February Spiritual Heroes
Spiritual Heroes for Commemoration at Communion
February 2: Presentation of Jesus in the Temple (Candlemas)—Today remembers the story of Jesus’ parents taking him into the Temple, where he was blessed by Simeon and Anna (Luke 2:22-40). This reminds us of the Jewish law (Exodus 13:2; 22:29) that every firstborn son was to be dedicated in memory of the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. This feast has had several different names, including Candlemas. In some traditions candles are brought to the church on this day to be blessed.
February 3: St. Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167)—Cistercian abbot. Aelred wrote freely of his feelings for his friends and fellow monks. While it is not known if he had any romantic relationships, it is clear that he was strongly attracted to men. He had a very positive attitude toward creation and humanity, and was comfortable embracing his own feminine side. He developed a theology of friendship, and is today the patron saint of Integrity, a lesbian and gay organization for Episcopalians. (He died on January 12, however this date is used by his order.)
February 4: Cornelius the Centurion—The story of Cornelius is told in Acts 10-11. He was an important military leader and a deeply religious person who was interested in Judaism. His story is significant in the growth of the early church because he and his family were among the first Gentile converts, thereby opening the door for the message of Jesus to spread throughout the Roman Empire. His story is significant for gay and lesbian people because of Peter’s vision, which led him to go to Caesarea and visit this Gentile home. This vision led Peter to understand that, despite the laws of Leviticus, there was a higher law of love: “God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.”
February 8: Martin Buber (1878-1965)— Jewish philosopher and theologian. Buber had a strong impact in reminding Christianity of its Jewish origins. He wrote that Jesus exemplified the highest ethical and spiritual ideals of Judaism. He was a champion of interfaith dialogue. He was influenced by the Hasidic movement in Eastern Europe and he believed that Jews and Arabs could find a just way to live together.
February 11: Fanny Jane Crosby (1820-1915)—Hymn writer and musician. Though she went blind at six weeks of age, Fanny Crosby became one of the most prolific hymn writers in America. She eventually wrote more than 8,000 hymns. Her hymns speak of a personal devotion to Christ. Among those that have been deeply loved (especially in Evangelical churches) include: “Blessed Assurance,” “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,” and “To God be the Glory.”
February 13: Absolom Jones (1746 – 1818) – a former slave that would become the first African American Episcopal Priest in the newly formed United States of America. Jones preached that God was a loving Parent who always took the side of “the oppressed and distressed.”
February 14: St. Valentine (d. 269)—Martyr. Though St. Valentine has long since removed from the lists of ‘official’ saints, Valentine’s Day has been taken over by the greeting card industry and become fixed in the popular calendar of most people. It seems to have its origins in England, where it was noted that birds began to pair and mate around the feast of St. Valentine. The original Valentine was likely a Christian priest in Rome who was beheaded for refusing to renounce his faith. He gave his heart to his God, his divine lover.
February 16: Janani Luwum (1924-1977)—Anglican Archbishop of Uganda and martyr. Luwum was Archbishop of Uganda during the dictatorship of General Idi Amin. He was not the type to be drawn toward social justice issues or protests; he tried at first to maintain a neutral stance of cooperation. Luwum realized the church could no longer stand silently by as Amin’s paranoid reign of terror led to the murder of tens of thousands. He was confronted with trumped up charges, and when ordered to sign a confession he responded by praying. This sent Amin into a rage, and he drew a pistol and executed Luwum himself.
February 18: Martin Luther (1483-1546)—Reformer of the Church. Originally trained as a lawyer, Luther was ordained a priest and taught theology at the University of Wittenberg. He was tormented by an unrelieved sense of guilt, and suffered from what we would today describe as clinical depression. Contrary to Catholic teachings of the time, he declared that salvation was by God’s grace through faith alone. His ‘protests’ were the foundation of the Protestant Reformation, which by the time of his death had spread through much of Europe. In recent years Lutheran-Catholic dialogues have found common ground in each other’s teachings. Luther was also a musician, and his most famous hymn was “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”
February 20: Frederick Douglass (1818-1895)— Abolitionist. Born into slavery, Douglass managed to escape to the North and freedom. There he became a champion of the abolitionist movement as he lectured across the United States and Europe. He was noted for his amazing oratorical skills. Although a lay preacher in the AME Zion church, he became increasingly critical of the silence of much of Christianity regarding slavery.
February 25: Felix Varela (1788-1853)— Cuban priest and theologian. Long revered as a champion of justice in his native Cuba, Varela spent most of his ministry in exile in New York, having argued for the independence of Cuba from Spain, and the abolition of slavery. He was the first Hispanic theologian in the US, and died in St. Augustine, Florida. His tomb was visited by José Martí, who called him a “Cuban saint.” His remains were later returned to Cuba, where he is still honored.