Oct 19 – Memorial for Sts. John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, Priests, and Companions, martyrs; Memorial for St. Paul of the Cross, Priest
John de Brebeuf (1593–1649) was a French Jesuit. He wanted to enter the priesthood since young, but his health was so bad there were doubts he could make it. His posting as a missionary to frontier Canada at the age of 32 was a literal godsend. He spent the rest of his life there, and the harsh and hearty climate so agreed with him that the Natives, surprised at his endurance, called him “Echon”, which means “load bearer”. His massive size made them think twice about sharing a canoe with him for fear of sinking.
John had great difficulty learning the Huron language. “You may have been a famous professor or theologian in France,” he wrote in a letter home, “but here you will merely be a student, and with what teachers! The Huron language will be your Aristla crosse.” However, he eventually wrote a catechism in Huron, and a French-Huron dictionary for use by other missionaries.
According to the histories of the game, it was John who named the present-day version of the Indian game ‘lacrosse’ because the stick used reminded him of a bishop’s crosier (la crosse).
He was martyred in 1649, tortured to death by the Iroquois. By 1650, the Huron nation was exterminated, and the laboriously built mission was abandoned. But it proved to be “one of the triumphant failures that are commonplace in the Church’s history”. These martyrdoms created a wave of vocations and missionary fervour in France, and it gave new heart to the missionaries in New France.
– Patron Saint Index
Isaac Jogues (1607–1646) joined the Jesuits at Rouen, France in 1624. He was ordained a priest and taught literature. He became a missionary to New France (Canada) in 1636, starting in Quebec and working among the Hurons and Petuns in the area of the Great Lakes. This was a rough assignment – not only were the living conditions hard, but the locals blamed the ‘Blackrobes’ for any disease, ill luck, or other problems that occurred where they were.
He was captured on 3 August 1642 by the Mohawks, enslaved, tortured and mutilated for 13 months, but he taught the Faith to any who would listen. With the help of local Dutch settlers he finally escaped and was sent back to France to recover.
In 1644, he returned to Canada to continue his work with the natives and negotiate peace with the Iroquois. He was martyred with fellow Jesuit priest John de Brebeuf and several lay missionaries when the natives blamed Christian sorcery for an epidemic and crop failure. He is one of the North America Martyrs.
– Patron Saint Index
Paul of the Cross (1694–1775) was the son of a merchant and a pious youth. After receiving a vision and while still a layman, he founded the Congregation of Discalced Clerks of the Most Holy Cross and Passion (Passionists) in 1721 to preach about Jesus Crucified. He was a preacher of such power that hardened soldiers and bandits were seen to weep.
The community lived a penitential life, in solitude and poverty, teaching people in the easiest possible way how to meditate on the Passion of Jesus. He was ordained in 1727 along with his brother John Baptist by Pope Benedict XIII. After ordination, they devoted themselves to preaching missions in parishes, particularly in remote country places where there were insufficient priests pastorally involved. Their preaching apostolate and the retreats they gave in seminaries and religious houses brought their mission to the attention of others and gradually the community began to grow.
However, the austere life of the Passionists did not encourage large numbers and at one point all the brothers in the Order deserted him. But Paul preferred a slow, at times painful, growth to something more spectacular. In 1741 his Rule was approved by Pope Benedict XIV, and the community began to grow again.
During his lifetime, Paul of the Cross was best known as a popular preacher and a spiritual director. More than two thousand of his letters, most of them letters of spiritual direction, have been preserved. By the time of his death, the congregation had 80 fathers and brothers. He is considered among the greatest Catholic mystics of the 18th century.
– Patron Saint Index, Wikipedia
God’s justice that was made known through the Law and the Prophets has now been revealed outside the Law, since it is the same justice of God that comes through faith to everyone, Jew and pagan alike, who believes in Jesus Christ. Both Jew and pagan sinned and forfeited God’s glory, and both are justified through the free gift of his grace by being redeemed in Christ Jesus who was appointed by God to sacrifice his life so as to win reconciliation through faith. In this way God makes his justice known; first, for the past, when sins went unpunished because he held his hand, then, for the present age, by showing positively that he is just, and that he justifies everyone who believes in Jesus.
So what becomes of our boasts? There is no room for them. What sort of law excludes them? The sort of law that tells us what to do? On the contrary, it is the law of faith, since, as we see it, a man is justified by faith and not by doing something the Law tells him to do. Is God the God of Jews alone and not of the pagans too? Of the pagans too, most certainly, since there is only one God.
‘Alas for you who build the tombs of the prophets, the men your ancestors killed! In this way you both witness what your ancestors did and approve it; they did the killing, you do the building.
‘And that is why the Wisdom of God said, “I will send them prophets and apostles; some they will slaughter and persecute, so that this generation will have to answer for every prophet’s blood that has been shed since the foundation of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was murdered between the altar and the sanctuary.” Yes, I tell you, this generation will have to answer for it all.
‘Alas for you lawyers who have taken away the key of knowledge! You have not gone in yourselves, and have prevented others going in who wanted to.’
When he left the house, the scribes and the Pharisees began a furious attack on him and tried to force answers from him on innumerable questions, setting traps to catch him out in something he might say.
So what becomes of our boasts? There is no room for them.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is 55:8-9)
The readings today are truly confounding. Let us put aside what we already know, to step into the shoes of all who were present in the scene where Paul preached, or in the presence of Jesus as he denounced the Pharisees and lawyers. How might we feel?
In the letter to the Romans, Paul cautioned them against self-righteousness amongst themselves, whether Jews or pagans. It is not enough just to live within the bounds of the Law, for all have sinned and forfeited God’s glory. We understand this reasoning when we pause long enough to recognise even the minor wrongs we commit against our neighbours through gossip, judgmentalism, lies. It is not enough to be of the same Christian stock or label – for every person’s individual flaws and weaknesses are different. Paul tells us, “…both are justified through the free gift of his grace by being redeemed in Christ Jesus… so as to win reconciliation through faith” (Rm 3:24-25).
We must not be complacent and boast about our salvation simply because we outwardly profess our faith in Christ Jesus. This can become misguided and exclusionary. “What sort of law excludes them? The sort of law that tells us what to do? On the contrary, it is the law of faith, since, as we see it, a man is justified by faith and not by doing something the Law tells him to do…” (Rm 3:27-28)
Only God can look into the hearts of man. Even the holiest of men cannot see into the soul of another, though he may be able to discern it. This is what made Jesus furious as he lambasted the Pharisees and lawyers of the time. He accused them of the same sins as their ancestors, by “taking away the key of knowledge” (Lk 11:52). Jesus was referring to their wrongful gatekeeping of the faith and misrepresentation of the Laws.
Theirs was a love of the law of the Law, and not the the love of Love itself. By their interference, they became the obstacle between their fellow men and God – murdering prophets and apostles ‘between the altar and the sanctuary’. “You have not gone in yourselves, and have prevented others going in who wanted to.” (Lk 11:52).
Are there occasions where I have (through my zealousness or judgmentalism) unconsciously interfered in the gift of faith that God was working in someone’s life?
This is a moment for me to pause and contemplate what the words of scripture mean personally for me. It is not only by works; yet, it is not only by faith. Both can be superficial extremes which Jesus denounces. How I am called to act and respond in every moment, to each person, is a unique sensing of God’s Wisdom. God’s grace is always at work within me; may I not neglect the Holy Spirit in my daily life.
(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)
Prayer: Holy Spirit, help us to deepen our own spiritual sensing and hide our life with Christ; for even narrower is the gate to heaven for those with spiritual pride.
Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for this gift of faith I have received by your sacrifice.