Tuesday, November 01, 2011

All Saints

Last year's All Saints post.

Bonifacia Rodríguez de Castro

Born in nineteenth-centry Salamanca to a fairly poor family, Bonifacia Rodríguez de Castro understood the value of work. Her father was a tailor, and Bonifacia began learning the trade early; when her father died during teenage years, she went to work making cord for various shops to help support her family. It was a thankless job, physically exhausting and with long hours, but she continued on, and slowly gathered together enough money to set up her own shop. Through it all she was intensely devoted to Mary and Joseph and dreamed of joining a religious order. She would imagine herself back in Jesus' day, helping out in her own way in the little Shop in Nazareth. Soon she and other Salamancan young women began to meet together to devote their precious spare time to more important matters than the entertainments of the day; these became regular meetings in Bonifacia's shop, and eventually led to the formation of lay society, which became known as the Josephine Association, after St. Joseph, whom the girls took as their patron. In October of 1870, when Bonifacia was 33 years old, she had a momentous meeting with the travelling Jesuit, Francisco Javier Butiña y Hospital; he was writing a book on faith among those who worked with their hands, and naturally fell in with Bonifacia. Interacting with her and the little society that had formed around her, he had the idea of a religious congregation devoted to helping women workers; he and Bonifacia formed the Congregación de las Siervas de San Jose.

The new congregation turned out to be quite controversial, since it was proposing a very different approach than was typical of religious groups at the time. The aim of the congregation was to create productive employment for poor women; it built shops, like Bonifacia's, which was the first, where these women could learn a trade, practice it, and profit from it. And when the Jesuits were temporarily thrown out of Spain, Bonifacia found herself running the whole controversial show alone. Interference from secular clergy, who thought that this mode of devotion was dubious or even dangerous, increased greatly; she continued, however, to resist any changes to the essential mission of the congregation. Eventually she was outmaneuvered; while out of town inspecting new branches of the congregation, and thus unable to respond, she was summarily removed from her supervision of the Salamancan community. Rather than complain, Bonifacia, practical to the end, proposed a solution to the bishop, namely, the creation of a daughter foundation in Zamora. There she kept to the original mission, while her own congregation began to morph into something entirely. It was this congregation that received approval from Leo XIII; the foundation in Zamora continued on, ignored. She was even denied the opportunity to speak with the sisters in the Salamanca house, although, since she never the complained, no one outside of Salamanca knew it until after she died. She was, as I said, practical: she focused on her work, and lived the devotion of the Shop of Nazareth. She died in 1905, and was canonized in 2011.

Celestine V

Pietro da Morrone mostly just wanted to pray and live in solitude. Alas, it was not to be. After the death of Pope Nicholas IV, the cardinals assembled at Perugia to elect his successor, and Morrone made the serious mistake of writing them a letter telling them that they must elect a Pope quickly. All the letter did was bring his own name to mind, and he was well respected for his piety. So the cardinals elected him Pope. Morrone was quite literally aghast, and tried, repeatedly, to refuse, purportedly even trying to run away. But there was nothing to be done about it. He reluctantly accepted and took the name Celesine V. The most significant action of his papacy was his decree ruling that Popes had the right to abdicate the papacy, and five months and eight days after having become Pope, that's precisely what Celestine V did. He attempted to go back to his solitude, but this, too, was not to be. The next pope, Boniface VIII (famous for being the Pope that Dante insists repeatedly throughout the Divine Comedy is destined for hell, despite being alive when Dante was writing), for reasons that seem always to be somewhat obscure, decided that Morrone needed to be in prison, and it was in the prison of Castle Fumone that the former Celestine V died in 1296 at the age of 81. He was canonized in 1313.

Olga of Kiev

Princess Olga the Beautiful was not a woman to be trifled with. Her early history is little known, but in the early 900's she married Prince Igor of Kiev, and, after Igor was murdered in 945, she became regent for her son, Svyatoslav, with role she performed with ruthless effectiveness, avenging her husband, building up the defenses of Kiev and Rus, and putting down any traces of rebellion. Late during her regency, however, she visited Constantinople, where she was baptized. The stories say that she caught Constantine VII's eye, but cleverly managed to circumvent his attempts to marry her; this is certainly apocryphal, for Olga was a fairly old woman at the time, despite having been extraordinarily beautiful in her youth, and the Emperor was married. She returned to Kiev and tried to convert her son, unsuccessfully. As the Byzantine empire played politics with Christianity, Olga began to look into the question of other possible alliances with Christian territories, visiting Otto of Saxony in an attempt to strengthen ties westward. These efforts, however, came to nothing; as Olga had begun to fear, anti-Christian reaction, both within and without Kiev and Rus, was mounting, and the support of Otto was too little and too late. Her presence and incessant church-building seems, however, to have strengthened the spread of Christianity in Kiev, and to have prepared the way for the Baptism of Rus completed by her grandson Vladimir. It was also fateful, in that it meant that the destiny of Christianity in Kiev was tied to Constantinople rather than Rome. She died in 969, having been a Christian for somewhere between twelve and fifteen very active years.

Cyril of Jerusalem

Cyril became bishop in 350 as one of the most notable members of what is usually called the Semi-Arian party. The Semi-Arians were very critical of the First Council of Nicaea, arguing that a more moderate stance was necessary; their distinguishing idea was that they rejected the use of the homoousios. In general, they tended to prefer more ambiguous formulations, in the name of peace. Cyril, however, did not have an irenic career; he was constantly in trouble with the powerful Metropolitan Acacius, who was an Arian. Acacius had Cyril deposed by council and exiled to Tarsus on charges of simony. That he was engaged in actual simony seems clearly made up, but he may well have sold church property in order to buy food for the poor during the famine; whatever the precise details, he was pushed out in disgrace. Then Acacius was deposed and Cyril restored by another council. Then Acacius, through his influence, was restored to power and Cyril was banished again. Then Julian came to the throne, and Acacius lost his influence; Cyril was restored again. Then in the reign of Valentian, who was an Arian, he was banished again. Then after the accession of Gratian to the throne he was restored again. This was, fortunately, the last move in the back and forth; the First Council of Constantinople reaffirmed Cyril's position, and it was there for the first time that he committed to the Nicene position, voting for the homoousios, possibly after having decided from experience that the Arians were really not going to keep the peace anyway. He has left the Church an extraordinary set of Catechetical and post-Baptismal lectures, which is the reason for his liturgical status as Doctor of the Church. He died in 386.

Joseph Mukasa and Charles Lwanga

Born in the kingdom of Buganda, in the south of present-day Uganda, Mukasa and Lwanga served in the court of King Mwanga II. Mwanga was increasingly concerned about the influence of Christian missionaries in his kingdom -- primarily Anglican and Catholic -- and began increasingly to insist that Christian converts give up their faith. This aggression reached critical levels in 1885, when Mwanga arrested and executed an incoming group of Anglican missionaries, led by James Hannington. The king's major-domo, Joseph Mukasa, who was also a lay catechist, sharply criticized the king for this action; as a result, Mwanga had Mukasa killed. Lwanga, who had been a catechumen, took his place, but, impressed by Mukasa's courage, was baptized the same day and became a lay catechist.

In 1886, Mwanga initiated a crackdown on Christians in his court; those found guilty, whether Catholic or Anglican, were mostly burned alive. Among these was Charles Lwanga. By 1887 at least 45 people, both Catholic and Anglican, had been killed. This and other brutalities stirred up Christians and Muslims against Mwanga, and the British, alarmed at what Mwanga's persecution signified for British influence in the area, backed the rebels. Mwanga was temporarily defeated and deposed, but managed to negotiate a return with the British; he gradually ceded power to the British but then tried to stop the process with a war, which he lost. Despite being a wily politician, he is most remembered for his brutality in the anti-Christian persecution. Charles Lwanga and his companions died on June 3, 1886.

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