Remembering Martin of Tours

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I have explored Celtic Christianity rather intentionally for the past couple of years. The more I study, the more I come across the name of the Saint much of the world celebrates today–whether they know it or not!

In many countries today is a celebration of light. In Germany, students will have made lanterns for Laternenfest at school. They then take part in a practice of walking from a local church into a public square in recognition of this festival that has in some ways lost touch with it’s genesis, “Sankt Martins Tag”. Saint Martins Day includes the festival of light in recognition of the light that Martin shined through his commitment to non-violence and his life and work among the poor in his community.

So as you remember Veterans Day and bring honor to the loved ones that this day represents for you, may you also remember Martin of Tours and the impact he left in his community and many more since.

The Northumbria community remembers Saint Martin on November 11th. The following is a passage out of their “Celtic Daily Prayer”.

Martin won a discharge from the Roman army to become a hermit. A community grew up around him in France, and whole areas were evangelized as teams of his followers occupied sites previously dedicated as heathen shrines. Martin was a hermit and then a monastic in the desert tradition, but, with this sending out of teams, we have the beginnings of a missionary monastic movement that was to be characteristic of Celtic Christianity.

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Remembering Francis of Assisi

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Today we remember the man who Pope Francis chose to name himself after. To say that Saint Francis left an imprint on the heart of Christianity would be an understatement.

The Northumbria community remembers Saint Francis on October 4th. The following is a passage out of their “Celtic Daily Prayer”.

John Bernardone was nicknamed Francesco (‘Frenchie’) because his mother was from Provence. His father was a wealthy cloth-merchant. Francis was ill after a year’s imprisonment during a local war. As he recovered he began to care for the poor and the lepers. He began to give away his father’s goods.

The painted crucifix in the derelict church of San Damiano seemed to say to him, ‘Build My Church, which, as you see, is in ruins.’ He began to rebuild the chapel, stone by stone. but the word he had received there also spoke prophetically about a renewal and rebuilding of the larger Church of his day–a rebuilding through a simple loyalty and obedience to Christ and a rejection of all the Church’s clutter, corruption and compromise.

Francis brought conversion by example. Taking off the clothes that his natural father had paid for, he stood naked and asked for the Church’s covering and protection. With some embarrassment it was given. Francis and his order of Brothers Minor in absolute poverty continued to embarrass and energize the Church. Like Jesus, it was said of Francis that the poor ‘heard him gladly’.

Because so many of his followers were clever, well-educated men, many of his sayings and numerous accounts of the incidents of his life have survived. The most famous prayer that is ascribed to him was not in fact his own, but aptly sums up his spirituality: ‘Lord, make me and instrument of Your Peace.’

Remembering Henri Nouwen

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Henri Nouwen has become a significant part of my spiritual journey. His book, “Can You Drink the Cup?” has utterly transformed my prayer life as well as the way I see my own life. His words and presence continue to be a gift to many.

The Northumbria community remembers Henri Nouwen on September 21st. The following is a passage out of their “Celtic Daily Prayer”.

Dutch Catholic priest and Professor of Psychology at both Yale and Harvard, he became a living example of ‘downward mobility’ and Christlikeness. Making himself of no reputation, he left the public eye to work ‘as a priest for the poor’ in both Latin America and in the L’Arche Daybreak Community in Canada. He was a ‘wounded healer’ whose restless seeking for God has left a legacy to the world through his prolific writings on the spirituality of brokenness and vulnerability.

Remembering Teresa of Calcutta

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Mother Teresa is a woman recognized by nearly everyone I have met. Her name is often used to point to a kind of self-giving nature that most of us have only admired from afar. I am grateful for this beautiful woman and her gift to our world. In many ways she was inspirational for women who felt called into the ministry. She lived out a sort of love among those cast aside by their society that still inspires millions. I stand in awe of her life, love, and deeply counter-cultural faithfulness to the “Least of These”.

The Northumbria community remembers Mother Teresa on September 5th. The following is a passage out of their “Celtic Daily Prayer”.

Born in Serbia to Albanian parents, she became a nun and longed for permission to move outside the convent walls and work with the poorest of the poor in India. In later years she received great recognition and various ‘peace prizes’, but challenged all kinds of people to compassion and discipleship through her media exposure. ‘Do you know and love the poor?’ she asked. ‘If you do not know them, how can you love them?’

Working among the slums of Calcutta, she remained radiant. She commented pragmatically, ‘The surest way to preach Christianity to the pagan is by our cheerfulness, our happiness. What would our life be if the Sisters were unhappy? We would do the work, but we would attract nobody.’ 

Daring to celebrate Pelagius

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Today is the day that many who find themselves in the Celtic stream of Christianity will celebrate the life of Pelagius. I wanted to share a brief piece about this man and his confusing–some would even say tragic–life experience as a spiritual teacher and contemporary of Augustine of Hippo. The following comes from “Celtic Daily Prayer”, a book of prayers and readings from within the Northumbria Community.

Pelagius (C. 350-418): August 28

We have chosen to mark Pelagius’ memory on the feast day normally assigned to Augustine of Hippo, who did so much to malign Pelagius and who is the source of many erroneous teachings and emphases that still dog Christian thinking today!

Pelagius was a British theologian, teacher, writer, and soul-friend who settled in Rome. He was highly spoken of at first–even by Augustine. He taught about the value of soul-friendship. He celebrated the fact that the goodness of God cries out through all of creation, for ‘narrow shafts of divine light pierce the veil that separates heaven from earth.’

But soon he was criticized for teaching women to read Scripture, and for believing that the image of God is present in every new-born child, and that sex is a God-given aspect of our essential creation. He did not deny the reality of evil or its assault on the human soul, or the habitual nature of sin. Augustine’s own peculiar ideas were in stark contrast, seeing humanity as essentially evil, and polluted by the sexual activity which causes conception to occur.

Augustine tried twice in 415 to have him convicted of heresy–on both occasions Pelagius was exonerated in Palestine. In 416 Augustine and the African bishops convened two diocesan councils to condemn him and Celestius, another Celt. In 417 the Bishop of Rome called a synod to consider the conflict, and declared Pelagius’ teaching entirely true, and urged the African bishops to love peace, prize love, and seek after harmony. They ignored this, and in 418 they persuaded the State to intervene and banish Pelagius from Rome for disturbing the peace. The Church then was obliged to uphold the Emperor’s judgment and excommunicated and banished him, though no reasons were made clear. He returned to Wales, probably to the monastery of Bangor.

Two centuries later all the same ideas were still to be found in Celtic Christianity. History is written by the victors, so most reports of what Pelagius said are given from Augustine’s view point, not in his own balanced and sensible words. He was also criticized for being a big, enthusiastic man, stupid from eating porridge and over-confident in his own strength, and for wearing his hair in an inappropriate style!