Monday, October 19, 2009

Cloud of Witnesses: The North American Martyrs

You might find yourself wondering if nuns ever go on vacation. Well, nothing extravagant, but we do get some time for R & R. It can be spent with one's family or in one of our communities. (We get a plane ticket and $50, so whichever it is, you need them to feed and house you!) Once (it was the year Mother Teresa died) I spent my vacation in our Toronto community, where my friend Sr. Margaret Joseph was stationed. We made a day trip to the shrine of today's saints, the North American Martyrs. It is on the site of the former Jesuit mission, Ste-Marie-among-the-Huron (there's a replica of the mission now, maintained by the government as an historic site). Ste. Marie was the base station for the Jesuit missionary work in the whole St. Lawrence seaway area, and served as a kind of Christian village for Huron converts, to support them in their first steps as Christians. The missionaries would be supplied from here for their evangelizing trips (by canoe) and here they would return, not just for fresh supplies, but to regroup spiritually, make a few days of retreat, write those famous Jesuit letters home (reading them was all the rage in European society) and catch up on news that may have come from back home in France.
Because in recent years we have become more sensitive to the cultural "biases" that many of these missionaries had, some people are unenthusiastic about this missionary history. Maybe even embarrassed; in the theology of the times, it wasn't all that clear that people could be saved unless they had some direct access to the Gospel. Was it dread of the damnation upon so many that motivated the missionaries? The reading from today's magnificent saint John de Brebeuf tells us what was in his noble heart: How I grieve, my God, that you are not known, that this savage country is not yet wholly converted to faith in you, that sin is not yet blotted out! (It's not politically correct to use the word "savage" either, but John was living among the Huron, and was tortured to death by the Iroquois, who then ate his heart because he had manifested such courage through all the torments they inflicted on him, so "savage" is, at least in this case, fully warranted--and serves as a warning as to what human beings are capable of.)
Anyway, incredible Blackrobes and their equally incredible lay volunteer ("donee") Rene Goupil, today's saints.

1 comment:

berenike said...

I picked up somewhere at some point a life of St Isaac Jogues written some decades ago as a novel aimed at teenagers. I was very moved by this second reading at Matins, and I should *love* to read more about these martyrs. Can you recommend a good treatment of them? (Preferably a big fat one with lots of juicy quotes from the sources - something like Ian Ker's Great Big Fat Book on Newman or Ida Gorres' "Hidden Face" on St Therese. And, for the reasons you mention, being from the 1930s rather than the 1980s is not a disadvantage!)

Yours hopefully,

an occasional reader