Category Archives: Forerunners (33-1226)

John Cassian – February 28

John Cassian

Bible connection

Read 2 Corinthians 6:17-7:3

Therefore, “Come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”

And, “I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

All about John Cassian (c. 360-c.435)

John Cassian taught: “God can be sensed when we gaze with trembling hearts at that power of his which controls, guides, and rules everything, when we contemplate his immense knowledge and his knowing look which the secrets of the heart cannot evade.”

His writings reflect his adventurous, radical, ever-seeking life. He was born in the Danube Delta in what is now Dobrogea, Romania, in about 360 (some sources place his birth in Gaul/Southern France). In 382 he entered a monastery in Bethlehem and after several years was granted permission, along with his friend, Germanus, to visit the Desert Fathers and Mothers in Egypt. They remained in Egypt until 399, except for a brief period when they returned to Bethlehem and were released from their vows.

After they left Egypt they went to Constantinople, where they met John Chrysostom, who ordained John Cassian as a deacon. He had to leave Constantinople in 403 when Chrysostom was exiled, eventually settling close to what is now Marseilles, France, where he was ordained a priest and founded two monasteries, one for women and one for men.

John’s most notable works are the Institutes, which detail how to live the monastic life, Egypt-style, and the Conferences, which provide details of conversations between John and Germanus and the Desert Fathers and Mothers. These writings have been very  influential from his lifetime until the present.

Cassian also waded into the big controversies of his day. He ably warned against some of the excesses in Augustine of Hippo’s theology when Augustine defamed Pelagius, whose writings Cassian also found extreme, in parts. He also defended the nature of Christ against Nestorius. John Cassian died peacefully in about 435.

John Cassian, like many during his time, was seeking to deepen his relationship with God and to escape a corrupting culture. He tried to balance the tension between pursuing an individual purity, loving God in solitude where distractions were limited, as the Desert Fathers and Mothers taught him, with living in a community with like-minded companions who could guide one’s journey. His life is a testament to seeking holiness individually and to loving God and others in community.

A quote from Conference Nine:

We need to be especially careful to follow the gospel precept which instructs us to go into our room and to shut the door so that we may pray to our Father. And this is how we can do it.

We pray in our room whenever we withdraw our hearts completely from the tumult and the noise of our thoughts and our worries and when secretly and intimately we offer our prayers to the Lord.

We pray with the door shut when without opening our mouths and in perfect silence we offer our petitions to the One who pays no attention to words but who looks hard at our hearts.

We pray in secret when in our hearts alone and in our recollected spirits we address God and reveal our wishes only to Him and in such a way that the hostile powers themselves have no inkling of their nature. Hence we must pray in utter silence, not simply in order that our whispers and our cries do not prove both a distraction to our brothers standing nearby and a nuisance to them when they themselves are praying but also so as to ensure that the thrust of our pleading be hidden from our enemies who are especially lying in wait to attack us during our prayers. In this way we shall fulfill the command “Keep your mouth shut from the one who sleeps on your breast” (Micah 7:5).

The reason why our prayers ought to be frequent and brief is in case the enemy, who is out to trap us, should slip a distraction to us if ever we are long-drawn-out. There lies true sacrifice. “The sacrifice which God wants is a contrite heart” (Ps 51:19). This indeed is the saving oblation, the pure offering, the sacrifice of justification, the sacrifice of praise. These are the real and rich thank offerings, the fat holocausts [a sacrifice in which the offering was burned completely on an altar] offered up by contrite and humble hearts. If we offer them to God in the way and with zeal which I have mentioned we can be sure to be heard and we can sing: “Let my prayer rise up like incense before your face and my hands like the evening offering” (Ps 141:2).

More

Hit all the tabs on this site and you will know eveything [link]

Cassian’s tomb in Marseille [link]

What do we do with this?

John is such a scholar! Let’s think about our own study. What would you do with Micah 7:5? John reads it in a contemplative way, using it to speak into his personal relationship with God. He sees all the Bible as a means to that end. You might say, he starts his reading from his relationship with God, not from the words of the Bible.

In fact (as 21st century people see fact) Micah’s colorful analogy has little to do with relating to God or the devil, the  prophet is talking about not being able to trust your intimates when trouble comes.  John Cassian goes beyond the “facts.”

Do you want to think about what you are doing with these different ways to look at the same sentences? You could start with the prophet, start with yourself, or start with God, or even think of the words as having meaning in themselvesall might be profitable. How do you start your study of the Bible?

John changed his life when he met the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and he had to go to great lengths to meet them! When was the last time you went to meet someone who could inspire or guide you? When did you last go to “the desert?”

Valentine — February 14

Bible connection

 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. — 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (RSV)

All about Valentine (c. 226-269)

The exact history of Valentine is murky. What we do seem to know is that in the 3rd century the emperor Claudius II of Rome outlawed marriage for certain young men because married men were reluctant to leave their wives and go to war.

Valentine continued to marry couples in secret. When the emperor found out, he attempted to convert Valentine to believe in the Roman gods. Valentine refused and attempted to convert the emperor to Christianity. Claudius II responded by sentencing Valentine to death.

While in prison, the story goes, the jailer’s blind daughter visited Valentine. By a miracle, Valentine cured the jailer’s daughter and she was able to see.

Therefore, Valentine’s day is more about resistance, martyrdom, and sacrifice than romantic love. However, his saints day falls around the time that love birds traditionally mate in England, so he became associated with romance.

More

Check out the History Channel: [link]

Rod’s tributes to St. Valentine:

  • A poem about his obscure but courageous-sounding history [link]
  • Making a connection with poor Whitney Houston [link]

From the Roman Catholics:

What do we do with this?

Talk to your mate about martyrdom. Can your relationship bear the trials of faith? Do you hang on more tightly to one another than to Jesus?

Consider how you face the challenges the godless government tries to impose on you. Do you go along with its philosophy of economics and power?

I think Valentine would love it if you celebrated your love with your mate or special someone. Love is better than war. You might say Valentine died for love. His love gave sight to the blind and keeps giving a reason to see love in the eyes of another.

Brigid of Kildare — February 1

Brigid of Kildare

Bible connection

Read John 1:10-14

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

All about Brigid (c. 451-515)

Today is the traditional feast day to celebrate Brigid of Kildare. She was a crucial figure in the 5th Century church, particularly in Ireland. Brigid was a convert to the faith, a nun, an abbess, and the founder of several monasteries, most famously at Kildare. Her powerful office as the abbess of Kildare (an office which held the powers of a bishop until the 12th Century), made her an unusual and somewhat controversial figure.

Her father was a pagan chieftain and her mother was a Christian. Some have said Brigid’s mother was born in Portugal, kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave, just like St. Patrick was. Brigid’s father named her after one of the most powerful goddesses of the pagan religion: the goddess of fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry, which the Irish considered elements of the flame of knowledge. Despite her grand name, Brigid spent her early life cooking, cleaning, washing and feeding the animals on her father’s farm, the daughter of a slave.

She lived during the time of St. Patrick and was inspired by his preaching. She became a Christian. When Brigid turned eighteen, she stopped working for her father. Brigid’s father wanted her to find a husband but she had already decided she would spend her life working for God by looking after poor, sick and elderly people. Brigid’s charity angered her father because he thought she was being too generous. When she finally gave his jewel-encrusted sword to a leper, her father realized she would be best suited to the religious life. Brigid finally got her wish and entered an intentional Christian community (call it a convent or monastery).

News of Brigid’s good works spread and soon many young women from all over the country joined her community. She founded many convents all over Ireland; the most famous one was built beside an oak tree where the town of Kildare now stands. Around 470 she also founded a double monastery, for men and women, in Kildare. As Abbess of this foundation she wielded considerable power, and was a very wise and prudent superior. The Abbey of Kildare became one of the most prestigious monastic communities in Ireland, and was famous throughout Christian Europe. You can still visit the site, with its striking tower.

Her cross (she’s holding it in the icon above) is a famous symbol of using ordinary things to show God’s love by sharing one’s time and labor — like the famous story of her weaving a cross out of flooring to demonstrate the gospel to a dying man. Here is one version of the story: A pagan chieftain who lived near Kildare was dying. Christians in his household sent for Brigid to talk to him about Christ. When she arrived the chieftain was raving. As it was impossible to instruct this delirious man; hopes for his conversion dimmed. Brigid sat down at his bedside to console him. As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid stooped down and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together. The sick man asked what she was doing. She began to explain the cross, and as she talked his delirium quieted and he questioned her with growing interest. Through her weaving, he converted and was baptized at the point of death. Ever since then the cross of rushes has been an important symbol in Ireland.

More

A bio from Solas Bhride in Kildare [link]

A bio from the Brigidine Sisters in Australia: [link]

Thoughts from Rod, who “visited” Brigid on pilgrimage [link]

Inspired to a pilgrimage? [link]

What do we do with this?

Brigid reminds us that women have always been esteemed by God as worthy leaders. Men have often denied them their calling, but Spirit filled sisters often break through the injustice. Celebrate the daring women of faith you know!

Brigid reminds us of earth, wind, fire and water. Her home-grown, Celtic Christianity is full of natural elements, including a fire symbolizing God’s presence which she and her band tended in Kildare — one which burned continuously for centuries.

There is a Druid goddess named Brigid, as well. Sometimes the Irish have gotten the saint and goddess mixed up. But we can celebrate how the yearning represented in gods and goddesses are met in Jesus, as Brigid boldly proclaimed. Think about honoring the yearning of people around you. Imagine how you can connect them to Jesus.

Anthony of Egypt — January 17

Hieronymous Bosch, Triptych of Temptation of St Anthony (right wing), 1505-06, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

Bible connection

Read James 4:1-12

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

All about Anthony the Great (251-356)

Today is St. Anthony of Egypt’s feast day.

The Roman Catholic Church developed an elaborate system of celebrating the lives of “saints.” Early on, these great people were often the martyrs who gave all believers courage to keep their faith in difficult times. Later, these people were thought to play an intermediary role between Jesus and humanity. Their shrines were thought to be healing, powerful places, and they were thought to be praying for us and taking advantage of their special relationship with God on our behalf. Even though these practices have been  excessive and even heretical, we still recognize how notable Jesus followers got to be “saints.” The Bible calls everyone who has been set apart for God in Jesus a saint, so you probably deserve an entry in our list. But some people are so inspiring we don’t want to forget them. The Body of Christ has  great history.

The word “saint” means “holy one.” When Paul writes to the church in Rome, he starts his letter: “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” If you follow Jesus, you are a saint, right along with Anthony.

Anthony was one of the first Christian monks.  A “monk” (from Greek: μοναχόςmonachos, “single, solitary” and Latin monachus) is a person who practices strict spiritual discipline to be close to God and serve the Lord’s purpose, living either alone or with any number of other monks. They voluntarily choose to leave mainstream society and live an alternative life, usually according to a rule.

Anthony lived for 105 years! At the age of 20, he was inspired by a passage in Mark: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor” (10:21). So he made sure his sister was well provided for and gave away a large inheritance and all his possessions. He then pursued a life of solitude in the desert, away from a Church which was quickly becoming dominated by the world. In many ways, he was the “anti-Constantine.”

Anthony was illiterate but he became very wise.  He went further into the desert than his ascetic contemporaries in search of an undistracted life with God.  He spent time in an old tomb and eventually he shut himself up in an old Roman fort for twenty years.  In his solitude, he had frequent run-ins with the devil, but triumphed.  His life was written down by the famous bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius, so we know a lot about his struggle and his influential successes. [Link to Athanasius’ Life of Anthony…]

The Emperor Constantine and his two sons, Constantius and Constans, once sent Anthony a joint letter, recommending themselves to his prayers. Noting the astonishment of some of the monks present, Anthony said,

“Do not wonder that the Emperor writes to us, even to a man such as I am; rather be astounded that God has communicated with us, and has spoken to us by His Son.”

Replying to the letter, he exhorted the Emperor and his sons to show contempt for the world and to constantly remember the final judgment.

The holiness Anthony achieved in his solitude ended up being very influential. People came to see him and formed a community around his example. Plus, the leaders of the church called him out of his separation to add his wisdom to the development of the church.

Perhaps the best movements are those begun by people not trying to start them. The monastic movement that Anthony inspired is still inspiring further descendants in the faith today. Many believers in these troubled times honor the spirit of separation from the world and practice that separation invasively.

More

You might appreciate a bio of Anthony from the Coptic Church [link].

Expoza Travel tells you why you should go to the desert with Anthony. [link]

Interesting documentary about monks inthe desert: Desert Foreigners [link]

What do we do with this?

Here are some ways you could experiment with Anthony’s discipline. You might hear from God yourself!

  • Spend half a day (or more if you can) in the “wildereness,” in silence, some time in the near future
  • Have a silent day at home. Make a deal with your spouse or roommates that you are going to be silent (maybe get them to do it with you).
  • Unplug completely for at least two days.
  • See if a five-minute alone time of listening during your workday allows you to connect with God in any way.

9th Day of Christmas / The Cappadocians — January 2

Related image
The Cappadocians: Gregory of Nazianus and Basil of Caeserea.

Bible connection

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another. — Galatians 5:22-26

All about the Cappadocians

On this day of Christmas many people traditionally celebrate the main members of the radical group known as “the Cappadocians:” Basil of Caesarea (330-379) and his lifelong friend, Gregory of Nazianzus (329-379). They both died in January and, as in life, they gravitated together and are remembered together on this day. May we be radical Jesus followers and loving friends like they were! Like in our time, their era was full of partisan controversy and fragile political and church relationships. They not only stuck together, they brought other people together.

Basil and his older sister, Macrina, received the best education of the day. Basil was ambitious and decided to become a teacher of rhetoric which would have provided the highest available salary at the time. His sister convinced him that his ambitions would just be replaced by further ambitions. He listened to her, was baptized, simplified his life and worked in the local church. He stayed close to his sister, his brother, Gregory of Nyssa, his cousin, Amphilochius, and his lifelong friend, Gregory of Nazianzus (they are known as the Cappadocians).  Within a decade he was made bishop of Caesarea in 370. As bishop, he fought against the Arian heresy and wrote many influential works on the Trinity and the Incarnation, as well as a rule of life for monks that is still used today.

Gregory of Nazianzus, while traveling as a youth, met Basil while studying in Athens. While Basil was determined and impulsive, as well as brilliant and a bit intimidating, Gregory was sensitive, patient, more introverted, and sometimes indecisive. Basil was drawn to public speaking, Gregory to poetry and speculation. But they teamed up for a brilliant teaching series on the Trinity that sealed their public reputations and their friendship.  At one point Basil deceptively pressured Gregory to become a bishop, which he did not want to do. This strained their friendship, but they rebuilt it.

In one of his sermons, Gregory said this about the beginning of their relationship: “When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires, the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper… The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning.” When Basil died, this was Gregory’s epitaph: “A body might as well live without a soul, as me without you, Basil, beloved servant of Christ.”

More

Here is a nice summation of who these good people were and why they are important [link]

Morwenna Ludlow deftly sums up the Cappadocians and the theological issues of their times (that impact ours, still) in ten minutes. (If you want the rest of Timeline, you pay):

You might be interested in the geography of Cappadocia and the famous people from the 400’s [link]

View of the circle backed by a line of tall trees, bracken in the foreground
The “Nine Ladies” on Stanton Moor https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/nine-ladies-stone-circle/history/

On the 9th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Nine ladies dancing.

The catechists who were supposedly using “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song to teach persecuted Catholics said these nine ladies represented the nine fruit of the Holy Spirit: love,  joy,  peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  (Galatians 5:22). These go along with the ambition of Basil’s and Gregory’s life and relationship, don’t they?

What do we do with this?

Memorize the fruit of the Spirit until you can sit back with your eyes closed and meditate on each of them.  Which of them calls to you? What would you do in 2024 to gain and live out one of them more fully? Tell one of your spiritual friends about your ambition. Gregory would have written such a person a vulnerable letter.

Both Basil and Gregory got their truest ambition fueled by solitude and study.  Hopefully you have a Macrina in your life to tell you to ramp back your anxious grasping so you can listen for your truest calling. Is there any way to get more time with God into your schedule?

It is a dancing day. Have you ever heard this old carol: Tomorrow  Shall Be My Dancing Day? It is not only interesting, it is a good one to help you twirl around the room a bit with the spirit of nine ladies dancing in the Spirit.  Shake out some coldness of body and heart.

1. Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;

Chorus
Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love

2. Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man’s nature
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

3. In a manger laid, and wrapped I was
So very poor, this was my chance
Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

4. Then afterwards baptized I was;
The Holy Ghost on me did glance,
My Father’s voice heard from above,
To call my true love to my dance. Chorus

It goes on…

7th Day of Christmas / Sylvester — December 31

“Gift of God Bar” by Jean Lacy

Bible connection

Yet the rescuing gift is not exactly parallel to the death-dealing sin. If one man’s sin put crowds of people at the dead-end abyss of separation from God, just think what God’s gift poured through one man, Jesus Christ, will do! There’s no comparison between that death-dealing sin and this generous, life-giving gift. The verdict on that one sin was the death sentence; the verdict on the many sins that followed was this wonderful life sentence. If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?

Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right. – Romans 5:15-19 (The Message paraphrase)

St. Sylvester I, Pope - Information on the Saint of the Day - Vatican News
Pope Sylvester I

All about Sylvester (285-335)

There is probably not a more “pagan” holiday than New Year’s Eve (not that some Christians don’t try to redeem it). If you are likely to go off some deep end, it might be wise to avoid tonight. If you feel strong enough to have some fun with the national celebration of making it through 2023, enjoy!

As a day in the church year, the 7th day of Christmas is the Feast of St. Sylvester, who was Emperor Constantine’s buddy and the pope who presided over the church becoming legitimate in the Roman Empire, along with managing some major building projects! [Irish video] The church calendar does not have a slot for New Year’s Eve or Day — that would more likely be Easter, if you need one, since there’s a beginning to celebrate! The traditional church calendar begins with Advent.

In Europe, some places call New Year’s Eve “Silvester.” In several languages New Year’s Eve is known as “St. Sylvester Night” (“Notte di San Silvestro” in Italian, “Silvesternacht” in German, “Réveillon de la Saint-Sylvestre” in French).

Sylvester was leading the church when the Arian heresy came to a head [link to video about Arianism]. During Sylvester’s time, the church held big meetings of its leaders to clarify their theology in relation to Greek/Roman philosophy about how Jesus could be God and not just another created being.

Many people are content to leave the “how?” of the Trinity mostly to mystery and deal with the “fact” of relating to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Paul is looking through the Jesus lens, not the metaphysical lens, when he says in today’s reading,

“If death got the upper hand through one man’s wrongdoing, can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?”

That is experience-based arguing.

More

Francsican Media bio

Jean Lacy died in March of 2023. [art above]

Seven Swans A'Swimming | Why I didn't think of this original… | Flickr

On the 7th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… seven swans a-swimming. 

The undeserved gift of grace from love that transcends understanding is what Christmas is all about. So, it is appropriate the “secret” meaning of the Twelve Days of Christmas has SEVEN swans given on this day.

In terms of extravagant gifts, seven swans would definitely be what rich people have gliding regally in their private lakes. When the carol was written, most people considered swans to be the most graceful and beautiful fowl of all. Supposedly, the English Catholic catechists (who were forbidden to teach publicly) said the seven swans represented the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of God. Others take elements of Bible spiritual gifts lists to make the main seven gifts: prophecy, service, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership and mercy). Regardless of your list, the idea is to enjoy these gifts of grace moving in your life, as valued, serene and confident as a swan on God’s lake.

What do we do with this?

Pray: God gifting yourself in Jesus, I receive you by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are Arians who believe Jesus is a created being who is therefore not eternal and not God. They specifically argue that Jesus was Michael the Archangel.  Our era tends to solve the problems of heresies and pluralism, in general, by ignoring people or saying everything is fine as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. But our view of God matters. Your view may not be too metaphysical, but what is it? How do you see God, when you are just reacting, not thinking real hard? May weI suggest a Jesus lens, regardless? [About the Arian crisis]

Answer this question from the reading today: “Can you imagine the breathtaking recovery life makes, sovereign life, in those who grasp with both hands this wildly extravagant life-gift, this grand setting-everything-right, that the one man Jesus Christ provides?” Journal what you are imagining. If you grasp the gift with both hands, what will that mean in 2024? 

5th Day of Christmas / Thomas Becket — December 29

Image result for thomas becket
The Murder of Thomas Becket,  hand-painted woodcut.

Bible connection

Some take pride in chariots, and some in horses,
but our pride is in the name of the Lord our God.
 They will collapse and fall,
but we shall rise and stand upright. — Psalm 20:7-8 [Here it is in song]

All about Thomas Becket (1118-1170)

The Fifth Day of Christmas is also a time to remember the faith of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was martyred for his defense of the rights of the church against the English king, Henry II.

Like yesterday’s Feast of the Holy Innocents, this day adds the somber foundation for Christmastide, since every incarnation of God’s grace has an opponent waiting to kill it.

The church and the burgeoning idea of the “state” vied for power in Europe as it emerged from centuries of reorganization after the fall of the Roman Empire. Periodically, a leader would have an actual debate about the theology of the matter with some kind of spiritual conviction instead of just managing his power in order to expand it.

Once Becket was made the leader of the English church, he surprised the king with his new set of convictions. Like the surprising Oscar Romero who stood up against U.S.-sponsored death squads and unjust government soldiers, Becket was murdered in his own church building.

Becket had more influence as a martyr than a leader. Within years, King Henry was making public penance at his very popular shrine and pilgrim destination.

Becket’s Well in the 1950’s

Once a saint, Becket’s fame grew around the Norman world. He remains a peculiar, English phenomenon. As a member of the clan who were founders of the mercantile fraternity of Mercers, Becket was much lauded as a Londoner and adopted as the city’s co-patron saint with Paul the Apostle: they both appear on the seals of the city and of the Lord Mayor. The idea of drinking the “water of Saint Thomas,” sprang up, meaning one could buy a miraculous mix of water and the remains of the martyr’s blood. Here’s the story:

A citizen of Canterbury dipped a corner of his shirt in the blood [of Becket], went home, and gave it, mixed with water, to his wife, who was paralytic, and who was said to have been cured. This suggested the notion of mixing the blood with water, which, endlessly diluted, was kept in innumerable vials, to be distributed to the pilgrims; and thus, as the palm was a sign of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and a scallop-shell of the pilgrimage to Compostela, so a leaden vial or bottle suspended from the neck became the mark of a pilgrimage to Canterbury. — Arthur P. Stanley, Historical Memorials of Canterbury

Local legends reflected Becket’s well-known gruffness. “Becket’s Well”, in Otford, Kent, was said to have been created after Becket was displeased by the taste of the local water. Two springs of clear water bubbled up after he struck the ground with his crozier. The pilgrims to Canterbury (Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales mentions Becket) grew greatly in number.

More

5 minute biography

British Museum’s 2021 retrospective.

T.S. Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral” as a 1951 film

Scene from Becket (film, 1964)

Five Golden Rings ... | Manassas Park, VA Patch

It is not without merit that On the 5th day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Five Gold Rings. 

For two centuries after the Reformation, the Catholic structure of the Church was repressed in England, especially. The legend has grown up that, in the spirit of Becket, catechists used this song for children to defiantly teach their polity.

Purportedly, the gift on the fifth day “secretly” represents the Torah, the central five books of the Old Testament: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The gift of these books reminds the singer of humanity’s fall from grace and of God’s response by creating a people to be a light to the world into which THE Light of the World would be born.

What do we do with this?

 Pray: Guide me on the difficult path of discernment and trust

Christians often talk a good game when it comes to “speaking truth to power” but we mostly keep to ourselves. We even have problems talking to each other! So we can get locked into going with whatever the latest graceless thing the government is doing, even acting as if political power is all that matters. This day calls us to change our perspective.

Pray with your journal and ask the Lord to show you what you actually trust. It might be the fear-led defenses that protect you from experiencing lack of trust! It may be some substitute for God that promises safety in a troubling world.  It may be yourself. “Who or what do you actually trust?” is a basic question we all need to answer, right?

3rd Day of Christmas / John — December 27

“Jesus and the Beloved Disciple” by John Giuliani, 1996

Bible connection

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. – 1 Corinthians 13:12-13

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love (Jesus). – John 15:9

All about John (c. 6-100)

Today is the feast day of John, the Apostle and Evangelist, who recorded the words of Jesus, quoted above. He called himself “the beloved disciple.” I doubt that means he was more beloved than the others, but it certainly means he knew he was loved!

John the Apostle was the son of Zebedee and the younger brother of James. According to church tradition, their mother was Salome. John is one of two disciples (the other being Andrew) recounted in John 1:35–39, who upon hearing the Baptist point out Jesus as the “Lamb of God”, followed Jesus and spent the day with him, thus becoming the first two disciples called by Jesus.

Jesus referred to Zebedee’s sons as “Boanerges” (translated “sons of thunder”). A Gospel story relates how the brothers wanted to call down heavenly fire on an unhospitable Samaritan town, but Jesus rebuked them. John was also the disciple who reported to Jesus that they had “forbidden” a non-disciple from casting out demons in Jesus’ name, prompting Jesus to state that “he who is not against us is on our side.”

John is traditionally believed to live on for more than fifty years after the martyrdom of his brother James, who became the first Apostle to die a martyr’s death in AD 44.

John is always mentioned in the group of the first four apostles in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts, listed either second, third or fourth. He, along with his brother James and Peter, formed an informal triumvirate among the Twelve Apostles in the Gospels. Jesus allowed them to be the only apostles present at three particular occasions during his public ministry: the raising of Jairus’ daughter, his transfiguration, and his time of prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus sent only Peter and John into the city to make the preparation for the final Passover meal.

After the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, only Peter and John followed him into the palace of the high-priest. The “beloved disciple” alone, among the Apostles, remained near Jesus at the foot of the cross. Following the instruction of Jesus from the Cross, the beloved disciple took Mary, the mother of Jesus, into his care. Peter and John were also the only two apostles who ran to the empty tomb after Mary Magdalene bore witness to the resurrection of Jesus.

After Jesus’ Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, John, together with Peter, took a prominent part in the founding and guidance of the church. He was with Peter at the healing of the lame man at Solomon’s Porch in the Temple and he was also thrown into prison with Peter. Later, only Peter and John went to visit the newly converted believers in Samaria.

Most authorship of New Testament works are disputed. John is the author of the Gospel bearing his name, three letters and the Book of Revelation.

5 Reasons To Love Faverolles Chickens
Present-day French hens — Faverolles

On the 3rd day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Three French Hens.

Today is also the third day of Christmas. Going with our spiritualization of the kid’s Christmas song, the singer’s “true love” (that would be Jesus, in this case) sent His true love (John, Paul and the rest of us disciples/friends) three “virtues” — that is, three inner motivations that dispose one to act rightly. In the Catholic catechism, faith, hope and love are the “theological” virtues.

The famous Thomas Aquinas  explained that these three virtues are called theological “because they have God for their object, both in so far as by them we are properly directed to Him, and because they are infused into our souls by God alone, as also, finally, because we come to know of them only by Divine revelation in the Sacred Scriptures”

Actual French hens, in the song, are probably just everyday chickens, although fancy French hens have been bred for show since the 1800’s. In the 1600’s, however, a meal of three nice chickens would be what rich people were eating. Some interpretations of the song say the “secret” meaning has a lot to do with expensive gifts brought by the wise men: gold, frankincense and myrrh. In that case you can sing this verse as a praise song, seeing Jesus telling the world how his true love made a feast for him in the cold world, and offered her best to do it.

What do we do with this?

Pray: As the Father loves you, you love me. Thank you.

Regardless of secret meanings, the clear message is all about love: Jesus and you are one another’s beloved and you are exchanging valuable gifts. It would be terrible to keep Christmas with a discussion of the value of chickens or an assessment of one’s virtue, wouldn’t it?!

Be the beloved who got the “chickens” on whatever level you want to interpret that. Supply your own secret meaning, if you like.

Be the lover who gives the gifts. We often feel so needy, we forget our commitment to love. Why don’t you take a step out of your usual reactions to others or your usual routine and do something that gives someone some love in a way they can understand it? Don’t call attention to the fact you are doing this, just be it. Later, write in your journal about how that felt or how it didn’t.

2nd Day of Christmas / Stephen — December 26

Stoning of Stephen — Rembrandt

Bible connection

Read Acts 22:1-21

When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to me. “Quick!” he said. “Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.”

“Lord,” I replied, “these people know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.”

Then the Lord said to me, “Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”

All about Stephen (ca. 5-34)

The future that dawns with the birth of Jesus does not come without cost.

For Stephen, the future meant trading his life for telling the truth to the powers that be (Acts 6-7). We remember his martyrdom on the second day of Christmas each year. This is the “feast of Stephen” we sing about in the Christmas carol: “Good King Wenceslas.”

BTW — Vaclav (“vatslaf” in Czech) Havel who died a few years back , is a namesake of King Wenceslas and also something of a martyr for speaking back to the powers when the Czech Republic was born in spite of Soviet occupation. Stephen was the first martyr of many to come in the church.

For Paul, moving into the dawn of the future meant leaving Jerusalem in a hurry, at one point. as in today’s reading. It meant an adventurous, but totally unpredictable and often troubling life on the road.

More

Stephen Day: The gift of Martyrdom [link]

An enacted reading of the whole story of Stephen as recorded in Acts 7:

St. Stephen’s Day was a big day in England. It was known as Boxing Day, the day church alms boxes were opened and the contents distributed to the needy. Nowadays is it a big day for hospitality; many people look for people who might be left out to fill their table. In Ireland some places held Wren Day , if you’d like to know another place Mummers came from. [Boxing Day traditions]

Campaign to create turtle dove habitats in North Yorkshire - BBC News

On the 2nd day of Christmas my true love sent to me…Two Turtle Doves

Receiving doves, a sign of truth and peace, would be lovely enough. If you want to go with the possibly-catechetical secret meaning of the carol, the two doves represent the Old and New Testaments, which together bear witness to God’s self-revelation in history and the creation of a people to tell the story of God to the world.

What do we do with this?

Pray: Help me look around without fear and see my opportunities to share your truth and love.

It costs us to tell the story of our faith, or so we fear. What is your story? Spend a minute with Jesus and let him help you remember who you are in Christ. Maybe you should write it down.

Odo of Cluny — November 18

Odo Cluny-11.jpg
11th Century miniature

Bible connection

The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure and full of quiet gentleness. Then it is peace-loving and courteous…It is wholehearted and straightforward and sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.—James 3:17-18

All about Odo of Cluny (c. 880-942)

Odo  was the abbot of the Benedictine Monastery of Cluny, which started a huge program of monastic and clerical reform. He began his religious life at nineteen as a “canon” (a church leader living with other leaders) of the Church of St. Martin, in Tours, to whom he always had a deep devotion.

When Odo read The Rule of St. Benedict for himself as part of his studies, he was stunned. Judging that his Christian life did not measure up to Benedict’s standard, he determined to become a monk. In 909, Odo went to Beaume, a monastery (unlike many) where the rule was strictly observed, and Abbot Berno received him into the community.

That same year Berno started a new monastery at Cluny in Burgundy. He established it on the pattern of Beaume, insisting on a rigorous application of the Benedictine rule. In 927, St. Odo succeeded Berno as Cluny’s abbot and spread its influence to monasteries all over Europe. He encouraged lax monasteries to return to the original pattern of the Benedictine rule of prayer, manual labor, and community life under the direction of a spiritual father. Under his influence, monasteries chose more worthy abbots, cultivated a more committed spiritual life in the monks, and restored the solemnity of daily worship. Thus Odo helped lay the foundation for a renewal movement that in two centuries reformed more than a thousand monastic communities and transformed the religious and political life of Europe.

In the following passage, John of Salerno, Odo’s biographer, says he combined his power with wry humor to compel members of his entourage to behave charitably:

The blind and the lame, Odo said, would be the doorkeepers of heaven. Therefore no one ought to drive them away from his house, so that in the future they should not shut the doors of heaven against him. So if one of our servants, not being able to put up with their shameless begging, replied sharply to them or denied them access to the door of our tent, Odo at once rebuked him with threats. Then in the servant’s presence he used to call the poor man and command him, saying, “When this man comes to the gate of heaven, pay him back in the same way.” He said this to frighten the servants, so that they should not act in this way again, and that he might teach them to love charity.

When Odo arrived at Monte Cassino (the original Benedictine monastery) to institute his reforms there and enforce the rule, he was met by armed monks ready to resist the unwanted interference. John of Salerno writes that he gained entry anyway with the disarming words: “I come peacefully—to hurt no one, injure no one, but that I may correct those who are not living according to rule.” [More here]

One of Odo’s achievements that is less known is his important role in the history of Western music. The Dialogue on Music attributed to him contains the first systematic use of seven letters for pitches and the first clear discussion and illustration of organum. The whole book is much more specific than any earlier work on music, and it shows how musical theory moved away from philosophy and beganning to practically consider musical production.

At the pope’s request, Odo traveled to Rome three times to pacify relations between Hugh, king of Italy and Alberic, called the Patrician of the Romans. On each of these trips Odo took the opportunity to introduce the Cluniac reform to monasteries en route. On returning from Rome in 942, he became sick and stopped at the monastery of St. Julian in Tours for the celebration of the feast day of St. Martin. He took part in the celebrations on November 11 and after a lingering illness died on November 18. During his last illness, he composed a hymn in honor of Martin.

More

The Abbey of Cluny is ten minutes from the Taize Community. 

Brief history of the Abbey.

Poem of Odo. Hymn to St. Martin.

This prayer guide from Bangalore/Bengaluru, India is fascinating.

The Odo Ensemble, based at Cluny.

What do we do with this?

Admiration for a saint can lead to saintliness. Odo of Cluny was deeply devoted to St. Martin of Tours and as a young student imitated Martin in his love of beggars. He always kept the example of Martin as his guide. Do you have any guides?

Perhaps the poor we refuse to care for, or people we snub will be our greeters after death. Imagine the person meeting us at heaven’s gate will be the person we have offended most, now empowered to welcome or to reject us. That thought might make us hurry to be reconciled with anyone we have hurt.

The church in the United States has a “lax rule” and is embroiled in corrupt politics and many scandals. Will you desert Jesus as a result? Or will you refocus on a true “rule” and transform the society?