AIDAN OF LINDISFARNE
Today’s Kalendar commemorates St. Aidan, the 7th C. missionary to the Anglo Saxon Kingdom of Northumbria, in northeast England and southeast Scotland. Aidan was an Irish monk at Iona on the west coast of Scotland. At the invitation of the King of Northumbria he traveled there to convert that kingdom’s pagan subjects. The monastery Aidan established on the coast at Lindisfarne became a renowned center of learning and evangelism until it was overrun a few centuries later by Viking invaders.
With the king’s sponsorship Aidan’s efforts to convert the nobility were successful. But he also made converts among poor people and slaves. He walked from village to village, listening and talking with anyone he met along the way, and people responded warmly to his interest and concern for them. When he received gifts from the wealthy he gave them away; as alms for free men and women who were impoverished and as payments to emancipate those persons who were slaves.
In his approach to evangelism, paying sincere attention to rich and poor together, he anticipated by 1500 years the Baptismal promise we make today, “to respect the dignity of every human being.” He treated all alike—“all sorts and conditions.” Thus Aidan provides us with a model for mission in our own day.
O God the creator and preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known to them, thy saving health unto all nations. (From the English 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It appears in our 1979 Book of Common Prayer for occasional use in both Morning and Evening Prayer.)
Sayings from our Sidewalk
Thomas Gaullaudet and Henry Winter Syles, whose feast day we celebrate today, were pioneers in education of the deaf in the United States.
Thomas Gaullaudet’s father introduced the idea of educating the deaf to America, perhaps because his wife, Sophie Fowler Gaulludet, was deaf. She served as a founding matron for the school that became Gaullaudet University.
Thomas Gaullaudet, an Episcopal priest, founded St. Ann’s School for the Deaf in New York City, and several other institutes of higher learning for those who have difficulty hearing.
Henry Winter Syles was attached to St. Ann’s School, and was the first deaf person ordained as a priest in America. It was against vociferous opposition; some thought that impairment of any kind was an impediment to ordination. He served as a priest in Philadelphia, where he founded the first church for the deaf, All Souls’.
Though Gaulludet was founded by Stephen Fowler, the trustees unanimously agreed that it should be named for Thomas Gaullaudet, to recognize his significant contributions to the field. His son Edward was the first superintendent.
Today, on its 99-acre campus in Northeast Washington, Gaulladet offers 25 certificates, master’s and doctoral degrees. It is the only barrier-free university in the world dedicated to the hearing impaired.
Let us give thanks for the life and work of Thomas Gaulladet and Henry Winter Syles.
Prayer happens at specified times. A person engages in prayerful silence in the morning, or offers Evening Prayer at sunset, or participates in a Sunday liturgy. Prayer also happens spontaneously at any time; some call this prayer on the run.
Prayer at specified times can enhance prayer on the run and vice versa. One way this happens is when we use familiar resources during our prayer on the run. These resources often provide us with well-tested words for what we find hard
to put into words.
The Prayer Book services of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer include Suffrages, sentences taken from the Psalms and arranged in a call and response pattern labeled V. (Versicle) and R. (Response). These Suffrages are memorable and can be used wherever we happen to be.
One pair is especially helpful when we want to pray for our country, recognizing
its current imperfections and desiring a future more in line with God’s gracious intentions. Consider repeating these simple words frequently in the days ahead:
Lord, keep this nation under your care;
And guide us in the way of justice and truth.
St. Bartholomew the Apostle
Today’s Calendar commemorates St. Bartholomew, one of the twelve disciples who became an apostle; that is, “one who is sent.” Tradition has it that he traveled very far as a missionary—to the outer edges of the Parthian empire, which included what is now Iraq and Iran. He may have gone even further, past Iran to India. Apparently he also went to Armenia, farther to the west and north of the edge of Iran. With his fellow apostle Thaddeus, Bartholomew is recognized by the Armenian Apostolic Church as one of its two founding patron saints. Tradition says that he was martyred in Armenia by being flayed alive, and that is how he is represented in iconography. There is also a tradition that he may have traveled to Ethiopia.
However he may have died and wherever he may have gone, a main point for us today can be that Bartholomew’s life as an apostle took him very far from familiar life in Galilee. And yet, as Jesus said to the apostles in the “Great Commission” just before His Ascension, “Go and make disciples of all nations . . . and remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28. 19-20). No matter how far Bartholomew’s apostolic journeys took him from his original home, Jesus was with him all the way.
Today as we are called to our own apostolates, commissioned in our Baptism to bear witness to Jesus in our present time and place, Jesus assures us that He is with us now. Whether our own missionary journeys take us near to home or far away, Jesus is with us always, just as He was for His faithful follower Bartholomew so long ago.
Twelfth Century Abbot
Today, our church commemorates Bernard of Clairvaux, a commanding figure in the first half of the 12th century.
Born in 1090, he was, from an early age, devoted to literature, prayer and meditation.
Entering a monastery at age of 19, he became known for his sermons, his devoutness and his devotion to Mary. Sent to found a new monastery in a glen called Val d’Absinthe, he named it Claire Valle. It became known as Clairvaux. His efforts there resulted in the revitalization of Benedictine monasticism.
Despite his devotion to prayer and the Virgin Mary, Bernard became embroiled in religious controversies. Papal schism, the second crusade and heresy, he was tasked with all three.
The schism resulted in two popes, one Innocent II, the other Anacletus II. Europe and Spain adhered to Innocent, Italy and the patriarchs in Constantinople, Antioch and Jerusalem to Anacletus. The breach was eventually repaired, with a protégé of Bernard’s elected Pope Eugene III.
Asked by the Pope to spearhead the second crusade, to recover Jerusalem from the Turks, Bernard remained haunted by it the crusade’s failure for the rest of his life.
Heresy was next for him. Among others, he fought the so-called heresy of Peter Abelard, eventually causing Abelard to retire quietly.
Bernard was an abbot for 38 years. Though the controversies loomed large in his life, he is remembered for his sermons (86 of them), his piety and is often credited with hymns that live for us today: O Sacred Head Now Wounded, Jesus The Very Thought of Thee, and Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts. He died in 1153, and was canonized in 1174.
Thank you, God, for the life of Bernard of Clairvaux.
What Good Teaching Requires
Schools are starting up again. Classes may be online due to the pandemic.
If they are in person, then classroom arrangements reflect the demands of coronavirus prevention. Some schools offer a combination of in-person and online education. Millions are becoming increasingly familiar with technologies that deliver course content through computer screens; these methods have both advantages and disadvantages.
How we assess online education should not be determined by fascination
with screens or alleged economic savings. The essential element in this assessment must be how well the humanity of the student is served. Are students learning in a way that befits their human dignity? Do we as a society
want to educate people or simply to graduate them?
Authentic education requires constructive, empathetic human relationships between teachers and students. This ancient and obvious principle, threatened by a flood of educational fads, needs to be reclaimed. As author and educator Parker Palmer has said, “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.”
Essential to the educational task is the identification and support of teachers
able to establish and maintain life-enhancing relationships.
Here is a brain teaser to consider today. Anglicanism has since the 16th and 17th centuries been characterized as taking a “middle way,” via media; a “mean” between Protestant and Catholic belief and practice. There are two quite differing ways of understanding this metaphorically— a mean as identified through arithmetic calculation or through geometric construction.
We usually think of a mean as derived through arithmetic calculation. To find the average height in inches among a set of individuals you sum the heights of all the individuals in the set and then divide that total by the number of persons in the set. But a mean can also be identified by geometric construction. Euclid taught us that you can find the midpoint on a horizontal line by using a compass (a geometric instrument consisting of two legs joined at one end and open at the other). You fix both legs at a wide angle between them. Then you set the foot of one leg at the leftmost edge of the line, and with the foot of the other leg you inscribe an arc just past the middle of the line. Then you set the foot of that leg at the rightmost edge of the line and with the foot of the opposite leg you inscribe another arc, crossing the first. Finally, a line drawn down vertically between the places where the two arcs intersect at top and bottom will bisect the horizontal line at its exact midpoint.
The Anglican via media is better conceived as geometrically constructed rather than as arithmetically calculated. On a horizontal line one foot of the compass is set at the leftmost edge of Protestant thought and action. Anchored there the compass’s opposite foot inscribes an arc. Then that foot of the compass is set at the rightmost edge of Catholic thought and action, which anchors it for the opposite foot’s inscribing the other arc. In other words, a “middle way” comes from having one foot anchored at one extreme and the other foot anchored at the other extreme. This is not averaging across a set of numbers. Rather it is an affirmation of polar opposites, both/and rather than either/or-- affirming truths which might seem to contradict each other but which can live together in a whole that is unified, not by the elimination or smoothing over of difference, but by holding distinct difference together in creative tension.
This is all pretty abstract, and it doesn’t give clear and simple guidance for how we should act in everyday life as Christians. But there is a certain nobility and generosity of spirit in the Anglican attempt to be fully and genuinely Catholic, affirming the best in that, while at the same time being fully and genuinely Protestant, affirming the best in that. As Anglicans we are easily accused of too much waffling, and indeed our teaching sometimes mumbles. Still there is much to be said for the aim of living out a Christian via media even though it’s hard to do. It’s fair to say that an Anglican is someone who wants to be Catholic and Protestant at the same time.
In some parts of the Church, today is the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe. He was born Raymund on January 8, 1894, in the Kingdom of Poland, part of the Russian Empire. In 1910, he began the process to become a Franciscan friar; he was given the name Maximilian (“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” 2 Corinthians 5:17)
Maximilian went on to earn doctorates in philosophy and theology, and to found monasteries in both Japan and India. In 1936, his poor health forced him to return home to Poland. Once the WWII invasion by Germany began, he was one of a few brothers to remain in the monastery. He opened a temporary hospital. He provided shelter for refugees, including 2,000 fleeing Jews. On February 17, 1941, however, the monastery was shut down and Maximilian was arrested by the German Gestapo. He was taken to the Pawiak prison and, three months later, transferred to Auschwitz. Toward the end of his second month there, men were chosen to face death by starvation to deter escapes. Maximilian was not chosen but volunteered to take the place of a man who had a wife and children. The guards gave him a lethal injection of carbolic acid. The stories are that he raised his left arm and calmly awaited death. He loved to the end.
Maximilian is often depicted in a prison uniform and with a needle being injected into an arm. He is the patron saint of drug addicts, prisoners, and families.
Hear his exhortation to love one another:
We need to love our neighbor not just because he is pleasant or helpful or rich and influential or even because he shows us gratitude. These motives are too self-serving. Genuine love rises above creatures and soars to God. In him, by him, and through him it loves all persons, both good and wicked, friends and enemies. To all it stretches out a hand filled with love; it prays for all, suffers for all, wishes what is best for all, desires happiness for all—because that is what God wants.
The Shakespeare of the Divines
Today, our church honors Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down and Conner in Ireland.
A substitute preaching assignment in Gaius College at Cambridge brought him to the attention of William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury. Bishop Laud invited him to preach in London, citing his “happiness of expression and fervour of piety.” That assignment, and others after it, led him into tumultuous times. Through Laud’s influence, Taylor was appointed Chaplain Ordinary to Charles I of England, a Royalist ruler. After a revolt against the Royalists, Charles was deposed, and Taylor was imprisoned. Archbishop Laud was tried for treason and executed in January 1664.
Taylor lived quietly in exile in Wales until another patron, the Earl of Carbury, appointed him as his Chaplain. There, Taylor wrote his first book, The Golden Rule. Originally a children’s catechism, it is still popular today as a Book of Devotions. Because of Carbury’s influence, he was appointed to the Bishopric. His service in that position, from 1660 to 1667 was marked by continuing disagreements with powerful Presbyterian clergy, who did not recognize the episcopacy’s authority.
He continued to preach, and to write. His writings earned him the sobriquet of The Shakespeare of the Divines for his thoughts, clearly and poetically expressed.
Many of his works are available today, and are well worth reading. In addition to the Golden Grove, Taylor wrote, “Rule and Exercise of Holy Living,” “Holy Dying,” “The Great Exemplar – the Life of Jesus Christ,” and “The Worthy Communicant.” John Wesley, a Church of England clergyman who later founded the Methodist church, was particularly devoted to “Holy Living” and “Holy Dying,” which influenced him in founding the Methodists.
Taylor died on August 13, 1667.
Thanks be to God for his life and works.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington