St Jan Sarkander

Widower, Priest, Martyr (entered heaven this day in 1620)

Dear Janet,

The “bitter pill” you mention touches the very heart of our faith.  Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more Christian than forgiveness.  I realize you have been treated unjustly; I realize you have been humiliated and perhaps even betrayed by a friend; I realize the repercussions of the offense go further than simple social relations… But even so, do these circumstances give you an excuse to hold a grudge?  Wouldn’t that be offending Jesus even more than you have been offended?  Forgiving, in a situation like yours, may taste bitter now, but it immunizes you from a worse bitterness latter.  Perhaps a glance at today’s saint will give you the strength you need to do the right thing.

Jan married as a young man, but his wife died soon thereafter, childless.  The blow knocked him to his knees (literally).  Realizing the fleetingness of earthly dreams, he resolved to study for the priesthood.  After his ordination, he served valiantly as a parish priest in eastern Czech Republic.  Those were difficult times, due to the split in Christendom caused Church corruption and the Protestant Reformation.  While he was striving to win back all of Moravia (starting with this parish) to the Catholic faith, the Thirty Years War began – Protestants vs Catholics, locked in bloody combat for three decades – and Bohemia was one of the major battle fronts.  When Protestant forces occupied his area, he was exiled to Poland, where he took refuge at the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa.  He prayed and suffered there for five months before deciding to return home – he couldn’t abandon his flock.  When he got back, Polish forces (they were Catholics) supporting the emperor moved in.   Battle was imminent.  Jan desperately wanted to avoid the horrid bloodshed.  He marched into the army’s camp wielding nothing but a monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament.  It served both as his shield and as a chastisement.  He won a hearing with the Polish field commander, and no battles were fought in that region.

The Protestant Baron leading the rebellion, however, took the opportunity to have the future saint arrested as a spy, blaming him for the arrival of the Polish troops.  Jan was imprisoned, and for weeks he was tortured, trying to get him to abjure his Catholic faith and break the seal of confession, thus divulging information about the opposing leaders.  He was racked, beaten, and set on fire, but he stayed faithful.  Finally, he died.

Three hundred and sixty years later, in 1995, he was canonized by Pope John Paul II.  And do you know what the Pope talked about?  After praising Jan’s fidelity, courage, and perseverance, he concluded with some remarks about that “bitter pill” you mentioned.  Here’s what he said:

“This canonization must in no way reopen painful wounds, which in the past marked the Body of Christ in these lands. On the contrary, today I, the Pope of the Church of Rome, in the name of all Catholics, ask forgiveness for the wrongs inflicted on non-Catholics during the turbulent history of these peoples; at the same time I pledge the Catholic Church’s forgiveness for whatever harm her sons and daughters suffered. May this day mark a new beginning in the common effort to follow Christ, his Gospel, his law of love, his supreme desire for the unity of those who believe in him: ‘That they may all be one’ (Jn 17:21).”

Those are footsteps worth following – as a Church and as individual Christians.  And God will give you the strength do so, if you ask him from your heart.

Your devoted uncle,


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