Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Saint Katy Inspires


I really love Advent Four. This is the Sunday when we get that beautiful story of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38). Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the 12th Century theologian and church leader, said there were three miracles present in this story: 1) that God would condescend to become human, 2) that a virgin would conceive and bear a child, and 3) that this little girl, Mary, would actually be willing to be the mother of the Savior. Martin Luther believed that the third miracle was the greatest of them all. After all, God can do whatever God wants to do. It’s only when we want God to do God’s thing, when we say “yes” to God, that things really happen. 

This was a pretty big “yes” for a young girl like Mary—to be willing to be the bearer of God’s redemption for the world. In Mary’s day her pregnancy out of wedlock would certainly mean scandal and social exclusion (possibly even stoning!)—to say nothing of the pain and medical dangers of childbirth itself. Luther gained a real appreciation of what she’d agreed to thanks to the influence of the saint we commemorate on December 20th in our liturgical calendar, Katherina Von Bora, a.k.a. Mrs. Martin Luther.

 Katy Von Bora had been sent to a convent to study at the age of five. When she was nine she was moved to a different convent where one of her aunts was a nun. Katy was expected to enter into the religious life and spent the next sixteen years in the cloister. A brilliant young woman and accomplished scholar, Sister Katy became fascinated with the growing Protestant movement. With the aid of Luther, to whom she had written, she and several of her sister nuns made a daring escape from the convent by hiding in a fishmonger’s cart.

 Luther had the audacity to preach that God’s grace smiled no more brightly on cloistered nuns and monks than it did on any other sinner.[i] Subsequently, many men and women in religious life left their vows of chastity and sought spouses. Luther served as something of a match-maker for these former monks and nuns, but Katy had no interest in any of the suggested husbands. She was holding out for Luther himself.

 The Luthers had six children and adopted four orphans. While Luther was out reforming Europe, Katy raised eleven children, managed the enormous house they had been given by the Elector of Saxony (which included managing the frequent guests and lodgers), ran the estate (including livestock), greatly increased the family income, and still found time to advise her husband on his work, brew his beer, and serve as a volunteer nurse when sickness struck the community. She taught Luther respect for the role and capabilities of women, and she is remembered along with her husband as a renewer of the church.

 On Advent Four we give thanks to God for the heroic women such as our Lord’s mother and Elizabeth, her cousin, the mother of John the Baptist. It’s fitting that we should also give thanks for all who have said “yes” to God’s call to be caregivers—for parents of both sexes, nurses, teachers, healthcare workers, and nursing home caregivers among so many others. In this time of pandemic their selflessness is a manifestation of God’s love. 

Peace be with you.

 [i] Acts 10:34

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