All You Need is Love

Today the church remembers a 17th Century Saint who was as stubborn as he was prolific: St. Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva and Thwarter of Assassins.

Born in Chateau de Sales and educated in the grand cities of France, this St. Francis was ordained a priest (despite his father’s displeasure with the profession), and served for twenty-nine years amidst the uneasy marriage of the Catholics and Calvinists in the Chablais countryside.

He was known around the area for great love for all the people in the land, regardless of their faith. Unfortunately, many others did not regard him with such love, and he had to contend with a few assassination attempts by those who took issue with his Catholicity.

His effective love and preaching did turn many hearts on to the Roman Catholic expression of the church, much to the chagrin of the Calvinists who had worked hard to evangelize in the area.

In 1602 he was appointed Bishop of Geneva, and through this same outlook of love began to slowly change and restructure the diocese, known for being quite difficult and unruly. He gave away almost all of his private money, and lived a simple life. The King of France tried to persuade him to move to Paris, but he opted to skip the pomp of the huge city and remain where he was.

Children are said to have adored him. He took great pains to teach the laity of the church about the faith, something often overlooked by other clergy who preferred to focus on their own scholarly pursuits.

He wrote a number of books, including his twenty-six volume tome, The Love of God.

With Jane de Chantal he founded the Order of the Visitation in 1610 which worked to instruct young women in the faith.

He was stubborn in his love for all people, stubborn in his refusal to live the “high life,” stubborn in his ability to keep living despite the attacks on his life, and stubborn in his belief that God is best known through the eyes of the heart rather than the cold eyes of the head.

Unfortunately St. Frances de Sales died of a stroke at the age of fifty-five. After his death a local Calvinist minister remarked, “If we honored any man as a saint, I know no one since the days of the apostles more worthy than Bishop Frances.”

That kind of love, the love that shines bright enough to cut through animosity and political tension, is rare…and much needed in this world.

St. Frances de Sales is a reminder for me, and can be for the whole Church, that doctrine without love is little more than trite moralism and vacuous philosophical games on parade. Perhaps St. Paul and St. John (and St. George and St. Ringo) were correct: All you need is love.

St. Frances de Sales might have agreed.

-history helped along by Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations
-Icon written by Theophilia

Mother of Outcasts

Today the church remembers the 19th Century Patron Saint of Hawaii: Saint Marianne Cope of Molokai, Mother of Outcasts and Healer.

While the church normally honors saints on the days of their death, Saint Marianne is the rare exception, being honored today, the day of her birth.

She entered the Franciscan order at a young age, and worked as a teacher and hospital administrator early in her life. In 1883 Sister Marianne answered the call of King Kalakaua, the Merrie Monarch of the good island kingdom, asking for desperate help to tend to lepers on the island.

Armed with a warm heart and experience organizing hospitals, she took charge of the mission, founding the first general hospital in Oahu. When the government changed policies, ended the forced exile of lepers, and closed the specialty hospitals, St. Marianne saw that those living with leprosy, and their children, were still being ostracized and demonized by those who didn’t understand the disease.

She stayed to personally care and accompany them .

Because of this care and concern, especially of those who are ostracized, she is seen as the modern matron Saint of not only those who live with leprosy, but also those who live with HIV/AIDS, and those who identify as outcasts.

In these days, many have evoked her name in association with this current pandemic, especially because her oft repeated mantra to her nurses and doctors is echoing in our halls these days, “Wash your hands!”

St. Marianne Cope is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that we are called to tend to those who are cast out by the world and, even after the powers say the work is done, continue on working with them until ”justice rolls down like a river to wash all oppression away!”

-historical bits gleaned from Illes, Daily Magic.

-icon written by Sister Rosaire Kopczenski, OSF

A Team Effort

Another 4th Century Saint marks our days on the 22nd of January, and this one is especially dear to those with Spanish heritage: Saint Vincent of Saragossa, Deacon, Martyr, and Voice of the Divine.

St. Vincent is the most celebrated of Spanish martyrs, and he, like St. Agnes of yesterday’s note, died in the Diocletian persecution in 304 A.D.

St. Vincent, though not the Bishop of Saragossa, did the work of a good Deacon in regularly preaching for Bishop Valerius, who suffered from a speech-debilitating stammer. Both Vincent and Valerius were imprisoned for their faith, and while Valerius received the sentence of exile, Vincent received the sentence of torture and death.

Starvation, held in stocks, and tortured by fire, St. Vincent who so regularly preached on behalf of the Divine offered his final sermon to the world with his body, and the world listened. In the Middle Ages, a number of churches throughout England were built in his honor and named for him.

St. Vincent is a reminder for me, and can be for the whole church, that community is a team effort that will threaten powerful people who would rather dominate alone.

-historical helps by Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-icon written by Aiden Hart

Lambs of God

Today the church remembers an ancient Saint of the early church: Saint Agnes, Martyr and Life-Giver.

Not much is known about St. Agnes. She died during the Diocletian persecution in the year 304 AD, and she is listed in that very first catalogue of saints that was drawn up by the early church around the year 354 AD. We know she was well-known and well-remembered in that ancient church because Constantine’s daughter (or maybe his granddaughter) built a church in her honor.

Here’s the thing about St. Agnes: although we don’t know much about her life, we do know something about her death. When Diocletian was terrorizing the fledgling Christian church, St. Agnes offered herself up to the authorities to be captured and killed. The thought was that, once enough Christians were killed to be shown as “an example,” the persecution would stop.

After all, Diocletian was not killing Christians out of spite or real fear, but rather as a political tool. With this motivation, he largely follows all politicians in power who use religion as a sword or a shield rather than as a food trough for conviction. Perhaps St. Agnes thought that, in volunteering her body, she might bring a quicker end to the rampage and save some lives.

Her offer also stands in stark contrast to the number of Roman Christians who were renouncing the faith in order to save their lives (and could you blame them?). Perhaps her willingness was an effort to keep them from having to do such renunciations as well.

Because St. Agnes is so close in name to “agnus” or “lamb,” today two lambs will be presented at the altar of St. Agnese fuori le Mura. They will be blessed by the priest, shorn, and then cared for by the nuns of Santa Ceclia in Trastavere. The wool from these lambs will be used for the white cloth of pallium that the Holy Father gives to archbishops of the church as a sign of affection.

St. Agnes is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that when religion is used for political points no one wins.

-historical bits gratefully gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

Lambs of God

Today the church remembers an ancient Saint of the early church: Saint Agnes, Martyr and Life-Giver.

Not much is known about St. Agnes. She died during the Diocletian persecution in the year 304 AD, and she is listed in that very first catalogue of saints that was drawn up by the early church around the year 354 AD. We know she was well-known and well-remembered in that ancient church because Constantine’s daughter (or maybe his granddaughter) built a church in her honor.

Here’s the thing about St. Agnes: although we don’t know much about her life, we do know something about her death. When Diocletian was terrorizing the fledgling Christian church, St. Agnes offered herself up to the authorities to be captured and killed. The thought was that, once enough Christians were killed to be shown as “an example,” the persecution would stop.

After all, Diocletian was not killing Christians out of spite or real fear, but rather as a political tool. With this motivation, he largely follows all politicians in power who use religion as a sword or a shield rather than as a food trough for conviction. Perhaps St. Agnes thought that, in volunteering her body, she might bring a quicker end to the rampage and save some lives.

Her offer also stands in stark contrast to the number of Roman Christians who were renouncing the faith in order to save their lives (and could you blame them?). Perhaps her willingness was an effort to keep them from having to do such renunciations as well.

Because St. Agnes is so close in name to “agnus” or “lamb,” today two lambs will be presented at the altar of St. Agnese fuori le Mura. They will be blessed by the priest, shorn, and then cared for by the nuns of Santa Ceclia in Trastavere. The wool from these lambs will be used for the white cloth of pallium that the Holy Father gives to archbishops of the church as a sign of affection.

St. Agnes is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that when religion is used for political points no one wins.

-historical bits gratefully gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

On Unlikely Bishops

Today the church honors an unlikely Bishop, perhaps only second in unlikeliness to St. Peter himself: Saint Fabian, Bishop of Rome, Martyr, and Snow White Prodigy.

St. Fabian was not clergy. He didn’t even live in Rome, proper. But one day, early in the third Century, he wandered from his farm into the city just as the gathering clergy were meeting to elect a new bishop for the young, fledgling church.

Several names were being tossed about, mostly powerful people within the Christian movement who had gained popularity and notoriety. No consensus could be found, though, until the gathering was interrupted by a descending avian.

A dove flew into the crowd and, like a scene out of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, alighted upon the head of Fabian.

The gathered clergy saw this as a sign, and they immediately ordained him and elevated him to the role of Bishop by unanimous acclamation.

Fabian set about doing the work of Bishop from a farmer’s mindset. He divided the city into seven plots, or districts, and set deacons in charge of each area so they could respond to practical and charitable needs as they arose. He took to remembering the ancestors of the faith, the martyrs, venerating them in their catacombs. All of these practices would shape the church forever, even unto today.

For fourteen years Fabian led the church in Rome, eventually dying at the hands of Emperor Decius in the year 250 AD. In his death he was remembered by fellow Bishops as being “incomparable,” and on his grave to the day you can see inscribed in the Catacombs of St. Callixtus, “Fabian, Bishop, Martyr.”

St. Fabian is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes the most qualified persons aren’t the richest, the most powerful, from the best schools, or who are the most well known.

Sometimes the most qualified persons are those who just appear, almost out of nowhere…kind of like, you know, Jesus. And Fabian.

-historical bits gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

On Kindly Bishops

Today the church remembers an obscure 11th Century Bishop of the Anglo-Saxon Church who rocked a cool name: Saint Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester and Abolitionist.

Bishop Wulfstan was a Benedictine monk who lived his whole live in Worcester, never venturing further than the last doorpost of the parish he served. He did this because, well, he was so busy. He is the first known Bishop to make it a point to visit all of the parishes in his area systematically and regularly. His goal was to instill a sense of friendship and learning amongst the churches and the people of the area, and he sought to make Worcester a place of learning for the north.

He also fought hard to stop the practice of selling the English as slaves in Ireland, believing that no person could own any other person legitimately.

His fame grew, though he never traveled outside of his little area.

As he traveled from parish to parish, he is said to have recited the Psalter from beginning to end, and if you rode with him he would make you sing the alternating verse. On these trips he also carried a large satchel full of coins which he readily gave out to anyone who asked of it.

He is remembered as a good and kindly Bishop, perhaps the best of his time.

St. Wulfstan is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that you don’t need to be exceedingly well-traveled to be known and make a difference in your own back yard.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

On Kindly Bishops

Today the church remembers an obscure 11th Century Bishop of the Anglo-Saxon Church who rocked a cool name: Saint Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester and Abolitionist.

Bishop Wulfstan was a Benedictine monk who lived his whole live in Worcester, never venturing further than the last doorpost of the parish he served. He did this because, well, he was so busy. He is the first known Bishop to make it a point to visit all of the parishes in his area systematically and regularly. His goal was to instill a sense of friendship and learning amongst the churches and the people of the area, and he sought to make Worcester a place of learning for the north.

He also fought hard to stop the practice of selling the English as slaves in Ireland, believing that no person could own any other person legitimately.

His fame grew, though he never traveled outside of his little area.

As he traveled from parish to parish, he is said to have recited the Psalter from beginning to end, and if you rode with him he would make you sing the alternating verse. On these trips he also carried a large satchel full of coins which he readily gave out to anyone who asked of it.

He is remembered as a good and kindly Bishop, perhaps the best of his time.

St. Wulfstan is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that you don’t need to be exceedingly well-traveled to be known and make a difference in your own back yard.

-historical bits from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

What We Confess

Today the church notes an important feast day that’s not focused on a person, but on a person’s words: The Confession of Saint Peter.

So, this strange feast is the only feast dedicated to words, which feels very appropriate in these days where we’re all seeing, a little too close to home, the power of words.

Words can move us, for good or for ill.

Words can shape worlds, and tear them down.

Today the church remembers Peter’s famous confession, “You are the Christ.” This confession comes near the Week of Christian Unity for the church, but I have to be very honest with you when I say that the church feels more fractured today than it has in many decades.

Seeing Christian flags used to storm the capitol building two years ago was too much for me.

I’m pondering, on this feast day, what words I follow in the world. What words shape me? What words do I use to shape?

I chose this icon by Russian icon writer Oleg Shurkus for the day because I feel it’s most appropriate for where we are. This is obviously not of St. Peter’s confession, but in the aftermath of his denial and betrayal.

We don’t always live up to our ideals. We sometimes betray our own words. This feels like where we’re at.

Still, there is always a possibility for resurrection, right?

Perhaps on this day when the feasts of the church comes on the heels of our civic MLK feast, these words will suffice for the day:

“The time is always right to do what is right.” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Loneliness Can Be a Killer

Today the church remembers a saint pivotal to the Christian movement who doesn’t get a lot of press, but continues to get a lot of emulation: Saint Antony, Abbot in Egypt, Earnest Seeker and Embracer of Extremes.

We should cut to the chase: Saint Antony of Egypt is the founder of Christian monasticism.

Born in Egypt in 251 A.D. at the outset of this new way of living in the world, Antony heard the Gospel edict, “Go and sell all you have and give it to the poor” (Matt. 19:21) when he was just a young man and, for better or worse, took it very seriously.

He sold everything…and he had a lot. His family was extremely wealthy, and he inherited quite the ancient fortune.

Nevertheless, Saint Antony didn’t see much wiggle room in the Gospel call, and so he sold it all and went to live the solitary life in Upper Egypt as an anchorite, ascetic, and prayerful penitent, dedicating his life to following the Divine.

To put bread on his table he wove baskets and sold them at the local market, and he lived in total solitude for twenty years.

The thing is: he saw how living alone could be dangerous for some. It only took him twenty years to figure it out, but in this spiritual experiment he found that loneliness was a sordid companion and had dangers of its own. To combat that the dangers of solitude, Saint Antony gathered the other lonely anchorites and ascetics who were emulating his lonely life and knit them together into a community that could hold one another accountable while also providing some friendship. He drew up some organized rules for their life together, and created a pattern of life that included work, prayer, and worship. In this community fraternal love and a reasonable sense of order created the scaffolding not only for helping those seeking to dedicated their life to following the Divine more sustainable, but inadvertently created a model of being that has grown into a network of souls dedicated to living a life of devotion lasting thousands of years.

For Saint Antony, though, solitude was not so bad. After organizing this initial monastic order, he once again retreated into the womb of his own being, spending the remainder of his life alone in a cave on Mount Kolzim in the Eastern Desert near the Red Sea. People would seek out his lonely cave, asking advice and desiring to glean the pearls of wisdom that fell from his spiritually well-seasoned tongue. He occasionally would also venture out to visit his followers in their little pockets of apocalyptic people and hermitages. He even made the trek to Alexandria in his old age to argue against the heresy of Arianism, though he was more measured in his words.

Funny thing about Saint Antony: he was never ordained and never took any holy orders. He was a lay person his whole life, and had lived over a century when he took his last breath. The Monastery of St. Antony still exists today and remains a pilgrim point for many in the monastic world, and he is commonly now known as Saint Antony the Great.

Saint Antony of Egypt is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes loneliness for clergy can be a killer, and we need to have some formal structures in place to combat this. I’ve seen this in my own life…and continue to see it all around me.

Let those with ears to hear, hear.

-historical bits gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

-icon written by Fr. Theodore Koufos over at Legacy Icons