Thursday, July 26, 2012

Feast of St. James the Greater, Apostle

O gracious God, we remember before you today your servant and apostle James, first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the Name of Jesus Christ; and we pray that you will pour out upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service by which alone they may have true authority among your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Yesterday I celebrated the Feast of St. Christopher, Martyr, but ages ago the Roman Catholic Church dropped Our Boy Chris from the calendar (claiming he didn’t exist, but, as you can see on my St. Christopher post, all they had to do was some research), and the Episcopal Church followed their lead, so the calendar has St. James the Greater’s feast scheduled for today. All True Christians™ know that yesterday was the Feast of St. Christopher, but I’ll post about St. James for the Lost. His feast is transferred to today, onnacounna that Sunday Thang. The following is a sermon I wrote about St. James a few years ago.

There are several James mentioned in the Christian scriptures: James of Jerusalem, the brother of our Lord Jesus and first bishop of Jerusalem; James the Less, a member of the Twelve mentioned in Mark 15:40; and James the Great, the eldest son of Zebedee and brother of John. As is the case with all of the Apostles, we really don’t know too much about James, son of Zebedee. As a historian, I find this very frustrating, but we can try to put things together according to different accounts. James and his brother John were sons of Zebedee, a wealthy fisherman in Galilee. Both James and John left the family business to follow Jesus in his ministry. They were very zealous followers of Jesus, and I think they may have been zealous in other areas of their lives, because Jesus gave them the nickname Boanerges, which is Greek for Sons of Thunder. Teamed up with Simon, whom Jesus nicknamed Cephas, or Rock, they became Rocky and the Thunder Boys (I don’t know any Aramiac, the language Jesus spoke, so I don’t know what Jesus really called them). Rocky and the Thunder Boys were the Inner Circle of the Inner Circle. If the Twelve were the Inner Circle of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, James, and John were the Inner Circle of that Inner Circle. They were always present at the most important events and Jesus brought them along even when he left the other members of the Twelve behind. They were present at the raising of Jarius’ daughter, they were present at the Transfiguration, and they were with Jesus during the agony in the garden on the night of his arrest. Jesus seemed to favor these three over the rest of the Twelve, but the mother of James and John, like most mothers, seemed to have an even higher opinion of her boys. According to the account in Matthew’s gospel, she came up to Jesus with both of her sons and asked of him a favor. She said, “Give me your word that these two sons of mine may sit one at your right hand and one at your left in your domain.” Now, I think this request is a bit strange, since Jesus had just told the Twelve that the last will be first and the first will be last in the Reign of God. Yet here is the mother of the Thunder Boys tying to put them at the top in God’s reign. Jesus said, “You have no idea what you are asking for. Can you drink the cup that I’m about to drink?” They both answered in the affirmative, but I agree with Jesus; I don’t think they had any idea to what they were agreeing. I guess they wanted those spots on the right and left of Jesus just as much as their mother wanted them to have those spots! Jesus told them that they would drink of the same cup, but it was not for him to say who would sit on this right and left. When the others heard about this conversation, they were not too pleased, just as one would expect, and there must have been a bit of complaining and hurt feelings, because Jesus had to call them all together and explain things. Jesus told them all that, among the Gentiles, the leaders lord it over them and exert great authority over them, and I really don’t think that it was much different among the Jews, but Jesus told the Twelve that among them it would be different. If any of the Twelve wanted to be great, they would have to be the servant of the others, and whoever wanted to be first among them would have to be a slave to the others.

According to tradition, James travelled, as did the rest of the Apostles, and he is supposed to have gone all the way to Spain to preach the Good News of forgiveness of sins and the coming of the Reign of God, but this claim doesn’t really hold up to historical scrutiny. This claim has been around since the seventh century, and the Spanish claim that his body was transferred to Santiago de Campostela, and, since the Middle Ages, Santiago has been a popular saint in España.

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.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Feast of St. Christopher, Martyr

According to the official calendar, today is the feast of St. James the Apostle, brother of John and member of the Inner Circle of the Twelve. However, I am the former Rector of Parroquia San Cristóbal, the Parish of St. Christopher, and today is also the feast of St. Christopher, martyr. When I first came to San Cristóbal, I figured that we were named after a non-existent saint. In the Roman tradition, St. Christopher was very tall, very strong Roman man, originally named Offero, who became a Christian and vowed to serve Jesus. He sought out a holy hermit, who told him that he could best serve Jesus by helping people cross the river, which as very swift and dangerous. Offero started carrying people across the river on his back. One day a small child came to be carried across the river. While crossing the river, Offero noticed that this passenger was heavier than anyone he had ever carried, which didn't make any sense since he was a little child. The child revealed that he was actually Jesus, the Christ, and his heaviness was due to carrying the sins of the world. Jesus then baptized Offero and named him Christopher. It's an easy story to discount.

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.

UPDATE 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.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Feast of St. Mary of Magdala, Apostle to the Apostles (Transferred)

Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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 piece of junk I should've written and made a million on novel The DaVinci Code. She was a popular figure in the early days of Christianity, too, for different reasons, and some Gnostic groups claimed that she was the leader of the Church rather than James or Peter. We do know that she was one of the women who followed Jesus. According to Luke’s Gospel: And it so happened soon afterward that he traveled through towns and villages, preaching and announcing the good news of God’s imperial rule. The twelve were with him, and also some women whom he had cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary the one from Magdala, from whom seven demons had taken their leave...

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,
Courageous companion
Who accompanies
Death's bitter-shroud end.
No prostitute you,
A Woman Jew
And Apostle.
Denigrated, despised
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.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Feast of Saints Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubmann, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Amelia Jenks Bloomer

O God, whose Spirit guides us into all truth and makes us free: Strengthen and sustain us as you did your servants Elizabeth, Amelia, Sojourner, and Harriet. Give us vision and courage to stand against oppression and injustice and all that works against the glorious liberty to which you call all your children; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I prefer talking about the saints of the first five or six centuries, but there was no way I could ignore these four women. I borrowed freely from the biographical information in Lesser Feasts and Fasts when I first put this together for a sermon a couple years ago.

Today we celebrate four women of the nineteenth century who were dedicated to bringing about the Reign of God by fighting against oppression and injustice. Their stands against sexism and racism helped change our world. Yes, racism and sexism still exist, but all the actions of all four women have made us all aware of the importance of standing up for the rights of all people.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was born into an affluent, strict Calvinist family in upstate New York in the year 1815. She was serious about her faith and the Presbyterian doctrines of predestination and human depravity depressed her. She decided that by righting the wrongs which the Church and Western Society had inflicted upon women she could deal with the emotional and spiritual crises she was experiencing. She organized the first Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, New York, in July of 1848, with four other women, setting her religious and political agenda for the next fifty years. She spoke truth to power and was vocal about holding Christianity accountable for oppressing women by using scripture to as a means of subordinating women in marriage and prohibiting them from ordained ministry. She was also determined in holding society accountable for denying women equal access to professional jobs, property ownership, the vote, and for granting less pay for the same work. When the Revised Version of the Bible was published in 1881, she was angry that the Translation Committee had no women scholars as members, so she formed a committee and helped write a Scripture Commentary using the Greek she had learned as child from her minister. The Commentary focused on passages which had been used to oppress and discriminate against women. Even though she blamed male clergy for women’s oppression (and quite correctly, in my opinion), she attended Trinity Episcopal Church in Seneca Falls, New York with her friend Amelia Bloomer. She was a dissenting prophet and was invited to speak in pulpits all over the United States and was seen as a liberator and holy presence. Shortly before she died (in 1902), she said: “My only regret is that I have not been braver and bolder and truer in the honest conviction of my soul.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton's friend Amelia Jenks Bloomer was the youngest of six children, and she, too, was born into a New York Presbyterian family. She was known even as a child as one with a kind heart and a strict regard for truth and right. Even as a young woman she was active in the Temperance, anti-slavery, and women’s rights movements. In those days the fashion for women living in the Western world was that of the corset, which really squeezed a woman's waist. Even pregnant women were expected to have tiny, wasp-like waists, and these corsets were causing serious health problems for women. Amelia Bloomer published a newspaper named The Lily, and she printed a picture of herself in loose-fitting Turkish trousers. She began to wear them publicly and caused quite a scandal as the fashion caught on with some women. Clergy began denouncing the women who wore such trousers, citing Moses as saying: “Women should not dress like men.” Amelia fired back: “It matters not what Moses had to say to the men and women of his time about what they should wear. If clergy really cared about what Moses said about clothes, they would all put fringes and blue ribbons on their garments.” Her debates with clergy caused her popularity to grow rapidly. She had a very modern understanding of Holy Scripture, and she said that if St. Paul had been able to look into the future and "see all the sorrow and strife, the cruel exactions and oppression on the one hand and the blind submission and cringing fear on the other that his words have sanctioned and caused, he never would have uttered them." She later moved to the frontier and worked to establish churches, libraries and schools. Her home parish of Trinity Episcopal Church, Seneca Falls, New York, records her as a “faithful Christian missionary all her life.” She understood that by working for the liberation of slaves, she would help pave the way for the liberation of women. She died in 1894.

Isabella, later known as Sojourner Truth, was the next-to youngest child born to James and Elizabeth, in 1797. The family lived in New York, slaves of a wealthy Dutchman. Isabella spent the first 28 years of her life as a slave, sold from household to household. Some Quaker friends helped her flee her owner, and she lived in Philadelphia for a while, later returning to New York, where she joined Mother Zion African Methodist Episcopal church. She was known as Belle, and served as a street-corner evangelist in the poorest areas of New York city. Her street ministry helped her to realize that people needed food, housing and warm clothing more than preaching, and she focused her work on a homeless shelter for women. When she was forty-six years of age, she believed that God told her to “Go East,” so she headed for Long Island and Connecticut. She stopped at a Quaker farm for a drink of water, and when asked her name, she said, “My name is Sojourner.” When asked for her last name, she thought of all her masters’ names she had carried through her life and the thought came: “The only master I have now is God, and His name is Truth.” Sojourner Truth became a traveling preacher, speaking at both black and white camp meetings, speaking against slavery. She never learned to read or write but had committed most of the Bible to memory. She was attending a women’s rights convention in Ohio, listening for hours to clergy attack women’s rights and abolition, using the Bible to support their oppressive logic that God had created women to be weak and blacks to be a subservient race. She stood up and delivered the speech for which she is best remembered, “Ain’t I a Woman” with the line I love: “Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that 'twixt the negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon.” She died in the year 1883.

Harriet Ross was born to Ben Ross and Harriet Green in 1820 on a Maryland Chesapeake Bay plantation. She was the middle child of eleven children. She suffered beatings and was seriously injured several times, but she grew up strong and defiant, refusing to appear happy and smiling to her masters. She turned to religion as a means of dealing with the brutality and oppression of the world in which she lived, joining the slaves in praying for a Moses to lead them. When she was about 24 years of age she escaped to Canada. While she was happy to be free, she couldn't forget those she had left behind in slavery. She began working with Quakers, the Christian group which worked hardest against slavery, and started running people across the border; she returned to Maryland about 19 times between 1851 and 1861, freeing over 300 people by leading them to Canada. She was so successful that a bounty of $40,000.00 was on her head! She believed her fight against slavery was ordered by God, and she was guided by God through dreams, omens, and warnings. When the Civil War broke out (which she had seen in a vision), she enlisted with the Union Army, serving as a cook and nurse, caring for both Confederate and Union soldiers. She also served as a spy and scout, and led 300 black troops on a raid which freed over 750 slaves, making her the first woman in U.S. history to lead troops into military action. In 1858 she moved to upstate New York and helped found schools for African American children. She also worked for women’s rights with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Harriet Tubman died in 1913.

These four women are models of the prophetic ministry of liberation and speaking truth to power. They overcame the restrictions society and the Church had placed upon them because of their gender and their race, and they stood up and worked against sexism, racism, and the oppression of all people. They are powerful examples of Christians who took their baptismal covenant seriously. And that is why we honor them today as part of that Great Cloud of Witnesses which is the Communion of Saints.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Feast of St. Macrina the Younger

Merciful God, you called your servant Macrina to reveal in her life and her teaching the riches of your grace and truth: May we, following her example, seek after your wisdom and live according to her way; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Back in the early fourth century, in the province of Cappadocia, lived a family which produced three Saints of the Church. Two of the brothers became priests, and these two priests became bishops. But the eldest child, a girl, was the greatest saint of the entire family. Her name was Macrina, and she was named after her grandmother. Her brothers were Basil the Great and Gregory of Nyssa. They are both important saints in the church due to their defense of orthodoxy against the Arians, and because they were both bishops of important Sees, but both brothers recognized their sister Macrina as being important to the development of their own faith. Macrina was very unusual for her time, because she was a teacher of church doctrine, and she started one of the first monastic orders. In fact, her brothers Peter and Basil used her ideas when they created their own Monastic rule.
Macrina was born in the year 340, the eldest of ten children to Basil and Emilia. Just before she was born her mother had a dream which inspired her parents to name her Thecla, after the saint who gave up her betothal to follow St. Paul. However, the rest of the family and household preferred to call her Macrina, after her grandmother, and that is how she came to be known. She grew up to be a beautiful and intelligent woman. She was betrothed to a young man who was chosen by her father, as this was the way things were done at that time, but the young man died a tragic and early death before they were married. Macrina took this to be a sign, and since she never really wanted to marry, told her parents that a betrothal was the same as marriage, therefore she would not “re-marry.” She had many suitors but she was adamant about not marrying. She did devote her life to staying with her mother, and since her mother was not a healthy woman, she cared for her throughout her mother’s life, especially after the death of her father. When Basil returned from University “monstrously conceited about his skill in rhetoric,” Macrina took him aside and showed him the error of his ways. She also convinced her youngest brother, along with Basil, to give up on materialism and to seek God as monks. If you remember when we heard the story of Basil, they had a brother named Naucratious, who was smarter and more athletic and better looking than the other boys in the family and had a great future ahead of him. Under Macrina’s influence he gave it all up and was seeking a life of contemplation when he and a servant died tragic deaths. This was a terrible blow to the family, but Macrina became the solid foundation of the family during that tragedy and remained so. She convinced her mother to sell the family estates and to set up a community for women which became the first convent, although it was actually the first monastery, since it was the first group of Christians living under the rules of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Macrina was very much devoted to the poor and she would literally take starving women off the streets and move them into her community. Macrina was a great influence on her brothers, she turned Basil and Peter away from academia and they turned towards monasticism and theology, and just as she turned Basil away from his conceit, she reminded Gregory that he was a bishop because of the prayers of his parents and not because of anything he had done.

As her brothers became bishops and theologians, Macrina and her mother established a monastery on the family estate, and it grew large with both men and women living there in their respective quarters. A few years after the death of their mother, Basil died, and after the funeral, Gregory felt a great need to visit his sister. When he got to the monastery, he learned that she was very ill. When he went in to see her in her cell, she was on the floor on a pallet of two planks. Gregory says, “By putting her hands on the floor and leaning over from the pallet as far as she could, she showed the respect due to my rank. I ran over to her, embraced her, and restored her to her usual position.” She tried to be cheerful and hid her groans while talking of the Holy Spirit. She then told Gregory to go and rest in the garden, as he must be tired after all he had been through. After his rest, he returned to her cell and realized that she was about to die. They spent her last hours together, in which she offered a long prayer of praise and thanksgiving. When evening arrived, some of the virgins brought in a lamp, and while gazing at the lamp, Macrina wanted to say the Phos Hilaron, but her voice failed her so she said the following silently while moving her lips: O Gracious Light, pure brightness of the ever living Father in Heaven. O Jesus Christ, holy and Blessed. Now as we come to the setting of the sun and behold the vesper light,we sing your praises, O Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O Giver of life, and to be glorified through all the worlds. When she finished, she made the sign of the cross, drew a deep breath, and closed her life and prayer together.
Gregory's story concludes with stories of miracle scars on her body, with miracles which happened at her funeral, and miracle stories he heard later, all involving the saintly Macrina.
I think that Macrina is a great role model for Christians because she was very faithful to the idea of caring for the sick and the poor. She came from a family of brilliant people, and she was no slouch herself; she was able to convince her brother Basil, through her use of reason and logic, to give up the glory of the academic world and find peace as a monk and theologian. Macrina came from a wealthy family but was able to convince them all to sell many of their estates and to build a monastery on the remaining estate. Her example was enough to convince Basil to leave to the city of Cesarea an entire city for the poor in his will. She convinced her entire family to leave material things and to concentrate on the spiritual. She understood the fact that God is revealed to us in Community, that where two or three are gathered, Jesus is in their midst, and because she understood this she created a Christian Community which became the model for all Monastic Orders to come. But what is most important is her devotion to Jesus and his commandment to love one another.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Red Mr. Peanut Bank My Goodness! Seven months in that box! Thank God we've finally been rescued. Where on earth are we?
Gallito Mescalito ¡¡Shriieek!!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank It's okay, everyone; we're safe and sound now.
Everbuddy YAY!!!!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank However, we have no idea where we are.
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love I think I smell berries; strawberries, raspberries, and even blackberries! ¡El Penguino! That sure narrows it down - NOT!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank It's quite cold, too. I don't think we're in Panamá anymore.
Gallito Mescalito ¡¡Shriieek!!
  Off-camera narrarator Yes, where on earth ARE they? Will we ever find out? It all depends upon whether Padre can roust himself to bring us further adventures of our plucky little gang.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Feast of St. Independence Day

St. Independence Day was born on July 4, 1776, in the city of Philadelphia in the British colony of Pennsylvania, or "Penn's Woods," and then again on January 14, 1784, in the city of Philadelphia in the state of Pennsylvania in the newly-formed United States of America.

Also known as "Uncle Sam," St. Independence Day had the amazing power of causing men to enlist in the U.S. military merely by pointing at them. His charism of salesmanship enabled him to sell hot dogs, baseball, beer, and Grateful Dead records.

At the age of 18, young Mr. Day, who had an almost unnatural hankering for apples, wandered about the countryside of the new nation, carrying apple seeds from his home state of Pennsylvania. He created nurseries in the wilderness so that his land-stealing countrymen would have sustenance as they cheated the indigenous people of their ancestral homelands. He negotiated disputes between pioneer settlers and shared his religious beliefs with anyone unlucky enough to get him started on the subject. He wore ragged clothing and a pot on his head, an image which became very popular with young people in the late 1960's and early 1970's, who, in homage to St. Independence Day, called themselves "pot heads." He also cut down many trees as possible in the areas of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, with the help of his Big Blue Ox, Babe. After his flirtation with the exciting and ruggedly manly world of the Lumberjack, he rode a tornado down to Pecos, Texas, spending a few years as a cowboy, using a cougar for a horse and harnessing the Rio Grande to water his ranch. He gave up the cowboy life to become a steel-drivin' man. During the early years of the Twenty-first century, he was waterboarded and tortured by members of the Bush administration and chased by remote controlled drones by the Obama administration, but has managed, barely, to survive.

St. Independence Day's contributions to theology are, firstly, the concept that God created the United States of America as a Christian nation to spread the gospel, first throughout the central continent of North America by the means of Manifest Destiny, and then throughout the world as a side-effect of imperial wars, and secondly, the Prosperity Gospel in which God rains cash, cars, and big houses upon those who roll on the floor and swing from the drapes in a spittle-flecked ecstatic state while proof-texting Bible verses. Amazingly, this theology is quite popular amongst those living in dire poverty in parts of the Developing World.

The Feast of St. Independence Day is celebrated by watching parades, blowing things up, and eating as many hot dogs as possible within a two-minute period.

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