Vincent de Paul, Slave and Priest

The following was written by Joshua for his collection of stories, Telling the Stories that Matter.

Vincent was born into a historically unremarkable family with five other children. His peasant father and mother evidently took good care of their children and grounded them in the faith that they held so dear and so tightly held them. Vincent had the opportunity to study and receive an education by associating with various societies in more urban areas and received an education in theology while studying in Toulouse. He was ordained in the year 1600 and began a life of service and devotion to the Church and its Lord–Jesus Christ–who promised freedom to the bound.

While serving as a priest in Toulouse, he received a call to travel to Marseilles for some family business. His life had been like so many others for his first twenty-four years. His story differed very little from so many other priests while he served in the urban area of Toulouse. His life and his story was about to change, though, in a drastic and difficult way. It’s hardly the kind of thing that anyone would wish for themselves or another but it was the path that Vincent’s life took: while in Marseilles, Vincent was seized by Turkish pirates and forced into a life of servitude and suffering.

He was carried against his will to Tunis in Northern Africa. When they landed there, he must have trembled at the thought of what awaited him when he was forced to disembark. The voyage had been terrible but it had, at least, been a limited type of terror–on the ship he knew where he would be the next day and who he would be interacting with. When he was brought onto dry land again he could still smell the Mediterranean sea but it was a very different world that he found himself in. Drawing hope from the faith that held him and countless Christians before and after him, he walked to the slave market where he was purchased by a powerful man who had some interest in Vincent the priest.

As a slave, he was incredibly limited in his interactions with his owner but he began to form a relationship with the man who had bought his freedom and life for a small sum. His love and way of life drew the attention of his owner and the attention became interest. When the owner began talking with Vincent, he found a vibrant faith that led his slave to offer him forgiveness and love. This was so much unlike his other slaves who hated and despised him for commanding and controlling them. Though Vincent did not condone the servitude he was entangled in, he continued to love his owner anyway. Eventually, Vincent’s owner was converted to the faith, hope, and love that held Vincent. After this, he freed Vincent and Vincent returned to France.

When he returned to France, it must have seemed like everything had changed because so much of Vincent had changed while serving another in bondage. In many ways, life was better and more exciting because of his rediscovered freedom which he likely took for granted before his enslavement. However, something else was changed–Vincent’s outlook on life. He eventually became a chaplain to galley slaves and offered pastoral care and comfort to those who suffered under the hand of bondage and oppression. His ministry became characterized by service to the less fortunate and defeated. For the remainder of his life, he would serve under the guidance of the powerful to provide care to the weak and outcast. When confronted with the physical abuse that the slaves had received, he was also concerned with the spiritual abuse rendered unto them. He began to live a life and ministry of comfort and healing for the least of the slaves and convicts under his care. With priests who were inspired by his life and work, he founded a group of ministers committed to care for the enslaved and bound.

G+M Worship – September 23, 2012

The following was written by Joshua for the service of worship and prayers held at Grace and Main Fellowship on September 23, 2012.

Worship on the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 23, 2012

Preparing and Setting the Altar

Lighting of the Christ Candle

Lord Jesus, we welcome you into this place and ask you to teach us your way so that we may truly live.
Be present among us, Lord. Fill this place with your Spirit.

 

Sharing our Stories

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us—sinners that we are—and hear these ours prayers:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

As we learn from our Lord who lived, died, and was raised for us, let us sing.

Singing

Lord, who loved us before we loved you, teach us to love our enemies.

Psalm 119:57-64
The Lord is my portion; I promise to keep your words.
I implore your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.
When I think of your ways, I turn my feet to your decrees; I hurry and do not delay to keep your commandments.
Though the cords of the wicked ensnare me, I do not forget your law.
At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous ordinances.
I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts.
The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love; teach me your statutes.

 

Lord, who loved us before we loved you, teach us to love our enemies.
Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18
Lord, who loved us before we loved you, teach us to love our enemies.
Mat. 5:1-2, 43-48
Lord, who loved us before we loved you, teach us to love our enemies.

We Listen and Interpret Together

There is a story about the desert father, Abbot Anastasius. It was translated as follows by Thomas Merton in his book, The Wisdom of the Desert:

“Abbot Anastasius had a book written on very fine parchment which was worth eighteen pence, and had in it both the old and New Testaments in full. Once a certain brother came to visit him, and seeing the book made off with it. So that day when Abbot Anastasius went to read his book, and found that it was gone, he realized that the brother had taken it. But he did not send after him to inquire about it for fear that the brother might add perjury to theft. Well, the brother went down into the nearby city in order to sell the book. And the price he asked was sixteen pence. The buyer said: Give me that book that I may find out whether it is worth that much. With that, the buyer took the book to the holy Anastasius and said: Father, take a look at this book, please, and tell me whether you think I ought to buy it for sixteen pence. Is it worth that much? Abbot Anastasius said: Yes, it is a fine book, it is worth that much. So the buyer went back to the brother and said: Here is your money. I showed the book to Abbot Anastasius and he said it is a fine book and is worth at least sixteen pence. But the brother asked: Was that all he said? Did he make any other remarks? No, said the buyer, he did not say another word. Well, said the brother, I have changed my mind and I don’t want to sell this book after all. Then he hastened to Abbot Anastasius and begged him with tears to take back his book, but the Abbot would not accept it, saying: Go in peace, brother, I make you a present of it. But the brother said: If you do not take it back I shall never have any peace. After that the brother dwelt with Abbot Anastasius for the rest of his life.”

Prayers for OthersThe Lord’s Prayer

Singing

As we go from this time of worship, remember the words of our brother, G.K. Chesterton: “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors and to love our our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.” Go in peace.


May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm.
May he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you.
May he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.
Amen.

Maurice and the Theban Legion, Martyrs

The following was written by Joshua for his collection of stories, Telling the Stories that Matter.

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

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

The remaining 5,346 were given another chance to make sacrifice and appease the Empire. As they stood among the dead bodies of 1,254 people who had already made the sacrifice of their life for their soul, they refused again. Maurice offered some words to his superiors:

“We are your soldiers, but we are also servants of the true God. We owe you military service and obedience; but we cannot renounce Him who is our Creator and Master, and also yours, even though you reject Him. In all things which are not against His law we most willingly obey you, as we have done hitherto….We have taken an oath to God before we took one to you; you can place no confidence in our second oath if we violate the first….We confess God the Father, author of all things, and His Son, Jesus Christ. We have seen our companions slain without lamenting them, and we rejoice at their honor. Neither this nor any other provocation has tempted us to revolt. We have arms in our hands, but we do not resist because we could rather die innocent than live by any sin.”

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

Rich Mullins, Kid Brother of Francis

The following was written by Joshua for his collection of stories, Telling the Stories that Matter.

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

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

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

G+M Worship – September 16, 2012

The following was written by Joshua for the service of worship and prayers held at Grace and Main Fellowship on September 16, 2012.

Worship on the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 16, 2012

Preparing and Setting the Altar

Lighting of the Christ Candle

Lord Jesus, we welcome you into this place and ask you to teach us your way so that we may truly live.
Be present among us, Lord. Fill this place with your Spirit.

 

Sharing our Stories

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us—sinners that we are—and hear these ours prayers:

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

As we learn from our Lord who lived, died, and was raised for us, let us sing.

Singing

Lord, who forgave those who crucified you, teach us to answer hate with love.

Psalm 119:41-48
Let your steadfast love come to me, Lord , your salvation according to your promise.
Then I shall have an answer for those who taunt me, for I trust in your word.
Do not take the word of truth utterly out of my mouth, for my hope is in your ordinances.
I will keep your law continually, forever and ever.
I shall walk at liberty, for I have sought your precepts.
I will also speak of your decrees before kings, and shall not be put to shame;
I find my delight in your commandments, because I love them.
I revere your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.

 

Lord, who forgave those who crucified you, teach us to answer hate with love.
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Lord, who forgave those who crucified you, teach us to answer hate with love.
Mat. 5:1-2, 38-42
Lord, who forgave those who crucified you, teach us to answer hate with love.

We Listen and Interpret Together

 

There is a story about the Church father known as John the Almsgiver, a 7th century Christian leader. It was recorded as follow by Leontius: “Whilst this same crowd of people was still in the city, one of the strangers, noticing John’s remarkable sympathy, determined to try the blessed man; so he put on old clothes and approached him as he was on his way to visit the sick in the hospitals — for he did this two or three times a week — and said to him: ‘Have mercy upon me for I am a prisoner of war.’

“John said to his purse-bearer: ‘Give him six nomismata.’ After the man had received these he went off, changed his clothes, met John again in another street, and falling at his feet said: ‘Have pity upon me for I am in want.’ The Patriarch again said to his purse-bearer: ‘Give him six nomismata.’

“As he went away the purse-bearer whispered in the patriarch’s ear: ‘By your prayers, master, this same man has had alms from you twice over!’ But the Patriarch pretended not to understand. Soon the man came again for the third time to ask for money and the attendant, carrying the gold, nudged the Patriarch to let him know that it was the same man; whereupon the truly merciful and beloved of God said: ‘Give him twelve nomismata, for perchance it is my Christ and He is making trial of me.’”


Prayers for Others
The Lord’s Prayer

Singing

As we go from this place, let us go with confidence in our Lord who died for those who despised Him. We are called to take up our own crosses so that we might follow our crucified and resurrected God from death into life. Go in peace, knowing that God’s way of humility and self-sacrifice is truly the way of love and life more abundant and free.


May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you : wherever he may send you.
May he guide you through the wilderness : protect you through the storm.
May he bring you home rejoicing : at the wonders he has shown you.
May he bring you home rejoicing : once again into our doors.
Amen.

The Martyrs of Birmingham, Alabama

The following was written by Joshua for his collection of stories, Telling the Stories that Matter.

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

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

A bomb–nineteen sticks of dynamite–went off.

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

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

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

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

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

This was the “Love that Forgives.” This was, truly, the seed of redemption that brought about integration and healing. This was the spirit of conversion that leads to God.

Mychal Judge, Opponent of Hatred

The following was written by Joshua for his collection of stories, Telling the Stories that Matter.

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

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

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