As a Roman Catholic Theologian, and a student of philosophy, Saint Katherine of Alexandria is my patroness.
I have this image of her, painted by the renaissance master Raphael tattooed on my right arm.
Her legend tells us that she was born in Alexandria, Egypt around the year 287 CE, and that she died as a martyr during the reign of the Roman Emperor Maxentius c. 305.
She was broken on the wheel; she was tied to it, impaled on its spikes, and crushed beneath it as it was rolled through the streets.
Katherine was only eighteen years old but gifted with a rare intellect. She was from a wealthy family and used her fortune to hold salons where she invited pagan philosophers to debate with her and other Christian scholars on matters concerning the central tenets of the faith and the doctrines of the Church.
Katherine is always depicted in the saffron and ochre robes of the philosopher, which had been the tradition throughout the ancient Near East and Hellenistic Civilization since at least the time of Socrates (mid-fourth century BCE). It is likely that these colors, and their association with philosophy come from the Buddhist missionaries travelling west from as early as the sixth century BCE.
Oscar Romero became the Arch Bishop of San Salvador in 1977, at the age of sixty.
He was assassinated three years later.
He was murdered because her refused to give up his ministerial work on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised people of his country, killed for speaking out against the abuses they suffered at the hands of the ruling class, conditions of systemic poverty and virtual slavery with no recourse to the law or justice of any kind; they endured forced internment, torture and the imposition of the State in their religious life, including denying them the right to worship and receive the sacraments. Oscar Romero stood against these abuses and for that he was martyred.
Saint Romero was considered to be a scholarly and aesthetic man whose appointment to the Arch Bishopric was intended to be un-controversial and un-threatening to the political regime of El Salvador.
They were wrong.
Once he was elevated to that position of trust and authority he began to speak out against the abuses of power he witnessed the people enduring every single day.
In his sermons, his writings and his radio program he spoke out against them:
“In less than three years, more than fifty priests have been attacked, threatened, calumniated. Six are already martyrs–they were murdered. Some have been tortured and others expelled [from the country]. Nuns have also been persecuted. The archdiocesan radio station and educational institutions that are Catholic or of a Christian inspiration have been attacked, threatened, intimidated, even bombed. Several parish communities have been raided. If all this has happened to persons who are the most evident representatives of the Church, you can guess what has happened to ordinary Christians, to the campesinos, catechists, lay ministers, and to the ecclesial base communities. There have been threats, arrests, tortures, murders, numbering in the hundreds and thousands…. But it is important to note why [the Church] has been persecuted. Not any and every priest has been persecuted, not any and every institution has been attacked. That part of the church has been attacked and persecuted that put itself on the side of the people and went to the people’s defense. Here again we find the same key to understanding the persecution of the church: the poor.”
Saint Romero bore witness to these atrocities while they were happening and because of it he was murdered.
Soon we may be called to stand-up and bear witness to the abuses of our own government, against the dismantling of our democracy, the abandonment of constitutional government and human rights abuses not seen in this country in generations.
Sometimes I get ahead of myself, I think we all do at times, we project what we want to see, over and against the reality of what is, as in the title of this piece.
Mother Theresa of Calcutta; the patron saint of doubters.
In truth, the Church has named Mother Theresa the Patron Saint of World Catholic Youth Day, and that is fair: in her time the good mother inspired many young people, providing that inspiration through her life of austerity and selflessness; she inspired many of us to good things, to want to be good people, to emulate her in that way.
She was a tiny woman, but she was strong. She inspires through her strength and her commitment to her ideals, despite the painful realities that she experienced and despite her understanding that the suffering she sought to ease would never cease, and her knowledge that the suffering of the world has no end.
We must be like the wise mother and pray for strength, pray for wisdom, for understanding and perseverance. Mother Theresa did not expect that by praying for these things God would transform her, or that God would give her supernatural powers, but that the act of praying would fortify her, that it would give her the strength she needed to get through the day, her day, each and every day.
Mother Theresa was sainted for her life-long commitment to the good, to serving the poor, for setting an example of patience and endurance; for setting such a strong example that if each of the rest of us were able to approximate a small degree of her fundamental stance toward justice and compassion, to give a small part of ourselves over to the healing of the world, the world might stop spinning in its spiral of violence and in that moment we might see something of the true glory that belongs the God of peace and mercy and grace.
It is right and good to praise God, the creator of the universe, because creation is miraculous and mysterious, and beyond the scope of human comprehension.
And while it is right and good to praise God, to doubt God’s purpose in the world is not a sin. Mother Theresa taught us this, she taught that doubt it is a natural movement the heart, beating within the breast of a person who loves, of someone who confronts the pain and suffering in the world and subsequently falls into despair.
It is not sinful to doubt God or God’s purpose in the world, neither is it sinful to doubt the traditions of the Church, its doctrines and decrees and decretals.
The Good Mother taught us this, and so let us be clear about a few things:
God is not a giver of victories. God has no enemies. In God, within whom all things exist and have their being…there is no conflict.
It is not God’s justice that is shown in the work of human beings, it is human justice, and when human justice approximates the justice of God, it is expressed in mercy and compassion and that is good, The Good Mother taught us to aspire to things even in the midst of human misery and despair.
Pope Francis, canonized Mother Theresa on September the 4th, 2016, on the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, her feast was celebrated for the first time and from that day forward, on the 5th of September, which is today.
Christians of every stripe, and non-Christian alike, remember Saint Theresa for her desire to embrace all people, no matter how flawed or marginalized they might be, and all people will remember this brilliant woman, servant and sister, this theologian; they will remember her for her brilliance which grows even greater in her afterlife.
God chose her, as God chooses all of; God chose her from the beginning, to receive the sanctifying spirit, he created her in the divine image, placing within her a seed of the eternal Word to enliven her. God made her this way, in the same way that God makes everyone, but what made the sainted mother different from most of the rest of us was that she saw the truth of it clearly, and in seeing it she understood her purpose in the world. The Good Mother saw the divine image in the people she bent down to serve, she saw the face of God in the poor and the sick, in the blind and the leper, she saw God suffering in them and she responded with the love God had instructed her in.
Mother Theresa is famous for her service and her impressive life, and the inspiration she gave to millions of people, and when I reflect on the life of Saint Theresa of Calcutta, it is her memoirs, which were published after her death, which had the greatest impact on me.
Saint Theresa struggled, like all of us do, with the sense that God had abandoned her, She felt at times as if God had abandoned the world. She managed to do the good works she did, to serve the Church and all of its members, to fulfill her commitment to her order, to lead them; to make of her life a daily sacrifice even in the midst of her own profound doubt and great personal suffering, as she experienced the suffering of other’s (which she shared).
In consideration of her experience she lived with a deep-felt sense of alienation from God.
Saint Theresa persevered in goodness even in the face of her doubts, she admitted to the pain that she brought to others, even as she tried to serve them, she confess and ask forgiveness and they allowed her to lead them. She bore witness to the suffering of the world, she held God accountable for it in her heart, and yet she still followed the calling of the Spirit despite her indictment of the divine, and that is why she will be known as the Patron Saint of Doubters.
Mother Theresa was different from the disciples who followed Jesus and witnessed his miraculous life. Her example of how to fulfill the Christian life in the face of the deepest doubts is what makes her life exemplary, a life that will continue to shine on us long after the sun has collapsed and human beings are scattered throughout the galaxy.
We will carry the memory of Saint Theresa of Calcutta with us, as a light shining in the darkness.
There is something historically significant about her relationship to her doubts that we would all do well to be mindful of. We see it reflected in the history of Christianity in India, which has always been connected to the missionary work of the Apostle Thomas, who is in fact the patron saint of doubters, who struggled to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, and did not accept it until he placed his own fingers into the wounds Christ bore, the wounds which still marred his body even after he was reborn.
Augustine of Hippo is arguably the most influential Christian writer of all time, with the possible exception of Saint Paul whose epistles are the earliest Christian writings, and which delineated for the nascent church its primary creeds and basic beliefs concerning who Jesus was and why his life and death were meaningful to us.
It is possible that Augustine is more influential than Paul because Augustine’s interpretation of Paul’s letters have dominated Christian thought since his time.
Augustine’s life spanned the mid-fourth century to the mid-fifth century CE. He entered the Church just at the Christianity was completing its transformation into the official religion of the Empire, and the indispensable administrative apparatus of the same. Saint Augustine’s fixed that transformative process into the structures that we recognize today.
Augustine was midway through his career as a public servant before he converted to Christianity, entered the priesthood and was made a bishop.
All of which happened in rapid succession. It only took him four years to go from priest to bishop.
His mother was a Christian, but his father was not, and his father had wanted him to have a regular career in the traditional Roman mode of life. Augustine adhered to his father’s wishes for a time, but at the beginning of the fifth Century the Empire was in a process of conversion and all of the good jobs were going to Christians. Eventually he converted, only after becoming convinced that he would have a good career in the Church, and would only encounter dead ends outside of it.
His gambit paid off, they put him on the fast track to Bishop.
Augustine was a prolific writer, in the modern day he is most famous for his Confessions, and his magnum opus, The City of God.
He worked tirelessly against heretical groups like the Manicheans, the Pelagians and the Donatists.
He penned the controversial doctrine of creation ex nihillo, as apart of his seminal teaching on original sin. In addition to this, he gave the Church its teaching on sacramental theology, and he argued for the authority of the Church in all matters private and public.
His theology would dominate Christian thinking up until the scholastic period, but Saint Thomas Aquinas, the most influential of the scholastic theologians leans heavily on Augustine for nearly all of his views, which is to say that Augustine continued to exercise an indirect influence on the church as the preeminent standard of orthodoxy.
Scholastic theologians often deviated from the logic of Augustine, but on the occasion that they might draw a different conclusion from Augustine, they often ran afoul of the hierarchy.
By the time of the protestant reformation, both Martin Luther and John Calvin believed that their work represented a realignment of the church with Saint Augustine, and Saint Augustine’s theology continued to dominate protestant thinking.
In my own work, Saint Augustine stands as my principle opponent.
His doctrine of original sin, his doctrine of double predestination, his teaching that torture can be considered a form of charity if it brings someone to the point of conversion are anathema to the way, and represent a stark contradistinction to the life and ministry of Jesus.
Saint Augustine of Hippo has the title of Angelic Doctor of the Church, but he was a villain, he was brutal and cruel, and a hypocrite of the highest order. He should be read in that light.
I attended graduate school at a Benedictine university, Saint John’s in Collegeville, Minnesota. It is located on the grounds of the largest Benedictine congregation in the world; I studied theology there: Church History and Systematics.
The monastery at Saint John’s was home to Godfrey Dieckmann, whose liturgical reform movement in the early to mid-twentieth century had significant influence on the Second Vatican Council and changed the way worship is conducted, and the celebration of the mass throughout the world.
His reforms represented a return to the practices of the early Christians and the ante-nicene era.
While I was at Saint John’s I taught world religions at the preparatory school, I wrote my master’s thesis on the topic of universal salvation, which elicited a great deal of interest from my teachers and classmates, and my work was well regarded.
I took courses on medieval monastic history, monastic spirituality and one course specifically related to the Rule of Saint Benedict, from which I have taken one of the phrases that I use most often in my ongoing theological work.
Which means listen!
It is a phrase which I use interchangeably with: Be mindful!
Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Benedict, who purportedly lived between the late fifth-century and the mid sixth-century CE.
What we know of the life of Saint Benedict comes mostly from the writing of Saint Pope Gregory the first, or Gregory the Great. It is not exactly a biography but rather a reflection on the idealized life of an abbot, most of which is a fiction written c. 593 CE.
Nevertheless, Benedict, real or imagined, produced a Rule (a guide for community living) that became the basis of western monasticism.
Benedicts Rule, enjoins the monk to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, a commitment to work, and a studious, meditative reflection on the psalms.
The life of Benedict, and the writing attributed to him has influenced the lives of thousands upon millions of people.
I am one of them, and I am thankful for Gregory who had the temerity to invent such a person who was noble in his humility.
Not all Christians celebrate the lives of the Saints, but many do, and today is the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, who after Jesus were the principle founders of the Church.
We celebrate their feast on the day of their ascension, which is most often the day of their death, in the case of Peter and Paul it is the date they were martyred, the day they were killed as enemies of the Roman State.
Their influence on Christian doctrine was greater than Jesus’, more enduring. Paul, through his letters wrote the core pieces of Christian Doctrine, and Peter was the first pope, the Bishop of Rome, and Patriarch of the Latin Church.
Peter and Paul did not always see eye to eye, though Peter bore the title of chief among the disciples, Paul was the greater teacher and more closely approximated the way of Christ.
As I mentioned, Peter is given credit for founding the church of Rome, the lore of the Church tells us that he was its first bishop, this is a myth however, that title was not even in use during Peter’s day.
It is accepted as true that both men were put to death in Rome, martyred there on account of their commitment to the Church and its mission, they were mot put to death so much for the content of their beliefs, but for leading the kind of secretive society that was feared by the emperors of Rome. Christians were perceived as a threat that has to be curtailed.
Paul was a Roman citizen, he travelled broadly throughout the empire and for from his home of Tarsus. He founded many churches in the eastern Mediterranean and Asia Minor, his letters are the earliest known Christian writings, and though not all of those ascribed to him were written by him, Paul’s actual influence is imeasureable.
A casual observer of history may find this odd because Paul he never met Jesus, and prior to his conversion he was the type of man who would punish other members of his community if they were not properly observing the traditions of his synagogue, Christians were his chief target.
After Paul’s conversion to Christianity he led the mission to the gentiles, opening the teachings of the church to the masses, he made it so that a person did not need to become Jewish first in order to become a Christian.
Peter initially opposed him in this but once their dispute was settled at a meeting in Jerusalem officiated by Jesus’ own brother Saint James, the matter was settled and the gentiles were allowed the full franchise of membership in the community of the blessed.
Irenaeus served as the bishop of Lugdum (now Lyons), in France. He was born c. 130 CE and died c. 202 CE, serving during the Apostolic era, and he is listed in the ranks of the martyrs of the Church, though the details of martyrdom are unknown.
Irenaeus was a prolific writer. He was connected to the Bishop Polycarp who was himself connected to the Apostle John, making him only three steps removed from the ministry of Jesus.
Irenaeus’ surviving works show how he was deeply committed to the unity of Christian doctrine. He ardently opposed the heretical sects of groups like the loosely affiliated Gnostics, as well as the Montanists, and he was among the first to argue for the doctrine of apostolic succession, positing that a bishop of the church should stand in an unbroken line of succession that goes back to the first apostles.
What is most important about Irenaeus’ work is something referred to as the Irenaean theodicy, this is why I lift him up and write about him.
Theodicy is the specific field of theological work devoted to understanding the problem of evil, and its ultimate resolution by God.
The Irenaean theodicy was the leading doctrine in the church up until the time that it was supplanted by Augustine’s teaching on original sin, three centuries later, after which Saint Augustine’s teaching became normative throughout the Christian world.
St. Augustine suggests that creation was made perfect and without blemish, and then there was a fall into sin, which came from nowhere and nothing resulting in a degree of chaos and disorder which completely separates creation from God. Whereas Irenaeus posited that the though the world is fallen it is not wholly fallen, making it so that the breach is not irreparable, putting forward that God’s plan for the resolution of evil is to slowly draw all things to the divine.
For saint Irenaeus the perfection of the created order happens as a process of assimilation, which he calls recapitulation, imagining that each individual-being is on a journey, coming ever closer to God; as we draw near our imperfections fall away.
Irenaeus’ theology, which was never condemned, provides a strong theological grounding for the theology of universal salvation which has persisted as a teaching among Christians from the very beginning of the Church, though only among a stark minority.
John came, and john bore witness to the light
John, born in darkness as all of us are
John saw the light, shing in the deep night
Comforted by its warmth, John felt it first
Feeling it while he was still in the womb
Kicking in the waters, as the light dawned
John was not a man prone to vanity
You would not have seen him chasing the wind
Like a servant, John harvested honey
Faithful to the way, not puffed up with pride
John was a friend and brother to Jesus
The elder cousin of the messiah
Herald and prophet, man of the desert
John turned to us, saying reflect, repent
He came like an angel, with a pure heart
A divine messenger, pointing the way
The way is not in stillness or silence
The way is a path of service and love
He took on the burden and paid the price
John showed us how to stand against power
He came into the world ahead of Christ
Drawing breath while he listened in the womb
The breath he drew was ruha, the spirit
Holy Sophia filled John with wisdom
John lived and breathed, washed in the divine flame
Dipping his cup in the fountain of life
Walking with him, by whom all things were made
John’s path was the way of humility
Obedient, unphased by paradox
Born first, and the first to be sacrificed
He lived by the Jordan, serving the light
Not perplexed, or tempted to turn away
He saw in his cousin the end of night
He made a place for him in the desert
He prepared the way as God’s own herald
Ministering to the sick and grieving
Jesus and John. the Son and the herald
Working together in the name of God
Baptizing all into the way of peace
Bathing their flock in the way, in the light
Keeping to their mission even to death
John showed us the way, turn and be blessed!
Today we celebrate the life Saint Romuald, I lift up his memory for one reason in particular, and that is this:
The man was a realist and he encouraged a sense of realism among his followers.
He was an outspoken critic of the way the lives of the saints were written about and disseminated, he could not tolerate the popular tradition of the hagiography, replete with their embellishments, miracle stories which he flatly called out for the lies that they were.
His criticism of the tradition merits our respect.
Romuald was a member of an aristocratic family, he lived between the mid tenth and early eleventh century CE. He was the founder of the Camaldolese order, in the Benedictine tradition.
He had a wild youth and was said to have given himself over to the sins of the flesh, but later he became credited for breathing new life into eremitical and aesthetic monasticism.
He became a hermit.
He is said to have founded and or reformed many monastic institutions, though not all of his work was successful.
Through the promulgation of his rule he encouraged monks under his care to lead solitary lives, engaged in mediation and the interior reflection on the self. He was interested in the process of a person’s inner thoughts. He encouraged his followers to watch and be mindful of their thoughts as if they were watching fish in a stream.
In this way he was like a Zen master.
Romuald was heavily influenced by the Orthodox practice of hesychasm, which has also been associated with quietism, both of which highlight the long standing practice of deep mediation in the Christian tradition, which puts it his teaching on par with the practices of Buddhist monks in the Himalayas and Japan.
Saint Columba, Saint Columban, Saint Columbanus; by whatever name you would like to refer to him, he was an Irishman and as such it is fitting that he is the patron saint of poets, because poetry flows through the Irish blood, and the Irish call him Colmcile.
What we know of the life of Colmcile has been magnified by myth, taken on a supernatural bearing through the typical aggrandizements that characterize the hagiographies of the saints, but Columba was famous for his non-supernatural work above all, for his missionary work and building monasteries in Scotland among the Picts.
The timeline of Colmcile’s life crosses over with that of another famous Irish Saint named Columbanus (the Latinized version of Columba, Columban) , Columbanus was also famous for his missionary work, and building monasteries on the continent, in Frankia and Burgundia, and as far South as Lombardy.
Colmcile’s is said to have lived in the mid 6th century CE, while Columbanus’ time lime extends to the early 7th century.
Both men are believed to have set out from Ireland to do their missionary work in in the company of twelve companions, like Jesus with his disciples. Colmcile’s work is said to have been concentrated in Scotland, and Columbanus work is said to have begun in Scotland but then it was quickly transported to the European Mainland.
There is a listing of the names of Colmcile’s companions, on this list are the names are those of Columbanus the Younger and a man known as Cummain.
Two things have been suggested by modern historians: one suggestion is that Columbanus the younger is actually the Columbanus who continued the missionary work on the continent in the name of Columbanus the elder, who was actually Colmcile or Saint Columba, the other suggestion is that all of the deeds committed by Columbanus (the elder and the younger), Columban, Columba, Colmcile and Cummain are the deeds of one person, a person who was a prolific writer.
Two of Colmcile’s poems have survived and it is for this reason that he is the Patron Saint of Poetry. He is also considered to be the founder of the abbey at Iona which preserved so much of the historical deposit of ancient writing through the dark ages.