St John Oglivie

The Scottish Martyr (entered heaven this day in 1615)

Dear Jack,

To answer your question, I would say continue your debating, but change your tactics.  Right now you are getting frustrated and discouraged because you’re aiming at the wrong target.  Debates are not meant to change the minds of the debaters; they are meant to provide an ordered, civilized way to air facts and opinions about complex issues.  It’s a chance for you to put a spotlight on the truth.  But you can’t determine how each person reacts to it.  So don’t worry about their reaction; worry about spotlighting the truth as best as you can (you’ll never be able to do it perfectly, so don’t get discouraged by flubs).  In this regard, you may be encouraged by the story of today’s saint.

He grew up in Scotland during the years of the Protestant Reformation.  Once Scotland abandoned the ancient Catholic faith in favor of Calvinist Presbyterianism, the government tried to cleanse the country of all Catholics.  After a bunch of bloody massacres, they focused on persecuting priests and those Catholics who tried to go to Mass – they figured that by eliminating those groups, the rest of the Catholics would cower and eventually join their team.  St John’s dad was a Protestant leader and nobleman, who gave him a good Calvinist education.  He sent him to the Continent for his studies.  There in Louvain the young Scot participated frequently in one of the popular academic entertainments of the time: debates between Catholics and Protestants.  He attended enough of them that he began to favor the Catholic position.  When he was 17 he converted, continued his studies at various Catholic institutions in Europe, and eventually joined the Jesuits and received ordination to the priesthood.  His dream was to return to his native country and work for its return to the one, true Church.

In 1613, at age 34, his dream came true.  He was sent as an undercover missionary to succor the Catholics.  He masqueraded as a horse trader and former soldier named Watson.  His first year was miserably unfruitful: surviving Catholics were afraid to practice their faith, and he couldn’t get a foothold.  Returning to Paris to get advice, his superiors chastised him for leaving Scotland and sent him back.  This time he made some powerful connections and was able to shore up the wavering faith of his countrymen.  Not for long, however – a Protestant spy betrayed him and he was arrested and imprisoned.  Tortured and tricked and tried multiple times, he was eventually condemned as a traitor, because he failed to acknowledge the king’s supposed sovereignty in spiritual matters.  He ended his days being hung, drawn, and quartered.

Here’s a hero of the faith, Scotland’s only officially recognized martyr, who kept the truth alight in a dark and dour hour, and it all started when he listened to some seemingly “inconclusive” debates.  My bright and dear nephew, don’t give up the fight, and don’t think your efforts to build the Kingdom ought to measured only by the results you can see right away.

Your loving uncle,


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