You may have heard of the Knights Templar in scandal-invecting modern fiction such as The DaVinci Code, et al. Blessed John was a contemporary and was affected by the intrigues of King Phillip the Fair of France. We fear, through superstition, whenever the 13th of a month falls on a Friday thanks and due to Phillip’s persecution, unjustified, of the Knights Templar on Friday, October 13, 1307.
His most famous victim, Templar Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, cried out from the flames as he was burning March 18, 1314 about Pope Clement, who had acquiesced to Philip’s avaricious and power-seeking threats and demands, and Philip, who owed the Templars A LOT of money! Why pay them if you can just kill them and seize their property? The Templar Grand Master cried out from the flames that Pope Clement and King Philip would soon meet him before God: “Dieu sait qui a tort et a pëché. Il va bientot arriver malheur à ceux qui nous ont condamnés à mort” = “God knows who is wrong and has sinned. Soon a calamity will occur to those who have condemned us to death.” Pope Clement died only a month later, and King Philip died in a hunting accident before the end of the year.
-King Phillip IV (the Fair = pretty, not just), 1268-1314
Blessed John Duns Scotus, a Franciscan priest and theologian of the 13th century, next to St. Bonaventure, is perhaps the most important and influential theologian in the history of the Franciscan Order. He was the founder of the Scotistic School in Theology, and until the time of the French Revolution his thought dominated the Roman Catholic faculties of theology in nearly all the major universities of Europe. He is chiefly known for his theology on the Absolute Kingship of Jesus Christ, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and his philosophic refutation of the evolution of morality. The doctrines for which he is best known are the “univocity of being,” that existence is the most abstract concept we have, applicable to everything that exists; the formal distinction, a way of distinguishing between different aspects of the same thing; and the idea of haecceity, the property supposed to be in each individual thing that makes it an individual. Scotus also developed a complex argument for the existence of God.
Bl. John Duns Scotus was born in Duns, Berwickshire, Scotland, around 1265. He was immediately baptized after birth and was named after St. John the Evangelist. He received a solid Christian formation from home and from the parish priest. He frequented the Cistercian Abbey of Melrose for his catechism lessons. There, he absorbed the ardent love for the Mother of God which St. Bernard had left as a patrimony to the Cistercians.
As a little boy, Bl. John suffered very much from the obtuseness of his intellect. He wanted to read, to write and to study the profundity of the truths of the Faith, but his mind just could not manage to learn or understand anything. By means of with prayers and sighs, he had recourse to Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, asking her to heal his dullness so that he could advance in his studies. Mary appeared to him and granted his request. Going back to school, the “pea-brained” could only astonish his classmates and teachers. Bl. John resolved to make use of the heavenly gift of sublime intelligence, above all, to glorify the sweet and glorious Virgin Mary, treasurer of every good.
In Roman Catholicism, the epithet (in its positive sense, as in a title) “the Seat of Wisdom” or “Throne of Wisdom” (Sedes Sapientiae) is identified with one of many devotional titles for the Mother of God. In ancient times, authority “sat” and everyone else stood. That is why thrones were important. The only one(s) who sat were the most important ones in the room. We still carry this concept in our language as in “chairman”. In church or in Roman court, the judge sat, i.e. “all rise!”, and celebrants in church sat, parishioners stood. Universal pews in church are a recent Protestant invention. Thank you! You can still see evidence of this in the great cathedrals of Europe where impermanent wooden benches occupy the space previously for the standing congregation.
The phrase, “Seat of Wisdom”, which was characterized in the 11th and 12th centuries, by St Peter Damian and Guibert de Nogent as likening Mary to the Throne of Solomon, refers to her status as a vessel of the Incarnation, carrying the Holy Child. As the phrase associates the Blessed Virgin with glory and with teaching, Madonna-images in this tradition are especially popular in Catholic imagery.
Mary, Seat of Wisdom
In Christian iconography, Sedes Sapientiae (“The Throne of Wisdom”) is an icon of the Mother of God in majesty. When the Virgin is depicted in sedes sapientiae icons and sculptural representations, she is seated on a throne, with the Christ Child on her lap. This type of madonna-image, appeared in a wide range of sculptural and, later, painted images in Western Europe, especially about 1200.
In these representations, some structural elements of the throne invariably appear, even if only handholds and front legs. For hieratic purposes, the Virgin’s feet often rest on a low stool. Later, Gothic sculptures of the type are more explicitly identifiable with the Throne of Solomon, where: “…two lions stood, one at each hand. And twelve little lions stood upon the six steps on the one side and on the other.” (I Kings 10: 18–20, repeated at II Chronicles 9: 17–19) The Sedes Sapientiae icon also appeared in illuminated manuscripts, and Romanesque frescoes and mosaics, and was represented on seals.
-Madonna as Seat of Wisdom, January, 1199, poplar wood, from the Camaldolese abbey in Borgo San Sepolcro near Arezzo, Italy. The inscription reads, in part, “On the mother’s bosom shines the wisdom of the Father.”
At the age of 15, Bl. John entered the novititate of the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans) at Dumfries, in the Kingdom of Scotland. There he made praiseworthy progress day by day in piety and in seraphic virtue. After a year he consecrated himself to God by the religious profession of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. He was then sent for his studies in various theological schools of the Order. He was ordained a priest by Msgr. Oliver Sutton, Bishop of Lincoln, England, on March 17, 1291, at the church of St. Andrew of the Monks of Cluny. After his ordination, he began a series of travels between England and France to pursue advanced philosophical and theological studies.
The Blessed Virgin Appears to Bl. John
During the night of Christmas, 1299 at the Oxford Convent, Bl. John, immersed in his contemplation of the adorable mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, was rapt in ecstasy. The Blessed Mother appeared to him and placed on his arms the Child Jesus who kissed and embraced him fondly. This was perhaps the occasion which inspired Bl. John to write so profoundly and fluently on the absolute primacy of Christ and the reason for the Incarnation. Christ’s Incarnation, which is decreed from all eternity even apart from the Redemption, is the supreme created manifestation of God’s love.
Bl. John at the University of Oxford, England
-plaque, University Church, Oxford University, honoring Bl John Duns Scotus, OFM
After about four years of teaching at Oxford and Cambridge, at the end of 1301, Bl. John returned to Paris. He was granted his bachelor’s degree in theology. Later, on the vigil of receiving his doctorate, he had to leave France suddenly, to return to England. Philip, the Fair, in a disgraceful quarrel with Pope Boniface VIII demanded all clerics, nobles religious, bishops and the University of Paris to appeal to the Council against the Pope. Bl. John Duns Scotus, among the few members of the faculty, refused to accede to the wishes of the King, who wanted to tax the Church to finance his war with England, and chose the way of exile, sometime between the 25th and 28th of June 1308.
After a year, the situation abated and Bl. John was back again at the University of Paris where he received the doctorate in theology and thus inaugurated his official professorship which was to lead him to singular glory among the great medieval scholastics. Soon the fame of his genius and learning spread abroad and students came in great numbers to attend the lectures of the new master. On account of his habit of making refined distinctions during theologic argumentation, the title “Subtle Doctor”(Doctor Subtilis) was conferred on him by his contemporaries.
Rodulphus wrote of him: “There was nothing so recondite, nothing so abstruse that his keen mind could not fathom and clarify; nothing so knotty, that he like another Oedupus, could not unravel, nothing so fraught with difficulty or enveloped in darkness that his genius could not expound.” Another author wrote: “He described the Divine Nature as if he had seen God; the celestial spirits as if he had been an angel; the happiness of the future state as if he had enjoyed them; and the ways of Providence as if he had penetrated into its secrets.”
Bl. John’s Defense of the Immaculate Conception
It was also in Paris that Bl. John came to be called as the “Marian Doctor” after he championed the privilege of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. In England, Bl. John taught the truth of this Marian privilege without any opposition. But at Paris the situation was reversed. The academic body of the University admitted only the purification of Mary in the womb of Her mother St. Anne, like St. John the Baptist.
Alexander of Hales, St. Bonaventure, St. Thomas Aquinas, the great Parisian Masters, were not able to solve the problem of the universality of original sin and of the efficacy of Christ’s Redemption. They thought that even the Blessed Virgin Mary was included in this universality, and therefore subject to contract the original stain even if only for an instant, so that she may also be redeemed.
Scotus in his attempt to introduce and teach a theological position different from that upheld by the university, had to appear in a public dispute before the whole academic body, at the risk of expulsion from the university if he failed to defend his doctrine. Bl. John Scotus prepared himself for the event in prayer and recollection and in total confidence to the Immaculate Virgin, the Seat of Wisdom.
When the fixed day of the dispute arrived, on leaving the convent, he passed before a statue of Our Lady as we might pass before the photo of a loved one and recall them to mind, and with suppliant voice entreated her: “Allow me to praise You, O Most Holy Virgin; give me strength against your enemies.” Our Lady responded with a prodigious visible sign: the head of the statue moved and bowed slightly before him. It was as if to say: “Yes I will give you all the strength you need.”
Two Papal legates presided over the dispute. Then with powerful dialectic and with deep and subtle reasoning, Bl. Scotus refuted all the objections of the learned men in attendance, undermining the foundation of every argument contrary to Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Bl. John Scotus pointed out: “The Perfect Redeemer, must in some case, have done the work of redemption most perfectly, which would not be, unless there is some person, at least, in whose regard, the wrath of God was anticipated and not merely appeased.” Bl. John triumphed. From that day the University of Paris took up the same cause to defend this privilege of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The following hymn is a Christian hymn from the 4th century AD. It is one of the five antiphons for the psalms of Second Vespers for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec 8, nine months before the Feast of the Nativity of Mary, or the day Mary’s birthday is celebrated in the Church, Sep 8. It takes some text from the deutero-canonical book of Judith, and other text from Song of Songs (Solomon), specifically 4:7.
Tota pulchra es, Maria,
et macula originalis non est in te.
Vestimentum tuum candidum quasi nix, et facies tua sicut sol.
Tota pulchra es, Maria,
et macula originalis non est in te.
Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu laetitia Israel, tu honorificentia populi nostri.
Tota pulchra es, Maria.
You are all beautiful, Mary,
and the original stain [of sin] is not in you.
Your clothing is white as snow, and your face is like the sun.
You are all beautiful, Mary,
and the original stain [of sin] is not in you.
You are the glory of Jerusalem, you are the joy of Israel, you give honor to our people.
You are all beautiful, Mary.
Bl. John’s Death and Beatification
Bl. John Duns Scotus had to leave the university at Paris one more time, partly for some political reasons and partly because some doubts had been cast on his theology by opponents. The Franciscan Minister General sent Scotus to Cologne, Germany, where he lectured for some time in the Franciscan house of studies until his untimely death on 8th November, 1308, barely 43 years of age. He was called “blessed” almost immediately after his death.
Bl John Duns Scotus is buried in the Church of the Franciscans in Cologne, Germany. His sarcophagus bears the Latin inscription: “Scotia me genuit. Anglia me suscepit. Gallia me docuit. Colonia me tenet. = “Scotland brought me forth. England sustained me. France taught me. Cologne holds me.” According to an old tradition, Scotus was believed eventually to have been buried alive following his lapse into a coma, a common hazard until modern times, i.e. Edgar Allen Poe.
Through the centuries his tomb has been visited by large numbers of the faithful and public veneration has been offered to him in the dioceses of Edinburgh, Scotland, Nola, Italy, and Cologne, Germany, as well as throughout the Order of Friars Minor (the Franciscans).
The Dunce Cap
The word “dunce” comes from the name of John Duns Scotus, a Scholastic, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholasticism ,whose followers were called “duns” or “dunsmen”. Duns Scotus wrote treatises on grammar, logic, and metaphysics which were widely used as textbooks in the medieval British universities. As the English Renaissance began and the new learning superseded Duns Scotus’ theories, his adherents remained loyal. The word “dunce” then began to be used by humanists to ridicule the Scholastics, gradually acquiring its modern meaning.
Frequently the ‘dunce’ was made to stand in the corner (I remember having to do this, sans the cap), facing the wall as the result of some bad behavior, usually rudeness or mean threatening actions. Depending on the teacher, they might have to stand for as long as half an hour and throwers of spitballs or pulling on a girl’s hair (Heaven!:) could prompt the measure. Class clowns were frequently admonished with the dunce cap. Who? Me? C’est moi.
Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception & Beatification of John Duns Scotus
In 1854, Pope Pius IX solemnly declared that the Marian doctrine of Bl. John , was a correct expression of the faith of the Apostles: “at the first moment of Her conception, Mary was preserved free from the stain of original sin, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ.” The seal of the Church’s approval was also placed on Bl. John’s doctrine on the universal primacy of Christ when the feast of Christ the King was instituted in 1925. On March 20, 1992 Bl. John Duns Scotus was beatified by Pope John Paul II at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Bl. John Duns Scotus, “The minstrel of the Word Incarnate” and “Defender of Mary’s Immaculate Conception” is presented by Pope John Paul II to our age “wealthy of human, scientific and technological resources, but in which many have lost the sense of faith and lead lives distant from Christ and His Gospel,” as “a Teacher of thought and life.” For the Church, Bl John is “an example of fidelity to the revealed truth, of effective, priestly, and serious dialogue in search for unity.” It was also the Holy Father’s hope that “Bl John’s spirit and memory enlighten with the very light of Christ the trials and hope of our society.”
-Bl John Duns Scotus
Intercession of Mary, Seat of Wisdom, is often wisely sought out by students. You know of my particular sympathy/affection for students, especially the ones who have to work a little, or a lot, harder for satisfactory results. God does work miracles! Deo gratias! It’s a miracle! (With a little help from humane professors!)
Prayer of Students to Mary, Seat of Wisdom
Under your patronage, dear Mother, and calling on the mystery of your Immaculate Conception, I desire to pursue my studies and my literary works: I hereby solemnly declare that I am giving myself to these studies chiefly with the following goal: that I may the better contribute to the glory of God and to the promotion of your veneration among men. I ask you, therefore, most loving Mother, who are the Seat of Wisdom, to bless my work in your loving-kindness. I also promise with true affection and a willing spirit, as it is right that I should do, to ascribe all the good that shall come to me from my studies, wholly to your intercession for me in God’s holy presence.
Consecration of Students to Mary, Seat of Wisdom
O Mary, Seat of Wisdom, so many persons of common intellect have made, through your intercession, admirable progress in their studies.
I hereby choose you as guardian and patron of my studies. I humbly ask you to obtain for me the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that from now on I could understand more quickly, retain more readily, and express myself more fluently. May the example of my life serve to honor you and your Son, Jesus. Amen.
Prayer of Thanksgiving for the wisdom Blessed John Duns Scotus
Heavenly Father, you filled Bl. John Duns Scotus with wisdom, and through his life and teaching gave us a witness of Your Incarnate love. May we come to understand more deeply what he taught so that we may live in ever growing charity. Amen.
Prayer for the Canonization of Blessed John Duns Scotus
O Most High, Almightily and gracious Lord, Who exalts the humble and confounds the proud of heart, grant us the great joy of seeing Blessed John Duns Scotus canonized. He honored Your Son with the most sublime praises; he was the first to successfully defend the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary; he lived in heroic obedience to the Holy Father, to the Church and to the Seraphic Order. O most holy Father, God of Infinite Love, hear, we beseech You, our humble prayer, thorough the merits of Your Only-Begotten Son and His Mother, the Gate of Heaven, Seat of Wisdom, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“The learned will shine like the brilliance of the firmament, and those who train many in the way of justice will sparkle like the stars for all eternity.” -Daniel 12:3
On Friday, November 4, 2011, the Holy Father celebrated Vespers in a very full St. Peter’s Basilica to open the new academic year for all of the Pontifical Universities in Rome. Vespers was celebrated on the feast of St. Charles Borromeo, the patron saint of seminary studies. Although the Pontifical Universities are attended by seminaries, religious, and the lay faithful, the Pope chose to address his comments particularly to the spiritual and academic formation of priests.
In his homily, the Pope spoke especially on the conditions necessary for a priest to be fruitful in his ministry to shepherd the community. The Pope underlined three factors that aid a priest’s ability to grow in accord with Christ in his own priestly life. First, he must encounter the Lord Jesus, he must be struck by the very person of Christ, his words and actions. The priest must be “affascinato”–fascinated with–the person of Christ. In this way, he is capable of hearing Jesus’ voice above all of the voices of the world. The priest is called to be the instrument of Christ’s presence into his own time, but he can do so only by that intimate relation with Jesus Christ that is friendship.
Second, priests are called to be “amministratori dei Misteri di Dio”–administrators of the mysteries of God, not for themselves alone but for the people of God. Just as the priest himself is chosen by God in the sacrament of Ordination, so he must choose daily to give himself over to the love of God and of neighbor. To be a priest is to follow in the complete self-gift of the love of Christ expressed on the cross, remembering that growth in ministry is characterized not by success but by the cross.
Finally, the logic of the foregoing means that what it means to be a priest is to serve, especially in the example of one’s own life. This life of service is shown especially in the priest’s careful attention to his flock, his faithful celebration of the liturgy, and his ready solicitude for all his brethren, especially the poor. It is in living a life of “carità pastorale”–pastoral charity–that the priest truly lives his vocation.
Thank You, tremendously! And, God Bless You in all you do and the lives you have given for the Lord and His People! Your reward will be GREAT in Heaven!
-St James of the Marche,~1625 AD, by Francisco Zuraban, oil on canvas, Height: 291 cm (114.6 in). Width: 165 cm (65 in), Prado Museum
The self-inflicted wound is always the dearest (most costly). I am well acquainted. Well acquainted.
I LOOOOOOOOVE BEING A CATECHIST!!!!!! So far, I want my epitaph, very fashionable to write your own, to read: engineer, entrepreneur (still working on that one), CATECHIST!!!!!!!!, & Mt 25:20. JPII posited, and I agree, unleash an army of dedicated catechists on the world and it will be converted. The message is the power, we are only messengers. But, they still shoot messengers, don’t they. Regardless of how profoundly imperfect the messenger (me), the Message IS PERFECT!!!!!
When preparing the confirmandi for the sacrament of Christian adulthood, it is required they know the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit they are about to receive through supernatural grace: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude (courage), knowledge, piety, and holy fear of the Lord – which is the beginning of wisdom.
I have come to a much deeper, more personal knowledge of fortitude, and what that gift of the Holy Spirit means, of late, as I am sure have most Catholics who continue to practice the Faith and are not in denial or willful ignorance.
For the past ten years, going to Mass I have felt and still feel distinctly like Alice in Wonderland and the Queen of Hearts is having a bad day. No apologies to Lewis Carroll (Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) who was a pedophile. Why do you think he wrote the book? I learned this from former Cook County detective, and now international consultant on child trafficking, Robert Hugh Farley. See all the wonderful things I get to learn? Sleep like the dead? References to Carroll are used in chat rooms and in person by the depraved as a sort of code their fellow felons will comprehend.
For ten years I have gone to Mass as internationally billions were paid, priests were defrocked, arrested, sentenced to prison for the rest of their short natural lives, a bishop was indicted, international criminal court charges of crimes against humanity were filed at the Hague, multiple international government reports issued and never once have I heard this Truth addressed in any meaningful way from the pulpit. Not a blip. Not a burp. Not a wiggle from the pulpit, save Old St Pat’s, to their credit and courage. Silence. I realize there have been exceptions, and I have not attended every homily, yet, still, in general, a profoundly disconcerting level of silence given the magnitude of “the situation”. Disturbing, disturbing.
I realize the ears of many of my fellow Catholics would bleed should a celebrant have the courage to speak such truth to power during Mass, but, the Truth is a b****, ain’t she? Apologies, ladies. Cultural milieu, and all that jazz, you know. No offense intended.
We can pray for the repose of the soul of Moammar Ghadafi or some other nonsense I regularly hear in the Prayers of the Faithful together as a community in our worship space, a horrible Muslim dictator, but not deal with our own s***? Knave of Hearts, pray tell, where are the Queen’s tarts? As if nothing was going on? As if we would not notice? Yet, we play with the words of the Mass? Nero, where’s that violin? Maddening. Absolutely maddening. We applaud positive financial status updates from the pulpit, but never sermons? That assumes there would be, are, were sermons worth applauding? The celebrant gets up to the pulpit and says, “Be nice!” 🙁 St John Chrysostom, pray for us! Comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable?
Each time another shoe would drop, and those shoes are GIANTS, I thought to myself every Sunday, “OK, now they HAVE TO SAY SOMETHING!!!!!” Nope. But, nothing stopped the big, important collections. Those HAD to go on without a hitch. God help us all. He will have to. Not the soul murder of children, the ripping away of their innocence, not the utter destruction, literally, of lives, of families, not the obfuscation, not the dissembling, not the obstruction of justice, not the bs, not the payouts, not the abounding stupidity & insanity. Nothing. Where is the virtue of fortitude? Holy Spirit gift #4!!!!!???? Mt 23:3
I must give credit to Old St Pat’s though for at least having the courage to speak of the issue, if not to it. One-third of the country still cannot accept the current President was born in the US, so sanity and rational behavior I am not expecting. (Pssssst…let you in on a little secret…non-white people have, actually, been born in this country, and, according to the Constitution, are legally eligible to be President of the USA. Shocker. The Union won! Ad victorem spolias! Your mileage may vary.)
I really start to wonder if Jesus had any doubts? Regrets? How tormenting they must have been. I cannot, dare not attempt to imagine. The Agony in the Garden has always been one of my most favorite meditations. How could it not be? For anyone? Who is human and has a pulse?
The observant viewer of Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, will note that in the garden scene, one manifestation of the agony of Jesus was the tiny blotches of blood that surfaced on His facial skin. This feature of Christ’s suffering is alluded to by Luke, the author of the New Testament books of Luke and Acts, who himself, by profession, was a physician. His writings manifest an intimate acquaintance with the technical language of the Greek medical schools of Asia Minor.
Of the four gospel writers, only Dr. Luke referred to Jesus’ ordeal as “agony” (agonia). It is because of this agony over things to come that we learn during His prayer “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Only Luke referred to Jesus’ sweat (idros)—a much-used term in medical language. And only Luke referred to Jesus’ sweat as consisting of great drops of blood (thromboi haimatos).
A thorough search of the medical literature demonstrates that such a condition, while admittedly rare, does occur in humans. Commonly referred to as hematidrosis or hemohidrosis (Allen, 1967, pp. 745-747), this condition results in the excretion of blood or blood pigment in the sweat. Under conditions of great emotional stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can rupture (Lumpkin, 1978), thus mixing blood with perspiration. This condition has been reported in extreme instances of stress (see Sutton, 1956, pp. 1393-1394).
During the waning years of the twentieth century, 76 cases of hematidrosis were studied and classified into categories according to causative factors: “Acute fear and intense mental contemplation were found to be the most frequent inciting causes” (Holoubek and Holoubek, 1996). While the extent of blood loss generally is minimal, hematidrosis also results in the skin becoming extremely tender and fragile (Barbet, 1953, pp. 74-75; Lumpkin, 1978), which would have made Christ’s pending physical insults even more painful.
From these factors, it is evident that even before Jesus endured the torture of the cross, He suffered far beyond what most of us will ever suffer. His penetrating awareness of the heinous nature of sin, its destructive and deadly effects, the sorrow and heartache that it inflicts, and the extreme measure necessary to deal with it, make the passion of Christ beyond all comprehension.
Age and experience have only added/continue to add to the profundity of the Agony’s contemplation for me. I have to do what? For whom? Father, U R NUTS!!!!!! I AM outta here! Amen.
I am told from those who have been to the Gethsemane, there is a little path with which one can slip out unseen, unnoticed and anyone in a situation like the Lord’s, knowing they were about to be betrayed and fully comprehending what that meant and what “justice” they were likely to receive could have been long gone, quickly & easily. See what Love can do? For the profoundly unworthy? Like me.
noun Sociology. a consequence of a social practice or behavior pattern that undermines the stability of a social system. I n s a n i t y.
WWJD? Jesus would say, “WTF?” Kyrie eleison. Kyrie eleison.
Tragically, in these times of economic hardship, it seems perversely appropriate, ironic, to introduce ourselves ourselves to St James of the Marche, one of the fathers of the modern pawnshop.
James Gangala was born in the Marche of Ancona, in central Italy along the Adriatic Sea. After earning doctorates in canon and civil law at the University of Perugia, he joined the Friars Minor (Conventuals) and began a very austere life. He fasted nine months of the year; he slept three hours a night. St. Bernardine of Siena told him to moderate his penances.
James studied theology with St. John of Capistrano. Ordained in 1420, James began a preaching career that took him all over Italy and through 13 Central and Eastern European countries. James preached penance and conversion and combated heresy.
The Fraticelli/Zelanti/Spirituals were medieval Roman Catholic groups that could trace their origins to the Franciscans, but which came into being as a separate entity. The Fraticelli were declared heretical by the Church in 1296 by Boniface VIII.
The Fraticelli (“Little Brethren”) were extreme proponents of the rule of Saint Francis of Assisi, especially with regard to poverty, and regarded the wealth of the Church as scandalous, and that of individual churchmen as invalidating their status. They were thus forced into open revolt against the whole authority of the Church. Umberto Eco’s novel The Name of the Rose is set against the persecution of Fraticelli.
In 1394, Pope Martin V nominated St. John Capistran (27 May) and St. James of the March (11 October) as inquisitors general to take action against the Fraticelli. These promoters of order among the Franciscans fulfilled the duties of their office strictly and energetically and succeeded in striking at the very vitals of the sect. In 1415, the city of Florence had formally banished the “Fraticelli of the poor life, the followers of Michelino of Cesena of infamous memory”, and in Lucca five Fraticelli, on trial, had solemnly abjured their error (1411).
Friar James was an extremely popular preacher and converted many people (250,000 at one estimate) and helped spread devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. His sermons prompted numerous Catholics to reform their lives and many men joined the Franciscans under his influence.
With John of Capistrano, Albert of Sarteano and Bernardine of Siena, James is considered one of the “four pillars” of the Observant movement among the Franciscans. These friars became known especially for their preaching.
To combat extremely high interest rates, James established montes pietatis (literally, mountains of charity) — nonprofit credit organizations that lent money at very low rates on pawned objects.
Enemies & assassination attempts
Not everyone was happy with the work James did. King Tvrtko II of Bosnia and particularly Queen Dorothea tried to poison him. Twice assassins lost their nerve when they came face to face with him. He is generally represented holding in his right hand a chalice, out of which a snake is escaping – an allusion to some endeavors of heretics to poison him, using the chalice with which he would celebrate Mass. James was buried in Naples in the Franciscan church of St. Maria la Nuova, where his body is still to be seen.
James wanted the word of God to take root in the hearts of his listeners. His preaching was directed to preparing the soil, so to speak, by removing any rocks and softening up lives hardened by sin. God’s intention is that his word take root in our lives, but for that we need both prayerful preachers and cooperative listeners.
“Beloved and most holy word of God! You enlighten the hearts of the faithful, you satisfy the hungry, console the afflicted; you make the souls of all productive of good and cause all virtues to blossom; you snatch souls from the devil’s jaw; you make the wretched holy, and men of earth citizens of heaven” -sermon of St. James of the Marche
On the feast of Saint James of the Marches, we pray for the fortitude, steadfastness, and endurance that this holy man displayed each day of his life in defense of the Faith and of Holy Mother Church. Saint James of the Marche, pray for us! 2 Tim 4:7, “Keep the Faith!” -Mary D. McCormick. “Young man, get your ass to Mass!” – (Pfc) Robert L. McCormick (USMC, 1942-1946, Ret), when as a college student I had temporarily stopped attending Mass.
A Prayer for Fortitude
O Holy Spirit, who descended upon the twelve as they stood in anxiety, come unto me in my endeavors. Banish from my heart all timidity and false pride; strengthen my soul to avoid all sin, to practice virtue, and to prefer ridicule to the denial of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Let not the goodness of purity, obedience and charity be obscured in the face of adversity. Instill in me the virtue of Fortitude so that I may courageously profess and practice my holy Catholic faith. Open my eyes, O Holy Spirit, that I may recognize my state in life. Give me the confidence to embrace it and the strength to live it as a son of God. I pray that Your guidance, protection and consolation may be with me now and throughout my life. Amen.
Originally celebrated liturgically as Our Lady of Victory, Pope St. Pius V established this feast in 1573. The purpose was to thank God for the victory of Christians over the Turks at Lepanto—a victory attributed to the praying of the rosary. Clement XI extended the feast to the universal Church in 1716.
The Battle of Lepanto took place on 7 October 1571 when a galley fleet of the Holy League, a coalition of the Republic of Venice, the Papacy (under Pope Pius V), Spain (including Naples, Sicily and Sardinia), the Republic of Genoa, the Duchy of Savoy, the Knights Hospitaller and others, decisively defeated the main fleet of Ottoman war galleys.
The five-hour battle was fought at the northern edge of the Gulf of Patras, off western Greece, where the Ottoman forces sailing westwards from their naval station in Lepanto met the Holy League forces, which had come from Messina, on the morning of Sunday, 7 October. Their victory gave the Holy League temporary control over the Mediterranean, protected Rome from invasion, and prevented the Ottomans from advancing into Europe. This last major naval battle fought solely between rowing vessels was one of the world’s decisive battles “in history, inasmuch as ‘after Lepanto the pendulum swung back the other way and the wealth began to flow from East to West, a pattern that continues to this day'”, as well “as a ‘crucial turning point in the ongoing conflict between the Middle East and Europe, which has not yet completely been resolved.'” -Serpil Atamaz Hazar, “Review of Confrontation at Lepanto: Christendom vs. Islam,” The Historian 70.1 (Spring 2008): 163.
– by Fernando Bertelli, Die Seeschlacht von Lepanto, Venedig 1572, Museo Storico Navale, (550×500), this particular painting occupies a prominent position at one end of the Hall of Maps, in the Vatican Museums, Rome.
The engagement was a crushing defeat for the Ottomans, who had not lost a major naval battle since the fifteenth century. In total, the Turks lost some 210 vessels – 80 sunk and 130 captured. The Turks lost thirty thousand men, with another 3500 captured. The Holy League had suffered around 7,500 soldiers, sailors and rowers dead, but freed about as many Christian prisoners. On the Christian side 20 galleys were destroyed and 30 were damaged so seriously that they had to be scuttled. One Venetian galley was the only one kept by the Turks. All others were abandoned by them and recaptured.
Prior to the battle, the Christians having lost twice before at this same location, made special processions in Rome to the Blessed Virgin. Christians were asked to pray the Rosary for victory. The triumph was credited to Our Lady of the Rosary.
-“Battle of Lepanto”, by Andrea Vicentino, 1603, oil on canvas, Palazzo Ducale, Venice
Americans know that in 1492 Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue,” but how many know that in the same year the heroic Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the Moors in Grenada? Americans would also probably recognize 1588 as the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada by Francis Drake and the rest of Queen Elizabeth’s pirates. It was a tragedy for the Catholic kingdom of Spain and a triumph for the Protestant British Empire, and the defeat determined the kind of history that would one day be taught in American schools: Protestant British history.
As a result, 1571, the year of the battle of Lepanto, the most important naval contest in human history, is not well known to Americans. October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, celebrates the victory at Lepanto, the battle that saved the Christian West from defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.
That this military triumph is also a Marian feast underscores our image of the Blessed Virgin prefigured in the Canticle of Canticles: “Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?” In October of 1564, the Viziers of the Divan of the Ottoman Empire assembled to urge their sultan to prepare for war with Malta. “Many more difficult victories have fallen to your scimitar than the capture of a handful of men on a tiny little island that is not well fortified,” they told him. Their words were flattering but true. During the five-decade reign of Soleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire grew to its fullest glory, encompassing the Caucuses, the Balkans, Anatolia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Soleiman had conquered Aden, Algiers, Baghdad, Belgrade, Budapest, Rhodes, and Temesvar. His war galleys terrorized not only the Mediterranean Sea, but the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf as well. His one defeat was at the gates of Vienna in 1529.
The Holy League
In a papacy of great achievements, the greatest came on March 7, 1571, on the feast of his fellow Dominican, St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. At the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, Pope Pius formed the Holy League. Genoa, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of Spain put aside their jealousies and pledged to assemble a fleet capable of confronting the sultan’s war galleys before the east coast of Italy became the next front in the war between the Christianity and Islam.
The man chosen by Pius V to serve as Captain General of the Holy League did not falter: Don John of Austria, the illegitimate son of the late Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and half-brother of Philip II, King of Spain. The young commander had distinguished himself in combat against Barbary corsairs and in the Morisco rebellion in Spain, a campaign in which he demonstrated his capacity for swift violence when the threat called for it and restraint when charity demanded it.
He was a great horseman, a great swordsman, and a great dancer. With charm, wit, and good looks in abundance, he was popular among the ladies of court. Since childhood he had cultivated a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He spoke Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish, and kept a pet marmoset and a lion cub that slept at the foot of his bed. He was twenty-four years old.
Taking the young warrior by the shoulders, Pius V looked Don John of Austria in the eye and declared, “The Turks, swollen by their victories, will wish to take on our fleet, and God—I have the pious presentiment—will give us victory. Charles V gave you life. I will give you honor and greatness. Go and seek them out!”
The Divine Breath
It was. At dawn on October 7, 1571, the Holy League rowed down the west coast of Greece and turned east into the Gulf of Patras. When the morning mist cleared, the Christians, rowing directly against the wind, saw the squadrons of the larger Ottoman fleet arrayed like a crescent from shore to shore, bearing down on them under full sail.
As the fleets grew closer, the Christians could hear the gongs and cymbals, drums and cries of the Turks. The men of the Holy League quietly pulled at their oars, the soldiers stood on the decks in silent prayer. Priests holding large crucifixes marched up and down the decks exhorting the men to be brave and hearing final confessions.
And, then the Blessed Mother intervened…
Our Lady of Victory,
Victorious daughter of the Father,
Victorious Mother of the Son,
Victorious Spouse of the Holy Spirit,
Victorious servant of the Holy Trinity
Victorious in your Immaculate Conception,
Victorious in crushing the serpent’s head,
Victorious over all the children of Adam,
Victorious over all enemies,
Victorious in your response to the Angel Gabriel,
Victorious in your wedding to St. Joseph,
Victorious in the birth of Christ,
Victorious in the flight to Egypt,
Victorious in your exile,
Victorious in your home at Nazareth,
Victorious in finding Christ in the temple,
Victorious in the mission of your Son,
Victorious in His passion and death,
Victorious in His Resurrection and Ascension,
Victorious in the Coming of the Holy Spirit,
Victorious in your sorrows and joys,
Victorious in your glorious Assumption,
Victorious in the angels who remained faithful,
Victorious in the happiness of the saints,
Victorious in the message of the prophets,
Victorious in the testimony of the patriarchs,
Victorious in the zeal of the apostles,
Victorious in the witness of the evangelists,
Victorious in the wisdom of the doctors,
Victorious in the deeds of the confessors,
Victorious in the triumph of all holy women,
Victorious in the faithfulness of the martyrs,
Victorious in your powerful intercession,
Victorious under your many titles,
Victorious at the moment of death,
(Below are some excerpts of the older rite which, in certain instances, I find more poetic/dramatic than the current one. Please also see attached pictures.)
“Ego te baptizo in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti.” I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Priest: “What name do you give your child?”
Parents: “Mara Constance”
Priest: “What do you ask of the Church of God?”
Priest: “What does Faith offer?”
Parents: “Life everlasting”
Priest: “If then you desire her to enter into life, teach this child to keep the commandments. ‘You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ “
Priest: “Go forth from her, unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete.”
The priest now makes the Sign of the Cross with his thumb on the child’s forehead and breast.
Priest: “Mara Constance, receive the Sign of the Cross both upon your forehead + and also upon your heart +; take to you the faith of the heavenly precepts; and so order your life as to be, from henceforth, the temple of God.”
Priest: “Let us pray: mercifully hear our prayers, we beseech You, O Lord; and by Your perpetual assistance keep this Your elect, Mara Constance, signed with the sign of the Lord’s cross, so that, preserving this first experience of the greatness of Your glory, she may deserve, by keeping Your commandments, to attain to the glory of life everlasting. Through Christ our Lord….”
Priest: “Do you reject Satan?”
Parents (answering for child): “I do reject him.”
Priest: “And all his works?”
Parents: “I do reject them.”
Priest: “And all his pomps?”
Parents: “I do reject them.”
Priest: “Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth?”
Parents: “I do believe.”
Priest: Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, Who was born and Who suffered?”
Parents: “I do believe.”
Priest: “Do you believe in the Holy Ghost, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting?”
Parents: “I do believe.”
Priest: “Receive this white garment, Mara Constance. Never let it become stained, so that when you stand before the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ, you may enter into life everlasting. Amen.”
Priest: “Receive this burning light, Mara Constance, and keep the grace of your Baptism throughout a blameless life. Observe the commandments of God. Then, when the Lord comes to His heavenly wedding feast, you will be able to meet Him with all the Saints in the halls of heaven, and live for ever and ever. Amen.”
-martyrdom of St Hippolytus, Boston Museum of Fine Arts (please click on the image for greater detail)
I love the story of Callistus & Hippolytus. It is a story of schism, of fracture, of falling out, of bad feeling, of denial of authority, and of ultimate reconciliation.
Hippolytus was one of the most prolific writers of the early Church, an early Christian theologian and scholar, writing against the heresies of Gnosticism and Montanism. He is noted especially for his work “The Apostolic Tradition”, which describes the liturgical customs of the early Roman Church from the third century AD and before.
Hippolytus was a rigorist, meaning he did not believe that sins after baptism could be forgiven. The Emperor Constantine himself had delayed his own baptism until his death bed for this reason. As an extension of this thinking, Hippolytus opposed readmitting those Christians who had committed heresy or who had apostatized under persecution back into the Church.
Callistus was a slave in the imperial Roman household. Put in charge of the bank by his master, he lost the money deposited, fled and was caught. After serving time for a while, he was released to make some attempt to recover the money. Apparently he carried his zeal too far, being arrested for brawling in a Jewish synagogue. This time he was condemned to work in the mines of Sardinia. He was released through the influence of the emperor’s mistress and lived at Anzio (site of a famous World War II beachhead).
After winning his freedom, Callistus was made superintendent of the public Christian burial ground in Rome (still called the cemetery of St. Callistus), probably the first land owned by the Church. The pope ordained him a deacon and made him his friend and advisor.
Callistus was elected pope by a majority vote of the clergy and laity of Rome, and thereafter was bitterly attacked by the losing candidate, Hippolytus. Hippolytus was very upset with the popes of his day that they were so lenient on returning heretics and apostates, who had denied the faith, said anything and done anything to save their own skin during the Roman persecutions up to that time. Hippolytus attacked Callistus on two fronts—doctrine and discipline.
Hippolytus seems to have exaggerated the distinction between Father and Son (almost making two gods) possibly because theological language had not yet been refined. He also accused Callistus of being too lenient, for reasons we may find surprising: (1) Callistus admitted to Holy Communion those who had already done public penance for murder, adultery, fornication; (2) he held marriages between free women and slaves to be valid—contrary to Roman law; (3) he authorized the ordination of men who had been married two or three times; (4) he held that mortal sin was not a sufficient reason to depose a bishop; (5) he held to a policy of leniency toward those who had temporarily denied their faith during persecution. Hippolytus had his followers elect him anti-pope, and began to appoint his own bishops, trying to establish a counter, parallel church.
Ultimately, Callistus was martyred during a local disturbance in Trastevere, Rome, and is the first pope (except for Peter) to be commemorated as a martyr in the earliest martyrology of the Church.
Ironically, Hippolytus was arrested during the following Roman persecution for being a Christian, albeit a schismatic one, and sentenced to hard labor in the mines of Sardinia. Those men so sentenced, and only men were sentenced to such a cruel fate, had their left Achilles tendon cauterized so they could not escape, had their right eye plucked out, and were castrated. Not only imprisoned, but also mutilated, the many Christian men sentenced to this cruel fate continued to share their faith with their fellow prisoners.
Also condemned to this cruel fate was the current Pope at the time, Pope St. Pontian. Pontian and Hippolytus met in their mutual misery. Hippolytus recanted and repented of his former schism. St Hippolytus, the only anti-pope ever canonized by the Church, died a martyr for the faith alongside his friend and confessor, Pope St Pontian.
-“The Torture of St. Hippolyte”, by Dieric Bouts the Elder, after 1468, oil on wood, 90 x 89.2 cm, St Salvator Cathedral, Bruges, Belgium
-crypt of Pope St Callistus I
“Christ, like a skillful physician, understands the weakness of men…He is easily found by those who live by faith.” -St. Hippolytus
“The world is a sea, in which the Church is set, like a ship tossed in the deep, but not destroyed. For she has with her the skilled Pilot, Christ.” -St Hippolytus of Rome
Prayer to St Callistus
O slave become Shepherd of the Universal Church,
firmly you defended her teaching
and recognized that all sins may be forgiven by the Lord, through her.
Martyr for the faith, pray we too remain firm
through all the difficult trials and temptations of this life.
O that by such incorrupt faith and unshaken courage,
may we be raised from the dust,
to rejoice with you before the Lord. Amen.
Easter Prayer of St. Hippolytus
Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate
Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen
Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing
Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty
Christ is Risen – indeed from the dead,
the first of the sleepers,
Glory and power are His forever and ever. Amen.
I love the zeal of St Anthony Mary Claret. The “spiritual father of Cuba” was a missionary, religious founder, social reformer, queen’s chaplain, writer and publisher, archbishop and refugee. He was a Spaniard whose work took him to the Canary Islands, Cuba, Madrid, Paris and to the First Vatican Council.
In his spare time as weaver and designer in the textile mills of Barcelona, he learned Latin and printing: the future priest and publisher was preparing. Ordained at 28, he was prevented by ill health from entering religious life as a Carthusian or as a Jesuit, but went on to become one of Spain’s most popular preachers.
He spent 10 years giving popular missions and retreats, always placing great emphasis on the Eucharist and devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. His rosary, it was said, was never out of his hand. At 42, beginning with five young priests, he founded a religious institute of missionaries, known today as the Claretians.
He was appointed to head the much-neglected archdiocese of Santiago in Cuba. He began its reform by almost ceaseless preaching and hearing of confessions, and suffered bitter opposition mainly for stamping out concubinage and giving instruction to black slaves. A hired assassin (whose release from prison Anthony had obtained) slashed open his face and wrist. Anthony succeeded in getting the would-be assassin’s death sentence commuted to a prison term. His solution for the misery of Cubans was family-owned farms producing a variety of foods for the family’s own needs and for the market. This invited the enmity of the vested interests who wanted everyone to work on a single cash crop—sugar. Besides all his religious writings are two books he wrote in Cuba: Reflections on Agriculture and Country Delights.
He was called back to Spain for a job he did not relish—being chaplain for the queen. He went on three conditions: He would reside away from the palace, he would come only to hear the queen’s confession and instruct the children and he would be exempt from court functions. In the revolution of 1868, he fled with the queen’s party to Paris, where he preached to the Spanish colony.
All his life Anthony was interested in the Catholic press. He founded the Religious Publishing House, a major Catholic publishing venture in Spain, and wrote or published 200 books and pamphlets.
At Vatican I, where he was a staunch defender of the doctrine of infallibility, he won the admiration of his fellow bishops. Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore remarked of him, “There goes a true saint.” He died in exile near the border of Spain at the age of 63.
Jesus foretold that those who are truly his representatives would suffer the same persecution as he did. Besides 14 attempts on his life, Anthony had to undergo such a barrage of the ugliest slander that the very name Claret became a byword for humiliation and misfortune. The powers of evil do not easily give up their prey. No one needs to go looking for persecution. All we need to do is be sure we suffer because of our genuine faith in Christ, not for our own whims and imprudence.
Queen Isabella II once said to Anthony, “No one tells me things as clearly and frankly as you do.” Later she told her chaplain, “Everybody is always asking me for favors, but you never do. Isn’t there something you would like for yourself?” He replied, “Yes, that you let me resign.” The queen made no more offers.
“Driven by the fire of the Holy Spirit, the holy apostles traveled throughout the earth. Inflamed with the same fire, apostolic missionaries have reached, are now reaching, and will continue to reach the ends of the earth, from one pole to the other, in order to proclaim the word of God. They are deservedly able to apply to themselves those words of the apostle Paul: “Caritas Christi Urget Nos! – The love of Christ drives us on!” (2 Cor. 5:14)
The love of Christ arouses us, urges us to run, and to fly, lifted on the wings of holy zeal. The zealous man desires and achieve all great things and he labors strenuously so that God may always be better known, loved and served in this world and in the life to come, for this holy love is without end.
Because he is concerned also for his neighbor, the man of zeal works to fulfill his desire that all men be content on this earth and happy and blessed in their heavenly homeland, that all may be saved, and that no one may perish for ever, or offend God, or remain even for a moment in sin. Such are the concerns we observe in the holy apostles and in all who are driven by the apostolic spirit.
For myself, I say this to you: The man who burns with the fire of divine love is a son of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and wherever he goes, he enkindles that flame; he deserves and works with all this strength to inflame all men with the fire of God’s love. Nothing deters him: he rejoices in poverty; he labors strenuously; he welcomes hardships; he laughs off false accusations; he rejoices in anguish. He thinks only of how he might follow Jesus Christ and imitate him by his prayers, his labors, his sufferings, and by caring always and only for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.”
-from L’egoismo vinto (Rome: 1869, p. 60) by St Anthony Mary Claret. It is used in the Roman Office of Readings for the feast (optional liturgical memorial) of St. Anthony Mary Claret.
Prayer to St Anthony Marie Claret
Saint Anthony Mary Claret, during your life on earth you often comforted the afflicted and showed such tender love and compassion for the sick and sinful. Intercede for me now that you rejoice in the reward of your virtues in heavenly glory. Look with pity on me and grant my prayer, if such be the will of God. Make my troubles your own. Speak a word for me to the Immaculate Heart of Mary to obtain by her powerful intercession the grace I yearn for so ardently, and a blessing to strengthen me during life, assist me at the hour of death, and lead me to a happy eternity. Amen.
I LOVE MARRIED SAINTS!!!!! And, Kelly, don’t be nervous, I know you’re not the nervous type. I used to be desperately in love with a girl from Charlotte, NC, named Marguerite. One of my many broken hearts. (Ahhhhhhhhh) 🙂 Thank God things work out God’s way and not ours! Thank GOD for unanswered prayers I say the older I get. His will is perfect. I LOVE YOU SOOOO MUCH Kelly Marie! 🙂 XOXOXO!!!!
Marguerite d’Youville, the first native Canadian to be elevated to sainthood, was born October 15, 1701 at Varennes, Quebec. Marguerite was baptized the next day at St. Anne’s parish church. After her baptism, her father placed her on the knees of her maternal great-grandfather, Pierre Boucher, for the traditional blessing: “May God bless you, my little one, as I bless you!”
Marguerite was the eldest of six children born to Lieutenant Christophe Dufrost de Lajemmerais and Marie-Renée Gaultier. Lieutenant Lajemmerais was promoted to the rank of Captain, in June 1705. This was the highest rank that a soldier of the French colonial troops could attain. He was promoted because of his fidelity to his duty, his spirit of self-sacrifice, his prompt willingness to take any assignment.
On June 1, 1708, Marguerite’s childhood was tragically disrupted by the death of her father. This was a time of insecurity. The salary of Captain de Lajemmerais had been large enough to keep his growing family but not sufficient to provide savings for the future. Marguerite learned very early how to think of others as she helped her mother provide for her destitute family. Marie Renée now had to depend on the charity of others for the needs of her children. And worse still – it would be another six years before she would receive a widow’s pension. This was due to complex formalities and slow communication between France and her colony of Canada.
Because she was extremely intelligent, Marguerite was greatly admired by her great-aunt, Mother St. Pierre, an Ursuline nun, and several other persons. So in 1712, in order to pursue her studies, Marguerite was taken in a little rowboat to the boarding school at the Ursuline Convent, in Quebec City; some hundred and fifty miles away.
There she received a good education from the nuns and also a good spiritual training. At the convent school, Marguerite was a strong young girl with an attractive personality and she was admired for a goodness and a maturity, well beyond her age. She acquired the habit of meditating daily on some page of a little book dealing with the “Holy Ways of the Cross”.
In 1714, at the age of almost 13, after two years at the boarding school, Marguerite received her First Holy Communion. But the girl could not stay in the convent for a lengthy time. Mme. Lajemmerais could not afford to leave Marguerite in Quebec any longer, even with the help of relatives and friends. There were still five other children to be educated. So our friend was obliged to go back to Varennes that same year, to help at home and to teach her brothers and sisters. Marguerite was an invaluable help to her mother. By her handiwork, she contributed skillfully to the support of the family and often, as she was making fine lace, she would tell wonderful stories to her brothers and sisters.
As a young woman, Marguerite became very popular in the social life of Varennes. At 18, she got engaged to a young man whom she deeply loved. But the promise of a happy marriage ended abruptly when her mother remarried beneath her social class one Timothy Sullivan, an Irish doctor who was seen by the townspeople as a disreputable foreigner, an act that was unacceptable to the family of Marguerite’s fiancé. We can imagine the heartbreak of the frustrated betrothed. Marguerite’s family fell out of favor with people in their home town and so two years later moved to Montreal.
In Montreal, Marguerite became associated with the aristocracy of old Montreal who in time noticed that she was graceful, well mannered, serious and reserved. Before long, Marguerite met François d’Youville and once again, fell in love.
-François d’Youville (1700-1730)
Marguerite married François d’Youville 12 August 1722 and the young couple made their home with Francois’ mother, an avaricious and domineering woman who made life miserable for Marguerite. During the frequent absences of her husband, Marguerite’s mother-in-law was most unsympathetic towards her.
Marguerite soon came to realize that her husband had no interest in making a home life. François was indifferent, selfish and covetous; he was interested only in making money! His frequent absences, bootlegging, and illegal liquor trading with the Indians for furs caused her great suffering, making her endure the slurs and taunts of her neighbors. He was even absent at the birth of their first child.
But in spite of all these sorrows, Marguerite remained faithful to the her duties of state, always treating François with respect, and favoring him with all kind of delicate attentions. It was during these sorrowful times, in 1727, that the holy woman received a special grace from God. She came to a deep realization that God is a Father who has every human being in His providential care and that all are brothers and sisters. Through her whole life Marguerite kept this thought in her mind: “I leave all to Divine Providence, my confidence is in it; all will happen which is pleasing to God.”
She was pregnant with her sixth child when François became seriously ill. She faithfully cared for him until his death in 4 July 1730, leaving her with his enormous debts. By age 29, she had experienced desperate poverty and suffered the loss of her father and husband. Four of her six children had died in infancy. In 1734, she started to suffer from a mysterious ailment in her knees. It would only get worse through the years, and would make her suffer greatly, but would not stop her from doing her charitable work.
In all these sufferings Marguerite grew in her belief of God’s presence in her life and of His tender love for every human person. She, in turn, wanted to make known His compassionate love to all. She undertook many charitable works with complete trust in God, Who she loved as a Father.
She provided for the education of her two sons, who later became priests, by opening a small dry-goods storefront on the first floor of her home where she sold her own handiwork and household goods. She paid off all her inherited debts. On November 21, 1737 Marguerite welcomed a blind woman into her home. She spent much of her profits helping those even poorer than herself. She begged for money to bury criminals who had been hung in the market place.
One day, Marguerite’s spiritual director, Fr. Dulescoat, told her, “Be comforted my child, God destines for you a great work and you will raise up a house from its ruins!” God would make His plans fully known to her at a later time. Providence. The trust in Providence.
Seeing Marguerite selflessly caring for the poor, inspired three women to join her. On December 31, 1737, Catherine Cusson, Louise Thaumur la Source, and Catherine Demers joined Marguerite. They consecrated themselves to God, promising secretly to serve Jesus in His poor.
Completely dedicated to her mission of charity, Madame d’Youville rented a larger house to receive the poor. She and her three companions entered this house on October 30, 1738. As they stepped into their new place, their first act was to kneel before the statue of Our Lady of Providence. They placed their work of helping the poor under the protection of Our Lady, and consecrated themselves to God, to serve the poor and most destitute members of her Divine Son, till the end of their lives. Marguerite was 37 years old. They received the help of Father Louis Normant du Faradon. Marguerite, without even realizing it, had become the foundress of the Sisters of Charity of the General Hospital of Montreal, “Grey Nuns”.
Like other saints, the members of the little society were persecuted and contradicted. People were even more disturbed over the opening of this house. Two days after its opening, on All Saints day, they threw stones at Madame d’Youville and her companions on their way to church! Their maliciousness went even further when they heard rumors that Fr. Louis Normant, the Superior of the Sulpicians – and Marguerite’s new spiritual director, wanted her and her companions to take over Montreal’s General Hospital for the poor, established in 1693 by the Charon Brothers! The people had other plans for the dilapidated hospital.
Even Marguerite’s own relatives and friends were shocked by what she was doing and questioned her motives – her two brothers-in-law even signed a petition addressed to the Secretary of State, opposing such a move. Class-consciousness was strong in her culture, in those days, and Marguerite had started something that was just not done by persons of her standing.
Even the local parish priest believed in the calumnies made against the little community, and refused to give its members Holy Communion! But despite these persecutions, Mother d’Youville and her companions remained peaceful, and continued working devotedly and courageously, finding their best support through prayer. It was when things looked the most desperate that Marguerite was most trusting in God’s help, and felt most His closeness to her.
Marguerite always fought for the rights of the poor and broke with the social conventions of her day. It was a daring move that made her the object of ridicule and taunts by her own relatives and neighbors. Even though her husband had passed away, the society Marguerite lived in still judged her by the illegal actions of her deceased husband. Some called Marguerite and her companions “Les Soeurs Grises”, which can mean “the grey women/nuns”, but which also means “the drunken women/the tipsy nuns”. “Grises”, in French, can mean “grey” or “drunk”. This was in reference to d’Youville’s late husband. The neighbors suspected the small community of manufacturing alcohol in their home. Love thy neighbor? How about the neighbors let the dead bury their dead and let the dead past die?
But, as is so often the case with God, the slur of ridicule, with His grace, is transformed into the adulation of praise, respect, and reverence. Later, when the work of these women became well respected, Mother Marguerite chose grey as the color of their habit to remind those who slandered them of their verbal abuse.
Marguerite persevered in caring for the poor despite many obstacles. On February 20, 1741, Sr. Catherine Cusson died of tuberculosis at the age of 32. During the three short years of her religious life, she was distinguished by her charity to the poor and by her exact observance of the rule.
To Marguerite, the loss of this spiritual daughter was as painful as that of her natural children had been. And even while the weight of Sr. Catherine’s death weighed in the hearts of the nuns, another threatened loss of far greater weight sent the Sisters to their knees in urgent prayer. Fr. Normant, their Superior, had become so dangerously ill that any hope of his recovery was almost abandoned.
Pounding on the doors of Heaven, Marguerite solemnly promised that if Fr. Normant were restored to health, she would have a votive light burned before the Blessed Sacrament every year on the Feast of the of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary – a feast of deep significance to the Sulpicians. Moreover she promised to have a special painting made of the Eternal Father by an artist in France. This was a promise that would be quite costly for the struggling community, but no sacrifice was too great for the life of their beloved director. Fr. Normant recovered his health – and since then, a beautiful painting of the Eternal Father, painted by Challe in 1741, hangs in the vast community room in the Motherhouse in Montreal. For some time our friend was also praying for the healing of her knees, not because of the suffering, but rather of the impossibility she had to continue to work. Here again, she was miraculously healed one day.
Marguerite and her companions were now sharing their home with three boarders and ten destitute persons. All were living happily in their cramped quarters but suddenly their joy turned to sorrow when during the night of January 31, 1745, a fire completely destroyed their home. It was devastating to the residents, but Marguerite promised them that she would not abandon them. With unwavering trust in Divine Providence, she resolved to start over. While the fire was raging, a group of bystanders were heard to shout: “Look at those purple flames! … Those women are drunk!” By humility, and to show her nuns should be inebriated by the love of God and neighbor, Marguerite kept that nickname for her community. This tragedy only served to deepen her commitment to the poor. Marguerite asked herself, “What can we learn from this? … Perhaps we have been too well off. Now we will have to live more poorly!”
Two days later, on February 2, 1745, she and her two early companions pledged themselves to put everything in common in order to help a greater number of persons in need. At age 44, Marguerite and the other Sisters, signed the “Original Commitment”. Part of this founding document reads: … “for the greater glory of God … for the relief of the poor … we are united in pure charity to live and die together … to consecrate without reserve our time, our days, indeed our entire life, to labor … to receive, feed and support as many poor as we can take care of …” And since that day, every Grey Nun has signed her name to this commitment!
Two years later, this “mother of the poor” as she was called, was asked to become director of the Charon Brothers Hospital in Montreal which was falling into ruin and deeply in debt. On October 7, 1747, a small procession made its way toward the General Hospital of Montreal. Marguerite had been appointed temporary director of the General Hospital, which was falling into ruins. It was a last resort; as nobody could be found to administer this neglected institution. Marguerite, who was too weak to walk, was seated on an old mattress in a cart. She had to travel this way as she was exhausted after the stress of the recent fire and the frequent moves that followed. Her companions, some aged people and an orphan followed her on foot. And at the same time poor Marguerite had to endure the laughing of the people they passed by. Arriving at the hospital, Marguerite found that four elderly men and two aged Brothers were living there under deplorable conditions. After attending to their urgent needs, Marguerite’s creative ingenuity and the energetic activity of her sisters made the hospital livable. After only three years as Director of the General Hospital, Marguerite had completely renovated it. Marguerite would live in this hospital for the rest of her life. It became a beacon for outcasts.
A new difficulty for the foundress would soon make its appearance; the work still had enemies, and in 1750 plans were made, without consulting her, to merge it with another of similar nature, staffed by the nursing nuns of Quebec City. Marguerite was therefore sadly surprised when she was in the market place one day, and heard by a public announcement that the General Hospital was to be merged with the one in Quebec, where its poor people were to be transferred!
The authorities had decided that there was need for only one hospital of this kind. But Marguerite is convinced: The General Hospital belongs to those who need it badly: the poor! She therefore tried all she humanly can to have the decision changed.
-Bishop Henri de Pontbriand (1708-1760)
But the opposition of Intendant François Bigot, representative of the King of France, and the disapproval of Bishop de Pontbriand of Quebec, was a heavy blow to Marguerite. She tried to soften the impact of this news on her sisters and their charges: “If God calls us to govern this house, His plan will succeed; the impediments and opposition of men should not trouble us.” She will also write: “Divine Providence is truly admirable. God has a way of comforting those who depend on Him, no matter what happens. I place all my trust in Him!”
And Marguerite’s hope was not in vain… prominent citizens joined her in filing objections to the Ordinance. Among them were many who had put their names to the earlier document repudiating “Les Soeurs Grises.” The Sulpicians who had always supported Marguerite’s work, asked their members in France to appeal to the Royal Court and on May 12, 1752, the Ordinance of October 1750 was retracted. And in 1753, King Louis XV of France, signed the “Letters Patent” which sanctioned the appointment of Marguerite d’Youville as Directress of the General Hospital of Montreal. More importantly, the document also established, for the civil part, the new institute of the Sisters of Charity, known as the Grey Nuns. Another great joy was soon to follow these…
Indeed, Bishop de Pontbriand, although for some time an admirer of the nuns, hesitated to approve officially their Constitutions and costume: he thought the sisters were so fervent they would never need such rigid rules. But two years later, in 1755, he went along with their wishes and gave his canonical approval. That same year on August 25th, Fr. Louis Normant, co-founder of the Institute, bestowed on Mother d’Youville, who was now 54, and her companions, the religious habit – a simple grey dress and black head covering, similar to a widow’s bonnet. They also wore a silver cross with a heart in relief, at the centre. A fleur-de-lis at each corner of the cross commemorated their French origin. Because of their grey habit, the Sisters were now affectionately called: the Grey Nuns.
They were now respected by the people and were regarded as Mothers and Sisters to the poor, the elderly, orphans, and prostitutes, the mentally ill, physically handicapped, chronically ill and abandoned infants. Their work was now recognized for what it was: a mission of charity and love. In this same year, Mother d’Youville and her companions began their work as nurses during an epidemic of chicken pox. The disease also spread to the Indian missions around Montreal. Since they were not cloistered nuns, Marguerite and her companions would go into homes and take care of the sick that could not be hospitalized.
The hospital was nearly closed several times due to financial problems and armed conflict between the English and French for the region; Mother Marguerite and her sisters made clothes which were sold to traders in order to raise money, and her care for sick English soldiers caused them to avoid damage to the building. The hospital became known as the Hotel Dieu (House of God). In time, a proverb grew among the poor of Montreal and Church officials, “Go to the Grey Nuns, they never refuse to serve.” Their hospital set a standard for medical care and Christian compassion.
In 1765 a fire destroyed the hospital but nothing could destroy Marguerite’s faith and courage. She asked her sisters and the poor who lived at the hospital, to recognize the hand of God in this disaster and to offer Him praise. Marguerite knelt in the ashes of the hospital and led all there gathered in the Te Deum, a hymn to God’s Providence in all things.
At the age of 64 Marguerite undertook the reconstruction of this shelter for those in need. She fought with government officials seeking to restrain her charity. Totally exhausted from a lifetime of self-giving, Marguerite died on December 23, 1771, around 8:30pm, aged 70 years, and will always be remembered as a loving mother who served Jesus Christ in the poor.
During the autumn of 1771, Marguerite’s health began to fail, and in early December she suffered a stroke. When later she had another stroke and became paralyzed, she knew that her service to the poor would soon come to an end. She also knew that her last words would make a permanent impression on those whose lives were intertwined with her own. To her spiritual daughters, she bequeathed her great spirit of charity, recommending that they should “remain faithful to the duties of the life they have embraced… and always follow the paths of regularity, obedience, mortification, but most of all, the most perfect union should always reign among them.”
Marguerite was one woman, but this daughter of the Church had a vision of caring for the poor that has spread far and wide. Her sisters have built schools, hospitals, and orphanages and have served on almost every continent. Today, her mission is courageously carried on in a spirit of hope by the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, “Grey Nuns” and their sister communities: the Sisters of Charity of St. Hyacinthe, the Sisters of Charity at Ottawa, the Sisters of Charity of Quebec, the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart (Philadelphia) and the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception (Pembroke). They are especially known for their work among the Eskimos.
Pope John XXIII beatified Marguerite on May 3, 1959 and called her “Mother of Universal Charity” – a well-merited title for one who continues to this day to reach out to all with love and compassion. Marguerite d’Youville can sympathize with the unfortunate and painful situation of so many orphans, with adolescents worried about the future, with disillusioned girls who live without hope, with married woman suffering from unrequited love and with single parents. But most especially, Marguerite is a kindred spirit with all who have given their lives to helping others. The power of Marguerite’s intercession before God was clearly evidenced when a young woman stricken with acute myelobastic leukemia in 1978 was miraculously cured. This great favor opened for Marguerite the door to the official proclamation of sainthood.
St Marguerite d’Youville is patroness against the death of children, for difficult marriages, for in-law problems, for loss of parents, of those opposed by Church authorities, of people ridiculed for their piety, for victims of adultery, for victims of unfaithfulness, and for widows, among other causes.
-The mortal remains of Saint Marguerite d’Youville were transferred to St. Anne de Varennes Basilica on December 9
-by Sr. Diane Beaudoin, SGM
Maison Généralice, Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec
“On December 7 – 9, 2010 we lived an extraordinary event; the transfer of the remains of St. Marguerite d’Youville from the Grey Nuns of Montreal motherhouse to St. Anne Basilica in Varennes, her place of birth.
The journey began with a Mass at the Grey Nuns’ motherhouse chapel, where the remains of St. Marguerite were ceremoniously removed from the altar and placed on a portable altar prepared for its reception. The remains were then brought to the infirmary, so that the elderly and infirmed sisters could say farewell and venerate their beloved mother and foundress. The remains were then returned to the chapel for an official sending off by Sr. Jacqueline St.-Ives, General Superior of the Grey Nuns of Montreal. With a great sense of loss, but with much gratitude and joy, the journey of transfer began. The remains were taken to a waiting hearse and with a cortege of about a dozen limousines and with police escort, St. Marguerite’s remains travelled the short distance from the motherhouse to Maison Mère d’Youville.
Here at Maison Mère d’Youville, the original General Hospital of Montréal, where St. Marguerite cared for the poor, her remains were brought to the very room where she lived and died and for the next 24 hours, we could pray, venerate her holy remains, and just be with her. It was a powerful experience.
The second day of the journey found us in procession again from Maison Mère d’Youville to Notre-Dame Basilica, for a Mass celebrated by Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte of Montreal. It was heart warming to see so many people who came to offer their tribute to St. Marguerite. For the people of Montreal, this was an opportunity to remember Marguerite’s life and mission and give recognition to the Grey Nuns for their continuing mission toward those most in need today.
Upon leaving the Basilica, our cortege, again with police escort, travelled to Boucherville, a city founded by Marguerite’s great-grandfather Pierre Boucher, and where her son Charles was pastor. Following an inspiring celebration where we listened to the story of Marguerite’s life, we left for our final destination, St. Anne’s Basilica in Varennes. As we entered the city we noticed a large billboard, with St. Marguerite’s picture and the words “Welcome Home.” The journey was now complete!
On the third and final day of this journey, we again celebrated a magnificent liturgy in the Basilica of St. Anne, with standing room only, presided over by the Bishop of the Diocese. At the end of the celebration, St. Marguerite’s remains were brought to their final resting place, to a tomb especially made to receive her and where for years to come we will be able to come, venerate, and pray to this Mother of Universal Charity.
Sr. Jacqueline St. Yves beautifully expressed the significance of these 3 days. “We have brought you our most prized possession, that which we hold closest to our hearts, and we trust you will take good care of her! St. Marguerite now belongs to the people, to the whole Church. There in Varennes, she awaits all who will come to her!”
“St. Marguerite d’Youville has come a long way before returning to Varennes, the city where she was born there 309 years. The mortal remains of the first person to be canonized in Canada have indeed left the mother house of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, the Grey Nuns, to be transferred to the Basilica of Sainte-Anne de Varennes on December 9, the day even the 20 th anniversary of his canonization. A Eucharistic celebration presided by Jacques Berthelet, Bishop Emeritus of the Diocese of Saint-Jean-Longueuil, highlighted the event.
The basilica filled to overflowing with the faithful here and elsewhere, the ceremony was attended by many dignitaries, including the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec, Pierre Duchesne, the bishop of the diocese elected Saint-Jean-Longueuil Lionel Gendron, bishops colleagues from Canada and abroad and representatives of the Grey Nuns. “You know Varennes is rich with the legacy of its history and its religious heritage. We owe much of our development to the builders that were clergymen and all the parish staff, “said Mayor of Varennes, Martin Damphousse, at a cocktail reception prior to the celebration.
A choir of forty people, accompanied by a violin and an organ, scored Mass grandiose songs and a procession opened and closed the ceremony. Bouquets of daisies were placed here and there. Like Marguerite d’Youville, the remains were contained in a simple wooden box, placed in the middle of the aisle.
Claude Lafortune, former host of The Gospel of paper , and a member of sacred art committee of the diocese, described the chapel, located in the transept of the basilica, which was to house the tomb of the holy woman.The tomb granite is decorated with a bouquet of daisies in bronze. A processional cross similar to that worn by Marguerite d’Youville, with lily flowers at the ends and the Sacred Heart, was forged. The statue of the saint, already in the basilica, was placed beside the grave.
The mass was of an international character occurring in French and English. A prayer inspired by the life of the one we called Mother of Universal Charity has even been made in several languages, including French, English, Spanish and Portuguese. “The mission of the church is to shine here and elsewhere. The deeper meaning of this passage of the mortal remains of St. Marguerite d’Youville of the parent company Grey Nuns at the Basilica is the return to God’s people. We must go to the people in whom Christ is present, “said Bishop Berthelet.
At the end of the celebration, the Sisters Grey handed the key to the tomb of “this flower a heart of gold,” as it is called Sister Jacqueline St-Yves, superior general of the Grey Nuns of Montreal, Raymond Fish, pastor the Sainte-Anne Basilica in Varennes. Then, the documents authenticating the translation of the remains were signed and deposited in the tomb with the remains of Saint Marguerite d’Youville. This is the first time in North America that a saint is buried in a place of worship.
“The first result of this translation is that the life and work of Marguerite d’Youville does not lapse with the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity. Her memory will live on in a more vibrant place thanks to the prayers, “says Fish. Visitors will get to Sainte-Anne Basilica in Varennes throughout the year to pray at the tomb of the holy woman.
The word martyr comes from the Greek μάρτυς, or mártys, which translates as “witness”. This is in as to witness, to give proof of one’s conviction and commitment to what one holds to be the Truth. This proof is given in one’s dying and suffering torment rather than apostatizing that Truth, or living under extremely difficult circumstances, or counter-cultural ways, or even just inconvenience/unpopularity/what is generally considered the minority opinion/way rather than make life easier for oneself/make oneself more popular by apostatizing that Truth.
Jean de Brébeuf was born in Condé-sur-Vire, Normandy, France on 25 March 1593. He was the uncle of the poet Georges de Brébeuf. He studied near home at Caen. Jean could have elected a life of comfort near his family in France, but wanted to join the Society of Jesus from an early age. In humility, Jean’s desire was to become a Jesuit lay brother, but, in contrast to that, his superior convinced him to study for the priesthood. He entered the Society of Jesus as a scholastic, 8 November, 1617, aged 24 years.
Though of unusually robust physical strength, massive in physical stature his contemporaries describe him, his health gave way completely when he was twenty-eight to tuberculosis, which interfered with his studies and permitted only what was strictly necessary, so that he never acquired any extensive theological knowledge. He was almost expelled from the Society because his illness prevented both his studying and instruction for the traditional periods.
After teaching at a secondary school-college in Rouen, on February 19, 1622 Jean de Brebeuf was ordained. He became the treasurer of the college.
The tall, rugged Jesuit responded to an appeal made two years later by the Franciscan Recollects who asked other religious orders to help with the missions in New France. Against the voiced desires of Huguenot Protestants, officials of trading companies, and some native North Americans, he was granted his wish and in 1625 he sailed to Canada as a missionary, arriving on June 19, and lived with the Huron natives near Lake Huron, learning their customs and language, of which he became an expert (it is said that he wrote the first dictionary of the Huron language). He has been called Canada’s “first serious ethnographer.”
Arriving 19 June, 1625, in Quebec, with the Recollect, Joseph de la Roche d’ Aillon, and in spite of the threat which the Calvinist captain of the ship which had transported him made to carry him back to France, he remained in the colony. Jean overcame the dislike of the colonists for Jesuits and secured a site for a residence on the St. Charles, the exact location of a former landing of Jacques Cartier, the famous original French explorer of New France.
During that summer came a group of Hurons to Cap de la Victoire to barter for trade goods. Brébeuf, another Jesuit and a Franciscan went to meet them and asked to accompany them back to their homelands. The Hurons were willing to take the first two, but not Brébeuf who towered over them and was much too big for their canoes; they were afraid he would be too much work to carry. The missionaries offered enough gifts to overcome reluctance, and Brébeuf was permitted into a canoe on the condition he would not move. On July 26, 1626 Brébeuf began his journey to Huronia. When the travelers came to cascades or places where they had to carry the canoes and all the gear overland, Brébeuf’s great strength won his hosts’ admiration.
He immediately took up his abode in the Native American wigwams, and has left us an account of his five months’ experience there in the dead of winter. In the spring he set out with the Huron on a journey to Lake Huron in a canoe, during the course of which his life was in constant danger. With him was Father de Noüe, and they established their first mission near Georgian Bay, at Ihonatiria, but after a short time his companion was recalled, and he was left alone.
Brébeuf met with no success. The only converts he made during the winter of 1628 were the dying whom he baptized.
Because of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), in which France was engaged, Brébeuf was forced to return to France. He was summoned back to Quebec because of the danger of extinction to which the entire colony was then exposed, and arrived there after an absence of two years, 17 July, 1628. An English blockade had kept the French from resupplying the colony, so Brébeuf took 20 canoes loaded with grain to Quebec.
On 19 July, 1629, Champlain surrendered to the English, and the missionaries returned to France. For two years Brébeuf resumed his work at the college in Rouen. Four years after its fall, the colony was restored to France, and on 23 March, 1633, Brébeuf again set out for Canada. While in France he had pronounced his solemn vows as spiritual coadjutor.
As soon as he arrived, viz., May, 1633, he attempted to return to Lake Huron. The Indians refused to take him, but during the following year he succeeded in reaching his old mission along with Father Daniel. It meant a journey of thirty days and constant danger of death. The next sixteen years of uninterrupted labors among the Native Americans were a continual series of privations and sufferings which he used to say were only roses in comparison with what the end was to be. Brébeuf told many of his experiences in Canada in the “Jesuit Relations”, an invaluable source of early Canadian history.
He was head of the Huron mission, a position he relinquished to Father Jérôme Lalemant in 1638. His success as a missionary was very slow and it was only in 1635 that he made his first converts [Jesuit Relations, p. 11, vol. X]. He claimed to have made 14 as of 1635, and as of 1636 he said the number went up 86 [Jesuit Relations, p. 11,vol. X]. The Jesuits were frequently blamed for disasters like epidemics, battle defeats, and crop failures and once Brébeuf was condemned to death and another time beaten.
In 1640 he set out with Father Chaumonot to evangelize the Neutres/Neutrals, a tribe that lived north of Lake Erie. It is reported while there, in prayer, Jean de Brebeuf witnessed a large cross in the night sky over Iroquois territory. After a winter of incredible hardship the missionaries returned unsuccessful. Jean had to flee to Quebec after he was accused of plotting with Huron enemies, the Seneca Clan of the Iroquois, to betray his hosts.
Jean was given the care of the Indians in the Reservation at Sillery for three years. He returned to the Huron in 1644 and finally experienced some success. By 1647 there were thousands of converted Huron. In 1643 he wrote the Huron Carol, a Christmas carol which is still, in a very modified version, used today.
Brébeuf’s charismatic presence in the Huron country helped cause a split between traditionalist Huron and those who wanted to adopt European culture. Montreal-based ethnohistorian Bruce Trigger argues that this cleavage in Huron society, along with the spread of disease from Europeans, left the Huron vulnerable.
However, the Iroquois began to win their war with the Hurons. About the time the war was at its height between the Hurons and the Iroquois, Jogues and Bressani had been captured in an effort to reach the Huron country, and Brébeuf was appointed to make a third attempt. He succeeded. With him on this journey were Chabanel and Garreau, both of whom were afterwards murdered. They reached St. Mary’s on the Wye, which was the central station of the Huron Mission.
-Wyandot (Huron) warrior
By 1647 the Iroquois had made peace with the French, but kept up their war with the Hurons, and in 1648 fresh disasters befell the work of the missionaries — their establishments were burned and the missionaries slaughtered. On 16 March, 1649, 1200 Iroquois captured the mission of St Ignace. They then attacked St. Louis and seized Brébeuf and fellow Jesuit, Fr. Gabriel Lallemant, SJ. A renegade Huron among the attackers let the Iroquois know that they had captured the mighty Echon, most powerful of the Jesuit medicine men. Both could have escaped. The Hurons at St Louis knew of the attack at St Ignace. They sent their women and children into the forest to hide and could have left, but remained. The Jesuit Fathers remained with their flock. All the men knew exactly what that meant. The two priests were dragged back to St. Ignace.
After some preliminary torture, the Jesuits and the Huron captives were forced to run naked through the snow. On entering the village, they were met with a shower of stones, cruelly beaten with clubs, and then tied to posts to be burned to death. Brébeuf is said to have kissed the stake to which he was bound. The fire was lighted under them, and their bodies slashed with knives. One of his Iroquois tormentors, crying out, ran towards him. “You have always told people it was good to suffer,’ he shouted. “Thank us for this!” And he dropped over Brebeuf’s head a cumbrous necklace of tomahawks, red-hot. Sputtering and hissing they began to eat their way into his flesh. His tormentors covered him with resinous bark which they set aflame. He continued encouraging his fellow Christians to remain strong. Then the Jesuit’s captors cut off his nose and forced a hot iron down his throat to silence him. The Jesuit priests were then tortured by scalping, mock baptism using boiling water, their feet were cut off, and their hearts were torn out. The torture-to-death went on for three hours.
Brébeuf did not make a single outcry while he was being tortured. It is recorded when Jesuits in New France would muse together if they should receive the crown of martyrdom, how would they stand it? Brebeuf commented, “I wouldn’t be thinking of myself. I would be thinking of God.” As every Saint before his time and since, John de Brebeuf knew well, you can’t put limits on love. If you succeed, all you really know is that love is dead.
The bravery the Iroquois witnessed that day from Brebeuf astounded even his most ardent tormentors and executioners. They admired courage during torture as witnessed by the silence of victim. Jean Brebeuf knew this. The Iroquois ate his heart in hopes of gaining his courage. A highest gallows compliment? Brébeuf was fifty-five years old. The Iroquois withdrew when they had finished their work.
Brébeuf’s body was recovered a few days later. His body was boiled in lye to remove the flesh, and the bones were reserved as holy relics. His flesh was buried, along with Lalemant’s, in one coffin, and today rests in the Church of St. Joseph at the reconstructed Jesuit mission of Sainte-Marie among the Hurons across Highway 12 from the Martyrs’ Shrine Catholic Church near Midland, Ontario. These martyrdoms and those of the other North American Martyrs created a wave of vocations and missionary fervor in France, and it gave new heart to the missionaries in New France.
A plaque near the grave of Jean de Brébeuf and Gabriel Lalemant was unearthed during excavations at Ste Marie in 1954. The letters read “P. Jean de Brébeuf /brusle par les Iroquois /le 17 de mars l’an/1649” (Father Jean de Brebeuf, burned by the Iroquois, 17 March 1649). The skull of St Jean Brébeuf, SJ, is still kept as a relic at the Hôtel-Dieu, Quebec.
-St Jean de Brebeuf, SJ
St Jean de Brebeuf, SJ’s memory is cherished in Canada and has a pre-eminent position more than that of many of the other early missionaries. Their names appear with his in letters of gold on the grand staircases of public buildings in Canada. His memory is held sacred due to his heroic virtues, manifested in such a remarkable degree at every stage of his missionary career, his almost incomprehensible endurance of privations and suffering, and the conviction that the reason of his death was not his association with the Hurons, but hatred of Christianity.
15 September 1985, Pope John Paul II prayed over Brebeuf’s skull before saying an outdoor Mass on the grounds of the Martyrs’ Shrine, www.martyrs-shrine.com, one of nine National Shrines in Canada to the martyrs of North America in, including, among others, St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal and the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré, and other shrines in the territory of the United States. Thousands of people came to hear the Pope speak from a platform built especially for the day.
-Groupe Huron-Wendat Wendake, 1880.
The Huron People
(Ouendat/Wyandotte Nation/Wyandot/Wendat), “Dwellers of the Penninsula/Islanders”, as Wendat historic territory was bordered on three sides by the waters of Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe. Early French explorers referred to these natives as the Huron, either from the French huron (“ruffian”, “rustic”), or from hure (“boar’s head”). According to tradition, French sailors thought that the bristly hairstyle of Wendat warriors resembled that of a boar. They called their traditional territory Wendake/Quendake.
A Roman cassock often has a series of buttons down the front – sometimes thirty-three (symbolic of the years of the life of Jesus). A Jesuit cassock, although Jesuits have no official habit or distinctive religious garb, in lieu of buttons, has a fly fastened with hooks at the collar and is bound at the waist with a black cincture knotted on the right side. It was the common priestly dress of St Ignatius’ day, who founded the Society of Jesus. During the missionary periods of North America, the various native peoples referred to Jesuits as “Blackrobes” because of their black cassocks.
The Wendat called St Jean de Brebeuf, SJ, “Echon”. [“Echon” pronounced like “Ekon” – this name meaning “Healing Tree”, as a representation of how much Brébeuf had helped the Hurons and of the medicines he brought them from Europe. An alternate definition for “Echon” is “he who bears the heavy load”, as Brébeuf was massive in stature and carried more than his share when working with the Ouendat people. John Steckley wrote that Jean de Brébeuf was the first of the Jesuits (hatitsihenstaatsi’, ‘they are called charcoal’) due to their coal black cassocks, to become fluent in their language.
The Huron were surprised at his endurance in the harsh and hearty climate of what is now Ontario. His massive size made them think twice about sharing a canoe with him for fear it would sink. Brebeuf had great difficulty learning the Huron language.
“When you come to us (Brebeuf wrote to Jesuits in France) we will receive you with open arms into the vilest dwelling imaginable. A mat, or at best a skin, will be your bed and often enough you will not sleep at all because of the vermin that will swarm over you. If you have been a great theologian in France, you will have to be a humble scholar here and taught by an unlearned person, or by children, while you furnish them no end of amusement. Here you will merely be a student, and with what teachers! The Huron language will be your Aristla crosse. The Huron tongue will be St. Thomas and Aristotle, and you will be happy if after a great deal of hard study you are able to stammer out a few words.
The winter is almost unendurable. As for leisure time, the Hurons will give you no rest night or day.
You may expect to be killed at any moment, and your cabin, which is highly flammable, may often take fire through carelessness or malice. You are responsible for the weather, be it foul or fair, and if you don’t bring rain when it’s needed you may be tomahawked for your lack of luck. And there are foes from without to reckon with. On the 13th of this month a dozen Hurons were killed at Contarea, which is only a few days’ distance from here; and a short time ago a number of Iroquois were discovered in ambush quite close to the village.
In France you are surrounded by splendid examples of virtue. Here, all are astonished when you speak of God. Blasphemy and obscenity are common things on their lips. Often you are without your Mass, and when you do succeed in saying it the cabin is full of smoke or snow. Your neighbors never leave you alone and are continually shouting at the top of their voices.
The food will be insipid, but the gall and vinegar of Our Blessed Saviour will make it like honey on your lips. Clambering over rocks and skirting cataracts will be pleasant if you think of Calvary; and you will be happy if you have lost the trail, or are sick and dying with hunger in the woods…
There is no danger for your soul, if you bring into this Huron country the love and fear of God. In fact I find many helps to perfection. For in the first place, you have only the necessaries of life, and that makes it easy to be united with God.
As for your spiritual exercises you can attend to them; you have nothing else to do except study Huron and talk with the Indians. And what pleasure there is for a heart devoted to God to make itself a little scholar of children, thereby gain them for God!
How willingly and liberally God communicates Himself to a soul who practices such humility through love of Him. The words he learns are so many treasures he amasses, so many spoils he carries off from the common enemy of mankind. And so the visits of the Indians no matter how frequent cannot be annoying to such a man. God teaches him the beautiful lesson he taught of old to St. Catherine of Siena to make of his heart a room or temple for Him where he will never fail to find him as often as he withdraws into it so that, if he encounters people there, they do not interfere with his prayers, they serve only to make them more fervent; from this he takes occasion to present these poor people to His Sovereign Goodness, and to entreat Him warmly for their conversion.
Of course you have nothing in the way of externals to increase your devotion, but God makes up for it. Have we not the Blessed Sacrament in the house? Moreover, we have to trust in God: there is no other help available.
And now, if after contemplating the sufferings that await you, you are ready to say “Amplius, Domine! Still more, Lord!” then be sure that you will be rewarded with consolations to such a degree that you will be forced to cry: “Enough, O Lord, enough!”
Jean Brebeuf, SJ, eventually wrote a catechism in Huron, and a French-Huron dictionary for use by other missionaries.
The total population of the Huron at the time of European contact has been estimated at about 20,000 to 40,000 people. From 1634 to 1640, the Huron were devastated by Eurasian infectious diseases, such as measles and smallpox, to which they had no immunity. Epidemiological studies have shown that beginning in 1634, more European children immigrated with their families to the New World from cities in France, England, and the Netherlands that had endemic smallpox. Historians believe the disease spread from the children to the Huron and other nations. Numerous Huron villages and areas were permanently abandoned. About two-thirds of the population died in the epidemics, decreasing the population to about 12,000.
Before the French arrived, the Huron had already been in conflict with the Iroquois nations to the south. Several thousand Huron lived as far south as present-day central West Virginia along the Kanawha River by the late 16th century, but they were driven out by the Iroquois’ invading from present-day New York in the 17th century.
Once the European powers became involved in trading, the conflict among natives intensified significantly as they struggled to control the trade. The French allied with the Huron, because they were the most advanced trading nation at the time. The Iroquois tended to ally with the Dutch. Introduction of European weapons and the fur trade increased the severity of inter-tribal warfare, “Le Longue Carabine”.
In James Fenimore Cooper’s Feb 1826 novel, “The Last of the Mohicans”, first published in Philadelphia, set in 1757 in what is now New York state, the antagonist, Magua, is a Huron chief.
Surviving Jesuits burned the mission of St Ignace after abandoning it to prevent its capture. The Iroquois attack shocked the Huron. By May 1, 1649, the Huron burned 15 of their villages to prevent their stores from being taken and fled as refugees to surrounding tribes. About 10,000 fled to Gahoendoe (Christian Island).
Most who fled to the island starved over the winter, as it was a non-productive settlement and could not provide for them. Those who survived were believed to have resorted to cannibalism to do so. After spending the bitter winter of 1649-50 on Gahoendoe, surviving Huron relocated near Quebec City, where they settled at Wendake. Absorbing other refugees, they became the Huron-Wendat Nation. Some Huron, along with the surviving Petuns, whose villages were attacked by the Iroquois in the fall of 1649, fled to the upper Lake Michigan region, settling first at Green Bay, then at Michilimackinac. The western Wyandot eventually re-formed across the border in the area of present-day Ohio and southern Michigan in the United States. Some descendants of the Wyandot Nation of Anderdon still live in Ohio and Michigan.
In the 1840s, most of the surviving Wyandot people were displaced to Kansas through the US federal policy of forced Indian removal. Using the funds they received for their lands in Ohio the Wyandot purchased 23,000 acres (93 km2) of land for $46,080 in what is now Wyandotte County, Kansas in the Kansas City, Kansas area from the Delaware who were grateful for the hospitality the Wyandot had shown them in Ohio. It was a more-or-less square parcel north and west of the junction of the Kansas River and the Missouri River.
In February 1985 the U.S. government agreed to pay descendants of the Wyandot $5.5 million. The decision settled the 143-year-old treaty, which in 1842 forced the tribe to sell their Ohio lands for half of its fair value.
In 1999, representatives of the far-flung Wyandot bands of Quebec, Kansas, Oklahoma and Michigan gathered at their historic homeland in Midland, Ontario. They formally re-established the Wendat Confederacy.
Each modern Wyandot community is an autonomous band:
Huron-Wendat Nation, at Wendake, now within the Quebec City limits, approximately 3,000 members
Wyandot Nation of Anderdon, in Michigan, with headquarters in Trenton, Michigan, perhaps 800 members
Wyandot Nation of Kansas, with headquarters in Kansas City, Kansas, perhaps 400 members
Wyandotte Nation, a federally recognized tribe headquartered in Wyandotte, Oklahoma, with 4,300 members.
The approximately 3,000 Wyandot in Quebec are primarily Catholic and speak French as a first language. They have begun to promote the study and use of the Wyandot language among their children.
St Jean de Brebeufs, SJ’s Legacy
Many Jesuit schools are named after St John de Brebeuf, SJ, such as Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf in Montreal, Brébeuf College School in Toronto and Brebeuf High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. There is also St. John de Brebeuf Catholic High School in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada; and Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. There is also Eglise St-Jean de Brebeuf in Sudbury, Ontario.
St John de Brebeuf’s feast day in Canada is celebrated on September 26, while in the United States it is celebrated on October 19.
It is said that the modern name of the Native North American sport of lacrosse was first coined by Brébeuf who thought that the sticks used in the game reminded him of a bishop’s crosier (crosse in French, and with the feminine definite article, la crosse).
Brebeuf’s Instructions to the Missionaries: In 1637, Father Brebeuf drew up a list of instructions for Jesuit missionaries destined to work among the Huron. They reflect his own experience, and a genuine sensitivity toward the native people.
You must love these Hurons, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers.
You must never keep the Indians waiting at the time of embarking.
Carry a tinder-box or a piece of burning-glass, or both, to make fire for them during the day for smoking, and in the evening when it is necessary to camp; these little services win their hearts.
Try to eat the little food they offer you, and eat all you can, for you may not eat again for hours.
Eat as soon as day breaks, for Indians when on the road, eat only at the rising and the setting of the sun.
Be prompt in embarking and disembarking and do not carry any water or sand into the canoe.
Be the least troublesome to the Indians.
Do not ask many questions; silence is golden.
Bear with their imperfections, and you must try always to appear cheerful.
Carry with you a half-gross of awls, two or three dozen little folding knives, and some plain and fancy beads with which to buy fish or other commodities from the nations you meet, in order to feast your Indian companions, and be sure to tell them from the outset that here is something with which to buy fish.
Always carry something during the portages.
Do not be ceremonious with the Indians.
Do not begin to paddle unless you intend always to paddle.
The Indians will keep later that opinion of you which they have formed during the trip.
Always show any other Indians you meet on the way a cheerful face and show that you readily accept the fatigues of the journey.
The Huron Carol
The “Huron Carol” (or “‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime”) is a Canadian Christmas hymn (Canada’s oldest Christmas song), written in 1643 by Jean de Brébeuf. Brébeuf wrote the lyrics in the native language of the Huron/Wendat people; the song’s original Huron title is “Jesous Ahatonhia” (“Jesus, he is born”). The song’s melody is based on a traditional French folk song, “Une Jeune Pucelle” (“A Young Maid”). The well-known English lyrics were written in 1926 by Jesse Edgar Middleton.
The English version of the hymn uses imagery familiar in the early 20th century, in place of the traditional Nativity story. This version is derived from Brebeuf’s original song and Huron religious concepts. In the English version, Jesus is born in a “lodge of broken bark”, and wrapped in a “robe of rabbit skin”.
He is surrounded by hunters instead of shepherds, and the Magi are portrayed as “chiefs from afar” that bring him “fox and beaver pelts” instead of the more familiar gold, frankincense, and myrrh. The hymn also uses a traditional Algonquian name, Gitchi Manitou, for God. The original lyrics are now sometimes modified to use imagery accessible to Christians who are not familiar with Native-Canadian cultures.
The song remains a common Christmas hymn in Canadian churches of many Christian denominations. Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn has also recorded a rendition of the song in the original Huron. It was also sung by Canadian musician Tom Jackson during his annual Huron Carole show. The group ‘Crash Test Dummies’ recorded this hymn on their album “Jingle all the Way” (2002). In the United States, the song was included as “Jesous Ahatonia” on Burl Ives’s 1952 album Christmas Day in the Morning and was later released as a Burl Ives single under the title “Indian Christmas Carol.” The music has been rearranged by the Canadian songwriter Loreena McKennitt under the title “Breton Carol” in 2008.
The Hurons who escaped the Iroquois attacks preserved the hymn. Father Étienne de Villeneuve, SJ recorded the words of the hymn, which were found among his papers following his death in 1794.
We see in this carol a fine instance of genuine inculturation, as St. Jean de Brébeuf, SJ, strove to express the universal truths of Christian faith in an idiom intelligible to the Hurons among whom he preached.
Guide to Pronunciation:
e – like ‘eh’
8 = ‘w’ before vowel
‘u’ before consonant
i – like ‘ee’ in ‘freeze’,
a – like ‘ah’
th = t followed by an aspiration
on – as in the French word ‘bon’ en – as in the French word ‘chien’
an – as in the French word ‘viande’
Accents tend to fall on the 2nd last syllable
Iesous Ahatonnia (ee-sus a-ha-ton-nyah= Jesus, he is born)
Estennia,on de tson8e Ies8s ahatonnia
eh-sten-nyah-yon deh tson-weh ee-sus a-ha-ton-nyah
Have courage, you who are humans, Jesus, he is born
“His death has put the crown upon his life.” So Father Ragueneau, SJ, as on that distant April day at Fort Ste. Marie he concluded. He closed the little spiritual diary of the Saint which had lain open before him. It was difficult to brush away the haunting recollections of this man who just a few weeks ago had died a martyr at St. Ignace a mere six miles away. Sternly he set himself to completing the more prosaic details of his 1649 report to his superior back in France. Father Ragueneau, SJ, who had lived intimately with Father de Brefeuf for the last twelve years and who knew him well, was right. Fr. Jean de Brebeuf, SJ, by deliberate choice had worn the red, regal robes of a martyr ever since he entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Rouen thirty-one years before, and for love of Him who had previously passed that way had trodden, the rest of his days, down the long Royal Road of the Cross. On March 16, 1649, he found shining at its end the reward the crown accorded Paul and Lawrence and Sebastian and legions of Christ’s nobility before him. The fitting culmination of a martyr’s life was a martyr’s death.
Although he came from a France then in spiritual ferment, Brebeuf’s inner life remained to the end simple, direct, resolvable into one or two easily recognized elements. Its fibrous centre was the Jesuit Rule, its inspirational source the Passion of Our Lord, its overall characteristic daily, hourly martyrdom.
For almost twenty years before his death, Brebeuf’s resolution had been: “I’ll burst rather than voluntarily break any rule.” Such a resolve, if kept (and on the testimony of Ragueneau we know that it was kept), would alone be enough to make a man a Saint. It had been enough already to make a Saint of his fellow Jesuit, the Belgian John Berchmans, who died at Rome 1621, the year that Brebeuf became a sub-deacon.
Brebeuf’s forced return to France in 1629, his hopes for a missioner’s life and for a martyr’s death apparently dashed forever, was a spiritual milestone. He spent three brief years in France at this time, pegged to the distracting job of Bursar in a busy college. Yet for him these years were what a near lifetime passed in desert solitude might have been to some early eremite. They were fruitful years of probing self-knowledge, of, deepening and of simplification. During this period, his inner life assumed characteristics that would remain and single him out, among a hundred apparently similar saints, to the end of his days. This was the time when he set the perfect observance of the Rule of the Society of Jesus at the very centre of his spiritual life. It was during this period, as well, that he began really to lay bare the inexhaustible riches of Our Lord’s Passion. Now too came more sharply into focus his program of daily, hourly, self-inflicted martyrdom, since the possibility of that other martyrdom seemed forever removed. And at this time he was initiated, briefly, into the mystical life.
When David Kirke forced the French regime and the Jesuit missionaries temporarily out of New France he was doing a better thing than he knew. He was instrumental in providing strong impetus to the formation of a mystic and a saint.
Brebeuf was a giant, physically and spiritually, and so we are not surprised when he goes forward with great strides where other men, even other saints, appear to creep. But the reason for his swift progress lay ultimately in the motive which prompted him, the Love of God, the strongest as well as the highest of all possible motives. This is especially apparent when he starts earnestly and methodically to weave the red strands of the Passion into the pattern of his life. Many a holy man has, at least in the beginning, been impelled to a life of reparative suffering at the thought of his own earlier sins. Not so Brebeuf. With him it was love for Love. In his heart the pained cry of the first St. Ignatius, “My Love is crucified!” found true and responsive echo.
“I feel a great longing to suffer something for Christ,” he wrote in January, 1630 simply that, without further qualification except to say that God is treating him so gently these days that he is beginning to fear that he must be lost. Later in the same month he speaks of his sins, but only to balance them off against God’s goodness to him, and ingratitude to ask, “Lord, make me a man after Thine own Heart.” And paraphrasing that other great lover, St. Paul, he goes on to protest: “Nothing henceforward shall separate me from Thy love, not nakedness, not the sword, not death.”
-The Inner Flame of St John Brebeuf”, Elmer O’Brien, SJ
“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 would 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.” -from the spiritual diary of St Jean de Brebeuf, SJ
Father, You consecrated the first beginnings of the faith in North America by the preaching and martyrdom of Saints John and Isaac and their companions. By the help of their prayers may the Christian faith continue to grow throughout the world. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
-Brebeuf & Lalemant gravesite
Saint Jean de Brébeuf, obtain for me, through your intercession, courage to overcome all human respect, resignation in times of trial, confidence in God’s power and goodness, and zeal for my spiritual welfare; so that, raised above the things of earth, I may lead a truly Christian life and gain merit for eternity. Amen.
“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand over my body to be burned so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.” -1 Cor 13:1-3
-St John of Capistrano’s pulpit, St Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna, Austria
On a business trip, I was fortunate to visit Mission San Juan Capistrano, of swallows fame, in California. A married saint, sort of.
It has been said the Christian saints are the world’s greatest optimists. Not blind to the existence and consequences of evil, they base their confidence on the power of Christ’s redemption. The power of conversion through Christ extends not only to sinful people but also to calamitous events.
Famous as a preacher, theologian, and inquisitor, he earned himself the nickname ‘the Soldier Saint’ when in 1456 at age 70 he led a crusade against the invading Ottoman Empire at the siege of Belgrade with the Hungarian military commander John Hunyadi.
Imagine being born in the 14th century. One-third of the population and nearly 40 percent of the clergy were wiped out by the bubonic plague. The Western Schism split the Church with two or three claimants to the Holy See at one time. England and France were at war. The city-states of Italy were constantly in conflict. No wonder that gloom dominated the spirit of the culture and the times.
John Capistrano was born in 1386, the son of a German knight, his father died when John was still young. His education, however, was thorough. His talents and success were great. The young man studied law at the University of Perugia, and worked as a lawyer in Naples. He became a highly successful judge and magistrate in Perugia.
In 1412, when he was 26 he was made governor of Perugia by King Ladislaus of Naples, and was a great political reformer of that city. War broke out between Perugia and the House of Malatesta from Rimini in 1416. John tried to broker a peace, but when his opponents ignored a truce and he was betrayed, John was imprisoned after a battle against the Malatestas.
During his imprisonment, John resolved to change his way of life completely. He had married just before the war, but the marriage was never consummated, and with his bride’s permission, it was annulled. He joined the Franciscans at Perugia on 4 October 1416. At the age of 30 he entered the Franciscan novitiate and was ordained a priest four years later.
His preaching attracted great throngs at a time of religious apathy and confusion. He and 12 Franciscan brethren were received in the countries of central Europe as angels of God. They were instrumental in reviving a dying faith and devotion.
The Franciscan Order itself was in turmoil over the interpretation and observance of the Rule of St. Francis – the Fratricelli. Through John’s tireless efforts and his expertise in law, the heretical Fraticelli were suppressed.
John helped bring about a reunion with the Greek and Armenian Churches, unfortunately only a brief arrangement. As the Eastern Church began to realize the Turks would triumph, it sought reconciliation with Rome – its only possible hope. It is conjectured by scholars that the genesis of the Renaissance was the flight of Eastern Christian scholars, artists, and thinkers to the West occasioned by the final collapse of the Eastern Byzantine Empire, direct descendant of the ancient Empire of Rome itself. Two thousand years – not a bad run, actually.
When the Turks captured Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed II threatened Vienna and Rome. John was commissioned to preach a crusade for the defense of Europe. Gaining little response in Bavaria and Austria, he decided to concentrate his efforts in Hungary. He led the army to Belgrade. Under the great General John Hunyadi, they gained an overwhelming victory, and the siege of Belgrade was lifted. St John of Capistrano led his own contingent of soldiers into battle. Worn out by his superhuman efforts, Capistrano was an easy prey to the infection bred by the refuse of battle. He died October 23, 1456 of bubonic plague.
John Hofer, a biographer of John Capistrano, recalls a Brussels organization named after the saint. Seeking to solve life problems in a fully Christian spirit, its motto was: “Initiative, Organization, Activity.” These three words characterized John’s life. He was not one to sit around, ever. His deep Christian optimism drove him to battle problems at all levels with the confidence engendered by a deep faith in Christ.
On the saint’s tomb in the Austrian town of Villach, the governor had this message inscribed: “This tomb holds John, by birth of Capistrano, a man worthy of all praise, defender and promoter of the faith, guardian of the Church, zealous protector of his Order, an ornament to all the world, lover of truth and religious justice, mirror of life, surest guide in doctrine; praised by countless tongues, he reigns blessed in heaven.” That is a fitting epitaph for a real and successful optimist.
-statue of János Kapisztran (Saint John Capistrano) in Kapisztran Tér, Budapest, Hungary
“Those who are called to the table of the Lord must glow with the brightness that comes from the good example of a praiseworthy and blameless life. They must completely remove from their lives the filth and uncleanness of vice. Their upright lives must make them like the salt of the earth for themselves and for the rest of mankind. The brightness of their wisdom must make them like the light of the world that brings light to others. They must learn from their eminent teacher, Jesus Christ, what he declared not only to his apostles and disciples, but also to all the priests and clerics who were to succeed them, when he said, “You are the salt of the earth. But what is salt goes flat? How can you restore its flavor? Then it is good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” Jesus also said: “You are the light of the world.” Now a light does not illumine itself, but instead it diffuses its rays and shines all around upon everything that comes into its view. So it must be with the glowing lives of upright and holy clerics. By the brightness of their holiness they must bring light and serenity to all who gaze upon them. They have been placed here to care for others. Their own lives should be an example to others, showing how they must live in the house of the Lord. – from the treatise Mirror of the Clergy by Saint John of Capistrano
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3