Friday, October 19, 2012

The definition of nobility

I was introduced to today's saints in eighth grade. Our parochial school had Catholic textbooks, and there was a poem in our English book about St. Isaac Jogues (seen in the cassock in this stained glass window from a Massachusetts parish). The man in secular clothes is his fellow martyr, Rene Goupil, who wasn't even officially a Jesuit until rather late in the game, when it was obvious that he was going to die a martyr, having been faithful to the Jesuit mission "unto death." Jogues was the one who, having already suffered tortures that left his hands mangled and mutilated, had been rescued by the Dutch (no friends of the papist preachers) and brought home to Europe, only to beg permission to return to the missions. (Probably not what I would have done.)

These men were living in Huron longhouses (not tipis) just 100 years after St. Ignatius' death but kept a tradition started in Ignatius' own lifetime: sending detailed reports (known, then and now, as the "Jesuit Relations" from their Latin title) back to the Superior General about the work of the missions, the life of the Jesuit community, and the well-being of each member. This weekend, we will see the extraordinary fruits of some of those reports when the Mohawk-Algonquin convert Kateri Tekakwitha is canonized as the first Native American saint. The link above will send you to the "Relations" from the North American missions ("New France").

Up in Canada, the Jesuits had a whole Christian village going. I treasure the memory of a day spent at "Ste-Marie-among-the-Huron," reconstructed on the original site (and the original location of St. Jean Brebeuf's grave). In all, eight saints are honored as the "North American martyrs."

But there are others who would undermine the heroism of these noble men. Just yesterday I edited the Wikipedia article for two "factoids" that seem to have been entirely invented by the person who wrote them: claims that "the tortures [suffered by the martyrs--who, after all, died from them] were exaggerated"in order to impress potential donors back in Europe, or that the Huron weren't really that engaged with the missionaries (no, they just let them live in the longhouses and move with them to their summer and winter camps), and the Iroquois attacked because they were so mad that the Huron didn't follow their advice to steer clear of all Europeans. (After almost 400 years, where did this new information come from?) One assertion (removed by another alert user) suggested that the smallpox virus was part of a deliberate plot, though perhaps not by the Jesuits (but then again, who knows?).

The Jesuit martyrs were not canonized because only they died in a particularly brutal way while preaching the Gospel. They are models because of their heroic love of God. These were men of commitment and passion. Here's a sample of that holy passion, from the spiritual journal of St. Jean Brebeuf (who seems to have suffered the most protracted martyrdom of the whole group):

For two days now I have experienced a great desire to be a martyr and to endure all the torments the martyrs suffered.... I vow to you, Jesus my Savior, that as far as I have the strength I will never fail to accept the grace of martyrdom, if some day you in your infinite mercy should offer it to me, your most unworthy servant.... On receiving the blow of death, I shall accept it from your hands with the fullest delight and joy of spirit.... My God, it grieves me greatly that you are not known, that in this savage wilderness all have not been converted to you, that sin has not been driven from it.

1 comment:

Christine Falk Dalessio said...

thank you for catching those wiki errors.... and for sharing this great story. As i kid I remember being fascinated by them.