Today, October 19, we celebrate the feast day of Saint Isaac Jogues (1607-1646) and seven companions, the first martyrs of North America. Each of these eight men—heroic and committed to the Word of God—served among the Native Indian tribes of North America, suffering harsh conditions and imprisonment, and following escape even decided to return and continue their missionary work. Due to their faith, endurance, and courage in the Lord, each earned the crown of martyrdom.
"I hope as I said on another occasion, that if you take this little affliction in a proper spirit, it will be most pleasing to God, for whose sake it would become you to give not only one son, but all the others, nay, life itself, if it were necessary. Men for a little gain cross the seas, enduring at least as much as we, and shall we not, for God's love do what men do for earthly interests?" He asked her prayers for a safe trip and added: "Goodbye, dear Mother, I thank you for all the affection which you have shown me, and above all at our last meeting. May God unite us in His Holy Paradise if we do not see each other again on earth!"
Father Jean de Brébeuf (1593-1649), who would teach him the language of the Hurons. Brebeuf earlier had written Instruction, a collection of data based on his years of living among the Hurons since 1625. His practical advice included tips for conduct: eating with the Indians, sharing their camps, caring for the ill in view of "medicine men's" feelings. It was "helpful for many situations," its introduction stated, "both the predictable and the unexpected."
Rene Goupil, were beaten with knotted sticks and fists, had their hair, beards and nails torn off and their forefingers bitten through. More difficult to bear was the cruelty practiced on their Christian converts who were mangled and killed before their eyes.
"Let not regard for us prevent you from doing that which is to the glory of God. The design of the Iroquois as far as I can see, is to take, if they can, all the Hurons; and having put to death the most considerable ones and a good part of the others, to make one nation of these poor people, several of whom are Christians, the others Catechumens and ready for baptism; when shall a remedy be applied to these misfortunes? I become more and more resolved to dwell here as long as it shall please Our Lord, and not to go away even though an opportunity should present itself. My presence consoles the French, the Hurons and the Algonquins. I have baptized more than sixty persons, several of whom have arrived in Heaven. That is my single consolation…”
John de La Lande, an experienced woodsman who had settled in the new world before offering to help the Jesuits. During the trip they learned the Mohawks were on the warpath again, having suffered a recent epidemic and calamitous crop failure. These events were blamed on a chest of vestments and books that Saint Isaac had left behind him when he visited them as French ambassador. Warriors set out in search of some Frenchman to kill and were delighted to captured Saint Isaac and his two companions (John de La Lande and one Huron guide). Given his appearance and dress, Saint Isaac was accused of being a sorcerer.
In total, eight North American martyrs are celebrated today. Along with Saint Isaac Jogues, Rene Goupil and Jean de La Lande, they are:
Jean de Brébeuf: Jean de Brébeuf was a French Jesuit who came to Canada at the age of 32 and labored there for 24 years. He went back to France when the English captured Quebec (1629) and expelled the Jesuits, but returned to his missions four years later. Although medicine men blamed the Jesuits for a smallpox epidemic among the Hurons, Jean remained with them. He composed catechisms and a dictionary in Huron, and saw 7,000 converted before his death. He was captured by the Iroquois and died after four hours of extreme torture at Sainte Marie, near Georgian Bay, Canada.
Father Anthony Daniel, working among Hurons who were gradually becoming Christian, was killed by Iroquois on July 4, 1648. His body was thrown into his chapel, which was set on fire.
Gabriel Lalemant had taken a fourth vow—to sacrifice his life to the Indians. He was horribly tortured to death along with Father Brébeuf.
Father Charles Garnier was shot to death as he baptized children and catechumens during an Iroquois attack.
Father Noel Chabanel was killed before he could answer his recall to France. He had found it exceedingly hard to adapt to mission life. He could not learn the language, the food and life of the Indians revolted him, plus he suffered spiritual dryness during his whole stay in Canada. Yet he made a vow to remain until death in his mission.
Each of these brave men committed their lives to the service of the Lord, and fulfilling their mission of spreading His Gospel. We pause, on the day that commemorates their lives, to examine our own lives—what could we be doing to spread the Word of God to those in need of salvation?
O God, who, by the work
of Saints John, Isaac, and their companions,
and by the outpouring of their blood,
willed to manifest the blessed hope of your eternal kingdom,
mercifully grant through their intercession,
that, in our own day,
the faith of Christians may strengthened.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.
For two days now I have experienced a great desire to be a martyr and to endure all the torments the martyrs suffered.
Jesus, my Lord and savior, what can I give you in return for all the favors you have first conferred on me? I will take from your hand the cup of your sufferings and call on your name. I vow before your eternal Father and the Holy Spirit, before your most holy Mother and her most chaste spouse, before the angels, apostles and martyrs, before my blessed fathers Saint Ignatius and Saint Francis Xavier-in truth I vow to you, Jesus my savior, that as far as I have the strength I will never fail to accept the grace of martyrdom, if some day you in your infinite mercy should offer it to me, your most unworthy servant.
I bind myself in this way so that for the rest of my life I will have neither permission nor freedom to refuse opportunities of dying and shedding my blood for you, unless at a particular juncture I should consider it more suitable for your glory to act otherwise at that time. Further, I bind myself to this so that, on receiving the blow of death, I shall accept it from your hands with the fullest delight and joy of spirit. For this reason, my beloved Jesus, and because of the surging joy which moves me, here and now I offer my blood and body and life. May I die only for you, if you will grant me this grace, since you willingly died for me. Let me so live that you may grant me the gift of such a happy death. In this way, my God and savior, I will take from your hand the cup of your sufferings and call on your name: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!
My God, it grieves me greatly that you are not known, that in this savage wilderness all have not been converted to you, that sin has not been driven from it. My God, even if all the brutal tortures which prisoners in this region must endure should fall on me, I offer myself most willingly to them and I alone shall suffer them all.
Year 2: Day 292 of 365
Prayer Intentions: Courage; The ability to become brave witnesses to Christ.
Requested Intentions: Successful work placement, continued health (A); Grace and healing for a family (P); Healing of a father (M); Academic success for son, employment for husband and brother (B); Freedom from anxiety and panic attacks (R); Health and healing in preparation for surgery (C); Healing of a chronic illness (P); Safety of a family during storms (A); Successful home ownership (P); Healing of a marriage (M); Employment for a husband, blessings for a marriage (E); Successful examinations for a daughter, healing of a relationships (V); Blessing for a family (V); Healing of baby girl M and all children suffering (M); Special intentions (R); Business success, peace, health (E); Conversion and deliverance of those who suffer, increase in vocations (M); Financial security and safe housing (M); For a daughter (K); Conversion of a family, deliverance of the souls in Purgatory (S); Successful marriage (A); Health, safety, grace, success of a building project (A); Successful treatment and recovery from cancer (D); Clear speech for a child (C); Conversion of a family (A); Successful employment (S); For the healing of impaired vision (F); For a couple experiencing difficulties (L); Successful employment after finishing college (M); Mother’s health (A); Financial security, freedom from anxiety (S).