Monday, October 15, 2012

This Week's Lesser Feast Days

October 15: Teresa of Avila [1515-1582]

St. Teresa is one of the "originals" from the calendar that was in place before the Rome/England schism, and we still address those from that calendar as "saints". 

The Episcopal Church does not have a process or practice to assign sainthood to a particular individual; those who are saints are either those recognized in Christian tradition, such as the apostles and evangelists, or those of particular relation to the Celtic foundation of our distinct form of Christian faith.  While the Church of Rome has many, many saints on its calendar, we retained only those from prior to circa 1600, and even then not all.

Teresa was a rather normal young woman of the 16th century Spanish gentry.  Her family were pious Catholics, and she a serious Christian who also enjoyed a broad friendship.  If she had lived in the 21st century, I imagine one would find her at the mall surrounded by giggling friends, all of them madly texting one another.

During her teen years her beloved mother died and her father, as was the custom of the times, sent her to be educated by the Carmelite nuns.  The Carmelites were learned women known for their piety and academic ability and they found an apt pupil in Teresa.  She would eventually become a nun of their order.

While still a young woman, Teresa was struck with malaria.  In her feverish state, wracked with considerable pain, Teresa summoned a unique and purposeful relationship with God through prayer.  As she would later write:

“I bore these sufferings with great composure, in fact with joy, except at first when the pain was too severe. What followed seemed to hurt less. I was completely surrendered to the will of God even if he intended to burden me like this forever..... The other sisters wondered at my God-given patience. Without him I truly could not have borne so much with so much joy.” 

This experience would lead her into ecstatic visions in the depths of contemplative prayer.  She was encouraged to suppress any mention of this outside of the convent, as the general population, and the leaders of the Church of Rome, still believed in demonic possession and would have been disquieted by revelation of these experiences.

[A side note: I once had to drive John Updike, the author, to a hospital in Cleveland because his appendix began to burst during a lecture and recitation of his works at the Jesuit university where I happened to be a grad student at the time.  In the car, as we were speaking of saints like Teresa, he became quite jolly thinking what it would be like for a 20th century Lutheran pastor to suddenly announce to his congregation that he was having religious visions, hearing divine voices, and occasionally levitating.  His temperature was a little high, I guess.  We both laughed at what the reaction of his congregation and bishops might be.  The only difference from the time of Teresa was that he would be thought schizophrenic rather than demonic.  In a way, same difference.  I really did expect his next novel to address that scenario.  Alas....]

However, the power of her connection to God was obvious to her fellow sisters and she eventually started her own offshoot order of nuns, much more dedicated to simplicity and contemplative prayer with Teresa as the unquestioned teacher of all things holy.  Of her leadership style, she wrote the following:

“The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything."

You really can't improve on that, can you? 

In his book, On Mysticism, Sri Chimnoy notes the following:

"...Teresa of Avila offered to the world something profoundly mystical. Her mystical experience is the most successful culmination of the divine marriage between the aspiring soul and the liberating Christ, and it is here that man’s helpless crying will and God’s omnipotent all-fulfilling Will embrace each other.

Her collect in the Episcopal Church:

O God, by your Holy Spirit you moved Teresa of Avila to manifest to your Church the way of perfection: Grant us, we pray, to be nourished by her excellent teaching, and enkindle within us a keen and unquenchable longing for true holiness; through Jesus Christ, the joy of loving hearts, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

October 16: Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer

These three bishops were among the first in our distinctly Anglican tradition to be martyred.  Whenever contemporary Episcopal bishops and their remora fish begin to regard themselves as transgressive whenever they simply repeat the talking points of a secular political party that is favored by the majority of those to whom they "witness",  I think of what witness bishops used to offer to the faithful and how pale, wan, and sad is 21st century Christian bravery.

Hugh Latimer [Bishop of Worcester] and Nicholas Ridley [Bishop of Rochester] were burned at the stake together on October 16th, 1555, on the orders of Queen Mary Tudor.  A year later, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury was also martyred.  Cranmer was the author of the original Book of Common Prayer; the source of all subsequent versions of our most seminal and unique worship aid.

The site of Latimer and Ridley's martyrdom is commemorated in Oxford with the statue seen above.  There are many sources of information about these men, and I would encourage the readers to look here and here

If you are wondering why learned, pious, and good men such as these were slaughtered, it was just simple politics.  It always is, isn't it?

Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, that, like your servants, Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer, we may live in your fear, die in your favor, and rest in your peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

October 17: Ignatius of Antioch [?-107]

Ignatius was an early Patriarch of Antioch in the 2nd century who had been a student of John the apostle.  The Roman government was getting a little tired of these Christians and their antics, so they arrested Ignatius and had him fight wild beasts in the arena, where he would inevitably meet his death.  However, on the rather long trip from Antioch to Rome, he wrote a series of letters that were so powerful, faithful, and true, that the early Christians were energized rather than defeated.  Take that, Rome.

A comprehensive look at his writings may be found here.

Almighty God, we praise your Name for your Bishop and martyr Ignatius of Antioch, who offered himself as grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts that he might present to you the pure bread of sacrifice. Accept, we pray, the willing tribute of our lives and give us a share in the pure and spotless offering of your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

October 19: Henry Martyn [1781-1812]

Henry Martyn Forsook All for Christ

Martyn was a missionary of the Church of England in India in the early 19th century.  He died at the age of 31, no doubt from illnesses received in the sub-continent, but during his life of service did much to bring Christianity to the poor, the helpless, and the needy.  One of the reasons that Christianity is so strong in India is that Martyn produced a translation of the New Testament in both Hindi and Persian, along with an improvement upon a contemporary Arabic version of the same.  A very nice biography of Martyn may be found here.

O God of the nations, you gave your faithful servant Henry Martyn a brilliant mind, a loving heart, and a gift for languages, that he might translate the Scriptures and other holy writings for the peoples of India and Persia: Inspire in us a love like his, eager to commit both life and talents to you who gave them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen