Telling the Stories that Matter: September 28 – Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs, Healers, Silverless

Cosmas and Damian had attracted very much attention. It wasn’t because they were hungry for renown and consideration. They were influential but they did not seek the power of influence. They were powerful but they did not seek to manipulate or dominate others. This had attracted the attention–negative attention, for sure–of Diocletian. Consequently, they were arrested as enemies of the Empire within the Roman province of Syria. Though there were many of the outcast and needy that would have jumped to their defense, they agreed to be seized by the hand of the Empire. They turned their bodies over to the Empire that outlawed their faith.

What had gathered the attention of the Empire had been the work that Cosmas and Damian became so famous for: healing. It must have started small–like all of God’s great works–with kind words, prayers, and needy individuals. However, their ministry spread like wildfire as they provided life and healing to people desperate for something different than the sanitized Imperial security that provided no life. Being a follower of Jesus–the one who has the words of life–they offered what no other could: life more abundant. Soon, many others were coming to them for healing and hope. They provided both in abundance without asking for any compensation. For some, this was prohibitive–how could they not give something for the grace and mercy they were being offered? For some, this is still prohibitive–what do you mean I can’t do anything to save myself? Cosmas and Damian became known as “silverless” or “unmercenary” because they offered the love and healing they received out of the love born in their hearts through their ongoing conversion. For this work, they were arrested. The World will not stand by and simply watch people offer life and healing when all it can offer is control and something that looks like life. So, it handles the “problem” however it needs to.

Cosmas and Damian were given ample opportunities to deny their faith and affirm the Empire. Having tasted of the waters of salvation and conversion, though, they were unable ever to return to a life of security and control. Instead, they continued to proclaim the Gospel that had gripped and transformed them regardless of what they wanted. They were tortured slowly so as to allow for a change of heart but the Empire failed to realize that their hearts had already begun to be changed by something greater than anything they could promise or threaten. They were hung on crosses to cast fear and humiliation into their hearts but they only found themselves reminded of the love of their Savior who had died for them while they were yet sinners. Stones were cast at them to cause such pain as to make them hate and seek vengeance but they only found themselves reminded of the conversion of Saul who stoned Christians before being converted. Arrows were shot into their bodies to punish them for their faith but they remained steadfast in the face of pain because of a life more vibrant and real within them. Finally, they were beheaded because the Empire could no longer stand to look upon the products of conversion and know it could not produce the same with power, control, domination, and hatred.

from Blogger

Telling the Stories that Matter: September 22 – Maurice and the Theban Legion, Martyrs, Soldiers, Radicals

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

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

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

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

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

from Blogger

Telling the Stories that Matter: September 11 – Mychal Judge, Chaplain, Priest, Opponent of Hatred

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

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

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

from Blogger

Telling the Stories that Matter: September 2 – Jean Marie du Lau and Companions, Martyrs, Champions of a Free Church

In 1792, France was a powder keg waiting for ignition. The French revolution was in full swing and the Reign of Terror was fast approaching.The French monarchy had been trampled underfoot and the new leaders of the State hoped to fix things for themselves and their people. The Constituent Assembly had passed a law that hoped to bring the vocal Church under control in France.The hope was that the Church could be placed under the “enlightened” control of the State and be made to say and do things that supported the aims of the new rulers of France. This new rule involved an oath that clergy were required to take if they wanted to remain in France. In other words, the French revolutionaries only had room for a Church that played according to the new State’s rules.

Most of the clergy in France refused to sign the oath and submit the Church to state control. It included a passage that invalidated any “bishop or archbishop whose see is established under the name of a foreign power.” Not only was this person not welcome in France but it was also criminal to support or follow them. The State had outlawed the Kingdom that was “not of this world.”They rounded up the resisting clergy and imprisoned some of them and detained others in their churches so that they could forcibly exile them from their new republic that was to be devoid of a free Church. For many of these ministers, their sanctuaries became their prisons.

While awaiting deportation, the ministers heard the mob approach their prisons and churches. They must have known that the mob was coming for them full of furor for the State and disgust for the actions of the Church. They must have suspected what was coming. They approached the church where Jean Marie du Lau was being detained and pulled the doors open.Jean was waiting for them at the entrance in his clerical vestments as he might await the body of a parishioner for a funeral. He stood at the front of his people but offered no violence or resistance. The mob asked, “Are you the archbishop?” Jean smiled–perhaps knowing what was coming–and confirmed that he was, indeed, the one they were looking for. When he answered, they hacked him to pieces with their pikes and swords. He died offering forgiveness instead of wrath.

They seized the sanctuary of the ministers and began holding a “trial” to determine their fate. Two-by-two, the ministers were paraded before the “judges” and questioned forcefully. They were ordered to take the oath and admit the right of the State to rule the hearts and minds of the people. When they inevitably refused the oath, they were sent down a narrow stairway to a garden. When they stepped through the door, an angry mob would tear them to pieces and brutally murder them. This bloody exercise in the power of the State–the power to take a life–continued until 191 priests and bishops had been murdered and martyred.

One of those martyred was Francis de La Rochefoucauld Maumont–the bishop of Beauvais.He was an invalid and aged minister who could no longer walk. He had been carried to the sanctuary by others on a stretcher and rested on it as others were ushered to their trial and martyrdom. They called his name and he responded,“I am here at your disposal, judges, and I am prepared for my death but I cannot walk to you. I would appreciate it if you would carry my cot wherever it is that you want me.” They brought him before the self-appointed judges and he refused to take the oath. They carried him down the narrow stairs and he was murdered like all of his friends.

It is good for us to remember the deaths of these faithful men and their stance against control and for a free Church. They were not afraid of the deadly threats of the State because they were citizens and ministers of a Kingdom that was–at its essence–established under the name of a foreign power: Jesus Christ and a kingdom of love and forgiveness.

from Blogger