March Spiritual Heroes
Spiritual Heroes for Commemoration at Communion
March 2: John and Charles Wesley (1703-1791, 1707-1788)—Anglican priests and founders of Methodism. While attending Oxford, John and Charles founded the “Holy Club” to practice the worship and discipline of the Prayer Book. They were so strict they were given the nickname “methodists.” Both became Anglican priests, but later had experiences of inner conversion, which John described as having his heart “strangely warmed.” They began a revival in England that spread to the Americas, organizing local groups that met in homes for prayer and study. When thrown out of local churches for being too “enthusiastic” they turned to preaching on the streets. John created a synthesis of sacramental faith, a personal religion of the heart, and an active concern for social justice. Charles is remembered for writing over 6,000 hymn texts, including “Christ the Lord is risen today,” “O for a thousand tongues to sing,” and “Hark the herald angels sing.”
March 5: Karl Rahner (1904-1984)—Theologian. Probably the most influential Catholic theologian of the 20th century, Rahner was a Jesuit who worked to build bridges between Christian faith and the modern world. He believed that all human existence was rooted in the holy and infinite mystery of God. He tried to reduce the divisions between faith and science, the church and the world, and emphasized grace as a relationship. He played a critical role in the Second Vatican Council.
March 7: Ss. Perpetua and Felicity (d. 203)—Martyrs. Perpetua, who came from a wealthy family in North Africa, and Filicity, her friend and servant, were martyred at Carthage during a period of Roman persecutions. Despite the pleadings of her family and the prospect of being torn apart by savage animals, Perpetua refused to renounce her Christian faith. In death they comforted each other, and in one final act before the jeering crowds they kissed each other. Writings about their death were wildly popular in the early church, and are important for reflecting the perspective of an independent woman of faith who claimed her own identity and vocation despite the demands of a patriarchal society.
March 7: Paramahansa Yogananda (1883 – 1952) – a spiritual teacher who emphasized each individual’s ability to experience Truth for herself or himself rather than relying on inherited or “blind” belief. He believed every individual has the ability to experience the Divine directly and should rely on that experience more than on religious dogma. Yoga was one of the spiritual disciplines he practiced and taught.
March 10: Harriet Tubman (1820?-1913)—Abolitionist. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped to the North in 1849. In the next 10 years she made 19 trips into the South, leading 300 slaves to freedom. Soon she was known as ‘Moses.’ During the Civil War she served as a spy, scout, and nurse. Later she worked for the cause of women’s suffrage. She was a member of the AME Zion Church.
March 14: Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977)—Prophet of freedom. Raised in a family of sharecroppers in rural Mississippi, Hamer rose up as a prophet to challenge the oppression of segregation and poverty. At the age of 45 she attended a civil rights rally and committed herself to the freedom movement. On several occasions she was arrested and beaten, but despite the dogs, fire hoses, clubs, and bombs she drew on her deep faith and vision of justice to challenge the powers of oppression. She died of breast cancer.
March 14: Nona Brooks (1861 – 1945) – a major figure in the New Thought movement and one of the founders of the Divine Science Church.
March 17: St. Patrick (389-461)—Bishop and missionary of Ireland. This day is mostly known as a celebration of Irish pride and culture, rather than a remembrance of the historic Patrick. He was born into a Christian family in late Roman Britain. At 16 he was captured by Irish raiders and taken into slavery, where his only consolation was his Christian faith. Years later he escaped and returned to England, where he eventually became a Bishop. He felt called back to Ireland, and there was able to spread the Christian faith by working through the tribal leaders.
March 19: St. Joseph—Little is known about Joseph, apart from the Nativity stories in Matthew and Luke. He is pictured as a person of deep faith, open to mystical experiences, who had great compassion. As a carpenter he is known as the patron saint of working folk. His family home was said to be in Nazareth.
March 21: Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)—Writer of Sacred Music. He was a devout Lutheran and had a deep devotion to the Bible. In each manuscript he began by writing the initials “J.J.” (Jesu Juva, “Help me, Jesus”) or “I.N.J.” (In Nomine Jesu, “In the name of Jesus”), and ended with “S.D.G.” (Solo Deo Gloria, “To God alone the glory.”). His chorales have been compared to the stained glass windows of a cathedral.
March 24: Archbishop Oscar Romero (1917-1980)—Martyr of El Salvador. As the violence of the death squads escalated Romero experienced a personal transformation as the voice of the poor and a fearless champion of justice. He was unafraid to confront the political, military, and even religious forces of oppression. The masses of poor found in him a shepherd who loved them. He was assassinated at the altar while saying Mass in a hospital.
March 25: The Annunciation to Mary, the Blessed Lady—Luke tells the story (1:26-38) of the visit of an angel to announce to a young Jewish girl that she would give birth to the messiah. The Church, from its very beginning, has given to Mary a place of honor for being the mother of Jesus.
March 26: Bishop Richard Allen (1760-1831)—Founder of African Methodist Episcopal Church. Born a slave, Allen was sold to a Methodist farmer and was converted. After purchasing his freedom he felt called to preach. He felt the needs of African-Americans were best suited by the message of hope he heard in the Wesleyan movement. After many years of struggle against white control of Black churches, in 1816 he organized the first major black denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
March 27: Meister Eckhart (1260-1329)—Dominican theologian and mystic. Eckhart’s writings were largely condemned in his lifetime, however he is today seen as a prophet of modern spirituality. He wrote in mystical and paradoxical terms of the union of the soul with God, of a God-consciousness that is attained only by emptying and detachment. His thoughts show many similarities to Zen Buddhism. He liked to say “Do not cling to the symbols, but get to the inner truth!”
March 29: Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688 – 1772) – Swedish scientist, philosopher, and Christian mystic. His writings influenced William Blake, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Balzac, and Helen Keller. His writings also offer the theological framework for the Swedenborgian Church.
March 30: Sister Thea Bowman (1937-1990)—African-American Franciscan. Thea Bowman was born in rural Mississippi. As a nun she worked to integrate her Catholic faith and her identity as an African-American woman. Being the only black face in a white religious order she tended to stand out! Rather than conforming to European models, she was determined to express her black cultural identity, but as a Catholic. She earned a doctorate in English, and was known as a spellbinding preacher. In her final struggle with breast cancer, her prayer was “Lord, let me live until I die.”