Archive for the ‘April’ Category

Feast of Reginald Heber (April 3)   1 comment

(c) British Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(c) British Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Above:  Reginald Heber

Image in the Public Domain

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REGINALD HEBER (APRIL 21, 1783-APRIL 3, 1826)

Anglican Bishop of Calcutta and Hymn Writer

The feast day of Reginald Heber in the Church of North India is April 3.  The Book of Worship of the Church of North India (1995) lists his citation as “Reginald Heber (1826):  Bishop, Evangelist.”

Reginald Heber came from an old and prominent Yorkshire family and became a great poet.  He, born at Malpas, Cheshire, England, on April 21, 1783, was a son of Reginald Heber (Sr., I guess), the Anglican Rector of Hodnet.  (Aside:  Would using suffixes, such as “Sr.,” “Jr.,” and “III” have been so difficult?)  Young Reginald Heber received a fine education, which he used.  At the age of seven years he translated Phaedrus, a Socratic dialogue, into English.  Later, at Brasenose College, Oxford, our saint won the prize for the best Latin poem and won the Newdigate Prize for the poem Palestine.  Heber, a Fellow of All Souls College, toured Europe with a friend in 1806.

Then Heber became an Anglican priest.  In 1807 he took Holy Orders.  From 1807 to 1823 served as the Rector of Hodnet.  Along the way he did the following:

  1. He married Amelia Shipley (in 1809) and had to children with her.
  2. He began to publish hymns keyed to the church year in the Christian Observer (in 1811 forward) and worked on Hymns Written and Adapted to the Weekly Church Service of the Year, completed by Amelia and published in 1827.  Heber contributed 57 of the 98 hymns.
  3. He became the Prebendary of St. Asaph (1812).
  4. He delivered the Bampton Lectures in 1815.  His topic was The Personality and Office of the Comforter.
  5. He became the Preacher at Lincoln’s Inn, London (1822).

Heber was a liturgical pioneer.  At the time proper Anglicans sang metrical Psalms and dissenters from the Established Church sang hymns.  Our saint, however, embraced the singing of hymns and set out to write texts that would stand the test of time.  Three ideas guided him as he composed hymn texts:

  1. The hymn must be part of the liturgy of the Church and must therefore adapt itself to the Church calendar.
  2. The hymn should come after the Nicene Creed and complement the message of the sermon.
  3. It should be a literary masterpiece.

–Quoted in Armin Haeussler, The Story of Our Hymns:  The Handbook to the Hymnal of the Evangelical and Reformed Church (1952), page 713

I have added 12 of Heber’s texts addressed to God at my GATHERED PRAYERS weblog.  One might already know “Holy, Holy, Holy!  Lord God Almighty!,” a hymn for Trinity Sunday, but one might not be familiar with the splendid “When Spring Unlocks the Flowers.”  Unfortunately, many of Heber’s hymns have fallen out of use; I had to find most of those 12 hymns in old hymnals, some of them about a century old.

Heber’s final title was Bishop of Calcutta (1823-1826).  He had a challenging task, for he was the missionary bishop of all of British India.  Our saint worked hard until he died of apoplexy on April 3, 1826, 18 days short of his forty-third birthday.

Heber has not failed to attract criticism post-mortem.  Many of those negative words have been due to a particular hymn, dated 1819:

From Greenland’s icy mountains,

From India’s coral strand,

Where Afric’s sunny fountains

Roll down their golden sand,

From many an ancient river,

From many a palmy plain,

They call us to deliver

Their land from error’s chain.

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What though the spicy breezes

Blow soft o’er Ceylon’s isle;

Though every prospect pleases,

And only man is vile:

In vain with lavish kindness

The gifts of God are strown;

The heathen in his blindness

Bows down to wood and stone.

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Can we, whose souls are lighted

With wisdom from on high,

Can we to men benighted

The lamp of life deny?

Salvation! O salvation!

The joyful sound proclaim,

Till each remotest nation

Has learned Messiah’s Name.

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Waft, waft, ye winds, his story,

And you, ye waters, roll,

Till like a sea of glory

It spreads from pole to pole;

Till o’er our ransomed nature

The Lamb for sinners slain,

Redeemer, King, Creator,

In bliss returns to reign.

This hymn has long been a lightning rod for a variety of constituencies.  “And only man is vile” (from the second stanza), a reference to Original Sin, has offended non-Christians and some Christians alike.  Also, the end of the second stanza, with its imagery of heathens bowing down to wood and stone has offended many.  These criticisms have really been about allegations of imperialism and ethnocentrism.  As I learned in Anthropology 101 many moons ago, both cultural relativism and ethnocentrism are fallacies.  I would be surprised if Heber were free of any degree of ethnocentrism, but I have also detected cultural relativism in criticisms of the hymn.

This hymn has fallen out of favor in modern hymnody.  It has, of course, fallen into disuse in mainline churches, as measured by denominational hymnals.  The hymn has also fallen out of favor in more conservative denominations, as measured by their hymnals.  I, as a collector of hymnals, have consulted my library and found that, in the current generation of conservative Protestant denominational hymnals, the following volumes, successors to volumes that included this hymn, “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains” is absent:

  1. Baptist Hymnal (2008),
  2. The Covenant Hymnal:  A Worshipbook (1996),
  3. Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary (1996),
  4. Lift Up Your Hearts:  Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs (2013),
  5. Lutheran Service Book (2006), and
  6. Trinity Hymnal–Revised Edition (1990).

Furthermore, the official list of hymns for the Trinity Psalter Hymnal (scheduled for publication in late 2017), successor to the Trinity Hymnal–Revised Edition (1990), does not include “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains.”  Nevertheless, the Ambassador Hymnal for Lutheran Worship (1994) does.

More people should lighten up.

Heber could have led a life of relative ease at Hodnet, but he accepted the challenge to become a missionary bishop.  He spent his life glorifying God and left a legacy in souls and in theologically dense and well-composed hymn texts.  He was certainly worthy of recognition as a saint.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 24, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHIAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Dear God of beauty,

you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to

Reginald Heber and others, who have composed hymn texts.

May we, as you guide us,

find worthy hymn texts to be icons,

through which we see you.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15

Psalm 147

Revelation 5:11-14

Luke 2:8-20

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 20, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATOR OF AUXERRE AND GERMANUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT MAMERTINUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT MARCIAN OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF EMBRUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF OLAVUS AND LAURENTIUS PETRI, RENEWERS OF THE CHURCH

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Feast of Marc Sangnier (April 3)   Leave a comment

marc-sangnier

Above:  Stamp Featuring the Image of Marc Sangnier

Image in the Public Domain

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MARC SANGNIER (APRIL 3, 1873-MAY 28, 1950)

Founder of the Sillon Movement

Sangnier, born at Paris, France, on April 3, 1873, came from a wealthy family.  Our saint learned the lesson that God expects much of he who has received much.  Sangnier, from an early age, had a deep concern for social justice in the light of Roman Catholic social teaching.  Of particular concern to him were the conditions of members of the working class.  Sangnier, as a student, organized a small group of like-minded people to study and ponder these moral concerns.  Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891), regarding capital and labor, provided encouragement.

Sangnier became a force in public life in his twenties and continued his activism afterward.  In 1894 he founded Le Sillon (The Furrow), a newspaper devoted to the effort to reconcile Roman Catholicism, social justice, and democracy.  The newspaper led to the Sillon Movement, which attracted many idealistic youth and established study centers for workers in French cities in the 1890s.  Pope St. Pius X was initially supportive of the movement.  In 1905 Sangnier founded a second publication, L’Esprit democratique, devoted to promoting democracy.  The Sillon Movement had become more political than it had been.  St. Pius X changed his opinion of the movement.  Did democracy threaten divine authority?  Was possibly seeking to introduce democracy into the Roman Catholic Church heretical?  Therefore the Supreme Pontiff condemned the Sillon Movement in a letter dated August 25, 1910.

Sangnier, a loyal Roman Catholic, disbanded the Sillon Movement rather than leave the Church or oppose the Vatican.  The movement did, however, have a number of alumni who continued to promote social activism in the Church.  Sangnier chose to channel his activism in the arena of politics.  In 1912 he founded the Young Republic League, a socialist political party.

He died, aged 77 years, in Paris on May 28, 1950.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 24, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHIAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served,

and to give his life for the life of the world.

Lead us by his love to serve all those whom the world offers no comfort and little help.

Through us give hope to the hopeless,

love to the unloved,

peace to the troubled,

and rest to the weary,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever. Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60

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Feast of Carlo Carretto (April 2)   Leave a comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Above:  Carlo Carretto

Image in the Public Domain

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CARLO CARRETTO (APRIL 2, 1910-OCTOBER 4, 1988)

Spiritual Writer

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I feel immersed in God like a drop in the ocean, like a star in the immensity of night, like a lark in the summer sun or a fish in the sea.

–Carlo Carretto

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Carlo Carretto, born into a peasant family in northern Italy on April 2, 1910, eventually became a spiritual writer.  Initially he prepared to become a teacher, but politics prevented that; he was a member of the Fascist Party.  Our saint became involved in the youth wing of the Catholic Action movement instead.  That movement was consistent with his desire to advance the Catholic Church’s social and religious message.  This work occupied Carretto’s time for nearly 20 years.

In 1954 our saint answered God’s call (“Love everything and come with me into the desert.  It is not your acts and deeds that I want; I want your prayer, your love.”) to join the Little Brothers of Jesus, founded by Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916) in 1933.  Carretto arrived at El Abiodh, in Algeria, in December 1954.  There he remained for about a decade.  Time in the desert prepared Carretto to return to Europe in 1964.  He settled at Spello, Italy, the following year.  There he built an experimental faith community that involved lay people in prayer and reflection.

Carretto became a respected spiritual writer, especially for Love is for Living, Letters from the Desert, and I, Francis.  He was not, however, without ecclesiastical critics, due to his criticism of certain aspects (such as triumphalism and clericalism) of Roman Catholicism.  The challenge of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, our saint insisted, was to create an oasis of love in the desert in which one finds oneself.

Who knows what creating such an oasis of love might require to one to do?

Carretto died on October 4, 1988, aged 78 years.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 23, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH, POLYCARP OF SMYRNA, AND IRENAEUS OF LYONS, BISHOPS AND MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER AKIMETES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEFAN WINCENTY FRELICHOWSKI, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIGIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF MAINZ; AND SAINT BERNWARD, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF HILDESHEIM

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Almighty God, we praise you for your servant Carlo Carretto,

through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.

Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,

whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 46

1 Corinthians 3:11-23

Mark 10:35-45

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60

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Feast of Joseph Bernardin (April 2)   Leave a comment

#!dcdisplay fp\b0\i0\fs10Source~LOCAL/STAFF; Shoot_Date~20.10.1996; Type~COLOR; ÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐ fs12 <> fs10card 1 metro 10/20/96 cardinal joseph bernadin waces to well-wishers as he attends a 75th anniversary celebration at st. margaret mary church in chicago. cincinnati enquirer/michael e. keating mek fp\b0\i0\fs10ÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐÐ fp\i0\b\fs16Copyright 1996 The Cincinnati Enquirer fp\b0\i0\fs10Copyright=CINCINNATI_ENQUIRER; Person=BERNARDIN_JOSEPH; Aspect=LOCAL; Aspect=STAFF; Aspect=COLOR; Aspect=CINCINNATI_ENQUIRER; Aspect=BERNARDIN_JOSEPH;

Above:  Cardinal Bernardin

Fair Use Image

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JOSEPH LOUIS BERNARDIN (APRIL 2, 1928-NOVEMBER 14, 1996)

Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago

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It has been a great privilege to know a very great man.

–Retired Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu, 1996

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Joseph Bernardin was a famous and respected cleric.  Shortly before he died, he spoke with the President of the United States.  The Governor of Illinois and the Vice President of the United States attended his funeral Mass.  Bernardin had made quite an impression.

Bernardin rose from humble origins.  His parents were poor Italian immigrants; his father earned a modest income working in a quarry.  Our saint, born at Columbia, South Carolina, on April 2, 1928, grew up in  a predominantly Protestant culture of that state.  In 1946 his family was still so poor that his mother made the suit he wore to apply to study for the priesthood.  Bernardin studied theology at Baltimore and at the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.  Our saint, ordained to the priesthood in 1952, served as a priest in Charleston, South Carolina.  During 14 years he rose through the ranks in the diocese, serving in administrative posts.  In 1966, at the age of 38 years, Bernardin became the Auxiliary Bishop of Atlanta and the youngest bishop in the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.

Bernardin’s rise through the ranks continued.  From 1968 to 1972 he served as the General Secretary of the National Council of Catholic Bishops.  Subsequently he was the Archbishop of Cincinnati (1972-1982), the President of the National Council of Catholic Bishops (1974-1977), Archbishop of Chicago (1982-1996), and a member of the College of Cardinals (1983-1996).  Our saint took his faith into the public square.  He, among other actions, opposed President Nixon’s bombing campaign in Vietnam, articulated the theology of the Seamless Garment of Life, and worked on The Challenge of Peace, the National Council of Catholic Bishop’s 1983 pastoral letter declaring  nuclear war morally unjustifiable.

Bernardin had to endure public humiliation and suffering in the 1990s.  In 1993 Steven J. Cook sued Bernardin for sexual molestation that allegedly occurred 17 years prior.  The following year Cook dropped the lawsuit, citing unreliable memories.  Bernardin, who had always insisted upon his innocence, stated publicly that the matter had proven humiliating but that he harbored no ill feelings toward Cook, who stated that he wished the Cardinal the best.  The following year Bernardin received the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.  He followed the advice of Pope John Paul II:

Offer your suffering to the world.

Bernardin ministered to other cancer patients and made himself vulnerable to the public.  He died on November 14, 1996, aged 68 years.

Bernardin was certainly a man of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 12, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF ABSALOM JONES, RICHARD ALLEN, AND JARENA LEE, EVANGELISTS AND SOCIAL ACTIVISTS

THE FEAST OF CHARLES FREER ANDREWS, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPH CARL LUDWIG VON PFEIL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL WEISSE, GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR; AND JAN ROH, BOHEMIAN MORAVIAN BISHOP AND HYMN WRITER

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Almighty God, you have raised up faithful bishops of your church,

including your servant Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.

May the memory of his life be a source of joy for us and a bulwark of our faith,

so that we may serve and confess your name before the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Ezekiel 34:11-16 or Acts 20:17-35

Psalm 84

1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3:14-21

John 21:15-17 or Matthew 24:42-47

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60

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Feast of Blessed Giuseppe Girotti (April 1)   Leave a comment

dachau-april-29-1945

Above:  U.S. Soldiers at Dachau Concentration Camp, April 29, 1945

Image in the Public Domain

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BLESSED GIUSEPPE GIROTTI (JULY 19, 1905-APRIL 1, 1945)

Roman Catholic Priest and Martyr

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Everything I do is for charity.

–Blessed Giuseppe Girotti, explaining why he helped Jews illegally

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Here slept Saint Giuseppe Girotti.

–Carved into the empty bed of Girotti at Dachau Concentration Camp after his execution

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Giuseppe Girotti was one of the Righteous Gentiles.  He, born at Alba, Cuneo, Italy, on July 19, 1905, joined the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans) in 1923.  He, ordained a priest in 1930, studied under Marie-Joseph Lagrange at the Ecole Biblique, Jerusalem.  Girotti, a professor of theology at the Dominican theological seminary at Turin, Italy, wrote an analysis of the Book of Isaiah.  Of particular interest to him was the Suffering Servant.  Girotti, who respected the Jewish people, referred to them as “elder brothers” and “carriers of the word.”  In 1943, when Italian Jews became vulnerable to the Holocaust, our saint began to hide some of them and to help others escape to safety.  For this he became a suffering servant.  Nazi authorities arrested him on August 19, 1944.  He died at Dachau on April 1, 1945, shortly before the liberation of that concentration camp.  Our saint was 39 years old.

Pope Francis declared Girotti a Venerable in 2013 and a Blessed the following year.

Girotti took up his cross and followed Christ until he received the crown of martyrdom.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 12, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF ABSALOM JONES, RICHARD ALLEN, AND JARENA LEE, EVANGELISTS AND SOCIAL ACTIVISTS

THE FEAST OF CHARLES FREER ANDREWS, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPH CARL LUDWIG VON PFEIL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL WEISSE, GERMAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR; AND JAN ROH, BOHEMIAN MORAVIAN BISHOP AND HYMN WRITER

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Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us, like your servant Blessed Giuseppe Girotti,

to work for justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60

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Feast of St. Ludovico Pavoni (April 1)   Leave a comment

ludovico-pavoni

Above:  St. Ludovico Pavoni

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT LUDOVICO PAVONI (SEPTEMBER 11, 1784-APRIL 1, 1849)

Roman Catholic Priest and Educator

Also known as Saint Lodovico Pavoni

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Rigorism keeps Heaven empty.

–St. Ludovico Pavoni

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St. Ludovico Pavoni mentored thousands of boys and young men over a period of time measured in decades.  The native of Brescia, in the Duchy of Milan, entered the world on September 11, 1784.  During the Napoleonic period in Italy (1799-1814) the seminaries in at least part of the peninsula were closed, so our saint studied for the priesthood under the tutelage of Father Carlo Domenico Ferrari, who went on to serve as the Bishop of Brescia from 1834 to 1846.  Pavoni, ordained to the priesthood in 1807, opened an oratory for street boys the same year.  The purpose of this work was to help them make good decisions.  In 1812 our saint became the secretary to Bishop Gabrio Nava.  Six years later Pavoni became the pastor of the Church of St. Barnabas, and oratory transformed into a greater project.

In 1818 Pavoni founded an orphanage and an associated vocational school.  Three years later the school became the Institute of St. Barnabas.  He expanded the number of trades taught at the Institute over the years.  These trades included typography and book binding (via the publishing house), carpentry, blacksmithing, silversmithing, shoe making, dye making, and tool making.  He also added agricultural skills (via the farm  attached to the Institute).  In 1823 Pavoni expanded the student body to include deaf mutes.  Two years later he founded a religious institute of priests and brothers and brothers to continue the work of the Institute of St. Barnabas in Brescia.  Pope Gregory XVI granted papal approval for this religious institute in 1843.  Four years later Pavoni became one of the first members of the Congregation of the Sons of Mary Immaculate (the Pavoniani), dedicated to working in Brescia and beyond.

Pavoni died in 1849.  He had already ministered to residents of Brescia during an outbreak of cholera.  His final selfless deed was to lead his boys to safety away from Brescia, which was burning during a rebellion against Austria, on March 24.  They found shelter at the novitiate on the hill of Saviano, about 12 kilometers outside of town.  He died at Saviano on Palm Sunday, April 1, 1849.  Pavoni was 64 years old.

Pavoni is the patron saint of the Congregation of the Sons of Mary Immaculate, members of which work in six countries.

Pope Pius XII declared Pavoni a Venerable in 1947.  Pope John Paul II beatified him in 2002.  Pope Francis canonized our saint in 2016.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 11, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ONESIMUS, BISHOP OF BYZANTIUM

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O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served, and to give his life for the life of the world.

Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.

Through us give hope to the hopeless,

love to the unloved,

peace to the troubled,

and rest to the weary,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60

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Feast of Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15 or April 4)   Leave a comment

1964

Above:  Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X, 1964

Photographer = Marion S. Trikosko

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ6-1847

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MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. (JANUARY 15, 1929-APRIL 4, 1968)

Civil Rights Leader and Martyr

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A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

–Martin Luther King, Jr., April 4, 1967

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I refer you, O reader, to the following biographies of Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Martin Luther King, Jr., was a prophet; he spoke truth to power and to society when doing that was dangerous and unpopular.  He was also a human being, with virtues and vices.  The totality of his vices did not begin to approach the totality of his virtues.  King was sufficiently threatening (despite his nonviolence) to many racists and other defenders of the status quo that he had to endure numerous false accusations and an attempt by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to blackmail him into committing suicide.  (It can happen here.  It has happened here.)  For example, some accused King of being a Communist.  He was actually neither a Communist nor a capitalist.  Communism, he said, assumes falsely that people lacked souls, and capitalism misunderstands the proper value of a person also.  A moral society, King argued, is person-centered, not thing-centered; human rights ought to matter more than property rights.  King was actually a Christian Socialist and a man who became more radical as he aged; he was not the figure of the “I Have a Dream” Speech frozen in the amber of comfortable white historical memory.   On the other hand, Malcolm X mellowed in his final years.  The two moved toward each other politically as they approached death.

My reading of primary sources regarding how many people perceived King from the middle 1950s to his death in 1968 and immediately afterward has confirmed the generalization (found in many secondary historical sources) that many white people feared King and understood him to be threat to their way of life.  How ironic is it then, that many people who are the political descendants of King’s opponents have embraced the King federal holiday and the naming of streets after him?  He has become a non-threatening figure converted into a statue and placed on a pedestal.  This reality has blunted his prophetic power in contemporary politics.

Michael Eric Dyson is correct; the non-threatening, friendly King of the federal holiday and all those roads is not the person our saint really was.  For example, of one reads King’s anti-Vietnam War speech of April 4, 1967, one reads an address that cost him dearly politically during the last year of his life.  One also reads a scathing critique of the bipartisan Cold War consensus in U.S. foreign policy.  One also reads a timeless condemnation of militarism and institutionalized racism that is at least as potent today as it was in 1967.  That King makes many people squirm in their chairs, however; they prefer to play reruns of the “I Have a Dream Speech” and feel good about agreeing with him on those points.

A prophet is preferable to a mere hero immortalized as a statue, a holiday, and a plethora of street names, I am convinced, for a prophet speaks to the present, regardless of when he spoke originally.  A prophet does not let us off the hook.  We ignore a prophet at our risk, but we get to pat ourselves on our backs for admiring a mere hero.  Furthermore, a martyred prophet challenges us to ask ourselves for what cause we would be willing to die.

Dr. King was a prophet.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL JOHN STONE, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR TOZER RUSSELL, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT HILDA OF WHITBY, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS

THE FEAST OF JANE ELIZA(BETH) LEESON, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

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Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant

you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last:

Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King,

may resist oppression in the name of love,

and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Genesis 37:17b-20

Psalm 77:11-20

Ephesians 6:10-20

Luke 6:27-36

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 307

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