... Holy Days this month

      (from Parish Pump, UK)

High Days & Holy Days for August 2022

 

Sundays of the Month

7th August        Eighth Sunday after Trinity
14th August     Ninth Sunday after Trinity
21st August     Tenth Sunday after Trinity
28th August     Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
4th September             Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

 Editor:   Kings and mystics, writers and martyrs – August does well with its feast days that remember outstanding Christians.

1          Ethelwold - Saint of Wessex
4          Sithney - mad dogs 
*New 4            Jean-Baptiste Vianney Cure d’Ars, spiritual guide
5          Oswald – a king with faith, courage and humility
6          The Transfiguration of Jesus
8          Dominic – learning
9          Mary Sumner – founder of the Mothers’ Union
10        Laurence of Rome – roasted?
11        Clare - prayer and simplicity 
13        Radegund – victim of domestic abuse
14        Maximilian Kolbe - heroic Christian amidst 20th century suffering
15        The Blessed Virgin Mary
16         Laurence Loricatus - couldn’t forgive himself
17          Jeanne Delanoue – why God made pushy people
23        Rose of Lima - patron saint of South America
27/28   Monica and Augustine – mother and son
28         Augustine of Hippo – great theologian
29        Beheading of St John the Baptist
30        John Bunyan – Pilgrim’s Progress
31        Aidan - the great Celtic saint of Lindisfarne
31        Raymond Nonnatus – if you are grateful for life

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1st August                   Ethelwold, Wessex saint who founded the first monastic cathedral

St Ethelwold (c.912 - 84) did great things for the church at Winchester, which in those days was the principle town of Wessex.  He began as a simple monk, eager to restore the Rule of Benedictine in England, a major reform for the church of the time. So, after serving at the abbey in Glastonbury, he was sent on to restore the old abbey at Abingdon. The king thought highly of him, and used him to teach his son, the future king, Edgar.

When in 963 Ethelwold became Bishop of Winchester, he replaced the cathedral canons with monks, thus founding the first monastic cathedral in the land. This was a uniquely English institution, which remained until the Reformation. The monastic reform quickly gained momentum: with the King’s support, Ethelwold restored old monasteries such as Milton (Dorset), New Minster and Nunnaminster in Winchester, while new monasteries were founded and richly endowed at Peterborough (966), Ely (970) and Thorney (972).

Ethelwold was austere, able and dynamic. Under his leadership, the monks excelled at music, illumination and writing. When Ethelwold set the monks to work with the masons in the cathedral at Winchester, he built the most powerful organ of its time in England: it was played by two monks and had 400 pipes and 36 bellows. In music, Ethelwold’s Winchester had the distinction of producing the first English polyphony in the Winchester Troper.

Ethelwold’s monasteries also produced a surpassing new style of illumination, and his school of vernacular writing was the most important of its time: with accurate, linguistically significant translations. A major event of his episcopate was the consecration of Winchester Cathedral in 980.

**

4th August                   Sithney, the saint who preferred mad dogs to women

You know how some men find women’s interest in romance and clothes hard to cope with? Well, Sithney (or Sezni) should be the patron saint of all such men.  

According to a Breton folk legend, Sithney was a hermit of long ago, minding his own business, when one day God told him that he was going to make him the patron saint of girls. Sithney was horrified. He foresaw a future where thousands of young women were forever plaguing him to find them good husbands and fine clothes... the thought of it appalled him. So Sithney begged God for some other job, something more peaceful, than dealing with young women. “Very well,” said God.  “You can look after mad dogs, instead.” 

Sithney replied cheerfully: “I’d rather have mad dogs than women, any day.” And so it was. Since that time, young women have pestered other saints to bring them husbands and fine clothes, while sick and mad dogs have been taken to drink water from the well of St Sezni, patron of Sithney, near Helston in Cornwall.

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*New 4th August         Jean-Baptiste Vianney Curé d’Ars, spiritual guide

Jean-Baptiste Vianney is the saint for those whose passion is to help people find peace with God.

Vianney was born near Lyons in 1786, the son of a peasant farmer. With no money for schooling, he first became a shepherd. But, like David in the Bible, his deep personal faith and zeal soon drew him away from guiding sheep to guiding people.

It took Vianney nine long years to become a priest. For one thing, he just couldn’t learn Latin, but also he had to hide for a year to avoid being conscripted into Napoleon’s army.  But eventually, in 1815, at the age of 29, he was ordained, and after a curacy, was sent to the tiny village of Ars-en-Dombes near Lyons. Here he remained for the next 40 years, becoming known simply as the ‘Curé d’Ars’.

Vianney soon proved that it did not take Latin to be an excellent parish priest. His ability to preach with simplicity and passion, and his gifts as a truly outstanding spiritual director soon had the people flocking to him for help.

At one stage in Vianney’s ministry, he was spending up to 16 hours a day hearing confessions and counselling people. He seems to have had a God-given ability to discern the real issues in a person’s life, and to put his finger on the real causes of their problems.

As the years went by, Vianney’s fame spread, and tens of thousands of people came to the Curé of Ars-en-Dombes. (20,000 in 1855 alone.). The rich, poor, famous and obscure, all of them were welcomed and prayed with and helped by this extraordinary parish priest – sometimes up to 300 of them a day.

It was an exhausting routine, but Vianney felt he could not retire. And so eventually he died at work in his parish, on 4th August 1859. By then he was widely loved and respected not only by Roman Catholics, but also by the Protestants.

**

5th August                   Oswald, a king with faith, courage and humility

Many Christians have dreamed of doing something spectacular for God, which would be remembered for centuries afterwards. Oswald, who lived from 605 to 642AD, was in a position to do so.

He was a King, whose father, Aethelfrith, was a great warrior who laid the foundations of the great kingdom of Northumbria. But Aethelfrith was killed by a rival, and Oswald was only 12 years old when he was driven into exile with his elder sister and two younger brothers. For their own safety, all were taken to Irish territory in the West of Scotland.

The three brothers were educated by the Christian monks on Iona. Meanwhile, warfare raged in Northumbria, and in due course the time came for Oswald to make a difficult decision. Should he remain in safety, or return to claim his kingdom? In 632 his older brother led an expedition there to sue for peace, but instead he was put to the sword. It was a time of broken dreams and bitter grief for the young Oswald, who must have spent many hours in prayer before he decided to risk his life by following his brother south.

In his famous book, The Ecclesiastical History of England, Bede tells us that Oswald prepared to meet his enemies Cadwallon and Penda in battle on a December night at a place which is now called Heavenfield. His small army was likely to be outnumbered and victory seemed impossible. But that night, Oswald had a vision of St Columba, the founder of Iona. Columba prophesied that Oswald would be king, and reminded him of God's words to Joshua at the River Jordan, "Be strong, and of good courage... for you will be the leader of these people as they occupy this land."

Before battle commenced, Oswald made a rough cross from two young trees and held it upright until soldiers were able to fill in the hole around it. Then he led his army in a prayer that God would bring victory and deliverance to his people. He also promised that if they survived, he would send for missionaries from Iona to bring the Christian faith to Northumbria.

Oswald's subsequent victory has become part of the region's folklore, commemorated by the name of that battlefield and the more permanent cross which now stands at Heavenfield. Many leaders would have regarded such a triumph as the high point of their career, advanced to the royal palace and quickly forgotten their promise to God. But Oswald remained faithful, and in due course St Aidan arrived in the new kingdom and made Lindisfarne the centre of his ministry.

Now it was time for Oswald to reveal a quality less frequently associated with kings, but even more vital to the spread of God's work. That quality was humility. As the sponsor and protector of Aidan, he could easily have imposed his own agenda on this new mission. Such a test came early, when Aidan declined Oswald's offer of resources at court in Bamburgh Castle, and chose the remoter location of Lindisfarne.

Not only did Oswald accept the monk's decision gracefully; he continued to spend many uncomfortable weeks on the road acting as Aidan's interpreter. His willingness to lay aside his kingly privileges and play second fiddle to a spiritual leader ensured that the Gospel spread quickly through the new kingdom and transformed many lives.

Within a few years, dark times returned to Northumbria. Oswald was slain in battle and his brother Oswin succeeded to the throne. Penda continued to wreak havoc with his marauding raids; on one famous occasion, Aidan watched him attack the royal fortress as he prayed on the Farne Islands, and it is written that his intercessions caused the wind to change direction and beat back the flames from the castle gates.

But through it all, the light of Christianity continued to flourish and grow. Aidan is rightly remembered as the missionary who brought the good news to Northumbria, but he could not have succeeded without Oswald, the man who was brave enough to claim an earthly kingdom, yet obedient enough to play a humbler role in advancing a heavenly one.

Prayer from the liturgy for St Oswald's day (5th August), written by the Northumbria Community:

"I place into your hands, Lord, the choices that I face. Guard me from choosing the way perilous of which the end is heart-pain and the secret tear.

“May I feel your presence at the heart of my desire, and so know it is for Your desire for me. Thus shall I prosper, thus see that my purpose is from You, thus have power to do the good which endures." (Copyright Northumbria Community Trust, 1996)

**

6th August                   The Transfiguration, a glimpse of Jesus’ future glory

The story is told in Matthew (17:1-9), Mark (9:1-9) and Luke (9:28-36).  It was a time when Jesus’ ministry was popular, when people were seeking Him out. 

But on this day, He made time to take Peter, James and John, His closest disciples, up a high mountain. In the fourth century, Cyrillic of Jerusalem identified it as Mount Tabor (and there is a great church up there today), but others believe it more likely to have been one of the three spurs of Mount Hermon, which rise to about 9,000 feet, and overlook Caesarea Philippi. 

High up on the mountain, Jesus was suddenly transfigured before His friends. His face began to shine as the sun, His garments became white and dazzling. Elijah and Moses, of all people, suddenly appeared, and talked with Him. A bright cloud overshadowed the disciples.

Peter was staggered, but, enthusiast that he was - immediately suggested building three tabernacles on that holy place, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. But God’s ‘tabernacling’, God’s dwelling with mankind, does not any longer depend upon building a shrine. It depends on the presence of Jesus, instead. And so, a cloud covered them, and a Voice spoke out of the cloud, saying that Jesus was His beloved Son, whom the disciple should ‘hear’. God’s dwelling with mankind depends upon our listening to Jesus.

Then, just as suddenly, it is all over. What did it mean? Why Moses and Elijah? Well, these two men represent the Law and the Prophets of the Old Covenant, or Old Testament. But now they are handing on the baton, if you like: for both the Law and the Prophets found their true and final fulfilment in Jesus, the Messiah.

Why on top of a mountain? In Exodus we read that Moses went up Mount Sinai to receive the sacred covenant from Yahweh in the form of the Ten Commandments. Now Jesus goes up and is told about the ‘sealing’ of the New Covenant, or New Testament of God with man, which will be accomplished by His coming death in Jerusalem.

That day made a lifelong impact on the disciples. Peter mentions it in his second letter, 2 Peter 1:16-19, invariably the reading for this day.

The Eastern Churches have long held the Transfiguration as a feast as important as Christmas, Epiphany, Ascension and Pentecost. But it took a long time for the West to observe the Transfiguration. The feast starts appearing from the 11th and 12th centuries, and the Prayer Book included it among the calendar dates, but there was no liturgical provision for it until the 19th century.

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6th August                   The Transfiguration of Jesus
                                   
It’s an unusual story. One day, Jesus is with three disciples on a high mountain in Galilee, when His appearance dramatically changes. Also, Moses and Elijah suddenly appear, and from a cloud comes the voice of God. What is this all about?

This event was witnessed by James, Peter, and John. They were close friends of Jesus. In the future, they were to become prominent leaders in the Early Church. They needed to see something special that would help them remember Jesus in the difficult years ahead. They had a glimpse of Christ in His divine glory. His face shone like the sun and His clothes turned white as light.

While this was an extraordinary sight for the disciples, it served to encourage Jesus who once had glory and majesty in Heaven. One day He would have it again. But firstly, He had to fulfil His mission: to suffer on the cross and die.

Why were Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus? Moses was the giver of the Law and Elijah represented all the prophets. They had pointed people to the promised Messiah. Jesus was about to complete God’s plan of salvation.

God’s voice was heard to remind Peter there was no need to build shelters. They were not going to stay on the mountain. God spoke to get the disciples to fix their attention of Jesus. The wonder of the Transfiguration was a short interlude before Jesus had to return to His work and subsequent death on the cross.

This story is a reminder that our times of spiritual blessing have to be followed by down-to-earth commitments and responsibilities. In the same way that Jesus gave His friends a glimpse of His awesome glory, to help them face challenging and traumatic times ahead, our special times in His presence are provided to encourage us and equip us for the trials we may have to face.

Our journey through life may sometimes rise to the peaks but we can’t stay on a ‘high’ all the time – no matter how much we want it! We have to descend to face everyday challenges if we are to fulfil our calling in Christ. From our mountain-top experiences we all need to find a balance between times alone with God and serving Him in the company of others.

**

8th August                   Dominic, the saint who believed in learning

If you enjoy reading the Bible and in encouraging others to have faith in God, then Dominic is the patron saint for you. His passion for helping Christians to learn and proclaim their faith led him to found the Order of Preachers, or Black Friars, because of the black cape they wore over white habits. They are also known as the Dominicans.

Dominic was born in Castile in 1170, the youngest son of the warden of the town and nephew to the archpriest of Gumiel d’Izan. Becoming an Austin canon of Osma cathedral, Dominic spent seven years as a priest, devoted to prayer and penance. In
1201 he became sub-prior to his community.

In 1208 the Papal Legate was murdered. It sparked a crusade or ‘holy war’ against the Albigensian heretics. Dominic worked for reconciliation, refusing to join in the violence and massacres against them. Instead he used instruction and prayer to woo the heretics back, which led to him playing a leading role in founding Toulouse University. That became the foundation for his work in establishing the Friars Preachers at Toulouse in 1215, which occupied the last seven years of his life. (Three times he refused a bishopric, believing that this work was more important.)

Dominic’s ‘order’ provided communities of sacred learning, with monks devoted to study, teaching and preaching as well as the usual prayer. Dominic believed monks should do more than just commune with God; they should proclaim God’s love to others. Dominic was an excellent organiser, and soon his order spread rapidly all over Italy, Spain and France. It met an acute need in the medieval church, and in time the Black Friars became a pioneering missionary force in Asia and even (much later) the Americas.  

Dominic travelled widely from 1216 until his death in 1220. His simple tomb was later embellished by Michelangelo, and his usual attributes in art are a lily and a black and white dog, which is a pun (Domini canis) on the name of Dominic. The dog holds a torch in its mouth as a herald of the truth.  

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9th August                   Mary Sumner, founder of the Mothers’ Union

The Mothers’ Union is now nearly 146 years old. It has accomplished a staggering amount in that time, and nowadays numbers more than four million members, doing good work in 83 countries. That is a far cry from the modest circle of prayer for mothers who cared about family life, which is how it all began with a rector’s wife, Mary Sumner.

Mary was born in late 1828 in Swinton, near Manchester. When she was four, her family moved to Herefordshire. Mary’s father, Thomas Heywood, was a banker and historian. Her mother has been described as a woman of “faith, charm and sympathy” – qualities which Mary certainly inherited. Mrs Heywood also held informal ‘mothers’ meetings’ at her home, to encourage local women. Those meetings may well have inspired Mary’s later work.  

Mary was educated at home, spoke three foreign languages, and sang well. While in her late teens, on a visit to Rome she met George Sumner, a son of the Bishop of Winchester. It was a well-connected family: George’s uncle became Archbishop of Canterbury, and his second cousin was William Wilberforce. Mary and George married in July 1848, soon after his ordination. They moved to Old Alresford in 1851 and had three children: Margaret, Louise and George. Mary dedicated herself to raising her children and supporting her husband’s ministry by providing music and Bible classes.

When in 1876 Mary’s eldest daughter Margaret, gave birth, Mary was reminded how difficult she had found the burden of motherhood. Soon she decided to hold a meeting to which she invited the local women not only of her own class, but also all the village mothers. Her aim was to find out if women could be brought together to offer each other prayer and mutual support in their roles as wives and mothers. That meeting at Old Alresford Rectory was the inaugural meeting of the Mothers’ Union. 

For 11 years, the Mothers’ Union was limited to Old Alresford. Then in 1885 the Bishop of Newcastle invited Mary to address the women churchgoers of the Portsmouth Church Congress, some 20 miles away. Mary gave a passionate speech about the poor state of national morality, and the vital need for women to use their vocation as mothers to change the nation for the better. A number of the women present went back to their parishes to found mothers' meetings on Sumner's pattern. Soon, the Mothers’ Union spread to the dioceses of Ely, Exeter, Hereford, Lichfield and Newcastle. 

By 1892, there were already 60,000 members in 28 dioceses, and by 1900 there were 169,000 members. By the time Mary died in 1921, she had seen MU cross the seas and become an international organisation of prayer and good purpose.

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10th August                 Laurence of Rome and the gridiron

Laurence was a deacon of the Church in Rome who was martyred in 258. His story is found in the very ancient Depositio Martyrum, which tells us that he was closely associated with Pope Sixtus II, who was martyred just a few days before him during the persecution of the Emperor Valerian. We also know that he was much loved for his almsgiving. 

St Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, relates how the Roman authorities had taken to confiscating all the goods of any Christians they discovered, and then putting the Christians to death. And so it was in August of 258, after Sixtus was martyred, that they demanded of Laurence the wealth of the Church in Rome. He asked for three days to gather it together. During that time he worked quickly, to distribute as much of it as possible to the poor in Rome. On the third day, he presented himself to the prefect of Rome, taking along a small delegation of the poor and crippled. He told the prefect that these people were the true treasures of the Church, and that ‘The Church is truly rich, far richer than your emperor.’ This did not go down well with the prefect, and Laurence was condemned to a martyr’s death.  

It was Laurence, of course who is famous for being roasted alive on a gridiron, and for telling his captors to ‘turn him over’ when he was done on one side. The story has no historic basis, as the weapon of capital punishment at the time was the sword for decapitation. It is thought by many scholars that the roasting on the gridiron story came about because of a simple spelling mistake by a monk in copying the history years later:  the accidental omission of the letter ‘p’ would have been enough. This is because the customary formula for announcing the death of a martyr was ‘passus est’ (he suffered/was martyred). If you leave off the ‘p’ you get ‘assus est’ - he was roasted.  Only – he wasn’t!

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11th August                 St Clare of Assisi

Assisi, a beautiful town in the Italian province of Umbria, was the birthplace in the 12th century of two of that country’s greatest saints, Francis and Clare. Francis first, and then Clare, discovered the liberating effect of release from the burden of wealth.
For them, simplicity, or godly poverty, was the way to blessing. Their followers – Francis’s monks, the Franciscans, and Clare’s nuns, the ‘Poor Clares’ as they were known, set themselves to live without any kind of luxury. This freed them, they believed, for a life of prayer and service, to care for the poor around them without distraction. They built no elaborate basilicas, though one was erected after the death of Francis, strictly against his wishes, to surround the simple chapel (his ‘hovel’) where he and his followers were based. The present-day house of the Poor Clares is a perfect example of the sheer beauty of simplicity.

Their lifestyle, their message, their simplicity of life and love of the Creation and its creatures, offered a striking alternative to the society around them, where wealth (which Francis had enjoyed but rejected at his conversion) and poverty and sickness lived side by side. It has to be said, too, that their message is on collision course with the values and goals of much of the western world today. Simplicity of life and affluence don’t sit easily together.

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11th August                 Clare of Assisi, prayer and simplicity

In the year 1212 Clare, the 18-year-old daughter of a local Count, heard a young preacher called Francis. A few years earlier he had caused a sensation in the centre of the town where they both lived, Assisi in Italy, by stripping himself of his wealthy clothes and declaring that from now on he would live the life of a peasant. This, he said, was in obedience to the call of Christ, for whom the poor were ‘blessed’ and the rich were in peril of judgment.

Francis gathered a group of seven men prepared to embrace what he called ‘joyful poverty’ for Christ’s sake, but that day he was to enlist a female disciple. ‘You are a chosen soul from God’, he told Clare, when she expressed her eagerness to embrace the same strict rule as his male followers.

In due course, after a period in a Benedictine convent, Clare and her sister Agnes moved into the church of St Damiano, which Francis and his friends had restored, and gathered there a group of like-minded women. Eventually Francis made Clare the abbess of a religious Order, at first called the ‘Order of Poor Ladies’, eventually, and universally, to be known as the ‘Poor Clares’.  Unable to operate an itinerant ministry like the men, Clare’s sisters concentrated on a life of prayer and simplicity. In fact, their dedication to poverty was such that it affected the health of many of them.

Francis and Clare remained friends and colleagues over the next 14 years in this remarkable movement of renewal and mission. During the preceding century (as we can learn from Chaucer, among others) the religious Orders had in many cases substituted indulgence for discipline. Francis and Clare found this scandalous, and despite opposition from high places, set out to demonstrate that an effective Christian message required an appropriate Christian lifestyle. For them, poverty was not a burden but a joy - a release from the delusions of power and ambition. Their witness made an enormous impact on the poor people of Umbria and beyond, who saw an authenticity in their lives which spoke as eloquently as their words.

Clare helped to nurse Francis through his final illness, which lasted several years. She lived for 27 years after his death, like him suffering from the effects of long years of strict austerity. She died in 1253 and was canonised two years later. She is buried in the basilica of St Clare in Assisi, a few hundred yards from the basilica of St Francis. In life they proclaimed the same message of sacrificial love and service, and in their deaths they were not divided. Her special day is 11th August.

**

11th August                 Clare, choosing the riches of poverty

Clare (1194 – 1253) was the famous virgin foundress of the Minoresses or Poor Clares. Born at Assisi of the Offreduccio family, Clare grew up to hear the teaching of St Francis of Assisi, and at 18 she renounced all her possessions and joined him at the Portiuncula, where she became a nun. Soon Francis found her and her companions a small house adjacent to the church of San Damiano, Assisi, which he had so lovingly restored. 

And so it was that Clare became abbess in 1216 of a community of women who wished to live according to the rule and spirit of St Francis. The way of life was one of extreme poverty and austerity, but this did not seem to discourage anyone. For like the Franciscan friars, Clare’s nuns soon spread to other parts of Europe, especially Spain, Bohemia, France and England, where four convents were founded in the late 13th and 14th centuries.

Clare never left her convent at Assisi – she became distinguished as one of the great medieval contemplatives, devoted to serving her community in great joy, and practising Franciscan ideals, including the love of nature. 

Clare was considered a powerful woman: when Assisi was in danger of being sacked by the armies of the Emperor Frederick II, Clare, although ill, was carried to the wall with a pyx containing the Blessed Sacrament. At sight of her and the pyx, her biographers say, the armies fled. This is why in art Clare is often depicted with a pyx or monstrance, as on the D’Estouteville Triptych of English origin c 1360. Clare was canonised only two years after her death in 1253. The Poor Clares continue today in many countries as a contemplative order. 

All in all, Clare’s life was one of extreme self-denial and constant contemplative prayer. So, it is hard to explain easily why Clare has been named patron saint of television.   Perhaps there is a TV company somewhere who wants to launch a series called ‘Help! I’m a Saint – get me out of here!’

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13th August                 Radegund, victim of domestic abuse

St Radegund (518-87) is a saint for anyone who has suffered domestic abuse.  She is also a reminder that domestic abuse can occur in any family, however wealthy, and can span the generations, so that some women go straight from violent father to violent husband.

Radegund was born in 518, the daughter of Berthaire, king of Thuringia in east-central Germany. Berthaire was a brutal man, and Radegund grew up surrounded by violence and intrigue. When she was only 12, she was captured by the Franks, converted from paganism to Christianity and at 18 was given in marriage to Clotaire, a king of the Franks.

Sadly, Clotaire’s nominal Christianity did not affect his own natural bent for violence and immorality. Though Radegund was said to have been both beautiful and good, Clotaire was repeatedly unfaithful to her, ridiculing her for her childlessness. When, six years into the marriage, Clotaire murdered Radegund’s brother, she fled the court for her life, and sought refuge in the Church.  

Radegund took the veil at Noyon, and became a deaconess, known for her alms-giving. But it seems that a lifetime of violence had left deep scars on her spirit, and instead of enjoying her newfound peace and freedom, Radegund turned savagely upon herself.  She became an extreme ascetic, refusing most foods. She began to self-harm, binding her neck and arms with three iron circlets which badly cut into her flesh. Sadly, it seems that although her body was freed from the violence of her father and husband, her spirit was still in subjection to violence and suffering.  Though she was a Christian, she never took her rightful possession of the joy, love and peace that God offers to all believers through the grace of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

Still, Radegund meant well and God blessed her as much as she would let Him.  She founded the monastery of Holy Cross at Poitiers, which became a centre for scholarship (the nuns spent two hours a day in study) and also of Radegund’s various peace-making activities.

Various ancient churches in France and England were dedicated to her, as well as the Cambridge College now known as Jesus. 

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14th August                 Maximilian Kolbe, Christian witness amidst 20th century suffering

Some people’s lives seem to epitomise the suffering of millions, but also to shine with a Christian response to it. One such person was Maximilian Kolbe, 1894 - 1941, a Franciscan priest of Poland, and publisher extraordinary.

Maximilian was born at Zdunska Wola, near Lodz, where his parents, devout Christians, worked in a cottage weaving industry. Like thousands of others at the time, the family and their village were ground into poverty by Russian exploitation. In 1910 Maximilian entered the Franciscan Order and studied at Rome. After his ordination in 1919, Maximilian returned to Poland, where he was sent to teach church history in a seminary. But a new factor had entered his life: he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

Living in post-war Poland was difficult enough, but with tuberculosis as well? Most people would have quietly withered away. Not Maximilian Kolbe. Instead, the tuberculosis gave Maximilian a sense of urgency - a sense of the transitory nature of life.  He knew his time was slipping away. 

Instead of teaching history, he determined to do something to help the Christians living in Poland now, in the tatters of Europe after the First World War. And so, he founded a magazine for Christian readers in Cracow, who badly needed effective apologetics to help them hold to their faith in a chaotic world. 

Soon, the obsolete printing presses (which were operated by Maximilian’s fellow priests and lay brothers) were working overtime - the magazine’s circulation had leapt to 45,000. Then the printing presses were moved to a town near Warsaw, Niepokalanow, where Maximilian now founded a Franciscan community which combined prayer with cheerfulness and poverty with modern technology: daily as well as weekly newspapers were soon produced. The community grew and grew, until by the late 1930s it numbered 762 friars.

Then in 1939 the Germans invaded Poland. Maximilian sent most of his friars home, to protect them from what was to come. He turned the monastery into a refugee camp for 3,000 Poles and 1,500 Jews. And the presses continued: taking a patriotic, independent line, critical of the Third Reich.

Kolbe was arrested by the Gestapo along with four friars. They were taken to Auschwitz in May 1941. Their names were exchanged for tattooed numbers; and they were sent to brutal forced labour. 

But Maximilian Kolbe continued his priestly ministry. He heard confessions in unlikely places, and smuggled in bread and wine for the Eucharist. His sympathy and compassion for those even more unfortunate than himself was outstanding.

Then came the final scene in his hard life. At the end of July, 1941, several men escaped from his bunker at the camp. The Gestapo, in revenge, came to select several more men from the same bunker who were to be starved to death. A man, Francis Gajowniczek, was chosen. As he cried in despair, Kolbe stepped forward. 

“I am a Catholic priest. I wish to die for that man. I am old; he has a wife and children.” The officer in charge shrugged his shoulders - and obliged.

So Maximilian went to the death chamber of Cell 18, and set about preparing the others to die with dignity by prayers, psalms, and the example of Christ’s Passion. Two weeks later only four were left alive: Maximilian alone was fully conscious. He was injected with phenol and died on 14th August, aged 47.

He was beatified by Paul VI in 1971. In 1982 he was canonised by Pope John Paul II, formerly Archbishop of Cracow, the diocese which contains Auschwitz. Present at the ceremony that day was Francis Gajowniczek, the man whose life Maximilian Kolbe had
saved.

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15th August                 ‘Shall we not love thee, Mother dear?’

The Church responds with a resounding ‘Yes’ to that question, as we celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary on 15th August. (Usually her feast day is on the 16th.) An ancient name for this day is the transition of Mary – her crossing over to eternal life – or the assumption of Mary. But her story begins in the Gospels, in Nazareth and Bethlehem.

At the Annunciation, Gabriel announces the good news to Mary. She becomes a mother and embarks on a journey that takes her to the temple in Jerusalem, a wedding feast at Cana, the Cross of Calvary, and the upper room of Pentecost. Through Christian history her story has spoken to people in every age and culture and land.

As we look at her life now, there are two qualities that stand out. The first is thanksgiving. Mary came from a people that realised the importance of thanking God, and her response to the good news is to raise her heart in the words of the Magnificat. ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour.’

The second quality is trust. Rowan Williams has written that despite the years of controversy about the place of our Lady, we still need to hold out our hands to her for guidance and succour. “For at the very least she is the first person to put her trust in God who is shown in Jesus.” Through all that happened to her – the amazing news of Gabriel, no room at the inn, the worry over wine at the wedding – Mary ponders and trusts. To the servants at Cana, she says, “Do whatever Jesus tells you. It will be all right. You will see.” 

Thanksgiving and trust: easy enough to see in our Lady, but perhaps more difficult to own for ourselves. Yet Mary assures us that with God all things are possible. Holding on to that faith, we can journey with her Son through life and death to eternal life.

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16th August                 Laurence Loricatus, the saint who couldn’t forgive himself

Have you done something bad which haunts you? Does the memory of it still follow you – and sometimes keep you awake at night? If so, then Laurence Loricatus (c. 1190–1243) is the saint for you. He was born at Facciolo (Apulia) and as a youth he killed a man.

After that, life changed forever for Laurence. His guilt overwhelmed him, and he decided to expiate for it. He made the long and difficult pilgrimage to Compostella, but he found no relief.  So, he became a hermit at Subiaco – cutting himself off from all the comforts of normal life. But he found no relief. So, then he began to wear not a hairshirt, but a coat of chainmail next to his skin. It was a heavy, unyielding weight which bruised and rubbed his skin raw. 

Laurence hated himself and would not forgive himself, though God had forgiven him years before.  He is a caution to anyone in the same situation today. His continued ‘penance’ did no one any good. Instead, the suffering absorbed hours of his attention, and got him nowhere.

When we do something we regret, of course God wants us to repent of it. But then He wants us to put it behind us. Our bad deed needs to be quarantined and left behind in our lives. If we won’t put it down, our life becomes focused on our hatred of ourselves, instead of on God’s love for us. It took the Pope years to get Laurence to take off that chain-shirt. 

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17th August                Jeanne Delanoue, care for the poor

Some people are pushy and a bit grasping. They get on your nerves. Pray that they go on to find God’s will for their lives, for then all that pushiness is put to good use.

Take Jeanne Delanoue. She was born at Saumur in 1666, and grew up small, authoritarian, and quite frankly, a bit of a bossy-boots. When she took charge of the family shop, which sold drapery and pious articles, she was known to be a bit greedy.

Then, when she was 26, she met two Christians, including the Abe Genetau and a visionary called Francoise Suchet. The encounter changed her life. Jeanne gave most of her goods away to the poor and transformed the caves and cellars of her home by the River Loire into a guest-house for the homeless. 

An earthquake in 1703 destroyed the caves, but it took more than that to stop Jeanne. She founded the Sisters of Providence, with the help of two other young women, kept helping the poor of her town. When famine hit in 1709, she and her two friends cared for 100 desperate people in Providence House. 

Jeanne was always a driven lady; she rose at 3am and spent her days looking after the distressed, the abandoned, single mothers and prostitutes. Her work was deeply appreciated by the town, especially during the years of war and hunger. By the time she died in 1736, Jeanne - perhaps always a bit pushy! - had founded and inspired 12 communities. 

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23rd August                 Rose of Lima, for whom nothing was ever enough

How will you become a better person than you are now? Have you ever denied yourself in order to try and please God? No matter what your dedication, it is unlikely that your efforts will ever have outshone those of Rose of Lima (1586–1617), who in 1671 became the first saint of America, and patron of South America. Her whole life raises the issue:  how do you draw closer to God?

Rose was born in Lima, Peru, in 1586, into a Spanish family that had once been rich. Her beauty earned her the name, and her character was just as attractive. She was eager to please, produced exquisite lace and embroidery, and was known for her charity.

Her parents hoped for a good marriage for her, but it was not to be. Rose did not want a husband and a place in the corrupt and wanton society of Lima at the time. Rose was an intensely spiritual person, and spent hours in contemplation of Jesus and St Mary, and took the ‘Blessed Sacrament’ on a daily basis. She devoted herself to prayer and simple acts of mortification. In those days ‘mortification’ of the flesh was seen as a way of keeping your earthly appetites under control, and therefore drawing nearer to God.

At 20, Rose joined the Third order of St Dominic, taking as her model Catherine of Siena.  Her love of God continued, as did her charity to others, but now a darker side to her spirituality began to grow. Rose lived as a recluse in a hut, and increased her acts of mortification. She wanted to suffer, because she thought it would bring her closer to God.

She cut off her hair and rubbed pepper and lye into her face until it was raw and blistered. She fasted until she could hardly stand. She drank gall mixed with bitter herbs. She filled her bed with broken glass, thorns and sharp things. She wore a tight iron chain around her waist.

She embraced every penance that she could think of, and yet still she suffered at times a feeling of terrible loneliness and desolation, for God seemed far away. Then she would pray: "Lord, increase my sufferings, and with them increase your love in my heart."  Sometimes she would indeed feel God near her, and then she would be in ecstasy for hours.

It is hard to explain why Rose thought she needed to inflect needless suffering on herself in order to get closer to God. One scholar has suggested that perhaps Rose wanted to “make reparation for the widespread sin and corruption” in her society at the time. She had said once that she wanted to pay for the sin of the idolatry of her countrymen. 

Again, this is hard to understand because the Bible never once says that any human being can ‘make payment’ to God for the sins of another person. We may grieve over the sins of others, but only Christ can offer them forgiveness. Only He has died for them.
In Uganda a number of years ago a nun asked a bishop for help. “I have done penance all my life. I have tried so hard to please God – but I still don’t feel any joy. What am I doing wrong?” The Bishop said gently: “Because, dear sister, you are hoping to find joy in what you have done for God. I am joyful because I have discovered what Jesus has done for me.”

Poor well-meaning but confused Rose: after a long illness which seems to have had some psychological as well as physical elements to it, she finally died, only 31 years old. 

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27th & 28th August                  Monica and Augustine, mother and son

On consecutive days this month (27th and 28th) the Christian Church celebrates a mother and her son. The mother is Monica, and her son is Augustine. The story of their relationship and how, after a long process, they both came to share the same Christian faith is a moving one, and perhaps has a message for anxious parents today.

Augustine was born in 354 and grew up in north Africa in the area we now call Algeria. His mother, Monica, was a deeply committed Christian. His father was not. In those circumstances she was deeply (one might say desperately) concerned that her clever young son should also believe and be baptised. But, in the way of wilful offspring, he steadfastly refused. Eventually Monica’s patience ran out. She stood outside the priest’s house and noisily asked why a mother’s anxious prayers had not been answered. He appeared at a window and rebuked her. “It is not possible,” he said, “that God has not heard your prayers and will answer them in His own way.”

He was right, but it took a long while. By now Augustine had a mistress and a young son, and had moved to Milan in Italy, where he became Public Orator. However, it eventually happened – a moment of conversion in a garden, instruction and then baptism by the great Bishop Ambrose of Milan. Monica’s prayers were answered. Her gifted son was ordained and shortly became a bishop in Hippo, north Africa, and one of the greatest theologians and teachers of the Christian Church. Monica died the year before that happened, but I think we may assume that she died content. Her priest many years earlier had been right!

You can read the story of Augustine’s journey to faith in his ‘Confessions’.

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28th August                 Augustine of Hippo, the Christian for all seasons

After St Paul, who was the most influential Christian writer ever? Probably St Augustine of Hippo (354–430), whose feast-day is on 28th August. He lived and wrote in a time of social and spiritual chaos. The Roman Empire was collapsing, the world was about to slide into the dark ages and the Church was under serious threat from both heresies within and paganism without.

What St Augustine wrote at this time helped the Church both to avoid perversions of Christianity, and to stand strong and unafraid amongst the violent tumult of the times.  His writings held sway over Christianity for the next 15 centuries or so, and still influence us heavily today.

Augustine was born at Tagaste, in modern Algeria. His father was a pagan, but his mother, Monica, was a Christian. After studying rhetoric at Carthage to become a lawyer, Augustine instead became a scholar-philosopher. He abandoned Christianity for Manichaeism, and lived with a mistress for 15 years.  He moved to Rome and then Milan to teach rhetoric, but slowly grew disenchanted with Manichaeism. 

After a long interior conflict, vividly described in his ‘Confessions’, Augustine was converted and baptised a Christian in 386-7. He returned to Africa in 388, and joined some friends in establishing a quasi-monastic life. He was ordained priest in 391, and four years later became coadjutor-bishop of Hippo. From 396 until his death in 430 he ruled the diocese alone.

Augustine had a brilliant mind, an ardent temperament and a gift for mystical insights. Soon his understanding of the Christian Revelation was pouring forth in his many voluminous writings. 

So what did he write?  Most famous is ‘The Confessions’, the sermons on the Gospel and Epistle of John, the De Trinitate and the De Civitate Dei. This last, ‘The City of God’, tackles the opposition between Christianity and the ‘world’ and represents the first Christian philosophy of history. 

Many other works were undertaken in his efforts to tackle various heresies:  Manichaeism, Pelagianism, or Donatism, and led to the development of his thought on Creation, Grace, the Sacraments and the Church.

Augustine’s massive influence on Christianity has mainly been for the good. Few others have written with such depth on love, the Holy Trinity and the Psalms.  (The preamble to the marriage service in the BCP is closely based on Augustine.) But his views on Predestination and some of his views on sex (that it is the channel for the transmission of Original Sin) have since been mainly ignored by the Church.

As bishop, Augustine fearlessly upheld order as the Roman Empire disintegrated around him. By the time of his death, the Vandals were at the very gates of Hippo.

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29th August                 Beheading of St John the Baptist

Spare a thought for John the Baptist: however rough your local sandwich bar may be, it probably doesn’t serve you locusts with a honey dip; you won’t be imprisoned for saying derogatory things about the local MP’s wife, and even the boss from hell is unlikely to have a daughter who wants to hip-hop about with your head on a platter. 

John the Baptist, by our standards, had a terrible life. Yet the Bible tells us that of all the people in history, no one has even been born who was as great as him. Why? Because of the unique job God gave him to do, which has to be the best PR job of all time: act as God’s press officer.

This was quite literally the PR job from heaven:  with God as his client, John the Baptist’s job was to broadcast the news that the Messiah had come.  Not even Church House Westminster has ever attempted anything like that.

It always helps if PR people recognise their own clients, and the same was true of John:  he was the first person to recognise Jesus as the Messiah. PR people also help their clients prepare for their public role, and John did the same for Jesus: he baptised Him in the Jordan at the start of His ministry.

PR people also stand up in public for their client’s point of view, and in John’s case it led to his arrest and imprisonment. His death was finally brought about by the scheming of Herodias and Salome, and here the similarity ends: for not even the most dedicated press officers literally lose their heads over a client.

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30th August                 John Bunyan, the writer of Pilgrim’s Progress

After the Bible, John Bunyan’s wonderful Christian allegory, the Pilgrim’s Progress, is one of the most celebrated and widely-read books in the English language. It has been translated into more than 100 languages around the world and keeps its place as a Christian classic. 

Names of people and places from its pages have been commonplace wherever English is spoken. We need only recall Mr Great-Heart, Mr Valiant-for-Truth, Giant Despair, Madame Bubble, the Slough of Despond, Vanity Fair, the Delectable Mountains, the Hill Difficulty and the Celestial City. 

Bunyan was born on 28 November 1628, at Elstow, near Bedford, England, of a poor family. He had little formal education and his father taught him to be a metal worker. His first wife died young. His second wife, Elizabeth, helped him considerably with his blossoming literary career. His conversion was the result of reading the Bible, and the witness of local Christians. From that time the Bible became the great inspiration of his life. He wrote more than 50 books on Christianity.  A Baptist by conviction, he had little time for the Established Church. 

Bunyan became a popular preacher, but because of his opposition to the Established Church and because he did not have a Church of England preaching licence, he was imprisoned in 1661. It was in prison that he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress. It was not only Bunyan’s greatest book, but was destined to become one of the most popular Christian books in the world.

Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory, using the names of people and places from the Bible to teach spiritual lessons. The vivid and unforgettable imagery in the Pilgrim’s Progress covers the whole Christian gospel from sin and condemnation all the way through faith, repentance, grace, justification, sanctification, and perseverance to heaven itself.
Bunyan died on 31st August 1688. His portrayal of the death of Mr Valiant For Truth is Bunyan at his allegorical best. This brave old soldier of Jesus Christ had received his summons to ‘go home.’ Calling his friends together he says, ‘“My sword I give to him who shall succeed me in my pilgrimage …  My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me, that I have fought His battles, Who will now be my rewarder.” … So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side...’

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31st August     Aidan, the man who brought Christianity to England

31st August is the feast of St Aidan, who brought Christianity to northern England. He is a strong contender for the title of the first English bishop. Not that honours meant a great deal to this austere but captivating character.

In 635 he came to Northumbria at the invitation of the local ruler, Oswald. Oswald had spent several years of his childhood on Iona, and when he succeeded to the throne of his northern kingdom he was shrewd enough to realise that the Christian faith would be an ideal unifying force to pacify rival tribes of warlords.

Oswald's invitation was not immediately successful. The first missionary from Iona returned in despair, claiming that the barbarity of the Northumbrians made them unconvertible. But as Aidan listened, he felt the unmistakable call of God to try again.

"Perhaps you were too harsh on them," he found himself suggesting to the travel-stained missionary. Shortly afterwards, Aidan found himself at the head of a party of brothers heading for Northumbria. He was never to see his beloved Iona again.

The monks made the long journey to Northumbria on foot, singing psalms as they went. Their need to ward off the powers of evil with prayer was genuine, for these were dangerous times to travel through remote country unarmed. They arrived safely at Oswald's castle in Bamburgh, where he offered them lavish hospitality and assumed that they would ‘found’ their community there.

However, the brothers realised that to live under the king's protection would make it difficult to avoid the world's temptations and establish a rapport with the local people. They saw the tidal island of Lindisfarne on the horizon and chose it as their base. The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

Aidan was much loved as a teacher and evangelist; though stern in his own self-discipline, he was prepared to travel to the most inaccessible villages, where he cared for the local people with compassion and gentleness. In time, his influence grew, and noble people joined the stream of visitors to Lindisfarne.

After Oswald's death in 642, his brother Oswin succeeded him as king. Oswin was concerned about Aidan's habit of walking everywhere. The saint was ageing rapidly, his body weakened by years of harsh fasting and exposure to the elements. Oswin wondered what would happen to him one day on the road, and also he felt that such a lowly means of travel was not appropriate for a bishop. So, he gave Aidan one of his finest horses, complete with a beautifully worked saddle and bridle.

Aidan did not feel able to risk offending the king by spurning his generosity, but he rode out of the palace with a heavy heart. He knew that people would relate to him differently now that he had the trappings of affluence, and that it would be dangerous to stop and rest with such valuable belongings beside him.

The king had intended to give him comfort, but his gesture had had the opposite effect. Aidan had learnt that possessions, and the need to protect them, make it more difficult to follow God with an undivided heart. The story goes that he gave the horse, complete with saddle, to the first beggar he met outside the palace gates.

A more pragmatic Christian might have reasoned that keeping on the right side of Oswin would lead to opportunities that were too valuable to risk. Indeed, the king was angry when he heard what Aidan had done. "That horse was fit for a king, not for some vagabond," he protested. "I could have found you an old nag if you wanted to give it away." Aidan's reply was simply, "What do you think, O King?  Is the son of a mare worth more in your eyes than that the Son of God?"

There was an awkward silence; then the King removed his sword, knelt at Aidan's feet and asked his forgiveness. When he returned to the banqueting table, it was with a beaming smile. Sadly, he too was to perish in battle shortly afterwards; these were violent times. Yet Oswin, whose culture demanded that he should appear all-powerful in the eyes of his followers, had been publicly humbled by the integrity of a simple monk who had challenged his values.

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31st August                 Raymond Nonnatus, redeeming slaves from a living death

Raymond Nonnatus (1204–40) is a good patron saint for anyone who does not take life for granted. The account of his own life begins with the story of how his mother died just before his birth, and of how Raymond was somehow extracted from her dead body just in time to save him. (‘Nonnatus’ means ‘not born’).

Raymond grew up in Portello, Catalonia and became a monk, joining the Mercedarian Order. Perhaps because of his gratitude for his own life having been spared, Raymond developed a passionate desire to see other people set free to live the lives God had given them. Whatever the reason, Raymond made the difficult and dangerous journey out to Algeria in order to redeem many slaves from a living death. So passionate was he to free them, that he even offered himself as a ransom for others’ liberation.

While in Algeria, Raymond preached Christianity to the Muslims, and was put into prison, before eventually being sent back to Spain. The Pope sent for him, but Raymond was so weakened by his suffering in Algeria that he died on the way to Rome. But by then Raymond was content. Just as his life had been given back to him, so he had used it to give life back to others. 

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