North-American Martyrs and Blessed Paul VI

saint_isaac_jogues
St. Isaac Jogues with missing fingers

At Holy Mass today, we commemorate the North-American martyrs. They came to these shores from France, to teach the Hurons about Jesus Christ and His Church. The martyrs happily gave their lives to spread the Gospel. What motivated them?

For a short and precise answer, let’s think back three years. Anyone remember what happened three years ago today, in St. Peter’s Square?

Here’s a hint. It involved the last Italian pope. Or at least the last Italian pope who lived for longer than two months in office.

Side note: It is amazing to think that we have not had an Italian pope in over 39 years. Most of the people living on the earth right now have never had an Italian pope. Which is amazing. We have had 266 popes in total. 196 of them have been Italians. Our current pope is an Italian-American, but that’s not quite the same thing.

Anyway: three years ago today, Pope Francis declared Pope Paul VI to be among the saints. The last Italian pope to live for more than two months in office became Blessed Pope Paul VI.

Blessed Pope Paul wrote many, many beautiful and inspiring things. He possessed an utterly tireless mind, along with a beautifully humble heart.

But a few sentences he wrote capture the spirit of the North-American martyrs perfectly, in my humble little opinion. We Catholics don’t proselytize, if proselytizing means assuming that people who do not know and accept our doctrines have not hope at all. We do not believe that. We believe that God has a plan for everyone, and God’s plans extend way beyond what we little creatures can grasp in our wee minds.

Nonetheless, we consider the task of evangelization urgent. Blessed Pope Paul explains:

It would be useful if every Christian were to pray about the following thought: men can gain salvation also in other ways, by God’s mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them.

But as for us, can we gain salvation if—through negligence, or fear, or shame –if we ‘blush for the Gospel’–or as a result of false ideas, we fail to preach it?

For that would be to betray the call of God, who wishes the seed to bear fruit through the voice of the ministers of the Gospel; and it will depend on us whether this seed grows.

World Mission Sunday

So much to reflect on this Sunday, it’s almost too much. Bear with me here.

St. Isaac Jogues with missing fingers
St. Isaac Jogues with missing fingers

1. Sunday we mark 368 years since the martyrdom of St. Isaac Jogues, who died in upstate New York.

And he was by no means the only Jesuit who died for the faith on this continent. In 1571, eight Jesuits died as martyrs here in what is now Virginia.

We salute these greatest of American heroes. Before George Washington’s great-great-grandparents were conceived in their mothers’ wombs, the missionary martyrs of America gave their lives so that the people of this land could know the Good News.

2. In Rome on Sunday, our Holy Father will declare Pope Paul VI to be among the blessed in heaven.

Some of us, maybe, remember when Pope Paul governed the Church, which was from 1963 to 1978. The Beatification of Pope Paul concludes the Roman Synod that has studied marriage and family life these past two weeks, and which some of us may have heard something about in the newspaper or on tv. We had better discuss the Synod. But I think the Synod we had better discuss is actually the Synod on Evangelization, which took place in 1974. Let’s come back to that in a minute.

3. In the middle of all this, we hear our Lord say to us with His quiet wisdom: “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Maybe you remember us talking about this gospel passage three years ago. We considered the challenge of actually trying to give God His due. We start at the altar: praising Him; offering the perfect sacrifice given to us by His Son; offering ourselves, along with Christ, to the Father. It all starts with Mass, and our whole lives are directed to the glory we come into contact with in the Holy Mass.

PopePaulVI
Blessed Pope Paul VI
But we have to give God His due outside church, too. And we give Him His due by following His solemn command that we love our neighbor. We truly love our neighbor by thinking of him or her in the exact same way that Christ thought of us, when he spread out His arms on the cross for us.

Which brings us to “repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Our love for our fellowman means paying careful attention to our duties as citizens. Because we love God, we also seek, even in this fallen world, the great political goal known as “the common good.” And in a couple weeks, we who are of voting age have to figure out a way to cast a pro-life, pro-immigrant vote.

…But let’s go back to the memorable Synod of Bishops, which took place in Rome—in 1974, when Blessed Paul VI was pope. One topic on the table then was this:

Since we Catholics firmly believe that God is all-merciful and all-loving; since Jesus Christ, crucified for our salvation, has revealed the truth about God like nothing else ever could, we of course believe that God has a plan for absolutely everyone to be saved. This includes people who have never heard of Jesus or received the sacraments.

We ourselves know only one way to heaven—Holy Baptism, along with the other sacraments of the Church. But God knows more than we do, so we never despair about anyone’s salvation. The second Vatican Council re-echoed these truths, which can be found in the New Testament. God can find a way for anyone to get to heaven. How then do we understand our mission to evangelize?

Such was one of the pastoral problems posed by the Synod of Bishops which took place in the 1974. A good question. Allow me to quote what Blessed Pope Paul VI wrote:

It would be useful if every Christian were to pray about the following
thought: men can gain salvation also in other ways, by God’s mercy, even though we do not preach the Gospel to them. But as for us, can we gain salvation if—through negligence, or fear, or shame –if we ‘blush for the Gospel’–or as a result of false ideas, we fail to preach it?

For that would be to betray the call of God, who wishes the seed to bear fruit through the voice of the ministers of the Gospel; and it will depend on us whether this seed grows. [emphasis added]

Parkman Oregon Trail…Anyone ever heard of Francis Parkman, the writer? He wrote the definitive history books about the two centuries when Europeans and native tribes both lived in what is now the United States, with each living according to their own long-standing traditional way of life. That is, the 1600’s and 1700’s.

Parkman was an amazingly smart historian and gifted writer. That said, in his books, Parkman has a clear bias against some of the Indian tribes. One group, though, he held in even greater contempt. The Jesuits. Parkman’s phrase for the Jesuits in North America during colonial times is: “Romish zealots.”

Seems to me that this lays a challenge on us. When biased historians look back on the 21st century, will they find a record of what we have done, and conclude: What a bunch of Romish zealots!

May God give us the grace to water this land with our blood, sweat, and tears, because we Romish zealots won’t be satisfied until everyone has a chance to share in the grace that we have received in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Land Watered with Blood

¡Viva Cristo Rey! “Long live Christ the King!” Blessed Miguel Pro shouted these words as a Mexican firing squad took his life, 84 years ago today.

We give thanks to the Lord for all the blessings of this fruitful land, the Western hemisphere, the New World. This earth bears fruit in turkeys and hams and yams and spuds, and we praise the Maker of all things.

But the most fruitful substance known to mankind is the blood of Christ’s martyrs.

The blood of martyrs waters the earth and bears fruit in generations of firm faith, in the flowering of communities based on love, respect, and truth.

So we give thanks above all that the Lord in His Providence has watered the soil of this hemisphere with the blood of His chosen witnesses.

We venerate the heroism of the Jesuits who gave their lives for the faith in upstate New York and Canada. Some of those martyrs had first arrived in North America shortly before the Mayflower landed.

And we venerate Blessed Father Pro and all the martyrs who joyfully risked life and limb to keep the faith alive in Mexico during the prosecution of the 1920’s.

May the Lord continue to make our land fruitful in faith.

October 19, 2008

St. Isaac Jogues with missing fingers
St. Isaac Jogues with missing fingers
Generally speaking, on Sundays we do not keep the saints’ feast days. So today we did not keep the feast of the North American Martyrs. Nonetheless, it is good for us to call them to mind. Their blood shed for the faith sanctified this continent and made it a fertile ground for the Church.

They were Jesuits and lay men who accompanied the Jesuits to New France in the early 17th century. The two most famous among them are St. Isaac Jogues and St. John de Brebeuf. St. Isaac Jogues had two of his fingers bitten off by hostile Indians. He was given special permission by the Pope to continue to say Mass. Then he asked to be allowed to go back to North America, where he was killed.

There are two beautiful shrines of the North American Martyrs, both of which are very much worth visiting. One is located near Albany, New York, in Auriesville. This is the place where St. Isaac Jogues was killed.

North American Martyrs Shrine in Midland, Ontario
North American Martyrs Shrine in Midland, Ontario
Even more wonderful is the shrine in Midland, Ontario, north of Toronto. This is where St. John de Brebeuf was killed.

In addition to the beautiful shrine, there is also a reconstruction of the original Jesuit mission, which is evocative down to the last detail.

The Hurons lived a rough life there. They liked to season the dried fish they ate in the winter, but of course they had no salt. So they used ashes from the fire.

Clinton Portis and Co.
Clinton Portis and Co.

On a much more mundane note: Clinton Portis is awesome! It was not a pretty game. We will, however, take the W.

And poor, poor Dallas…losing to those scrubs, the St. Louis Rams. Maybe the Rams are actually not so bad after all.