Fanny Crosby, America’s Hymn Queen

Mercy Crosby held her tiny daughter’s hands as little Fanny’s face contorted in a scream of pure agony.

“Doctor, are you sure you have to do this to her?,” Mercy asked through tears of anguish.

“Mrs. Crosby, I know it’s hard to hear little Fanny scream like this, but we must draw out the infection. These hot mustard poultices are the best way to do it.”

“But she is so small, only six weeks old. Maybe we should wait until our regular doctor returns to town.” Mercy tried her best to shut out tiny Fanny’s screams, but it proved too difficult. If anything, her screams were getting louder.

The impatient doctor replied, “Mrs. Crosby, as I told you, waiting would only make the infection worse. I know the treatment hurts Fanny, but it’s much better to treat the infection immediately. You never know what may happen if an eye infection is left untreated.”

Mercy reluctantly accepted the doctor’s diagnosis. Although Fanny’s screams eventually subsided to a whimper, they still lingered in her mother’s memory. The infection in Fanny’s eyes did go away, but her corneas had been burned in the process and scars began to form over them. In the weeks that followed, long after the unknown doctor left town, John and Mercy realized that their daughter was not responding to visual stimuli. Soon, their worst fears were realized: young Fanny was completely blind. The doctor was revealed to be a quack and disappeared. In time, she would become America’s hymn queen.

The future musical monarch, Fanny Jane Crosby, was born on March 24, 1820, in the village of Brewster, fifty miles north of New York City, the only child of John and Mercy Crosby. When she was six months old, her father died. Her mother was forced to work as a maid and she was mostly raised by her Christian grandmother. These women grounded her in Christian principles and instilled in her an abiding faith in God.  

Fanny would later write of her grandmother: “My grandmother was more to me than I could ever express by word or pen.” Her grandmother Eunice took the time to help her granddaughter “see” the world around her. They spent hours walking in the meadow, where Eunice would describe the sights around her in as vivid detail as possible. Many hours would also be spent in an old rocking chair where Eunice would describe to Fanny the intricate details of flowers and birds around her, or the beauty of sunrise or sunset.

Although Fanny was blind, she never considered herself handicapped. She did many of the things that other children did and accepted her blindness with a positive attitude that is evident in a poem that she wrote when she was just eight years old. She maintained this positive outlook her whole life and considered her blindness a blessing and not a curse. She refused to feel sorry for herself. She once stated, “It seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”

“I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when he showered so many other gifts upon you,” remarked one well-meaning preacher.

Fanny Crosby responded at once, as she had heard such comments before. “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind?” said the poet, who had been able to see only for her first six weeks of life. “Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.”

Grandma Eunice spent many hours reading the Bible to Fanny and teaching her the importance of prayer and a close relationship with God. She soon discovered Fanny’s amazing gift for memorization. She encouraged her to memorize long passages of the Bible. She memorized five chapters of the Bible per week from age ten; by age fifteen, she had memorized the four gospels, the Pentateuch, the book of Proverbs, the Song of Solomon and many of the Psalms. Fanny remarked, “The Holy Book has nurtured my whole life.”

Her mother’s hard work paid off. Shortly before her fifteenth birthday, Fanny was sent to the recently founded New York Institute for the Blind. Lessons were taught by lecture, as Braille was not widely used at this time. Her phenomenal memory helped her retain the information she heard and she enjoyed her studies.

In 1843, she joined the Institute faculty and taught history and rhetoric for the next fifteen years. During this time, she gained recognition as a poet and rubbed shoulders with well-known people such as President James K. Polk, Henry Clay, and William Cullen Bryant. She also recited poetry before a joint session of Congress in April 1846 to advocate for the education of the blind. The audience included Jefferson Davis and former president James Quincy Adams. When she finished her recitation, the applause was so deafening it sounded like thunder and frightened her. Her encore was so moving that it moved many Congressmen to tears. She even befriended future president Grover Cleveland, then age 17, while teaching at the Institute. The two spent hours together at the end of each day and he often transcribed the poems that she dictated to him. He wrote her a recommendation that was published in her 1906 autobiography. She wrote a poem to be read at the dedication of Cleveland’s birthplace at Caldwell, New Jersey, being unable to attend due to ill health.

Fanny and others at the Institute often travelled giving concerts and programs to make people aware of the school and what it offered to the blind. On one such trip, Fanny met an acquaintance that would prove significant for her life. Mary Van Alstine was so impressed by the Institute that she determined to send her twelve-year-old boy there as soon as she could. She wanted Fanny to be his instructor and told the twenty-three-old teacher, “Take good care of my boy!” She did take good care of him but what no one realized is that the two would later marry!

“Van,” as Fanny called him, was the first of the school’s students to attend “regular college.” After obtaining his teaching certificate, he returned to the Institute as a music teacher, where he and Fanny connected over their mutual love of music and poetry. Despite the age difference, their friendship blossomed into love, and on March 5, 1858, the two married. Considered one of New York’s best organists, he wrote the music to many of her hymns. Fanny put the music to only a few of her hymns, even though she played piano, guitar, harp, and other instruments. More often than not, musicians came to her for lyrics.

For example, one day musician William Doane dropped by her home for a surprise visit, begging her to put some words to a tune he had recently written and which he was to perform at an upcoming Sunday School convention. The only problem was that his train to the convention was leaving in 35 minutes. He sat at the piano and played the tune.

“Your music says, ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus,’” Crosby remarked. She quickly scribbled down the lyrics. “Read it on the train and hurry. You don’t want to be late!” It became one of her most famous hymns.

Fanny is best remembered for the nearly 9,000 hymns she wrote. Amazingly, she did not start writing hymns until her forties. Publisher and hymn writer William B. Bradbury was not happy with the quality of the hymns that were submitted to him for publication. He had heard of Fanny’s talent and after verifying her ability, he hired her to write hymns telling her, “As long as I have a publishing house, you will have work.”

Though she was under contract to submit three hymns a week to her publisher and often wrote six or seven a day, many became incredibly popular. When Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey began to use them in their crusades, they received even more attention. Among them are “Blessed Assurance,” “All the Way My Savior Leads Me,” “To God Be the Glory,” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” “Rescue the Perishing,” and “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.”

From 1871 to 1908, she worked with Ira Sankey who helped turn her into a household name for Protestants around the globe. While Sankey was the premier promoter of gospel songs, Crosby was their premier provider. Sankey and Moody brought many of her hymns to the attention of Christians in the United States and Britain. Crosby was friends with Ira Sankey and his wife, Frances, and often stayed at their home in Northfield, Massachusetts, for the annual Summer Christian Workers’ Conference, and later at their home in Brooklyn. After Sankey’s eyesight was destroyed by glaucoma in March 1903, their friendship grew even deeper and they continued to compose hymns together at his home.

She once described her writing process in this way: “It may seem a little old-fashioned, always to begin one’s work with prayer, but I never undertake a hymn without first asking the good Lord to be my inspiration.” And God never ceased to provide inspiration for her music.

Though she is best remembered for her hymns, she wanted to be remembered as a rescue mission worker. She even said that her official occupation was mission worker.

Many of her hymns were inspired by her work in city missions. She was inspired to write Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior, after speaking at a service at the Manhattan Prison in 1868, after hearing comments by the prisoner asking the Lord not to pass them by. It became her first hymn to have global appeal, after it was used by Sankey at Moody’s crusade in Britain in 1874. Sankey commented that no hymn was more popular at those London meetings than this one.

Crosby and her husband had lived in area of New York City such as Hell’s Kitchen, the Bowery, and the Tenderloin. She was acutely aware of the great needs of the immigrants pouring into the city and of the urban poor. She was passionate about helping them through working at city missions and other urban ministries. She wrote, “From the time I received my first check for my poems, I made up my mind to open my hand wide to those who needed assistance.” She was said to have had a horror of wealth throughout her life. She never set prices for her speaking engagements, often refused honoraria, and what little she did accept she gave away at the first opportunity. She and her husband organized concerts, with half the proceeds being given to aid the poor. Throughout New York City, her love for the poor and efforts to help them were well-known. She and her husband could have lived comfortably off the money she was making through her hymns, but they chose to use the money to embetter the lives of the poor.

Her hymn-writing declined in later years, but she remained active in speaking engagements and in mission work until almost the day she died. She met with presidents, generals, and dignitaries.

Crosby died at Bridgeport on February 12, 1915, after a six-month illness, age 94; her husband predeceased her. She was buried in the town cemetery near her mother and other family members. Per her own request, a small gravestone was erected which read, “Aunt Fanny: she hath done what she could; Fanny J. Crosby.” In 1955, a large marble monument was erected which dwarfed the original gravestone and has the first stanza of Blessed Assurance written on it.

In 1975, she was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and is known at the “Queen of Gospel Song Writers.” The Episcopal Church remembers her on February 11.

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The Church’s Treasures: St. Lawrence of Rome

When you think of the word “treasure” what immediately comes to mind? Money? Gold? Silver? Precious jewels? When you think of the church’s treasure, what do you think of? The sacred vessels of the Mass? Artwork? Frescoes? St. Lawrence of Rome, whom we celebrate today (August 10th) challenges our definitions of treasure?

Born on December 26, 225 in the town of Valencia in the region that later came to be known as Aragorn in Spain. He encountered the future Pope St. Sixtus II, a famous highly esteemed teacher, in modern-day Zaragoza. Eventually both left Spain for Italy. When Sixtus became pope in 257, he appointed Lawrence as a deacon, and although Lawrence was young, made him first among the seven deacons in Rome. He is therefore referred to at times as archdeacon, a position of great trust that included care of the treasury and riches of the Church along with the distribution of alms.

St. Cyprian notes that when a Christian was denounced, he was executed and his goods confiscated by the imperial treasury. In August 258, the Emperor Valerian declared that all bishops, priests and deacons must be put to death. Pope Sixtus II was captured at the cemetery of St. Callixtus while celebrating the liturgy and was executed on the spot.

After his death, the prefect of Rome demanded that Lawrence turn over all the riches of the Church. He asked for three days to gather up the wealth. He then worked quickly to distribute as much of the wealth as he could to the poor to prevent it from being confiscated. On the third day, at the head of a small delegation, he presented himself to the prefect and when asked to hand over the wealth, he presented the poor, the lame, the crippled and declared these to be the true treasures of the Church. He is then reported to have said, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor!” The prefect was outraged and ordered him to be martyred. He was so angry he had a gridiron prepared with hot coals beneath it and had Lawrence placed on it. Lawrence was cheerful during his ordeal and towards the point of death said, “I am well done. Turn me over!” From this derives his patronage of cooks, chefs, and comedians. He is also the patron of many others including deacons, librarians, archivists, students, tanners, the poor, and also against fire. The St. Lawrence River in Canada is named after him.

He is one of the most widely venerated saints in the Roman Catholic Church and is considered to be the third patron of Rome after Saints Peter and Paul. Devotion to him was widespread by the fourth century. The church built over his tomb, the Papal Minor Basilica San Lorenzo fuori le Mura, is one of the seven principle churches of Rome and a favorite among pilgrims. Because the Perseid Meteor Shower occurs around his feast day, it is sometimes referred to as the “Tears of St. Lawrence.”

St. Lawrence reminds us of what truly matters. It is not about gold, silver, money, jewels, artwork or even sacred vessels. It’s about people, in particularly the poor, the homeless, the lame, the disabled–those on the margins of society. Jesus in St. Matthew’s gospel reminds us that we will all be held accountable for what we did for the “least of these.” What we did for them we did for him and the opposite is also true.

In one of my favorite movies, The Scarlet and the Black, which portrays Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, played masterfully by Gregory Peck, who helped hide Jews and POW’s in the Vatican during World War II. In one scene, Pope Pius XII, played by Sir John Gielgud, shows him all of the artwork and statues that were being hidden for safekeeping referring to them as the treasures of the Church and how he was responsible for making sure the Church lived on– “preserving the continuity of the centuries” as the Holy Father put it. Near the end of the film, knowing of this priest’s work and how he had risked life and limb to save those who were despised, comes to visit O’Flaherty. He says, “I once talked to you about the treasures of the Church. Perhaps I deceived myself. The true treasures of the Church, what makes it imperishable, is when someone comes to it like you, my son.”

He is right. The treasures of the Church are you and me. We are what make the Church truly rich and when we serve the poor and the bring the good news of the gospel to them we make her far richer than any Fortune 500 company could ever dream of. Let us not be caught up in the pursuit of riches, but instead let us look to the examples of men like St. Lawrence of Rome and Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty. For they remind us of what truly matters in this life and where true treasure lies.

 

 

 

St Patrick

Today is the day we wear green, drink Guinness, and eat corned beef and hoist a pint to the Apostle of Ireland. His feast day is both a religious and cultural holiday.

The dates of his life are not entirely certain but he lived during the fifth century. He was born in Roman Britain possibly in the year 387. His father was a deacon and his grandfather a priest, but Patrick himself was not an active believer. According to his Confession, when he was sixteen he was captured by Irish pirates who took him to the Emerald Isle where he was enslaved for six years tending sheep. This time in captivity proved critical to his spiritual development. God spoke to him and showed him mercy and forgiveness for his ignorance and sin. Through prayer, he strengthened his relationship with God and converted to Christianity. During this time, he also became fluent in the Irish language and culture which would prove key later on. Much like Joseph who sold into slavery in Egypt, God sent Patrick into captivity for a reason. In both cases, people meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. In this case, the conversion of an entire nation and people!

God told him that he would soon be freed and to travel to a distant port where he would find a ship willing to take him to Britain. After escaping from his master, he traveled two hundred miles to the coast where he persuaded a ship captain to let him aboard. After three days sailing, he landed back in Britain and after various adventures, including encountering a herd of wild boar,  he returned home to his family. On his way back to Britain, he was captured again and spent sixty days in captivity in Tours where he discovered French monasticism.

He continued to study Christianity. He studied in Europe, principally at Auxerre, but is thought he visited Marmoutier Abbey at Tours. St. Germanus ordained him. After receiving a vision, he returned to Ireland as a missionary. He founded three hundred churches and baptized 100,000 Irish men, women, and children. He ordained priests to lead the new churches and converted wealthy women, some of whom became nuns in spite of family opposition. Patrick also dealt with the sons of kings, converting them too.

Tradition says that St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach the Irish about the Trinity, using the three-leafed plant to explain one God in three persons. In pagan Ireland, three was a significant number and there were a number of triple deities which may have aided him in his efforts to evangelize the Irish when he used the shamrock as a teaching tool.

It also said that he banished all the snakes from Ireland after they attacked him during a forty day fast. The trouble with this account is that Ireland has never had snakes due to the fact that it is too cold. So there were no snakes for him to banish. Yet the story could be metaphorical. Heresy is often depicted in the church as a snake. By converting the Irish to Christianity, he banished paganism from Ireland. So he banished the “snakes” of heresy from the island.

Modern scholars say he died in 460 but Irish historians prefer the later date of 493. Legend has it he was buried in Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, County Down, alongside St. Columba and St. Brigid, though that has never been proven.

Interestingly enough, some depictions of him show him wearing blue and that color was the color associated with Ireland. It was until later on, due to Ireland’s deep green hues, that green became the color we now associate with the saint and Ireland.

He is venerated worldwide and is known as the Enlightener of Ireland. He is one of Ireland’s primary saints, along with Sts. Columba and Brigit of Kildare. His influence cannot be understated. Thanks to his efforts, Ireland became the land of saints and scholars.

 

 

Anthony Mary Claret, Founder of the Claretians

Today (October 24th) marks the feast day of St. Anthony Mary Claret who founded the congregation of Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, more commonly known as the Claretians. He was also a Spanish Catholic archbishop, missionary, and confessor to Isabella II of Spain.

He was born in Sallent, in the county of Bages in the Province of Barcelona, Spain on December 23, 1807, the fifth of eleven children. His father was a woolen manufacturer. As a child, he enjoyed pilgrimages to the nearby Shrine of Our Lady of Fusimanya.

He received an elementary education in his native village, and at the age of twelve became a weaver. At age eighteen, he went to Barcelona to specialize in his trade and remained there till he was 20. Meanwhile, he devoted his spare time to study and became proficient in Latin, French, and engraving.

Recognizing a call to religious life, he left Barcelona and wished to become a Carthusian monk. He finally entered the diocesan seminary at Vic in 1829 and was ordained on June 13, 1835, on the feast of St. Anthony of Padua. He received a benefice in his native parish where he continued to study theology until 1839. Missionary work strongly appealed to him and so he proceeded to Rome. There he entered the Jesuit novitiate but had to leave due to ill health. He returned to Spain and exercised his pastoral ministry in Viladrau and Girona. His efforts on behalf of the poor attracted attention. In an area despoiled by civil war, he added the practice of rustic medicine to his other efforts.

Recalled by his superiors to Vic, Claret was sent as Apostolic Missionary throughout Catalonia which had suffered from French invasions. He traveled from one mission to the next on foot. Claret, an eloquent preacher fluent in the Catalan language, attracted crowds from miles around who came to hear him. After a lengthy time in the pulpit, he would spend long hours in the confessional and was said to have had the gift of discernment of consciences. In 1848, his life was threatened by anti-clerics and was sent to the Canary Islands where he gave retreats for fifteen months. His services were so well attended that he often preached from an improvised pulpit in the plaza before the church.

Upon his return home to Spain, he founded the Congregation of the Missionary Sons of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on July 16, 1849 (Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel) and founded the great religious library at Barcelona. Pope Pius IX gave approval to the congregation on December 22, 1865.

Pope Pius IX, at the request of the Spanish crown (Isabella II), appointed him archbishop of Santiago, Cuba, in 1849. He was consecrated at Vic in October 1850. The Santiago seminary was reorganized, clerical discipline strengthened and over 9,000 marriages validated within the first two years of his arrival. He built a hospital and numerous schools. Three times he made a visitation of the entire diocese. Among his great initiatives were trade or vocational schools for disadvantaged children and credit unions for the use of the poor. He wrote books about rural spirituality and agricultural methods, which he first tested himself. In August 1855, he founded the Religious of Mary Immaculate, the first female religious institute in Cuba. He also visited jails and hospitals, defended the oppressed and denounced racism. His work stirred up opposition and was stabbed by a would-be assassin.

In February 1857, Claret was recalled to Spain by Queen Isabella II, who made him her confessor. He obtained permission to resign his Cuban see and was appointed to the titular see of Trajanpolis. His influence was now directed solely to help the poor and to propagate learning. He lived frugally and took up his residence in an Italian hospice. For nine years, he was rector of the Escorial monastic school, where he established a scientific laboratory, a museum of natural history, library, college and schools of music and languages. In 1868, a new revolution dethroned the queen and sent her with her family into exile. His life was also in danger and he accompanied her to France which gave him the opportunity to preach in Paris. He stayed with them for a while and then went to Rome where he was received by the pope.

He continued his popular missions and distribution of books wherever he went in accompanying the Spanish court. In 1869, he went to Rome to prepare for the First Vatican Council. Owing to failing health, he withdrew to the French Pyrenees, where he was still harassed by his Spanish enemies. Shortly afterwards he retired to the Cistercian abbey at Fontfroide, Narbonne, southern France, where he died on October 24, 1870, aged 62. His remains were buried in the Catalan city of Vic.

Anthony Mary Claret wrote 144 books. By his sermons and writings he contributed greatly to bring about the revival of the Catalan language, although most of his books were published in Spanish, especially during his time in Cuba and Madrid.

In addition to the Claretians, which now has over 450 houses and 3100 members, with missions in five continents, Claret founded or drew up the rules of several communities or religious sisters.

He was declared venerable by Pope Leo XIII in 1899, beatified by Pius XI on February 24, 1934 and canonized by Pius XII on May 7, 1950. He is the patron saint of textile merchants, weavers, savings, Catholic press, the Canary Islands, technical and vocational educators and Claretian students and educators.

Holy Week

Today, Palm Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week, the week before Easter. It includes Palm Sunday, Holy (Maundy) Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. The earliest allusion to the custom of making this week as a whole with special observances dates back to the the third century.

Of the special observances, the first to come into being was naturally Good Friday. The next was the “Great Sabbath” (Holy Saturday) with its vigil, which in the early church, was associated with an expectation that the second coming of Christ would happen on an Easter Sunday.

Holy Week begins with what Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, and Methodists call Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. In the Roman Rite, before 1955 it was known simply as Palm Sunday, and the preceding Sunday as Passion Sunday. From 1955 to 1971 it was called Second Sunday in Passiontide or Palm Sunday. Among Lutherans and Anglicans, the day is known as the Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday. In many liturgical denominations, to commemorate the Messiah’s entry into Jerusalem to accomplish his paschal mystery it is customary to have a blessing of palm leaves. The blessing ceremony includes the reading of a Gospel account of how Jesus rode into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey, reminiscent of a Davidic victory procession, and how people placed palms on the ground in front of him. Immediately following this great time of celebration over the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, he begins his journey to the cross. The blessing is thus followed by a procession or solemn entrance into the church, with the participants holding the blessed branches in their hands. The Mass or service of worship itself includes a reading of the Passion, the narrative of Jesus’ capture, sufferings and death, as recounted in one of the Synoptic Gospels.

A special observance that happens during this week is Tenebrae. Tenebrae (Latin for “shadows” or “darkness”) is celebrated on the evening before or early morning of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

On Maundy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper occurs, which inaugurates the period of three days, known as the Easter Triduum, that includes Good Friday (seen as beginning with the service of the preceding evening), Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday up to evening prayer on that day. The Mass of the Lord’s Supper commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his twelve apostles, “the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and the commandment of brotherly love that Jesus gave after washing the feet of his disciples. In the Roman Catholic Church and (optionally) in the Anglican Church, a sufficient number of hosts are consecrated for use also in the Good Friday service, and at the conclusion the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession to a place of reposition away from the main body of the church, which, if it involves an altar, is often called an “altar of repose.” In the Catholic Church, the altars of the church (except the one used for altar of repose) are later stripped quite bare and, to the extent possible, crosses are removed from the church or veiled.

The evening liturgical celebration on Holy Thursday begins the first of the three days of the Easter Triduum, which continues in an atmosphere of liturgical mourning throughout the next day in spite of the name “Good” given in English to this Friday.

For Roman Catholic and Anglican Christians, Good Friday is a fast day. Western Catholic Church practice is to have only one full meal with, if needed, two small snacks that together do not make a full meal. The Anglican Communion defines fasting more generically as: “The amount of food eaten is reduced.”

  • The Church mourns for Christ’s death, reveres the Cross, and marvels at his life for his obedience until death.
  • In the Catholic Church, the only sacraments celebrated are Penance and Anointing of the Sick. While there is no celebration of the Eucharist, Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful only in the Service of the Passion of the Lord, but can be taken at any hour to the sick who are unable to attend this service.
  • Outside the afternoon liturgical celebration, the altar remains completely bare in Catholic churches, without altar cloth, candlesticks, or cross. In the Lutheran and Methodist churches, the altar is usually draped in black.
  • It is customary to empty the holy water fonts in preparation for the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil.
  • In some parishes of the Anglican Church, Catholic Church, and Lutheran Church, the “Three Hours Devotion” is observed. This traditionally consists of a series of sermons, interspersed with singing, one on each of the Seven Last Words of Christ, together with an introduction and a conclusion. Another pious exercise carried out on Good Friday is that of the Stations of the Cross, either within the church or outside.

Mass is not celebrated on what is liturgically Holy Saturday. The celebration of Easter begins after sundown on what, though still Saturday in the civil calendar, is liturgically Easter Sunday.

The name of the Easter Vigil, even if the vigil is held on what on the civil calendar is still Saturday, indicates that liturgically it is already Easter, no longer part of Holy Week, but still part of the Easter Triduum.

In the Anglican, Catholic, Methodist, and Presbyterian traditions, the Easter Vigil, one of the longest and most solemn of liturgical services, lasts up to three or four hours, consists of four parts:

  1. The Service of Light
  2. The Liturgy of the Word
  3. The Liturgy of Baptism: The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation for new members of the Church and the Renewal of Baptismal Promises by the entire congregation.
  4. Holy Eucharist

(I go into greater detail on the Vigil in an earlier post).

Easter Sunday, which immediately follows Holy Week and begins with the Easter Vigil, is the great feast day and apogee of the Christian liturgical year: on this day the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is celebrated. It is the first day of the new season of the Great Fifty Days, or Eastertide, which runs from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday. The Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday is the main reason why Christians keep Sunday as the primary day of religious observance.

This week is the greatest of all weeks in the church calendar when we go through Christ’s last days on earth and his Passion. As my priest said today, it is to be celebrated prayerfully. Through prayer and fasting, we prepare to celebrate the Paschal Mysteries on Easter.

 

Martin of Tours: Soldier for Christ

The following is from my book, Torchbearers: Profiles in Christian Courage.

PROFILE FIVE

MARTIN OF TOURS

Soldier for Christ

(316-397)

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the comic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:11-12

We are called to be soldiers for Christ. We are commanded to preach the good news to the ends of the earth and to help establish God’s kingdom here on earth. History is filled with great examples of men and women who have answered that call. St. Martin of Tours is one of them.

The son of pagan Roman officials, Martin was born in Upper Pannonia—present day Hungary—in 331 and was educated in Pavia in northern Italy. He knew from the age of ten that he wanted to become a Christian, but was enrolled in the Imperial cavalry five years later against his will. He had yet to be baptized. This is the basis of his patronage of soldiers and horsemen. On one bitterly cold night at Amiens, he gave half his cloak to a naked and freezing beggar. Soon afterward, he saw a vision of Christ wearing it. This is the basis of his invocation against impoverishment. Martin was finally baptized soon after this.

He asked for a discharge from the army, believing that as a Christian he was not allowed to fight. He was accused of cowardice. His answer was to stand unarmed in the battle line, holding only a cross—at the sight of which the enemy surrendered. MartSt_Martin_Icon_2006in was given his discharge and he left the army in his early 20s to become a disciple of Hilary of Potiers. He later traveled in Italy and Dalmatia. He lived as a hermit for ten years before rejoining Hilary, who encouraged him to found a community of hermit-monks at Liguge, the first monastery is what is now France.

In 372, at the age of 56, he accepted the epicopate of Tours. Though he was reluctant to accept the offer and continued to live as a monk, he was zealous in the discharge of his duties. He was a dedicated missionary to the Franks who adopted military methods to lead an army of monks through the land destroying idols, pagan temples, and graves and preaching the good news to all. He traveled to the remotest parts of his diocese by foot, by donkey and by boat and was a wonder-worker whose miracles included healing lepers and raising a man from the
dead. He later established another great monastic center at Marmoutier.

Martin opposed Arianism and Priscillianism, the two great heresies of his day, but he opposed the practice of putting heretics to death. He unsuccessfully attempted to prevent the execution of Priscillian and others for heresy. He interceded with the emperor Maximus arguing that it was sufficient to declare them heretics and excommunicate them.

Martin, the first great pioneer of Western monasticism, died at Candes near Tours in 397. More than 2,000 monks accompanied his body back to Tours. St. Martin of Tours is the patron saint of France and over 4,000 churches in France are named after him.

Martin of Tours’ selfless dedication is an inspiration to us all. Each and every one of us should be zealous in spreading the gospel by using whatever gifts has given us. Not every one of us is called to be preaching on the street corner or to go the remotest parts of the globe. We are all gifted in different ways. But whatever gifting each of us may have, we are all to be about the kingdom’s work. As St. Augustine once said, “Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.” Words to live by!

O God, who are glorified in the Bishop Saint Martin both by his life and death, make new, we pray,

the wonders of your grace in our hearts, that neither death nor life may separate us from your love.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Common of Pastors)

Big Announcement

My first book is now available for purchase on Amazon Kindle. It is entitled Torchbearers: Profiles in Christian Courage. It is priced at $3.99.  I posted the link below.

http://www.amazon.com/Torchbearers-Profiles-Christian-Robert-Gorham-ebook/dp/B014TW9JVA/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1441232438&sr=8-6&keywords=torchbearers&pebp=1441232580723&perid=049AC42Y0DZK5DTWG9ZB

If you like what you read on my blog, this book is very similar. If you are looking for your next devotional, this book is also for you. It is a “church history devotional.” Each of the 25 profiles have a scripture verse, bio on the saint, application and a concluding prayer.  I am very excited to have this published and available to the masses. I hope you will consider purchasing it. Here is a sample. Enjoy!

PROFILE ONE:

LAURENCE Of ROME

The True Treasures of the Church

(225-258)

Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs to the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” James 2:5

Perhaps one of the most celebrated of all Roman martyrs, Laurence, was one of the seven deacons of Rome. He was put to death a few days after Pope Sixtus II, during the Valerian persecution. He was buried outside the road to Tivoli and the basilica of St. Laurence Outside the Walls was constructed over his tomb.

Laurence is thought to have been born in Spain, at Huesca, a town in the Aragon region. Here he encountered the future Pope Sixtus II, a highly esteemed teacher at that time. Eventually both left Spain for Rome. When Sixtus became pope in 257, he appointed Laurence a deacon. Though still young, the pope made him first among the seven deacons of Rome. He is therefore called “Archdeacon of Rome,” a position of great trust that included the care of the treasury and riches of the church and the distribution of alms among the poor.

The Roman authorities had established a norm that all Christians who had been denounced must be executed and their goods confiscated by the imperial treasury. At the beginning of August 258, the emperor Valerian issued an edict that all bishops, priests and deacons should immediately be put to death. Sixtus was captured on sixth of August 258, and was soon executed. After the death of Sixtus, the prefect of Rome demanded that Laurence hand over the riches of the Church. Laurence asked for three days to gather together the wealth. Laurence worked quickly to distribute as much wealth as he could to the poor, so as to prevent it being seized by the state. At the head of a small delegation, he presented himself to the prefect on the third day. When asked to present the treasures, he showed the prefect the poor, crippled, blind and suffering, saying that these were the true treasures of the Church. He then told the prefect, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.” This act of defiance led to his death. On August 10, he suffered a martyr’s death. Legend has it that he was roasted alive on a gridiron. But most scholars agree he was beheaded.

Our culture celebrates the rich and powerful and when we think of treasure, we tend to think of money and material possessions. Laurence reminds us that Christ is not to be found among the rich and powerful, but among the poor and the pilgrim. These are the treasures of the Church. For our God is the “father of the fatherless and protector of widows.” (Ps. 68:5) Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves in heaven…For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:19-21). How do we store up such eternal treasure? By taking care of the poor and the destitute, the widow and orphan, and those less fortunate. It is so easy to forget about these folk. We often walk right by them on the street without giving them a second thought. But Christ reminds us that what we do for the least of these we did for Him. As James writes, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (1:27) May we take these words to heart and put them into practice. Let us store up for ourselves treasure in heaven.

Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, 826).