Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Feast of St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo

Yeah, yeah, I know he's not that popular nowadays, but I likes him, so here's my regular St. Augustin sermon.

There was a time when I didn’t like Augustine; I just knew him as the “inventor of the concept of original sin” so I figured he was really just a harsh man, but the more I studied his writings the more I was convinced that he was a compassionate man and one of the greatest of the early theologians. I was able to make connections between events in his own life and in mine, and this helped change my original impression of the man.

Augustine was born in the year 354 in the city of Thagaste in North Africa. His father was a pagan but his mother, Monnica, was a devout Christian. Her tenacity regarding her faith resulted in the eventual baptism of her husband, although most folks doubted it would ever happen. Monnica made sure that Augustine had a Christian education although it didn’t seem to take during his youth and young adulthood. He attended the University at Carthage, where he studied rhetoric and considered becoming a lawyer, but he soon became more interested in literary pursuits. While in Carthage, he pretty much abandoned any Christian faith he may have had and he took a mistress, to whom he was faithful for fifteen years; they had a son together. He was a bit of a truth seeker, investigating various philosophies and the different religious disciplines popular in that era; he even cast horoscopes for a while. His experience with astrology led to his later denouncement of the so-called science. At the age of nineteen he joined the Manichees, a religion formed around the teachings of Mani, a third-century Persian who called himself “The Apostle of Jesus Christ.” Mani taught a dualistic form of Christianity which he claimed to have received in direct revelation from God. Peter Brown, in his biography of Augustine, writes of this group: The Manichees were a small sect with a sinister reputation. They were illegal; later, they would be savagely persecuted. They had the aura of a secret society: in foreign cities, Manichees would lodge only with members of their own sect; their leaders would travel around a network of ‘cells’ scattered all over the Roman world. Pagans regarded them with horror, orthodox Christians with fear and hatred. They were the Bolsheviks of the fourth century... Augustine was a hearer of the Manichees, a member of the outer circle. The Manichees required a celibate and vegetarian lifestyle, and Augustine wasn’t quite ready to give up his mistress (I don’t know how he felt about meat), but as a hearer he could subscribe to their teachings without giving up everything just yet. The Manichees lived harsh lives, and this is often attractive to young, spiritually inclined persons. I spent some three years in a cult which I joined at the age of nineteen, and I was attracted to the group’s fierce spirituality, which seemed so much more authentic than the faith of my parents, and I think that Augustine was very much influenced in the same way. But there was a point when the teachings of Mani no longer appealed to him; he became disillusioned when he met one of the great Manichean teachers, Faustus. Faustus was unable to answer Augustine’s questions about the faith. When Augustine finally finished his courses at University, he left the Manichees and Carthage, and moved to Rome to teach. But he was so disgusted with the actions and attitudes of his students, whom he considered dishonest, that he left Rome and moved to Milan to be the Teacher of Rhetoric for the city. Now during his time in Carthage his mother Monnica never stopped praying that he would become a Christian. While in Milan he fell under the influence of Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan. Ambrose was a great preacher and orator, and Augustine enjoyed listening to him. Over time, the teachings of Ambrose began to take hold in Augustine, and one day, in a garden in Milan, Augustine, wrestling with the idea of giving up his present life and having that change of mind and heart which is repentance, sat under a fig tree, crying and wondering what to do. He heard the voice of a child from a nearby house chanting: “Pick up and read; pick up and read.” He picked up his friend’s Bible, opened it at random and read Romans 13:13-14: Let us live honorably in the day, not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts. Augustine wrote about this event: I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled. And at that moment Augustine’s life changed. He was later baptized, and brought much joy to his mother’s heart. But he had many difficult decisions to make regarding the mother of his son, his teaching position, and his life in general. He left his position as Teacher of Rhetoric in Milan, and began to write essays on Christianity and philosophy and became a bit of a star in Christian circles.

Upon the death of his mother, he returned to Thagaste to take over the family estate. He and some friends decided to live lives of monastic discipline and start a monastery. Augustine went to the city of Hippo to see a friend and invite him to become part of their monastic community. The friend and Augustine attended services at the bishop's church; the bishop was preparing to retire and was speaking of the needs of the Church. The people in the church saw Augustine and grabbed him and wanted to make him Bishop, very much like what happened to Ambrose in Milan so many years before. The bishop, Valerius, managed to get Augustine to agree to become a priest in Hippo, and many witnesses thought that when Augustine burst into tears, he was sad because he wanted to be a bishop rather than a priest, but the truth was that Augustine didn’t want ordained ministry of any kind. He agreed to be a priest because he believed that this was God’s will, but it was not part of his desire.

There were two churches in North Africa in those days: the Catholic Church (not Roman Catholic) and the Party of Donatus, or the Donatists. During the Diocletian persecution the clergy were given a decision of whether to turn over the scriptures to the police and recant their faith or be executed. Some clergy gave up the scriptures and denounced their faith, but repented at the end of the persecution and returned to their churches. The Donatists believed that the sacraments administered by such clergy were not valid, since they had turned their backs on Christ and his Church. The Catholic church had reaccepted such clergy upon their repentance, but the Donatists refused them and fought with the Catholics. In many cities (much like today but unheard of in those days) there were two bishops: a Catholic bishop and a Donatist bishop, and the churches would fight and take over each other’s buildings, turning over the altars and trashing the place. Augustine preached against the Donatists, and when he became Bishop of Hippo he fought against them fiercely. Augustine taught that the bread and wine were a sacrament, not because of the worthiness of the priest, but because of an act of grace by God. The Donatists were harsh and unforgiving, but Augustine taught that God forgives all who repent, so the clergy who repented were still valid priests. Augustine became known as a great fighter of heresy. He waged war against the Donatists, the Manichees, and the Pelagians, because he desired that “no one be led astray.” Augustine wrote many volumes against the Donatist, the Manichees, and the Pelagians, and he also wrote many volumes on the scriptures and the Christian life. We could go on and on talking about his writings and many have, but we’ll move on to his final days. Augustine was a man who loved his books and his library. He spent the last three years of his life living in his library, editing and rewriting and organizing his papers. This library contained two-hundred thirty-two little books which made up ninety-three of his own works, not to mention many letters and copies of his sermons, which had been taken down by the stenographers of his admirers. He set about rezeroing his many works and produced Retractiones, a catalogue of titles, arranged in chronological order, with a brief note of the content of the work, along with Augustine’s comments. May of the remarks are self-criticisms, but quite often they were also attempts to explain himself. At the same time that he was organizing this library, he was also involved in a debate by correspondence with Bishop Julian of Eclanum, a defender of Pelagius. Augustine would spend his nights reorganizing his works and writing comments, and his days dictating letters and fighting with Julian. He was depressed to see the decline of Rome and its civilization and the military attacks of the Vandals which threatened Roman Africa. The Vandals were Christians, but Arian Christians, another group of heretics destroying the world in which Augustine lived.

In August of the year 430, Augustine came down with a fever. He knew he would die, and he wanted to die alone. His first biographer, Possidius, described Augustine’s attitude: He had told his followers that even praiseworthy Christians and bishops, though baptized, should still not leave this life without having performed due and exacting penance. This is what he did with his own last illness: for he had ordered the four psalms of David that deal with penance to be copied out. From his sickbed he could see these sheets of paper every day, hanging on his walls, and would read them, crying constantly and deeply. And, lest his attention be distracted from this in any way, almost ten days before his death, he asked us that none should come in to see him, except at those hours when the doctors would come to examine him or his meals were brought. This was duly observed: and so he had all that stretch of time to pray...

Augustine died and was buried on August 28, 430. A year later Hippo was evacuated and partially burnt, but his library escaped the destruction, and that is why we know so much about him today. His experience in rhetoric and logic, and his studies as a Neo-Platonist, along with his powerful intellect, made him a most worthy adversary of Greek philosophy, and his many written works are still studied by theologians today. His two books The Confessions and The City of God are considered classics. Yet I think it his understanding of God’s love and grace, and his desire that no one be led astray that made Augustine the mighty warrior for Christ that he was. The faith which Augustine received and defended was strengthened by his gifts, and we, the Body of Christ, are very much blessed because of his great faith. The Manichees, the Donatists, and the Pelagians all believed that humans had the power to live perfect lives or that humans could stop the work of the Holy Spirit, but Augustine taught us that “man is but a little piece of God’s creation” and that God so loved this piece of creation that God would forgive us all our sins. Augustine believed strongly in God’s grace and love. May we, too, experience God’s love and grace.

Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you: Help us, following the example of your servant Augustine of Hippo, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle and Martyr

Almighty and everlasting God, who gave to your apostle Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach your Word: Grant that your Church may love what he believed and preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today is the Feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle. Of course, as is usually the case with the Apostles, we don't know much about Bartholomew; actually, we really don't know anything. He is listed in the synoptics, but not the gospel attributed to John, while Nathaniel is mentioned in John's list but not in the lists in the synoptics, so some scholars think they may be the same person. Bartholomew name or person does not appear in The Acts of the Apostles. According to Eusebius' History of the Church, when Pantaenus was doing missionary work in India he was shown a copy of Matthew's Gospel in Hebrew which tradition stated was a gift from the Apostle Bartholomew. There are traditions which teach that Bartholomew preached in Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Armenia, Lycoania, and Phrygia.

Jerome and Bede both mention a Gospel of St. Bartholomew, but no copies exist in our day. There is something called "Questions of Bartholomew" and "The Book of the Resurrection of Christ by Bartholomew" which may be versions of the Gospel.

There is a tradition that Bartholomew was martyred in Armenia, flayed alive and crucified upside down for having converted Polymius, King of Armenia. However, according to the text The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, he was beaten with rods and then beheaded.

The Martrydom of St. Bartholomew really doesn't concentrate on the martyrdom, but tells a fantastic story of Bartholomew's battle with the demons behind the idols in "India." The definition of "India" in those days was a bit more broad than that of our day: it bordered on Ethiopia, Media, and the actual subcontinent of India. Bartholomew was in "India" (probably Armenia) where there was an idol to the god Astaruth. People would bring their sick to the Temple of Astaruth and sacrifice to the idol, and the sick person would appear to be healed physically, but would actually become "more diseased in soul." When our man Bart showed up in town, Astaruth stopped healing folks. People didn't know what to do, but they went to another town to a Temple to the god Becher, and the priests asked Becher what was going on. Becher said, and I quote: "From the day and hour that the true God, who dwells in the heavens, sent his apostle Bartholomew into the regions here, your god Astaruth is held fast by chains of fire, and can no longer either speak or breathe." The priests asked, "Who is Bartholomew?" and Becher responded, "He is the friend of the Almighty God, and has just come into these parts, that he may take away all the worship of the idols in the name of his God." The priests said, "Really? What's he look like? We need to find this guy!" Becher gave the following description: "He has black hair, a shaggy head, a fair skin, large eyes, beautiful nostrils, his ears hidden by the hair of his head, with a yellow beard, a few grey hairs, of middle height, and neither tall nor stunted, but middling, clothed with a white undercloak bordered with purple, and upon his shoulders a very white cloak; and his clothes have been worn twenty-six years, but neither are they dirty, nor have they waxed old. Seven times a day he bends the knee to the Lord, and seven times a night does he pray to God. His voice is like the sound of a strong trumpet; there go along with him angels of God, who allow him neither to be weary, nor to hunger, nor to thirst; his face, and his soul, and his heart are always glad and rejoicing; he foresees everything, he knows and speaks every tongue of every nation. And behold now, as soon as you ask me, and I answer you about him, behold, he knows; for the angels of the Lord tell him; and if you wish to seek him, if he is willing he will appear to you; but if he shall not be willing, you will not be able to find him. I entreat you, therefore, if you shall find him, entreat him not to come here, lest his angels do to me as they have done to my brother Astaruth." After that, Becher held his peace.

The priests headed into the streets to find Bartholomew, looking into the faces of each person going by to see if they matched Becher's description (how many guys with black, shaggy hair and a blonde beard could there be in that town?). They found him when a person possessed by a demon shouted out, "Apostle of the Lord, Bartholomew, your prayers are burning me up!" Our man Bart said, "Hold your peace and come out of him!" and the man, who had been possessed for many years, was freed. Polymius, the king of Armenia, just happened to be standing across the street when this all happened, and, having a daughter possessed by a demon, he wanted Bart's help. His daughter was chained in a dungeon, because she was tearing the skin off her limbs and biting everyone who came near. Bart came and cast out her demon, and she was whole. The king was so happy that he loaded camels with gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and clothing for Bartholomew (who left the palace immediately after the exorcism), but they couldn't find Bart and brought everything back to the palace. Early the next morning, as the sun was rising, Bartholomew appeared in the king's bedchamber and said, "Why did you look for me all day with all that gold and stuff? Those gifts are appropriate for those who seek earthly things, but the only thing that interests me is the gospel." He then preached the Good News to the king. He also explained to the king what was going on in Astaruth's temple, and that an angel of the Lord Jesus Christ was keeping the demon Astaruth in fiery chains. The king and Bart agreed to go to the temple that morning while the priests were sacrificing to see Bartholomew take care of Astaruth. When they arrived at the temple, the priests were sacrificing, when all of the sudden a voice came out of the idol, screaming: "Refrain, you wretched ones, from sacrificing to me, lest ye suffer worse for my sake; because I am bound in fiery chains, and kept in subjection by an angel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom the Jews crucified: for, being afraid of him, they condemned him to death. And he put to death Death himself, our king, and he bound our prince in chains of fire; and on the third day, having conquered death and the devil, rose in glory, and gave the sign of the cross to his apostles, and sent them out into the four quarters of the world; and one of them is here just now, who has bound me, and keeps me in subjection. I implore you, therefore, supplicate him on my account, that he may set me free to go into other habitations." Bartholomew then said to the demon, "Confess, unclean demon, who is it that has injured all those that are lying here from heavy diseases?" The demon said, "The devil, our ruler, he who is bound, he sends us against men, that, having first injured their bodies, we may thus also make an assault upon their souls when they sacrifice to us. For then we have complete power over them, when they believe in us and sacrifice to us. And when, on account of the mischief done to them, we retire, we appear curing them, and are worshipped by them as gods; but in truth we are demons, and the servants of him who was crucified, the Son of the virgin, have bound us. For from that day on which the Apostle Bartholomew came I am punished, kept bound in chains of fire. And for this reason I speak, because he has commanded me. At the same time, I dare not utter more when the apostle is present, neither I nor our rulers." Bart said to him, "Why don't you save all who come to you?" and the demon answered, "When we injure their bodies, unless we first injure their souls, we do not let their bodies go." Bart asked, "How do you injure their souls?" and the demon answered, "When they believe that we are gods, and sacrifice to us, God withdraws from those who sacrifice, and we do not take away the sufferings of their bodies, but retire into their souls." Bartholomew then turned to everyone in the temple and said, "Behold, the god whom you thought to cure you, does the more mischief to your souls and bodies. Hear even now your Maker who dwells in the heavens, and do not believe in lifeless stones and stocks. And if you wish that I should pray for you, and that all these may receive health, take down this idol, and break it to pieces; and when you have done this, I will sanctify this temple in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; and having baptized all of you who are in it in the baptism of the Lord, and sanctified you, I will save all." The king gave orders to the people and they all returned to the temple with ropes and crowbars but were unable to pull the idol down. Then our man Bart had them take the ropes off the idol. Facing the idol, he said, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, come out of this idol, and go into a desert place, where neither winged creature utters a cry, nor voice of man has ever been heard." At that, the idol rose off of its foundations and crashed to the ground, breaking into little pieces. At the same hour all the idols in the temples bell to the ground and were broken into pieces. And all witnessing this miracle cried out: "He alone is God Almighty, whom Bartholomew the apostle proclaims!!" Then Bartholomew raised his hands to heaven and prayed a long prayer which I will not quote here, but rest assured that it was full of good gospel imagery. All responded "Amen!!" and suddenly there appeared an angel of the Lord, shining brighter that the sun, winged, and four other angels holding up the four corners of the temple. And with his finger the angel sealed the temple and the people and said, "Thus says the Lord who has sent me, As you have all been purified from all your infirmity, so also this temple shall be purified from all uncleanness, and from the demons dwelling in it, whom the apostle of God has ordered to go into a desert place; for so has God commanded me, that I may manifest Him to you. And when you behold Him, fear nothing; but when I make the sign of the cross, so also do ye with your finger seal your faces, and these evil things will flee from you." He then showed them the demon and cast him away. Then the angels disappeared. The king, the queen, their two sons and all the people were all baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and King Polymius even laid aside his diadem to follow Bartholomew and the way of Christ.

Polymius' elder brother was Astreges, king of the Greeks, and when he learned what had happened to the temples, and that all the people had converted AND that Polymius had put aside his diadem, well, he was less than pleased and sent an army to find Bartholomew and bring him in chains to his presence. When Bartholomew was brought to the court, the following conversation took place: The king says to him: "Are you he who has perverted my brother from the gods?" To whom the apostle answered: "I have not perverted him, but have converted him to God." The king says to him: "Are you he who caused our gods to be broken in pieces?" The apostle says to him: "I gave power to the demons who were in them, and they broke in pieces the dumb and senseless idols, that all men might believe in God Almighty, who dwells in the heavens." The king says to him: "As you have made my brother deny his gods, and believe in your God, so I also will make you reject your God and believe in my gods." The apostle says to him: "If I have bound and kept in subjection the god which your brother worshipped, and at my order the idols were broken in pieces, if you also are able to do the same to my God, you can persuade me also to sacrifice to your gods; but if you can do nothing to my God, I will break all your gods in pieces; but believe in my God." The king was then informed that his god, Baldad, and all the other idols, had fallen down and broken into pieces. Hearing this news, the king rent his garment, and then ordered Bartholomew to be scourged and beheaded. Twelve thousand people who had been converted by Bartholomew's witness came and took his body and laid it in the royal tomb of the king of Armenia. When Astreges heard of this, he ordered that the remains be thrown into the sea, but the faithful moved his remains to the island of Liparis.

Here is how the account ends: And it came to pass on the thirtieth day after the apostle was carried away, that the king Astreges was overpowered by a demon and miserably strangled; and all the priests were strangled by demons, and perished on account of their rising against the apostle, and thus died by an evil fate.

And there was great fear and trembling, and all came to the Lord, and were baptized by the presbyters who had been ordained by the holy apostle Bartholomew. And according to the commandment of the apostle, all the clergy of the people made King Polymius bishop; and in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ he received the grace of healing, and began to do signs. And he remained in the bishopric twenty years; and having prospered in all things, and governed the church well, and guided it in right opinions, he fell asleep in peace, and went to the Lord: to whom be glory and strength for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

¡Feliz Día de Madres a todos mis amigas en Costa Rica!
I don't believe in a three-tiered universe, and I don't believe in the literal interpretations of the Ascension. I don't believe in the Assumption; I prefer the term "the dormition." However, I have no problem at all with honoring the Theotokus (my Nestorian tendencies aside). Instead of writing a hagiography today, I'll share some poems and paintings I've found in the intertubes.

O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Dormition of the Theotokus

Mary's Assumption
There was silence in heaven, as if for half an hour-

Isaiah's coals of wonder sealed the lips

Of Seraph, Principality and Power,

Of all the nine angelic fellowships.

The archangels, those sheer intelligences,

Were silent, with their eyes on heaven's door.

So must our fancy dower them with senses, 

Make them incarnate in a metaphor.

There was silence in heaven as Mary entered in, 

For even Gabriel had not foreseen

The glory of a soul immune from sin

Throned in the body of the angels' Queen.

Blessed be God and Mary in whose womb

Was woven God's incredible disguise. 

She gave Our Lord His Body.
In the tomb 
He gave her hers again and bade her rise.

Bright from death's slumber she arose, the flush 

Of a chaste joy illumining her cheeks;

Among the motherless in heaven there was a hush

To hear the way a mother laughs and speaks.

Eye had not seen, nor ear of angel heard, 

Nor heart conceived - until Our Lady's death - 

What God for those that love Him had prepared

When heaven's synonym was Nazareth!

Her beauty opened slowly like a flower, 

Beauty to them eternally bequeathed.

There was silence in heaven; as if for half an hour

No angel breathed.
Alfred Barrett (1906-1985) 
Lentfoehr, Therese, editor. I Sing of a Maiden. New York: Macmillan Company, 1947.

Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) The Assumption of the Virgin

Memories of the Assumption
They bore her in a reverent group

To a holy place,

Left her body in the earth -

Her body, "full of grace".

But Thomas, tardy, slow of foot,

Absent when she died, 

Spent with sorrow, craved to see 

Her of the Crucified.

There was a swift intake of breath,

A hurried silent prayer:

Startled they opened the new-made tomb

To find but lilies there.
Sr. M. Angeline 
Robert, Cyril. Our Lady's Praise in Poetry. Poughkeepsie, NY: Marist Press, 1944.

Bartolome Murillo (1618-1682). Assumption of the Virgin.

The Assumption  

No painter ever caught the magic other going--

This was a matter of an inward growing,

Simple and imperceptible as thought.

It was no pageant wrought

Of sounding splendor, welter of gold bars

Of molten day, mad stars,

Flurry of quick angels' winging,

Bursts of their laughter ringing
In wild bliss.

The simple fact is this:

Love conquered at long last.

Her eager soul fled fast

With a great gladness like a song

Unto to her Spouse above,

And her pure flesh would not be parted long

For sheer love.
by Joachim Smet O.Carm

Raffaello. The Coronation of the Virgin

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Feasts of Maximilian Kolbe and Jonathan Myrick Daniels

Today we celebrate the feasts of two twentieth-century saints, two twentieth-century martyrs, Father Maximilian Kolbe and Jonathan Myrick Daniels. They both died on behalf of others, protecting others. I usually don’t write about saints later than the tenth century, but these two men took the example of Jesus to heart and their stories are inspiring. This post is based on my sermon in honor of these two saints.

Most loving Father, whose Son Jesus Christ came to give his life as a ransom for many: Give us the grace, as you did to your servant Maximilian Kolbe, to be always ready to come to the aid of those in need or distress, not counting the cost; that so we may follow in the footsteps of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Maximilian Kolbe was born at Zdunska Wola near Lodz in Poland on January 8, 1894. His baptismal name was not Maxmilian, it was Raymond. His parents were devout Christians with a particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was a very religious household. His mother told a story of how Raymond was a mischievous little boy, stirring up trouble around the house. One day, after a particularly naughty act, his mother scolded him, and his behaviour took a radical change for the better. A few years later, when asked what had brought about such change, he said, "That night, I asked the Mother of God what was to become of me. Then she came to me holding two crowns, one white, the other red. She asked me if I was willing to accept either of these crowns. The white one meant that I should persevere in purity, and the red that I should become a martyr. I said that I would accept them both." This dream affected the decisions he made for the rest of his life.

In 1907, Raymond and his older brother, Francis, entered a Franciscan seminary, seeking ordination and hoping to be accepted as Conventual Franciscans. He enjoyed his studies and discovered that he had a knack for military strategy. He was ready to abandon the idea of seeking ordination and become a military officer so that he could save Poland from the Russian oppressors. Just before he could tell his parents of his decision, his mother announced that, since her sons were in seminary she and her husband had decided to enter religious life. They became Franciscan Tertiaries. He decided not to upset his parents’ plans and gave up the idea of becoming a soldier. He became a noviciate in 1910 and took the name Maximilian. In 1912 he was sent to Rome to study for the priesthood. He was ordained a priest in 1918, and he returned to Poland the next year, where he founded and supervised a monastery near Warsaw, started a radio station and several newspapers and magazines, and also founded a seminary.

Between 1930 through 1936 he made several missionary trips to Japan, where he founded a monastery near Nagasaki, a Japanese newspaper, and a seminary. He had a lot of respect for Buddhism and Shintoism, and looked to find similarities between those faiths and Christianity. However, when he founded the monastery he didn’t build it on the side of the hill which was considered the proper side, according to Shinto beliefs. Many people thought that he had made a big mistake.
When the atomic bomb exploded on Nagasaki, the monastery was saved as the blast of the bomb hit the other side of the mountain.

He returned to the monastery in Niepokalanow in 1936. On September 13, 1936, the Germans had invaded and deported most of the inhabitants to Germany, including Fr. Maximilian, but they were all released by December 8. Fr. Maximilian immediately began to work to shelter some 3,000 Polish refugees, 2,000 of whom were Jews. He said, "We must do everything in our power to help these unfortunate people who have been driven from their homes and deprived of even the most basic necessities. Our mission is among them in the days that lie ahead." Fr. Maximilian and the friars housed, clothed, and fed the refugees, sharing everything they had with them. The community was under suspicion and watched constantly. On February 17, 1941, Fr. Maximilian was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Pawiak Prison. He had provoked his arrest by writing the following and publishing it in this newspaper The Knight of the Immaculate: “No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?" On May 25 of that year he was transferred to Auschwitz. He continued his priestly ministry even in prison, secretly celebrating the Eucharist for other Christians. In July, a member of the cell block he was in vanished, and the deputy camp commander chose ten men to be starved to death in Block 13 to deter further escape attempts (the body of the missing man was later found drowned in a latrine). One of the men selected cried out, lamenting his family, and Kolbe volunteered to take his place. He spent the time in Block 13 leading the men in singing and prayers. After three weeks of dehydration and starvation, only Kolbe and three others were still alive. He was executed with an injection of carbolic acid on August 14, 1941. He was canonised on October 10, 1982.

O God of justice and compassion, who put down the proud and the mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one: who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Jonathan Myrick Daniels was born in Keene, New Hampshire, on March 20, 1939, to the family of a Congregationalist doctor. He was one of those brilliant, popular persons with many options, and he was torn about what to study, as he was interested in medicine, ordained ministry, law, and writing. He went to Virginia Military institute, where he graduated as valedictorian, and then went to Harvard to study English Literature. He wrestled with the meaning of life and death and vocation,and was questioning his faith after the death of his father and his sister’s extended illness that same year. In 1962 he attended an Easter service at the Church of the Advent in Boston, and he had a profound conversion experience. His doubt disappeared and was replaced with a conviction that he was being called to serve God. He entered the Episcopal Theological School (now EDS) in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1963, expecting to graduate and be ordained in 1966.

In March of 1965 he heard the televised appeal of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for volunteers to come to Selma, Alabama to work to secure the rights of all citizens to vote. He answered “yes” to this call. Daniels and several classmates left Cambridge for Selma on Thursday, only expecting to stay for the weekend, but Daniels and a friend, Judith Upham, missed the bus home, and were forced to stay longer. They realized how bad it most appear to those Civil Rights workers who were there full-time in Selma that these young people from privileged homes would come for the weekend and return to the relative safety of Cambridge, and became convinced that they needed to stay longer. They returned to Cambridge and asked for permission to spend the rest of the semester in Selma, returning in time to take their exams. Daniels stayed with a black family in Selma. Daniels devoted himself to integrating the local Episcopal church by bringing groups of young African-Americans to church, where they were usually scowled at or ignored. It was probably similar to what would have happened if a large group of Afro-antillano youth decided to attend services at St. Luke’s back in those days. In May he returned to Cambridge, took his exams, passed his exams, and returned to Selma in July to continue his work for the Summer. He helped assemble a list of Federal, state, and local agencies that could provide assistance to those in need. He also tutored children, helped poor locals apply for aid, and worked to register voters.

On August 13, 1965, Daniels and a group of 29 protesters went to picket whites-only stores in the small town of Fort Deposit, Alabama. They were all arrested and taken to jail in the nearby town of Hayneville. Daniels shared a cell with Stokely Carmichael. The next day five juvenile protesters were released, but the rest of the group was held for another six days, as they refused to accept bail unless bail was provided for everyone in the group. On August 20, they were released without transportation back to Fort Deposit. They were waiting alongside the road near the jail, and four members of the group: Daniels, a white Catholic Priest named Fr. Richard Morrisroe, and two teen-aged black protesters named Ruby Sales and Joyce Bailey, decided to go down the street to Varner’s Grocery Store (one of the few local stores that would serve non-whites), to get some sodas. They were met at the door by Tom Coleman, an engineer for the state highway department and an unpaid “special deputy.” Coleman was carrying a 12-gage shotgun. There was a discussion, Coleman threatened the group, and then levelled his gun at Ruby Sales. Daniels pushed Ruby down onto the ground and caught the full blast of the gun. He was killed instantly. The priest, Father Morrisroe, grabbed Joyce and ran. Coleman shot Father Morrisroe, too, wounding him in the lower back. Coleman was arrested and stood trial, but was acquitted by a jury of twelve white men, on the grounds of “self defense.” Coleman claimed that Daniels had a knife, which was highly unlikely as he had just spent a week in jail where, as you may know, one isn’t allowed any weapons, and those “special deputy” types certainly wouldn’t have allowed prisoners any weapons, especially a racially-mixed group like the group Daniels was in. No one else saw a knife and the police never found any weapon, but that’s what passed for justice in the Southern United States in those days.

It’s unfortunate that it took the murder of a white priest in training while protecting an unarmed teenage girl to shock the Episcopal Church into facing the reality of racial inequality, in which it had participated and supported in many ways; paying attention to the Gospel should have convinced them of the evils of racism from the start, but, change moves slowly in all churches. Daniels’ death did make it possible for the Civil Rights Movement to become important to the Episcopal Church as a whole and reminded Episcopalians outside of the South that the struggle and violence for racial equality would impact their lives, too.

Maximilian Kolbe and Jonathan Daniels both put the needs of others ahead of their own needs, giving their lives for others, just as their Lord and Master Jesus did for all of humanity. We honor them as saints because their lives are examples for all of us. They are examples of what can happen when we let the Holy Spirit direct our lives, examples of what may happen when we take the gospel imperative seriously, and when we realize that all of us are connected and children of God.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Feast of Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr at Rome

Today is the Feast of Hippolytus of Rome, who lived in the late second - early third century. He was a priest in Rome, the anti-pope, and the first Prayer Book crank.* He may have been a student of St. Ireneaus. He was the most important theologian of the Church in the West in the third century, the details of his life and many of his works were forgotten in the West, possibly (according to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church) because he was a schismatic personality and because he wrote in Greek. He must have been an important priest in Rome because even Origen came to hear him preach.

Hippolytus considered himself orthodox and didn't like those with whom he disagreed. He attacked the doctrines of Sabllius and his modalist monarchianism. He was the FOCA of his day; he disagreed with the teachings of Pope Zephyrinus, and he rejected his successor, Callistus, and called him a heretic (monarchianism again). Some of his fellow disgruntled priests elected him Bishop of Rome, or Anti-Pope, and as Anti-Pope he attacked the teachings and orthodoxy of Callistus' successors, Urban and Pontianus. He and Pontianus were both exiled to the mines in Sardinia during the persecution by Emperor Maximin, where they both died (it was an unhealthy place); it is probable that Hippolytus and Pontianus were reconciled before their martyrdoms.

I think of Hippolytus as the first Prayer Book crank (the book of 1892 was good enough for my grandparents and it's good enough for me; keep yer stinkin', new-fangled 1928 Prayer Book!) because of his Upon The Apostolic Tradition. We no longer have the entire work, but the underlying theme of what we have is: This is how we do things; this is how we ALWAYS did things, and you and your modern-thinking friends (I'm talking to YOU Callistus!) better do it this way too! He is very strict about who may "have hands laid on" (or ordained):
10. When a widow is appointed, she is not ordained, but is chosen by name. . .
11. The Reader is appointed when the bishop gives the book to him. He does not have hands laid upon him.
(12 is my favorite) 12. Hands are not laid on a virgin, for a decision alone makes her a virgin.
13. Hands are not laid on the sub-deacon. He is chosen by name to assist the deacon.
14. If someone among the laity is seen to have received a gift of healing by revelation, hands are not laid upon such a one, for the matter is obvious.

My favorite rule in the book is #37: All shall be careful so that no unbeliever tastes of the eucharist, nor a mouse or other animal, nor that any of if falls and is lost. For it is the Body of Christ, to be eaten by those who believe, and not to be scorned. I can't argue with that!

Hippolytus probably died working the mines in Sardinia, but that wonderful source of mis-information on the saints, The Golden Legend has one heck of a tale about the martyrdom of St. Hippolytus, which I will re-tell in my own way. But we need to get some things straight first: Hippolytus probably died in the year 236, and St. Laurence the Deacon (whose feast we celebrated Wednesday), probably died in the year 258. Maximin was emperor, not Decius. Hippolytus died in Sardinia and Laurence in Rome, so the first part of this version is impossible. Well, actually, the Golden Legend version is always impossible. According to this story, Hippolytus was a knight who had been converted and became a priest. That said, here is my re-telling of the Martrydom of St. Hippolytus of Rome according to the Golden Legend:

After Hippolytus buried the body of St. Laurence, he came into the house and gave communion to his servants. But before he had a chance to sit down to dinner the knights came in and arrested him and hauled him away to Decius the Emperor. Decius looked at Hippolytus and said, "So, are you some kind of magician? What have you done with the body of Laurence?" Hippolytus responded, "I'm not a magician but a Christian man; that is why I took his body away for burial." This angered Decius, who demanded that Hippolytus be stripped naked. Decius said, "So, are you ashamed of your nakedness? Now, offer sacrifice and you will live; otherwise you will perish like Laurence." Hippolytus responded, "I hope I can be as great as Laurence, whose name you pollute with your filthy mouth." So Decius had Hippolytus beaten with staves and his skin scratched with iron combs. After he was tortured he was dressed in the clothes of his former occupation, a knight. Hippolytus said "I am a Knight of Jesus Christ!" This really angered Decius, who had him sent to Valerian the provost to be tortured and executed. When it was learned that all the servants of Hippolytus' house were also Christians, they were arrested and brought before Valerian. They were all ordered to do sacrifice, and Concordia, the nurse, answered on behalf of all and said "We would rather die with our Lord chastely than live sinfully." Decius was also there and he ordered that Concordia be beaten to death. Hippolytus thanked God for the witness of Concordia, and then comforted the rest of his servants. All, including Hippolytus, were lead by Valerian's men to the Tyburtine Gate, where the servants were all beheaded in front of Hippolytus. Then Hippolytus' feet were tied to the necks of two wild horses, which dragged him through the thorns and briars and rocks until he died. And the priest Justin took the bodies of Hippolytus and his servants (except for Concordia's body, which had been tossed into an outhouse) and buried them with St. Laurence. A knight named Porphyry heard that the clothes of Concordia contained gold and precious stones, and he talked a man named Irenaeus to help him take Concordia's body out of the outhouse. There were no precious stones or gold, so Porphyry ran off, but Irenaeus, being a secret Christian, talked his friend Abundinus into helping him take Concordia's body to the priest Justin for burial. When Valerian heard what they had done, he had them arrested and executed. Justin buried their bodies with the others.

So, Decius and Valerian got into their golden chariot and went on a tear, persecuting all the Christians they could find. But while riding around they were ravished by a devil, and Decius cried out "Oh Hippolytus, you have bound me with sharp chains and lead me away!" And Valerian cried out "Oh Laurence, you are dragging me with fiery chains!" Valerian died immediately, but Decius returned home but dropped dead three days later. When his wife, Tryphonia saw what had happened, she took her daughter Cyrilla and they both wen to the priest Justin and asked to be baptized. Immediately after her baptism, Tryphonia died, and Justin buried her with Hippolytus and the others. Forty-seven knights heard what had happened, and they and their wives came to Justin for baptism.

I guess Laurence and Hippolytus got their revenge! There is a story in the Golden Legend in which St. Hippolytus and the Blessed Virgin restore a leg which had fallen off a man named Peter, but I'll save that story for next year.

*I wish this term had originated with me, but I heard my liturgy professor, the Rev. Dr. Louis Weil use the term in a lecture oh, so many years ago.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Feast of St. Clare of Assisi

O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us, we pray thee, from an inordinate love of this world, that, inspired by the devotion of thy servant Clare, we may serve thee with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Clare Offreduccio, born in 1194, was the daughter of a wealthy family in Assisi. Her father is said to have been Favorino Scifi, Count of Sasso-Rosso. Her mother was to become Blessed Ortolana di Fiumi. There is little information about Clare's immediate family or her childhood. We do know that at age eighteen she heard St. Francis give the Lenten sermons at St. George’s Church in Assisi, and she was so touched by his message that she wanted to change the entire course of her life. Being the daughter of a Count she was expected to marry into another aristocratic family, but, possibly to avoid an unwanted proposal of marriage, she snuck off to see St. Francis at San Dominano and asked him to help her live “after the manner of the Holy Gospel.” Francis and Clare had many conversations and became good friends, but they were not sure how to carry out her wish. On Palm Sunday of the year 1212, Clare attended the Liturgy of the Palms with her family at the Cathedral of Assisi. When everyone else went up to the altar rail to receive their palm branch, Clare’s shyness kept her back. The bishop noticed this beautiful, shy, young woman and came down from the altar to give her a branch. Clare took this act as a sign of God’s approval of her desire to become a nun. The next evening she slipped out of the house and went to the chapel of the Portiuncula, where Francis and his small community were living. Francis and his brother monks had been at prayers before the altar and they met Clare at the door. Clare told Francis that she wanted to live like Francis and the monks, and, standing before the altar of the Blessed Virgin, Francis sheared her hair, and gave Clare his own penitential habit, a tunic of coarse cloth tied with a cord. Then, since he had no nunnery, he took her at once for safety to the Benedictine convent of Saint Paul, where she was affectionately welcomed. When her family and friends found out what Clare had done,they were less than pleased. Actually, they reacted the very same way we might if our children joined a crazy religious cult: they went to the Convent of St. Paul and tried to rescue her. When they tried to drag her from the convent church, she held on to the altar and refused to budge. Her family and friends kept pulling on her and she continued to cling to the altar, and finally (before the struggles would pull the cloths off the altar), Clare pulled the cloth off of her head and exposed her shorn hair. She declared that Christ had called her to his service and that she would have no other spouse but Christ, and that the more they persecuted her the more steadfast she would become. They finally left her, but did continue to try to convince her to return home. After this event, Francis moved Clare to the nunnery of Sant' Angelo di Panzo, where, to make matters worse, Clares’ fourteen-year-old sister, Agnes, joined her. This, of course, made the family even more upset and they renewed their attempts to get the girls to come home and get married, but even though (or maybe because) Agnes was young, she was headstrong and determined,
and Francis eventually gave her the habit, too. Sometime later, Francis placed both girls in a small and humble house next to the church of San Dominano, on the outskirts of Assisi where he had his Order housed.

In 1215, three years after Clare had taken the habit, when she was about twenty-two years of age, Francis appointed her superior of her Order and gave her his rule to live by. She was soon joined by her mother and several other women, making a total of sixteen. They all felt the strong call of poverty, and without regret gave up their titles and estates to join Clare's humble disciples. Within a few years similar convents were founded in the Italian cities of Perugia, Padua, Rome, Venice, Mantua, Bologna, Milan, Siena, and Pisa, and also in various parts of France and Germany. The King of Bohemia’s daughter, Agnes, established a nunnery of this order in Prague, and took the habit herself. The "Poor Clares," as the Order was known, went barefoot, slept on the ground, observed a perpetual abstinence from meat, and spoke only when obliged to do so by necessity or charity. Clare herself considered this silence desirable to avoid the innumerable sins of the tongue, and to keep the mind steadily fixed on God. Clare governed the convent continuously from the day when Francis appointed her abbess until her death, a period of nearly forty years. She governed the convent in the manner in which Jesus said we are to do things. Even though she occupied a position of power and authority, she did not “lord it over them like the Gentiles do;” Clare always worked to serve the rest of her sisters. She served at table, tended the sick, washed and kissed the feet of her sisters when they returned with their feet sore from begging all over town. After caring for the sick and praying for them, she often had other sisters give them furthur care, so that their recovery might not be attributed to any prayers or merits on Clare’s part. She would get up in the middle of the night and put back the blankets on those sisters who had kicked them off during the night, and she was the first to rise in the morning to ring the bell and light the candles. It was said that she would come away from prayer with radiant face.

The power and effacacy of her prayers and the depth of her trust in Christ are illustrated by a story told by Thomas of Celano, a contemporary. In 1244, Emperor Frederick II, then at war with the Pope, was ravaging the valley of Spoleto, which was part of the Pope’s lands. He had come with his troops to attack and plunder Assisi. Their first targets were the Church of San Dominano and the convent, because they were outside of the protection of the city walls. While the marauders were laying ladders against the convent walls and beginning to climb them, Clare, who was ill and bed-ridden, had herself carried out to the gate and there set a monstrance containing the Sacrament in sight of the enemy. Prostrating herself before it, she prayed in a loud voice so that the soldiers could hear: "Does it please Thee, O God, to deliver into the hands of these beasts the defenseless children whom I have nourished with Thy love? I beseech Thee, good Lord, protect these whom now I am not able to protect." She then heard a voice like the voice of a little child saying, "I will have them always in My care." She prayed again, for the city, and again the voice came, reassuring her. She then turned to the trembling nuns and said, "Have no fear, little daughters; trust in Jesus." At this, the soldiers were seized with a sudden terror and they ran away. Shortly afterward one of Frederick's generals laid siege to Assisi. When she heard of this, Clare told her nuns that they, who had received all support and charity from the city, now owed the city any assistance that they had in their power. They all covered their heads with ashes and prayed to Christ for the safety of the city. For a whole day and night they prayed with all their might- and with many tears, and then "God in his mercy so made issue with temptation that the besiegers melted away and their proud leader with them, for all he had sworn an oath to take the city."

Clare was not very healthy, and her final illness began to take its toll during the Summer of 1253. She was too ill to attend Mass, so, through the use of mirrors,an image of the service was displayed on the wall of her cell; it is because of this story that Pope Pius XII made her the Patron Saint of Television in 1958 (I know you've all been wondering who got that job)! She had many visitors, and even Pope Innocent IV came to Assisi to give her absolution, remarking, "Would to God I had so little need of it!" Her sister Agnes was with her, as well as three of the early companions of Francis: Brother Leo, Brother Angelo, and Brother Juniper. They read aloud the Passion according to Saint John, as they had read it at the death-bed of Francis twenty-seven years before.

Clare died on August 11, 1253. Pope Innocent IV and his cardinals assisted at Clare’s funeral. Pope Innocent wanted to canonize Clare, in fact, he wanted to make her a Saint right away, but the cardinals who were there advised against it. His successor, Alexander IV, canonized her two years later in 1255. Her body, which lay first in the church of Saint George in Assisi, was moved to a stately church built to receive it in 1260. Nearly six hundred years later, in 1850, it was discovered, embalmed and intact, deep down beneath the high altar, and subsequently removed to a new shrine in the crypt, where, lying in a glass case, it may still be seen. Clare’s devotion to Christ and to St. Francis’ message of Holy Poverty led to the growth of the Order of the Poor Clares and their good work. Today there are houses of the order in North and South America, Palestine, Ireland, England, as well as throughout Europe.

St. Clare loved Jesus and the message of the Gospel, and she had a great trust in God’s capacity to love and care for his children. So great was her joy in serving the Lord that she once exclaimed: "They say that we are too poor, but can a heart which possesses the infinite God be truly called poor? We should remember this miracle of the Blessed Sacrament when in Church. Then we will pray with great Faith to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist: "Save me, O Lord, from every evil - of soul and body." She, like St. Laurence, whose feast we celebrated yesterday, saw the poor as the "great treasure of our God." May Clare's life be an example for us all.

My favorite "Clare", Judi Bowker from Brother Son, Sister Moon

Friday, August 10, 2012

Feast of St. Laurence, Deacon, Martyr, and Patron Saint of Smart Alecs

Almighty God, you called your deacon Laurence to serve you with deeds of love, and gave him the crown of martyrdom: Grant that we, following his example, may fulfill your commandments by defending and supporting the poor, and by loving you with all our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Laurence was one of the most popular saints of the Early Church and his popularity has lasted even to the present day. His tomb was a place of pilgrimage for the fourth century on, and the Emperor Constantine erected a chapel over the grave of Laurence; it is now the site of the church of St. Laurence-outside-the-Walls in Rome. What I like about St. Laurence was that he was a bit of a smart-aleck; when you read his story you will learn that he was not one to be overwhelmed with respect for the authority of the Roman Empire.

Laurence was one of seven Deacons in the Church in Rome; their Bishop was Pope Sixtus II, who was also martyred and is considered a saint. Deacon Laurence was in charge of the material goods of the Church, and he was also a kind of Church Archivist; he had a list of all the members of the church in Rome. In the year 258, during the reign of the Emperor Valerian, a persecution broke out in Rome. This persecution was directed primarily towards the clergy and the laity of the upper classes. All properties used by the Church were confiscated, and Christian assemblies were forbidden. On August 4, 258, Pope Sixtus and six of his deacons were apprehended in the catacombs. The catacombs were underground burial places, very much like caves, all connected by tunnels which extended for hundreds of miles, where the Christians buried their dead. They would also hold prayers for the dead in the catacombs and would celebrate the Eucharist in the catacombs on the anniversary of the death of a martyr. Pope Sixtus and six deacons were arrested and taken off to be executed. According to an account by St. Ambrose, the fourth century Bishop of Milan, when Laurence saw his bishop being taken away by the police, he followed him and called out to him, saying, "Father, where are you going without your son? Holy Priest, where are you hurrying to without your Deacon? You have never offered sacrifice without an attendant. Are you displeased with me, my Father? Have you found me unworthy? Prove, then, whether you have chosen a fitting servant. To him to whom you have trusted the distribution of the Savior's blood, to him whom you have granted fellowship in the partaking of the Sacraments, why do you refuse this person a part in your death?" Pope Sixtus replied, "I am not leaving you or forsaking you. Greater struggles yet await you. We old men have to undergo an easier fight; a more glorious triumph over the Tyrant awaits you, young man. Don't cry; after three days you will follow me." Pope Sixtus II and four deacons were martyred in the catacombs.

The Prefect of Rome had heard that the Church in Rome had a huge treasure hidden away and he wanted it to pay his soldiers. He ordered Laurence to bring the treasure of the Church to him. Laurence told him that it would take three days to gather the treasure together, and the Prefect gave him that much time. Laurence went throughout the city, gathering up the poor, the crippled, the blind, the widows and orphans that the Church supported. Three days later Laurence assembled them all in front of the palace of the Prefect, and then called him out "to see the wondrous riches of our God." When the Prefect saw the poor and ill before him, he was not amused. He ordered that Laurence be executed. A huge grill was prepared over a slow coal fire so that the execution would be slow and painful. Laurence was tied to the grill and put over the fire. As is often the case with the martyrs, his love for Christ filled him with strength and he lasted a long time; in fact, at one point he said, "Turn me over; I'm done on this side!" Just before he died, he said, "It's cooked enough now." He then prayed that the city of Rome would be converted and that the message of Christ would spread throughout the world. He perfected his martyrdom on August 10, 258.

One of the earliest documents commemorating the martyrdom of St. Laurence is the Hymn in Honor of the Passion of the Blessed Martyr Laurence composed in the year 405 by Aurelius Prudentius Clemens, a Christian from Spain. However, the account by St. Ambrose of Milan is earlier and is part of a treatise he wrote in the year 391 entitled On the Duties of the Clergy. but Prudentius' account is more complete. Let me share some of it with you:
First of the seven ministers, who nearest to the altar stand,
Levite in holy orders high and eminent above the rest.
He guarded well the sacred rites and kept in trust with faithful keys
The precious treasure of the Church, dispensing riches vowed to God.

The comes the section on Sixtus:
The Pontiff Sixtus, from the cross, on which he hung saw at its foot
His deacon Laurence weeping sore, and these prophetic words he spoke:
"Let tears of sorrow cease to flow at my departure from this life;
My brother, I but lead the way, and you will follow in three days."

Here are the stanzas about Laurence and the Prefect:
"Our church is very rich," he said, "I must confess that it has wealth;
Our treasuries are filled with gold not found elsewhere in all the world."
He hastens through the city streets, and in three days he gathers up
The poor and sick, a mighty throng of all in need of kindly alms.
He sought in every public square the needy who were wont to be
Fed from the stores of Mother Church and he as steward knew them well.

The Prefect deigns to follow him; the sacred portal soon they reach,
Where stands a ghastly multitude of poor drawn up in grim array.
The air is rent with cries for alms; the Prefect shudders in dismay,
And turns on Laurence glaring eyes, with threats of dreadful punishment.
"These poor of ours are sick and lame, but beautiful and whole within.
They bare with them a spirit fair and free from taint and misery.

These humble paupers you despise and look upon as vile outcasts,
Their ulcerous limbs will lay aside and put on bodies incorrupt.
When freed at last from tainted flesh their souls, from chains of earth released,
Will shine resplendent with new life in their celestial fatherland.
Not foul and shabby or infirm as now they seem to scornful eyes,
But fair, in radiant vesture clad, with crowns of gold upon their heads."

As I said earlier, the Prefect was not amused by Laurence's little joke and ordered that Laurence be executed:
Thus spoke the Prefect, at his nod forthwith the executioner
Stripped off the holy martyr's robes and laid him bound upon the pyre.

Prudentius says that the martyr's face was luminous and that it shone a glorious light that was only noticed by the baptized.
The poet then presents the final moments of the life of St. Laurence:
When slow, consuming heat had seared the flesh of Laurence for a space,
He calmly from his gridiron made this terse proposal to the judge:
"Pray turn my body, on one side already broiled sufficiently,
And see how well your Vulcan's fire has wrought its cruel punishment."

The Prefect bade him to be turned. Then Laurence spoke: "I am well baked,
And whether better cooked or raw, make trial by a taste of me."
He said these words in way of jest; Then rising shining eyes to heaven
And sighing deeply, thus he prayed with pity for unholy Rome.

Thus ended Laurence's fervent prayer, thus ended, too, his earthly life:
With these last words his eager soul escaped with joy from carnal chains.
Some noble Romans, who were led by his amazing fortitude
To faith in Christ, then bore away the hero's body from the scene.

In his second letter to the Christians in Corinth, St. Paul said, "The point is this: those who sow sparingly will also reap sparingly, and those who sow bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do as they have made up their minds to do..." Laurence made up his mind to serve Christ, to care for the sick, the poor, the hungry, and the naked, and he saw them not as the needy, but as the treasure of the Church. He did sow bountifully, and his witness unto death made a profound impression on many in Rome. His prayer for the conversion of Rome was answered when, in a mere seventy or so years after his martyrdom, the Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Toleration and began to show favor upon the Church and the persecutions, at least in Rome, ended. May we all have the eyes of St. Laurence and see the poor as the "wondrous treasure of our God."

St. Laurence, Super Hero!

I See You!

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