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).

St. Frances of Rome (1384-1440)

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Frances of Rome is an Italian saint, wife, mother, mystic,  organizer of charitable work and a Benedictine oblate who founded a religious community of oblates who share a common life without religious vows (still exists today). She is a wonderful example to the church who was faithful to God and remarkable in her charitable work for the poor. She also shows us what happens when we submit to God’s will even when it contrasts with our own.

Frances was born in 1384 in Rome to a wealthy and aristocratic couple in the district of Parione and christened in the nearby Church of St. Agnes on the famed Piazza Novona. When she was eleven, she wanted to become a nun but her parents had other ideas. They had already arranged for her to be married. Her soul was troubled at this point. Yet God granted her a special grace by sending her an archangel to be her guardian angel. The angel questioned her about her motives to become a nun despite her parents’ wishes. Was this honoring to God? She decided to submit to her parents and married Lorenzo Ponziani, commander of the papal troops of Rome and member of an extremely wealthy family. The marriage was a happy one, lasting forty years, partly because Lorenzo admired his wife and partly because he was frequently away at war.

With her sister-in-law, Vannozza, Frances visited the poor and took care of the sick, inspiring other wealthy women of the city to do the same. Soon after her marriage, she fell seriously ill. Her husband called in a man who dabbled in magic but she drove him away. She later recounted that Saint Alexis had appeared to her and cured her.

When her mother-in-law died, Frances became mistress of the household. During a time of flood and famine, she turned part of the family’s country estate into a hospital and she distributed food and clothing to the poor. This angered her father-in-law and he took away her keys to the supply rooms. But then something miraculous occurred: the corn bin and wine barrel were replenished after she finished praying. Upon seeing this, her father-in-law handed the keys back to her. This was also the catalyst for her husband’s conversion.

During the wars of the Great Schism, Lorenzo served the pope in Rome. Their son, Batista, was to be delivered as a hostage to the commander of the Neapolitan troops. Obeying this order on the command of her spiritual director, Frances brought the boy to Campidoglio. Along the way, she stopped in the Church of Aracoeli and entrusted the life of her son to the Blessed Mother. Upon their arrival, the troops put her son on a horse to transport him off to captivity. The horse, however, refused to move despite heavy whipping. The soldiers saw the hand of God in this and returned the boy to his mother.

During a period of exile, much of Lorenzo’s property and possessions were destroyed. In the course of one occupation of Rome by Neapolitan troops, Lorenzo was severely wounded and never fully recovered. Frances nursed him throughout the rest of his life.

She experienced other sorrows as well. She lost two children to the plague. Chaos abounded in Rome in that period of neglect by the pope and ongoing warfare between him and other forces competing for power in Italy. Rome was in ruins and wolves roamed the streets. Once again, Frances saw the opportunity for ministry and responded. She opened her home as a hospital and drove her wagon  through the countryside to collect wood for fire and herbs for medicine. It is said that she had the gift of healing and over sixty cases were attested to during the canonization proceedings.

The Catholic Encyclopedia writes, “With her husband’s consent, Frances practiced continence, and advanced in a life of contemplation. Her visions often assumed the form of drama enacted for her by heavenly patronages. She had a gift of miracles and ecstasy, as well as the bodily vision of her guardian angel, had revelations concerning purgatory and hell, and foretold the ending of the Great Schism. She could read the secrets of consciences and detect plots of diabolical origin. She was remarkable for her humility and detachment, her obedience and patience.”

On August 15, 1425, the Feast of the Assumption, she founded the Olivetan Oblates of Mary, a confraternity of pious women, under the authority of the Olivetan monks of Santa Maria Nova in Rome. But these women would neither be cloistered nor bound by formal vows in order so they could follow her pattern of combining a life of prayer with answering the needs of their society.

In March 1433, she founded a monastery at Tor de’ Specchi, near the Campidoglio, in order to allow for a common life by those members of the confraternity who felt called to this. It remains the only house of the Institute. On July 4 of that year, they received the approval of Pope Eugene IV as a religious congregation of oblates with private religious vows. They later became known simply as the Oblates of St. Frances of Rome.

Frances herself remained in her own home, nursing her husband for the last seven years of his life from his battle wounds. When he died in 1436, she moved into the monastery and became their superior. She died in 1440 and was buried in Santa Maria Nova.

On May 9, 1608, she was canonized by Pope Paul V and in the following decades there was a diligent search for her remains, which had been hidden due to the troubled times in which she lived. Her body was found incorrupt some months after her death. Her grave was identified on April 2, 1638 (but this time only the bones remained) and her remains were reburied in the Church of Santa Maria Nova on March 9, 1649, which has since then been her feast day. In 1869, her body was exhumed and has since been on display in a glass coffin for the veneration of the faithful. The Church of Santa Maria Nova is often referred to as the Church of St. Frances.

In 1925, Pope Pious XI declared her the patron saint of automobile drivers because of the account that an angel used to light the road before her with a lantern when she traveled, keeping her safe from hazards. She is honored as the patron saint of oblates. She is also the patron saint of widows.

Frances had an implicit trust in God: suffering from a painful illness, giving away food to the poor and never wavering from her faith when ridiculed. Frances shows us the balance of active life, prayer and works of charity. She believed her family came first and must never be slighted in order to spend more time in prayer or acts of charity. As a Benedictine oblate myself, she certainly serves as an example to me and I hope you as well.

Desire to Work for Others: Katherine Drexel

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Katherine Drexel, born on November 26, 1858 in Philadelphia, was born into the wealthiest families in America. She was the daughter of an investment banker. Her family owned a considerable fortune. Her uncle was the founder of Drexel University. When her father died, he established a trust for his three daughters worth fourteen million dollars. Devout Catholics, all three of them regarded their fortune as an opportunity to glorify God through the service of others.

As a young and wealthy woman, she made her social debut in 1879. However watching her stepmother’s three year battle with cancer taught her money could not save her from pain and death. Her life took a profound turn. She had several marriage proposals. But she decided to give herself and her fortune to God. There were plenty of claims on her generosity. But Katherine felt a special dedication to those who were ignored by the Church, especially blacks and Native Americans. She was appalled by the treatment of Native Americans. She endowed scores of schools on Indian reservations and supported Catholic missions on reservations. She also established 50 missions for Native American in 16 states. In 1878 during a private audience with Pope Leo XIII she begged the pope to send priests to serve the Native Americans. He responded, “Why not become a missionary yourself?” It was another turning point.

Finding no existing religious orders corresponding to her sense of mission, she founded her own: The Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People. A few months later, the Philadelphia Archbishop Ryan blessed the cornerstone of the motherhouse in Bensalem, PA. In the first of many incidents that indicated not all shared her concern for social justice, a stick of dynamite was discovered near the site. She insisted that her sisters rely on alms, while she reserved her fortune for initiatives such as the Bureau of Catholic Indian Missions and the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic College established for black students. Such efforts on behalf of blacks drew the ire of the KKK who made multiple threats. Segregationalists harassed her work even burning a school in Philadelphia. But by 1942, Drexel and her order founded and established a system of black Catholic schools in 13 states, plus 40 mission centers and 23 rural schools.

In 1935, Drexel suffered a heart attack and in 1937 she relinquished the office of superior general. Though becoming gradually more infirm, she was able to devote the rest of her life to Eucharistic adoration and therefore fulfilling her lifelong desire for a contemplative life. Over the course of six decades, Mother Katherine spent about $20 million dollars of her fortune building schools and churches, as well as the paying the salaries of teachers in rural schools for blacks and Indians.

Mother Drexel, whose life spanned the era of slavery and the dawn of the civil rights movement, died on March 3, 1955, at the age of 96. She was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000. Numerous schools, parishes and churches are named in her honor.

Mother Drexel: “Often in my desire to work for others…some hostile influence renders me powerless. My prayers seem to avail nothing…In such cases I must not grieve. I am only treading in my Master’s steps.”

Just who is St. Valentine?

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We have just celebrated Valentine’s Day. But who is St. Valentine exactly and why his name synonymous with love and romance? The patron saint of love has been identified with two early Christians: a priest martyred in Rome around 269 and buried on the Flaminian Way north of the city and a bishop of Terni, in Umbria, who was also executed in Rome. Some seventeenth century sources assert they are the same person. Modern experts believe the priest-martyr to be the real Valentine. The name “Valentine” derived from “valens” (worthy, strong, powerful) was a popular name in Late Antiquity. At least eleven other saints are named Valentine.

The reasons for his association with lovers is also disputed. There are many legends associated with this saint, none of them based on fact. One is that Valentine, a priest, going against the emperor’s order, secretly married couples so their husbands wouldn’t have to go to war. The legend claims that soldiers were sparse in those day so this was a huge inconvenience for the emperor. Another legend is that he refused to sacrifice to pagan gods. Being imprisoned for this, Valentine gave his testimony in prison and through his prayers healed the jailer’s daughter of blindness. On the day of his execution, he left a note for her signed “Your Valentine.” A possibility for his association with lovers derives from a centuries old belief that birds choose their mates on February 14. Another one is that it is a survival from the Roman festival of Lupercalia held in mid-February to secure fertility and keep evil away. It was once thought that Valentine’s Day was created to supersede this pagan feast. But this theory has been dismissed by modern scholars. Many of the current legends were invented  in the fourteenth century, most notably Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, when February 14 first became associated with romantic love.

What we do know for certain is that troubled lovers have invoked him since medieval times and that the custom of sending a Valentine’s Day card to a chosen partner, first commercialized in the U.S. in the 1840s, has become a major industry.

St. Martin of Tours (316-397)

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He was the son of a pagan Roman officer and born in 316 in what is now Hungary. Educated in Pavia in northern Italy. From the age of ten, he knew he intended to become a Christian but was enrolled in the Imperial calvary five years later against his will and before he could be baptized. One bitterly cold night at Amiens, he gave half of his cloak to a freezing naked beggar and soon afterwards saw a vision of Christ wearing it. This is the basis of his invocation against impoverishment and has been depicted by numerous artist including El Greco (seen above). As a result of this event, he was finally baptized.

He asked for a discharge because he believed that as a Christian he was not allowed to fight and was accused of cowardice. His answer to that was to stand unarmed in battle holding only a cross-at the sight of which the enemy surrendered. He was given his discharge in 339 and became a disciple of St. Hillary of Potiers; he ended up converting his mother to Christianity. Martin later travelled in Italy and Dalmatia. He lived as a hermit for ten years before rejoining Hilary who encouraged him to found a community of monk-hermits at Liguge, the first monastery in what is now France.

In 372, Martin, now 56, accepted the episcopate in Tours. He was reluctant to accept the position and continued to live as a monk, first in a cell near his church and later at Marmoutier where he established another great monastic center. He continued to live in a strict monastic way until his death. He was zealous in the discharge of his duties. As bishop of Tours, he was a dedicated missionary to the Franks and other northern tribes who had invaded the region. As a former soldier, he used military methods in missionary work. He travelled to the remotest parts of the diocese by foot, by donkey and by boat. From Tours, he led an army of monks through France destroying idols, pagan temples and graves and preaching. Martin was also a wonder worker whose miracles included healing lepers and raising a man from the dead.

Martin opposed Arianism and Priscillianism, the two great heresies of the day, but condemned the practice of putting heretics to death. He actually interceded with the emperor Maximus in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the execution of Priscillian and others for heresy, declaring that it was sufficient to declare them heretics and excommunicate them.

The first great pioneer of Western monasticism, Martin died at Candes, near Tours in 397. More than 2,000 monks attended his body on its return to Tours. He is the patron saint of France. His feast day is November 11. The saint has given his name to a spell of good weather around his feast day (Nov. 11) known as St. Martin’s summer; the English equivalent of the American Indian summer. His biography, written by Sulpicius Severus, was extremely popular in the Middle Ages and his cult was widespread. In France, over 4000 churches are dedicated to him. And the Benedictine monastery near me where I am going to be an oblate is named after St. Martin of Tours. A popular saint indeed, he is the patron saint of not only France, but also soldiers, horses, riders, geese and wine growers. His emblems are a globe of fire and a goose.

All Saints: Remembering Those Who’ve Gone Before

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This past weekend, we celebrated the Feast of All Saints’ Day also known as All Hallows or the Feast of All Saints. It falls on November 1, the day after Halloween. In fact the term Halloween comes from All Hallows Eve. It is celebrated across the board; Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants celebrate this feast. The following day is All Souls (November 2). October 31-November 2 is called Hallowtide.

In Catholic theology, the day commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in heaven. It is a national holiday in many traditional Catholic countries. The next day commemorates all the faithful departed who have not yet been purified and reached heaven. In both the Catholic and Anglican churches, November 2nd is called the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed. The celebration of these days comes from the fundamental belief that there is a spiritual and prayerful bond between those in heaven (Church Triumphant) and those still on earth (Church Militant). In local congregations, deceased members are honored and remembered.

All Saints’ Day may originate in the ancient Roman observation of May 13, the Feast of Lemures, in which malevolent and restless spirits were propitiated. Some scholars base the idea that this Lemuria festival was the origin was that of All Saints on their identical dates and the similar theme of all the dead.

In the early church, Christians would commemorate a martyr’s death at the place of death. In the fourth century, with the persecution of Diocletian the number of martyrs became so great that a separate date for each could not be assigned to each. But the church, rightly feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a common day for all. The first trace of this can be found in Antioch on the Sunday after Pentecost. And in the Eastern Orthodox Church, All Saints is still celebrated on this day.

The origin of All Saints’ Day cannot be traced with certainty, and it has been celebrated on various day in different places. The Feast of All Saints on its current date is traced to the foundation by Pope Gregory III (731-741) who in oratory on relics moved the day of celebration to November 1 and suppressed the May 13 festival.

A November festival of all saints was already widely celebrated in the days of Charlemagne. It was made a day of obligation throughout the Frankish empire in 835, by a decree of Louis the Pious issued at the instance of Pope Gregory IV and with the assent of all of the bishops.

The festival was retained after the Reformation in the Anglican, Lutheran and Methodist churches. Protestants generally regard all true Christians as saints. There are those saints with a capital “S” like Luke, Peter, Paul, etc. And then there are those with a little “s” (the rest of us). In Protestant churches, All Saints is celebrated in remembrance of all Christians both past and present.

In Mexico, All Saints coincides with the first day of the Day of the Dead celebration. Known as the Day of the Innocents, it honors deceased children and infants. In Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Chile, France, Hungary, Italy, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Malta, Peru, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain and U.S. cities like New Orleans, people bring flowers to the graves of dead relatives. In some parts like Portugal, they also light candles on the graves.

In Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, Catholic parts of Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Serbia and Sweden, the custom is to light candles and visit the graves of deceased relatives. In English-speaking nations the festival is traditionally celebrated with the hymn “For All the Saints” by Walsham How. The most familiar hymn tune for this hymn is “Sine Nomine” by Ralph Vaughn Williams. Another popular hymn for this day is “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.”

Remembering those who have gone before is especially important. Laura Huff Hileman writes, “Saints are just people who are trying to listen to God’s Word and live God’s call. This is the communion of saints we speak of in the Apostle’s Creed-that fellowship of believers that reaches beyond time and place, even beyond death. Remembering the saints who have helped extend and enliven God’s kingdom is what All Saints’ Day is about.” Indeed, we are surrounded by that “great cloud of witnesses” and they are watching us each and every day. On All Saints, we take time to remember “all the saints from whom the labors rest.”

A Story of Love & Dedication

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On October 19th, we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke, the patron saint of my parish. In my research, I found the following article in the Tacoma newspaper dated January 20, 1936. It is regarding Ms. Emma M. Unthank, the fiance of the Rev. Henry S. Bonnell, the first priest who died in 1884 (age 31). Her story of love and dedication to him is both heart warming and inspiring. I have reprinted here:

A little white-haired lady put fresh flowers on a 52-year-old grave in Tacoma cemetery today, keeping a tryst with her fiance of half-a-century ago. Every day since 1884, seasonable flowers have nodded over the grave; and every day except in the stormiest weather, Ms. Emma Unthank has seen to it they were in place.

The grave was that of the Rev. Henry S. Bonnell, an Episcopalian clergyman. In 1882, Mr. Bonnell, a tall, eager-eyed young man with the square cut full beard of his day, came to the wilderness of Washington Territory. A native of St. Peter’s Episcopal Parish, Brooklyn, and protege of Bishop Paddock of that city, he had just graduated from General Theological Seminary in New York.

Here in the Northwest he assumed the rectorate of St. Luke’s Church, Tacoma, and in addition rode a circuit through the valleys of the Puget Sound country. One of his charges was Christ Church, Puyallup. He was instrumental in founding the first Tacoma Young Man’s Christian Association. In Tacoma, too, he met Miss Unthank, then studying to be a school teacher. Petite and dark-haired, she attracted him immediately. They were affianced and the wedding date tentatively set.

Constant rain in the Sound country, however, aggravated a lung ailment from which the minister suffered. He contracted tuberculosis, went to California to recuperate and died there in 1884. His body was returned to Tacoma on almost the exact day that been set for his wedding. Miss Unthank, remained here and become a teacher in the city schools. She continued in this position until a few years ago. Generations of children passed under her tutelage without guessing of her after-school pilgrimages to the cemetery five miles from her home.

She never married.

A few days ago a curious visitor to the cemetery noticed the flowers on the old grave. Investigating, he learned the whole story from the Rev. E.C. Schmeiser, present rector of the Puyallup church, who was one of the few persons cognizant of Ms. Unthank’s half century of devotion. Miss Unthank retired from active teaching some time ago. She and her sister, also unmarried, continued to live together in an old-fashioned house. Rain was threatening in Tacoma today and few visitors were expected to the cemetery. But attendants waited confidently for the arrival of a sprightly little old lady-she’s nearly 75 now-who would surely come with flowers for the lover of fifty-two years ago.

I hope you found that story heart-warming as I did. Ms. Unthank died, unmarried, on the 23rd of February 1941, age 82. She is also buried in the old Tacoma cemetery in the same grave as her sister, Minnie. The cross on our altar is in memoriam of the Rev. Henry Bonnell on which is inscribed “He was a bright and shining light.” May we also be remembered as such.

William Bradford: Governor & Historian

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William Bradford (1590-1657), Pilgrim Father, governor of Plymouth colony and this nation’s first historian, was born at Austerfield, Yorkshire in England. Early on, he fell under Puritan influence. As a young man, he left the local parish and joined a Separatist congregation at Scooby whose members included Richard Clyfton, John Robinson and William Brewster. He had only a modest elementary education but he managed to teach himself Greek, Latin, Hebrew among other languages. In 1608, the Separatists left England for the Netherlands in the search for religious freedom. They settled in Leiden where Bradford worked in a textile workshop. He lived there from 1609-1620.

In 1620, Bradford joined his fellow Separatists on the voyage on the Mayflower to America. These Pilgrim Fathers founded Plymouth colony. Bradford was chosen as governor and was re-elected as governor nearly every year of his life until his death in 1657. He is respected for his skillful administration and religious piety.

Bradford is well-known for his work as an historian. His work, Of Plymouth Plantation, is a classic of seventeenth-century Puritan literature. It tells the story of the founding of the Plymouth colony and it is the first work to refer to the Separatists as “pilgrims.” He writes about them leaving Leiden:

So they left the goodly and pleasant city which had been
their resting place for near twelve years, but they knew they
were pilgrims and looked not much on these things but lifted
their eyes to the heavens, their dearest country, and quieted
their spirits.

He describes the events in terms of the sovereignty of God and he relates many stories in which God intervened on their behalf to bless the Pilgrims. “The marvelous providence of God” protected them. His providential view of early American history would help to give later Americans great confidence that they and the nation were in God’s good hands.

Church History as a Roadmap

If you are taking a trip somewhere, what is the one essential thing you take with you? A roadmap. (or a GPS device). You need it in order to get to your destination. Without it, you are going to get lost and end up somewhere else. You need that roadmap so that you can get to your destination. Church history performs the same function. It is a roadmap. The past sheds light on the future. There is so much we can learn from those who have gone before us. 

In my church tradition, we have what is known as the three pillars of Anglicanism: scripture, tradition and reason. All three are essential. Scripture is primary. Church tradition helps us understand the scriptures. We see how those who have gone before us have understood those same passages and it then helps us shape our views. Our reasoning abilities is also key but it is shaped by the first two. Church history (tradition) plays a vital role.

How should we live out our Christian faith and live according to the scriptures? How should we think about a certain issue? Church history can help answer those questions. Those who have gone before us still speak today. We just have to be willing to listen intently to what they have to say. And if you do, you will find a deep well of spiritual wisdom from which to draw from.

Walking the Camino

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The Way of St. James is the name of any of the pilgrimage routes to the shrine of the apostle St. James in the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galacia in northwestern Spain, where tradition tells us that the remains of the saint are buried. The Way of St. James or the El Camino was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during medieval times, along with Rome and Jerusalem and one where a plenary indulgence could be earned. Legend tells us that the saint’s remains were transported by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried on what is now the city of Santiago de Compstela.

The Way can take one of dozens of pilgrimage routes to Santiago. Traditionally, as with a lot of pilgrimages, the Way starts at one’s home and ended at the pilgrimage site. However, a few of the routes are considered main ones. During the Middle Ages, the route was highly travelled. Yet, the Black Death, Protestant Reformation and the political unrest in 16th century Europe led to its decline. By the 1980s only a few pilgrims per year arrived in Santiago. Later, the route attracted a growing number of pilgrims. The route was the first to be declared an European Cultural Route by the Council of Europe in 1987. It was also named one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.

Whenever, St. James’ Day (July 25) falls on a Sunday, the cathedral declares a Jubilee Year. The most recent was 2010. The next will be 2021.

The scallop shell, often found on the shores in Galicia, has long been the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. As the symbol, the shell is seen very frequently along the trails. The shell is seen on posts and signs along the route in order to guide pilgrims along the way. The shell is also seen on pilgrims themselves as wearing a shell shows you are a traveler on the Camino. Most pilgrims receive a shell at the start of their journey and either attach it to themselves by sewing it onto their clothes or wearing it around their neck or simply keeping it in their backpack. The pilgrim’s staff is a walking staff used by pilgrims to the shrine . Usually the stick has a hook on it so that something may be hung from it and may have a crosspiece on it.

Today, tens of thousands of Christians and many others set out each year to make their way to Santiago de Compostela. Most travel by foot, some by bicycle, and a few by horseback.  In addition to those making a religious pilgrimage, many others walk the route for non-religious reasons like travel or sport. And many consider it a spiritual adventure to remove themselves from the hustle and bustle of modern life. It serves as a retreat.

Pilgrims on the Way walk for weeks or months to visit the city of Santiago de Compostela. They follow many routes but the most popular route is Via Regia and its last part the French Way. The Spanish consider the Pyrenees a starting point. Common starting points along the French border are St. Jean-Pied-de-Port or Somport.

In Spain, France and Portugal, pilgrim’s hostels with beds in dormitories dot the common routes, providing overnight accommodation for pilgrims who hold a credencial. It usually costs between 6 to 10 euros per night per bed. Pilgrims are usually limited to one night’s stay and are expected to leave by eight in the morning to continue their pilgrimage.

Most pilgrims carry a document called the credencial which is  a pass which gives access to inexpensive, sometimes free, overnight accommodation along the trail. Also known as a “pilgrim’s passport” the credencial is stamped with the official St. James’ stamp of each town  or hostel at which the pilgrim has stayed. It serves a record of where they ate or slept. It also provides proof to the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago that the journey was accomplished according to an official route.

The compostela is a certificate of accomplishment given to pilgrims upon finishing their pilgrimage. To earn it, one needs to walk at least 100 km. At the Pilgrim’s Office, the credencial is examined for stamps and dates, and the pilgrim is asked to state whether the motivation was “religious,” “religious and other” or “other.” In the case of the first two, a compostela is available. In the case of “other” there is a simpler certificate in Spanish. The Pilgrim’s Office gives more than 100,000 compostelas each year to pilgrims from more than 100 different countries.

A Pilgrim’s Mass is held in the Cathedral at noon for pilgrims. Pilgrims who received the compostela the day before have their countries of origin and starting point of their pilgrimage announced at the Mass. The highlight of the service is the synchronization of the “Hymn to Santiago” with the spectacular swinging of the huge Botafumeiro, the famous thurible kept in the cathedral. Incense is burned in this swinging metal container or censor.

The Camino has been highlighted in TV show “Rick Steves’ Europe” and the movie “The Way.”

 

 

 

 

Our future depends on a good understanding of the past. I invite you to take a walk in the cloister with me as we learn about what has gone before. For by learning from those who have gone before, we can help ensure a better future for us and those who will come after us.