Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Friday, October 23, 2020
Grant, O God, that, following the example of your servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Sunday, October 04, 2020
Today I’ll talk about a saint who is not one of the early saints and I’m sure you’ll find much better posts about him all over the internet today, but I want to say my piece, too. It was the parish of St. Francis in San José, California, which raised Mona and I up in ministry and supported us in seminary, and they supported our ministry in Panamá all those years ago. But even though Francis isn’t a martyr or from the third century, he is one of my favorite saints. For me, the life of St. Francis is an example of total surrender to God's will, a life which full enjoyed God's creation, and his life is also a model to us of one who is gentle in spirit.
St. Francis was born in the year 1181 in the town of Assisi in Italy. His father was a wealthy merchant who sold cloth. As Francis grew up, he worked in his father's shop, helping sell cloth to the people of Assisi. He and his friends were kind of wild and had parties that lasted until early morning. When he was twenty years old he joined the army. He was captured by the enemy and spent a few months imprisoned. When he was finally released from prison, he returned home to Assisi. When he returned home, he had changed. He was no longer interested in hanging out with his friends, eating and drinking late into the night; he was no longer interested in singing outside the windows of the young women of Assisi. While he was imprisoned he had a lot of time to think, and when he returned to Assisi he no longer found happiness in the silly pursuits of his friends. He began to spend time with the poor of Assisi and helping the lepers on the outskirts of town. He spent less time working at Dad’s shop and more time in prayer in a little grotto outside of town. He and his father argued often about his strange behavior.
One day Francis decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome to see if he could figure out what God wanted of him. While in Rome he realized that he wanted to separate himself from his father's money, and one day he asked a beggar to change clothes with him. He gave the beggar his fancy clothes and put on the beggar's rags. He went around the city and experienced rejection from the well-dressed people and he began to understand the hard life of the poor. He returned to Assisi determined to find a way to please God. He continued to with the lepers of Assisi. Early one morning, he went for a ride on his horse, contemplating the glory of God in nature all around him. He almost fell off his horse when the horse balked at seeing a leper standing on the side of the road with his hand outstretched, hiding his face with his cloak. Francis was about to ride away when he heard a voice in his heart say: "Francis, all that up to now has been hateful to you must change into unspeakable joy!" He got off of his horse and was going to give the leper some coins when he bent down to kiss the sore hand of the leper as a means of seeing the face of Jesus in the leper's face. At the moment he kissed the leper's diseased hand, he felt a sense of liberation and purification. Francis continued to argue with his father and he lost all interest in his father's profession. He kept giving his father's money away. He was finally kicked out of the house and he began to spend a lot of time in a little decrepit church, the church of San Damiano. One day while he was there praying, he looked up at the crucifix and heard it say to him, "Francis, go and rebuild my house, which is threatening to collapse." Francis started working at San Damiano, reinforcing the walls, patching the roof, and fixing it all up. Other young men began to come help his with his work. Soon he had several followers, and they all took on the life of "Lady Poverty." They gave up everything and begged for their food. Francis wrote a Rule of Life for the group and after getting approval from Pope Innocent III, they became known as the Order of Friars Minor. Soon, a wealthy young woman named Claire and her friends desired to live the same life as the Friars, who were known as "Franciscans" and became known as the "Poor Claires." Both groups worked with the poor and sick and outcasts of society. Both groups lived holy lives of poverty.
St. Francis heard God's voice in the natural world which surrounded him, and he saw God's face in the elements and in all of creation. He saw the face of Jesus in the faces of the poor and sick. His understanding of the connectedness of all creation is evident in his calling everything either "brother" or "sister." An example of how St. Francis experienced God in nature is illustrated in a song he wrote, The Canticle of the Sun:
Most High, Almighty, Good Lord.
Yours be the praise, the glory, the honor and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, are they due.
And no man is worthy to speak your Name.
Praise to You, my Lord, for all your creatures.
Above all, Brother Sun who brings us the day and lends us his light.
Lovely is he, radiant with great splendor, and speaks to us of You,
O Most High.
Praise to You, my Lord, for Sister Moon, and the stars
which You have set in the heavens, clear, precious, and fair.
Praise to You, my Lord, for Brother Wind, for air and cloud,
for calm and all weather by which you support life in all your creatures.
Praise to You, my Lord, for Sister Water,
whop is so useful and humble, precious and pure.
Praise to You, my Lord, for our sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and directs us and brings forth varied fruits
and colored flowers and plants.
Praise and bless my Lord, thank Him and serve Him with great humility!
St. Francis also experienced God through the animals, and as we know, he was very fond of the animals he met. As a result, many churches celebrate his feast with a blessing of the animals. When I was at St. Francis’ in San José, we always had the blessing of the animals as part of our Patronal Festival. This was also the day that the Bishop would visit, and there were many times when I helped the bishop bless dogs, cats, mice, snakes, lizards, birds, and all manner of pets.
Another story which illustrates the love St. Francis had for creation is the story of St. Francis and the birds: One day St. Francis and some of the brothers were walking between the towns of Cannara and Bevagna. While they were walking, St. Francis saw some trees next to the road and there was a large group of many different birds, varieties that he had never seen in that area before, all standing about (think of what he would think of our birds here in Panamá!). There was another group of birds standing in the fields next to the trees. While St. Francis was looking at this strange sight, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he told his companions, "Wait here in the road, I am going to go over and preach to our sisters the birds." As soon as he went into the field the birds began to gather around him, and the birds up in the trees flew down and they all stood about him quietly, even when he walked among them. St. Francis looked at the birds gathered around him and said,
"My sisters the birds, you have so much from God and should always praise God for the gift of flight, for your beautiful colored feathers, for the food you get, for your gift of singing,
and for the fact that God has blessed you with great numbers, for your species was saved on the Ark with Noah, and for the element of Air which was set aside for you to travel in.
You don't plant or harvest and God feeds you. God gave you rivers and streams from which to drink, and mountains, hills, rocks and crags to hid in tall trees for your nests; and since you can't sew, God gave you and your chicks feathers for clothes. It's true that the Creator who made you loves you very much. So take care, sisters of mine, the birds, not to be ungrateful but be happy and always praise God."
When St. Francis finished his sermon, all the birds began to open their beaks, stretch their wings and necks and bow their heads reverently, and sing. With their songs and actions they were telling St. Francis that they liked what he said. When St. francis saw this, he was very happy and full of the Holy Spirit, and was amazed at such a wide variety of birds who showed that they loved each other. He praised God for this creation, called the birds to praise God, and blessed them with the sign of the cross. The birds all rose into the sky and flew off in the four directions, north, south, west, and east, to show St. Francis a great cross.
St. Francis died on October 3, 1226. He had passed on leadership of the Order of Franciscans seven years earlier. He was made a saint on July 16, 1228, by Pope Gregory IX. St. Francis was one who was able to surrender totally to God, he was one who was able to trust God fully; he trusted God to feed him, to provide shelter, and to keep him safe. He trusted God enough to listen for God's voice in the world around him. He was able to see God in the lives of the animals he loved, but also in the face of the poor leper at the side of the road. He was extremely humble, yet able to lead a great order which exists to this day. The life of St. Francis is proof that, if one is to be great, one must be the servant of others. May all of us look to the life of St. Francis and see God in the faces of the least among us.
Saturday, August 15, 2020
I don't believe in a three-tiered universe, and I don't believe in the literal interpretations of the Ascension. I don't believe in the Assumption; I prefer the term "the dormition." However, I have no problem at all with honoring the Theotokus (my Nestorian tendencies aside). Instead of writing a hagiography today, I'll share some poems and paintings I've found in the intertubes.
O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The Dormition of the Theotokus
There was silence in heaven, as if for half an hour-
Isaiah's coals of wonder sealed the lips
Of Seraph, Principality and Power,
Of all the nine angelic fellowships.
The archangels, those sheer intelligences,
Were silent, with their eyes on heaven's door.
So must our fancy dower them with senses,
Make them incarnate in a metaphor.
There was silence in heaven as Mary entered in,
For even Gabriel had not foreseen
The glory of a soul immune from sin
Throned in the body of the angels' Queen.
Blessed be God and Mary in whose womb
Was woven God's incredible disguise.
She gave Our Lord His Body.
In the tomb He gave her hers again and bade her rise.
Bright from death's slumber she arose, the flush
Of a chaste joy illumining her cheeks;
Among the motherless in heaven there was a hush
To hear the way a mother laughs and speaks.
Eye had not seen, nor ear of angel heard,
Nor heart conceived - until Our Lady's death -
What God for those that love Him had prepared
When heaven's synonym was Nazareth!
Her beauty opened slowly like a flower,
Beauty to them eternally bequeathed.
There was silence in heaven; as if for half an hour
No angel breathed.
Alfred Barrett (1906-1985) Lentfoehr, Therese, editor. I Sing of a Maiden. New York: Macmillan Company, 1947.
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) The Assumption of the Virgin
Memories of the Assumption
They bore her in a reverent group
To a holy place,
Left her body in the earth -
Her body, "full of grace".
But Thomas, tardy, slow of foot,
Absent when she died,
Spent with sorrow, craved to see
Her of the Crucified.
There was a swift intake of breath,
A hurried silent prayer:
Startled they opened the new-made tomb
To find but lilies there.
Sr. M. Angeline Robert, Cyril. Our Lady's Praise in Poetry. Poughkeepsie, NY: Marist Press, 1944.
Bartolome Murillo (1618-1682). Assumption of the Virgin.
No painter ever caught the magic other going--
This was a matter of an inward growing,
Simple and imperceptible as thought.
It was no pageant wrought
Of sounding splendor, welter of gold bars
Of molten day, mad stars,
Flurry of quick angels' winging,
Bursts of their laughter ringing In wild bliss.
The simple fact is this:
Love conquered at long last.
Her eager soul fled fast
With a great gladness like a song
Unto to her Spouse above,
And her pure flesh would not be parted long
For sheer love.
by Joachim Smet O.Carm
Raffaello. The Coronation of the Virgin
Monday, August 10, 2020
Almighty God, you called your deacon Laurence to serve you with deeds of love, and gave him the crown of martyrdom: Grant that we, following his example, may fulfill your commandments by defending and supporting the poor, and by loving you with all our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
St. Laurence was one of the most popular saints of the Early Church and his popularity has lasted even to the present day. His tomb was a place of pilgrimage for the fourth century on, and the Emperor Constantine erected a chapel over the grave of Laurence; it is now the site of the church of St. Laurence-outside-the-Walls in Rome. What I like about St. Laurence was that he was a bit of a smart-aleck; when you read his story you will learn that he was not one to be overwhelmed with respect for the authority of the Roman Empire.
Laurence was one of seven Deacons in the Church in Rome; their Bishop was Pope Sixtus II, who was also martyred and is considered a saint. Deacon Laurence was in charge of the material goods of the Church, and he was also a kind of Church Archivist; he had a list of all the members of the church in Rome. In the year 258, during the reign of the Emperor Valerian, a persecution broke out in Rome. This persecution was directed primarily towards the clergy and the laity of the upper classes. All properties used by the Church were confiscated, and Christian assemblies were forbidden. On August 4, 258, Pope Sixtus and six of his deacons were apprehended in the catacombs. The catacombs were underground burial places, very much like caves, all connected by tunnels which extended for hundreds of miles, where the Christians buried their dead. They would also hold prayers for the dead in the catacombs and would celebrate the Eucharist in the catacombs on the anniversary of the death of a martyr. Pope Sixtus and six deacons were arrested and taken off to be executed. According to an account by St. Ambrose, the fourth century Bishop of Milan, when Laurence saw his bishop being taken away by the police, he followed him and called out to him, saying, "Father, where are you going without your son? Holy Priest, where are you hurrying to without your Deacon? You have never offered sacrifice without an attendant. Are you displeased with me, my Father? Have you found me unworthy? Prove, then, whether you have chosen a fitting servant. To him to whom you have trusted the distribution of the Savior's blood, to him whom you have granted fellowship in the partaking of the Sacraments, why do you refuse this person a part in your death?" Pope Sixtus replied, "I am not leaving you or forsaking you. Greater struggles yet await you. We old men have to undergo an easier fight; a more glorious triumph over the Tyrant awaits you, young man. Don't cry; after three days you will follow me." Pope Sixtus II and four deacons were martyred in the catacombs.
The Prefect of Rome had heard that the Church in Rome had a huge treasure hidden away and he wanted it to pay his soldiers. He ordered Laurence to bring the treasure of the Church to him. Laurence told him that it would take three days to gather the treasure together, and the Prefect gave him that much time. Laurence went throughout the city, gathering up the poor, the crippled, the blind, the widows and orphans that the Church supported. Three days later Laurence assembled them all in front of the palace of the Prefect, and then called him out "to see the wondrous riches of our God." When the Prefect saw the poor and ill before him, he was not amused. He ordered that Laurence be executed. A huge grill was prepared over a slow coal fire so that the execution would be slow and painful. Laurence was tied to the grill and put over the fire. As is often the case with the martyrs, his love for Christ filled him with strength and he lasted a long time; in fact, at one point he said, "Turn me over; I'm done on this side!" Just before he died, he said, "It's cooked enough now." He then prayed that the city of Rome would be converted and that the message of Christ would spread throughout the world. He perfected his martyrdom on August 10, 258.
One of the earliest documents commemorating the martyrdom of St. Laurence is the Hymn in Honor of the Passion of the Blessed Martyr Laurence composed in the year 405 by Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, a Christian from Spain. However, the account by St. Ambrose of Milan is earlier and is part of a treatise he wrote in the year 391 entitled On the Duties of the Clergy. but Prudentius' account is more complete. Let me share some of it with you:
First of the seven ministers, who nearest to the altar stand,
Levite in holy orders high and eminent above the rest.
He guarded well the sacred rites and kept in trust with faithful keys
The precious treasure of the Church, dispensing riches vowed to God.
The comes the section on Sixtus:
The Pontiff Sixtus, from the cross, on which he hung saw at its foot
His deacon Laurence weeping sore, and these prophetic words he spoke:
"Let tears of sorrow cease to flow at my departure from this life;
My brother, I but lead the way, and you will follow in three days."
Here are the stanzas about Laurence and the Prefect:
"Our church is very rich," he said, "I must confess that it has wealth;
Our treasuries are filled with gold not found elsewhere in all the world."
He hastens through the city streets, and in three days he gathers up
The poor and sick, a mighty throng of all in need of kindly alms.
He sought in every public square the needy who were wont to be
Fed from the stores of Mother Church and he as steward knew them well.
The Prefect deigns to follow him; the sacred portal soon they reach,
Where stands a ghastly multitude of poor drawn up in grim array.
The air is rent with cries for alms; the Prefect shudders in dismay,
And turns on Laurence glaring eyes, with threats of dreadful punishment.
"These poor of ours are sick and lame, but beautiful and whole within.
They bare with them a spirit fair and free from taint and misery.
These humble paupers you despise and look upon as vile outcasts,
Their ulcerous limbs will lay aside and put on bodies incorrupt.
When freed at last from tainted flesh their souls, from chains of earth released,
Will shine resplendent with new life in their celestial fatherland.
Not foul and shabby or infirm as now they seem to scornful eyes,
But fair, in radiant vesture clad, with crowns of gold upon their heads."
As I said earlier, the Prefect was not amused by Laurence's little joke and ordered that Laurence be executed:
Thus spoke the Prefect, at his nod forthwith the executioner
Stripped off the holy martyr's robes and laid him bound upon the pyre.
Prudentius says that the martyr's face was luminous and that it shone a glorious light that was only noticed by the baptized.
The poet then presents the final moments of the life of St. Laurence:
When slow, consuming heat had seared the flesh of Laurence for a space,
He calmly from his gridiron made this terse proposal to the judge:
"Pray turn my body, on one side already broiled sufficiently,
And see how well your Vulcan's fire has wrought its cruel punishment."
The Prefect bade him to be turned. Then Laurence spoke: "I am well baked,
And whether better cooked or raw, make trial by a taste of me."
He said these words in way of jest; Then rising shining eyes to heaven
And sighing deeply, thus he prayed with pity for unholy Rome.
Thus ended Laurence's fervent prayer, thus ended, too, his earthly life:
With these last words his eager soul escaped with joy from carnal chains.
Some noble Romans, who were led by his amazing fortitude
To faith in Christ, then bore away the hero's body from the scene.
In his second letter to the Christians in Corinth, St. Paul said, "The point is this: those who sow sparingly will also reap sparingly, and those who sow bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as they have made up their minds to do..." Laurence made up his mind to serve Christ, to care for the sick, the poor, the hungry, and the naked, and he saw them not as the needy, but as the treasure of the Church. He did sow bountifully, and his witness unto death made a profound impression on many in Rome. His prayer for the conversion of Rome was answered when, in a mere seventy or so years after his martyrdom, the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Toleration and began to show favor upon the Church and the persecutions, at least in Rome, ended. May we all have the eyes of St. Laurence and see the poor as the "wondrous treasure of our God."
St. Laurence, Super Hero!
Saturday, July 25, 2020
The mother of the Thunder Boys asked that they sit on Jesus’ right and left, and they both said that they would drink of the same cup as Jesus, which was a reference to his suffering and death. We know that James did drink of the same cup as Jesus; James was one of the first of the Twelve to be martyred. He was put to death by Herod, according to the account in the Acts of the Apostles, and when Herod saw that this pleased the enemies of The Way, he also had Peter arrested. These actions continued the persecutions which started with the martyrdom of the Deacon Stephen. James was very much like his brother, John; they were both hot-headed and zealous, but they were willing to do anything for their Lord, and they were both important in starting that community which would become the Church. James drank of the same cup as his Lord, even though he had no guarantee that he would sit on the right or left of his Lord in the Kingdom, and, like all the martyrs, he was a witness of the power of God. I think that James the Great is another example of God working through people we would least expect to be God’s instrument. Here was a fisherman, possibly uneducated, who said “yes” to god’s call and whose life is now an example to us all. He witnessed miracles, he saw the transfigured Christ with Moses and Elijah, he saw the daughter of Jarius brought back from the gates of death, yet he still slept while Jesus prayed in the garden, and he disappeared with the others once Jesus was arrested. Yet, the miracle of the Resurrection and the baptism of the Holy Spirit gave him the strength to travel and preach the Good News, whether he went to Spain or not. And he finally had the strength to die as a witness for his Lord.
The saints are models for us all. We don’t consider them intercessors, we don’t pray to them, but we look a their lives as examples for us of what can happen when one allows the Holy Spirit to work through us. James did serve the Twelve, and for that reason we call him The great. May the life of St. James the Great help us remember that if we are to be first in the Reign of God, we are to be servants to all.
Apendix Here's what our pal Jacobus de Voragine, author of the Legende Aurea (you remember him from the St. Mary of Magdala post the other day) wrote about the translation fo the body of the Apostle James, Son of Zebedee, to Campostela in Spain:
...after the apostle's death, his disciples, in fear of the Jews, placed his body in a boat at night, embarked with him, although the boat had neither rudder not steersman, and set sail, trusting to the providence of God to determine the place of his burial. And the angels guided the boat to the shores of Galicia in Spain, where there was a queen whose name was Lupa, a name which means she-wolf, and which she well deserved by her life.
The disciples laid the body of the apostle on a great stone, which immediately softened as if it were wax, and shaped itself into a sarcophagus fitted to his body. The disciples went to Queen Lupa and said to her: "Our Lord Jesus Christ sends thee the body of His disciple, that thou mayest welcome in death him whom thou wouldst not welcome alive!" And they narrated to her the miracle whereby they had come thither without a rudder nor a steersman, and besought her to appoint a place for the burial of the saint.
Then, as John Beleth relates, she guilefully sent them to the king of Spain, a most cruel man, with the pretext of seeking his permission for the saint's burial; and the king arrested them and threw them into prison. But in the night, when he had gone to rest, an angel opened the prison doors and set them free. As soon as he learned this, the king sent soldiers in pursuit of them; but just as these soldiers were crossing a bridge, the bridge collapsed and the soldiers were drowned. At this report, the king feared for himself and his people, and repented. He sent other men to search for James's disciples, and to say to them that if they would return, he would refuse them nothing that they asked. They therefore went back, and converted the whole city to the faith of Christ. Then they returned to Lupa, to make known to her the kings's assent. The queen was sore distraught at these tidings, and answered: "I have oxen in a mountain place. Take them and yoke them, and carry your master's body whither you will, and build him a tomb!" All this she said in wolfish cunning, for she knew that the oxen were really untamed and savage bulls, and thus she thought that they could not be yoked or harnessed, or if they were harnessed, they would run away, and destroy the car and throw the body to the ground, and kill the disciples.
But no guile avails against God. The disciples, unaware of the queen's ruse, went up into the mountain, where first they encountered a dragon which belched fire; but they held a cross before him, and he was cloven asunder. Then they made the sign of the cross over the bulls, and they became as meek as lambs, allowed themselves to be yoked, and although no man guide them, they drew the saint's body, with the stone in which it was laid, straight into the middle of the queen's palace. Seeing this, the queen was dismayed, believed in Christ, transformed her palace into a church of Saint James, and endowed it munificently. And she passed the rest of her life in doing good works.
I started wondering if there were any Greek sources regarding Saint Christopher, and I did some research. I learned that a Saint Christopher actually did exist, that he was a soldier who was martyred around the year 308 in Antioch. I even found three “Acts of St. Christopher” and read them. I no longer believe that my parish is named after a non-existent saint, we are a parish named after a fourth-century African martyr.
St. Christopher was a member of the north African tribe of the Marmaritae. He was captured by Roman forces during the emperor Diocletian's campaign against the Marmaritae in late 301/early 302 and was transported for service in a Roman garrison in or near Antioch in Syria. He was baptized by the refugee bishop Peter of Alexandria and was martyred on 9 July 308.
Bishop Peter arranged for the transport of his remains back to Marmarica in 311. The name “Christopher” means Bearer of Christ and was probably the name he took on at baptism. According to the various Acts of St. Christopher, his original name was Reprebus which is probably a corruption of the name Reprobus, which means “wicked” in Latin. So at baptism, a man called wicked became a man who bears Christ. But ‘Christopher’ may have been an honorific title, and some scholars believe that Christopher’s actual name may have been lost and that he is really identifiable with the Egyptian martyr known as St. Menas. Christopher was martyred for refusing to sacrifice to the emperor. His memory was preserved in Antioch, but his relics were transported to his homeland and that is where is original cult was located. There are icons of St. Christopher and they are not like the image on the Roman Catholic medals. The images of St. Christopher I've posted here are of a man with the head of a dog! The Greeks used to refer to those lands outside of their civilization as being inhabited by cannibals and dog-headed people, and since Christopher was from North Africa, most probably the nation we call Libya today, some must have said he came from the land of dog-headed cannibals. The authors of the Acts of St. Christopher took this reference literally, and one account carries this description: There was a certain man who, since he was a foreigner from the land of man-eaters, had a terrible appearance, a dog's head as it were. Another account describes Christopher’s encounter a woman on the street: And while he prayed, a woman came out of the city in order to go and worship the idols, and trembled at the sight of the saint. Her face dropped as she saw the the body of a man, but the head of a dog, and she ran to the city and cried out... In this account, the king calls Christopher “Dog-headed and evil troublemaker.”
According to the Acts of St. Christopher, he was taken as a soldier from his home in North Africa and ended up in the Syrian city of Antioch. A persecution was under way, and the soldier Reprebus had recently converted and become Christopher. He was protecting some Christians who were being arrested. He covered his dog-head with the sleeves of his cloak and while being beaten by the arresting officer, said, “I am possessed by Christ, I have been overcome by the Savior, and I am not able to do anything to you. However, if you exasperate my heart, you will not remain in my presence, nor will your corrupt king." The soldier ran off and told the king what had happened: "There is a certain man of terrible appearance, one who towers over most men, who appeared in sight of all the people when the edict was being published by the governor. In fact, who could explain the appearance of this apparition, except perhaps that the God of the Christians heard their prayers and sent him to help them? Unless you hurry and kill him he will turn all from the sacrifices of the gods." The king said to him, "You have a demon, and he appeared to you this way. What did you see? Speak." He replied, "I tell my lord what I saw. His head was terrifying, like that of a dog. His hair was very long, and gleamed like gold. His eyes were like the morning star, and his teeth like the tusks of a boar. Words are not sufficient to tell of his greatness. Moreover, he said the most disgraceful things against you and the gods. So when I heard such talk, I began to beat him. But he said to me, 'I am possessed by Christ, but if I were not, I would kill you and your king.' And I therefore report these things to you my lord king, that you might know that what I say about this man is true." The king said, "Is he one of our men? Why does he say such things?" The other replied, "I do not know, my lord." Then the king gave orders to his soldiers, saying, "Go and get him. If he does not agree to come with you, rip him to pieces, only bring his head to me that I might see what he was like, if it was him or another."
In the meantime, Christopher managed to convert most of the soldiers, who refused to arrest him, but he was eventually taken before the king. He refused to sacrifice to the King’s idols. The king had a great idea in which Christopher would be locked in a room with two prostitutes who would “convert him to their lusts” but instead Christopher converted them to the Lord and they went to suffer their martyrdom after insulting the king and his idols.
The story of their martyrdom is right up there with Perpetua and Felicity in the terrible tortures they endured in Christ’s name. The king was quite angry that his plan didn’t work, so he had a bronze bench placed in the town square and had Christopher nailed to the bench. Then he ordered that plenty of wood be brought, and that a great deal of olive nuts,18 measures of olive oil, and a lot of pitch be poured over the wood, that was how they fueled the fire. The wind blew the flames so that some houses caught fire, Christopher stood up in the midst of the flames and said, “I saw myself standing in the midst of a city, and saw a beautiful man whose face shone like a thousand suns. Then another man with a terrible appearance attacked him. They fought, but the man of light was victorious.” Then ten thousand people watching this said, “There is one God, he in whom saint Christopher believes. He has certainly not labored in vain. He knows the one to whom he fled. And we believe, hoping that we can save ourselves through you, Lord God." And ten thousand people believed at the same time, and cried out, saying, "Almighty God, we believe in you. Take pity on us, Our Savior, and make us your worthy servants, Christ, and do not give us wealth for your booty; but give to your servants, Lord, the bath of immortality and the garment of incorruption, because yours is the glory forever and ever, amen." The next morning Christopher and the ten thousand stood out where the fires had been and chanted psalms, attracting the king’s troops once again. Three priests appeared and baptized the newly converted, while Christopher was arrested. His hair was pulled, he was crushed with huge stones and then dragged about by his arms throughout the streets. Christopher still refused to recant, so the king commanded that he be beheaded and cremated. Christopher was taken to the site where he would be executed. Suddenly there was an earthquake, and Christopher saw the heavens open and the Lord appear. A throne was brought out and the Lord sat on the throne. Christopher said, "How, in word or thought, will I praise you, Lord, that you have deigned to reveal your glory to me your humble servant?" The Lord said to him, "You are more blessed than many, and will be called my most beloved servant, and blessed will those souls be who have merited possession of your relics. I shall heed no longer the sins of those who have approached me through your intercession. I swear by my glory to you that they shall attain paradise." Christopher replied, "If I have found favor in your sight, Lord my God, grant me the confidence to speak to you." The Lord responded, "Say what you will." The saint replied, saying, "Lord, grant my corpse this second favor, that all who possess a part of my relics will merit such grace that no evil spirit nor bodily sickness will cower them, and drive from them every evil desire. Lord my God, whether it be a city, larger area, or small locality where lies some of my relics, let not hail-shower, crop-disease or vine-sterility prevail there; but wherever my relics travel, if those regions have been harmed, grant them the grace of my presence as it were, Lord my God, so that all the inhabitants of those regions may richly receive the produce of their cultivation, and filled with your grace wholeheartedly glorify your holy name. Act thus, Lord my God." As you can see, he was really thinking ahead! And the Lord replied, "It will be as you request. I will not cause you sadness. And so you have come, ascend to your brothers. For they all wonder at you, and my army of angels desires to see you." And when he had said this, he departed, and went to the place which had been prepared and said to the executioner, "Come, son, do what has been commanded. But I adjure you, by the God who watches over earth's orb, not to judge me." And upon saying these things, he crossed himself, and bending his knees he stretched out his neck; and in this manner his head was cut off. He perfected his martyrdom on a Sunday, at the 7th hour.
Tertullian said, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” and while I have trouble believing that ten thousand people were converted even before he was martyred, the fact that the martyrdom of Christopher was remembered tells me that his witness was important to the Christians of Antioch. His relics were returned to his homeland, and a church was named after him in Bythinia in 452.
I always find the stories of the martyrs to be inspiring, and their steadfast faith is a model for all of us. Even though the Acts of St. Christopher are full of stories just as strange as the Roman story of Christopher, we can put away the image of a giant carrying the Christ child, but instead of replacing that image with the "dog-headed" saint, we can replace it with the story of a martyr from North Africa who stood up against his persecutors and prayed that he could still do good for humanity even after his death. This St. Christopher is one who can be a model for us.
Last year, JCF, a Dance Party regular, commented that he had read an account which said that St. Christopher was so beautiful that everyone who looked at him was smitten or overcome with lust, so St. Christopher asked God to give him a dog's head to stop all that lustin'. I like that story.
Almighty God, who gave to your servant Christopher boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Today is the Feast of Mary of Magdala, the Apostle to the Apostles, a saint whose memory has been much maligned over the millennia by misogynist clergy like Pope Gregory the Great.
Mary of Magdala has become a popular Biblical figure once again, due to the popularity of the
For some reason, possibly misogynist or because he felt threatened by the ministry of women, Pope Gregory the Great identified Mary Magdala as the "reformed sinner" or former prostitute in a sermon, and this image has remained in popular imagination. Some mistake her for Mary of Bethany and she has been identified with the woman who washed and anointed Jesus’ feet, but that is not what the scriptures say. According to the scriptures she was healed by Jesus and followed him; she was at the foot of the cross (according to the gospel attributed to John), and she was one of the first to see the empty tomb and the Resurrected Jesus. The story of her weeping at the tomb, her accusations to the one she thinks is the gardener, and then her sheer joy at the realization that she is talking to Jesus is one of the most touching and inspiring of the Resurrection stories.
A heretical-Gnostic understanding of Mary’s place among the Twelve is an important aspect of The DaVinci Code, and it is based on the non-canonical Gospel of Philip, as well as the terrible Life of Mary Magdalen in the Legenda Aurea, a thirteenth-century document by Jacopo di Voragine. According to the Legenda Aurea, Mary was named after a fortress, Magdalum. She and her siblings, Lazarus and Martha, were or noble birth, the children of Syrus and Eucharia. The family was very wealthy, and their riches were distributed amongst their three children: Mary owned the Castle Magdalum, Lazarus received a part of Jerusalem, and Martha received the village of Bethany. Mary became a woman of the streets (?!), Lazarus a knight (!?), and Martha took care of the the possessions of both Mary and Lazarus "with great prudence." So, Mary, whose love of wealth and pleasure had led her to lead a most dissolute life and be known as "a sinner," wandered into Simon the Leper's house while Jesus was visiting and preaching. She walked up to Jesus, washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair and anointed them. Simon protested, Jesus defended her action and forgave her sins. After the Lord was crucified, resurrected, and ascended to heaven, Mary traveled with St. Maximus, under the orders of St. Peter. She and Lazarus and Martha and Maximus traveled as missionaries for a while. Eventually Mary decided to retire to the Forest: Mary Magdalene desired meditation and went into the forest wilderness where she lived incognito for thirty years in a place prepared for her by the hands of angels. In this place there were neither fountains nor trees nor grass. This indicates that our Lord did not want to sustain her with earthly food but with heavenly nourishment. Every day she was led to the heavens by the angels—seven times for the seven hours of prayer—and with her own ears she heard the chants of the heavenly hosts. And every day she was taken back to earth with this sweet nourishment so that she never needed earthly food. After thirty years of living on "spiritual nourishment", she died and was buried in Aix, in Southern France, by Bishop Maximus.
There are several verses in the Gospel of Philip which claim that Mary Magdala was the mate of Jesus, that they were man and wife, and that they were also united spirits and had to marry for some cosmic reason. That Jesus and Mary were married is also the basis of a book titled Holy Blood, Holy Grail which was on the New York Time’s Best Seller list a few years ago, along with The DaVinci Code. The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, ("historians" who chucked the historic method out the window for this book) claim that after the crucifixion, Mary Magdala, pregnant with Jesus’ child, left Palestine for Gaul, and that the royal family of France are the descendants of Jesus. Now, I don’t have any problem with the idea that Jesus may have been married, and I have no problem with the idea that he could have been married to Mary of Magdala; I have no theological opposition to the idea, but the idea that the Royal Family of France, or the Royal Family of any country is descended from Jesus is something with which I have a lot of trouble! I don't believe that the Emperor of Japan is descended from the Sun Goddess, either.
There is a non-canonical book called the Gospel of Mary, and it claims that Mary Magdala was a leader of the early church, and I’m sure that she was a leader, but I don’t think that Jesus loved her more than the others, as is claimed in that gospel. Mary of Magdala is regarded as the equal of an Apostle in the Eastern Church, and I think that this makes sense as she was the first person to witness the Resurrected Jesus. As far as the DaVinci Code’s claim that she was the “personification of the Divine Feminine” in the earliest days of Christianity, I must disagree, as the Divine Feminine is manifested in Sofia, or Wisdom, also a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
Here is a poem about Our Mary of Magdala written by Christine Schenk, CSJ.
Mary of Magdala
What say you, Magdalen?
Fellow traveler, Jesus' friend,
Death's bitter-shroud end.
No prostitute you,
A Woman Jew
by jealousy, fear, and more.
Betrayed by your brothers,
whose spin control
requires you go from
WomanWitness to Whore.
And besides, it would still be alright.
(Unlike many a man-creature,
you well understand the
odd God ways of the Teacher).
Did you blame yourself, my sister,
for their failure to comprehend
All of Love's bold claims
Newborn Jesus-Way ?
Mary, WomanWitness, WomanFriend,
What have you to say?
Christ comes again.
Amen, Alleluia, Amen.