12 November – Tuesday, Enduring Faith in Love

Nov 12 – Memorial for St. Josaphat, bishop, religious, martyr

John (1580-1623) had a father who was a municipal counsellor, and a mother who was known for her piety. He was raised in the Orthodox Ruthenian Church which, on 23 Nov 1595, in the Union of Brest, united with the Church of Rome. He was trained as a merchant’s apprentice in Vilna, and was offered partnership in the business and marriage to his partner’s daughter.

Feeling the call to religious life, he declined both and became a monk in the Ukrainian Order of St. Basil in Vilna at the age of 20 in 1604, taking the name Brother Josaphat. He was ordained a Byzantine rite priest in 1609.

His superior, Samuel, never accepted unity with Rome, and looked for a way to fight against Roman Catholicism and the Uniats, the name given to those who brought about and accepted the union of the churches. Learning of Samuel’s work and fearing the physical and spiritual damage it could cause, Josaphat brought it to the attention of his superiors. The archbishop of Kiev removed Samuel from his post, replacing him with Josaphat.

He was a famous preacher, worked to bring unity among the faithful and bring strayed Christians back to the Church. He became Bishop of Vitebsk. Most religious, fearing interference with the natively developed liturgy and customs, did not want union with Rome. Bishop Josaphat believed unity to be in the best interests of the Church and, by teaching, clerical reform, and personal example, Josaphat won the greater part of the Orthodox in Lithuania to the union. Never completely suitable to either side, Roman authorities sometimes raised objection to Josaphat’s Orthodox actions. He became Archbishop of Polotsk, Lithuania in 1617.

While Josaphat attended the Diet of Warsaw in 1620, a dissident group supported by Cossacks set up anti-Uniat bishops for each Uniat one, spread the accusation that Josaphat had “gone Latin” and that his followers would be forced to do the same, and place an usurper on the archbishop’s chair. Despite warnings, Josaphat went to Vitebsk, a hotbed of trouble, to try to correct the misunderstandings and settle disturbances. The army remained loyal to the king who remained loyal to the Union, and so the army tried to protect Josaphat and his clergy.

Late in 1623, an anti-Uniat priest named Elias shouted insults at Josaphat from his own courtyard, and tried to force his way into the residence. When he was removed, a mob assembled and forced his release. Mob mentality took over, and they invaded the residence. Josaphat tried to insure the safety of his servants before fleeing himself, but did not get out in time, and was martyred by the mob. His death was a shock to both sides of the dispute, brought some sanity and a cooling off period to both sides of the conflict.

“You people of Vitebsk want to put me to death. You make ambushes for me everywhere, in the streets, on the bridges, on the highways, and in the marketplace. I am here among you as a shepherd, and you ought to know that I would be happy to give my life for you. I am ready to die for the holy union, for the supremacy of Saint Peter, and of his successor the Supreme Pontiff.” – St. Josaphat

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Wisdom 2:23-3:9

God made man imperishable,
he made him in the image of his own nature;
it was the devil’s envy that brought death into the world,
as those who are his partners will discover.

But the souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God,
no torment shall ever touch them.
In the eyes of the unwise, they did appear to die,
their going looked like a disaster,
their leaving us, like annihilation;
but they are in peace.
If they experienced punishment as men see it,
their hope was rich with immortality;
slight was their affliction, great will their blessings be.
God has put them to the test
and proved them worthy to be with him;
he has tested them like gold in a furnace,
and accepted them as a holocaust.
When the time comes for his visitation they will shine out;
as sparks run through the stubble, so will they.
They shall judge nations, rule over peoples,
and the Lord will be their king for ever.
They who trust in him will understand the truth,
those who are faithful will live with him in love;
for grace and mercy await those he has chosen.

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Luke 17:7-10

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Which of you, with a servant ploughing or minding sheep, would say to him when he returned from the fields, “Come and have your meal immediately”? Would he not be more likely to say, “Get my supper laid; make yourself tidy and wait on me while I eat and drink. You can eat and drink yourself afterwards”? Must he be grateful to the servant for doing what he was told? So with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say, “We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.”’

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…those who are faithful will live with him in love

It is a tough ask to remain faithful to something, someone or a belief system when one has been let down or when all around, others begin to question you. At times like these, it is only natural that one retreats into a shell and either withers away or comes out renewed, re-energised and fighting to re-establish authority or a semblance of what was once true.

As I write this, I am midway through a 5-day leadership training programme, which could not have come at a timelier moment. Much of the programme is focused on the dynamics between individuals (your boss, peers and staff), between groups and the challenges that each faces when interacting with someone like myself. Needless to say, it has been an eye-opening experience thus far and I am eager to meet with my assigned career coach over the next two days as we begin to unpack my leadership style and zoom in on the personality traits that may hinder my progress.

In battling my inner demons (albeit, rather small) over the past few months, I have come to realise that the one overwhelming emotion which arises from putting your faith in God is – love. The love that comes when you decide to shield others from blame; the love that comes when you are called to lead a praise and worship session when issues at work are demanding your time; the love that comes when you see others doing their best for you in spite of your own dark moods; the love of friends who call you out of the blue and invite you for dinner; the love of a soulmate who doesn’t demand of you but only wants the best for you, even if it means a weekend sleeping in.

I wonder if this overwhelming love is what the apostles felt each and every single day in the presence of Jesus. Because it is the only explanation why they would give everything up to follow Him. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of doing the same in today’s modern world, filled with creature comforts and luxuries of all sorts that distract us from the love of Jesus. Or do we? Have we become so blind to others around us, only caring about ourselves that we have forgotten how to love others as Jesus loved us?

Have we become such an ‘entitled’ race that we have forgotten how important it is to treat each other with respect, dignity and a common decency expected from those who proclaim to be followers of Christ? In one of the exercises we did during the programme, I played the role of a ‘customer’ and a few of the comments from the sharing/debrief session highlighted a certain sense of entitlement with regards to how we treated the ‘vendor agency’. I began to ask myself if I had begun to also feel a sense of entitlement towards my staff, treating them not with the respect that were due, but more with disdain – that they could never measure up.

Perhaps that is why whenever I look around in times of crisis, I never see the people who I need to show up – kind of like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. But unlike Jesus, who treated every single one of his apostles with love, my staff don’t form a circle around me because they don’t feel appreciated nor trusted. Even worse, I treat other subordinates even better and spend more time with them instead of those who need my affirmation more.

Brothers and sisters, research has shown that for every bit of negative feedback we have to give someone, it is necessary to first give three times the amount of positive feedback. And for those who are married, the number rises to almost six times vis-à-vis feedback for your spouse. How are we doing in our interactions with those who we spend a more than significant portion of our lives with?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer:  Dear Father, help us to model Christ-like behavior at work, especially to our subordinates, staff and fellow colleagues. Be our guiding light in the challenging times and show us your face each time we encounter a crisis or a difficult situation.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for being our model of love.

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