Shrine of St. Frideswide, Christ Church Cathedral Oxford.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October 28, Feast of Sts. Simon and Jude

Le Martyre de Saint Simon et Saint Jude. French medieval illumination.

Jude, or Jude Thaddeus, was one of the original twelve apostles of Jesus. His mother, Mary, is known as as a sister of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After the Pentecost, Jude brought the gospel to the Armenians along with St. Bartholomew after preaching in Judea and Syria. Simon, to be distinguished from Simon-Peter, but also one of the twelve, evangelized in Egypt and in other parts of northern and eastern Africa, where he became known to the Berbers. He then made his way back to Judea and into Syria. In A.D. 65 both St. Simon and St. Jude were martyred in the roman city of Beirut.

Monday, October 17, 2011

October 17; Feast of St. Etheldreda, Abbes of Ely

Stained Glass of Etheldreda holding her church at Ely

St. Etheldreda was born around the Fenlands in of Mercia and East Anglia in 636. She married King Tondberct of the Fens early on but remained chaste. He presented Etheldreda with the Isle of Ely, to which she retired after hi death. She was, however, remarried to Ecgfrith, King of the Northumbrians but soon ran away to become a nun. Ecgfrith was not going to let her get away, so he pursued her. But when Etheldreda heard of his intent, she quickly fled back to the Isle of Ely where she established a double monastery. When King Ecgfrith finally arrived the sea became rough and a storm came off the North Sea so that he was unable to cross to the isle. Etheldreda was left in peace and continued to expand an build up the Monastery at Ely. When she died she was remembered as a holy person, and she was buried in a white marble tomb. Ely Cathedral became a great center of pilgrimage in the middle ages as hundreds flocked to her shrine. She still lies in Ely although the shrine was destroyed and Ely Cathedral remains a holy place for this purpose.

Friday, October 14, 2011

October 15; St. Teresa of Avila

Bernini's St. Teresa in Ecstasy. 
St. Teresa was a Carmelite nun born in 1515 outside the Castilian city of Avila. Her Grandfather was a Jew making her family converts. As a child Teresa was inspired by the faith of the saints particularly martyrs and at age seven, trying to escape to the Moorish lands, was eager to display the same faith along with her older brother. She quickly returned to Avila, however, and became a nun in a Carmelite convent. There she came down with an illness which increased her faith and she became penitent. What followed was a series of visions culminating in an appearance of Christ him self. She recorded the experience writing,

"I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it..."

Teresa spent much of the rest of her life writing several books on theological subjects, including prayer, aestheticism, mysticism, and the soul, all in reaction to her visions. Her new thinking lead her to push reform for the Carmelite Order in Spain. She began to establish new monasteries under a rule even more strict than the regular rule. The first of such monasteries was the convent of San Jose in Avila, its members taking a vow of absolute, apostolic poverty. They lived among and for the poor, and since they were shoe-less  they came to be known as the "Discalced Carmelites." Throughout the 1560s, Teresa was granted permission to spread her order, which was unpopular because of its renunciation of property, not only on an individual basis but on a communal basis. Teresa, joined by another mystic, St. John of the Cross, traveled all over Spain and established monasteries for both men and women. The last of her seventeen convents was the Convent of the Annunciation in Alba de Torres, where she also spent time on writing about her visions and revelations before her death. 

The example that St. Teresa has left for the Church is essential to the Church's mission; to its likeness to Christ. It is the willingness of people like Teresa to live to help other, dedicating their lives to do Christ's work, that helps carry the Church from generation to generation. The Church is the body of Christ, and therefore its actions must be as true to Christ's actions as the human condition permits. St. Teresa's mission embodies a reciprocal relationship: the Church's duty is to draw people under its protective wing, in doing so it must comfort them with the saving words of Christ, and in doing that it draws them into his body; the Church. 

Merciful God, who by your spirit raised up your servant Teresa of Avila to reveal to your Church the way of perfection: grant that her teaching may awaken in us a longing for holiness, until we attain to the perfect union of love in Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

-Festivals and Lesser Festivals of the Church of England. 

In just 2008, the first Carmelite convent in the Episcopal Church was established in Rising Sun Maryland. The Convent is dedicated as The Episcopal Carmel of St. Teresa of Avila. It is a growing community, and it serves as a first for a hopeful revival in the Anglican Church for the religious life, dedicated to the work of Christ and prayer for our Church and our world. 

October 13th; Feast of St. Edward the Confessor

Medieval manuscript showing pilgrims at St. Edward's shrine.

St. Edward lived from about 1005 to 1066 and was the last great Saxon King. He was the son of Ethelred Unread and Emma of Normandy distantly relating him to Duke William of Normandy. Growing up in the disruption of his father's turbulent reign and enduring the last stretch of viking attacks with the occupation by King Canute of Denmark, Edward grew up to be very faithful in belief and in his actions as king. He endowed and rebuilt an abbey at what was then called Thorny Island and called the church the "West Minster" because it was west of London. There are several miracles associated with Edward, the most famous being that he came across a beggar out side a church dedicated to St. John the Evangelist, Edward presented his ring to him after he asked for alms. Yet  later the ring was presented back to some pilgrims traveling in the Holy Land by a man claiming to be St. John. The man asked them to return the ring to Edward and to tell him that they would be meeting in 6-months time. Edward died 6 months later on January 5, 1066. He was buried in his church at Westminster where his relics remain enshrined in the medieval tomb.

St. Edward the Confessor reminds us, along with other pious kings such as St. Louis or St. Henry II, that no matter how well known we are, how high profile our lives or jobs may be it is important that we outwardly confess our faith just as much as we inwardly practice it. These kings lived in a society where a pious leader was admired, but their positions also tested their faith. We now live in a time where it can be, in some cases, 'unpopular' to be openly Christian, and that religion should be restrained to one's private life. But the Christian faith was not meant to be hidden or private, and it has certainly suffered times where it was 'unpopular' before. We must then, as St. Edward did, live our lives, both private and public, ever-mindful of Christ and our faith in him.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

October 12th, Feast of St. Wilfrid of York

Stained glass in Chichester Cathedral, depicting St. Wilfrid

St. Wilfrid was born in the kingdom of Northumbria in 633. After becoming a monk at Lindisfarne, he traveled around studying in different ecclesiastical centers in England and the continent. He returned to Northumbria establishing  a monastery Ripon, now a Cathedral, and argued for the Roman rites and calculations of Easter at the controversial Synod of Whitby causing much distress among the Celtic Church which had been taken on in the north of the Kingdom and accepted by the royal family. Eventually the roman side won, and many of the Celtic monks at Lindisfarne returned to Iona from whence they had been called by King Oswald. Wilfrid was rewarded for his argument at the synod and appointed to the episcopal see of York. As the premier bishop of Northumbria he had jurisdiction over the other northern bishoprics. Wilfrid left to be consecrated in Gaul but did not return for several years and as a result St. Cedda of Lichfield was installed as the Bishop. He was more concerned about the state of the diocese, but when Wilfrid returned Cedda was deposed and returned to be bishop of Lichfield. Be for Wilfrid's death in 709, he established another monastery at Hexham, which became a bishopric under the supervision of St. Theodore of Canterbury. The holiness of Wilfrid is often disputed, many think that his argument during the Synod of Whitby was not genuine; that his reason for canceling the rites of the Celtic Church was really an impetus for power, which he later revived as Bishop of York. Even as Bishop, however, Wilfrid seemed to neglect his diocese and recognize it only as a title.