St John Gabriel Perboyre

priest, martyr of the Congregation of the Mission (entered heaven this day 1840)

Dear Percival,

Saints grow like grapes, in bunches.  Vocations are like that too. Don’t think that just because your two sisters and one of your brothers have heard God calling them to the consecrated like, he doesn’t have a plan for you too; he most certainly does.  Actually, your family kind of reminds me of today’s saint.

John was from southern France.  His family ended up giving three Missionaries of St Vincent and two Daughters of Charity to the Church (imagine the welcome his parents must have had when they got to heaven’s gate!).  His younger brother entered the seminary before him. John was sent along to keep his brother company and help him make the adjustment; he had no plans to stay. But being in the seminary environment stirred a desire to serve God more fully, and much to his own surprise, the future martyr found himself wanting to stay on and study for the priesthood himself.  His parents were surprised too, but they welcomed the idea and willingly offered a second son to God for the advance of his Kingdom. He joined the Congregation of the Mission of St Vincent de Paul, and proved to be such a determined and energetic seminarian that after ordination he was made professor of theology, rector of the seminary, and instructor of novices – scores of future missionaries were under his fatherly care.  But when his brother died en route to the China missions, Fr John asked permission to be allowed to go in his brother’s place, and received it.

His few years in China were marked by the challenges all missionaries face: learning a new language, adapting to a new culture, communicating the mysteries of salvation to people who were starting from scratch, braving physical hardship and the vagaries of travel in a foreign, undeveloped land.  But he threw himself into the work with vigor and faith. When persecutions recommenced, as a result of the China-Britain Opium war, he and his fellow missionaries added to the list of their difficulties the constant threat of betrayal and arrest, which materialized for him four years after his arrival to the Middle Kingdom.  He was arrested and tried for being a Christian. He boldly asserted his faith, and even in the face of long imprisonment and cruel torture (for instance, during one of his more than 20 interrogations he was hung from the ceiling by his thumbs and his hair and beaten with bamboo rods), he neither renounced his faith nor betrayed the names or locations of his fellow missionaries and their flocks.  His torturers added false accusations to his suffering, besmirching as well the reputations of some of his female catechumens, even those who had made a vow of virginity.

After a year of such mistreatment, his persecutor, deeply incensed at the failure of the torture and interrogations, condemned him to death.  The emperor approved the condemnation, and on September 11th, 1840, he was led to “Red Hill” with a group of common criminals, tied to a post in the form of a cross, and strangled to death.

Maybe God is not calling you to such visible heroism (though maybe he is – it could be the reason your heart burns so ardently with the desire to defend the faith against those modern sacrileges), but he’s certainly calling you to be a “martyr” (from the Greek for “witness”) of his goodness and wisdom there on campus.  If I were you, I wouldn’t let the brief (only two years left) opportunity slip by un-seized.

Your devoted uncle, Eddy

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