St Isaac Jogues and St John de Brebeuf and Companions

the North American Martyrs (entered heaven in 1642-1649)

Dear Jake,

I commend your responsibility.  Of all my nephews, you will be the least likely to find yourself at the end of your senior year (just eight months away now) not knowing your next step in life.  Your foresight and prudence are praiseworthy. But as you sift through your job offers and grad-school opportunities, be careful. It is quite possible that you haven’t clearly defined what you’re looking for in life, and if you don’t do that, you may start energetically down a path you will later on regret terribly.  To avoid such a bothersome situation, I recommend that you take some time walking in the woods and thinking deeply about what the magic word “success” means to you, and what it ought to mean to you. And the example of today’s saints may aid significantly your reflection.

These pioneers set out for the “new world” out of motives differing sharply from most of their fellow Europeans.  In fact, one of their first tasks in preaching the gospel to the Native Americans in eastern Canada and the eastern Great Lakes Region was convincing them that they had no interest at all in furs and skins and fish and game, but only in teaching them about Jesus Christ.  They showed this by taking up residence with the Indians themselves, learning their languages (which was no easy task), and returning to their villages time and again, even after European politics (the British were actively trying to wrest Canada from the French) repeatedly forced them to abandon their missions.  Their ability to sacrifice every material comfort and reward was the precondition for bringing Christ to these souls.

But it didn’t stop there.  Besides living in filthy huts, traveling by canoe through dense wilderness (whenever they took a trip they had to carry their canoes and other supplies across pathless land bridges as often as they were able to paddle through clear waters), and putting their lives in continual danger by tending the chronic illnesses (mostly due to pestilence) suffered by their charges, they each ended up being taken prisoner, tortured, and brutally killed by enemies of the faith.  

Just as their years of missionary work among the Hurons (and some other tribes) began to produce a steady stream of baptisms and sincere conversions (they even started a seminary for young Indians), inter-tribal violence broke out.  The Iroquois renewed an old war against the Hurons. Added to the long-standing tribal rivalry was a new suspicion, kindled by their superstitious and magical religious practices, that certain recent natural disasters (plagues and famines) were due to the incursion of this new Christian religion.  Thus the missionaries became prime targets in the war effort. As the fierce Iroquois attacked village after village, these Jesuit priests and lay brothers encouraged the Christian Hurons to hold fast to the faith, and baptized many of their catechumens just before the slaughter began. Consequently, they themselves were captured.  Even as they were tortured, they continued to preach the good news. St John de Brebeuf, for example, was tied naked to a pole, awarded a necklace of red hot spearheads, and girdled with a belt of burning pitch and resin. With his face set like stone, he began to speak to his captors about the heavenly kingdom, at which point they gagged him, cut of his nose, tore off his lips, and performed a mock baptism by pouring boiling water over his head.  Only years later did the blood of martyrs like St John yield its results: almost all of the tribes they had ministered to were eventually won over to the faith.

Right now, as today’s saints enjoy the heavenly banquet, we can say without a doubt that they were “successful” – at least, according to God’s standards.  Were they successful by yours?

Your devoted uncle, Eddy

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