brother's renunciation but they had little time to reflect upon it as the derisive cheers of their guards soon turned to astonishment when one of the guards dropped his weapon, stripped himself of his clothing, and joined the thirty-nine Christians on the pond. He came screaming his confession of faith and was welcomed with shouts of joy and happy songs. As the once-again-forty martyrs slowly died of exposure they shared their faith with the one who had recently converted at the testimony of thirty-nine men willing to die instead of renounce the Faith that sustained them. That guard received his first instruction in the Faith barefoot on a frozen pond only hours before dying. As the cold began to claim its first victims, the guards became tired of the affair and gathered up the lethargic and unconscious Christians. They burned them alive and scattered the ashes. After they had left, Christians came and collected what remains they could so that they might bury the men who had chosen faith over life and honor.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

March 8 - John of God, Monastic, Friend of the Poor, Caretaker

John's family still heard the echos of great affluence in their heritage and way of life but they were by no means wealthy or influential in the world they knew. In fact, their family had been reduced to poverty. Further, John's mother died when he was only a very young child. John and his father were left alone in a world that had become increasingly unwelcoming to the two of them. John's father--now a widower--took up a life of spiritual devotion and became a monk. He was taken care of by a priest for some time before being hired by a farmer to tend his flocks. As far as shepherding went, John was very talented and gained the esteem of his employer. As John grew older and his faith became more his own and more apparent in the eyes of his employer he connected the task of shepherding with the task of ministry. John's employer wanted John to marry his daughter--as a way of rewarding John but, also, as a way of keeping a man of his talent and faith around--but John had already become convinced that his calling was to enter a spiritual order like his father had. He left his job as a shepherd and sought out another kind of flock to care for.

After moving to Spain and serving as a soldier in the military of the Holy Roman Empire, he became involved in a group of Christians who were printing religious books on their new printing press and distributing them to anyone who was able and willing to read them. This was a task that he enjoyed and felt was a part of his calling but it wasn't until one day in January--the day of the feast of Saint Sebastian--that he experienced the next step in his conversion. He heard the preaching of John of Avila and was struck by the truth of it in ways that he could not easily dismiss or deny. He felt convicted by John's insistence that the Church of God must care for the poor and the disenfranchised. Following the service he went into the streets to consider what he had heard when he was gripped by a holy madness. Though he tried to remain rational and sensible, he was soon seized by the people and committed to a local asylum having been judged mad. He struggled with this holy madness for some time until John of Avila visited him. When he laid eyes on John of Avila the madness was lifted and he was left with the memory of how he had been treated while on the streets, while poor, and while he had been considered the refuse of society. With John of Avila's encouragement, he devoted himself to taking care of the poor and the sick--those whom the world would prefer to forget about.

At first, John had more than enough work to do simply spending time with and loving the poor. Yet, as he continued to receive support and feel the confirmation of his calling deep within him he began providing medical help to those who could not afford any assistance from the world's doctors for hire. As he poured himself out for the people of Spain (particularly in Granada), he began to be joined by other men who were interested in giving their lives away for the poor and the sick. These men became John's disciples and learned to love others first as this was everyone's most fundamental need. The group eventually became known as the Order of Hospitallers, now better known as the Brothers Hospitallers of St. John of God. John served God by serving others until the day he died--his fifty-fifth birthday. Those whom he directed continued to serve in John's stead in a ministry that should not ever be forsaken by the People of God.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

March 7 - Perpetua and Felicitas, Martyrs, Mothers, Brave to the End

The emperor Septimus Severus decided that the Jewish and Christian religions must be curtailed if Rome was truly to rule and command the masses it lorded over. There was no room for any other lord within the iron grip of the Roman empire and Septimus Severus had finally decided on one very specific way to put an end to non-Roman allegiance: outlaw conversion upon penalty of death. To further strengthen the decree he made it retroactive a number of months. Perpetua and her servant Felicitas were recent converts and they were caught up in the chaos of legalized death and persecution. Before the authorities could seize them, they were baptized by the priests of their congregation even as they knew this was signing their own arrest warrant. They, along with a few others, were arrested and imprisoned for the crime of their faith. Perpetua had just given birth to a baby boy and Felicitas was nearly eight months pregnant when they were imprisoned.

As a new mother, Perpetua was in pain and desperate to nurse her baby who had not yet been weaned. She suffered in her cell and struggled to maintain her faith even with the aid and comfort of her new sister Felicitas. Two deacons from her congregation bribed the jailer and secreted Perpetua's son into the jail. Perpetua nursed her baby boy and would remark that this single act of mercy by the deacons confirmed her faith in her in a powerful way. Further, it gave her renewed resolve to withstand the tortures that most surely awaited her and Felicitas. She wrote that after that blissful moment she felt as if her prison cell had become a palace. They were given something resembling a trial and given an opportunity to renounce their faith and save their lives. They refused and were taken back to prison with the words of their punishments ringing in their ears--"Cast them to the wild beasts and let them be torn to pieces."

That night Perpetua was visited by three significant events.Her father came to her carrying his grandson--Perpetua's baby boy--and begged her to reconsider her faith. He first pleaded and then commanded her to renounce her faith so that she might be a mother to her baby. Perpetua held fast and insisted that if she renounced her faith then she would not be a boon to her son but only a disgrace. After her father left she had a vision wherein she stepped on the head of a dragon and climbed a rickety ladder to a meadow of great pastoral peace. From the vision she found great peace and it further renewed her resolve to be martyred. Finally, she went to Felicitas who feared that she might not be allowed to be martyred with the others because of her pregnancy. As she was telling this fear to Perpetua and they were praying over it, she went into labor and delivered her own healthy child. In the morning, they were marched to the amphitheatre where they would be martyred and Felicitas carried her newborn baby with her. Christians accompanied them on the march and Felicitas gave over her daughter to a Christian woman so that the child might be raised in the Faith for which her mother was willing to die.

Once they were in the amphitheatre, they were whipped and beaten before the bloodthirsty crowd. Wild animals were released into the arena to kill the Christians and all but Perpetua and Felicitas were soon dead. Perpetua and Felicitas were mortally wounded but this was not enough for the fierce crowd. They gave each other the Christian "kiss of peace" as their executioner approached with his sword. He killed Felicitas and then turned to Perpetua. He was shaking at the thought of yet more murder and so Perpetua guided the blade of his sword to her neck and gave him silent permission to perpetrate the Empire's atrocities.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

March 6 - Katharine Drexel, Missionary, Educator, Champion of Civil Rights

Katharine was the daughter of a wealthy Roman Catholic banker--Francis Anthony Drexel--and his wife--Hannah Jane Langstroth Drexel--in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Francis was a noted philanthropist who was convinced that the most appropriate use of money was to help those in need and to use it as a tool to expand the Kingdom of God. He lived out this idea and taught it to Katharine as she grew. Though Hannah Jane died when Katharine was only five years old, Francis remarried. Her father's outspoken philanthropy and commitment to taking care of not only his family but, also, other families. When Katharine was a young woman only beginning to consider the question of calling, her father took her on a trip to the Western United States of America. She enjoyed the trip but it also sparked something within her that would burn for many years to come.

She saw poverty and oppression among the Native Americans in the Western United States of America. Her father had always been one to crusade against poverty but he had kept her in a degree of comfort that exceeded the average for Philadelphia. When she had the opportunity to look into the faces of the poor it changed her life and she felt a calling being born within her to take care of those whom God had brought her to. When she had received her education and prepared for the calling God had placed upon her life she moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and started a school--St. Catherine Indian School. In this place, she teachers offered a priceless gift with no strings attached: education. It was her conviction and confidence that education was the beginning of the way out of poverty for the Native American children near Santa Fe. When her school proved not only successful but liberating, she received an audience with the Pope--Leo XIII--in Rome. She asked for the Pope to appoint missionaries to help staff the school she had started. Leo's response was to agree but also to suggest that she become a missionary. She did so gladly and willingly.

Shortly before the 19th century became the 20th, Katharine officially became a missionary and founded a group called the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament. They spread out from Santa Fe and used nearly all of Katharine's considerable inherited wealth (somewhere near $20 million) to found more and more schools. Katharine added speaking on racial issues and civil rights questions to her teaching task. The schools that were opened were targeted to the disenfranchised and racially segregated. Through Kathrine's work an leadership, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament grew to 63 schools and five hundred sisters by the time Katharine died in 1955. In 2000, she was finally canonized by Pope John Paul II.

Monday, March 5, 2018

March 5 - Martin Niemoller, Pacifist, Converted from Hatred, Pastor

They came first for the Communists and Martin Niemoller didn't speak up because he wasn't a Communist. In fact, Martin was an anti-Communist and though he had reservations about Hitler and some of his policies he was aware of Hitler's vicious anti-Communist sympathies. He suspected that Nazi rule and government would result in crackdowns on Communism within Germany and Martin could only see this as an unqualified good. He was definitely uncomfortable with some of the consequences of Hitler's rise to power but he was apparently willing to put up with the negatives for the chance to punish those he disagreed with.

Then they came for the Jews and Martin didn't speak up because he wasn't a Jew. He was the son of a Lutheran pastor and had served in World War I aboard various U-boats. He was part of crews that flew a false French flag and sank British and American ships in an attempt to shut down naval commerce in the Mediterranean Sea and the Strait of Otranto. After World War I finished, he decided first to become a farmer. He got married and had very little success as a farmer. Eventually, he gave up farming and decided to follow in his father's footsteps by first studying how to be and then becoming a pastor in a Lutheran congregation.

Then they came for the trade unionists and Martin didn't speak up because he wasn't a trade unionist. Instead he was a pastor who hoped to use the Christian faith to apply order to society and restrain cultural evils. He was looking to unite people with the power of religion but it's unclear about the state of his own faith at the time. He professed belief in the Faith of his fathers but it seemed that Christianity was nothing more than a tool to attain some particular interpretation of utopia within society.

Then they came for the Catholics and Martin didn't speak up because he was a Protestant. In fact, he was a leading Protestant who had an opportunity to speak on behalf of other Protestants in an audience with Hitler. Hitler insisted that he wanted the support of the Protestants. Martin would write many years later: "Hitler promised me on his word of honor, to protect the Church, and not to issue any anti-Church laws. He also agreed not to allow pogroms against the Jews, assuring me as follows: 'There will be restrictions against the Jews, but there will be no ghettos, no pogroms, in Germany.'" Still hoping to purchase security and safety by sacrificing others, he was willing to make this deal because he suspected it would be good for the Church--he was so very wrong.

Then they came for Martin and by that time no one was left to speak up. When Hitler began oppressing the parts of the Church that Martin was associated with he was forced to come to a sudden realization--he had been dealing with the devil and selling his soul for a little more security. He became an outspoken opponent of Hitler and the Nazi regime but there was little time left to change the way of things. He was arrested and held in prison for resisting and opposing the Nazis. When he was released, he was picked up by the Gestapo under the direction of Rudolf Hess. He was sent to concentration and works camps--both Sachenhausen and Dachau. As the Allied forces were liberating the camps, he was transferred to Tyrol and eventually set free. He had suffered but most importantly he had changed. He has been converted from the gospel of security through control and to the Gospel of Jesus the Slaughtered. For years he devoted himself to making up for his earlier failures and never once failing to admit his guilt. He became a pacifist and a proponent of nuclear disarmament and led congregations to work together to expand the Kingdom of God and not simply to endorse or manipulate some political system of this world.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

March 4 - Adrian and Natalia of Nicomedia, Husband and Wife, Martyr and Widow,

Adrian was a loyal soldier in the Herculean legion under emperor Maximian. The Herculean legion was one of the two veteran
 legions promoted to the role of Imperial Guard as emperors became increasingly uncomfortable with the loyalty of the Praetorian guard. To be a member of this legion was a great honor that came with a significant number of obligations and responsibilities. One particular role that members of the Herculean legion served was that of torturer of those who dared to resist the Empire. In this way, they were soldiers that fought not only for territory and control but also the minds of the people the emperor hoped to rule over. In the early fourth century, Christians were a common target for the emperor's wrath and members of the Herculean guard were therefore called upon to torture and kill Christians with regularity.

Once when Adrian was torturing a group of Christians he was stunned with their peace of mind in the face of great pain. As the soldiers he was commanding burned the Christians with hot pokers and beat them savagely, he looked on and had time to marvel at the love and forgiveness they offered their torturers. In Adrian's mind he must have wondered if he could remain so loyal to the Empire if asked to suffer to this degree for it. As they were being tortured he asked them "What kind of reward could you possibly be expecting from your God that makes you so willing to remain loyal even in the face of Rome's worst tortures?"The Christians looked at each other through their pain and Adrian must have considered that he had finally stumped them or broken their will.

But then they quoted Paul's first letter to the Church in Corinth and responded, "For those that love God, God has prepared something that no eye has ever seen, no ear has ever heard, and no human has ever even begun to conceive."The room was filled with a stunned silence that can only rightfully accompany a sudden and unexpected glimpse of profound and hope filled truth. The soldiers turned to see how Adrian would respond--perhaps they were hoping he would dispel the conviction that tickled their hearts and respond with some witty or equally profound statement to support the Imperial lie they were suddenly aware they were a part of. Adrian responded by dropping to his knees and begging the prayers and forgiveness of the Christians.The soldiers were shocked at this but were further amazed when he proclaimed his faith and trust in the Lord of the Christians whom he had just been persecuting. The men he had been commanding arrested him and turned him over to the brutal hands of the Emperor. He was thrown in prison to await the day he would be executed for his crime of faith.

While in prison his wife, Natalia, heard the story of what had happened to him but wanted to hear it for herself. So, she disguised herself and dressed as a young boy so that she might be admitted to see him in prison. When she arrived, she revealed her identity to her husband and asked him to tell her what had happened. He told the story of the birth of faith within him and she was likewise convicted by the words of the Christians and the faith that had gripped her husband whom she trusted. She, too, was converted and asked that he pray for her once he had attained that glorious reward that now loomed before him a little closer every day. The very next day he was paraded before members of the Herculean legion and Natalia and had his limbs first broken on an anvil and then amputated brutally. As he lie bleeding in Natalia's arms, they decapitated him and took what remained of his body away from Natalia and to a great fire to be burned along with the bodies of the Christians he had been torturing just two days previous.As they cast the bodies into the flames, Natalia let out a great cry and rushed to throw herself onto the pyre but a great storm that had been building suddenly issued both wind and rain and the fire was put out before Natalia or the bodies could be burned.

A little while later--and under the cover of darkness--Christians came out of hiding to take the bodies of the martyrs and give them a Christian burial. Along with the bodies, they took Natalia with them and cared for her for the rest of her life. She was the widow of a martyr and a Christian herself and so she was honored among the Christians for years to come. Though she was not a martyr herself it was clear that she had given up much for her faith. So, when she died she was buried alongside Adrian in the place where martyrs were buried.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

March 3 - John Wesley, Preacher, Evangelist, Brand Plucked from the Fire

John Wesley was the fifteenth child in his large English family. Their family was heavily influenced by the faith of the past and the present. John's grandfather has been a Puritan minister and his own father was rector in Epworth when John was born. It was important to the Wesley family to be involved in the life of the Church and it was in the stories and words of the Body of Christ that they found meaning and direction. The profound impact of John's early years in the Church cannot be fully understood or charted. In many ways, it would have been unsurprising years later to find John Wesley among the cultured and refined members whose faith has become little more than adherence to habits of attendance and patterns of speech. Yet, there was a particular moment when he was five years old that seems to have started him along a path away from bored and inherited faith and toward a life of discipline and spiritual formation. The rectory where they lived caught fire while John was in the home. As the walls were consumed in flame and smoke began to choke the life from his young body, he was saved from the fire by some family member who picked him up and carried him out of fiery death. He would remark years later that he felt he had been like a brand plucked from the fire for some special purpose and that he was continually provoked to question why it was he had not been burned to death on that night.

As he grew older his faith was challenged and tested as all faith is and he began to drift away from the faith of family and into the reluctant agnosticism of cynical adolescence.He was bullied and abused by many of his peers and this left a painful mark on him for the rest of his life--even causing him to tremble as a grown man when he about the adolescent savagery of which he had been the victim. As pain and depression further marked his life's attentions he stopped practicing the faith he had been taught and given and instead hoped--like so many did and still often do--that it would be enough only to think his faith. After all this was when he first encountered the Moravians who met in Aldersgate Street in London. He had shown up at their meeting because he had been impressed at the peace of mind of a handful of Moravians on a previous sea voyage when a storm had buffeted and rocked the ship he was on. Perhaps seeking a renewal of his faith or perhaps simply homesick for a simpler time he attended one of their services on Aldersgate and something incredible happened. Looking back, he would write that he felt his heart strangely warmed as he listened to the scripture being read. It was here that he would be renewed in his faith and learn to claim it as his own.

For years he worked with Moravians and helped craft a way of doing Church that emphasized regular small group participation, living out the faith while learning about it, and mutual accountability and vulnerability within the walls of the Church. Abandoning the tendency of the Church to become an institution instead of a movement, John insisted that the spiritual life was something that deserved and required special attention. Instead of simply hoping that right doctrine and thought would be enough John called for all Christians to join right practice with right thought. From that moment with the Moravians he personally worked to effect salvation and redemption in his own life and in the lives of those close to him. And there were many who were close to John Wesley since he spent so much time riding his horse and preaching to any who would listen whether in the pulpit of a church or in a field for all interested ears. John felt strongly that God has plucked him from the fire so that he might bring about revival in the Church which he was so certain was in desperate need of new life. He went out into the world and, in his own words, he "set himself on fire and the world has come to watch me burn." The brand that had been plucked from the fire became a great preacher of the gospel bringing hundreds of thousands of people to a faith that changed their lives and redeemed their souls.

As John lay dying on March 2, 1791, he called for his friends and family and they were all too willing to come be near to him as he passed on from this life into another that he had preached and anticipated for many years. The people that drew near to him on his deathbed had had their lives changed by this man and it must have been hard to watch him die even though the too anticipated heavenly redemption for him. He held the hands of those near to him and repeated the word "Farewell" to each of them in turn. Having said his goodbyes, he drew a deep breath and proclaimed like the preacher he was: "The best of all is, God is with us." He repeated this phrase one more time in a weaker voice and passed from this life to the next.

Friday, March 2, 2018

March 2 - Engelmar Unzeitig, Martyr of Brotherly Love, Priest, Angel of Dachau

Engelmar Unzeitig committed an unpardonable sin against the German nation in the estimation of the ruling powers. He had used the pulpit of his congregation to resist and defy the Nazis who had already decided and proclaimed Jews to be the enemy, the problem, and the target for vengeance and victimization. Engelmar defended Jews from the pulpit and urged his congregation to stop believing the corrosive lies the powers were telling. He was a fairly recently ordained priest and as such his allegiance rested firmly with God and the Church before and above any other dominion or power. He could not keep his mouth shut because he felt a calling to speak truth in the face of great deception and confusion. Because of this calling and his carefully chosen words, he was arrested by the Nazis and sent to Dachau to suffer for his refusal to bow before the powers of this world.

At Dachau he definitely suffered but he tried to see it in different terms than that of a concentration camp.He walked under the banner that proclaimed another of the great Nazi lies: "Work will make you free" but he didn't believe it--he knew well that only the Truth could set him free. Engelmar saw Dachau as a mission field and set about his work of spreading faith and hope in the midst of death and oppression. In many ways, Dachau was spiritually formative for Engelmar and he would later describe it as a school of holiness. The suffering he experienced there as he went about the work of the Kingdom raked away his brokenness and corruption and replaced it with life more abundant. He did this alongside thousands of other ministers--Roman Catholic and Protestant. Dachau has been called the largest of monasteries because of the incredible density of ministers within its walls at the time and it is in this context that Engelmar formed and was formed by ministers from his tradition and those who under other circumstances might have been his opponents in argument. It seems that in Dachau those differences didn't matter any more.

In his fourth year in the camp (1945), there was a vicious outbreak of typhoid fever. The hungry and sickly people only got a little closer to death as it swept through the camp with ferocity and sickening speed. Those who showed symptoms were quarantined in one dilapidated barrack and left to die in their own filth. Volunteers were requested to take care of the sick and dying and the general population was hesitant to volunteer as everybody knew it would almost certainly cost them their lives to provide this comfort. Engelmar and nineteen other priests volunteered and began living among sickness and death in the one dilapidated barrack. Their every waking moment was filled with bathing the sick, saying prayers, offering last rites, and feeding the dying. They offered the sacraments to the sick because it was important to them to continue offering the holy mysteries of the Church to those who approached death's door with alarming suddenness. Finally, Engelmar succumbed to the disease (along with seventeen of the other priests) and died. Though he had been in comparably good health beforehand he sacrificed his life and his comfort to care for those in need at the moment. A few weeks later the camp was liberated and its prisoners released.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

March 1 - Agnes of Bohemia, Princess, Not Content to be a Pawn

Agnes was born to a life of luxury as the daughter of the king of Bohemia. She was a princess and was destined to be comfortable and protected. If all things went as planned, and they so very rarely do,she would remain uninitiated to suffering for years and years and the worst experiences she had would be nothing in comparison to those who could not protect themselves with money or influence. At the age of three, though, her mother and father decided that she should be educated. They felt that the Cistercian monastery at Trzebnica was the best fit for her and so she was sent with a sizable trust to be cared for, raised, and educated by the monks there. This was the monastery that had been founded by Hedwig and had some renown with the people. She received a limited education because she was only there for three years but in those three years some formative and important connections were made in her mind.Because of the tutelage of the monks, Agnes had a faith that transcended her affluence and filled her with a desire to be not only virtuous but charitable.

Some time around her eighth birthday she was engaged to the son of Frederick II, the "Holy Roman Emperor." His name was Henry and he was two years older than Agnes. Furthermore, Henry has just been named Henry VII of Germany and crowned "king of the Romans." It would have been expected at the time for Agnes to move to her betrothed's region and begin to learn the culture and language. Yet, Frederick and Henry lived in entirely different regions and this custom proved implausible because of it. So, she was sent nearby to the area to live with Leopold VI of Babenberg. This seemed like a great accommodation and solution to the problem except for one detail: Leopold wanted young Henry to marry his daughter and not Agnes. It took some time but Leopold was able to connive and politic Frederick into cancelling the engagement and sending Agnes home. Henry ended up marrying Leopold's son and an alliance was cemented between the two families. After all, this was what it had been about the entire time. Agnes was a pawn in the game of royal politics and manipulations. Her father went to war with Leopold for this perceived slight. After this played out, she was engaged to Henry III of England to form a powerful alliance but Frederick refused to acknowledge it because of his own desire to marry Agnes. Finally, Agnes would have it no longer and stopped participating in the political game by declaring herself to be betrothed to Jesus because of the faith that had been steeping in her throughout all the political machinations.

She declared her intention of becoming a member of the Franciscan order of "Poor Clares" founded by Clare of Assisi. With the help of Church leaders she founded a hospital and convent on land given to her by her brother. She took vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and in her daily work and charity she found the way of salvation. She personally cared for and healed lepers and provided food, beds, and clothing for the poor. When Frederick found out about her decision he was furious but he was then informed of her commitment. He is said to have responded, "If she had left me for a mortal man, I would have taken vengeance with the sword, but I cannot take offence because in preference to me she has chosen the King of Heaven." For the rest of her life she refused to be a part of a system that dehumanized women for political expediency and instead she became a force for charity and healing within both the Church and Bohemia. She died at the age of 81.