Category Archives: Jesuit Martyrs

Feb 6 – Twenty-six crosses on a hill & “Silence”, the movie: love is stronger than death, 日本二十六聖人, Nihon Nijūroku Seijin


-1628 engraving, please click on the image for greater detail


-monument to the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki, 1962, please click on the image for greater detail

With the Oscars last night, will Hollywood ever tell this story, instead of apostasy? I doubt it. One of the reasons I started this blog, to, in my own small way, tell the brilliance of saints. When Christian missionaries returned to Japan 250 years later, they found a community of “hidden Catholics” that had survived underground.

Jn 11:25


-by Matthew E. Bunson

“A group of twenty-six Christians gave their lives for Christ on a hill near Nagasaki, Japan, on February 5, 1597. They are noteworthy not only for the zeal they showed as they died as martyrs, but for the model they provided to Japanese Christians for centuries to come. Their story reminds us that heroic examples of the Catholic faith transcend country and race.

Jesuit Beginnings

The Catholic faith was introduced into Japan on August 15, 1549 by the great Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier, SJ, who landed on the Japanese island of Kyushu with two fellow Jesuits, Cosme de Torres, SJ, and John Fernandez, SJ. Francis soon learned of the prevailing political situation. Despite the emperor’s traditionally accepted divine origins, he had little authority; instead the local lords (daimyo) exercised extensive powers. Francis concentrated on winning the confidence of the daimyo in the area, and on September 29, he visited Shimazu Takahisa, the daimyo of Kagoshima, and asked for permission to build the first Catholic mission in Japan. The daimyo readily agreed to his request, believing that such a church might help to establish a trade relationship with Europe.

Francis mastered Japanese, then took his preaching into the neighboring island of Honshu, the main island in the Japanese archipelago. Within six years, six hundred Japanese converted to the faith in one province alone. But the rapid growth of the new faith soon provoked a sharp reaction. In 1561, the daimyo of several provinces launched a persecution that compelled Christians to abjure their faith.

Surprisingly, the Shogunate of Japan initially gave its support to the enterprise of evangelization. Primarily the shoguns believed the new religion might curb the influence of the sometimes-troublesome Buddhist monks in the islands, but they also thought it would facilitate trade with the outside world. Nevertheless, the Japanese officials were suspicious of the long-term intentions of the representatives of Spain and Portugal, most so because they were aware of the expanding Spanish Empire in Asia and the Pacific.

The labors of Francis Xavier were carried on and furthered by the Jesuit Alessandro Valignano, who arrived in 1579. This remarkable missionary opened a school to teach new mission workers, established seminaries, and promoted vocations for the Jesuits among the inhabitants. By around 1580, eighty missionaries were caring for more than one hundred fifty-thousand Christians, including the daimyo Arima Harunobu.

In Rome, Pope Gregory XIII declared his immense satisfaction with the work of the Jesuits and issued the decreed Ex Pastorale Officio in 1585. He declared that the Japanese missions were the exclusive territory of the Society of Jesus. Two years later, the first diocese was created at Funai (modern Oita).


-St Francisco Blanco OFM, Lima, Peru, please click on the image for greater detail”

Change in Politics

Several events soon transpired that changed the tolerant atmosphere. First, assorted Catholic missionaries who lacked the subtlety of the Jesuits arrived in Japan and failed to respect Pope Gregory’s decree. Their aggressive manner offended many Japanese, especially those who feared that Christianity was merely a prelude to invasion by the European powers. Thus, by 1587, when there were over 200,000 Christians in Japan, an initial edict of persecution was instituted by the country’s regent, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Nearly 150 churches were destroyed and missionaries were condemned to exile from the islands. The missionaries declined to leave and found safe haven in various parts of Japan. As a result of the persecution, within a decade the number of Christians had increased by 100,000.

The second major turning point occurred on August 26, 1596, when the San Felipe, a Spanish trade ship traveling from Manila to North America, ran aground off the coast of Shikoku, the southeastern island of Japan. Angered by the violation of Japanese territory, Hideyoshi ordered that the cargo be confiscated, and among the items seized were several cannons. The discovery alarmed Japanese officials, and the ship’s pilot made matters worse. Furious over the loss of his cargo, he threatened the Japanese with military action by Spain, an invasion, he claimed, that would be assisted by the Christian missionaries in the country.

The threats were complete fabrications, of course, but Hideyoshi used the occasion to seize the ship and then to launch the first major anti-Christian persecution in the history of Japan. In 1597, the same year as the arrival of the first bishop, Pierre Martinez, S.J., the government launched its pogrom. The Christian religion was banned, and those who refused to abjure the faith were to be condemned to death.

The initial public execution took place at Nagasaki, a city that had become the center of the Christian faith in Japan. The first martyrs were Paul Miki and his companions.


-drawing remembering 26 Catholic martyrs of Nagasaki, please click on the image for greater detail

Marked for Death

Born around 1564, Paul Miki was the son of a Japanese soldier, Miki Handayu. He was educated by the Jesuits and joined the Society of Jesus in 1580, the first Japanese to enter any religious order. Paul swiftly earned a reputation for the eloquence of his preaching. He was on the verge of ordination when he was arrested and thrown together with twenty-four other Catholics condemned to die in the name of the emperor. With Paul were six European Franciscan missionaries, two other Japanese Jesuits and sixteen Japanese laymen. The laymen included Cosmas Takeya, a sword maker; Paul Ibaraki, a member of a distinguished samurai family; and his brother Leo Karasumaru, who had been a Buddhist monk. Also arrested were Louis Ibaraki, twelve, a nephew of Paul Ibaraki and Leo Karasumaru; and thirteen-year-old Anthony of Nagasaki.

The martyrs were assembled at Kyoto, condemned to die, and then ordered to be taken to Nagasaki for their execution. As was customary, the prisoners had their left ears cut off prior to setting out so that they would be marked as condemned. The march to Nagasaki lasted a month. Along the way the men suffered the tortures of their captors and the jibes of crowds, but they also won the respect of many onlookers as they marched, bleeding and exhausted but still praying and singing. One Japanese Christian layman named Francis—a carpenter from Kyoto—decided to follow the martyrs as they progressed until he was arrested himself and expressed his joy at being included among them.

After the grueling trek from Kyoto, the condemned arrived at last at the place of their martyrdom, the city of Nagasaki. At ten in the morning on February 5, they were led along the highway from Tokitsu to Omura, and then commanded to stop at a small cluster of hills at the base of Mount Kompira. At the lowest of these hills, called Nishizaka, common criminals were put to death, and the lingering smell of rotting corpses could be detected. All was in readiness: Twenty-six crosses awaited the Christians.

Seeing the horrendous surroundings, several Portuguese merchants went to the brother of the governor, Terazawa Hazaburo, and asked him to intervene and at least have the place of execution moved. The governor, Ierazawa Hazaburo, was willing to listen to their plea, especially as his brother was a friend of Paul Miki. As it happened, across the road from the hill of Nishizaka was a lovely field of wheat, and the governor decreed that the executions could be carried out there.


-crucifixion of the martyrs of Nagasaki. A painting in the Franciscan convent of the Lady of the Snows in Prague, please click on the image for greater detail.

Calm amid Horror

At the wheat field, the martyrs were divided by the soldiers into three groups, each one headed by a Franciscan reciting the rosary. Each of the martyrs had his own cross, the wood cut to his height. Gonzalo Garcia, the forty-year-old Franciscan lay brother from India, was the first to be led to his cross. He was shown the instrument of his imminent death, and he knelt to kiss it. Today, he is venerated as the patron saint of Mumbai. Following his example, the martyrs one by one embraced the wooden crosses before them.

Unlike the Romans, the Japanese officials did not use nails. Instead, they fixed the martyrs to their crosses by iron rings around the neck, hands, and feet and ropes tightly binding the waist. The one exception was the Spanish Franciscan priest, Peter Bautista, Superior of the Franciscan Mission in Japan. This former ambassador from Spain (who had devoted his ministry for some years to lepers) stretched out his hands and instructed the executioners to use nails. Paul Miki, meanwhile, proved shorter than his cross had been measured. As his feet did not reach the lower rings, the executioners tied him down at the chest with rope and linens.

With their victims affixed, the soldiers and executioners simultaneously lifted the crosses. As history has demonstrated many times before and after, the crowd that had gathered for amusement at the expense of the dying fell silent as the large crosses thudded into the holes in the earth and the martyrs exhaled in agony from the jarring drop. On the hill with them were four thousand Catholics from Nagasaki. Young Anthony looked down and beheld his family at the front of the crowd, and he spoke words of hope to them.

Then, just as each had embraced his cross, the martyrs one by one began to sing hymns of praise, the Te Deum and the Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus. The victims struggled to sing and to raise their voices to God one last time. From his cross, Paul Miki also preached for the last time. Seeing the edict of death hanging from one soldier’s long, curved spear for all to see, he responded to the charge, his voice carrying across the hills:

I did not come from the Philippines. I am a Japanese by birth, and a brother of the Society of Jesus. I have committed no crime, and the only reason why I am put to death is that I have been teaching the doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I am very happy to die for such a cause, and see my death as a great blessing from the Lord. At this critical time, when you can rest assured that I will not try to deceive you, I want to stress and make it unmistakably clear that man can find no way to salvation other than the Christian way. (Luis Frois, Martyrs’ Records)

And then the martyrs began their final minutes. The first to die was the Mexican Franciscan Brother Philip de Jesus, who had also been measured incorrectly, so his entire weight was placed on the ring around his neck. He slowly choked to death, until the order was given for two soldiers to pierce his chest on either side with their spears. The soldiers, in pairs, thrust their spears into each side of the remaining victims until the blades literally crossed each other. Death was virtually instantaneous. The martyrs accepted their end with the same prayerful calm that marked their ascent upon the crosses. The gathered crowd, however, cried out in anguish, and the din could be heard in the city of Nagasaki below. Many Japanese who watched the horror unfold became Christians themselves in the coming weeks and months. For the soldiers, the scene proved too much, and many began to weep at the courage of the dead Christians, especially young Louis Ibaraki who cried out, “Jesus . . . Mary” with his last breath.

With the execution over, the Christians in the crowd surged forward to soak up the blood of the martyrs in cloths and to remove small pieces of clothing to preserve as relics. Driven away forcibly by the guards, the crowds slowly dispersed, turning back to see the last rays of the sun framing the twenty-six crosses in stark relief.


-Catholic martyrs of Nagasaki, please click on the image for greater detail

Love is Stronger than Death

After dark, more people gathered. Christians from Nagasaki arrived to pray for the martyrs. In the days following, thousands more made a pilgrimage to the site. Peasants, local daimyo, soldiers, and foreigners stopped at the hill and remained there transfixed in prayer or amazement until the guards forced them away. Word spread across Japan, and the example of the twenty-six martyrs became the rallying cry for Christians.

The people of Nagasaki christened Nishizaka the “Martyrs’ Hill.” The next year, an ambassador from the Philippines was given permission by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to gather up the remains and the crosses. Pilgrims continued to visit the site, and the best efforts of officials could not stop new visits, both public and clandestine.

Paul Miki and his Companions proved the first of many thousands of martyrs in the church of Japan. Sporadic persecutions were conducted over subsequent years, erupting in 1613 under the sharp campaign of shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616), who considered Christianity to be detrimental to the good of Japan and the social order he was instituting. The next year, all missionaries were expelled and Japanese converts were commanded to abjure the faith. Long-simmering resentment against the persecutions culminated in a Christian uprising in 1637. This was mercilessly put down, and the once-flourishing Church in Japan seemed dead. Foreigners were forbidden to enter the country on pain of death.

The Church outside of Japan did not forget Paul Miki and his companions. The Twenty-Six Martyrs were beatified on September 15, 1627 under Pope Urban VIII, and they were canonized in 1862 by Pope Blessed Pius IX, making them the first canonized martyrs of the Far East. But then came a truly astonishing turn of events. In 1854, Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States arrived in Japan, and for the first time in two centuries, the country established official contact with the outside world. To the utter shock of Westerners, the Japanese Christians had not abandoned the faith despite brutal persecution. For two centuries, they had practiced the faith in secret. In 1865, priests from the Foreign Missions discovered twenty thousand Christians on the island of Kyushu alone. Religious liberty was at last granted in 1873 by the imperial government. What had sustained these Christians in the long dark years was their trust in Christ and the examples of those who had died for the faith. Foremost in their memory were the Twenty-Six Martyrs upon Nishizaka Hill.

Today, the site of the Twenty-Six Martyrs remains a beloved place of pilgrimage, and they are honored by the Monument of the 26 Martyrs erected in 1962, as well as a shrine and a museum. Thousands of visitors arrive every year. One of them, in 1981, was Pope John Paul II. He declared during his visit:

“On Nishizaka, on February 5, 1597, twenty-six martyrs testified to the power of the Cross; they were the first of a rich harvest of martyrs, for many more would subsequently hallow this ground with their suffering and death. . . . Today, I come to the Martyrs’ Hill to bear witness to the primacy of love in the world. In this holy place, people of all walks of life gave proof that love is stronger than death.

Foreign Franciscan missionaries – Alcantarines

Saint Martin of the Ascension
Saint Pedro Bautista
Saint Philip of Jesus
Saint Francisco Blanco
Saint Francisco of Saint Michael
Saint Gundisalvus (Gonsalvo) Garcia

Japanese Franciscan tertiaries

Saint Antony Dainan
Saint Bonaventure of Miyako
Saint Cosmas Takeya
Saint Francisco of Nagasaki
Saint Francis Kichi
Saint Gabriel de Duisco
Saint Joachim Sakakibara
Saint John Kisaka
Saint Leo Karasumaru
Saint Louis Ibaraki
Saint Matthias of Miyako
Saint Michael Kozaki
Saint Paul Ibaraki
Saint Paul Suzuki
Saint Pedro Sukejiroo
Saint Thomas Kozaki
Saint Thomas Xico

Japanese Jesuits

Saint James Kisai
Saint John Soan de Goto
Saint Paul Miki

O God our Father, source of strength to all your saints, Who brought the holy martyrs of Japan through the suffering of the cross to the joys of life eternal: Grant that we, being encouraged by their example, may hold fast the faith we profess, even to death itself; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Love of Him,
Matthew

Dec 3 – St Francis Xavier, SJ (1506-1552), Priest, Missionary, Co-founder Society of Jesus, “Simple Ain’t Easy”


-by Br Bartholomew Calvano, OP

“Sometimes God works in mysterious ways that we can’t understand. We may not be sure what exactly it is God wants us to do. At other times God’s will for us can be painfully simple. I say simple because what God wants us to do can often be quite obvious. I say painfully because that obvious task is not necessarily easy. Sometimes, we would rather have God’s will for us be mysterious rather than pay the cost that the obvious task demands of us.

Saint Francis Xavier, one of the first members of the Jesuits, provides an excellent example of someone who followed God’s will for him when it was simple and straightforward. He did this despite the pains he would have to undergo. At the direction of St. Ignatius, St. Francis Xavier left Europe to accompany the Portuguese explorers and preach throughout India and eventually even Japan. It was not a complicated task to do as he was told. Saint Francis Xavier simply had to go to those people who had never heard the Gospel and preach to them. St. Ignatius’s instructions were nothing more than a reissuing of the Great Commission which Jesus gave to the Apostles: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:19-20). The task could hardly be simpler: preach the Gospel to those who have not heard it.

Yet, this was not an easy task even if St. Francis Xavier knew what he had to do to accomplish it. He had to learn multiple languages in order to translate the Creed and other basic prayers, which he would use to catechize these foreign peoples. He traveled far and frequently. He was often on his own during these travels. The trials were even physically demanding. We can see this from one letter he sent back to the Jesuits in Rome:

“As to the numbers who become Christians, you may understand them from this, that it often happens to me to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptizing: often in a single day I have baptized whole villages. Sometimes I have lost my voice and strength altogether with repeating again and again the Credo and the other forms.” (quoted in The Life and Letters of St. Francis Xavier by Henry James Coleridge, S.J., 153)

Saint Francis Xavier, SJ, exemplifies the heroic virtue that allowed him to carry out day in and day out the simple, repetitive, sometimes even monotonous tasks to which God called him. Tasks that cost him a great deal of suffering. Sometimes, this is precisely the reminder that we need. God has called each and every one of us to do certain, simple tasks, most of which are not glamorous. These tasks are, nonetheless, the foundation of the Kingdom of God. The pain of these tasks for us may not be physical, it may be the pain of stepping out of our comfort zone or doing the job no one else wants to do. By being faithful in the obvious, repetitive, and sometimes distasteful tasks given to us, we can spread God’s love to the world one person at a time.

Eventually, St. Francis Xavier would die at the age of 46 from a fever while waiting for a boat to take him to China. This seems like a rather prosaic death for a saint who had served God so fervently. He did not die a martyr’s death. Instead, he bore witness to God by his arduous labor at a task he could never hope to complete in his lifetime. It was a task that wore him to the bone and ate away at his health, but he embraced it joyfully.

Most of those he preached to were eager to receive the Gospel and only needed someone to preach it to them. Likewise, there are many people in our lives who are ready to hear the Gospel if they only had someone to bring it to them. What will preaching the Gospel cost us?Are we, like St. Francis Xavier, willing to embrace the attendant hardships with joy? Can we be like Jesus who “for the sake of the joy that lay before him . . . endured the cross”(Heb 12:2)?


-Pilgrims pray by and view the body of St Francis Xavier during an exposition of the saint in December 2004.  Please click on the image for greater detail.


-missionary journeys of St Francis Xavier, SJ, (1541-1552).  Please click on the image for greater detail.

Love,
Matthew

May 19 – Bl Peter Wright, (1603-1651), SJ, Convert/Revert, Priest & Martyr

Peter Wright was born in Slipton, Northamptonshire, one of twelve children, in a Protestant family. While young, he converted to Catholicism. Peter was still young when his father died. He had to work in a country solicitor’s office at Thrapston in his home area. After spending ten years with the solicitor he enlisted in the English army in the Low Countries, but finding that he did not care for military life, he deserted after a month and went to Brabant.

Having drifted away from his faith in his youth, he visited the English Jesuits in Liège and asked to be reconciled to the Church. He then visited Ghent and for two years attended the college of the Jesuits. In 1629 he entered the Jesuit novitiate at Watten. After studying philosophy and then theology at Liège, he was ordained a priest there in 1636 and after a further period at Liège was sent to serve at the English College of St. Omer. From 1638-1644 he served as chaplain to Colonel Sir Henry Gage’s English regiment in the service of Spain, based near Ghent.

When Gage returned to England in the spring of 1644 to aid King Charles I, Wright went with him, first to Oxford and then to the relief of Basing House, the seat of John Paulet, 5th Marquess of Winchester. He administered the sacraments to the dying Gage on January 11, 1645. After this Wright became the marquess’s chaplain, first in Hampshire and later in the London house. Wright was seized there by a band of pursuivants who burst in on Candlemas day, 2 February 1651.

Committed to Newgate, he was brought to trial before Henry Rolle, Lord Chief Justice, sitting with justices Philip Jermyn and Richard Aske and others, at the Old Bailey 14–16 May. Something of the atmosphere of the times should be clear when it is recalled that Charles I had been put on trial and subsequently been executed on January 30, 1649. The evidence at Wright’s trial was provided by the informer Thomas Gage, apostate brother of the late Sir Henry and a renegade Dominican priest. Thomas Gage had met Wright in the years when he was a military chaplain and testified against him. The whole scene, about which numerous details have survived, was little like a modern court of law and bizarre moments included the Parliamentarian Lord Chief Justice rebuking the half-deranged informer for speaking disrespectfully of his Royalist soldier brother.

Wright was condemned under the statute 27 Eliz., c. 2. for being a Catholic priest in England, and sentenced on Saturday May 17 to being hanged, drawn and quartered. His execution at Tyburn, London on a hot Whit Monday, 19 May 1651, took place before over twenty thousand spectators. In the period of the trial and the days after his execution, Wright was if not popular, at least a respected figure in public opinion. The sheriff’s officers also seem to have been relatively well disposed to him and he was allowed to hang until he was dead, being thus spared the agonies of being eviscerated alive.

Protestant Bishop Challoner records: “Having celebrated Mass with great devotion, the time drew near when he was to go down in order for execution. Hearing the knocking at the iron grate, he took it as a summons from Heaven, and cried out:

“I come, sweet Jesus, I come.”

When Fr Wright was called out to the hurdle, he went with so much alacrity and speed that the officers could scarce keep pace with him; then being placed on the hurdle he made a short act of contrition; and in the midst of mutual embraces was absolved by Fr Cheney, and then drawn away to Tyburn through the streets crowded with an innumerable multitude of people. He was drawn on the hurdle more like one sitting than lying down; his head was covered, his countenance smiling, a certain air of majesty, and a courage and cheerfulness in his comportment, which was both surprising and edifying, not only to the Catholics who crowded to ask his benediction, but to the Protestants themselves, as many publicly declared.

Thirteen malefactors were appointed to die with him, to whom the father endeavoured to give seasonable advice for the welfare of their souls, but was continually interrupted by the minister, and therefore desisted, betaking himself to silent prayer, in which he employed about an hour, standing with his eyes shut, his hands joined before his breast, his countenance sweet and amiable, and his whole body without motion as one in deep contemplation. When the minister took occasion to tell him it was not yet too late, and that he might save his life if he would renounce the errors of Popery:

“If I had a thousand lives I would most willingly give them all up in defence of the Catholic religion.” The hangman having fitted the rope to his neck, the confessor made a short speech to the spectators: “Gentlemen, this is a short passage to eternity; my time is now short, and I have not much to speak. I was brought hither charged with no other crime but being a priest. I willingly confess I am a priest; I confess I am a Catholic; I confess I am a religious man of the Society of Jesus, or as you call it, a Jesuit. 

This is the cause for which I die; for this alone was I condemned, and for propagating the Catholic faith, which is spread through the whole world, taught through all ages from Christ’s time, and will be taught for all ages to come.

For this cause I most willingly sacrifice my life, and would die a thousand times for the same if it were necessary; and I look upon it my greatest happiness, that my most good God has chosen me most unworthy to this blessed lot, the lot of the saints. This is a grace which so unworthy a sinner could scarce have wished, much less hoped for.

And now I beg of the goodness of my God with all the fervour I am able, and most humbly entreat Him that He would drive from you that are Protestants the darkness of error, and enlighten your minds with the rays of truth. And as for you Catholics, my fellow soldiers and comrades, as many of you as are here I earnestly beseech you to join in prayer for me and with me till my last moment; and when I shall come to Heaven I will do as much for you. God bless you all; I forgive all men. From my heart I bid you all farewell till we meet in a happy eternity.”

Having spoken to this effect, he again recollected himself a while in prayer, and then the cart was drawn away, and he was suffered to hang till he quietly expired. His dead body was cut down, beheaded, bowelled, and quartered. His friends were permitted to carry off his head and quarters which were translated to Liege, and there honourably deposited in the college of the English Jesuits. He suffered aged 48, and after 22 years of religious life.”

Love,
Matthew

Jun 20 – Bl Dominic Collins, SJ (1566-1602) – Religious & Martyr

Dominic Collins was born in the seaport town of Youghal, in County Cork, Ireland. His family was well established and respected and both his father and brother were mayors of Youghal. It was in the time of Queen Elizabeth and Anglicanism was the official religion and Irish Catholics were subjected to persecution from time to time.

Although the situation was not yet critical in Youghal, Dominic felt that he did not have much future in the town. Like many others, he decided to leave Ireland and make a better life in Europe. So at the age of twenty, Collins arrived in France. He had dreams of joining the cavalry but for that he needed a horse so he worked for some time in various hostelries in Brittany, north-west France. Eventually, he was enlisted in the army of the Duke of Mercoeus, who was a member of the Catholic League fighting against the Protestan Huguenots in Brittany. Dominic had a distinguished military career lasting nine years.

He was promoted to captain of the cavalry and later military governor when he managed to recover land from the Huguenots.

Although he had a good pension following his service to the King of Spain, he began to realize that being a soldier was not the future he wanted. In the Lent of 1598, he met an Irish Jesuit, Thomas White, who introduced him to the Jesuit superiors in Salamanca, Spain, after hearing Dominic’s desire to do something better with his life. Although he was now 32 years old, the Jesuit provincial thought it was wise to delay his entrance, perhaps to test the strength of his vocation. There were doubts too about his sufficiently educated to become a priest but he was willing to be a Jesuit brother. He entered the Jesuit novitiate in Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain in December 1598. When the Jesuit College was struck by a plague, Dominic tended the victims, nursing some of them back to health and comforting the others in their last hours. A report from that time describes him as a man of sound judgement and great physical strength; mature, prudent and sociable, though inclined to be hot-tempered and obstinate. He was allowed to profess temporary religious vows in the Society in February 1601.

Soon after his profession, an expedition was organized by King Philip III of Spain to assist Hugh O’Neill and Red Hugh O’Donnell in their attempt at revolt against English rule. Seven months after his profession, Brother Dominic Collins was assigned as companion and assistant to Fr James Archer, an Irish Jesuit who was being sent by the king as chaplain to the expedition. Fr Archer has specifically asked for Collins as his assistant due to his extensive military background.

The two Jesuits sailed in September 1601 on different vessels which became separated during a storm. When Bro Collins finally reached Ireland in December, two months after Fr Archer; Castlehaven in southwestern Cork on 1 December, the main squadron with Fr Archer having reached Kinsale more than two months earlier.

The Irish attacked Kinsale at dawn on Christmas Eve but were defeated. Bro Collins was reunited with Fr Archer in February 1602 and together the two Jesuits proceeded to Dunboy Castle, which the Irish had recently regained. Some months later Bro Collins found himself (Fr Archer had left for Spain to persuade the king to send reinforcements) besieged inside Dunboy Castle with 143 defenders. With the landing on 6 June of huge English forces, Dunboy Castle fortifications began to crumble under the heavy bombardment. Many of the Irish defenders were killed and the Castle surrendered. With the exception of Dominic Collins and two others, all the remaining 77 defenders were executed by hanging in the castle yard.

Dominic was later imprisoned in Cork, tortured for three months, and, despite several offers to spare his life if he would divulge information about Catholics and to renounce his vocation as a Jesuit and join the established Church, he flatly refused. He also rejected the offer of an honorable position in the English army and Protestant offers of ecclesiastical preferment if he would renounce his Catholic faith. Even his own relatives tried persuading him to renounce the faith publicly while inwardly remaining faithful to Catholicism. But this he would not do.

He was finally condemned to death and on 31 October 1602 he was taken to Youghal, his hometown and hanged. Before climbing the scaffold, he spoke to the crowd in Irish, Spanish, and English, saying he was happy to die for his faith. He was so cheerful that an English officer remarked, “He is going to his death as eagerly as I would go to a banquet.” Bro Collins overheard him and replied, “For this cause I would be willing to die not one but a thousand deaths.” So moved was the crowd that the hangman fled and a passing fisherman was forced to do the job.

Blessed Dominic is remembered for his constancy in the faith. Though freedom and advancement were set before him, he chose to “endure the cross, despising its shame” (cf. Heb 12:2).

Dominic’s martyrdom is commemorated in a carving at St. Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, Co. Cork. Liturgically his feast is celebrated on 20 June, or 30 October (in the Society of Jesus). Today a Jesuit residence in Dublin is named for him.

Left hanging on the gallows, the rope eventually broke and Dominic’s body fell to the ground. Under cover of darkness, local Catholics took his body away and buried him with respect in a secret place. From that day he was venerated as a martyr in Youghal and his fame quickly spread throughout Ireland and Europe. In the Irish Colleges of Douai and Salamanca the Jesuits showed his portrait and many favors and cures were attributed to his intercession. Although used to the rough life of the army camp, Dominic always kept a strange innocence and gentleness. He is one of the most attractive of all the Irish martyrs.

All powerful and ever-living God, You gave us an example of marvelous courage in the blessed martyrs Dominic and his companions. For the joy that was set before them they endured the cross, despising its shame. Grant by their prayers that, faithful to Your commandments, we may bring forth the fruits of unity and peace.

Love,
Matthew

Jul 4 – Martyrs of Dorchester, (d. 1594), Bls John Cornelius, SJ, Thomas Bosgrave, John Carey, Patrick Salmon – “Oh, Precious Collar!!”

dorset_memorial
-Dorset Martyrs Memorial, Gallows Hill, Dorchester, England

There is a very special communion between the laity and the ordained. Not merely too many calories delivered to rectories at holidays, or generous gifts for Father from time to time; one priest who received a new car famously quipped, “All THIS!!!! AND eternal life, too!!!”

It is recorded, often, in history, when oppressed, persecutors believed by destroying the priesthood, they would succeed in in destroying the faith. Untrue, time and time, again. When Asian missionaries returned, it is recorded, to Far Eastern missions where once they evangelized after several hundred years of absence, the clandestine faith still survived, albeit adapted to life without clergy, but it persisted. It is stronger than that. It always has been. So, “though the mountains fall into the sea”, yet shall we trust in His promises. The gates of Hell shall not prevail against us.

Persecution in England in the late 17th century was part of a crackdown by the Elizabethan government after the Decree of 1585, which made it an offense punishable by death to seek ordination to the priesthood oversees and return to England. This story, like others just like it, is of Catholic laity and that special communion with the ordained.

John, Thomas, John and Patrick were executed together at Dorchester on July 4, 1594: John Cornelius, who trained for the priesthood at Douai and Rome, was arrested in April; his companions were arrested for assisting him. John became a Jesuit while imprisoned in London. All of them were from Ireland:

Father John Cornelius, their leader, was born in 1557 to Irish parents who had moved to Great Britain. A Dorsetshire Catholic knight, Sir John Arundel, sent him to Oxford University to study. But John was too Catholic in his convictions to be pleased with the “new religion” that dominated the University. Feeling called rather to the Catholic priesthood, he crossed the Channel and enrolled at the English college in Rheims for holy orders. From Rheims he went on to the English College in Rome to complete his theology, and it was at Rome that he was ordained a priest.

Return to England as a Catholic priest was at that time forbidden under pain of death. But Father John, a man of prayer and zeal, saw in that law a challenge rather than a deterrent, as did the rest of the contemporary English priests who set service to persecuted Catholics as their top priority. His assignment was to the Catholics of Dorset. These priests’ ministry was a “cloak-and-dagger” operation, since they were always in danger of discovery and arrest. Their capture could mean also the arrest and punishment of anybody who assisted them.

Naturally, the missionaries’ terms of service were usually short, for the police were alert and aggressive. Cornelius (he also went by the alias of Mohun, although his real surname seems to have been O’Mahony) was finally seized by the sheriff of Dorset on April 24, 1594, at the Chideock Castle of Lady Arundel.

Having seized the priest by surprise, the Sheriff was about to hurry him off hatless. Now, in that hat-conscious age, to be hatless was to appear uncivilized. Thomas Bosgrave, a gallant young Cornish nephew of Sir John Arundel and a witness to the arrest, stepped forward and offered Father John his own hat. “The honor I owe to your function,” he declared, “may not suffer me to see you go bareheaded!” It was a simple gesture of charity to a priest, but he was to pay for his piety. The Sheriff promptly arrested Bosgrave, too, for “aiding” a Catholic clergyman. He likewise arrested two serving-men of this Catholic household, Dubliners John Carey and Patrick Salmon. Content, no doubt, with the day’s work, the county official then led his catch off to jail.

Cornelius, the most important of them, was taken to London to be examined by Queen Elizabeth’s Privy Council. The Council had him stretched on the rack to force him to name all those who had given him shelter or assistance. Torture would not open his lips, however, so he was sent back to Dorchester for trial, along with the three lay captives. On July 2, the court declared the priest guilty of high treason under the law that forbade Catholic priests to enter England and remain there. Bosgrave, Carey and Salmon were pronounced guilty of felony for aiding and abetting Father John. The sentence was the same for all: hanging, drawing, and quartering.

After the court had published its judgment, it offered all four men a reprieve if they would give up their Catholic faith. All four refused.

The execution took place at Dorchester two days later. The three laymen were hanged first. John Carey is reported to have said as the noose hung before his face, kissing the rope, “Oh! Precious collar!” Each made a Catholic profession of faith before the trap was sprung. Father John then kissed the feet of his hanging companions. He then kissed the gallows with the words of Saint Andrew, “O Cross, long desired.” He was not allowed to make any formal statement; but he did manage to state that he had been lately admitted into the Jesuits, and would have been en route to the Jesuit novitiate in Flanders had he not been arrested.

Dorset Martyrs Memorial, Gallows Hill, Dorchester

The Dorset Martyrs Memorial at Gallows Hill on South Walks, Dorchester was created by Dame Elisabeth Frink and was erected in 1986. It was funded by institutions and individuals of all denominations and the Arts Council of Great Britain through South West Arts.

The memorial represents two martyrs facing Death and commemorates all Dorset men and women who suffered for their faith and, in particular, seven known Catholics who were executed where the Memorial now stands, including —

John Cornelius SJ, Priest, executed 4 July 1594

John Cornelius was born in Bodmin of Irish descent and was sent to Exeter College, Oxford by Sir John Arundell. He was ordained in 1584 at the English College in Rome.

John Cornelius was a Chaplain to the Arundell family at Chideock Castle where he was arrested after a search of the castle and sent to Dorchester to be tried for high treason along with

Thomas Bosgrave, John Carey and Patrick Salmon. Executed on 4 July 1594, along with Fr Cornelius, SJ.

Thomas Bosgrave was the son of Leonard Bosgrave and the grandson of Sir John Arundell, making him the great-great-grandson of Thomas Gray, 1st Marquis of Dorset and half-brother to Elizabeth of York, Queen Consort of King Henry VII.

Thomas Bosgrave, together with John Carey and Patrick Salmon, servants at Chideock Castle, was arrested and taken with John Cornelius to Dorchester where they were charged with harbouring a priest contrary to the statute of 1585.

Gallows Hill

dorchester
-please click on the image for a more detailed view

John Speed’s map of Dorchester was published in 1610. It shows the position of the gallows on Gallows Hill on the bottom of the map towards the right,close to the modern junction of Icen Way and South Walks. The gallows was made of two uprights and a crossbeam connecting them with enough space for a two-wheeled cart to pass through and enough space for multiple hangings. At that time the County Gaol wa son High East Street near Icen Way, which used to be called Gaol Lane.

In the 16th and 17th centuries the penalty for high treason was to be hung, drawn and quartered. The victim was tortured, imprisoned, then taken to the gallows. He or she would be cut down after a short hanging, sometimes still alive, and cruelly butchered, with the limbs being torn from the body. The dismembered corpse was often placed on gateways. This is how John Cornelius, SJ and many more died.

The gallows was removed to Maumbury Rings around 1703, which means that many of the 74 prisoners condemned to death during the ‘Bloody Assize’ following the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 will also have been executed there.

Love,
Matthew

Psalm 130 – De Profundis clamavi ad te Domini

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda
-Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, Folio 70r – De Profundis, the Musée Condé, Chantilly.

For 800 yrs Dominicans have lined the hallways of their priories, where they have buried their dead, and sung the De Profundis, in remembrance. Very moving to experience. I also have the pleasure of owning and having read Fr. Ciszek’s, SJ, book He Leadeth Me.

Profound sinner though I am, I pray, Lord, if it be Your holy will, allow me the privilege and grace to suffer and die for You!! Better yet, let me despise my many sins, and live instead in faithfulness to You and Your will. Amen.

De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine!
Out of the depths, I cry to You, O Lord!

philip_nolan
-by Br Philip Nolan, OP

“After years of interrogation at the hands of the Soviet secret police, the American Jesuit Walter Ciszek reached a breaking point. He had been falsely accused of spying for the Vatican and was subjected to isolation and near starvation. As he records in his autobiographical account He Leadeth Me, under this strain his prayer life and mental stability both collapsed in a moment of despair: “I knew that I had gone beyond all bounds, had crossed over the brink into a fit of blackness I had never known before.” The cause of this crisis? He had always conceived of his “role—man’s role—in the divine economy as an active one,” but now, brought to destitution & desolation, he hadn’t the strength to go on. Thus for “one sickening split second,” he gave up on his life and on his salvation.

He came out of this experience only after being stripped of all trust in his own strength: “I realized I had been trying to do something with my own will and intellect that was at once too much and mostly all wrong.” He discovered that he had to see that every action, every impulse, was a moment for cooperation with the directive love of God.

While Ciszek came to understand what it meant to rely on God’s grace through extraordinary suffering, it’s something we all have to learn. And for all of us, it involves suffering—primarily, the suffering of dying to self. How do we let go of that trust in ourselves that makes us so defensive when challenged, so worried when we’re uncertain about the future, and so frustrated when things don’t go according to our plans? So much of our mental and spiritual energy goes into protecting that center of false self-reliance that its removal seems impossible for us. And, for man, it is impossible.

The psalmist tells God, “It was good for me to be afflicted / to learn Your will.” That’s fairly easy to say in a moment of contentment, but if someone told that to me during the miseries of the stomach flu, let alone in a Soviet prison camp, I’d find it much harder to believe. But notice that the psalmist says it was good—he’s reflecting on the past. He didn’t necessarily see or appreciate the point of afflictions while they happened, but in retrospect he can begin to see why God had allowed the difficulties in his life. His understanding came from a habit of reflecting about what had happened to him, what God had allowed. [PRAISE HIM!!! PRAISE HIM!!!]

I’m reminded of the title character in Marilynne Robinson’s novel Lila. She spends much of the book musing: “I just been wondering lately why things happen the way they do.” It sounds like a simple question, but the very phrasing of it implies a deep insight—things happen. Like the psalmist and Ciszek, Lila, too, had suffered. She had known what it was to be powerless. She had lived a childhood that would have been disorienting and traumatizing to the steadiest disposition. If someone told her she was the maker of her own destiny, it would have sounded a farce to her. As a result, she lives a posture towards her own life that is one of wonder—“I just been wondering”—even if it’s a wonder that is often confused and frightened.

Things happen to us and we don’t know why. We don’t create our lives; we haven’t chosen many of their events. We both participate in the story of our lives and observe them. As we live, and suffer, we have the opportunity again and again to wonder and ponder why things happen the way they do. Over time, we can hope with Ciszek “to see [God’s] will in all things, … to accept every situation and circumstance and let oneself be borne along in perfect confidence and trust.” [PRAISE HIM!!! PRAISE HIM!!!]

Love & trusting in the the Divine Will. Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!!!
Matthew

Dec 26 – St Noel Chabanel, SJ, (1613-1649): Priest & Martyr, “resist your temptation to put down your Cross”

St_Noel_Charbanel_SJ

Mk 15:30

When making the Stations of the Cross, particularly in stations 3, 7, 9, where Jesus falls, I meditate on this truth most fully. Why not stay down? The release of not carrying the full weight must be welcome, but the fall hurt, too. The Roman soldiers will beat Him to death where He lay if He does not move. He still has His most important work to do, as do we. Jesus, help me rise as You did, when I fall from the exhaustion, horror, and great burden of my own crosses. I have work to do, Lord. Be my help, my strength, and my salvation.

The Jesuit priest St. Noel Chabanel, SJ was one of the North American Martyrs; he worked among the Huron Indians with St. Charles Garnier. Missionaries often become very sympathetic toward those to whom they minister, but this was not the case for Fr. Noel; he felt a strong repugnance for the Indians and their customs. This, along with difficulty in learning their language and similar challenges, caused him a lasting sense of sadness and spiritual suffocation. How did he respond? By making a solemn vow never to give up or to leave his assignment — a vow that he kept until the day of his martyrdom.

-by PETER AMBROSIE

A CALL TO COURAGE

“I am going where obedience calls me, but whether I stay there or receive permission from my superior to return to the mission where I belong, I must serve God faithfully until death.” These, perhaps his last recorded words, Rev. Noel Chabanel, SJ spoke on the very day of his death, Dec. 8, 1649 to the Fathers in charge of St. Matthias mission among the Petuns. They give us the measure of this unique Martyr and Saint. St Mere Marie de l’Incarnation in a letter to her son dated Aug.30, 1650 said of him, “Whatever may be, he died in the act of obedience.”

What kind of man was Noel Chabanel? From the viewpoint of the length, intensity and success of their missionary activities the eight North American Martyrs fall into two groups: the “big four” and the “little four.” Brebeuf, Daniel, Garnier and Jogues belong to the first class; Lalemant, Goupil, de la Lande and Noel Chabanel, to the second. The “little four” suffer by contrast with the herculean labors of the “big four.” But all of them equally shed their blood in witness to Christ and His message.

EARLY YEARS

Noel Chabanel was the youngest of the priests and the last of the band of eight to suffer martyrdom in the new world. His birthplace in south-eastern France, the village of Saugues about a hundred miles northwest of the port of Marseilles, nestled in hill country which was the source of four rivers, the Loire, Seine, Garonne and Rhone. Here on the banks of the Lozere, a tributary of the Loire, Chabanel was born on Feb. 2, 1613, the feast of the Purification of Our Lady. His father, a notary, and his mother sprung from merchant stock, raised their four children, Pierre, Claude, Antoinette and Noel, the youngest, in comfort, yet in the firmness of the traditional Catholic upbringing of early 17th century France.

Though the details of his boyhood are somewhat scanty, we know that Noel was first educated in the basic humanities in the Chapter school in Saugues and then as a teenager in higher studies at an unknown college. His brother Pierre entered the Society of Jesus in 1623 and Noel, just past seventeen years old, entered the Jesuit novitiate in Toulouse on Feb. 8, 1630. After a two years novitiate and his first vows he taught rhetoric quite successfully in the college of that city from 1632-1639.

From 1639 to 1641 he did his studies in theology there, followed by his Tertianship, a third probationary year, still in Toulouse, 1641-1642. In 1641 he was ordained a priest. His years of training ended in a classroom teaching rhetoric again, this time at the college of Rodez The Jesuit catalogue for the Province of Toulouse leaves this pointed portrait of Chabanel: “Serious by nature – energetic – great stability -better than average intelligence.”

BIRTH OF A MISSIONARY

During his twelve years as a Jesuit the young Society of Jesus knew its golden age in France, multiplying into five Provinces or territorial divisions between the years 1545 and 1616. Jesuit foreign missionary activity, too, spread east, west and south. From the famous Jesuit Rela-tions Noel learned of the heroic work of his fellow Jesuits in New France. In the seventeenth century sophisticated France was thrilled with the tales graphically written each year by the Jesuits in New France. These were the Jesuit Relations – one of the world’s most famous records of adventure, history and heroic sanctity, unique be-cause they were history written on the spot in the hour of its making.

Especially during his Tertianship the tiny flame of his ambition to become a missionary fanned into a fierce desire. In the words of his chief chronicler, Paul Ragueneau, “God gave him a strong vocation for this country.” Twice he wrote to the General of the Society of Jesus in Rome, Mutius Vitelleschi. The first time requesting that his studies be curtailed and that he be sent immediately to answer the urgent call for missionaries in New France. The reply of the General on November 15, 1642, though negative, left the door open. Finally on April 4, 1643 his obedient patience was rewarded when a reply from the General to his second letter allowed him to leave for New France.

On May 8,1643 Noel’s dream became a reality. As he stood aboard-ship in the port of Dieppe, this young priest, thirty years old, looked west across the Atlantic with its bright promise of adventure for Christ. Little did he suspect how strange, how mysterious, how demanding the adventure in New France was to be for a sensitive young man raised and schooled in the comparative comfort, shelter and luxury of old France.

With Noel travelled two Jesuits, Gabriel Druillet and Leonard Garreau, a native of Limoges of the Province of Aquitaine. Could Noel suspect that Father Garreau would be the last Jesuit he would see and confide in, on the eve of his death?

ARRIVAL IN QUEBEC

The perilous crossing of the Atlantic in the early 17th century with its many hazards has often been described in the Jesuit Relations. This was Noel’s special introduction to the new world and a presage of what was in store for him. After a three months’ voyage they landed in the settlement of Quebec on August 15. Ironically, the Relation of that year records that his confreres in Quebec were overjoyed at the arrival of “three worthy workers, Religious of our Society, and very apt for the language.” The life of Chabanel was to prove how unprophetic these words were to be for him! For, of the five Jesuit Martyrs killed in Canada, Noel was the only one who had no flair for the native languages.

INSECURITY OF THE FRENCH SETTLEMENTS

The picture in New France was anything but bright the past year. 1642 was a year of great crisis for the missionaries in Huronia. The Huron mission had been cut off from Quebec by the Iroquois blockade. No flotilla of Huron canoes had come down to Quebec for the yearly trade. By the same token no provisions had made their way back to the isolated mission in Huronia. Finally in the summer of 1642 Isaac Jogues, a veteran of six years in the Huron missions, was picked to break through the blockade for desperately needed supplies. Miraculously he made the journey to Quebec after thirty-five days canoeing. On his return trip to Sainte-Marie Jogues and Rene’ Goupil were am-bushed and taken captive into Iroquois territory, where Goupil, sur-geon and saint, suffered martyrdom on September 29,1642, the first of the band of eight to die a martyr. Even the inhabitants of Quebec, Three Rivers and the recently founded settlement of Ville Marie (Montreal) did not escape the cruel and daring raids of the prowling Iroquois. It was during this period of fear and uncertainty that Noel landed in Quebec. Although warmly welcomed by his Jesuit brothers -and this compensated somewhat for the crude conditions he found – he could feel the atmosphere of danger, fear and insecurity.

A highlight of Noel’s winter stay in Quebec was meeting the senior veteran missionary, Rev. Jean de Brebeuf,SJ who had left Huronia in 1641 suffering from a broken left clavicle sustained while on a mission among the Neutrals. In Quebec during his recuperation period Brebeuf served as procurator or supplier for the Huron mission. Because of the hazard of journeying that fall of 1643 to the Huron mission, Noel Chabanel had to stay in Quebec that winter getting his first initiation of missionary work in and around the settlement. Like all newly arrived blackrobes, his ignorance of the difficult Indian languages – so different from his polished French – would curtail his initial apostolate among the native people. So Father Noel would do chaplain duty at the Ursuline Convent and work with the colonists and soldiers of the little settlement.

HURONIA BOUND -1644

When the ice went out of the St. Lawrence in the spring of 1644, Father Bressani made a desperate attempt to carry aid to the isolated Fathers in distant Huronia. He and his party were ambushed and taken captive by the lurking Iroquois. In late spring a few christian Hurons managed to arrive in Quebec from Huronia with word of the dire needs of the blackrobes there. On their return trip after trading they too were seized by the enemy. Finally, Governor Montmagny decided to send an armed escort of a score of French soldiers to Sainte-Marie, the black-robe missionary centre on the Wye River in Huronia. So in midsummer of 1644 Fathers Brebeuf, Chabanel and Garreau left Quebec in an attempt to reach Huronia.

ARRIVAL AT STE-MARIE AMONG THE HURONS

The treacherous northern water route via the Ottawa was another cruel initiation for Noel. The party reached the Residence of Ste-Marie on the Wye on September 7, 1644. Almost at once Noel Chabanel took up the study of the Huron language. For the next five years of his life Chabanel’s world was to be encompassed by his life at Ste-Marie and a few missionary excursions, working first with Jean de Brebeuf and finally with Charles Garnier.

Here at Ste-Marie, face to face with the harsh realities of the coun-try, Noel’s zeal was spurred when he met the veteran missionaries of Huronia. From time to time they returned from their mission outposts to Ste-Marie which served as their base of operations, their council chamber, their refuge and place of recollection, their haven for spiritual and social comfort.

THE LANGUAGE BARRIER

The Relation for this year informs us that Noel was destined at first to work with the nomadic Algonkins who were resident in the Huron dis-trict. After a winter’s hard work at learning the Indian language he came to a shocking realization. Try as he would, he could not master the intricate Indian tongue. Paul Ragueneau, his superior at Ste-Marie, best describes this tragedy. “Once here, even after three, four, five years of study of the Indian language, he made such little progress that he could hardly be understood even in the most ordinary conversation. This was no small mortification for a man burning with the desire to convert the Indians. Besides, it was particularly painful, for his memory had always been good, as were his other talents, which was proven by his years of satisfactory teaching of rhetoric in France.”

In one of the most touching documents of the Jesuit Relations, Ragueneau gives a poignant picture of the struggles of this heroic man who wrote of himself as a “bloodless martyr in the shadow of martyrdom.” To make matters worse his tastes were so delicate and sensitive that he found everything about the Indian customs and culture crude, foreign, even revolting. One would think that this is more than enough suffering for one man to bear. But there is more. “When in addition God withdraws His visible graces, and remains hidden, although a person sighs for Him alone and when He leaves the soul a prey to sadness, disgust and natural aversions; these are trials which are greater than ordinary virtue can bear.” Certain it is that, without the strength of God which Chabanel incessantly prayed for, his courage would have broken under the severe strain.

For five frightful years Chabanel had to endure this desolating martyrdom. During this agony Noel saw Brebeuf, Daniel, Garnier and others of his brothers competent and successful at their work. Here he was, frustrated before he could begin, denied the one essential tool for success – the ability to communicate with his native flock. Perhaps, though, the most bitter pill of all was the scorn and ridicule the natives heaped on him for his courageous but abortive attempts to speak their language – this, even from the children! He seemed easy prey to the subtle temptation assailing him again and again to leave this primitive country and return to France where there was plenty of work more suited to his character and talents.

Yet, Noel, though severely tested, refused to come down from the cross on which God had placed him. In fact to bind himself more irrevocably to his cross he made a vow to remain on it for life. The Relation of 1650 preserves for us the wording of this vow which he pronounced at Ste-Marie on June 20, 1647 on the Feast of Corpus Christi. It is worth quoting in full as it reveals the steely quality of this person who, though sensitive by nature, by God’s grace persevered to the bitter end.

“My Lord, Jesus Christ, Who, by the admirable dispositions of Divine Providence, hast willed that I should be a helper of the holy apostles of this Huron vineyard, entirely unworthy though I be, drawn by the desire to cooperate with the designs which the Holy Ghost has upon me for the conversion of these Hurons to the faith; I, Noel Chabanel, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament of Your Sacred Body and Most Precious Blood, which is the Testament of God with man; I vow perpetual stability in this Huron Mission; it being understood that all this is subject to the dictates of the Superiors of the Society of Jesus, who may dispose of me as they wish. I pray, then, 0 Lord, that You will deign to accept me as a permanent servant in this mission and that You will render me worthy of so sublime a ministry. Amen.”

That heroic vow won for Chabanel, in this life, strength to endure every hardship, and, on the day of the canonization of the Martyrs, the distinction of standing as an equal beside those whom he regarded as his superiors. As Christ did in His passion, Noel repeated in his life the struggle against the powers of darkness, a struggle sustained only through persevering prayer.

Despite his crucifixion of loneliness and discouragement, with the support of his superior, Father Ragueneau, and his spiritual guide, Father Pierre Chastelain, Noel carried on, day by day, as best he could, serving in whatever way he could, but always in a secondary role, in the shadow of his more successful brother missionaries. While residing at Ste-Marie, 1644 to 1645, Chabanel found innumerable tasks to keep him busy, ministering to the many needs in the European residence and the Indian compound. Was a companion needed to go to one of the missionary stations? To help in the Indian hospital, to baptize, to assist the dying, to catechize the children? Chabanel was always ready to do his humble best.

OSSOSSANE’, MISSION OF LA CONCEPTION

In 1646 Noel was sent to the mission of the Immaculate Conception at Ossossane’, called La Rochelle by the French, on Nottawasaga Bay south west of Ste-Marie. So Christian was this Huron village that it was called the “believing village” by the natives. In three years time, 1649, from this village some three hundred Huron warriors were to put up a courageous last ditch stand against a thousand Iroquois before they were eventually wiped out at the village of St. Louis. Working here under Simon le Moyne, Chabanel found a model mission well advanced in Christianity. Besides, he could visit from time to time his “oasis of peace,” Ste-Marie, a short distance away where he could consult with his spiritual adviser, Pierre Chastelain, SJ.

On Oct. 21,1646 Noel pronounced his final vows as a Jesuit, promising before Paul Ragueneau the superior his “perpetual obedience in the Society of Jesus.” While Chabanel was making his spiritual immolation to his Lord, unknown to him and his brothers, a mere two days before in New York State Isaac Jogues and John de la Lande had already offered their life’s blood to the same Christ Noel was serving in a bloodless martyrdom. Only too soon the shadow of the cross which had already enveloped three martyrs of that glorious band of eight would reach into Huronia to claim yet five more victims for the sacrifice.

During his stay at Ossossane’ Noel met Charles Garnier on his way to establish a new mission, the farthest outpost, among the Petun nation about fifty miles south west of Ste-Marie. Little did Noel think that one day he would join Garnier in that mission and finally gain the coveted palm of martyrdom for which he longed and of which he deemed himself so unworthy.

BACK TO STE-MARIE

In the spring of 1647, he was recalled to Ste-Marie to help with the stream of Huron refugees who fled there panic stricken from the invading Iroquois. It was while here in June that he made his annual retreat and pronounced his heroic vow of stability in the Canadian mission. Though he did not possess the gift of the Huron tongue as did Brebeuf, though he did not have the charm to attract the Indians as did Garnier and Daniel, Noel asked but the grace to persevere till death as a helper of these holy missionaries.

From 1647 to 1648 Chabanel humbly and obediently carried out his appointed tasks both at Ste-Marie and in the various mission villages dependent on Ste-Marie. That year of 1648 the shadow of the Iroquois menace darkened the skies of Huronia. The enemy were closing in taking first the outlying missions. On July 4th, tragedy struck closer to home base. Teanaostaiae, the mission of St. Joseph, eleven miles south east of Ste-Marie was seized and destroyed by the Iroquois. Anthony Daniel, its amiable pastor fell defending his flock. Panic spread throughout Huronia. St. Ignace I, because of the Iroquois danger was moved closer to Ste-Marie about six miles to the east on the Sturgeon River. Brebeuf was the master builder of St. Ignace II and was put in charge of this station along with its sister mission, St. Louis, half way between the new St. Ignace II and Ste-Marie. He asked for missionary help. Father Ragueneau sent him Noel Chabanel.

AT ST. IGNACE II

In the autumn of 1648 Noel left Ste-Marie to join Brebeuf at St. Ignace. He worked with Brebeuf until February, 1649, considering it a great privilege to be associated with this giant so courageous by nature and so endowed by grace. There was work to be done that fall and winter to put the finishing touches to St. Ignace II. The weeks flew by. In February, 1649, Father Chabanel was replaced by the frail and delicate Gabriel Lalemant, a novice of but a few months in Huronia. Chabanel, more robust in health was needed in the hardy mission of the Petuns, St. Jean, to the south west near modern Stayner, to help Charles Garnier. Accustomed by now to these quick changes Noe~~l left for his new mission post on February 17, sad to leave Bre’beuf, but without a murmur.

As Noel took his last leave of Ste-Marie, his final farewell to Father Chastelain betrayed a premonition of martyrdom. “This time I hope to give myself to God once and for all and to belong to Him entirely.” Shortly after, Chastelain remarked to a friend, “I have just been deeply moved. That good Father spoke to me with the look and voice of a victim offering up his sacrifice. I do not know what God has in store for him, but I can see that He wants him to be a great saint.”

ST. JEAN AMONG THE PETUNS

Hardly had Noel spent a month at his new post when the shocking news reached him that the Iroquois had attacked and ravaged St. Ignace and St. Louis on March 16. Both Brebeuf and Noel’s replacement Gabriel Lalemant, were martyred. In a touching letter to his Jesuit brother, Pierre, Noel wrote betraying his wistful yearning: “Father Gabriel Lalemant. . . had replaced me at the village of St. Louis just a month before his death, while I, being stronger, was sent to a more distant and more difficult mission, but one not so fertile in palms and crowns as the one for which my laxity rendered me unworthy before God.” Robbed of the martyrdom he coveted when it was within his grasp! Surely this was the supreme test of his complete obedience to God’s pleasure. But no, a second time this was to happen, and soon!

COLLAPSE OF HURONIA

Tragedy and complete collapse came to Huronja that fatal year, 1649. With village after village pillaged by the Iroquois, with the total breakdown of Huron morale, with the mass hysteria and exodus of the Hurons from Huronia, the Jesuit missionaries came to a painful decision: without a flock what purpose was there in their staying! On May 15, Ste-Marie, the work of ten years, was abandoned and deliberately destroyed by the missionaries themselves. They and the remnant of their sheep resettled temporarily on St. Joseph (Christian Island). The new home was called Ste-Marie II.

All fall of 1649 Chabanel labored among the Petuns with Charles Garnier at St. Jean. On December 5th., he again received orders from his superiors, this time to leave St. Jean and make his way to Christian Island. There were two reasons for this decision: first, the extreme famine conditions among the Petuns, and secondly, his superiors felt they should not expose two missionaries in this dangerous outpost..

Obedience was by now second nature to Chabanel. He bade farewell to Garnier on December 5th., and immediately headed north towards Christian Island. Two days later he feared that St. Jean had fallen to the Iroquois and that Garnier had won a martyr’s crown. A second time was Chabanel cheated of martyrdom! But this time he was not to be denied for long.

The day following Garnier’s death, December 8th., Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Noel Chabanel’s life of “bloodless martyrdom” ended in a martyrdom of blood.

INITIAL MYSTERY SURROUNDING NOEL’S DEATH

At first the details of Noel’s disappearance were vague and uncertain. But thanks to the painstaking care and precision of his chief chronicler, Paul Ragueneau, we are now able to reconstruct the sequence of events leading up to Noel’s martyrdom. There are two accounts of Noel’s death written by Ragueneau. The first, in the 1650 Relation, written shortly after Noel’s disappearance, recounts his death but reveals no knowledge of the motives for the slaying. Only months later did the real story come to Ragueneau. This more accurate information was the basis of his second account.

THE FIRST ACCOUNT

The first account as given by Ragueneau in the 1650 Relation goes as follows. On Dec. 5th., 1649 Noel, as ordered, left St. Jean to proceed to Christian Island. On his way north he stopped at the village of St. Matthias, a Petun mission where two Fathers, Greslon and Garreau were stationed. It was here Noel spoke his last recorded words to Father Garreau who had sailed to New France with him six years previously. On the morning of Dec. 7th., he left them accompanied by seven or eight christian Hurons. After covering a distance of six long leagues over difficult wintry roads night came upon them. While his companions slept, Noel remained awake to pray. Suddenly the silence of the night was pierced by shouts and noises. Some of these came from the victorious Iroquois who had ravaged St. Jean; some came from the prisoners taken there. Noel quickly awakened his companions who immediately scattered in flight leaving Chabanel alone. The Christians who had escaped from danger reached the Petun nation and reported that Noel tried to follow them, but when he could no longer keep up with them, fell on his knees saying: “What difference does it make if I die or not? This life does not count for much. The Iroquois cannot snatch the happiness of heaven from me.”

At daybreak (December 8th.) Chabanel continued north towards his destination, Christian Island. (From this point on the testimony becomes garbled and untrustworthy, as Ragueneau suspected and was to confirm later.) One of the Hurons said he saw Father Chabanel standing on the bank of a river which lay across his path (the Notta-was aga). This witness added that he had passed Chabanel in his canoe and that he saw Noel throw away his coat, sack and blanket in order to expedite his escape. Ragueneau remarks, “Since that time we have not been able to get news of the Father. We cannot be sure how he died.” He then gives three possibilities: Noel fell into the hands of the enemy who killed him; perhaps he lost his way and died of hunger and cold; or, more probably, he was killed by the Huron who was the last to see him. This man had been a Christian and had since become an apostate who was quite capable of killing Noel to rob him of his little possessions.

Ragueneau concludes his first account by saying that he felt it wiser in this time of public calamity to stifle their suspicions – their only concern being the service of God. Prudent, sober man that he was, he strongly doubted the testimony of this apostate Huron who was known to be no angel.

THE SECOND ACCOUNT

Now for the second, more informed account, of Chabanel’s death, written in 1652 from Quebec. This is found in an autograph note of Paul Ragueneau, appended to the precious MS of 1652, and affirmed under oath. This testimony clears up the first obscurity of Noel’s death. Ragueneau testifies that he obtained from most trustworthy witnesses the following details. The Huron apostate named Louis Honareenhax finally publicly confessed, and even bragged that he had killed Father Noel with a hatchet blow and thrown his body in the half frozen Nottawasaga river, out of hatred for the faith.

For, ever since he and his family had embraced the faith, all kinds of misfortunes had befallen them. These he blamed on Chabanel and in his superstition believed he had rid his people of a menace. It was also a known fact that Louis had been a trouble maker and had previously tried to stir up his tribesmen to get rid of Chabanel and Garnier.

This clear testimony made under oath by a man of Ragueneau’s integrity leaves no doubt as to the real slayer of Noel and the true motivation for his crime, namely out of hatred for the faith on which he blamed all his troubles. Ragueneau himself was certain his friend Chabanel had died a martyr.

EPILOGUE

Thanks to Raguencau the long silence shrouding the greatness of Noel Chabanel has been broken.

Only in the twentieth century is Noel Chabanel’s poignant life and unique martyrdom coming to be appreciated. Like the life of the suffering Christ he served so faithfully, Noel’s life seemed one of apparent failure. Noel Chabanel is the silent hero of the hard trail, a patron of misfits, patron of the lonely, disappointed and abandoned, the patron of all square pegs in round holes. In the official picture (iconography) of the Jesuit Martyrs of North America, the closed book in his hand is a grim symbol of his life.

Because of Noel’s heroic obedience to and generous acceptance of God’s will, God, Who is never outdone in generosity, rewarded him with the glory of martyrdom. Like his Master, Noel died as he lived, a lonely man, a man in the shadows. Somewhere along the snow-covered path by the Nottawasaga river, Noel’s grim trail merged into the green pastures of eternity. He was struck down in the dark night by an apostate Huron’s tomahawk and his body thrown into the Nottawasaga River. There perhaps somewhere along its murky bottom lie the bodily remains of this unique man. And so at the age of thirty-six years, nineteen as a Jesuit, five as a Huron missionary, Noel Chabanel, one of the “little four” merited to be crowned a martyr and saint alongside the “big four.”

Our modern world, shocked with the rapidity of constant change, needs more saints of the calibre of Noel Chabanel.

Noel Chabanel, obedient throughout life, persisted obedient unto death because he was a man of unshakable faith and persevering prayer, a man, therefore, who refused to quit in the face of overwhelming odds. The call to faith is a call to obedience, a call to adjust to the new and trying situations God is continually moving man into, a call to resist the powers of darkness that subtly tempt man to come down from the cross of his human condition.”

Saint Noël Chabanel, whose heart burned with the desire to sacrifice all for the glory and honor of God, obtain for me a right appreciation of the trials and sufferings of this life.

Let not disappointments discourage me nor crosses weigh me down, so that strengthened by the example of your heroic constancy and perseverance in the service of God on earth, I may some day share your reward in heaven. Amen.

jesuit_martyrs_na
(-please click on the image for greater detail)

Love,
Matthew

Mar 5 – Bls André de Soveral, SJ, Ambrósio Francisco Ferro, and Twenty-eight Companions, (d. 1645), Martyrs

brazil protomartyrs

brazil2

“I will praise you, O God my Savior; I will give thanks to Your Name, for You have been … my helper and have delivered my body” (Sir 51: 1-2).

The two episodes of the martyrdom of Bl. Andre de Soveral, Bl Ambrosio Francisco Ferro and 28 Companions occurred in this context. In Rio Grande do Norte there were only two parishes: Our Lady of the Presentation in Natal, of which Fr Ambrosio Francisco Ferro was parish priest, and Our Lady of the Purification in Cunhau, directed by Fr Andre de Soveral. These two parish communities were victims of harsh religious persecution by the Calvinists.

Bl. Andre de Soveral was born around 1572 in Sao Vicente, Brazil, the principal town on the island of Santos. He most likely studied at Children of Jesus College in his home town and it is there that his Jesuit vocation began. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1593 and made his novitiate in Bahia. After studying Latin and moral theology and learning the Indios’ language, he was sent to the College of Olinda, a catechetical centre for the Indios throughout the region. He had his first missionary experience in Rio Grande do Norte in 1606 among the Potiguar Indios. On that occasion he entered a native village headed by an indigenous woman, Antonia Potiguara, whom he converted and baptized along with other Indios, and blessed her marriage. By 1614 he was parish priest of Cunhau and a member of the diocesan clergy.

The martyrdom of Fr Andre Fr Ambrosio and their faithful parishioners occurred on different days but in the same historical context. The first took place at Our Lady of the Presentation Chapel in Cunhau. On Sunday, 16 July 1645, Fr Andre de Soveral had gathered for Mass about 69 of the faithful, mostly farmers and workers employed in Cunhau’s sugar cane factory.

The Dutch sent one of their emissaries to Cunhau, an unscrupulous and cruel German named Jakob Rabe, who presented himself as the envoy of the Supreme Dutch Council of Recife, saying that he would communicate its orders at the end of Mass. But this was merely a pretext, for after the consecration a band of Dutch soldiers, accompanied by Indios, burst into the chapel, blocked the exits and ferociously attacked the defenseless faithful. Fr Andre realized the gravity of the situation and interrupted Mass to urge the faithful to prepare for death. Although he had told the tyrants not to touch the minister of God and the sacred vessels, he was killed by an axe hurled at him by an Indio.

The second episode of martyrdom occurred on the banks of the Uruaqu River, about 20 kilometres from Natal, on 3 October 1645. Here the victims were the city’s parishioners, led by their parish priest, Fr Ambrosio Francisco Ferro. Terrorized by the bloodshed that had occurred at Cunhau, the Catholics of Natal took refuge in several places, but in vain. The Dutch authorities forced them to go to a pre-arranged site where they were awaited by soldiers and a group of 200 Indios. Many of the faithful were tortured with their priest in various ways until they died. The chroniclers of the time describe the means of torture: their limbs were severed, their heads cut off; they were burned, their eyes, tongues and noses were torn off. A child was pinned to a tree trunk and another sliced in half with a sword. Mateus Moreira had his heart ripped out through his back, as he cried: “Praised be the Blessed Sacrament”. Those martyred include 27 Brazilians, one Portuguese, one Spaniard and one Frenchman.

Homily of John Paul II, Mar 5, 2000, In Celebration of Brazil’s Quincentennial of Catholic Faith

“You, Lord, have been my helper! I hear these words from the Book of Sirach echoing in my heart as I contemplate the wonders God has wrought in the lives of these brothers and sisters in the faith who have won the palm of martyrdom. Today I have the joy of raising them to the glory of the altars, presenting them to the Church and to the world as a shining witness to God’s power in the frailty of the human person.

You, Lord, have delivered me! This is the cry of André de Soveral, Ambrósio Francisco Ferro and 28 Companions, diocesan priests, lay men and women…

Yes, the Almighty was their powerful help in their time of trial and now they are experiencing the joy of eternal reward. Although these humble servants of the Gospel, whose names are for ever written in heaven, lived in different historical periods and in very diverse cultural contexts, they are linked by an identical experience of fidelity to Christ and to the Church. They are united by the same unconditional trust in the Lord and the same deep passion for the Gospel.

I will praise you, O God my Saviour! With their lives offered for the cause of Christ, these new blesseds, the first of the Jubilee Year, proclaim that God is “Father” (cf. ibid., v. 10), God is “protector” and “helper” (cf. v.2); he is our Saviour who listens to the appeals of those who trust in Him with all their heart (cf. v. 11).

2. These are the sentiments that fill our hearts as we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the evangelization of Brazil, which occurs this year. In this immense country, the implanting of the Gospel encountered many difficulties. The Church’s presence was gradually strengthened through the missionary activity of various orders and religious congregations and by priests of the diocesan clergy. The martyrs beatified today came, at the end of the 17th century, from the communities of Cunhaú and Uruaçu in Rio Grande do Norte. Fr André de Soveral, Fr Ambrósio Francisco Ferro and 28 lay companions belong to this generation of martyrs who watered their homeland, making it fertile for a generation of new Christians. They are the first fruits of the missionary work, the protomartyrs of Brazil. One of these, Mateus Moreira, had his heart ripped out through his back while he was still alive, and yet he had the strength to proclaim his faith in the Eucharist, saying:  “Praised be the Blessed Sacrament”…

7. “Fear not, therefore” (Mt 10: 31). This is Christ’s invitation. It is also the exhortation of the new blesseds, who remained steadfast in their love of God and of their brothers and sisters, even in the midst of trial. This invitation comes to us as an encouragement in the Jubilee Year, a time for conversion and profound spiritual renewal. Let us not be afraid of trials and difficulties; may we not be hindered by obstacles from making courageous decisions consistent with the Gospel!

What do we have to fear, if Christ is with us? Why doubt, if we remain on Christ’s side and accept the commitment and responsibility of being his disciples? May the celebration of the Jubilee strengthen our determination to follow the Gospel. The new blesseds are an example to us and they offer us their help.

May Mary, Queen of Martyrs, who at the foot of the Cross shared fully in her Son’s sacrifice, sustain us in courageously bearing witness to our faith!”

-from http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/homilies/2000/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_20000305_beatifications.html

Love,
Matthew

Feb 6 – St Paul Miki, SJ & Companions; Christian Martrydom? Is it REALLY about death? 日本二十六聖人, Nihon Nijūroku Seijin


-by Br Bonaventure Chapman, OP (prior to joining the Order, Br Bonaventure received an M.Th. in Applied Theology from Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University, where he studied for the Anglican priesthood.)

“Thanks to secularization, modern people easily forget the true meaning of Christian words. Take, for instance, the saints we celebrate today: St. Paul Miki and his companions were martyred in 1597 on the outskirts of Nagasaki, Japan. A witness to the execution records St. Paul Miki’s final sermon:

‘As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves.’

St. Paul Miki, a martyr for the faith; and yet I find many people don’t understand what martyrdom is about. Perhaps you have had this experience, but on a number of occasions people have asked me why Christian martyrdom is okay but Islamic fundamentalist suicide bombing is not. “They are both about dying for faith,” one hears. Leaving aside for now the issue of Islamic fundamentalists, this is a good time to reflect on why Christian martyrdom is not really about death.

St. Thomas follows the classical tradition in classifying actions according to their object, or end. So the act of eating is about food, the act of reading is about words on a page, the act of shooting is about hitting a target. Ends are essential in the definition of the act. Now, this doesn’t mean that circumstances are unimportant; it just means they are extrinsic to the act itself. So, for instance, the act of reading is essentially the same whether one reads a book, magazine, computer screen, billboard, etc. The circumstances can add moral qualifications to the action (shooting skeet with a bazooka is morally different when it is done in the middle of a country field rather than at a busy airport), but the essence of the act remains the same. Make sense? Good.

What is the essential act of martyrdom? What is its end? Here’s the point: it is not death. The martyr does not seek death as the end or object of his or her act. That is called suicide, no matter how noble the cause. The martyr would be just as happy not dying because of a confession of faith. Witness Peter and John in Acts 5, first being let out of prison by an angel and then rejoicing after only a slight beating upon recapture. They were ready to die for the faith (and Peter eventually would), but they didn’t stay in jail in the hopes of death, nor did they leave the Sadducees downcast because they only received a good drubbing. They had preached and witnessed to Christ; that was the essential part.

St. Thomas highlights this aspect in his discussion of martyrdom in the Summa Theologiae:

“Martyrdom consists essentially in standing firmly to truth and justice against the assaults of persecution” (ST II-II, q. 124, a. 1, corpus). Martyrdom, for St. Thomas, is a special act of fortitude, a “standing firm” in the face of death. But death is not the goal. St. Thomas explains: “endurance of death is not praiseworthy in itself, but only in so far as it is directed to some good consisting in an act of virtue, such as faith or the love of God” (ST II-II, q. 124, a. 3, corpus). Now, of course, death is rightly associated with martyrdom, wherein the Christian’s virtuous “endurance” is rendered in the most perfect fashion. St. Thomas explains: “A martyr is so called as being a witness to the Christian faith, which teaches us to despise things visible for the sake of things invisible… therefore the perfect notion of martyrdom requires that a man suffer death for Christ’s sake” (ST II-II, q. 124, a. 4, corpus).

A (Christian) martyr is one who dies not for death’s sake, but for Christ’s sake, which makes all the difference in the world. Fr. Romanus Cessario, O.P., explains: “Theological faith provides the specific adherence that distinguishes Christian martyrdom from political assassination or dying for an ideological cause.” There is a certain passivity in the martyr, which is absent in the suicide bomber: something akin to the passivity of Christ on the cross. The martyr suffers death; he does not seek it.  (Ed. heretic Montantists actively sought martyrdom from the Romans.  Catholics were discouraged by the Church from actively seeking this.  Accept if unavoidable in witness to Christ, but do NOT pursue death FOR ITS OWN SAKE.  Never.)

This understanding of martyrdom raises two important points. First, every Christian should have a bit of martyr in him or her, at least by way of similitude. Whenever we are called to witness to the difference Christ makes in our lives – in word or deed, and in the face of opposition – we can, like St. Paul Miki and his Companions, ask for the gift of fortitude, in whatever dose we need for the situation. Second, this brings a new seriousness to any act of witness. One of the crucial theological debates of the early Church was what to do with Christians who failed to witness to the faith during persecution. The early Church took witnessing to Christ seriously, even if it did not always end in death. Do we?”

What martyrdom are we/am I willing to endure for Him?  Time?  Work?  Convenience? Comfort? Legal?  Opposing unjust laws?  Seeking equity in society and resources?  Arrest?  Record?  Incarceration?  Social?  Professional?  Reputational?  Familial?  Financial?  Ecclesial? Political?  Paternal/Maternal/Fraternal?  Marital? (reading Matt’s prattling blog?)  🙂

As gentle, edifying Lenten sacrifice/mortification approaches, let’s give this important/vital/life giving thought some solemn, quiet consideration, and respond as the Spirit directs.  All grace required to accomplish will be supplied.  I promise.  🙂  Phil 3:8.

Prayer

O Christ, the source of endless life,
We bring you thanks and praise today
That martyrs bold your name confessed
And, through their pain, held to your Way.

The gospel preached within Japan
Converted both adult and child,
And flourished there by your rich grace
Despite oppression fierce and wild.

When hatred for this infant church
Broke out in persecution’s might,
Your martyrs knew You as their Lord
Who shined in darkness as their Light.

O Father, Son, and Spirit blest,
To You all glory now is due.
As were the Martyrs of Japan,
May we to Christ be ever true!

Love,
Matthew

Jan 27 (Apr 7) – Blessed Edward Oldcorne, SJ, (1561-1606), Priest & Martyr

after Unknown artist, line engraving, 1608
after Unknown artist, line engraving, 1608

Edward Oldcorne was born in York, England of a non-Catholic father and a Catholic mother. He gave up medical studies and enrolled at the English College in Rheims, France in 1581 before going on to Rome to complete his studies and was ordained. Soon after, he joined the Society of Jesus and was allowed to complete his novitiate in a very short time because of the difficult conditions he would face upon his return to England.

Fr Oldcorne stayed with Fr Garnet, the superior of the English Jesuits upon arrival but after a few months he was assigned to Hinlip Hall outside Worcester where he was to spend sixteen years. The master of Hinlip Hall was an ardent Catholic who was in prison and had left the property in the care of his sister, Dorothy, a Protestant who had been at the court of Elizabeth. While priests still found hospitality in Hinlip Hall, she merely tolerated their presence. Many priests had tried to reconcile her to the Church without success. It was left to Fr Oldcorne to find the way. She listened to his instructions and sermons, unconvinced; but when she learned that he had been fasting for days to bring about her conversion, she finally yielded to God’s grace and her conversion led many others in Worcester to return to the faith of their ancestors. The Hall became the Jesuit’s base of operations where many came to seek the sacraments and hear Fr Oldcorne’s preaching. His health was poor ever since he returned to England and he had throat cancer that left him with a hoarse and painful voice, but did not keep him from preaching. His cancer was healed following a pilgrimage to St Winifred’s shrine in 1591.

Catholics in England were looking forward to the end of persecution when Queen Elizabeth died and James I ascended the throne in 1603 as he had promised to be more tolerant, but in fact, the persecution increased. This angered some Catholics who plotted to blow up the Houses of Parliament during the king’s visit on Nov 5, 1605. The plot was discovered and with that the hatred for Catholics intensified. The government was determined to implicate the Jesuits in the so-called “Gunpowder Plot” despite the capture of the men behind it. The Jesuit superior Fr Garnet decided to leave London and seek shelter at the Hall, which had more hiding places than any other mansion in England. Bro Nicholas Owen, the person who constructed all the priest-hiding places was with him and they joined Frs Oldcorne and Ashley.

The sheriff of Worcestershire and 100 of his men arrived at the Hall and spent several days searching for priests together with a certain Humphrey Littleton who betrayed Fr Oldcorne. The sheriff stationed a man in each room of the house and ordered others to tap on the walls in the hope of locating concealed priest-holes. By the end of the third day they found eleven such hiding places, but no priests, On the fourth day, starvation and thirst forced Br Ashley and Br Owen to emerge from their hole. Some say the religiously professed brothers real motive was to surrender themselves, focus attention on themselves and their capture, and distract the persecutors long enough for Frs Oldcorne and Garnet to escape.  They had hoped the sheriff would think that he had finally caught his prey and end the search, leaving the two priests in safety. But the sheriff was determined and his men continued their close examination of the house. Finally on the eighth day, Jan 27, 1606 Frs Oldcorne and Garnet were discovered when they emerged white, ill and weak. All four were taken to the Tower of London.

When the prison officials failed in their efforts to eavesdrop and record any conversation which could link the two priests to the Gunpowder plot, Fr Oldcorne was tortured on the rack five hours a day for five consecutive days. Yet he refused to say anything. When they were put on trial, Fr Oldcorne denied the charge of being involved so well that the charge against him was changed to simply being a Jesuit priest. On this new charge, Fr Oldcorne was found guilty and ordered to be executed. Just before he was hanged, his betrayer asked for pardon, which Fr Oldcorne readily granted, and he also prayed for the king, his accusers and the judge and jury who condemned him. He was pushed from the ladder and was cut down before he was dead and then beheaded and quartered.

Edward_Oldcorne;_Nicholas_Owen_by_Gaspar_Bouttats
-Edward Oldcorne; Nicholas Owen, by Gaspar Bouttats, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 12:48 am
http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=22875

Eye relic of the Blessed Edward Oldcorne
Martyr’s eye returns to Worcester for school anniversary celebrations

“Blessed Edward Oldcorne Catholic College in Worcestershire, UK will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this month with Mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Birmingham and the veneration of a relic of the Jesuit martyr after whom the college is named – his right eye! The college is also planning to erect a memorial plaque on the site of his execution and to publish a history of the school… It is said that the force of the executioner’s blow was so extreme when he was decapitated that one of his eyes flew out of its socket. It has since been preserved in a silver casket and kept at Stonyhurst College.”

Typically, a beati’s feast day is the day of their death, the most joyous day for the reward of the faithful. But, as Apr 7 usually falls in Lent, and the memorial suppressed therefrom, Bl Edward’s feast is celebrated on the day of his capture, Jan 27.

Love,
Matthew