May 1 + Philip & James.
Philip was one of Jesus’ first disciples, and led Jesus to another disciple,
Nathanael (a/k/a Bartholomew). Philip appears at some significant points in Jesus’ ministry, especially in the Gospel
of John. After the Resurrection, tradition has it that he preached in Phrygia and died in Hierapolis (in what is now western
Turkey). James the son of Alphaeus was another of Jesus’ original disciples. Little more is known about him, though
he is often confused with James of Jerusalem, and James the son of Zebedee, two other early Christian leaders.
May 2 + Athanasius the Great.
As a young deacon, Athanasius accompanied his bishop to the seminal Council
of Nicaea, in 325. He ended up being very influential in the Creed produced by that meeting. Three years later he became Archbishop
of Alexandria and served there for 46 years, though for some of that time he was exiled by Emperors who favored the Arian
heresy. Athanasius wrote several books of central importance to the Church, including his Life of St. Antony, which
was instrumental in the spread of monasticism, and his commentary on the Psalms. Athanasius is one of the four great doctors
of the Greek Church. The consensus around which Christian Orthodoxy solidified, expressed in what we call "The Nicene Creed"
was deeply influenced by his thought and faith.
May 7 + Stanislaus.
Stanislaus was Archbishop of Cracow, Poland, in the 11th century.
He stood up to an evil and abusive king, Boleslaus II, excommunicating him for abducting the wife of a nobleman. His henchmen
failed to murder the Archbishop on the king’s orders, so he did it personally. Stanislaus was acclaimed as a martyr
May 8 + Julian of Norwich.
We don’t even know her real name — "St. Julian’s" was the
name of her parish. But she was a 14th century English mystic who had a series of revelations while lying gravely
ill at the age of 30. Her writings emphasize the feminine aspects of God, as well as God’s infinite love and goodness.
They have found a deep resonance among modern people.
May 8 + Peter Waldo.
Waldo was a wealthy banker in 12th century Lyons, France. At some
point his conscience began to bother him and he consulted a theologian who read him the gospel where Jesus says that if you
want to be perfect you should sell all you have and give to the poor. Upon deep reflection on this and other gospel texts,
Waldo took Jesus literally and gave all he had to the poor, becoming an itinerant preacher. Disciples began to gather around
him and he had a run-in with the local archbishop as a troublemaker. Waldo appealed to the Pope who approved of his lifestyle,
but not his preaching. Waldo decided to keep preaching anyway. He and his group, the Waldensians, were excommunicated and
persecuted by Rome. But the movement survives to this day in parts of southern France and northern Italy.
May 9 + Gregory of Nazianzus.
Along with Athanasius, another of the four great theologians of the Greek
church was Gregory of Nazianzus. His ambition was to be a monk but the church kept recognizing his gifts and ordaining him,
first as an elder then as a bishop. His eloquent defense of orthodoxy against Arianism earned him the title of "the Theologian."
His writings were, and continue to be, very influential. Tiring of petty conflicts in his bishopric in Constantinople, he
retired to a life of solitude and prayer. He died in 389.
May 11 + Comgall
Comgall was the teacher of Columbanus and many other Irish missionaries. He
founded Ireland’s greatest collegiate church in Bangor, near Belfast, where many evangelists were trained and sent out
into mainland Europe. The library there became the most significant source of information about the Celtic church. He championed
the practice of using "soul-friends" for personal feedback and counseling. Comgall died in 603.
May 16 + Brendan the Navigtor.
Brendan was counseled by an abbess named Ita to embark upon a sacred journey
by sea. It was the habit of Irish monks to undertake voyages either as ascetic disciplines or as missionaries. Brendan chose
fourteen companions, built a small boat, and set off, recording his adventures in a book. They seem to have sailed the North
Atlantic, stopping in places identifiable as Iceland, the Canary Islands, and Greenland. They may even have reached the coast
of America, which they identified with heaven. (Celtic heaven was a legendary land across the western sea.) Brendan’s
book became a popular guide to the spiritual life in the middle ages, and its various stages were interpreted to reflect stages
in the growth of the soul. In our own time, Brendan continues to inspire. Frederick Buechner wrote a novel based on Brendan’s
life and journeys.
May 18 + Origen.
Origen was a student of Clement of Alexandria, the first great Christian philosopher.
He became the dean of the Christian school in Alexandria while still a teenager, such was the brilliance of his intellect.
Origen was a remarkably prolific writer, and his work had a wide and lasting influence throughout the Christian community.
Mainly, he perfected the synthesis between Christian theology and Greek philosophy which would be the intellectual vocabulary
for the emerging Christian world. But Origen went too far in some areas of this synthesis, and exhibited a greater extremism
in his personal asceticism: he took literally Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:12: "There are eunuchs who have made themselves
eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can." Origen didn’t just accept it, he decided
to disfigure himself. This prompted the Church to distance itself from him and from some elements of his theology. (He also
seems to have believed in some kind of pre-existence of souls and perhaps even a form of reincarnation.) However, much of
Origen’s prodigious literary output retains its value for Christian spirituality even today.
May 19 + Dunstan of Canterbury.
Dunstan was responsible for the revival of monasticism in 10th
century Britain, which had been crippled by the Viking invasions. The revival included an emphasis on monks being involved
with the local people. Dunstan also wrote the ceremony which is used in the crowning of English monarchs to this day.
May 20 + Alcuin of Tours.
Alcuin was a scholar and monk who was enlisted by Emperor Charlemagne, in
the 8th century. He courageously opposed his employer’s evangelistic tactics of converting Saxons and Danes
by force. He also got involved in opposing a Spanish heresy called "adoptionism," which held that God adopted Jesus as Son,
rather than that Jesus was Son with God from the beginning, as John 1 states. Alcuin became Abbot of St. Martin’s famous
abbey in Tours.
May 21 + Christian de Cherge & Companions.
De Cherge had been a French soldier fighting in the brutal war of independence
in Algeria in the 1950's. At one point a Muslim friend sacrificed his life to save him, and de Cherge resolved to lead a religious
life. He was educated in Rome and became a Trappist monk, asking to be stationed at a monastery in the Algerian mountains.
This was after Algeria had finally achieved independence in 1962, and French Christians were not particularly welcome. While
the monks earned the respect and friendship of the local people, the Islamic fundamentalists resented them. By 1993, Algeria
was on the verge of civil war between the government and fundamentalist rebels. The monks remained in the country in spite
of increasing violence against them by the rebels. In 1996, de Cherge and five other monks were captured, marched into the
mountains, and beheaded.
May 23 + Girolamo Savonarola.
Savonarola was a fiery preacher in 15th century Florence, Italy.
He railed against the many abuses of the Papacy and Roman Church hierarchy. He also supported the city in its efforts to become
independent of the murderous and corrupt Medici family. Eventually, he was excommunicated by the remarkably bad Pope Alexander
VI, and the people of Florence, tired of his moralistic sermons, turned him over to the Papal authorities. He was tortured,
hanged, and burned as a heretic. Savonarola was ahead of his time in many ways. Half a century later, Martin Luther would
remember with approval Savonarola’s preaching and witness.
May 26 + Augustine of Canterbury.
In 597, Pope Gregory the Great, as part of his leadership of a resurgent Roman
Church, sent a missionary to convert the English. His name was Augustine (not to be confused with the great theologian, Augustine
of Hippo). He landed with his entourage near Canterbury in southern England, and began work evangelizing the people, moving
ever northward. Augustine became the first Archbishop of Canterbury, and established the first Benedictine monasteries in
England. This new mission, however, ran into competition with the spiritual descendants of earlier generations of Christians:
the Celtic Church. The rivalry was settled in Rome’s favor at the Synod of Whitby in 665. The English church quickly
grew strong enough to send its own missionaries back to the continent within a century of Augustine’s arrival.
May 31 + The Visitation of Mary.
In Luke 1:39-49, Mary, pregnant with Jesus, goes to visit her relative, Elizabeth,
pregnant with John the Baptizer. When this meeting happens, John dances for joy in utero at being in such proximity
to Jesus, who is at this point still in his first trimester of life. This encounter between the unborn boys, Jesus and his
cousin/forerunner, bears reflection. Clearly for these two, their lives and missions were already in full swing even before
emerging from the womb.