The Martyrs of Shanxi

(China) (entered heaven on July 9, 1900)

Dear Marty,

Discerning your vocation is not a question of mapping out your entire life.  That’s what the devil wants you to think it’s about.  No one can map out their entire life, nor should we try (this would be to give in to the age-old temptation to “be like gods”).  Rather, we each need to live as Christ would have us day by day, fulfilling our duties, heeding our consciences, obeying the Church… And part of that is seeking to discover where God wants to station you in his Kingdom: the priesthood, the consecrated life, the married life, the single life.  A very important aspect of that discovery – a prerequisite, I would go so far to say – is your willingness to accept whatever God wants for you.  If you aren’t so willing, in your heart, in the depths of the soul, it will be a lot harder to distinguish God’s voice.  If someone doesn’t want to hear, God will rarely force them.  Maybe a quick look at today’s saints will help unclog your mental ears.

None of these seven Sisters of The Franciscan Missionaries of Mary considered herself material for martyrdom.  Three were from France, two from Italy, one from Belgium and one from Holland.  Five came from poor, peasant families, three had to overcome parental opposition in order to pursue their vocations, and four lost one or both parents when they were still children.  All eventually became members of this new religious congregation of missionaries, whose founders (auxiliary Bishop Francisco Fogolla of Shanxi and Mother Mary of the Passion) dreamed of sending apostles to China.  These seven were part of the first group.  They were sent to Shanxi in 1898, where they cared for the sick, ran an orphanage, and served the poor.  The conditions in which they worked were far from ideal.  They faced opposition because of racial and religious differences, cultural challenges, lack of material resources and support… And yet, they filled their days with eager work, serving Christ in each other and in their neighbors, with joy.  (In fact, the locals named the youngest of them, the Sister who was a nurse, “the-European-Sister-who-laughs-all-the-time.”)

Two years after the foundation, the Boxer Rebellion broke out, which, among other things, led to the violent repression of all Christian missionaries – at least 120 were killed.  When the violence began the bishop suggested that the Sisters flee to save their lives.  One of the Italians, Sister Chiara, answered: “Flee? No. We came to give our lives for God if needs be!”  And that they did – all seven of them (two were in their 20’s and five in their 30’s).  They were rounded up, imprisoned, and then beheaded on July 9th.

I can guarantee that none of them had planned such a glorious finish when they began to follow Christ down the path he had prepared for them.  Rather, they were so in love with Jesus, they trusted him so much, that they were willing to go wherever he deemed proper, one step at a time.  Pray for a heart as willing as theirs, my doughty nephew, and everything will become clear.

Your loving uncle,


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