August 2011: Saints & Martyrs
Steve Griffiths looks at those who have given their lives for their faith. This regular resourse is designed for Youth Workers and Chaplains using the Lectionary.
5th August – Oswald (died 642)
Northumbria has historically been recognised as a focal point of Christian spirituality in Britain. Its rich heritage goes back many centuries – not least because of the work and ministry of Oswald, King of Northumbria from 634 until his death in battle in 642.
The days of Oswald were tumultuous, with many different tribes and rulers fighting for supremacy. He was a powerful king and succeeded in uniting Northumbria in a way that had never been achieved before. At the heart of his desire to bring peace and unity was his strong Christian faith.
Oswald sent to Ireland for a Bishop to work amongst his people. Aidan came, and Oswald gave him Lindisfarne as a base to work from. Aidan’s ministry became renowned. His preaching – with Oswald acting as interpreter – converted many.
Oswald was also highly regarded for his care for the poor. He would often go without food himself so that those begging in the streets could eat. He also gave away his possessions to provide for those in need.
Sadly, Oswald died in battle in 642 at the hands of the pagan Mercians. Legend has it that he died in prayer for his soldiers – a man of God right to the end…
· Is it ever right for Christians to go to war? What informs your answer?
· Aidan died praying for his soldiers. How might we support the armed forces in our prayers?
· In what ways could your church better support the poor and marginalised in society?
11th August – Clare of Assisi (died 1253)
Clare was one of the first followers of Francis of Assisi. Born into a Christian family, her parents wanted Clare to marry a wealthy businessman. But she had different ideas – and ran away from home instead. At first, she sought refuge with Francis and then went on to join a Benedictine monastery.
The religious life suited Clare and she eventually began an Order herself, which was known for its very strict lifestyle. The Order – known as the ‘Poor Ladies’ – dedicated themselves to hard, physical work and prayer. She tried to emulate the life and values of St. Francis whom she revered so much – even caring for him in his illnesses until his death in 1226.
Many priests and Popes tried to make the ‘Poor Ladies’ accept a less severe rule of life – but Clare resisted all these attempts. She believed that poverty and spiritual discipline help us to reflect the image of Christ.
Clare died at the age of 59. The Order was renamed ‘The Order of the Poor Clares’ and continues strong to this day.
· Do you think possessions get in the way of your walk with God? If so, what can you do about it?
· What does ‘spiritual discipline’ mean to you? How can you increase your own discipline in life?
· In what ways do you try to mirror the image of Christ in your own life?
20th August – Bernard of Clairvaux (died 1153)
Bernard was born into a rich, aristocratic Burgundy family. From an early age, he loved literature and poetry. He loved the Scriptures and developed a particular admiration for the Virgin Mary.
His mother died when he was 19. Immediately, he entered the Cistercian Order where he devoted himself to study and prayer. He was opposed to the systematic, logic-driven theology of the early Middle Ages – preaching instead about the need for a personal experience of God and the need for a deep passion for Christ.
Bernard created an Abbey at Clairveaux. The disciplined lifestyle was so harsh that he soon became ill and he was forced to relax the Rule. Soon, his monastery was thriving with followers and more houses were founded in the region and beyond.
As a theologian, Bernard engaged himself with many of the great controversies of the day. He gained many enemies that way – and a lot of people wanted to see him fail. As one Cardinal wrote to him, ‘It is not fitting that noisy and troublesome frogs should come out of their marshes to trouble the Holy See and the cardinals!’
Bernard successfully defended the church against the power of politicians and the power of religious factions. He also developed his Order throughout Europe and Scandinavia. He died at the age of 63 and has been venerated by the church since then.
· What should be the relationship between the church and the political powers of our nation?
· How can Christians engage in politics in a way that honours Christ?
27th August – Saint Monica (died 387)
Monica was the mother of St. Augustine. She was born in Algeria and married Patritius who, it seemed, subjected her to violent abuse. Clearly, she was not happy in her marriage – but was able to use her experiences to minister effectively to other women who were subjected to domestic abuse in the town where she lived.
Her eldest child, Augustine, had been very ill as a child and very wayward as a teenager. She was always concerned for him and worked hard to nurture him in the faith. After praying for him for 17 years, Augustine eventually became a Christian – and went on to be the most influential Christian in history!
In his book Confessions, Augustine wrote about his mother. He especially praised her devotion to God and deep prayer life. It seems that she served as a great example to him of how to live the Christian life. His own influence runs deep throughout the history of the church – so perhaps we have Monica to thank for the expression of Christian faith which we all take so much for granted today!
· What can we do to support victims of domestic abuse?
· How can your church honour the ministry of Motherhood?
· What can we do to show our own mothers how much we appreciate them for their nurturing love for us over the years?
Steve Griffiths is Rector of Linton team ministry, and a regular contributor to Youthwork