Today, November 30th, the church honors an often overshadowed apostle, Saint Andrew. He’s usually called “brother of Peter,” and rarely seen without that qualifier, making him, in essence, known to the world only in relation to his brother…which many people can probably identify with.
St. Andrew is the patron saint of sea-people, but also the informal saint of all who stand in the shadow of someone else.
He is the saint for the B-side of the record, the underdog sibling, the cobbler and the cooper who are no longer appreciated in their crafts.
Lore notes him dying in Greece, crucified because he refused to make sacrifice to the local gods and kept talking about Jesus.
And though he stood in the shadow of his brother his whole life, Andrew gets a place of prominence in the end: his feast day is the official marker for the start of Advent because the First Sunday of Advent every year is the Sunday that falls closest to St. Andrew’s day.
-icon written by Sister Nadine of the Sisters of St. Andrew in London, GB
We are captive to systems. Systems prevent us from critiquing consumerism or looking at our own prejudices with any sort of honesty.
Those angered over Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday shopping seem elitist and judgmental. It must be nice to sit back and have the pleasure of a day off to tell others they aren’t spending it correctly.
Likewise, those excited by the chase of a good deal reinforce an economic system that acknowledges, through “deals,” underhanded pricing and an addiction to excess. It must be nice to narrow our scope so much to ignore the real impact of our dollars.
So we cannot critique without seeming elitist (and being elitist), and we cannot enjoy the marketplace because it woos us into needing more at the expense of others.
We cannot talk about it well because the system has confused our language to the point that all we hear are attacks.
Seems like a nice alternative is to just point out that fact, pray for our addictions to elitism and consumerism, and have some coffee where I’ll both consume and critique…and stand where we all do: stuck in the system.
Today, as we begin our Advent journey in 2022, the church honors Dorothy Day, Friend of the Poor and Antagonizer of the Privileged.
Born in Brooklyn just before the turn of the 20th Century, Dorothy worked for radical newspapers in her early years, mixing with the bohemian crowds of Greenwich Village.
She found herself living with a man she loved, and became pregnant in 1926. It was during this time that she experienced a life-changing conversion to the faith, and she made her home in Roman Catholicism.
She struggled to marry her internal passion for the Christ with her outer conviction to work for social justice. In 1933 she collaborated with fellow gadfly, Peter Maurin, to found the Catholic Worker Movement. Living simply and intentionally, this pseudo-monastic community took a vow to live collectively for the betterment of the poor and the outcast.
They set up hospitality houses in the city, collective living units in agricultural plots of land, and convened clarity councils to make decisions. They aimed to “create a new society within the shell of the old.”
St. Dorothy died in 1980. There is a story about her funeral that, as her casket was being carried through the street to the sanctuary for the funeral Mass, a person with severe mental illness pressed in on the crowd gathered around the procession. They made their way to the casket, and opened it, peering down upon Dorothy. The whole crowd stood and let it happen, knowing that it was precisely this human Dorothy had come to give her life to, and was ministering to them one more time.
St. Dorothy Day is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that simple living is a calling for some, but not all. Poverty should be a choice, by God, and not the result of unfair economic, social, or political circumstances. The church is called to lift those trapped in poverty and to invite those with much to embrace a simpler life for the sake of their neighbor.
-historical bits from Claiborne and Wilson-Hartgrove’s Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
We cozy up our homes, and our hearts, like a young one knitting something in a rocker late into the night, expecting something, someone, any day now.
But it starts at night, and in the early morn. As the sun hides in these days and the shadows stick around longer, those who follow the church year ponder beginnings and endings by candle light, slowly adding to their number as the waiting intensifies.
Advent starts in the shadows because most of our waiting happens in the shadows, both literal and figurative, as we wrestle with difficult questions.
What does it mean to be another year older and missing those who have gone before?
What does it mean to wonder when we’ll see our last year?
What does it mean to wait for something new to happen…wondering if it will ever happen at all?
What does it mean to practice joy instead of happiness, peace instead of uneasy stalemates, hope instead of certainty?
What does it mean to be open to something new while missing what was?
This is the way of Advent. These are the angst days of joyful wrestling, prayerful pondering, and hopeful expectancy tinged with a good bit of refining doubt.
Christmas crooners croon away, and that’s all we’ll and good, but the true warbling in these days are the wonderful wonderings we wonder with Mary, pondering what newness lies ahead, and inside of us, this year. We cozy up our beings to welcome it.
Advent starts in the shadows of our “hopes and fears of all the years,” as the carol goes.
Today the church honors the person who is largely considered the “creator of the English hymn”: St. Isaac Watts, Hymnwriter and Inspirer.
St. Isaac was the first-born of nine children whose father was a nonconformist minister who was twice jailed for “heretical ideas.” He was an excellent student, particularly astute at rhyming, and many pushed him toward the priesthood.
Isaac wasn’t interested in a clergy life, though, and after a few years in higher education, set his brain to writing. He was not happy with what he considered to be “poorly arranged psalms,” and attempted to do better for the church. It was during this time in his early twenties that the majority of what would be published in Hymns and Spiritual Songs was written.
At the age of twenty-four, Isaac began informally preaching and, though he had rejected the offer to enter the priesthood, found a home as an independent minister. He assumed the pulpit of an independent congregation in Mark Lane, Britain, and soon after he began to lead the congregation his health began to fail.
He was forced to live his last thirty-six years of life in the home of Sir Thomas Abney, preaching and teaching only occasionally.
Despite his illness, his fame, as well as theological, and philosophical writings flourished abroad. Having read parts of these books in my University years, I can attest to his brilliance. His work Logic and Speculations on the Human Nature of the Logos come to mind.
He fundamentally changed the course of hymnody as well. Horae Lyricae and Psalms of David, as well as the afore mentioned collection of hymns and songs, became (and continue to be!) staple pieces in the liturgy of the church.
He even made an appearance in Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland as his book of children’s songs was parodied in those pages.
But the reason you know St. Isaac the best is because you sing him every year when you shout loudly, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” He penned that now famous Advent/Christmas hymn and our Decembers have never been the same.
St. Isaac finally succumbed to his illness and suffering, and was buried on this date in 1748. He never married, and is still called the Melanchthon of his day (a high honor in Lutheran circles!) for his learning, gentleness, and devotion.
St. Isaac Watts is a reminder for me, and for the whole church, sometimes the most brilliant minds are found in what many would consider challenging bodies. Watts spent much of his life ill, but the fruits of his relentlessly engaged intellect remain quite healthy.
Today the church remembers a 20th Century Mexican priest, St. Miguel Agustin Pro, Martyr of the Faith.
St. Miguel was born in 1891 in Zacatecas, Mexico, and was known as a happy, cheerful, and privileged child. Despite his relatively high-born status, he developed a deep love and kinship for the working class families around him, and began to spend all of his time and energy working alongside the poor.
He eventually became a Jesuit novice at the age of twenty, and was exiled during the Mexican Revolution. He went to Belgium, where he was ordained, and eventually returned to Mexico in the wake of the war. He found churches closed, priests hiding, and being a Catholic now illegal. Fr. Miguel would regularly dress up in disguises to conduct secret and underground ministry, especially offering pastoral care, comfort, and the sacraments to the afflicted.
In 1927 St. Miguel was accused of being a part of a failed bombing attempt, though it is widely believed that the charges were false. He was handed over to the police and sentenced to death without so much as a trial.
As he was put in front of the firing squad he cried out, “Long live Christ the King!”
Though the government forbade a public funeral, people poured out of their homes to line the streets as his body passed by.
St. Miguel is a reminder to me, and should be for the whole church in the United States, that it was not so long ago that real religious persecution so close to home was a thing, so we should be very hesitant to claim it over baking cakes, serving pizza, and performing weddings and whatnot today.
-historical pieces from Pfatteicher’s _New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
Today the church honors an apostolic pillar whose writings almost (and should have!) made it into the Biblical canon: St. Clement, Theologian and Bishop of Rome.
Little is known about the life of St. Clement, who was probably the fourth Bishop of Rome. He lived and died right around the year 100, and may be the same Clement written about in the book of Philippians (4:3). He was certainly the writer, though, of the Epistle of Clement I (though probably not the Epistle of Clement II).
Ordained by St. Peter, Clement was said to be banished to Crimea during the reign of Trajan, forced to work in the mines. It was there, it is said, that he was tied to an anchor and thrown into the Black Sea (the anchor is his saintly symbol).
But though so little is known about Clement, we certainly know much about his thoughts and his voice. In the year 96 Clement authored a letter from the Church at Rome to the Church at Corinth. This letter is the earliest Christian document we have in existence, with the exception of some New Testament writings, and was written to encourage the Church at Corinth to avoid a schism and remain steadfast to one another. It’s a letter of pastoral advice.
This letter was so widely known, and so widely revered, early manuscripts of the New Testament include it in the canon.
St. Clement is a reminder for you, and should be for the whole church, that not all that is holy is contained in the canon, Beloved.
-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
Today the church remembers a masterful storyteller who wove a tapestry of tales that continue to teach: Clive Staples Lewis, Writer and Dream Maker.
St. Lewis (you know him better as C.S. Lewis, no doubt) was born in Northern Ireland to a barrister father and mathematician mother. After years of boarding schools, he attended University College, Oxford and, after graduation, was appointed as a Tutor and Fellow there, and eventually as Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature a Cambridge.
At his heart, he was a writer. Scholarly works, fictional works, essays regarding the state of humanity, C.S. Lewis was born with one pen in his hand and another in his mouth.
As a youth he had rejected Christianity, probably as a rebellion around the death of his mother when he was ten years old. In 1929 he had a conversion experience that eventually led him back to the church in 1931. This journey from atheism to theism to the church was recounted in Surprised by Joy, published in 1955.
As it is with many converts, C.S. Lewis spilled a lot of ink defending the faith. The Problem of Pain, Mere Christianity, and The Screwtape Letters. In these works for art…which they are…he eloquently and imaginatively honors various human realities through the lens of faith.
Most of the world, though, knows him not for his essays, but for his works of fiction and science-fiction. The seven book Chronicles of Narnia and his lesser known Space Trilogy present for humanity a fanciful retelling of Christian faith and morals through a lion who dies yet lives, children who are awake and yet dreaming, honorable mice pirates, witches, and distant planet explorations that are right in your backyard.
It’s widely known that he and his fellow writer, JRR Tolkien, often met to discuss their works over a pint or three. He thought Tolkien was too verbose (he was), and Tolkien thought Lewis was too “on the nose” with his allegories (he was). And yet we’re all better for it all, right?
The works of Lewis that most affected me, though, weren’t any of the above, but two works separated by time yet linked in theme: The Four Loves and A Grief Observed.
In The Four Loves Lewis mines the realities of human love, seeking to make a connection between these loves and the deep feelings of the heart. English is such a limiting language. We only have one word for “love,” and yet many ways of feeling it. Lewis goes deep into analysis around this, offering some clarity to what we feel when we say “I love you.”
In A Grief Observed, though, Lewis is at his most vulnerable, most bare, most thoughtful (at least in my opinion). He wrote this reflection on grief after the death of his wife, Joy Davidman Gresham, after they had only been married four years. Here St. Lewis is less apologist for the faith and more barrister with faith and fairness of life put on slow, subtle trial. Gone is the idealism of the new convert, and in its place we find an honest conversation between C.S. Lewis and a faith that he considered an old friend that kind of let him down (though the work does end on a hopeful note).
It is real. It is honest. And, in my opinion, is required reading.
St. Lewis died on this day in 1963 at his home in Oxford.
One of my favorite notions of his, which I believe to be totally true, is found in The Screwtape Letters where the young demon being tutored by penpal is told that “God only coaxes, and cannot coerce.”
God only coaxes, and cannot coerce.
St. C.S. Lewis is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that story has always been a way that we learn about the Divine.
And always will be.
-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations