Saturday, February 14, 2015

Feast of Cyril and Methodius


Today is St. Valentine's Day, but no one is really sure who this St. Valentine was. He may have been a Roman priest martyred during the reign of the Emperor Claudius in the mid third century, or he may have been the bishop of Terni, who was taken to Rome and martyred and whose remains were returned to Terni. The feast of St. Valentinus was once on the Roman calendar but he was dropped quite a while back, and now his day is more of a "Hallmark Holiday" a holiday for selling greeting cards, flowers, and chocolates.

Today is also the Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius, two very important saints. Cyril and Methodius were brothers and lived in Thessalonica, a town where Christians were gathering very early in the history of the Church. Methodius was born around the year 815 and his brother Constantine was born around the year 826. Constantine studied philosophy and later became a monk, taking on the name of Cyril. As a philosophy student, Cyril also studied languages and was well-versed in Hebrew, Arabic, and even the Samaritan dialect. In the year 860, Photius, the patriarch of Constantinople selected Cyril and Methodius as the first missionaries to the Slavs. He chose them not only because Cyril was good with languages, but because as children both brothers spent a lot of time around the Slavs who lived in Thessalonica; they learned the Slavic language and were fluent in that language. They were the natural choice to be missionaries to the Slavs. Their first missionary trip in 860 was to the Khazars who lived north of the Caucasus region, but it was unsuccessful and the Khazars actually ended up accepting Judaism instead of Christianity. In the year 863, Rostislav, prince of Moravia (which is the area we now call the Czech Republic), requested Christian missionaries be sent. He had one requirement: that the missionaries be able to preach to the people in their own language and must do services in Slavonic, which meant that they needed Bibles and service books in Slavonic. So, before they even left for Moravia, the brothers started translating the Bible into Slavonic. There was not actual Slavonic alphabet so they had to invent one with which they would write their translations of the Bible and prayer books. The alphabet invented by St. Cyril is called Glagolithic and his followers invented another alphabet called Cyrillic which is the alphabet used in Russia and the former Eastern Block nations to this day. They translated the Bible into the dialect they had learned as boys, a Macedonian dialect of slavonic spoken around Thessalonica, an this language is now called Church Slavonic, and it is the liturgical language of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Slavonic Orthodox Churches. This is very important, because the Slavs were one of the few peoples who heard the gospel read in their own language instead of Greek or Latin, the major languages of the Church at that time. The Roman church always insisted that everything be done in Latin, but the Eastern church felt that it was important that services and readings be done in the vernacular of the people, the same concept which is accepted in the Anglican Communion. Cyril and Methodius ran into some trouble in Moravia and in Bulgaria; the Church in the West had sent German missionaries and they did not like the Greek Orthodox monks working in their area. The brothers were doing services in the language of the people while the Germans did everything in Latin; the brothers recited the Nicene Creed in its Eastern form without the filioque. In order to end German interference with the mission, Cyril asked for the protection of the Pope as he really didn't get involved in the East-West arguments and the Church was still united at that time; Cyril just wanted to continue working in Slavonic. The brothers traveled to Rome in 868 to speak to Pope Hadrian II, and he received them favorably and gave full support to their mission, allowing them to work in Slavonic, and even approved their translations of the Bible and service books. Unfortunately, Cyril died in Rome in 869, and when Methodius returned to Moravia, the Germans ignored the Pope's decision and obstructed him in every way; they even put Methodius in prison for a year!
When Methodius died in the year 885, the Germans ran his followers out of the country and even sold some of them into slavery (fine Christian people!). The Slavonic church lasted there for another two hundred years but then vanished; it seemed as if the mission of Cyril and Methodius had failed. but while their mission died in Moravia their translations moved in to Bulgaria, Serbia, and Russia, and Church Slavonic is the liturgical language of those areas. The Church grew and spread throughout that area and even lasted through fifty years of Communist oppression.

Some of the issues that Cyril and Methodius dealt with are still important today and are even important to us here in Panama. The issue of language is a very important issue here. I think that what saints Cyril and Methodius taught us is that it is important that people hear the gospel and worship in the language with which they are familiar, whether that language be English, Español, or Slavonic. When people hear the gospel in their own language the church takes root and grows. Cyril knew that it was important that the peoples of the Caucasus hear the Word in their own words and he was willing to go to those who spoke Latin to get the support he needed, because he knew that the Church is large enough to include everybody, whether they speak Español, English, Nippon-go, Hungarian, Greek or Slavonic, God hears us no matter what language we speak. What is important is that we remember that we are One Body, we are united as one body in Christ. One of the oldest Eucharistic prayers we have is in the Didache and it says "as this grain was once scattered over the hills and was brought together as one loaf of bread, so may your Church be brought together from the ends of the earth into your Kingdom." Let us take the example of saints Cyril and Methodius to heart realizing that the Church is One Body in Christ.

Almighty and everlasting God, by the power of the Holy Spirit you moved your servant Cyril and his brother Methodius to bring the light of the Gospel to a hostile and divided people: Overcome all bitterness and strife among us by the love of Christ, and make us one united family under the banner of the Prince of Peace; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Feast of Absalom Jones


Absalom Jones was born in 1746, in rural Delaware. He was a slave born into a family of slaves. At the age of sixteen, his entire family was split apart when his parents, his siblings, and Absalom himself were sold to different slave masters. His new master took him to the city of Philadelphia, and it was in that city, through the preaching of the Methodists, that he was converted to Christianity. He was a very intelligent person and taught himself to read using the Bible as his text book. In 1766, at the age of twenty, he married Mary King, another slave. Absalom took on extra jobs outside of his duties as a slave in order to earn money to buy her freedom, and eventually, his own. Many slave owners used their female slaves to satisfy their sexual desires and children would be born of these unions. The slave owners didn't want these children to inherit the plantation, so children born to slave women were considered slaves also, even though they were the children of the slave owner. By purchasing his wife's freedom before his own, he was ensuring that their children would be born free.

Absalom Jones attended St. George Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. St. George's was one of the few churches which had opened its doors to Blacks. He met Richard Allen there and they became close friends. They both served as licensed lay preachers, and they both shared the Gospel with the African Americans of Philadelphia, and, as a result of their evangelism, the African American population of St. George's increased. Unfortunately, the White members of the church became uncomfortable with the idea of worshiping with so many Black people and they decided that the Blacks would worship in an upstairs gallery of the church, a gallery which the black members had built. On the Sunday immediately following the completion of the gallery, the Black members of the church were rudely informed that they were no longer to worship at their regular places, but were to worship upstairs in the gallery. They were informed of this while they were praying at the altar rail! Absalom refused to move and was physically lifted from his place at the altar rail where he was praying, and carried away by the ushers (there is only one usher at San Cristóbal who could pull that off!). Jones and Allen objected to this humiliating treatment, and all the Black members of the church walked out with them, never to return. This took place in 1787. Jones and Allen formed their own religious community and named it The Free African Society. It was the first black independent organization in the newly formed United States of America. Its main purpose was to provide assistance for the economic, educational, social and spiritual needs of the African American community in Philadelphia. In 1792, the membership recognized the need for a church and they wanted to affiliate with religious denomination that would not be hostile to their presence and would receive them as an identified worshiping community. Absalom wanted to remain a Methodist, but the majority of the group was so hurt by their treatment as St. George's that they wanted nothing to do with the Methodists. Absalom Jones went and spoke with Bishop William White, the first bishop of Pennsylvania and the second Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Absalom presented the following terms of the Free African Society to Bishop White: 1. That the Free African Society be received as a body already organized; 2. That the Free African Society have control over their affairs; 3. That, if found fit, Absalom Jones be ordained as their priest. Bishop White accepted these terms in 1794 and the St. Thomas African Episcopal Church was established, becoming the first African American Episcopal Parish in the nation. On August 16, 1795, Absalom Jones was ordained a Deacon, and on September 21, 1802, he was ordained the first African American priest in the Episcopal Church. Richard Allen and another group joined with the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1795, where he served as a minister. Allen became the first bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, or AME, on April 11, 1816, and his friend Absalom Jones was there to participate at his ordination.

St. Thomas' African Episcopal Church started with 250 members, but in one year they doubled their membership, and it became the second largest church in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, although it was 69 years until this congregation was invited to participate in the business of Diocesan Convention with voice and vote. Absalom Jones served as the Rector of St. Thomas' and also as prophet, priest and pastor, for over twenty years. As a priest, Absalom Jones did a lot to help empower African Americans. The Rev. Samuel Magaw, rector of St. Paul's in Philadelphia, gave the sermon at the opening of St. Thomas' Church, and he preached a terrible sermon, talking about the "Pagan darkness" of the people's African roots and that they should be grateful to God that they had been brought from the "land of darkness to the land of Gospel Light." He also said that they had a debt of gratitude to their "earthly benefactors, who planned their emancipation from slavery" and in particular to the white Christians of Philadelphia who helped them. He told them to check any feelings of pride in their freedom or accomplishments, and to remember that they were the children of slaves. I guess he didn't know about Tertullian or Augustine or other African Fathers of the Church. Thanks be to God, Father Jones did not take the advice of Father Magaw; he and the people of St. Thomas were very clear about their mission to seek dignity and freedom for all people of colour. One month after the Rev. Magaw's sermon was published, the Rev. Jones composed a document entitled The Causes and Motives for Establishing St. Thomas' African Church of Philadelphia. It stated their intent to "arise out of the dust and shake themselves, and throw off that servile fear, that the habit of oppression and bondage trained them up in." The Rev. Absalom Jones and the members of the church attributed their commitment to "establish some orderly, Christian-like government" to their desire "to avoid all appearance of evil, by self-conceitedness, or an intent to promote or establish any new human device among us." They were adamant that the church be "governed by us and our successors for ever." Where the Rev. Magaw's sermon was condescending and paternal, the Rev. Jones' response was valiant and inspiring.

Absalom Jones also served Christ in the civic affairs of the city of Philadelphia. In the year 1793, the city was hit with an epidemic of Yellow Fever and many of the white citizens of the city were dying in their homes. Some were even dropping dead in the street. Others fled for the countryside, thinking that they would be safe there. This was long before the days of Dr. Gorgas; no one knew that mosquitos passed the disease to humans. They had the crazy idea that Black people were immune to the disease! Absalom Jones rallied the Black citizens of the city to help the sick and dying. These noble and unselfish men and women comforted the sick and buried the dead, sometimes at their won expense. Others paid an even higher price: they paid with their lives, succumbing to the disease after caring for the sick. Father Jones continued to work with Richard Allen on behalf of African Americans' they, along with Prince Hall of Boston, MA, and Benjamin Banneker of Washington, D.C., petitioned the House of Representatives to adopt measures that would in due course emancipate all persons held in slavery in the new nation. This was on January 2, 1800, and it was the very first formal effort on the part of Black Americans to redress their grievances to the federal government. Unfortunately, the petition was overwhelmingly defeated. Absalom Jones and Richard Allen also solicited the aid of 2,500 Black men to help defend the city of Philadelphia during the War of 1812. Absalom Jones died on February 13, 1818.

Absalom Jones understood the covenant of baptism, the promise to work for justice and righteousness, and to respect the dignity of all human beings. He was a living example of Christ's love, and he was a living example of one who stood up to oppression. We remember him today, not just because he was a Black man, not just because he was a slave, not just because he was the first African American ordained a priest in our Church, but because he lived the Christian life and was faithful to God. We remember him because he was a child of God and a person who was committed to to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. His life, as are the lives of all the Saints, is a wonderful example to us all.

Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Feast of St. Scholastica


The following is adapted from a sermon I wrote on St. Scholastica several years ago.

Today is the feast of St. Scholastica. She is the sister of St. Benedict, the person who created the Benedictine Order and the rule of life which is used by monks and nuns throughout the world even today. Some accounts claim that Benedict and Scholastica were twins, while others say that they were so close that many thought they were twins. If they were twins, they were probably born around the year 478 or 480 in Nursia, Italy. Scholastica lived very much in the shadow of her brother, and the little we know about her comes from the Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great.

Scholastica was consecrated to God at a very early age, and like most consecrated virgins of the Fifth century she lived in her parent's home. Benedict and Scholastica spent their youth together until Benedict came of the age which the law required him to go to Rome to study for an occupation. Benedict was not interested in learning a trade and ran away from Rome at the age of 15, "untaught though unwise" according to his biographer. He escaped to Subiaco where he lived in a grotto for three years. He eventually established a rule of life for monks and founded twelve monasteries.

The world in which Scholastica and Benedict lived was a violent world. The Roman empire was collapsing and was under attack by the Vandals, the Alani, the Suebians, Visigoths and Ostrogoths. Many of these barbarians were Christians, but they were Arian Christians, believers in a heresy which taught that the Son, the second person of the Trinity, was created by the Father, the first person of the Trinity. The Arians believed that Jesus was a kind of semi-divine, semi-created being. Scholastica and Benedict were orthodox, catholic, Christians, and so were those who lived in their houses. Their monasteries were bastions of orthodoxy in a sea of Italian Arianism. During the collapse of the Roman Empire and the society which it had created, the center of learning became the monasteries, and it was from the monasteries that those who helped form the new society came. Benedict founded a monastery at Monte Cassino, and Scholastica founded a monastery, or convent, for women five miles away in Plombariola. Both houses were under the rule of Benedict, which means that Scholastica was the first Benedictine nun.
According to the rules of both houses, men could not enter the convent and women could not enter the monastery, so Scholastica and Benedict used to meet once a year at a house located between the two houses where they would discuss spiritual matters and all that was involved in keeping their monasteries functioning.
St. Gregory the Great tells the story of their final meeting in his Dialogues Book II (The Life and Miracles of St. Benedict).
I'll post it here, but I'll warn you that translation is from the 19th century and the language is a bit flowery!

CHAPTER THIRTY THREE: OF A MIRACLE WROUGHT BY HIS SISTER SCHOLASTICA
GREGORY: Who is there, Peter, in this world, that is in greater favor with God than St. Paul was: who yet three times desired our Lord to be delivered from the sting of the flesh, and obtained not his petition? Concerning which point also I must needs tell you, how there was one thing which the venerable father Benedict would have done, and yet he could not. For his sister called Scholastica, dedicated from her infancy to our Lord, used once a year to come and visit her brother. To whom the man of God went not far from the gate, to a place that did belong to the Abbey, there to give her entertainment.

And she coming thither on a time according to her custom, her venerable brother with his monks went to meet her, where they spent the whole day in the praises of God and spiritual talk: and when it was almost night they supped together, and as they were yet sitting at the table, talking of devout matters, and darkness came on, the holy Nun his sister entreated him to stay there all night, that they might spend it in discoursing of the joys of heaven. But by no persuasion would he agree to that, saying that he might not by any means tarry all night out of his Abbey.
At that time, the sky was so clear that no cloud was to be seen. The Nun, receiving this denial of her brother, joining her hands together, laid them upon the table: and so, bowing down her head upon them, she made her prayers to almighty God: and lifting her head from the table, there fell suddenly such a tempest of lightning and thundering, and such abundance of rain, that neither venerable Benedict, nor his monks that were with him, could put their head out of door: for the holy Nun, resting her head upon her hands, poured forth such a flood of tears upon the table, that she drew the clear air to a watery sky, so that after the end of her devotions, that storm of rain followed: and her prayer and the rain did so meet together, that as she lifted up her head from the table, the thunder, so that in one and the very same instant, she lifted up her head and brought down the rain.
The man of God, seeing that he could not by reason of such thunder and lightning and great abundance of rain return back to his Abbey, he began to be heavy and to complain of his sister, saying: "God forgive you, what have you done?" to whom she answered: "I desired you to stay, and you would not hear me, I have desired our good Lord, and he hath vouchsafed to grant my petition: wherefore if you can now depart, in God's name return to your monastery, and leave me here alone."
DEPARTURE DELAYED
But the good father, being not able to go forth, tarried there against his will, where willingly he would not stay. And so by that means they watched all night, and with spiritual and heavenly talk did mutually comfort one another: and therefore by this we see, as I said before. that he would have had that thing, which yet he could not: for if we respect the venerable man's mind, no question but he would have had the same fair weather to have continued as it was, when he set forth, but he found that a miracle did prevent his desire, which, by the power of almighty God, a woman's prayers had wrought.
It is not a thing to be marveled at, that a woman which of long time had not seen her brother, might do more at that time than he could, seeing, according to the saying of St. John, "God is charity" [1 John 4:8] and therefore of right she did more which loved more.
PETER: I confess that I am wonderfully pleased with that which you tell me.
CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: HOW BENEDICT SAW THE SOUL OF HIS SISTER ASCEND INTO HEAVENLY GLORY.
The next day the venerable woman returned to her Nunnery, and the man of God to his Abbey: who three days after, standing in his cell, raising up his eyes to heaven, beheld the soul of his sister (which was departed from her body), in the likeness of a dove to ascend into heaven: who rejoicing much to see her great glory, with hymns and lauds gave the almighty God, and did impart the news of this her death to his monks, whom also he sent presently to bring her corpse to his Abbey, and had it buried in that grave which he had provided for himself; by means whereof it fell out that, as their souls were always one in God whiles they lived, so their bodies continued together after their death.

Okay, that was fun! Thank you, St. Gregory the Great! You know, when I get together with my sister, we aren't as holy and pious as Scholastica and Benedict; we actually like to complain about moments in our childhood and how our parents scarred us for life. But then, we haven't established convents and monasteries, either. We're just a couple of church musicians. But I digress. . . (okay, this paragraph wasn't in my sermon!)

St. Scholastica died around the year 543 and Benedict passed on not much later. Some say that we should only petition God for momentously important matters. God's love, however, is so great that God wishes to give us every good thing. God is ever ready to hear our prayers: our prayers of praise and thanksgiving, and our prayers of petition, repentance, and intercession. Nothing is too great or too trivial to share with our God. When we depend on God we learn that everything we are and have is from God's bountiful goodness; when we finally learn that lesson we turn to God with all our hopes and dreams and needs. Saint Scholastica is one who learned to depend on God and her life of dedication to God, to the sisters of her convent, and to her brother, makes her a model which we remember today.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Feast of the Martyrs of Japan

The story of the introduction of Christianity to Japan is quite different from its introduction in Europe or the Americas, because the culture of the Japanese is quite different from those of the West. There were two religions in Japan from the sixth century to the sixteenth century: Shinto and Buddhism. Shinto is the nationalist religion; it is for Japanese only and is not an evangelical faith, meaning it does not seek converts. It is animistic in nature, with different kami or spirits inhabiting trees and rocks and animals, etc. It is nationalistic in that its leader is the Emperor, who is descended from Amaterasu, the sun-goddess. Shinto has been the religion of Japan since 400 B.C.E. Buddhism was introduced from Korea in 552 C.E., and it spread rapidly. The Japanese have combined Shinto and Buddhism, creating a syncretic faith unique to Japan and the Ryukyu Islands.

The first Christian missionaries arrived in the Japanese Islands not long after the first Westerners. Three Portuguese sailors were traveling on a Chinese junk, which was driven off its course by a storm. After drifting about for some days, it finally arrived on the shores of Tanegashima, a small island off the coast of Kyushu, the main Japanese island. The Portuguese were well accepted, and soon they set-up trade with the Japanese. One day, a Japanese named Yajiro found asylum on a Portuguese ship. Yajiro was on the run, trying to escape punishment for his crimes. The Portuguese told him that he would have to go to Malacca, India, and confess his sins to a Jesuit missionary named Francis Xavier. Yajiro did so and his encounter with Francis Xavier created a desire in the heart of the priest to witness to the Japanese people. Father Xavier arrived in Kagoshima, in the southern part of Kyushu, on August 15, 1549, and was given permission to preach by Lord Satsuma, ruler of the province. Lord Satsuma wasn’t interested in Christianity, but he did want Portuguese ships to stop in Kagoshima with their European goods, but the Portuguese passed Kagoshima for Hirado, a rival port. Francis Xavier began to preach, but the Buddhist priests complained to Lord Satsuma that he wasn’t content to merely preach but was attacking their religion. This, combined with Satsuma’s disappointment in the lack of ships visiting Kagoshima caused Lord Satsuma to issue an edict in 1550 forbidding the adoption of Christianity. The edict carried a penalty of death. More Jesuit missionaries arrived with the Portuguese traders, and they continued to preach throughout Japan, gathering converts and building churches. In forty-five years there were more than 300,000 Christians in Japan, and this was happening even though the faith was forbidden in some areas. The Jesuits continued to attach the faiths of Shintoism and Buddhism, and this created a lot of trouble for them.
Hideyoshi, the emperor of Japan, was open to letting the Jesuits work throughout his island nation, but the complaints of the Shinto and Buddhist priests, plus the evil actions of Portuguese traders, created a situation in which Hideyoshi turned against Christianity and asked the Vice Provincial of the Jesuit Order the following five questions, demanding an immediate answer:
1. Why and by what authority were he and his fellow workers
converting Hideyoshi’s subjects to Christianity?
2. Why had they induced their converts to overthrow Shinto and
Buddhist Temples?
3. Why did they persecute the Shinto and Buddhist priests?
4. Why did the Christians and Portuguese eat animals useful to
humans, such as cows and oxen?
5. Why did the Vice-Provincial allow the Portuguese merchants to buy Japanese and make slaves of them in India?

The Vice-Provincial’s answers did not placate Hideyoshi and he began to wonder if the foreigners were threatening the new unity he was creating in Japan. Hideyoshi allowed the Jesuits to remain, under some restrictions. He then allowed some Franciscans to enter Japan with the distinct understanding that they would not evangelize. This did not work at all; I guess the Franciscans misunderstood the understanding. The Franciscans were soon running around preaching and building churches and fighting with the Jesuits; they even seized a Jesuit church in Nagasaki (reminds me of the Donatists and catholics of Northern Africa in the fifth century!). Hideyoshi became very angry that the Franciscans had violated their agreement and was planning to deport them. He was also planning an invasion of Korea, so he really didn’t want to bother with these troublesome missionaries. Hideyoshi spoke with the pilot of a Spanish ship that was stranded on the coast of Japan, and he had heard of their colonies around the world. He asked the pilot how the Spanish had managed to hold sway over so much of the world, and the pilot told him: “Our kings begin by sending into the countries they wish to conquer missionaries who induce the people to embrace our religion, and when they have made considerable progress, troops are sent who combine with the new Christians, and then our kings have not much trouble in accomplishing the rest.” A statement which does contain some truth, but was hardly helpful for the Christian missionaries.

Hideyoshi was furious and threatened to put all missionaries to death, but some influential Japanese, some of whom were not Christians, intervened and only three Jesuits were executed, but no mercy was shown to the Franciscans. Their ears and noses were cut off, and they were led through the streets of Kyoto, Sakai, and Osaka in carts. They were sent to be crucified in Nagasaki. Terazawa Hazaburo, brother of the governor of Nagasaki, was in charge of the execution. Twenty-six crosses were on the ground at Nishizaka Hill, waiting for the condemned. They were fastened to the crosses by iron rings around their hands, feet, and neck and a rope around the waist. The sentence of death, read to the martyrs, stated As these men came from the Philippines under the guise of ambassadors, and chose to stay in Miyako preaching the Christian law, which I have severely forbidden all these years, I come to decree that they be put to death, together with the Japanese that have accepted that law. According to an account written by the Rev. Diego R. Yuki, a Japanese Jesuit priest, one of the martyrs, Paul Miki, responded: "All of you who are here, please, listen to me. I did not come from the Philippines, I am a Japanese by birth, and a brother of the Society of Jesus. I have committed no crime, and the only reason why I am put to death is that I have been teaching the doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I am very happy to die for such a cause, and see my death as a great blessing from the Lord. At this critical time, when, you can rest assured that I will not try to deceive you, I want to stress and make it unmistakably clear that man can find no way to salvation other than the Christian way." He saw Terazawa and the executioners and said to them, "The Christian law commands that we forgive our enemies and those who have wronged us. I must therefore say here that I forgive Taikosama. I would rather have all the Japanese become Christians." The executioners moved down the line, stabbing the martyrs with lances. According to Padre Yuki: The Portuguese and the Japanese Christians attending the executions could not be kept in check any longer. Breaking through the guard, they pressed forward to the crosses and started soaking pieces of cloth in the martyrs blood gathering lumps of the earth sanctified by them, tearing up their habits and kimonos for holy relics. The guards kept on beating them. pulling them away. The blood of the wounded mixed with that of the martyrs. Order was finally established, and Terazawa positioned guards all around the hill, with strict orders not to allow anybody near the crosses. After completing his task Terazawa withdrew from the hill. Many could notice that even the tough soldier was crying.

The twenty-six martyrs were:
1. ST. FRANCIS, a carpenter from Kyoto.
2. ST. COSMAS TAKEYA, a sword-maker from Owari.
3. ST. PETER SUKEJIRO, a young man from Kyoto.
4. ST. MICHAEL KOZAKI, a native of Ise, 46 yeas old and a bow maker.
5. ST. JAMES KISAI, a Jesuit lay brother, Sixty-four years of age.
6. ST. PAUL MIKI, had been born in Tsunokuni district, the son of a brave soldier, Miki Handayu. The best preacher in the country he fell silent when the executioner's blow shattered his heart. He was only thirty years of age.
7. ST PAUL IBARAKI, born in Owari, of a samurai family.
8. ST. JOHN OF GOTO, a portrait of innocence and joy, a short life of 19 yeas fully used in the service of God.
9. ST. LOUIS IBARAKI, the youngest of the group, only 12 years old.
10. ST. ANTHONY, born Nagasaki of a Chinese father and Japanese mother.
11. ST. PETER BAPTIST. Superior of the Franciscan Mission in Japan, former ambassador from Spain, a father to the poor lepers, a captain of martyrs.
12. ST. MARTIN OF THE ASCENSION, born in Guipuzcoa, Spain. He was 30 years old.
13. ST. PHILIP OF JESUS, a Mexican, 24 years old.
14. ST. GONZALO GARCIA, 40 years, born in India of a Portuguese father and an Indian mother. He is the patron saint of Bombay.
15. ST. FRANCIS BLANCO, was born in Monterey (Galacia, Spain) and came to Japan with St. Martin of the Ascension.
16. ST. FRANCIS OF ST MICHAEL, 53, born in La Parrilla (Valladolid, Spain). He died in silence, just as he had lived.
17. ST. MATTHIAS. We know nothing about his age, place of birth or date of baptism, only his name and the reason why he joined the martyrs. The soldiers were looking for another Matthias who could not be found. Our saint offered himself and the soldiers gladly accepted him. God accepted him too.
18. ST. LEO KARASUMARU, from Owaru, younger brother of St. Paul Ibaraki. A zealous catechist and a man of prayer, he was a leading figure among the lay martyrs.
19. ST. BONAVENTURE. Baptized as an infant, he soon lost his mother, and his stepmother sent him to a Buddhist monastery. One day he found out about his baptism, and came to visit the Franciscan convent in Kyoto, his place of birth, eager to have further information. here he found again his peace of soul. On his way to the cross he prayed for his father's faith and the conversion of his stepmother.
20. ST. THOMAS KOZAKI. With the rugged manners of a country boy, this fourteen year old had a beautiful heart, much like the Pearls of his native Ise. He was straightforward, unhesitant and totally committed in his service to God.
21. ST.JOACHIM SAKAKIBARA, 40 year old, a native of Osaka. A man of very strong character, he excelled for his kindness and readiness to serve, a fitting preparation for the martyrs' crown.
22. ST FRANCIS. Born in Kyoto, 48 years old. He was a physician and a zealous preacher.
23. ST THOMAS DANGI. A druggist, with an extremely violent disposition, he mellowed with God's help into a kindhearted catechist.
24. ST. JOHN KINUYA, 28 years old, from Kyoto. A silk weaver and trader, he had recently been baptized and moved his shop next to the convent.
25. ST. GABRIEL, a native of Ise, 19 years old, another young life ungrudgingly offered to God. He worked as a catechist.
26. ST. PAUL SUZUKI, 49 years old, from Owari. His cross was at the end of the row and his voice, all fire and zeal, could be heard un impeded. He was in charge of St Joseph's Hospital in Kyoto.

The Christians of Japan continued to be persecuted, and Japan eventually isolated itself from the rest of the world, not to open up again until the nineteenth century. The Church existed underground in Nagasaki for over two hundred years, without bishops, priests or deacons, but under the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit. There are now many missionaries in Japan, and there is an Anglican Church (Nippon Sei Ko Kai) which has been there since the nineteenth century, but Christianity is still a minority religion. But those who are Japanese Christians remember the tremendous witness of the 26 martyrs of Japan, whom we remember today. May we all be as faithful and brave as they.

O God our Father, source of strength to all your saints, you brought the holy martyrs of Japan through the suffering of the cross to the joys of eternal life: Grant that we, encouraged by their example, may hold fast the faith we profess, even to death itself; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Feast of John, Apostle and Evangelist

This is my sermon on St. John

John, son of Zebedee and Salome and younger brother of James, grew up along the shores of the sea of Galilee. Both John and James were followers of John the Baptizer, and John and Andrew were present when John the Baptizer saw Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” John was probably one of the earliest disciples of Jesus. Jesus called John and James “Boanerges” which means “Sons of Thunder” and they, along with Peter, where in the Inner Circle of the disciples. These three were blessed with the experience of seeing Jesus transfigured and talking with Moses and Elijah. When the women returned to tell the disciples of the empty tomb, both Peter and John ran to check out their story and John reached the empty tomb first. It was John who recognized the Resurrected Jesus sitting on the beach when they were fishing. According to the gospel attributed to John, Jesus gave the care of his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, to John as they stood at the foot of the cross. It was either James and John or their mother who asked Jesus if they could sit at his right and left when he entered his kingdom. We have no idea if they sit on either side of Jesus, but we do know that they shared the same cup as Jesus, the cup of persecution. James died the death of a martyr, but although John died in Ephesus at a very advanced age, he did suffer persecution. Tertullian and Jerome claim that during the persecution of Domatian, John was dipped in a cauldron of boiling oil outside the Latin Gate of the city of Rome. He was unharmed and was exiled to the island of Patmos to work in the mines. It was there that he received the vision which he wrote down and is named the Apocalypse of John the Divine, or the Book of Revelation.

John was the most prolific writer of the Twelve who followed Jesus; only the Apostle Paul left us more writings. John has a gospel attributed to him, the vision of the Apocalypse is attributed to him, and three letters to the Church in Ephesus are attributed to him. According to bishop Eusebius of Cesarea, the fourth century historian, John wrote his gospel because the other three gospels did not deal with the deeds of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry. Eusebius said that John’s gospel was accepted by the Church from the earliest days, as well as the first epistle attributed to him, but that the other two epistles are not accepted by everyone. There was still disagreement as to whether the Apocalypse should be accepted as scripture in the fourth century; Eusebius writes: “In regard to the Apocalypse, the opinions of most men are still divided.” As I mentioned earlier, John moved to Ephesus upon his release from Patmos, and he became a very important part of the Church in Asia. St. Jerome writes that towards the end of John’s life in Ephesus, he was so weak that he could no longer preach or even stand. His young disciples would carry him into the church and, with great difficulty, the Apostle would say: "My dear children, love one another." Some of those in the congregation once asked him why he always said the same thing, why he repeated the same words, and the Apostle answered, "Because it is the precept of the Lord, and if you comply with it, you do enough " He finally died in peace in Ephesus, at about ninety-four years of age. As far as we know, John is the only one of the Apostles who died of old age rather than receiving the crown of martyrdom.

I want to finish by relating a story about the Apostle which Eusebius credits to Clement of Alexandria. This story gives us great insight into the nature of John: "Listen to a tale, which is not a mere tale, but a narrative concerning John the apostle, which has been handed down and treasured up in memory. For when, after the tyrant's death, he returned from the isle of Patmos to Ephesus, he went away upon their invitation to the neighboring territories of the Gentiles, to appoint bishops in some places, in other places to set in order whole churches, elsewhere to choose to the ministry some one of those that were pointed out by the Spirit. When he had come to one of the cities not far away, and had consoled the brethren in other matters, he finally turned to the bishop that had been appointed, and seeing a youth of powerful physique, of pleasing appearance, and of ardent temperament, he said, 'This one I commit to thee in all earnestness in the presence of the Church and with Christ as witness.' And when the bishop had accepted the Charge and had promised all, he repeated the same injunction with an appeal to the same witnesses, and then departed for Ephesus. But the presbyter, taking home the youth committed to him, reared, kept, cherished, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his stricter care and watchfulness, with the idea that in putting upon him the seal of the Lord he had given him a perfect protection. But some youths of his own age, idle and dissolute, and accustomed to evil practices, corrupted him when he was thus prematurely freed from restraint. At first they enticed him by costly entertainments; then, when they went forth at night for robbery, they took him with them, and finally they demanded that he should unite with them in some greater crime. He gradually became accustomed to such practices, and on account of the positiveness of his character, leaving the right path, and taking the bit in his teeth like a hard-mouthed and powerful horse, he rushed the more violently down into the depths. And finally despairing of salvation in God, he no longer meditated what was insignificant, but having committed some great crime, since he was now lost once for all, he expected to suffer a like fate with the rest. Taking them, therefore, and forming a band of robbers, he became a bold bandit-chief, the most violent, most bloody, most cruel of them all. Time passed, and some necessity having arisen, they sent for John. But he, when he had set in order the other matters on account of which he had come, said, 'Come, O bishop, restore us the deposit which both I and Christ committed to thee, the church, over which thou presidest, being witness. But the bishop was at first confounded, thinking that he was falsely charged in regard to money which he had not received, and he could neither believe the accusation respecting what he had not, nor could he disbelieve John. But when he said, 'I demand the young man and the soul of the brother,' the old man, groaning deeply and at the same time bursting into tears, said, 'He is dead.' 'How and what kind of death?' 'He is dead to God,' he said; 'for he turned wicked and abandoned, and at last a robber. And now, instead of the church, he haunts the mountain with a band like himself.' But the Apostle rent his clothes, and beating his head with great lamentation, he said, 'A fine guard I left for a brother's soul! But let a horse be brought me, and let some one show me the way.' He rode away from the church just as he was, and coming to the place, he was taken prisoner by the robbers' outpost. He, however, neither fled nor made entreaty, but cried out, 'For this did I come; lead me to your captain.' The latter, meanwhile, was waiting, armed as he was. But when he recognized John approaching, he turned in shame to flee. But John, forgetting his age, pursued him with all his might, crying out, 'Why, my son, dost thou flee from me, thine own father, unarmed, aged? Pity me, my son; fear not; thou hast still hope of life. I will give account to Christ for thee. If need be, I will willingly endure thy death as the Lord suffered death for us. For thee will I give up my life. Stand, believe; Christ hath sent me.' And he, when he heard, first stopped and looked down; then he threw away his arms, and then trembled and wept bitterly. And when the old man approached, he embraced him, making confession with lamentations as he! was able, baptizing himself a second time with tears, and concealing only his right hand, But John, pledging himself, and assuring him on oath that he would find forgiveness with the Saviour, besought him, fell upon his knees, kissed his right hand itself as if now purified by repentance, and led him back to the church. And making intercession for him with copious prayers, and struggling together with him in continual fastings, and subduing his mind by various utterances, he did not depart, as they say, until he had restored him to the church, furnishing a great example of true repentance and a great proof of regeneration, a trophy of a visible resurrection."

John is also called the Apostle of Charity, a virtue which is very much on our minds at this time of year. I will leave you with these words from John’s first epistle, which remind us why we remember him today:"Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?"

Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Thrilling Conclusion to the Red Mr. Peanut Bank and Gallito Mescalito Krispen Special, everbuddy!

Red Mr. Peanut Bank Well, Bunrab, tonight's the night! Are you ready?
Bunrab, the Filthiest Toy in the House As ready as I can be. The rehearsals went much better than expected, and they've decided not to use wires on the angels, gracias a Dios! Are you ready to be the Narrator?
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Of course! I love being Narrator.


Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Well, the sleeves are okay, but I'm having trouble holdin' dis stick ting.
¡El Toro! ¿Parecer una oveja? ¿Esta traje engañar a nadie?
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Hello Santa, hello Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Kitty Toy, hola ¡El Toro! Are you about ready?
Santa Yes, it's show time! All the costumes are fabulous and our cast are ALL STARS!!!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Well, good, because these two are on first.

Santa No problem!! Kitty, you are a beautiful shepherd, and all the sheep will follow you anywhere!
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Tanks, Santa! Yer not too bad yerself! I gotta get to da stage.
Santa And you! YOU! You are the wooliest little lamb I've ever seen! Yes you are! Yes you are!!
¡El Toro! ¡POR faVOR!


Red Mr. Peanut Bank Welcome to Padre Mickey's Dance Party's Christmas Pageant! We hope that you enjoy all the hard work our cast has put into this production.
Bunrab, the Filthiest Toy in the House, whispering Psst! Don't forget las celulares!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Oh, yes! Please turn off your cell phones and pagers, or put them on vibrate. Also, this pageant is for entertainment purposes only. Please, no wagering! And now, our pageant.


Red Mr. Peanut Bank, off camera In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy, whispering No you stand dere, and you, you go ovah dere. An you, jest stan' still!
Ahem, Oh, what a beautiful, quiet nite. I suppose dat nuttin' 'citin' will happen tuhnite.
¡El Toro! Baa. Baa.
Squeaky Gorilla Baa skeek Baa

Red Mr. Peanut Bank, off camera Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Wut da ...
¡El Toro! BAA!! BAA!!
Squeaky Gorilla BAA! skeek BAA!!
Guatemalan Apocalyptic Angel Yikes! What is that in the sky?

Red Mr. Peanut Bank, off camera But the angel said to them
Wooden Kuna Doll Do not be afraid; for see----I am bringin' you good news of great joy for all de peoples: to you is born this day in the city of David (pero not in Chriqui, el otro ciudad David) a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Wooden Kuna Doll This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
Telly Tubbies Ina manger! Ina manger! Da Messiah! Da Messiah!


Red Mr. Peanut Bank, off camera And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying
The Heavenly Host Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!


Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Whoa!!
¡El Toro! BAA!! BAA!!
Squeaky Gorilla BAA! skeek BAA!!
Guatemalan Apocalyptic Angel Wow! They're really good!


Red Mr. Peanut Bank, off camera When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Hey! Let us go now tuh Betlehem and see dis ting what takes place, which da Lowd maked known tuh us!
Guatemalan Apocalyptic Angel Sounds good to me! Plus, it's cold out here.
¡El Toro! Baa. Baa.
Squeaky Gorilla Baa skeek Baa
Guatemalan Apocalyptic Angel What is that noise?
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Don' ask!


Red Mr. Peanut Bank, off camera So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
Gallito Mescalito Shrie Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love SHUSH! Not now!

Red Mr. Peanut Bank, off camera When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy No! Really! Dere wuz angels an' everting!
¡El Toro! Baa. Baa.
Squeaky Gorilla Baa skeek Baa
Guatemalan Apocalyptic Angel No, it's true! I saw it with my own eyes, and let me tell you, I know all about angels!


Red Mr. Peanut Bank, off camera And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
Farm animals Yeah, that's some story! Angels, ya say?
The Mighty Moose of Vermont Mooooose. Mooooooose. I am a cow! Mooooose.

Red Mr. Peanut Bank, off camera But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


El Penguino Is this thing over yet? 'Cuz I'm sweatin ta def in this bankie!!!

Red Mr. Peanut Bank Please give our cast a round of applause!


Red Mr. Peanut Bank That ends our program for the evening. There is chicha, sorril, and empanadas in the lobby. Merry Christmas, and Good night!
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love Okay, now!
Gallito Mescalito ¡¡¡SSSSHHHHHRRRRRIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEKKKKK!!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Even more Red Mr. Peanut Bank and Gallito Mescalito Krispen Special

As you recall, last week yesterday the Dance Party Players asked Red Mr. Peanut Bank to help them put on a Christmas Pageant. Our story continues.....


Red Mr. Peanut Bank I love to walk the neighborhood and see all the nacimientos on display. Yikes! That reminds me! I wonder how the Dance Party Christmas Pageant is coming along?


Bunrab, the Filthiest Toy in the House Hmmm... Και ποιμενες ησαν εν χωρα τη . . .


Red Mr. Peanut Bank Wow! That's some funny writing. What's going on here?


Bunrab, the Filthiest Toy in the House Hello, Red Mr. Peanut Bank! How are you?
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Fine, thanks. And you? And what are these books?
Bunrab, the Filthiest Toy in the House I'm fine. I'm exploring the ancient texts to write the script for the Christmas Pageant.
Red Mr. Peanut Bank How's it coming along?
Bunrab, the Filthiest Toy in the House Well, My Hebrew is terrible but my Greek is okay, so I think I'll have it ready by rehearsal. Have you decided who will play the Baby Jesus?
Red Mr. Peanut Bank No, not yet. Well, I think I'll leave you alone to work.



Red Mr. Peanut Bank Buenas tardes.
Wooden Kuna Doll Buenas tardes, Señor Mani Rojo.
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love Buenas tardes, Red Mr. Peanut Bank. We're studying this icon of the Blessed Virgin and the Holy Child. As you know, we both want to play the BVM in the pageant. Have you made a decision on the part yet?
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Well, no. I hope you will both audition tomorrow.
Wooden Kuna Doll ¡Sí, Señor!
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love You know we'll be there. Hey, who's going to play the Baby Jesus? The only one around here who looks like the Baby Jesus in that icon is that red Telly Tubbie!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank I don't know. Well, good to see you both!
Wooden Kuna Doll Adios, Señor Mani Rojo.
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love Ciao, babe!



Red Mr. Peanut Bank Hi fellas. What's going on here?
El Penguino Oh, hello, Red Mr. Peanut Bank! These guys are all deciding who will be a cow and who will be a sheep.
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Who will be what?
El Penguino They've decided they'll arm wrestle. Loser is a cow. Or donkey.
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Well, not that this isn't interesting, but I must run!
Gallito Mescalito ¿Shriek?
Red Mr. Peanut Bank No, I don't know who will play the Baby Jesus yet. Maybe Poh.
Gallito Mescalito ¡SHRIEK!



El Penguino This is terrible. I think I'll go help the angels.



Red Mr. Peanut Bank Santa! What are YOU doing here? Shouldn't you be at the North Pole, or at least at the Mall?
Santa Well, since you won't let me play Joseph in the Christmas Pageant, I offered my help in making costumes. Plus, the elves have it under control at the North Pole, except for those Episcopal Elves who spend all their time doing that Terrible Version of the Macarena! And then there are those Fallen Elves who hang out at Kendall Harmon's place. But I digress. . . Look at all this fabric!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Do you know what you're doing?



Santa Of course I do. Who the heck do you think made all those cute outfits for the elves? I've got a machine, I've got fabric, I've got a tape, and these costumes will be FABULOUS!!!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank, off camera Okay. If you can't trust Santa, who can you trust?



Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Mistah Sanna, sir. Dis sleeve is way too big!
Santa It's not done yet, silly! We just need to take it in a bit!
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy But did da shepahds really weah dis color?
Gallito Mescalito Shriek! SHRIEEK!!
Santa What are you talking about, you silly rooster! You are a Vision in that fluffy cotton! Look, Kitty, you will be the most handsome Shepherd ever to hold a crook, and Rooster, you will be the cutest, fluffiest, and most lovable little lamb ever to see the Baby Jesus! Yes you will! You will!
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Say, who's gonna be da Baby Jeezus anyway?
Santa How would I know? But I'll bet it will be the sweetest little baby Jesus ever seen since the original!! Maybe it will be Poh!
Gallito Mescalito ¡SHRIEK!



Red Mr. Peanut Bank El Penguino, what is going on here?
Dipsy Woah! WOAH!
El Penguino Well, I thought I do some wire work with the angels
La-la, Poh, and Tinky Winky Dipsy fly! Dipsy fly!
El Penguino So, did you pick a Baby Jesus yet?
Red Mr. Peanut Bank No, not yet. I don't know, this looks somewhat dangerous!
Dipsy Woah! WOOAAOOH!
La-la, Poh, and Tinky Winky Dipsy fly! Dipsy fly!
El Penguino Nah, don't worry. Everything will be fine!!



Gallito Mescalito ¡SHRIEK!
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love Good Lord! What is going on?
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Dis whole outfit is too big! Sumbuddy hep me!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank This does not look good!
Dipsy Woah! WOOAAOOH!
La-la, Poh, and Tinky Winky Dipsy crash. DIPSY CRASH!
Bunrab, the Filthiest Toy in the House Hey! I'm trying to write here! You little green weirdo!!
El Penguino Yow! Im outta here!



El Penguino I'm tired. I think I'll climb in this bed and take a nap. Plus, it looks like a good place to hide. Yawn. I wonder who will play the Baby Jesus? Yawn



El Penguino Snnnnnnoooooorrrrrrrre

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