October 15 – Teresa of Avila

From the Bible

Read Romans  13:8-10 

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,”and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 

About Teresa

Teresa of Avila was a Spanish contemplative, mystic, and theologian in the 16th century.

Here is a story about her: Teresa learned as a small child that one had to die in order to see God. She wanted to see God. Practical and courageous by temperament she devised a scheme. She and her brother, Rodrigo, would go to the land of the Moors. There they would surely be martyred and go to heaven. Very early one morning the two children stole away from their home and crossed the bridge leading out of Avila. But the plan soon ran into trouble. An uncle who happened to be entering Avila at the time, met the children, heard their fantastic plan and unceremoniously returned them to their parental dwelling.

Later on in life Teresa realized that one does not have to die to see God. “We need no wings to go in search of Him,” she wrote, “but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us.” These words contain three essential steps for what she named ”mental prayer.” First, we must be searching for God; second, we must be willing to be alone with Him, and third, we need but look upon Our Lord Who is present within us.

“The important thing in mental prayer,” she says, “is not to think much but to love much.” Mental prayer becomes fruitful when we realize the gift of God dwelling within our soul. Referring to her earlier years in the convent, Teresa wrote these regretful words, “I think that if I had understood then as I do now that this great King really dwells within a little palace of my soul, I should not have left Him alone so often and never allowed his dwelling place to get so dirty.” Mental prayer, you see, is nothing but our side of friendship with God—our “yes” to God’s call and invitation.

“Beginners,” she says, “do well to form an appealing image of Christ in His Sacred Humanity. They should picture Him within themselves in some mystery of His life, for example, the Christ of the agony or the Risen Savior in His glorified Body. Once they are conscious of Our Lord’s presence within their souls they need only look upon Him and conversation will follow. This friendly conversation will not be much thinking but much loving, not a torrent of words, much less a strained prepared speech, but rather a relaxed conversation with moments of silence as there must be between friends.”

One of the profound things that she is known to have said matches our scripture today, “It is love alone that gives worth to all things.”

Paul also reminds us that love is the only thing we owe each other.  It’s a continuing debt.  It is a debt that gives worth to our lives.  We are compelled to love each other regardless of the circumstances.  For some of us, that seems like a lot.  But the fact remains that each one of us is loved and as loved ones in the world we have the capacity to love others.  When we go ahead and make payments toward that debt, we fulfill God’s vision for the world.

Want more?

More bio: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/131christians/innertravelers/avila.html

Teresa’s famous prayer: http://www.ewtn.com/devotionals/prayers/stteresaofavila.htm

You can read the Interior Castle for free: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/teresa/castle2.html

October 4 – Francis of Assisi

From the Bible

1 Kings 17:2-6

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: 3 “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”

So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.

About Francis

Francis of Assisi was born around 1181 and died in his forties on October 3, 1226. He was born as John Francis Bernard (Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone) to a wealthy cloth merchant. He enjoyed a luxurious and wordly lifestyle. He fought as a soldier for Assisi; but while at war, he had the first of many experiences that called him to life of poverty, community and restoration of the church. He returned to Assisi, began witnessing in the streets and gained followers. His influence generated the Franciscan order, the Order of St. Clare and the Third Order Franciscans.

He influenced many and was often seen as a beacon of light during a period of corruption and darkness in the church. He’s still widely regarded and influential today.

Part of the biography of his early years from the Catholic Encyclopedia

“Not long after his return to Assisi, whilst Francis was praying before an ancient crucifix in the forsaken wayside chapel of St. Damian’s below the town, he heard a voice saying: “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” Taking this behest literally, as referring to the ruinous church wherein he knelt, Francis went to his father’s shop, impulsively bundled together a load of coloured drapery, and mounting his horse hastened to Foligno, then a mart of some importance, and there sold both horse and stuff to procure the money needful for the restoration of St. Damian’s. When, however, the poor priest who officiated there refused to receive the gold thus gotten, Francis flung it from him disdainfully. The elder Bernardone, a most niggardly man, was incensed beyond measure at his son’s conduct, and Francis, to avert his father’s wrath, hid himself in a cave near St. Damian’s for a whole month. When he emerged from this place of concealment and returned to the town, emaciated with hunger and squalid with dirt, Francis was followed by a hooting rabble, pelted with mud and stones, and otherwise mocked as a madman. Finally, he was dragged home by his father, beaten, bound, and locked in a dark closet.

Freed by his mother during Bernardone’s absence, Francis returned at once to St. Damian’s, where he found a shelter with the officiating priest, but he was soon cited before the city consuls by his father. The latter, not content with having recovered the scattered gold from St. Damian’s, sought also to force his son to forego his inheritance. This Francis was only too eager to do; he declared, however, that since he had entered the service of God he was no longer under civil jurisdiction. Having therefore been taken before the bishop, Francis stripped himself of the very clothes he wore, and gave them to his father, saying: “Hitherto I have called you my father on earth; henceforth I desire to say only ‘Our Father who art in Heaven’.” Then and there, as Dante sings, were solemnized Francis’s nuptials with his beloved spouse, the Lady Poverty, under which name, in the mystical language afterwards so familiar to him, he comprehended the total surrender of all worldly goods, honours, and privileges. And now Francis wandered forth into the hills behind Assisi, improvising hymns of praise as he went. “I am the herald of the great King”, he declared in answer to some robbers, who thereupon despoiled him of all he had and threw him scornfully in a snow drift. Naked and half frozen, Francis crawled to a neighbouring monastery and there worked for a time as a scullion. At Gubbio, whither he went next, Francis obtained from a friend the cloak, girdle, and staff of a pilgrim as an alms. Returning to Assisi, he traversed the city begging stones for the restoration of St. Damian’s. These he carried to the old chapel, set in place himself, and so at length rebuilt it.”

Want more?

A bio : http://www.biography.com/people/st-francis-of-assisi-21152679?page=1

Brother Sun, Sister Moon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUHrkV7L4R0

Hans Kung, the great Catholic theologian, writes a great post about the first pope to take the name Francis: http://ncronline.org/news/vatican/paradox-pope-francis

September 28 – William J. Seymour

From the Bible

Acts 2:14-21 In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.

About William J. Seymour

William Seymour died of a heart attack on September 28, 1922. He was widely considered the Father of Pentecostalism. He followed the Holy Spirit and developed a belief in the charismatic gifts (entire sanctification that manifests in prophesy, speaking in tongues, and other expressions), even before he was gifted. He needed to preach what he learned.

He was first locked out of the building to which he was called to California to speak. He eventually found a following that outgrew its building after a remarkable evening of God’s presence. He proceeded to find a place to preach and worship in L.A. It was the dirt floor in what became the famous building on Azusa St. that became the center of the Pentecostal revival.

To Seymour, tongues was not the only message of Azusa Street: “Don’t go out of here talking about tongues: talk about Jesus,” he admonished. What’s more, he rejected racial barriers that plagued the Church at that time. Blacks and whites worked together in apparent harmony under the direction of a black pastor, a marvel in the days of Jim Crow segregation. One commentator said: “At Azusa Street, the color line was washed away in the Blood.” Plus, he installed women as leaders, which was almost universally opposed at the time. Seymour dreamed that Azusa Street was creating a new kind of church, one where a common experience in the Holy Spirit tore down old walls of racial, ethnic, and denominational differences.

Much more [here].

September 21 – Henri Nouwen

From the Bible

Read Colossians 3:1-3

So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

About Henri Nouwen

On this day in 1996, Father Henri Nouwen died. Henri is a favorite author of many of us at Circle of Hope. Born in the Netherlands, he taught in universities abroad and at Yale, Harvard and Notre Dame. The last decade of his life, he spent in the L’Arche community of Toronto, sharing his life with community members with severe disabilities. Henri’s transparency, intelligence and faith brought him many readers. He has led many of us to deeply value solitude and contemplative practices. In this excerpt from The Way of the Heart Henri reflects on the call to solitude that led the Desert Fathers and Mothers (and us, still today) to understand their gifts by fleeing the shipwreck of the society of their day:

“ Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people’s fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives.”

Want more? The Henri Nouwen Society can tell you everything: http://www.henrinouwen.org/

September 5 – Teresa of Calcutta

From the Bible

Read Matthew 25:31-46

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

About Mother Teresa

Today is Teresa of Calcutta day.  ”By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”  She was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu on August 26, 1910 in Skopje, then part the Ottoman Empire (now capital of the Republic of Macedonia).  She took her first religious vows in 1931, her solemn vows in 1937 while teaching in Calcutta (the now-corrected Anglicization is Kolkata).

In 1936, while traveling through India, Sister Teresa received her call to help the poor while living among them.  She began a new work in 1948.  She had already learned Bengali, but she went further. She made her ”habit” a white sari with blue trim and became an Indian citizen while getting some basic medical training.  In 1950, she began an order that became the Missionaries of Charity with 13 nuns (now over 5,000 worldwide).  In 1952, she converted an old Hindu temple into the first Home for the Dying, a site for free hospice care.  She died of heart problems in 1997 after being a prolific fund raiser, Nobel Peace Prize Winner, missionary, author, and advocate for the global poor.

“In the West we have a tendency to be profit-oriented, where everything is measured according to the results and we get caught up in being more and more active to generate results. In the East — especially in India — I find that people are more content to just be, to just sit around under a banyan tree for half a day chatting to each other. We Westerners would probably call that wasting time. But there is value to it. Being with someone, listening wihtout a clock and without anticipation of results, teaches us about love. The success of love is in the loving — it is not in the result of loving. ” — from A Simple Path: Mother Teresa

More?

Video at Nobel Prize.org [link]

Interview with Malcolm Muggeridge and Mother Teresa. Muggeridge’s book Something Beautiful for God and film made Teresa famous. [link]

August 19 – Nicholas Black Elk

From the Bible

Read Acts 15:5-11

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

About Black Elk

On this day in 1950, Oglala Lakota medicine man Black Elk died, at age 87.  He lived,  along with his cousin Crazy Horse, during the last days of the Indian Wars – witnessing both the defeat of Custer at Little Big Horn and later in life the massacre at Wounded Knee.  Black Elk was part of the first generation of Lakotas to be confined to reservations.  The extreme poverty and communal responsibility were factors that led him to both join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show internationally and agree to be interviewed for the book he is best known for, the much debated Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt.  One of the major controversies with the work is the exclusion of Black Elk’s faith in Jesus and mission – as well as the withholding of payment for participation in the work.

As a medicine man, Black Elk had prepared to visit a dying boy in the village, only to encounter a Jesuit priest praying there first.  He encountered a power greater than his own, and accepted an invitation to spend time at the mission.  He was baptized Nicholas shortly after. As a Catholic Catechist (an often downplayed aspect of his life), he was widely considered an apostle to the plains Indians. Thousands of people were brought to the faith – both Indian and non-native, through his work and famous preaching.

His primary work was with new converts and as an evangelist alongside the priests — when priests were not available his duties included baptizing and burials.  His passion for Christ as the Creator and fulfiller of things drove him to vigorous and passionate study.  Nick thought that many of the Lakota spiritual traditions had come from God to teach them to live in a good way and that Christ made sense of all of it.  Many experts agree that his practice of the Christian faith, life, and mission were well-integrated with his worldview and practice as a Lakota.

One such integration is the change in the symbolism for the sun dance ceremony.  Traditionally, it was a time of fasting, prayer, and suffering in order to attain personal power for victory in battle.  It has become, and many credit Nicholas Black Elk for this shift, a ceremony of prayer and fasting on behalf of all the people – including enemies.  For Nick, it was a ceremony to remind the people of the suffering and death of Christ for all of creation.

Further Reading

Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism by Damian Costello

Short Article on his life and faith by Pat McNamera

August 16 – Charles Finney

From the Bible

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.

About Charles Finney

One time someone brought a shotgun to on of Charles Finney’s revival meetings, intending to kill him. May you cause that kind of trouble as you defy the powers.

Some people might not think Finney fits into the “cloud of witnesses” that make up our respected spiritual ancestors. He was the “father of modern revivalism.” He was the forerunner of Billy Graham in the sense that he popularized the “altar call” and other tactics we find a bit too coercive or manipulative. But his demands for living a truly Christian life, his determination to get something going, and his presumption that people could live up to their radical calling, is right up our alley. He also was among the first to have women and African Americans participating in his meetings as equals with white men.  One story is that the alter call’s original purpose was to come forward to sign petitions to abolish slavery.

The zenith of Finney’s evangelistic career was in the 1830′s during the Second Great Awakening. In Rochester, New York, he preached 98 sermons that caused a ruckus.  Shopkeepers closed their businesses, posting notices urging people to attend Finney’s meetings. Reportedly, the population of the town increased by two-thirds during the revival, and crime dropped by two-thirds over the same period. After that, he began an almost continuous revival in New York City as minister of the Second Free Presbyterian Church. In 1834, he moved into the huge Broadway Tabernacle his followers had built for him. He stayed there for only a year, leaving to pastor Oberlin Congregation Church in Ohio, and to teach theology at Oberlin College. In 1851, he was appointed president, which gave him a new forum to advocate social reforms he championed, especially abolition of slavery. Oberlin College, under his leadership, was the first college to admit woman and blacks to be educated with white men.

Finney married evangelism together with social reform, the New Testament evangelist with the Old Testament prophet, piety with radicalism, and conversion with a subsequent commitment to radical social reform.  He got people talking and acting. He was not content with them simply receiving or consuming.  His commitment to Jesus meant taking care of the poor and the needy, and his deep commitment to social reform was seen in the radicalism of Oberlin College and in his major push to end slavery.  Those he inspired continued to take risks in order to relate to each other and change the world.

Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.”