April 1 + Mary of Egypt.
Mary was a prostitute in Alexandria in the 5th century. While on a trip to Jerusalem, she had a religious conversion
and dedicated her life to Christ. She went across the Jordan and lived a solitary life of penitence in the wilderness, eventually
becoming a revered teacher and spiritual guide.
April 2 + Carlo Carretto.
Born in northern Italy, Carretto became heavily involved in a renewal movement called "Catholic Action." In 1954, he abruptly
responded to a call from God to live in the desert, and joined a small community in southern Algeria. From there he wrote
several popular books on spirituality. He was particularly enamored of St. Francis. Later, he moved to a community in Italy
where they experimented with involving lay people in the life of the monastery. Carretto was often critical of the Roman Catholic
Church, but remained a part of that communion until his death in 1988.
April 4 + Martin Luther King, Jr.
Possibly the greatest saint of the American church, Dr. King led the civil rights movement of the 1960's, beginning with
the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Using the idea of nonviolence, even in the face of brutal violence, King’s movement focused
the aspirations of African-Americans and poor people in terms of the Christian gospel. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
April 9 + Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Bonhoeffer was a rising young German Lutheran theologian in the 1930's. As the political and social situation in Germany
deteriorated, Bonhoeffer became more and more active in resisting the Nazi agenda, particularly their attempt to control the
Evangelical Church. As Europe sank into war, Bonhoeffer was active in the Confessing Church, which was a group of Christians
who rejected the Hitler-controlled Evangelical Church, and developed their own, independent, underground communities. Later,
Bonhoeffer was active as a courier in the ill-fated plot to kill Hitler on June 20, 1944. For all this Bonhoeffer was executed
in Flossenburg concentration camp on April 9, 1945, just before the camp was liberated by the Allies.
April 10 + Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Teilhard was a Roman Catholic priest and archaeologist. His writings on the reconciliation of faith and science have been
widely influential. He saw matter in a constant process of evolution and development, to greater and greater complexity, culminating
in human consciousness. The end of evolution is Christ, the beginning and end of history, the complete confluence of spirit
and matter. Teilhard saw his work suppressed by Rome, and he was continually assigned to remote outposts where he could
exert as little influence as possible.
It is Teilhard who coined the term "noosphere," to talk about the sphere of human communications above the biosphere. This
term has been embraced by many today who say this insight of Teilhard’s is now being fulfilled in the Internet.
Be that as it may, Teilhard had a deep sense of God’s Presence in nature and creation, in all of life, and even in rock.
His panentheistic vision has served to make the faith intelligible to many who only know the ideology of science. At the same
time, Teilhard’s work often skates dangerously close to the outer edges of orthodoxy.
April 11 + Leo the Great.
Leo was Pope of Rome in the 5th century. He was instrumental in developing the consensus at the Council of Chalcedon in
451, in which the dual natures of Christ became Christian doctrine. Leo’s finest hour was venturing out of the city
of Rome unarmed to meet with Attila the Hun to persuade him to spare the city. He tried the same approach later when another
barbarian army arrived, but this time only managed to save the city from burning, but not extensive pillaging. Leo’s
leadership ensured that the Church would be one of the few relatively intact institutions to survive the fall of Rome, and
put it in a position to lead the West as the Medieval Era was dawning.
April 13 + Innocent of Alaska.
John Veniaminov was a Russian Orthodox priest who came to work with the natives in Alaska in the early 19th century. (Russia
owned Alaska until it was purchased by the U.S. in the mid-1860's.) He worked establishing missions among the Aleut and Inuit
peoples, and also stood with them against exploitation by Russian business interests. Veniaminov later became Patriarch of
Moscow, when he took the name, "Innocent." The Orthodox presence among native Alaskans is still strong, which is a testimony
to his, and others’, tireless work. They stand as an example of how to do evangelism, as opposed to the often genocidal
tactics used by Western churches in the rest of the Americas.
The night before he was arrested, Jesus met with his disciples for one last time, probably for the seder, the Passover
meal. In this his last supper, he gave to them not only his example of selfless service in the washing of their feet,
but also he instituted the Sacrament of his body and blood.
April 14 + Justin Martyr.
Justin was one of the earliest Christian philosophers. Trained in Greek thought, he eventually discovered Christianity
and came to regard it as the "true philosophy" for which Plato and others had been seeking. He was beheaded for refusing to
sacrifice to the pagan gods of Rome in 165.
Good Friday is the Christianization of the Jewish Holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is when we remember
the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who shed his blood and gave his life for the life of the world. In the book of Hebrews,
Jesus is the Great High Priest who fulfills the final and ultimate sacrifice for the sins of all humankind. He takes
the place of the Passover lamb, whose blood saved the people from the power of death at the time of the Exodus. He also
takes the place of the goat that was sacrificed for the Lord and replacing the High Priest in the Yom Kippur ritual.
It was the sprinkled blood of this goat that sanctified the Temple and the people. In other words, he fulfills
and completes, on Good Friday, the whole sacrificial complex of Judaism, making such continued sacrifices unnecessary.
Now, instead of being sanctified through the sprinkling of an animal's blood, we are truly made holy by the blood of
God, in which we participate in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.
April 15 + Damien of Molokai.
Damien was a Belgian Catholic priest who went to Hawaii to work at the leper colony on the isolated island of Molokai.
The conditions were horrific: lepers were snatched from their families and dumped off on this island to die without shelter
or any other care. Damien worked to establish decent burials for the dead, and to build houses for the living. Eventually
he caught the disease himself, yet still worked to bring dignity and love to the people. He was feared and largely rejected
by the institutional church and the rest of society. He died in 1889.
It is only hinted at in the New Testament, but the later tradition developed a story of Jesus' descent into hell, an even
we confess every time we say the Apostles' Creed. The story is that on the day between his death and resurrection, Jesus
descended into the underworld and liberated all those who had been trapped there in death since the time of Adam. The
meaning is that there is nowhere, not even hell, that is outside the breadth and power of God's love. There is nowhere
we can go, no deep canyon into which we may fall, which is so remote and dark that God cannot reach us there. In one
version of the story, Satan replaces all those released from Hades; neither death nor hell have any power over human life
April 16 + The Resurrection of the Lord.
The greatest, central, and really only holiday in the Christian calendar is the Resurrection of the Lord.
In Anglo-Saxon countries we call it Easter, which was originally a pagan spring festival. Other Christian cultures refer
to the day as Pascha, for Passover. Easter is the Christian re-imagining of that Jewish holiday, which falls also
around the time of the vernal equinox. Easter is the center around which the whole year revolves. Every Sunday
is supposed to be a mini-Easter, a reminder of the resurrection. We derive the dates of the other major holidays, the
Lord's Nativity and the descent of the Holy Spirit, from Easter. The Lord's Resurrection is the beginning of God's victory
over the powers of evil and the guarantee of salvation for those who trust in him.
April 19 + Alphege of Canterbury.
Alphege lived in the 10th and 11th centuries, a period when the Danish Vikings were ravaging Britain. He negotiated a peace
with some Danish warlords, in 994, converting them to Christianity in the process. However, the terror resumed a decade later.
The Danes overran Canterbury and held prominent citizens hostage for ransom. The most money was demanded for the Archbishop
Alphege, which he forbade his flock to pay. So the Danes killed him.
April 20 + John Muir.
Muir was born in Scotland. His father was a fanatical, fundamentalist Presbyterian who caused John to be alienated from
Christianity. However, after they moved to America, Muir began to experience God’s Presence more directly in the wonder
and beauty of nature. In many ways Muir, along with his friend, President Theodore Roosevelt, was the father of environmentalism.
His nature writings became very popular, and he was instrumental in establishing National Parks like Yosemite. Muir is an
example of someone who, confronted with the deficiencies of Western Christianity, found God outside the institutional church
April 21 + Anselm of Canterbury.
Anselm was one of the greatest Christian philosophers of the medieval era. For most of his life he was a monk and then
abbot in the Benedictine abbey of Bec, in Normandy. There he garnered a reputation for holiness and gentleness. In 1092, while
on a visit, he was practically forced to accept the position of Archbishop of Canterbury. During his tenure he ran into significant
conflicts with two kings of England. Anselm is most remembered today for his theological work. His definition of theology
as "faith seeking understanding" continues to inspire scholars today. His masterpiece was Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became
April 25 + Mark the Evangelist.
Mark is the author of the gospel bearing his name; scholars believe it to be the first of the gospels to be written. It
is the shortest and most blunt of the four canonical gospels, and was very likely written in response to the crisis of the
Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70. In Mark’s version of the story, Jesus is the suffering and crucified Messiah whose
life is an example for believers. The famous original ending, at 16:8, has the women who discover the empty tomb run away
in fright, saying nothing to anyone. The implication is that it is up to us to spread the good news of Christ’s resurrection.
April 26 + William Stringfellow.
Here is one saint I actually got to meet, when he came to give some lectures at Albany State when I was there in the late
70's. He was already sick with the metabolic disorder he would die from in 1985, and he sat twisted in this little classroom
chair-desk in the front of a large auditorium. Stringfellow was a lawyer who graduated from Harvard Law School and promptly
went to practice among the poor in Harlem. (He received a nasty letter from the Alumni Association castigating him because
of how much his income was bringing down his class average.) Stringfellow’s writing has a puritanical and stark quality
which attracted me in my younger days. The subtitle of one of his books sums up his approach, "An Ethic for Christians and
Other Aliens in a Strange Land." He was very critical of American involvement in Vietnam, and had little good to say about
the direction of American society generally. When the great Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, visited America, he immediately
recognized in Stringfellow an important voice. At his funeral, Daniel Berrigan called Stringfellow "the honored keeper of
the Word of God."
April 30 + Catherine of Siena.
Catherine was a 14th century mystic who entered a convent as a teenager, resisting her parents’ strenuous
efforts to get her to marry. When she began experiencing the pain, but not the physical manifestations, of the stigmata (the
wounds of Christ), a group of disciples gathered around her. Together they garnered a reputation as missionaries in the area.
In 1375 she got involved in a political dispute between the Pope and the Italian city of Florence. In the process she helped
end the Papacy’s sorry residency in Avignon. Unfortunately, there resulted a schism in the Western Church which meant
that for forty years there were two Popes. But she is remembered today less for her political influence than for her holiness.