1 December.  Nicholas FerrarDeacon, (1592-1637).  Nicholas Ferrar was the founder of a religious community at Little Gidding, Huntingdonshire, England, which existed from 1626 to 1646.  His family had been prominent in the affairs of the Virginia Company, but when that company was dissolved, he took deacon’s orders, and retired to the country.  At Little Gidding, his immediate family and a few friends and servants gave themselves wholly to religious observance, similar to that of a monastic community.  They restored the derelict church near the manor house, became responsible for services there, taught many of the local children, and looked after the health and well-being of the people of the neighborhood.  A regular round of prayer according to the Book of Common Prayer was observed, along with the daily recital of the whole of the Psalter.  The members of the community became widely known for fasting, private prayer and meditation, and for writing stories and books illustrating themes of Christian faith and morality.  One of the most interesting of the activities of the Little Gidding community was the preparation of “harmonies” of the Gospels, one of which was presented to King Charles I by the Ferrar family.  The community did not long survive the death of Nicholas Ferrar.  However, the memory of the religious life at Little Gidding was kept alive, principally through Izaak Walton’s description in his Life of George Herbert:  “He (Ferrar) and his family … did most of them keep Lent and all Ember-weeks strictly, both in fasting and using all those mortifications and prayers that  the Church hath appointed … and he and they did the like constantly on Fridays, and on the vigils or eves appointed to be fasted before the Saints’ days; and this frugality and abstinence turned to the relief of the poor …”  The community became an important symbol for many Anglicans when religious orders began to revive.  Its life inspired T.S. Eliot, and he gave the title, “Little Gidding,” to the last of his Four Quartets, one of the great religious poems of the twentieth century.  Puritans burned the buildings of his settlement and destroyed his writings. 

 

Collect:  Lord God, make us worthy of your perfect love; that, with your deacon Nicholas Ferrar and his household, we may rule ourselves according to your Word, and serve you with our whole heart; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. 

 

2 December.  Charles de Foucauld, Hermit and Martyr in the Sahara, (1858-1916).  Charles de Foucauld, sometimes referred to as Brother Charles of Jesus, was the inspiration behind the founding of new religious communities for both men and women and is often credited with the revival of desert spirituality in the early twentieth century.  Born in France in 1858, Charles was orphaned at age six and raised by his grandparents.  As a young man he lost his faith, and in spite of the discipline of his grandfather, whom he deeply respected, Charles lived a life that was a curious mix of laxity and stubbornness.  Against advice, he took a risk-laden journey to Morocco in the early 1880’s.  There he encountered devout Muslims whose practice of their faith inspired Charles to begin a search for the faith that was his own.  Upon returning to France, he continued his quest, and in 1886, at age 28, re-discovered God and made a new commitment that would guide the rest of his life.  A pilgrimage to the Holy Land deepened his commitment still further.  Charles entered the Cistercian Order of Strict Observance, the Trappists, first in France and then in Syria, a commitment of seven years.  He then returned to the Holy Land and lived as a servant to the convent of the Poor Clares in Nazareth.  It was there that he began to develop a life of solitude, prayer, and adoration.  The Poor Clares saw in him a vocation to the priesthood, encouraged him in spite of his reluctance, and Charles was ordained a priest in 1901.  Charles then moved to the Sahara where his desire was to live a “ministry of presence” among “the furthest removed, the most abandoned.”  He believed his call was to live among those whose faith and culture differed from his own.  To witness to Christ among them was not to be eloquent preaching or missionary demands, but “to shout the Gospel with his life.”  Charles sought to live so that those who saw his life would ask, “If such is the servant, what must the Master be like?”  His intense desire was simply to follow Jesus and to live among the poor.  He was not aware of having ever converted anyone, and yet after his death, the complete happiness of this utterly unpretentious and joyful man inspired countless fraternities that emphasize simplicity, a spirit of adoration before God and of presence to outcasts and the friendless. 

 

Charles is most known for his “Prayer of Abandonment”: 

“Father, 

I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. 

Whatever you may do, I thank you: 

I am ready for all, I accept all. 

Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures. 

I wish no more than this, O Lord.  

Into your hands I commend my soul; 

I offer it to you 

with all the love of my heart, 

for I love you, Lord, 

and so need to give myself, 

to surrender myself into your hands, 

without reserve, 

and with boundless confidence, 

for you are my Father.” 

 

Collect:  Loving God, who restored the Christian faith of Charles de Foucauld through an encounter with Islam in North Africa and sustained him in the desert where he had great impact upon many with his witness of presence:  Help us to know you wherever we find you, that with him, we may be faithful unto death; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 

 

2 December.  Channing Moore Williams, Missionary Bishop in China and Japan, (1829-1910).  Bishop Williams, a farmer’s son, was born in Richmond, Virginia and brought up in straitened circumstances by his widowed mother.  He attended the College of William and Mary and the Virginia Theological Seminary.  Ordained deacon in 1855, he offered himself for work in China, where he was ordained priest in 1857.  Two years later, he was sent to Japan and opened work in Nagasaki.  His first convert was baptized in 1866, the year he was chosen bishop for both China and Japan.  After 1868, he decided to concentrate all his work in Japan, following the revolution that opened the country to renewed contact with the western world.  Relieved of his responsibility for China in 1874, Williams made his base at Yedo (now Tokyo), where he founded a divinity school, later to become St. Paul’s University.  At a synod in 1887 he helped bring together the English and American missions to form the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, the Holy Catholic Church of Japan, when the Church there numbered fewer than a thousand communicants.  Williams translated parts of the Prayer Book into Japanese; and he was a close friend and warm supporter of Bishop Schereschewsky, his successor in China, in the latter’s arduous work of translating the Bible into Chinese.  After resigning his jurisdiction in 1889, Bishop Williams stayed in Japan to help his successor there, Bishop John McKim, who was consecrated in 1893.  Williams lived in Kyoto and continued to work in the opening of new mission stations until his return to America in 1908.  He died in Richmond, Virginia, on December 2, 1910. 

 

Collect:  Almighty and everlasting God, we thank you for your servant Channing Moore Williams, whom you called to preach the Gospel to the people of China and Japan.  Raise up in this and every land evangelists and heralds of your kingdom, that your Church may proclaim the unsearchable riches of our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. 

 

3 December.  Francis Xavier, Missionary to the Far East, (1506-1552).  Francis Xavier was one of the great missionaries of the church.  Born is Spain in 1506, he studied locally before taking up university studies in Paris in 1526, receiving a master’s degree in 1530.  While in Paris he met Ignatius Loyola and, together with a small group of companions, they bound themselves together for the service of God on August 15, 1534, the beginning of what would later become the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits.  After further theological study, Francis and Ignatius were ordained together in 1537.  As the nuncio to the east for the King of Portugal, John III, Francis went to India, arriving at Goa on the western coast in 1542.  He later moved south and traveled as well to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and the Molucca Islands, now Indonesia.  For seven years he labored among the people there, winning many converts to the faith, baptizing, teaching, and trying to ease the suffering of the people.  His efforts were not always well received.  New Christians were often abused and enslaved and sometimes killed.  In 1549 Francis moved on to the southern region of Japan and immediately set about learning the language and preparing a catechism to support his missionary efforts.  In time he moved north to the imperial capital, Kyoto, and made an effort to see the Mikado, the Japanese emperor.  Civil strife and localized resistance made Francis’ Japanese efforts difficult, but he came away from the experience with a deep sense of respect for the people and their culture.  After returning to India 1551, Francis was appointed the Jesuit Provincial for India, but he was not satisfied only to maintain the work already begun.  He immediately set out for China, at the time closed to foreigners, in hopes of launching new missionary efforts there.  He set up camp near the mouth of the Canton River in August 1552, hoping to secure passage into the country.  Later that year he took ill and died, at age forty-six, on December 3, 1552.  His remains were later transferred back to Goa, India.  Whereas later missionaries focused upon converting first the upper classes, Francis began with working-class people.  He once remarked that the only thing preventing the conversion of everyone around him was simply the absence of someone to tell them about Jesus. 

 

“Daily Exercise of a Christian”, by St. Francis Xavier:  “To souls desirous of eternal salvation.  The Christian who is not satisfied to be one merely in name, but who would truly and practically act up to what he professes, should on awaking in the morning turn his mind to make three acts especially due to God and pleasing to Him.  The first is the confession and adoration of the most Holy Trinity, the mystery of God one in Nature, three in Persons.  The profession and confession of three divine Persons in one Essence is the distinctive mark of the Christian faith, and this we openly declare by making the sign of the cross and pronouncing at the same time the names of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, as the Church teaches her children to do, if only we accompany the movement of our hand and the sound of the tongue by devotion and attention of mind.  The moment you awake, therefore, sign yourself on the forehead and the breast, and pronounce at the same time the solemn invocation of the Holy Trinity, with the deepest reverence of a devout mind, so to adore God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, One Eternal Almighty God Infinite in goodness.  The second duty is the exercise of the three theological virtues, thus to consecrate to our Creator the first fruits, as it were, of the day, and to gain to ourselves beforehand His favor which we so much need for everything.  Repeat, therefore, the Creed, pronouncing each of the articles with your whole heart, and making an act of the strongest adhesion to all the dogmas it contains concerning the nature of God, the divine Persons, the Incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the holy Church, and all the rest, saying in your heart as you give utterance to the words:  O my God, Three Persons in one God, I believe in my heart all that the holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church believes and teaches concerning Thee; all that she believes and teaches concerning the Son of the eternal Father, Who for me was made man, suffered, died, and rose again, and Who reigns in Heaven with the Father and the Holy Spirit: and all the other articles of faith which this holy Church teaches and processes.  I am ready to lose everything, to suffer all violence, and more than that, to pour forth my blood and my life, rather than allow this faith to be torn from me, or allow the least doubt as to any part of it.  I am fully resolved to live and die in this profession, and if speech shall fail me when I come to my last hour, now at this moment, instead of then, I declare in words which express my whole heart that I acknowledge Thee, O Lord Jesus, for the Son of God, I believe in Thee, and I submit most humbly to Thee all my thoughts.  In the third place, in order to begin the day and the hours of light well, we must ask of God our Lord the assistance of His grace that we may observe exactly the ten commandments of His most holy law:  for no one can arrive at eternal salvation except by observing them.  Therefore, the precepts of the Decalogue should be repeated distinctly; and after having pronounced them slowly and attentively, these words should be added: God our Lord says that those who observe and practice these ten commandments will go into Paradise and there enjoy eternally supreme happiness.” 

 

Collect:  Living God, you called Francis Xavier to lead many in India and Japan to know Jesus Christ as their Redeemer:  Bring us to the new life of glory promised to all who follow in the Way; through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. 

 

4 December.  John of Damascus, Priest, (676-749).  John of Damascus was the son of a Christian tax collector for the Mohammedan Caliph of Damascus.  At an early age, he succeeded his father in this office.  In about 715, he entered the monastery of St. Sabas near Jerusalem.  There he devoted himself to an ascetic life and to the study of the Fathers.  In the same year that John was ordained priest, 726, the Byzantine Emperor Leo the Isaurian published his first edict against the Holy Images, which signaled the formal outbreak of the iconoclastic controversy.  The edict forbade the veneration of sacred images, or icons, and ordered their destruction.  In 729-730, John wrote three “Apologies (or Treatises) against the Iconoclasts and in Defense of the Holy Images.”  He argued that such pictures were not idols, for they represented neither false gods nor even the true God in his divine nature; but only saints, or our Lord as man.  He further distinguished between the respect, or veneration (doulia), that is properly paid to created beings, and the worship (latreia), that is properly given only to God.  The iconoclast case rested, in part, upon the Monophysite heresy, which held that Christ had only one nature, and since that nature was divine, it would be improper to represent him by material substances such as wood and paint.  The Monophysite heresy was condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in 451.  At issue also was the heresy of Manichaeism, which held that matter itself was essentially evil.  In both of these heresies, John maintained, the Lord’s incarnation was rejected.  The Seventh Ecumenical Council, in 787, decreed that crosses, icons, the book of the Gospels, and other sacred objects were to receive reverence or veneration, expressed by salutations, incense, and lights, because the honor paid to them passed on to that which they represented.  True worship (latreia), however, was due to God alone.  John also wrote a great synthesis of theology, The Fount of Knowledge, of which the last part, “On the Orthodox Faith,” is best known; it has served as a summary of orthodox belief that served as a guidebook for later descriptions of Christian faith.  To Anglicans, John is best known as the author of the Easter hymns, “Thou hallowed chosen morn of praise,” “Come, ye faithful, raise the strain,” and “The day of resurrection.”  John’s life illustrates how a Christian can use personal talents to support the growth of the Church. 

 

Excerpt from On the Orthodox Faith, (Chapter IX:  Concerning what is affirmed about God, as though he had a body):  “Since we find many terms used symbolically in the Scriptures concerning God which are more applicable to that which has body, we should recognize that it is quite impossible for us men clothed about with this dense covering of flesh to understand or speak of the divine and lofty and immaterial energies of the Godhead, except by the use of images and types and symbols derived from our own life.  So then all the statements concerning God, that imply body, are symbols, but have a higher meaning:  for the Deity is simple and formless.  Hence by God’s eyes and eyelids and sight we are to understand His power of overseeing all things and His knowledge, that nothing can escape:  for in the case of us this sense makes our knowledge more complete and more full of certainty.  By God’s ears and hearing is meant His readiness to be propitiated and to receive our petitions:  for it is this sense that renders us also kind to suppliants, inclining our ear to them more graciously.  God’s mouth and speech are His means of indicating His will; for it is by the mouth and speech that we make clear the thoughts that are in the heart:  God’s food and drink are our concurrence to His will, for we, too, satisfy the necessities of our natural appetite through the sense of taste.  And God’s sense of smell is His appreciation of our thoughts of and good will towards Him, for it is through this sense that we appreciate sweet fragrance.  And God’s countenance is the demonstration and manifestation of Himself through His works, for our manifestation is through the countenance.  And God’s hands mean the effectual nature of His energy, for it is with our own hands that we accomplish our most useful and valuable work.  And His right hand is His aid in prosperity, for it is the right hand that we also use when making anything of beautiful shape or of great value, or where much strength is required.  His handling is His power of accurate discrimination and exaction, even in the minutest and most secret details, for those whom we have handled cannot conceal from us aught within themselves.  His feet and walk are His advent and presence, either for the purpose of bringing succor to the needy, or vengeance against enemies, or to perform any other action, for it is by using our feet that we come to arrive at any place.  His oath is the unchangeableness of His counsel, for it is by oath that we confirm our compacts with one another.  His anger and fury are His hatred of and aversion to all wickedness, for we, too, hate that which is contrary to our mind and become enraged thereat.  His forgetfulness and sleep and slumbering are His delay in taking vengeance on His enemies and the postponement of the accustomed help to His own.  And to put it shortly, all the statements made about God that imply body have some hidden meaning and teach us what is above us by means of something familiar to ourselves, with the exception of any statement concerning the bodily sojourn of the God-Word.  For He for our safety took upon Himself the whole nature of man, the thinking spirit, the body, and all the properties of human nature, even the natural and blameless passions.” 

 

Collect:  Confirm our minds, O Lord, in the mysteries of the true faith, set forth with power by your servant John of Damascus; that we, with him, confessing Jesus to be true God and true Man, and singing the praises of the risen Lord, may, by the power of the resurrection, attain to eternal joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen. 

 

5 December.  Clement of Alexandria, Priest, (150-215).  Clement was born in the middle of the second century.  He was a cultured Greek philosopher who sought truth in many schools until he met Pantheons, founder of the Christian Catechetical School at Alexandria in Egypt.  Clement succeeded Pantheons as head of that school in about 190, and was for many years an evangelist for the Christian faith to both pagans and Christians.  His learning and allegorical exegesis of the Bible helped to commend Christianity to the intellectual circles of Alexandria.  Clement regarded the science and philosophy of the Greeks, like the Jewish books of the Torah, as a preparation for the Gospel.  Desiring to expand the appeal of the gospel beyond a frequently illiterate populace, he used the language of Greek philosophy to present Christian belief to highly educated people of his day, in terms these people could recognize.  His scholarly defense of the faith and his willingness to meet non-Christian scholars on their own grounds helped to establish a good reputation for Christianity in the world of learning.  Clement exemplifies the effort of ardent catechists to engage in critical and positive dialogue with, and to bring the gospel to bear upon, all the currents of their surrounding world.  His work prepared the way for his pupil Origen, the most eminent theologian of early Greek Christianity, and his liberal approach to secular knowledge laid the foundations of Christian humanism.  During the persecution under the Emperor Severus in 202, he fled Alexandria.  The exact place of his death is unknown.  Clement lived in the age of “Gnosticism,” a comprehensive term for many theories or ways of salvation current in the second and third centuries, all emphasizing “Gnosis” or “knowledge.”  Salvation, for Gnostics, was to be had through a secret and rather esoteric knowledge accessible only to a few.  It was salvation from the world, rather than salvation of the world.  Clement asserted that there was a true Christian Gnosis, to be found in the Scriptures, available to all.  Although his understanding of this Christian knowledge, — ultimately knowledge of Christ —, incorporated several notions of Greek philosophy which the Gnostics also held, Clement dissented from the negative Gnostic view of the world and its denial of the role of free will.  “What Rich Man Will Be Saved?” was the title of a treatise by Clement on Mark 10: 17–31, and the Lord’s words, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.”  His interpretation sanctioned the “right use” of material goods and wealth.  It has been contrasted to the interpretation of Athanasius in his “Life of Antony”, which emphasized strict renunciation.  Both interpretations can be found in early Christian spirituality:  Clement’s, called “liberal,” and that of Athanasius, “literal.”  Among Clement’s writings are the hymns, “Sunset to sunrise changes now” and “Master of eager youth.” 

 

Excerpt from the Miscellanies of Clement of Alexandria (Book I, Chapter 5:  Philosophy is the handmaid of theology):  “Accordingly, before the advent of the Lord, philosophy was necessary to the Greeks for righteousness.  And now it becomes conducive to piety; being a kind of preparatory training to those who attain to faith through demonstration.  ‘For thy foot,’ it is said, ‘will not stumble, if thou refer what is good, whether belonging to the Greeks or to us, to Providence.’  For God is the cause of all good things; but of some primarily, as of the Old and the New Testament; and of others by consequence, as philosophy.  Perchance, too, philosophy was given to the Greeks directly and primarily, till the Lord should call the Greeks.  For this was a schoolmaster to bring ‘the Hellenic mind,’ as the law, the Hebrews, ‘to Christ.’  Philosophy, therefore, was a preparation, paving the way for him who is perfected in Christ.” 

 

Collect:  O God of unsearchable wisdom, you gave your servant Clement grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Jesus Christ, the source of all truth:  Grant to your Church the same grace to discern your Word wherever truth is found; through Jesus Christ our unfailing light, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. 

 

6 December.  Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, (270-343).  Nicholas was Bishop of Myra in Lycia, today southeastern Turkey.  Very little is known about the life of Nicholas, except that he suffered torture and imprisonment during the persecution under the Emperor Diocletian.  It is possible that he was one of the bishops attending the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325.  He was honored as a saint in Constantinople in the sixth century by the Emperor Justinian.  His veneration became immensely popular in the West after the supposed removal of his body to Bari, Italy, in the late eleventh century.  In England almost 400 churches were dedicated to him.  Nicholas is famed as the traditional patron of seafarers and sailors, and, more especially, of children.  The best-known story about him describes his rescue of a man with 3 unmarried daughters, who was too poor to provide them with dowries.  Nicholas walked by the man’s house on three successive nights, and each night threw a bag of gold coins through an open window, thus allowing the daughters to be married.  Because of this and of similar stories, Nicholas became a symbol of anonymous gift-giving, a practice that fits well with a Christian life and with the liturgical seasons of Advent and Christmas.  As a bearer of gifts to children, his name was brought to America by the Dutch colonists in New York, from whom he is popularly known as Santa Claus. 

 

Sequence for Feast of the St. Nicholas by Adam of St. Victor (1112-1146), 

translated by Digby S. Wrangham: 

“Let us all exult together, as with one united voice, 

We upon his solemn feast-day in St Nicholas rejoice; 

Who, whilst in his cradle lying, by observing duly fast, 

Heavenly joys began to merit even at his mother’s breast, 

In his youth he chooses letters, that his study they may be, 

To all evil lust a stranger, from all sinful passions free. 

This blest confessor. 

Whom, as worthy of the office, ’twas a voice from heaven praised. 

Thereby exalted. 

Amongst bishops to the very highest rank is forthwith raised. 

There was too in his character benevolence exceeding, 

And many a bounty he bestowed, the tale of sorrow heeding. 

With gold he saved some maidens, who had else vile lives been leading, 

Relieving all their father’s want, when help most sorely needing. 

Certain sailors once, when sailing, 

And fighting ‘gainst fierce waves with struggles unavailing, 

Shipwrecked nigh through stress of weather; 

Hope of life already failing, 

Amid such dangers set, aloud their fate bewailing. 

Lift their voices altogether: 

‘Blessed Nicholas ! O steer us 

From the straits of death so near us 

To the haven of the sea ! 

To that harbor in the distance 

Draw us, who dost grant assistance 

Through the grace of charity !’ 

‘Lo!’ — while thus they cried, nor vainly, — 

‘I am here!’ a voice said plainly, 

‘To watch o’er you and to aid!’ 

Instantly blow favoring breezes, 

Instantly the tempest ceases, 

And to rest the sea is laid. 

We, now in this world abiding, 

Have been wrecked, as we were riding 

O’er the deep abyss of vice: 

Draw us, Nicholas most glorious! 

To the home of peace victorious, 

To the port of Paradise! 

From his tomb, to heal diseases, 

Oil abundant floweth forth, 

Which the sick from pain releases 

Through his prayers’ availing worth. 

May we of the self-same ointment 

Through thy pious prayer to God 

Gain possession, 

Which did by the Lord’s appointment 

Heal the wounds of Mary’s load 

Of transgression !  

Let them joy throughout all ages, who observe this holy day, 

And, when this life’s course is ended, crowned in heaven by Christ be they ! 

Amen ! let all creatures say!” 

 

Collect:  Almighty God, in your love you gave your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness both on land and sea:  Grant, we pray, that your Church may never cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. 

 

7 December. Ambrose (337-397).  Ambrose was the son of a Roman governor in Gaul, and in 373 he himself was governor in Upper Italy.  Though brought up in a Christian family, Ambrose had not been baptized.  He became involved in the election of a Bishop of Milan only as mediator between the battling factions of Arians and orthodox Christians.  The election was important, because the victorious party would control the powerful see of Milan.  Ambrose exhorted the nearly riotous mob to keep the peace and to obey the law.  Suddenly both sides raised the cry, “Ambrose shall be our bishop!”  He protested, but the people persisted.  Hastily baptized, he was ordained bishop on December 7, 373.  Ambrose rapidly won renown as a defender of orthodoxy against Arianism and as a statesman of the Church.  As a forceful leader of orthodox Christians, he refused to cede churches to the Arians, who claimed that Christ was subordinate to the Father.  Ambrose led a simple lifestyle and could be approached by anyone who wished to call upon him.  As a skillful hymnodist, he is also credited with moving the Western liturgical practice beyond the singing of psalms, to including hymns in worship.  He introduced antiphonal chanting to enrich the liturgy, and wrote straightforward, practical discourses to educate his people in such matters of doctrine as Baptism, the Trinity, the Eucharist, and the Person of Christ.  His persuasive preaching was an important factor in the conversion of Augustine of Hippo.  Ambrose did not fear to rebuke emperors, including the hot-headed Theodosius, whom he forced to do public penance for the slaughter of several thousand citizens of Salonika.  A meditation attributed to him includes these words: “Lord Jesus Christ, you are for me medicine when I am sick; you are my strength when I need help; you are life itself when I fear death; you are the way when I long for heaven; you are light when all is dark; you are my food when I need nourishment.”  Among hymns attributed to Ambrose are “The eternal gifts of Christ the King,” “O Splendor of God’s glory bright,” and a series of hymns for the Little Hours.  As a gifted, educated, and forceful leader, Ambrose helped to preserve our faith when Milan was capital of the Western Roman Empire. 

 

From a letter by St. Ambrose, bishop:  “By the Grace of your Words Win over your People.  You have entered upon the office of bishop.  Sitting at the helm of the Church, you pilot the ship against the waves.  Take firm hold of the rudder of faith so that the severe storms of this world cannot disturb you.  The sea is mighty and vast, but do not be afraid, for as Scripture says:  he has founded it upon the seas, and established it upon the waters.  The Church of the Lord is built upon the rock of the apostles among so many dangers in the world; it therefore remains unmoved.  The Church’s foundation is unshakeable and firm against the assaults of the raging sea.  Waves lash at the Church but do not shatter it.  Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbor of salvation for all in distress.  Although the Church is tossed about on the sea, it rides easily on rivers, especially those rivers that Scripture speaks of:  The rivers have lifted up their voice.  These are the rivers flowing from the heart of the man who is given drink by Christ and who receives from the Spirit of God.  When these rivers overflow with the grace of the Spirit, they lift up their voice.  There is also a stream which flows down on God’s saints like a torrent.  There is also a rushing river giving joy to the heart that is at peace and makes for peace.  Whoever has received from the fullness of this river, like John the Evangelist, like Peter and Paul, lifts up his voice.  Just as the apostles lifted up their voices and preached the Gospel throughout the world, so those who drink these waters begin to preach the good news of the Lord Jesus.  Drink, then, from Christ, so that your voice may also be heard.  Store up in your mind the water that is Christ, the water that praises the Lord.  Store up water from many sources, the water that rains down from the clouds of prophecy.  Whoever gathers water from the mountains and leads it to himself or draws it from springs, is himself a source of dew like the clouds.  Fill your soul, then, with this water, so that your land may not be dry, but watered by your own springs.  He who reads much and understands much, receives his fill. He who is full, refreshes others.  So Scripture says: If the clouds are full, they will pour rain upon the earth.  Therefore, let your words be rivers, clean and limpid, so that in your exhortations you may charm the ears of your people.  And by the grace of your words win them over to follow your leadership.  Let your sermons be full of understanding.  Solomon says:  ‘The weapons of the understanding are the lips of the wise’; and in another place he says:  ‘Let your lips be bound with wisdom.’  That is, let the meaning of your words shine forth, let understanding blaze out.  See that your addresses and expositions do not need to invoke the authority of others, but let your words be their own defense.  Let no word escape your lips in vain or be uttered without depth of meaning.” 

 

Collect:  O God, you gave your servant Ambrose grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name:  Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen. 

 

8 December.  Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  One of the Lesser Festivals within the Anglican communion, this feast has a long history within the Church.  The Eastern Christian Church first celebrated a “Feast of the Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God” on December 9, perhaps as early as the 5th century in Syria.  The original title of the feast focused upon Saint Anne, terming it “The Conception of Saint Anne, the Ancestress of God”.  By the 7th century, the feast was already widely known in the East.  However, when the Eastern Church called Mary achrantos (“spotless” or “immaculate”), it did not define exactly what this meant.  At the present time, the majority of Orthodox Christians do not accept the scholastic definition of Mary’s preservation from original sin before her birth that subsequently evolved in the Western Church after the Great Schism of 1054.  After the feast was translated to the Western Church in the 8th century, it began to be celebrated on December 8.  It spread from the Byzantine area of Southern Italy to Normandy during the period of Norman dominance over southern Italy.  From there it spread to England, France, Germany, and eventually Rome.  The proper for the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the mediaeval Sarum Missal, perhaps the most famous in England, merely addresses the action of her conception.  The collect for the feast reads:  “O God, mercifully hear the supplication of your servants who are assembled together on the Conception of the Virgin Mother of God, may at her intercession be delivered by You from dangers which beset us.” 

 

From a sermon by Saint Anselm, bishop.  “Virgin Mary, All Nature is Blessed by You.  Blessed Lady, sky and stars, earth and rivers, day and night – everything that is subject to the power or use of man – rejoice that through you they are in some sense restored to their lost beauty and are endowed with inexpressible new grace.  All creatures were dead, as it were, useless for men or for the praise of God, who made them.  The world, contrary to its true destiny, was corrupted and tainted by the acts of men who served idols.  Now all creation has been restored to life and rejoices that it is controlled and given splendor by men who believe in God.  The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness.  Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God himself, its Creator, it sees him openly, working and making it holy.  These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb.  Through the fullness of the grace that was given you, dead things rejoice in their freedom, and those in heaven are glad to be made new.  Through the Son who was the glorious fruit of your virgin womb, just souls who died before his life-giving death rejoice as they are freed from captivity, and the angels are glad at the restoration of their shattered domain.  Lady, full and overflowing with grace, all creation receives new life from your abundance.  Virgin, blessed above all creatures, through your blessing all creation is blessed, not only creation from its Creator, but the Creator himself has been blessed by creation.  To Mary God gave his only-begotten Son, whom he loved as himself.  Through Mary God made himself a Son, not different but the same, by nature Son of God and Son of Mary.  The whole universe was created by God, and God was born of Mary.  God created all things, and Mary gave birth to God.  The God who made all things gave himself form through Mary, and thus he made his own creation.  He who could create all things from nothing would not remake his ruined creation without Mary.  God, then, is the Father of the created world and Mary the mother of the re-created world.  God is the Father by whom all things were given life, and Mary the mother through whom all things were given new life.  For God begot the Son, through whom all things were made, and Mary gave birth to him as the Savior of the world.  Without God’s Son, nothing could exist; without Mary’s Son, nothing could be redeemed.  Truly the Lord is with you, to whom the Lord granted that all nature should owe as much to you as to himself.” 

 

Sequence from the Sarum Missal: 

“This day shall be celebrated, 

On which we piously remember 

The Conception of Mary. 

The virgin mother is made, 

Conceived and created. 

A true conduit of forgiveness. 

Adam’s ancient exile 

And Joachim’s shame 

Hence have remedies. 

This the prophets have foreseen 

The Patriarchs forefelt 

Through the inspiration of Grace.  

The rod that is to conceive a flower, 

The star that is to give birth to the Sun, 

Is today conceived. 

As the flower that shall come from the rod, 

As the sun to be born from the star, 

Christ is understood. 

O how happy and famous, 

Welcome to us, dear to God 

Was this conception. 

Misery is ended,  

Mercy is given, 

Mourning maketh way for joy. 

Through new grace, 

The new mothers bringeth forth a new child, 

The new star a new sun. 

She shall give birth to the progenitor, 

The creature to the creator, 

The daughter to the father. 

O wonderful novelty 

And new dignity, 

The conception of a son maketh rich 

The mother’s chastity. 

Rejoice, Virgin full of Grace, 

Thou rod with a beautiful flower, 

The mother noble through the child, 

Fully full of joy. 

What had happened before in an image, 

Being hidden under a dark cloud, 

This explaineth she who shall give birth, 

At the same time a mother and a pure virgin, 

Turneth around the laws of childbirth, 

Who is, to the astonishment of nature, 

Joined together with the rain of the Godhead. 

In Eve the ‘væ’ [woe] was sad, 

But, forming ‘Ave’ From ‘Eva’, 

Turning it round, but not perverting, 

By mightily acting inside in the chamber 

The good and sweet word, 

Be graceful to us, mother and virgin, 

That we may enjoy thy grace. 

Any man, without delay, 

Shall release the mouth full of praise, 

Venerate her, ask her, 

Every day, every hour. 

Be our mouth praying, our voice resounding, 

So ask her, so implore, 

For her protection. 

Thou certain hope of the miserable, 

The true mother of the orphans. 

Thou art the relief for the oppressed, 

The medicine for the sick, 

Art everything to everyone. 

Thee we ask of one accord, 

Worthy of singular Praise, 

That thy grace may place us, 

Erring in this Sea 

In the port of salvation.” 

 

Collect:  Almighty and everlasting God, who stooped to raise fallen humanity through the child-bearing of blessed Mary:  grant that we, who have seen your glory revealed in our human nature and your love made perfect in our weakness, may daily be renewed in your image and conformed to the pattern of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen. 

 

8 December.  Richard Baxter, Pastor and Writer, (1615-1691).  Richard Baxter was born in Shropshire in 1615 and educated in the local schools.  He was ordained in 1638 and spent the early years of his ministry as a schoolmaster and curate, becoming a chaplain to the parliamentary army at the outbreak of the English Civil War in 1642.  Although aligned with the Puritan cause, Baxter was a moderate and stood against the excessive destructiveness of Cromwell’s legions.  In 1647, Baxter became the Vicar of Kidderminster.  It was there that his pastoral ministry thrived.  He set up new patterns for parish catechesis, increased the size of parish buildings to welcome the larger numbers coming to hear him preach, and pioneered a style of pastoral ministry that has enriched the Anglican tradition to this day.  Baxter provides his own narrative of his pastoral work in his book, The Reformed Pastor, of 1656.  When episcopacy was re-established in England after the Civil War, Charles II offered Baxter an appointment to the see of Hereford.  Although more moderate than many, Baxter’s Puritan convictions kept him from accepting the post, a decision that made it impossible for him to continue as a priest of the Church of England.  Baxter is remembered in the history of the Book of Common Prayer for the role he played at the Savoy Conference of 1661.  There he argued for the changes that needed to be made in the next prayer book from the vantage point of the Puritans, the so-called “Exceptions.”  The resulting 1662 Prayer Book shows few of the marks of Baxter’s agenda, but his strong advocacy of the Puritan position certainly influenced the shape of the revision.  From 1662 until his death in 1691, Baxter resided in the environs of London.  The re-establishment of the monarchy in the state and episcopacy in the church unfortunately made Baxter, remembered for his moderate Puritan posture, a target of unkindness and petty revenge.  A profound example of Baxter’s deep joy and piety can be found in the words of the hymn Ye holy angels bright (The Hymnal 1982, #625). 

 

Excerpt from Baxter’s “Call for the Unconverted to Turn and Live”:  “When by reading, consideration, prayer, and ministerial advice, you are once acquainted with your sin and misery, with your duty and remedy, delay not, but presently forsake your sinful company and courses, and turn to God, and obey his call.  As you love your souls, take heed that you go not on against so loud a call of God, and against your own knowledge and consciences, lest it go worse with you in the day of judgment than with Sodom and Gomorrah.  Inquire of God, as a man that is willing to know the truth, and not be a willful cheater of his soul.  Search the holy scriptures daily, and see whether these things be so or not; try impartially whether it be safer to trust heaven or earth, and whether it be better to follow God or man, the spirit or the flesh, and better to live in holiness or sin, and whether an unsanctified estate be safe for you to abide in one day longer; and, when you have found out which is best resolve accordingly, and make your choice without any more ado.  If you will be true to your own souls, and do not love everlasting torments, I beseech you, as from the Lord, that you will but take this reasonable advice.  O what happy towns and countries, and what a happy nation might we have, if we could but persuade our neighbors to agree to such a necessary motion!  What joyful men would all faithful ministers be, if they could but see their people truly heavenly and holy; this would be the unity, the peace, the safety, the glory, of our churches; the happiness of our neighbors, and the comfort of our souls.  Then how comfortably should we preach pardon and peace to you, and deliver the sacraments, which are the seals of peace to you!  And with what love and joy might we live among you!  At your death-bed how boldly might we comfort and encourage your departing souls! And at your burial, how comfortably might we leave you in the grave, in expectation to meet your souls in heaven, and to see your bodies raised to that glory!” 

 

Collect:  We give you thanks, most gracious God, for the devoted witness of Richard Baxter, who out of love for you followed his conscience at cost to himself, and at all times rejoiced to sing your praises in word and deed; and we pray that our lives, like his, may be well-tuned to sing the songs of love, and all our days be filled with praise of Jesus Christ our Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever.  Amen. 

 

10 December.  Karl Barth, Pastor and Theologian, (1886-1968).  Born in Switzerland, Barth studied at several prestigious universities including Tübingen.  After completing his studies, he served as pastor in Geneva and Safenwil.  The events of the First World War led Barth to critically question the dominant theology of the day, which, in Barth’s view, held a too easy peace between theology and culture.  Reacting against the liberalism of much European theology, Barth believed that all Christian thinking about God, man, society, and ethics should be derived from what can be seen in the revelation of Jesus Christ, as witnessed through the Old and New Testament, rather than from any other source such as science, philosophy, nationalism, or a political or social ideology.  In his Commentary on Romans, published in 1918, Barth reasserted doctrines such as God’s sovereignty and human sin, central ideas which he believed were excluded and overshadowed in theological discourse at that time.  With Hitler’s rise to power, Barth joined the Confessional Church and was chiefly responsible for the writing of the Barmen Declaration (1934), one of its foundational documents.  In it, Barth claimed that the Church’s allegiance to God in Christ gave it the moral imperative to challenge the rule and violence of Hitler.  Barth was himself ultimately forced to resign his professorship at Bonn due to his refusal to swear an oath to Hitler.  In 1932, Barth published the first volume of his thirteen-volume opus, the Church Dogmatics.  Barth would work on the Dogmatics until his death in 1968.  An exhaustive account of his theological themes and a daring reassessment of the entire Christian theological tradition, the Dogmatics gave new thought to some of the central themes first articulated in the Commentary on Romans.  In the first volume, “The Doctrine of the Word of God,” Barth laid out many of the theological notions which would comprise the heart of the entire work, including his understanding of God’s Word as the definitive source of revelation, the Incarnation as the bridge between God’s revelation and human sin, and the election of the creation as God’s great end.  Karl Barth was one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century.  Pope Pius XII regarded him as the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas.  This assessment speaks to the respect Barth received from both Protestant and Catholic theologians and to his influence within both theological communities. 

 

Excerpt from the Church Dogmatics, (IV:3):  “The union of the Christian with Christ which makes man a Christian is their conjunction in which each has his own independence, uniqueness, and activity.  In this way it is, of course, their true, total and indissoluble union:  true and not ideal; total and merely psychical and intellectual; indissoluble and not just transitory.  For it takes place and consists in a self-giving which for all the disparity is total on both sides.  In this self-giving Christ and the Christian become and are a single totality, a fluid and differentiated but genuine and solid unity, in which He is with His people, the Lamb on the throne with the one who recognizes in Him his Lord and King, the Head with the members of His body, the Prophet, Teacher, and Master with His disciples, the eternal Son of God with the child of man who by Him and in Him, but only thus, only as His adopted brother, may be called and be the child of God.  Like His own unity of true deity and humanity, this unity is hic et nunc [here and now] concealed.  It may be known in faith but not in sight, not by direct vision.  The revelation of its glory has still to come.  But even hic et nunc there can be and is no question of creating it or giving it force, but only of making definitively and universally visible its possibility, nature, and reality as something incomparably great and totally new.  This, and this alone, is what the whole of creation, with all men and Christians too, is waiting and groaning for.  The purpose for which Christians are already called here and now in their life-histories within universal history is that in the self-giving of Jesus Christ to them, and theirs to Him, they should enter into their union with Him, their unio cum Christo.” 

 

Collect:  Almighty God, source of justice beyond human knowledge:  We thank you for inspiring Karl Barth to resist tyranny and exalt your saving grace, without which we cannot apprehend your will.  Teach us, like him, to live by faith, and even in chaotic and perilous times to perceive the light of your eternal glory, Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, throughout all ages.  Amen. 

 

10 December.  Thomas Merton, Contemplative and Writer, (1915-1968).  Thomas Merton was among the most influential Catholic writers of the twentieth century.  His writings cover a broad range of subject matter:  spirituality and the contemplative life, prayer, and religious biography.  He was also deeply interested in issues of social justice and Christian responsibility.  He did not shy away from controversy and addressed race relations, economic injustice, war, violence, and the nuclear arms race.  Merton was born in France in 1915.  His father was from New Zealand and his mother from the United States.  After a brief sojourn in England, where Merton was baptized in the Church of England, the family settled in New York.  The birth of his brother, the death of his mother, and the long-distance romances of his father created an unsettling life for Merton for some years.  After a brief enrollment at Clare College, Cambridge, Merton settled into life as a student at Columbia University in New York.  Merton developed relationships at Columbia that would nurture him for the rest of his life.  Though nominally an Anglican, Merton underwent a dramatic conversion experience in 1938 and became a Roman Catholic.  Merton recounts the story of his conversion in The Seven Storey Mountain, an autobiography published in 1948, immediately a classic.  Merton entered the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, the Trappists, at the Abbey of Gethsemani, near Bardstown, Kentucky, in 1941.  Known in the community as Brother Louis, Merton’s gifts as a writer were encouraged by the abbot.  In addition to his translations of Cistercian sources and his original works, Merton carried on a prolific correspondence with people around the world on a wide range of subjects.  Some of his correspondence takes the form of spiritual direction, some shows his deep affections for friends outside the community, and much of it demonstrates Merton’s ability to be fully engaged in the world even though he lived a cloistered life.  Merton died in Bangkok, Thailand, on December 10, 1968, by accidental electrocution, while attending a meeting of religious leaders during a pilgrimage to the Far East.  He is renowned for his devotion to contemplative prayer, his re-presentation of traditional Christian mysticism to the contemporary world, his advocacy of non-violent social justice on behalf of desegregation and world peace, and his openness to dialogue with Eastern religions. 

 

Excerpt from Thoughts in Solitude:  “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” 

 

Collect:  Gracious God, you called your monk Thomas Merton to proclaim your justice out of silence, and moved him in his contemplative writings to perceive and value Christ at work in the faiths of others:  Keep us, like him, steadfast in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. 

 

13 December.  Lucy, Martyr at Syracuse, (283-304).  Lucy was martyred at Syracuse, in Sicily, during Diocletian’s reign of terror of 303-304, among the most dramatic of the persecutions of early Christians.  Her tomb can still be found in the catacombs at Syracuse.  She was venerated soon after her death and her cult spread quickly throughout the church.  She is among the saints and martyrs named in the Roman Canon of the Mass.  Most of the details of Lucy’s life are obscure.  In the tradition she is remembered for the purity of her life and the gentleness of her spirit.  Because her name means “light,” she is sometimes thought of as the patron saint of those who suffer from diseases of the eyes.  In popular piety, Lucy is perhaps most revered because her feast day, December 13, was for many centuries the shortest day of the year. (The reform of the calendar by Pope Gregory VIII (1582) would shift the shortest day to December 21/22, depending upon the year.)  It was on Lucy’s day that the light began gradually to return and the days to lengthen.  This was particularly powerful in northern Europe where the days of winter were quite short.  In Scandinavian countries, particularly Sweden, Lucy’s day has long been a festival of light that is kept as both an ecclesiastical commemoration and a domestic observance.  In the domestic celebration of the Lucia-fest, a young girl in the family dresses in pure white (a symbol of Lucy’s faith, purity, and martyrdom) and wears a crown of lighted candles upon her head (a sign that on Lucy’s day the light is returning) and serves her family special foods prepared especially for the day.  In praise of her service, the young girl is called Lucy for the day. 

 

From a book On Virginity by St Ambrose, bishop.  “You Light up your Grace of Body with the Radiance of your Mind.  You are one of God’s people, of God’s family, a virgin among virgins; you light up your grace of body with your splendor of soul.  More than others you can be compared to the Church.  When you are in your room, then, at night, think always on Christ, and wait for his coming at every moment.  This is the person Christ has loved in loving you, the person he has chosen in choosing you.  He enters by the open door; he has promised to come in, and he cannot deceive.  Embrace him, the one you have sought; turn to him, and be enlightened; hold him fast, ask him not to go in haste, beg him not to leave you.  The Word of God moves swiftly; he is not won by the lukewarm, nor held fast by the negligent.  Let your soul be attentive to his word; follow carefully the path God tells you to take, for he is swift in his passing.  What does his bride say?  ‘I sought him, and did not find him; I called him, and he did not hear me.’  Do not imagine that you are displeasing to him although you have called him, asked him opened the door to him, and that this is the reason why he has gone so quickly; no, for he allows us to be constantly tested.  When the crowds pressed him to stay, what does he say in the Gospel?  ‘I must preach the word of God to other cities, because for that I have been sent.’  But even if it seems to you that he has left you, go out and seek him once more.  Who but holy Church is to teach you how to hold Christ fast?  Indeed, she has already taught you, if you only understood her words in Scripture:  ‘How short a time it was when I left them before I found him whom my soul has loved.  I held him fast, and I will not let him go.’  How do we hold him fast?  Not by restraining chains or knotted ropes but by bonds of love, by spiritual reins, by the longing of the soul.  If you also, like the bride, wish to hold him fast, seek him and be fearless of suffering.  It is often easier to find him in the midst of bodily torments, in the very hands of persecutors.  His bride says:  ‘How short a time it was after I left them.’  In a little space, after a brief moment, when you have escaped from the hands of your persecutors without yielding to the powers of this world, Christ will come to you, and he will not allow you to be tested for long.  Whoever seeks Christ in this way, and finds him, can say:  ‘I held him fast, and I will not let him go before I bring him into my mother’s house, into the room of her who conceived me.’  What is this “house”, this “room”, but the deep and secret places of your heart?  Maintain this house, sweep out its secret recesses until it becomes immaculate and rises as a spiritual temple for a holy priesthood, firmly secured by Christ, the cornerstone, so that the Holy Spirit may dwell in it.  Whoever seeks Christ in this way, whoever prays to Christ in this way, is not abandoned by him; on the contrary, Christ comes again and again to visit such a person, for he is with us until the end of the world.” 

 

Collect:  Loving God, for the salvation of all you gave Jesus Christ as light to a world in darkness:  Illumine us, with your daughter Lucy, with the light of Christ, that by the merits of his passion we may be led to eternal life; through the same Jesus Christ, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. 

 

14 December.  John of the Cross, Mystic, (1542-1591).  John of the Cross was unknown outside the Discalced Carmelites for nearly three hundred years after his death.  More recently, scholars of Christian spirituality have found in him a hidden treasure.  Once described by Thomas Merton as “the church’s safest mystical theologian,” John has been called the “the poet’s poet,”  “spirit of flame,” “celestial and divine.”  John was born in 1542 at Fontiveros, near Avila, Spain.  After his third birthday, his father died leaving his mother and her children reduced to poverty.  John received elementary education in an orphanage in Medina del Campo.  By the age of seventeen he had learned carpentry, tailoring, sculpturing, and painting through apprenticeships to local craftsmen.  After university studies with the Jesuits, John entered the Carmelite Order in Medina del Campo and completed his theological studies in Salamanca.  In 1567 he was ordained to the priesthood and recruited by Teresa of Avila for the reformation of the Carmelite Order.  By the age of thirty-five he had studied extensively, had been spiritual director to many, and yet devoted himself to the search for God so fully that he reached the peak of the mystical experience:  a complete transformation in God.  John became disillusioned with what he considered the laxity of the Carmelites and in 1568 he opened a monastery of “Discalced” (strict observance) Carmelites, an act that met with sharp resistance from the General Chapter of the Calced Carmelites.  [“Calceus” is the Latin word for shoe, and the “unshod” term for the reformed order referred to their stricter lifestyle.]  John was seized, taken to Toledo, and imprisoned in the monastery.  During nine months of great hardship, he comforted himself by writing poetry.  It was while he was imprisoned that he composed the greater part of his luminous masterpiece, The Spiritual Canticle, as well as a number of shorter poems.  Other major works are, The Ascent of Mount CarmelThe Living Flame of Love and The Dark Night.  It is this latter work, Noche obscura del alma, that gave the English language the phrase, dark night of the soul.  After a severe illness, John died on December 14, 1591, in Ubeda, in southern Spain.  Both John’s poetry and his studies on the growth of the soul are considered the summit of mystical Spanish writing and one of the peaks of all Spanish literature.  For John, the complete subjection of the person to God requires a purgation of attachment to every earthly thing, so that God is experienced as a “dark night of the senses.”  Drawn by God through this abandonment of the world, however, the soul subsequently regains the world in God and can delight in God as the source of the world’s beauty. 

 

From a Spiritual Canticle of St John of the Cross, priest.  “The Knowledge of the Mystery Hidden Within Christ Jesus.  Though holy doctors have uncovered many mysteries and wonders, and devout souls have understood them in this earthly condition of ours, yet the greater part still remains to be unfolded by them, and even to be understood by them.  We must then dig deeply in Christ.  He is like a rich mine with many pockets containing treasures:  however deep we dig we will never find their end or their limit.  Indeed, in every pocket new seams of fresh riches are discovered on all sides.  For this reason, the apostle Paul said of Christ:  In him are hidden all the treasures of the wisdom and knowledge of God.  The soul cannot enter into these treasures, nor attain them, unless it first crosses into and enters the thicket of suffering, enduring interior and exterior labors, and unless it first receives from God very many blessings in the intellect and in the senses, and has undergone long spiritual training.  All these are lesser things, disposing the soul for the lofty sanctuary of the knowledge of the mysteries of Christ:  this is the highest wisdom attainable in this life.  Would that men might come at last to see that it is quite impossible to reach the thicket of the riches and wisdom of God except by first entering the thicket of much suffering, in such a way that the soul finds there its consolation and desire.  The soul that longs for divine wisdom chooses first, and in truth, to enter the thicket of the cross.  Saint Paul therefore urges the Ephesians not to grow weary in the midst of tribulations, but to be steadfast and rooted and grounded in love, so that they may know with all the saints the breadth, the length, the height and the depth – to know what is beyond knowledge, the love of Christ, so as to be filled with all the fullness of God.  The gate that gives entry into these riches of his wisdom is the cross; because it is a narrow gate, while many seek the joys that can be gained through it, it is given to few to desire to pass through it.” 

 

Collect:  Judge eternal, throned in splendor, you gave John of the Cross strength of purpose and mystical faith that sustained him even through the dark night of the soul:  Shed your light on all who love you, in unity with Jesus Christ our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. 

 

15 December.  John Horden, Bishop and Missionary in Canada, (1828-1893).  Born in Exeter, England, John Horden was apprenticed to the blacksmith’s trade as a young boy, and devoted his spare hour to self-education.  He eventually qualified as a schoolteacher and attended the Vicar’s Bible Class at St. Thomas, Exeter, where he was educated in the Bible and in missionary work.  Horden, along with some friends, volunteered his services to the Church Missionary Society, but was told to wait due to his young age.  Finally, in 1851, he received a letter informing him that he was being appointed mission schoolmaster in Moose Factory, James Bay, on the southern end of Hudson Bay, in Canada.  He immediately devoted himself to learning Cree, the native language of those whom he served.  Over time, Horden’s ability as a linguist was evident in his ability to function in no less than five First Nations’ languages, plus Norwegian, English, Greek and Latin.  In addition to working with the native peoples of the region, Horden regarded it as part of his work to serve the employees of the Hudson’s Bay Company.  With their help, he built a schoolhouse and church, and developed a variety of ministries to serve the people in this remote territory.  He ministered to his people through several epidemics often in the face of rugged, unforgiving conditions.  In 1872 he was recalled to England to receive Episcopal orders, and following his ordination in Westminster Abbey, he was appointed the first bishop of the Diocese of Moosonee.  He returned to James Bay, traveling to the outer regions of his vast diocese, often by dog-team in harsh weather.  Although Horden was in agreement with CMS policy about the formation of a church staffed by natives, he was a gradualist; even in 1893 there were more English than native missionaries in the diocese.  His attitude towards a successor best illustrates his feelings.  Vincent was the logical choice because of his 38 years of experience and his fluency in English and Cree, but Horden considered him unfit because of his mixed ancestry and consequent lack of influence among the Europeans in the diocese.  Some clergymen of mixed ancestry had been trained, but they had been denied high office.  He had encouraged the Indians to abandon their traditional beliefs and practices, not ascribing to them any spiritual or cultural value.  John Horden’s accomplishments during his 42-year career are impressive; few made more of a commitment or had a more lasting influence.  Many congregations in the small towns and cities of the area trace their formation back to the inspiring work of Bishop Horden. 

 

Excerpt from a journal entry for 6 May 1892:  “You must not think that because I have such surroundings I am therefore dull and melancholy; such is by no means the case.  God has blessed me with a sanguine temperament, and a great capacity for love of work, and this being the case, hope for better days and their speedy appearance causes me to look, in dark days, more to the future than the present; it gives me time for repining, or, as the people here say, thinking long.” 

 

Collect:  Creator God, whose hands hold the storehouses of the snow and the gates of the sea, and from whose Word springs forth all that is:  We bless your holy Name for the intrepid witness of your missionary John Horden, who followed your call to serve the Cree and Inuit nations of the North.  In all the places we travel, may we, like him, proclaim your Good News and draw all into communion with you through your Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen. 

 

15 December.  Robert McDonald, Priest, (1829-1913).  Robert McDonald was a priest, missionary, and archdeacon, who served among the First Nations peoples of Canada.  McDonald was born in Point Douglas, Manitoba.  He attended local schools, worked alongside his father on the family farm, and married Julia Kuttag with whom he had nine children.  Although McDonald showed initial reluctance, he responded to the church’s call to mission service among the native peoples of Canada.  He was ordained a priest in 1853 and took charge of the Islington Mission on the Winnipeg River.  It was there that he discovered his gift for languages and it was there that he became fluent in the language of the Ojibway Tribe and began to translate the Bible.  In 1862, the Church Missionary Society persuaded McDonald to establish a new mission at Fort Yukon.  It was here, as later at Fort McPherson, where McDonald made his enduring contribution to the tribes of the Tinjiyzoo Nation.  He developed a written alphabet for the Tukudh language so that the people could read the texts of the Christian tradition.  He also published a grammar and dictionary in Tukudh, both of which remain standard reference works.  Over the next forty years, working together with his wife, Julia, and other translators, he accomplished the translation of the whole of the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer, a hymnal and other texts.  Possessing these commons texts was critical not only to the Christian mission, but also had a unifying impact on the common life of the various tribes in the region.  McDonald retired from the Church Missionary Society in 1904 and lived in Winnipeg, Manitoba, until his death in 1913.  He is buried in the cemetery of St. John’s Anglican Cathedral. 

 

Collect:  God of ice, sea and sky, you called your servant Robert McDonald and made him strong to endure all hardships for the sake of serving you in the Arctic:  Send us forth as laborers into your harvest, that by patience in our duties and compassion in our dealings, many may be gathered to your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen. 

 

16 December.  Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942) and Richard Upjohn (1802-1878), Architects; and John LaFarge (1835-1910), Artist.  Ralph Adams Cram and Richard Upjohn were major architects whose influence on the design and decoration of Episcopal churches in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is without equal.  Cram was born on this day in 1863 in New Hampshire.  After an apprenticeship in Boston, Cram established his own firm in 1890 that specialized in designing churches.  Heavily influenced by Anglo-Catholic principles, Cram was a leading proponent for an “American gothic revival” — buildings that were reminiscent of the ritual and structural dominance of the mediaeval period.  Because of his many commissions for chapels and other buildings on college and university campuses, Cram is also remembered as the originator of the “collegiate gothic” style.  Among his works is the great gothic nave of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York City. 

Richard Upjohn was born in England in 1802 where he trained as a cabinetmaker.  He immigrated to the United States in 1829 and eventually took up residence in Boston where he worked as a draftsman, art teacher, and eventually an architect.  His first major commission was for a gothic-style building for St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bangor, Maine, a building that was later destroyed by fire.  He was commissioned in 1839 to design and supervise the construction of a new building for the Parish of Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York City.  It was completed in 1846 and continues as Upjohn’s most well known accomplishment.  Upjohn is also remembered for his sketchbooks of small wood-frame designs for churches in rural towns and villages.  These designs were widely copied and adapted.  As a result, Upjohn was among the early progenitors of “carpenter gothic.” 

John Lafarge was born in 1835 in New York City and was a devout Roman Catholic.  As an artist, LaFarge worked in a variety of media but is most often remembered for the murals that decorate Trinity Church, Boston, and the Church of the Ascension, New York City, among others.  He also made significant contributions to ecclesiastical decoration in stained glass. 

The work of these three designers spread the revival of the Gothic style in America and enhanced the beauty of countless churches and libraries.  Their compositions testify to the power of human handiwork to point beyond itself to the beauty of the Divine. 

 

Excerpt from John LaFarge’s lecture, “The Modern Museum and the Teaching of Art,” given at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, 1893:  “What we need to think of today, and in a certain way I am here to show you, is that the museum knows more than the academy.  In the smaller arts, in that innumerable mas of materials made for use, or what we call mere ornament – the glass, metal work, carvings of wood and stone, fragments of buildings, leather, tapestry – the teaching is evident.  Every rule has been applied, both those you know and those you have not heard of.  It might almost seem at first, if the museum is great enough, that whatever rule has been set down for you will find a contradiction – and a triumphant contradiction – in some small treasure, some choice fragment stored in the collections.  In such a case, it will always be that your teaching has been too narrow – probably not narrow so far as any execution may have gone; because that of itself carries its own reasoning, through the use, and sometimes the predominance, of material; but it will have been because some question of practice, quite valid – even very splendid – has been put before you as a principle.” 

 

Collect:  Gracious God, we thank you for the vision of Ralph Adams Cram, John LaFarge, and Richard Upjohn, whose harmonious revival of the Gothic enriched our churches with a sacramental understanding of reality in the face of secular materialism; and we pray that we may honor your gifts of the beauty of holiness given through them, for the glory of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.   Amen. 

 

17 December.  William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1855) and Maria Stewart (1803-1880), Prophetic Witnesses.  William Lloyd Garrison was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts.  His father, a sailor, had abandoned the family when he was five years old.  His experience of poverty at a young age awakened in him a religious zeal for justice and a hatred for slavery.  After working on a Quaker periodical in Baltimore, Garrison returned to Boston and, with the help of the black community, started his own antislavery paper, The Liberator.  His proclamation of purpose in the first issue became famous around the country:  “On [the subject of slavery] I do not wish to think, or speak, or write, with moderation.  No! No!  Tell a man whose house is on fire to give a moderate alarm … but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present.”  The Liberator came to be the dominant voice in the abolitionist movement demanding immediate emancipation without compensation to slave owners.  Garrison invoked the ire and rage of people all over the country, particularly in slaveholding states.  In 1835 an angry mob attacked Garrison, who was jailed for his own safety.  In what was a radical policy for the time, Garrison opened up his columns to black and female writers.  Among those to respond to his call was Maria W. Stewart, a freeborn African-American woman who showed up at his office in 1831 with several essays that were published in The Liberator. 

Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Stewart was orphaned at the age of five and grew up in the home of a white minister.  She married James W. Stewart, a successful shipping outfitter, but was widowed just three years later.  Soon after she experienced a religious conversion and responded with her vigorous antislavery advocacy.  Her efforts called upon African Americans in the south to rise up against slavery and for northern blacks to resist racial restrictions.  When her speaking career ended after three years, she became a schoolteacher and then Head Matron of Freedom’s Hospital in Washington D.C., which was later to become Howard University. 

 

Excerpt from William Lloyd Garrison’s oration, “No Compromise with Slavery!”:  “I am a believer in that portion of the Declaration of Independence in which it is set forth, as among self-evident truths, ‘that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’  Hence, I am an Abolitionist.  Hence, I cannot but regard oppression in every form, – and most of all, that which turns a man into a thing –, with indignation and abhorrence.  Not to cherish these feelings would be recreancy to principle.  They who desire me to be dumb on the subject of Slavery, unless I will open my mouth in its defense, ask me to give the lie to my professions, to degrade my manhood, and to stain my soul.  I will not be a liar, a poltroon, or a hypocrite, to accommodate any party, to gratify any sect, to escape any odium or peril, to save any interest, to preserve any institution, or to promote any object.  Convince me that one man may rightfully make another man his slave, and I will no longer subscribe to the Declaration of Independence.  Convince me that liberty is not the inalienable birthright of every human being, of whatever complexion or clime, and I will give that instrument to the consuming fire.  I do not know how to espouse freedom and slavery together.  I do not know how to worship God and Mammon at the same time.  My crime is, that I will not go with the multitude to do evil.  My singularity is, that when I say that Freedom is of God, and Slavery is of the devil, I mean just what I say.  My fanaticism is, that I insist on the American people abolishing Slavery, or ceasing to prate of the rights of man.” 

 

Collect:  God, in whose service alone is perfect freedom:  We thank you for your prophets William Lloyd Garrison and Maria Stewart, who testified that we are made not by the color of our skin but by the principle formed in our soul.  Fill us, like them, with the hope and determination to break every chain of enslavement, that bondage and ignorance may melt like wax before flames, and we may build that community of justice and love which is founded on Jesus Christ our cornerstone; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever.  Amen. 

 

19 December.  Lillian Trasher, Missionary in Egypt, (1887-1961).  Lillian Hunt Trasher was born in Brunswick, Georgia.  As a young woman, she worked at an orphanage in North Carolina, not knowing at the time that her life’s work would be devoted to caring for abandoned children.  In 1909, while engaged to a man she loved deeply, she heard the testimony of a missionary from India, and she was aware at that moment that she could not be married.  God had called her to service as a missionary.  Not knowing where she would go, she opened her Bible and read Acts 7:34:  “I have seen, I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee to Egypt.”  In 1910, she arrived in Alexandria, Egypt, with her sister Jenny, and they found their way to the village of Asyut near the Nile.  Shortly after arriving, Lillian was called to the bedside of a dying mother whose malnourished daughter was also near death.  Though ordered by the mission directors to return the child to the village, Lillian refused to abandon her to poverty and certain death.  In 1911 she rented a small house and some furniture and nursed the child back to health.  As she took in additional children, she had to rely on charity, though she eventually received aid from the newly formed Assemblies of God in the United States.  In 1916 she was able to purchase additional land, the buildings for which were built from bricks which Lillian and the older children made themselves.  In 1919 she was ordered out of the country by the British government in the midst of political turmoil, and when she returned, she took in widows and the blind in addition to children.  Despite the Nazi invasion of Egypt and the subsequent violence during World War II, she kept her orphanage running.  When she died in 1961, she had become known as the “Mother of the Nile” and had cared for nearly 25,000 Egyptian children.  Her orphanage remains open today. 

 

Collect:  God, whose everlasting arms support the universe:  We thank you for moving the heart of Lillian Trasher to heroic hospitality on behalf of orphaned children in great need, and we pray that we also may find our hearts awakened and our compassion stirred to care for your little ones, through the example of our Savior Jesus Christ and by the energy of your Holy Spirit, who broods over the world like a mother over her children; for they live and reign with you, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. 

 

21 December.  Saint Thomas the Apostle, (-72).  The Gospel according to John records several incidents in which Thomas appears, and from them we are able to gain some impression of the sort of man he was.  When Jesus insisted on going to Judea, to visit his friends at Bethany, Thomas boldly declared, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:16).  At the Last Supper, he interrupted our Lord’s discourse with the question, “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” (John 14:5).  And after Christ’s resurrection, Thomas would not accept the account of the other apostles and the women, until Jesus appeared before him, showing him his wounds.  This drew from him the first explicit acknowledgment of Christ’s Godhead, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).  Thomas appears to have been a thoughtful if rather literal-minded man, inclined to scepticism; but he was a staunch friend when his loyalty was once given.  The expression “Doubting Thomas,” which has become established in English usage, is not entirely fair to Thomas.  He did not refuse belief:  he wanted to believe, but did not dare, without further evidence.  Because of his goodwill, Jesus gave him a sign, though Jesus had refused a sign to the Pharisees.  His Lord’s rebuke was well deserved:  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:29).  The sign did not create faith; it merely released the faith which was in Thomas already.  According to an early tradition mentioned by Eusebius and others, Thomas evangelized the Parthians.  Syrian Christians of Malabar, India, who call themselves the Mar Thoma Church, cherish a tradition that Thomas brought the Gospel to India.  Several apocryphal writings have been attributed to him, the most prominent and interesting being the “Gospel of Thomas.”  Thomas’ honest questioning and doubt, and Jesus’ assuring response to him, have given many modern Christians courage to persist in faith, even when they are still doubting and questioning. 

 

From a homily on the Gospels by Saint Gregory the Great, pope.  “My Lord and My God.  Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  He was the only disciple absent; on his return he heard what had happened but refused to believe it.  The Lord came a second time; he offered his side for the disbelieving disciple to touch, held out his hands, and showing the scars of his wounds, healed the wound of his disbelief.  Dearly beloved, what do you see in these events?  Do you really believe that it was by chance that this chosen disciple was absent, then came and heard, heard and doubted, doubted and touched, touched and believed?  It was not by chance but in God’s providence.  In a marvelous way God’s mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the wounds of his master’s body, should heal our wounds of disbelief.  The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples.  As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened.  So the disciple who doubted, then felt Christ’s wounds, becomes a witness to the reality of the resurrection.  Touching Christ, he cried out:  My Lord and my God.  Jesus said to him:  Because you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed.  Paul said:  Faith is the guarantee of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.  It is clear, then, that faith is the proof of what can not be seen.  What is seen gives knowledge, not faith.  When Thomas saw and touched, why was he told:  You have believed because you have seen me?  Because what he saw and what he believed were different things.  God cannot be seen by mortal man.  Thomas saw a human being, whom he acknowledged to be God, and said: My Lord and my God.  Seeing, he believed; looking at one who was true man, he cried out that this was God, the God he could not see.  What follows is reason for great joy:  Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.  There is here a particular reference to ourselves; we hold in our hearts one we have not seen in the flesh.  We are included in these words, but only if we follow up our faith with good works.  The true believer practices what he believes.  But of those who pay only lip service to faith, Paul has this to say:  They profess to know God, but they deny him in their works.  Therefore James says:  Faith without works is dead.” 

 

Sequence for the Feast of St Thomas the Apostle, attributed to Adam of St. Victor (1112-1146), 

translated by Digby S. Wrangham: 

“Let the Church’s sons to-day 

Hymns, that holy joy display, 

With one voice rejoicing, raise: 

Thomas, that great teacher, now 

Is the theme on which we show 

Forth our gladness and our praise ! 

Abanes the president 

Once upon his travels went, 

Seeking anxiously a man, 

Who, in handicraft well-skilled, 

Had the art wherewith to build 

Houses on the Roman plan. 

Then the Lord His servant brings 

To him, as in all such things 

A most skilful workman bred; 

Soon embarking on shipboard. 

They in converse upward soared 

To the highest themes instead. 

At a royal marriage-feast 

Thomas, since to him at least 

Such feasts are impure, as guest, 

Wholly lost in thought doth seem: 

Other food he hath, the praise 

Which a damsel’s accents raise, 

So the butler, in full gaze 

Of the feasters, smiteth him. 

A lion dread, — 

As this man sped 

For water to the fountain-head, — 

With its fangs his limbs doth tear; 

Soon by a hound 

The hand was found 

Which he had used, and carried round 

In the sight of all men there. 

Though the gold to him commended 

He upon the poor expended. 

Upward doth a palace rise: 

Not a palace transitory, 

But a state of endless glory 

In the land of Paradise. 

The king would the Apostle bring 

By force to idol-worshipping; 

But, when he doth to heaven pray, 

The idol wholly melts away. 

Therefore the priests together run 

With other torturers many a one, 

And Thomas, brought beneath the blade, 

A glorious Martyr thus is made. 

Didymus, Christ’s warrior plighted ! 

Through Him Who thy gaze requited, 

And Whose side thy touch invited, 

With unceasing prayer implore. 

That, when this life’s course is ended, 

We, with Christ, the true Vine, blended, 

To those joys may be commended 

Fitly, which endure e’ermore ! 

Glory be to God and praise ! 

” Amen” let creation raise !” 

 

Collect:  Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection:  Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen. 

 

22 December.  Henry Budd, Priest, (1812-1875).  Henry Budd was the first person of First Nations ancestry to be ordained in the Anglican tradition in North America. He is remembered for his service among the Cree in Western Canada.  Budd was an orphan and the date of his birth is unknown.  He entered a mission school that was a joint venture with the Hudson’s Bay Company to provide a Christian education to the First Nations people in the area of Rupert’s Land, the vast expanse of land that encircled Hudson Bay before its division into Canadian provinces.  Before embarking on a vocation as a priest and teacher, he worked as a clerk for the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Henry Budd’s ministry began as a lay teacher in the Red River region of Manitoba where he taught at St. John’s Anglican Parish School.  He and his wife, Betsy, remained in the area for the next thirteen years where Budd taught school and served as a lay minister in the Anglican Church.  Ordained to the Anglican priesthood on December 22, 1850, having been trained largely by personal mentoring and tutoring from other clergy, Budd was assigned to the Mission at Nipawim where he worked as a pastor until 1867.  Thereafter, Budd returned to The Pas where he was put in charge of a vast area encompassing several communities, and where he continued his vocation as both priest and teacher.  Sadly, records of the Church Missionary Society indicate that Budd, a person of native, mixed race, was paid half of what the white missionaries were paid.  Henry Budd is remembered as an eloquent speaker and writer in both Cree and English.  He endeared himself to those he served by exhibiting clearly in the living of his life the Christian principles he preached and the values he taught.  Enduring among his many contributions are his translations of the Scriptures and the Book of Common Prayer into the Cree language.  Budd died on April 2, 1875, just a few days after he had conducted Easter services.  He is buried in The Pas, Manitoba. 

 

Excerpt from the letter of Reverend Henry Budd to the Secretary of the Church Missionary Society, 12 August 1867:  “… a Missionary in this country should never think that the time which is not spent in preaching, or teaching, is his own, for he is to be everything and do everything, indeed his teaching and preaching though attended with great responsibility, is in a manner light when compared to the amount of labor he has to do … of a secular nature, especially where there is nobody but natives to get to do it; for then, he must show them how to do it, he must be with them and conduct them while they are doing it, and see that it is done as he wished it when it is finished, so that whether he is in the Pulpit, or in the fishing tent, or in the sawing tent, is all Missionary work; for as the one is the labor for the soul, so is the other for the body.  A Missionary acquainted with the Native turn of mind, and knowing the language, can easily turn any subject in conversation to the benefit and instruction of these Indians.” 

 

Collect:  Creator of light, we thank you for your priest Henry Budd, who carried the great treasure of Scripture to his people the Cree nation, earning their trust and love.  Grant that his example may call us to reverence, orderliness and love, that we may give you glory in word and action; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. 

 

22 December.  Charlotte Diggs (Lottie) Moon, Missionary in China, (1840-1912).  Born in Virginia, in 1840, Charlotte Diggs (Lottie) Moon was the child of pious, and affluent, Baptist parents.  Precocious in schooling, she received an M.A. in Classics, thereby earning one of the first graduate degrees awarded a woman in the South.  She had a gift for languages, learning first the Biblical and Romance languages — and then later, and famously, Mandarin.  Lottie Moon’s piety lagged behind her learning, and through her teens she remained indifferent to her Baptist heritage.  During a revival at age eighteen, she experienced a powerful conversion and devoted the rest of her life to Christ.  After college, Moon taught school in Alabama, Kentucky, and Georgia, one of the few occupations open to educated women in the South.  Another vocation became available to her when Southern Baptists began to appoint women as foreign missionaries in 1872, and the following year, at age 33, Moon accepted an appointment in China.  Moon settled in Northern China and continued her work of education for girls.  She soon became restless in teaching and she began evangelizing among adults, particularly women.  Her supervisors disapproved of her initiative, but Moon quickly gained credibility because of her ease in relating, woman-to-woman.  Lottie Moon’s ceaseless correspondence with Baptist women in the United States, seeking their support and encouraging would-be missionaries, was instrumental in the denomination’s burgeoning missionary movement.  She appealed to women for a special offering for missionaries at Christmastime in 1887.  Her influence led to the formation of the Women’s Missionary Union in 1888, which continues the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering as a hallmark of Southern Baptist practice.  On arriving in China, Moon remained aloof from the Chinese, thinking them her cultural inferiors.  Over time, however, she found a deep respect for Chinese culture, adopting not only their language but their dress and customs.  As she wrote, “It is comparatively easy to give oneself to mission work, but it is not easy to give oneself to an alien people.  Yet the latter is much better and truer work than the former.”  Lottie Moon died on Christmas Eve, 1912. 

 

Excerpt from a letter from Lottie Moon written on 10 Sep 1890:  “When the gospel is allowed to grow naturally in China, without forcing processes of development, the ‘church in the house’ is usually its first form of organization.  God grant us faith and courage to keep ‘hands off’ and allow this new garden of the Lord’s planting to ripen in the rays of the Divine Love, free from human interference!” 

 

Collect:  O God, in Christ Jesus you have brought Good News to those who are far off and to those who are near:  We praise you for awakening in your servant Lottie Moon a zeal for your mission and for her faithful witness among the peoples of China.  Stir up in us the same desire for your work throughout the world, and give us the grace and means to accomplish it; through the same Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. 

 

25 December.  Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.  That Jesus was born is a fact both of history and revelation.  The precise date of his birth, however, is not recorded in the Gospels, which are, after all, not biographies, and show little concern for those biographical details in which more modern Christians are interested.  Such interest began to become prominent in the fourth century, together with the development of liturgical observances of the events of biblical history.  It was in Rome, in 336, that the date, December 25, was settled upon for the celebration of the Nativity.  The day, coming as it does at the winter solstice, was already a sacred one, as the festival of the birth of the Unconquered Sun (dies natalis Solis Invicti); but its correspondence with the historical date of Jesus’ birth was stoutly maintained by learned, if ingenious, writers.  The observance spread rapidly throughout the West; and it is accepted also by most of the Eastern Churches, in which, however, it does not have the prominence it has in the West.  The full title of the feast dates from the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer.  Prior to that revision, the day was known only as “Christmas Day.”  The word “Christmas,” which can be traced to the twelfth century, is a contraction of “Christ’s Mass.” 

 

Proclamation of the Birth of Christ from the Roman Martyrology:  “Today, the twenty-fifth day of December, unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth and then formed man and woman in his own image.  Several thousand years after the flood, when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.  Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah; thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.  Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges; one thousand years from the anointing of David as king; in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.  In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome.  The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.  Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.” 

 

Sequence for the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, by Adam of St. Victor (1112-1146), 

translated by Digby S. Wrangham: 

“The Creator, not by nature 

But by might, becomes a creature, 

That with glory the Creator  

May His creature once more crown. 

Presaged in the prophets’ pages, 

He, Who of no place or age is. 

Enters on our life’s brief stages, 

Not relinquishing His own. 

Virgin still, the creature giveth 

Birth to Him through Whom she liveth; 

Maiden’s womb her spouse conceiveth; 

Daughter’s breasts her father feed. 

Nature’s law no instance knoweth 

Of such birth as this one showeth; 

And, since it all law o’erthroweth, 

Nature trembles at the deed. 

Heaven to earth hath condescended; 

Man is with the Godhead blended, 

And the Man-God is attended 

By celestial ministry. 

That, as priest, is consecrated  

Heaven’s king, is demonstrated; 

Peace on earth is promulgated, 

Glory unto God on high ! 

Ask’st thou why? how? this beginneth. 

Why ? because mankind first sinneth; 

How? God’s just will then combineth 

With His grace to break sin’s thrall. 

O how sweet their blended savor, 

Changing into spiced wine’s flavor, 

When Christ tasted, man to favor, 

Bitter vinegar and gall ! 

O dread mystery, soul-reviving! 

When Samaria’s son arriving 

Sets, for wounds a balm contriving, 

On His own beast those that fall ! 

He, Elisha’s true successor, 

God-man, counted a transgressor. 

To the Shunamite, to bless her, 

Hath restored her son again. 

As a giant runs He joying, 

Who, His shoulder’s strength employing. 

Bears His sheep. Death’s law destroying, 

Back to primal joys of men. 

As God-man He lives and reigneth, 

And lost man from hell restraineth; 

Man with joy heaven’s realms obtaineth, 

Filling up its orders ten. 

Heaven’s Sire’s mother, goal of sages ! 

Pray that Father through all ages, 

Tell thy Son to point our stages 

To where peace and glory reign 

Till there, being  

Braced, God seeing. 

Lift we Alleluia’s strain, 

Let creation say ” Amen !” 

 

 Collect:  O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light:  Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. 

or 

Collect:  O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ:  Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen. 

or 

Collect:  Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born [this day] of a pure virgin:  Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever.  Amen. 

 

26 December.  Saint Stephen, Deacon and First Martyr.  Very probably a Hellenistic Jew, Stephen was one of the “seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom” (Acts 6:3), who were chosen by the apostles to relieve them of the administrative burden of “serving tables and caring for the widows.”  By this appointment to assist the apostles, Stephen, the first named of those the New Testament calls “The Seven,” became the first to do what the Church traditionally considers to be the work and ministry of a deacon.  It is apparent that Stephen’s activities involved more than simply “serving tables,” for the Acts of the Apostles speaks of his preaching and performing many miracles.  These activities led him into conflict with some of the Jews, who accused him of blasphemy, and brought him before the Sanhedrin.  His powerful sermon before the Council is recorded in the seventh chapter of Acts.  His denunciations of the Sanhedrin so enraged its members that, without a trial, they dragged him out of the city and stoned him to death.  Saul, later called Paul, stood by, consenting to Stephen’s death, but Stephen’s example of steadfast faith in Jesus, and of intercession for his persecutors, was to find fruit in the mission and witness of Paul after his conversion.  The Christian community in Jerusalem, taking fright at the hostility of the Judean authorities, was scattered; so that for the first time the Gospel of Christ began to spread beyond Jerusalem. 

 

From a sermon by St. Fulgentius of Ruspe, bishop:  “The Armament of Love.  Yesterday we celebrated the birth in time of our eternal King.  Today we celebrate the triumphant suffering of his soldier.  Yesterday our king, clothed in his robe of flesh, left his place in the virgin’s womb and graciously visited the world.  Today his soldier leaves the tabernacle of his body and goes triumphantly to heaven.  Our king, despite his exalted majesty, came in humility for our sake; yet he did not come empty-handed.  He brought his soldiers a great gift that not only enriched them but also made them unconquerable in battle, for it was the gift of love, which was to bring men to share in his divinity.  He gave of his bounty, yet without any loss to himself.  In a marvelous way he changed into wealth the poverty of his faithful followers while remaining in full possession of his own inexhaustible riches.  And so the love that brought Christ from heaven to earth raised Stephen from earth to heaven; shown first in the king, it later shone forth in his soldier.  Love was Stephen’s weapon by which he gained every battle, and so won the crown signified by his name.  His love of God kept him from yielding to the ferocious mob; his love for his neighbor made him pray for those who were stoning him.  Love inspired him to reprove those who erred, to make them amend; love led him to pray for those who stoned him, to save them from punishment.  Strengthened by the power of his love, he overcame the raging cruelty of Saul and won his persecutor on earth as his companion in heaven.  In his holy and tireless love, he longed to gain by prayer those whom he could not convert by admonition.  Now at last, Paul rejoices with Stephen, with Stephen he delights in the glory of Christ, with Stephen he exalts, with Stephen he reigns.  Stephen went first, slain by the stones thrown by Paul, but Paul followed after, helped by the prayer of Stephen.  This, surely, is the true life, my brothers, a life in which Paul feels no shame because of Stephen’s death, and Stephen delights in Paul’s companionship, for love fills them both with joy.  It was Stephen’s love that prevailed over the cruelty of the mob, and it was Paul’s love that covered the multitude of his sins; it was love that won for both of them the kingdom of heaven.  Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; it is an impregnable defense, and the way that leads to heaven.  He who walks in love can neither go astray nor be afraid:  love guides him, protects him, and brings him to his journey’s end.  My brothers, Christ made love the stairway that would enable all Christians to climb to heaven.  Hold fast to it, therefore, in all sincerity, give one another practical proof of it, and by your progress in it, make your ascent together.” 

 

Sequence for the Feast of St. Stephen, by Adam of St. Victor (1112-1146), 

translated by Digby S. Wrangham: 

“Lo ! a rose, new odor shedding, 

Bright with beauty, all exceeding, 

From the halls of heaven, 

Out of Egypt is invited. 

And to follow Christ delighted, 

After witness given. 

An unhappy, backward nation 

Treats its victim’s self-oblation 

In unworthy fashion. 

And Christ’s truths, for which he pleadeth; 

Though therefrom he ne’er recedeth 

Through his fiery passion. 

In his bruised flesh he rejoices; 

Bent his knee and soft his voice is, 

For the Jews’ race pleading, 

That ‘gainst them his causeless passion 

Be not charged, of their transgression 

Being thus unheeding. 

His hope’s certain expectation 

Is confirmed to demonstration, 

When he Christ perceiveth 

In His Father’s glory standing; 

On the rock then, safe contending, 

Awe-struck foes he driveth. 

As a grape, the wine-press feeding, 

Would have wine pressed thence by treading. 

Lest it useless seemeth; 

So the martyr stoning pleaseth. 

Knowing his reward increaseth, 

As his life-blood streameth. 

Let us, through earth’s desert driven 

Here and there, to follow Stephen 

In his course endeavor; 

That, safe such a leader under. 

We the Triune’s true light yonder 

May enjoy for ever ! Amen.” 

 

Collect:  We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. 

 

27 December.  Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist.  John, the son of Zebedee, with his brother James, was called from being a fisherman to be a disciple and “fisher of men.”  With Peter and James, he became one of the inner group of three disciples whom Jesus chose to be with him at the raising of Jairus’ daughter, at the Transfiguration, and in the garden of Gethsemane.  John and his brother James are recorded in the Gospel as being so hotheaded and impetuous that Jesus nicknamed them the “sons of thunder.” They also appear ambitious, in that they sought seats of honor at Jesus’ right and left when he should come into his kingdom; yet they were faithful companions, willing, without knowing the cost, to share the cup Jesus was to drink.  When the other disciples responded in anger to the audacity of the brothers in asking for this honor, Jesus explained that in his kingdom leadership and rule takes the form of being a servant to all.  If, as is commonly held, John is to be identified with the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” then he clearly enjoyed a very special relationship with his Master, reclining close to Jesus at the Last Supper, receiving the care of his mother at the cross, and being the first to understand the truth of the empty tomb.  The Acts of the Apostles records John’s presence with Peter on several occasions:  the healing of the lame man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple, before the Sanhedrin, in prison, and on the mission to Samaria to lay hands upon the new converts that they might receive the Holy Spirit.  According to tradition, John later went to Asia Minor and settled at Ephesus.  Under the Emperor Domitian, he was exiled to the island of Patmos, where he experienced the visions recounted in the Book of Revelation.  Irenaeus, at the end of the second century, liked to recall how Polycarp, in his old age, had talked about the apostle whom he had known while growing up at Ephesus.  It is probable that John died there.  He alone of the Twelve is said to have lived to extreme old age and to have been spared a martyr’s death. 

 

From a tractate on the First Letter of John by Saint Augustine, bishop.  “Life Itself was Revealed in the Flesh.  Our message is the Word of life.  We announce what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we have touched with our own hands.  Who could touch the Word with his hands unless the Word was made flesh and lived among us?  Now this Word, whose flesh was so real that he could be touched by human hands, began to be flesh in the Virgin Mary’s womb; but he did not begin to exist at that moment.  We know this from what John says:  What existed from the beginning.  Notice how John’s letter bears witness to his Gospel, which you just heard a moment ago:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God.  Someone might interpret the phrase the Word of life to mean a word about Christ, rather than Christ’s body itself which was touched by human hands.  But consider what comes next:  and life itself was revealed.  Christ therefore is himself the Word of life.  And how was this life revealed?  It existed from the beginning, but was not revealed to men, only to angels, who looked upon it and feasted upon it as their own spiritual bread.  But what does Scripture say?  Mankind ate the bread of angels.  Life itself was therefore revealed in the flesh.  In this way what was visible to the heart alone could become visible also to the eye, and so heal men’s hearts.  For the Word is visible to the heart alone, while flesh is visible to bodily eyes as well.  We already possessed the means to see the flesh, but we had no means of seeing the Word.  The Word was made flesh so that we could see it, to heal the part of us by which we could see the Word.  John continues:  And we are witnesses and we proclaim to you that eternal life which was with the Father and has been revealed among us – one might say more simply “revealed to us.”  We proclaim to you what we have heard and seen.  Make sure that you grasp the meaning of these words.  The disciples saw our Lord in the flesh, face to face; they heard the words he spoke, and in turn they proclaimed the message to us.  So we also have heard, although we have not seen.  Are we then less favored than those who both saw and heard?  If that were so, why should John add: so that you too may have fellowship with us?  They saw, and we have not seen; yet we have fellowship with them, because we and they share the same faith.  And our fellowship is with God the Father and Jesus Christ his Son.  And we write this to you to make your joy complete – complete in that fellowship, in that love and in that unity.” 

 

Sequence for the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, by Adam of St. Victor (1112-1146), 

translated by Digby S. Wrangham: 

“John’s theology declareth, 

Though on earth all flesh appeareth 

To decline in swift decay, 

That the Word’s word self-existent, 

Through all ages still consistent, 

Will remain nor pass away. 

As the loved disciple sinketh 

On his Master’s breast, and drinketh 

Wisdom’s fount and learning’s stream. 

From a posture so endearing 

Word and faith, and speech and hearing, 

Mind and God, converging seem. 

By the flights of thought thence taken, — 

Flesh and carnal sense forsaken, — 

Far o’er error’s cloudy night, 

Eagle-like, by observation, 

The true Sun’s illumination, 

Keeps his keen-eyed heart in sight. 

Want of style the sense confuses, 

But such subtlety John uses, 

And so Catholic his faith, 

That all heretics, depraving, 

Doctrines of that Word soul-saving, 

Fail to gainsay aught he saith. 

Lo ! that Word, beyond expression, 

Who all very good did fashion 

By His power of creation, 

From the eternal Sire appeareth 

Undivided, John declareth. 

Save in Personal relation. 

Whom with chaste milk Matthew feedeth, 

Which from virgin breasts proceedeth, 

With much toil and trouble blended; 

Whom that ox-horn, Luke’s pen, placeth  

On the cross and high upraiseth, 

As the serpent was suspended; 

Whom from death’s sepulchral portal 

Lion Mark restores immortal. 

Whilst earth quakes and rocks are riven; 

Him John paints with skill unstudied, 

First and last, God in true Godhead, 

Father of all earth and heaven. 

He the eyes all round these creatures, 

Their swift wings, their fourfold features. 

And the wheels that stand beside them, 

In their might had seen in heaven, 

Ere form here to them was given, 

Or the charioteer to guide them. 

They describe what craft Christ suffered; 

Violence by Pilate offered, 

With the thorn-crown, then endured: 

He, borne up on soaring pinion, 

Treats of Christ’s supreme dominion. 

And of His avenging sword. 

On his wings, though uninstructed, 

Rise the King’s own wheels, conducted 

As though on the living four; 

While the heavenly harpers, kneeling 

At the Father’s throne, their thrilling  

Alleluia’s song outpour ! Amen.” 

 

Collect:  Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. 

 

28 December.  The Holy Innocents.  Herod the Great, ruler of the Jews, appointed by the Romans in 40 B.C., kept the peace in Palestine for 37 years.  His ruthless control, coupled with genuine ability, has been recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus, who describes him as “a man of great barbarity towards everyone.”  An Idumaean, married to the daughter of Hyrcanus, the last legal Hasmonean ruler, Herod was continually in fear of losing his throne.  It is not surprising that the Wise Men’s report of the birth of an infant King of the Jews (Matthew 2) caused him fear and anger.  Although the event is not recorded in secular history, the story of the massacre of the Innocents is totally in keeping with what is known of Herod’s character.  To protect himself against being supplanted by an infant king, Herod ordered the slaughter of all male children under two years of age in Bethlehem and the surrounding region.  No one knows how many were killed, but the Church has honored these innocent children as martyrs.  Augustine of Hippo called them “buds, killed by the frost of persecution the moment they showed themselves.”  Attested since at least 485 in the western Church, this feast commemorates the death of these children as martyrs for Christ and presents them as a fulfillment of the prophecy in Jeremiah that in Ramah there would be weeping and great mourning.  Matthew depicts this event as a testimony to the authenticity of Jesus as the Messiah. 

 

From a sermon by St. Quodvultdeus, bishop:  “’They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ.’  A tiny child is born, who is a great king.  Wise men are led to him from afar.  They come to adore one who lies in a manger and yet reigns in heaven and on earth.  When they tell of one who is born a king, Herod is disturbed.  To save his kingdom he resolves to kill him, though if he would have faith in the child, he himself would reign in peace in this life and for ever in the life to come.  Why are you afraid, Herod, when you hear of the birth of a king?  He does not come to drive you out, but to conquer the devil.  But because you do not understand this you are disturbed and in a rage, and to destroy one child whom you seek, you show your cruelty in the death of so many children.  You are not restrained by the love of weeping mothers or fathers mourning the deaths of their sons, nor by the cries and sobs of the children.  You destroy those who are tiny in body because fear is destroying your heart.  You imagine that if you accomplish your desire you can prolong your own life, though you are seeking to kill Life himself.  Yet your throne is threatened by the source of grace, so small, yet so great, who is lying in the manger.  He is using you, all unaware of it, to work out his own purposes freeing souls from captivity to the devil.  He has taken up the sons of the enemy into the ranks of God’s adopted children.  The children die for Christ, though they do not know it.  The parents mourn for the death of martyrs.  The child makes of those as yet unable to speak fit witnesses to himself.  See the kind of kingdom that is his, coming as he did in order to be this kind of king.  See how the deliverer is already working deliverance, the savior already working salvation.  But you, Herod, do not know this and are disturbed and furious.  While you vent your fury against the child, you are already paying him homage, and do not know it.  How great a gift of grace is here!  To what merits of their own do the children owe this kind of victory?  They cannot speak, yet they bear witness to Christ.  They cannot use their limbs to engage in battle, yet already they bear off the palm of victory.” 

 

Sequence for the Feast of the Holy Innocents by the Venerable Bede (672-735), 

translated by the Rev. John Mason Neal in Medieval Hymns and Sequences (1863). 

“The hymn for conquering Martyrs raise: 

The Victor Innocents we praise 

Whom in their woe earth cast away, 

But Heaven with joy received to-day. 

Whose Angels see the Father’s Face 

World without end, and hymn His Grace: 

And while they chant unceasing lays, 

The hymn for conquering Martyrs raise. 

By that accursed monarch slain, 

Their loving Maker bade them reign: 

With Him they dwell, no more distressed, 

In the fair Land of light and rest: 

He gives them mansions, one and all, 

In that His Heavenly Father’s Hall: 

Thus have they changed their loss for gain, 

By that accursed Monarch slain. 

A voice from Ramah was there sent, 

A voice of weeping and lament: 

When Rachel mourned the children s care 

Whom for the tyrant s sword she bare. 

Triumphal is their glory now 

Whom earthly torments could not bow: 

What time, both far and near that went, 

A voice from Ramah was there sent. 

Fear not, O little flock and blest, 

The lion that your life oppressed ! 

To heavenly pastures ever new 

The heavenly Shepherd leadeth you; 

Who, dwelling now on Sion’s hill 

The Lamb’s dear footsteps follow still: 

By tyrant there no more distressed, 

Fear not, O little flock and blest ! 

And every tear is wiped away 

By your dear Father’s hands for aye; 

Death hath no power to hurt you more, 

Whose own is Life’s eternal store. 

Who sow their seed, and, sowing, weep, 

In everlasting joy shall reap: 

What time they shine in heavenly day, 

And every tear is wiped away. 

O City blest o er all the earth, 

Who gloriest in the Savior’s birth ! 

Whose are His earliest Martyrs dear, 

By kindred and by triumph here. 

None from henceforth may call thee small; 

Of rival towns thou passest all; 

In whom our Monarch had His Birth, 

O City blest o’er all the earth !” 

 

Collect:  We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod.  Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

 

29 December.  Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, (1118-1170).  The life and death of Thomas Becket have intrigued scholars and church people for centuries.  He was born in London of a wealthy Norman family and educated in England and in France.  He then became an administrator for Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury.  Later he was sent to study law in Italy and France and, after being ordained deacon, he was appointed Archdeacon of Canterbury.  His administrative skills eventually brought him to the notice of King Henry II, who to Thomas’s surprise, appointed him Chancellor of England.  He and the King became intimate friends, and because of Becket’s unquestioning loyalty and support of the King’s interests in both Church and State, Henry secured Thomas’s election as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162.  Becket, foreseeing a break with his Royal Master, was reluctant to accept.  As Archbishop he changed, as he tells us, “from a patron of play actors and a follower of hounds, to being a shepherd of souls.”  He also defended the interests of the Church against those of his former friend and patron, the King.  The struggle between the two became so bitter that Thomas sought exile at an abbey in France.  When he returned to England six years later, the fragile reconciliation between Henry and the Archbishop broke down.  In a fit of rage, the King is alleged to have asked his courtiers, “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”  Four barons, taking Henry’s words as an order, made their way to Canterbury, and upon finding the Archbishop in the cathedral, struck him down with their swords.  Later, when the monks of Canterbury undressed Thomas’s body to wash it and prepare it for burial, they discovered that under his episcopal robes their worldly and determined Archbishop was wearing a hair shirt.  While such a garment hardly proves that a person is a saint, it clearly indicates that Thomas was motivated in the exercise of his office by far more than political considerations.  His final words to the four barons before receiving the fatal blow were, “Willingly I die for the name of Jesus and in the defense of the Church.” 

 

Sequence for the Feast of St. Thomas of Canterbury, by Adam of St. Victor (1112-1146), 

translated by Digby S. Wrangham: 

“Joy, O Sion ! and rejoice thou; 

With both vow and lifted voice now, 

With a holy joy be glad I 

For Christ’s sake, assassinated, 

Is thy Thomas immolated, 

A most precious victim made. 

Primate, legate, though created, 

He was ne’er with pride elated 

By his honors’ lofty height; 

Steward of the King of heaven, 

He was into exile driven, 

Since he for his flock would fight. 

With the Spirit’s sword girt round him. 

Victory with full triumph crowned him, 

As with pastoral spear he fought; 

For his God’s law to be fighting. 

For his flock’s sake death inviting. 

Ever was his chiefest thought 

Losing then its guide and master, 

And deprived thus of its pastor, 

Canterbury deeply grieved; 

But then one, so justly noted, 

Sens in France, with joy devoted, 

And with glad acclaim received. 

In his absence sore prostrated, 

And, when prostrate, violated. 

Was the Church no longer free; 

So from ‘mongst us thou departedst. 

Father ! but aside ne’er startedst 

From the path of probity. 

Once, amid the courtier bevy. 

Thou wast foremost of the levy 

In the palace of the king; 

All the people approbation, 

And the world loud acclamation, 

As its wont is, offering. 

Well-timed was thy transformation; 

For of thee thy consecration 

By a blest reciprocation 

Made a new man happily: 

Thou thine opposition endedst. 

As a wall, the Church defendedst, 

And thyself to death commendedst. 

Willing thus for Christ to die. 

Champion ! who this life disdainest ! 

Victory in the fight thou gainest, 

And the joyful palm obtainest; 

Evidence of which the plainest 

All thy wonders rare afford. 

To the blind their sight thou givest, 

And the lame man’s powers revivest; 

Thou paralysis relievest, 

And the old foe backward drivest. 

And transgressions’ filthy horde. 

Gem of priesthood, princely Thomas ! 

By thy prayer effectual from us 

Take our lusts, our flesh subdue; 

That, in Christ, the true Vine, rooted. 

We may gain, thus constituted, 

Life-joys both divine and true ! Amen.” 

 

Collect:  O God, our strength and our salvation, you called your servant Thomas Becket to be a shepherd of your people and a defender of your Church:  Keep your household from all evil and raise up among us faithful pastors and leaders who are wise in the ways of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ the shepherd of our souls, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen. 

 

30 December. Frances Joseph Gaudet, Educator and Prison Reformer, (1861-1934).  Frances was born in a log cabin in Holmesville, Mississippi, of African American and Native American descent.  Raised by her grandparents, she later went to live with a brother in New Orleans where she attended school and Straight College.  While still a young woman, Gaudet dedicated her life to prison reform.  In 1894, she began holding prayer meetings for Black prisoners.  She wrote letters for them, delivered messages, and found them clothing.  Later, she extended this ministry to white prisoners as well.  Her dedication to the imprisoned and to penal reform won her the respect of prison officials, city authorities, the governor of Louisiana, and the Prison Reform Association.  In 1900 she was a delegate to the international convention of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Gaudet worked to rehabilitate young Blacks arrested for misdemeanors or vagrancy, becoming the first woman to support young offenders in Louisiana.  Her efforts helped to found the Juvenile Court.  Deeply committed to the provision of good education, she eventually purchased a farm and founded the Gaudet Normal and Industrial School.  Eventually, it expanded to over 105 acres with numerous buildings, and also served as a boarding school for children with working mothers.  Gaudet served as its principal until 1921, when she donated the institution to the Episcopal Church in Louisiana.  Though it closed in 1950, the Gaudet Episcopal Home opened in the same location four years later to serve African American children aged four to 16.  Frances Joseph Gaudet died on December 30, 1934. 

 

Excerpt from the Frances Joseph Gaudet’s autobiography, He Leadeth Me:  “[A woman exclaimed,] ‘My, you have a fine mind, you ought to be a white woman.’  I felt hurt and answered, ‘I would not insult my God who made me by finding fault with this swarthy skin.  He knows what is best and placed me where He had need of me, and I am grateful to Him for the opportunity to show the world that I can serve Him well where He has placed me.’  What a pity that some people worship color!  It is not color that God looks at but character.  The soul stripped of its earthly habiliments stands before God to answer for its conduct while sojourning in its earthly house, before that mortal puts on immortality.” 

 

Collect:  Merciful God, who raised up your servant Frances Joseph Gaudet to work for prison reform and the education of her people:  Grant that we, encouraged by the example of her life, may work for those who are denied the fullness of life by reasons of incarceration and lack of access to education; through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

 

31 December.  Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Bishop in the Niger Territories, (1809-1891).  In Canterbury Cathedral on St. Peter’s Day, June 29, 1864, Samuel Ajayi Crowther was ordained the first African bishop in Nigeria for “the countries of Western Africa beyond the limits of the Queen’s domains.”  Crowther’s gifts to the church were many.  A skilled linguist, he helped translate the Bible and Book of Common Prayer into Yoruba and other West African languages.  He founded schools and training colleges, where he encouraged the study of the Gospel, traditional subjects, and farming methods that allowed students to raise basic crops and cotton as sources of income.  As a child, Crowther had been captured in 1822 during a Nigerian civil war and sold to Portuguese slave traders.  Intercepted by a British anti-slavery patrol, the ship and its human cargo were taken to Freetown, Sierra Leone, a haven for freed captives after the British Parliament abolished the slave trade in 1807.  There Crowther was educated at a Church Missionary Society (CMS) school, was baptized in 1825, and became a teacher in Sierra Leone, an active center of African Christian ministry that sent indigenous lay and ordained ministers throughout West Africa.  Crowther’s leadership skills were soon evident, and in 1842 the CMS sent him to their Islington, England, training college.  He was ordained a year later, returned to Sierra Leone, and then moved on to Yoruba territory.  He also made extended mission journeys to the interior of Nigeria, where in encounters with Muslims he was known as a humble, patient listener and a thoughtful, non-polemical partner in dialogue.  At the time of his ordination as bishop, the British tried to keep missionary activity solely under the control of white British clerics, some of whom set about subverting Crowther’s authority, something he patiently endured, while actively continuing his expansive work among Africans.  Despite the difficulties, Crowther’s achievement was considerable, and he has been called the most widely known African Christian of the nineteenth century.  He created a solid base from which a much later generation of indigenous African leadership emerged to chart their own political and ecclesial futures. 

 

Collect:  Almighty God, you rescued Samuel Ajayi Crowther from slavery, sent him to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to his people in Nigeria, and made him the first bishop from the people of West Africa:  Grant that those who follow in his steps may reap what he has sown and find abundant help for the harvest; through him who took upon himself the form of a slave that we might be free, the same Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.