Friday, October 19, 2007

Notes on the Feast of the North American Martyrs.

Today the Church once again celebrates the Feast of the North American Martyrs, a group of seventeenth century Jesuits - Jean de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues, Noel Chabanel, Antoine Daniel, Charles Garnier and Gabriel Lalemant - and two lay assistants - René Goupil and Jean de la Lande - who were part of the celebrated Huron Mission memorialized in the Jesuit Relations. Longtime readers of this blog and its predecessor may know that I have a great devotion to the North American Martyrs and that I chose one of them, Isaac Jogues, as my patron when I professed First Vows in the Society. My devotion to the Martyrs precedes my entrance into the Society, and today I've been pondering the mystery of my vocation and the role that Saints Jean de Brébeuf, Isaac Jogues and their Companions had in drawing me into the Jesuits.

The above photo depicts the grave of Saints Jean de Brébeuf and Gabriel Lalemant at Sainte-Marie-among-the-Hurons in Midland, Ontario. The home base for the Jesuits' Huron Mission, Sainte-Marie is where Brébeuf and Lalemant were interred after they were martyred in March 1649 at nearby Saint-Ignace. Not all of the two saints' remains were buried at Sainte-Marie-among-the-Hurons; Jesuits conscious that Brébeuf and Lalemant would likely be canonized saw fit to remove their companions' bones for future use as relics. While the bones of these two saints were sent to Europe, their flesh rested in the earth where they given their lives for the Gospel. Though the village of Sainte-Marie-among-the-Hurons was destroyed the same year that Brébeuf and Lalemant died, archaeologists were able to find sufficient evidence of their remains three centuries later for the gravesite pictured above to be faithfully recreated together with the village chapel that surrounds it.

While the relics of Jean de Brébeuf and Gabriel Lalemant are faithfully preserved at the Martyrs' Shrine close to Sainte-Marie, when I visited Midland I felt a greater sense of the presence of these two saints when I prayed at the rustic grave with its dirt mound and single candle. That's not to say I didn't like the Martyrs' Shrine itself - on the contrary, the whole experience of being there was profoundly moving, and I hope to make it back there. For me, there's simply something special about being in a place that the saints would have recognized in their time on Earth. In much the same way, I felt a more vivid sense of Christ's earthly ministry when I walked through the valleys of rural Galilee than I did in the streets of modern Nazareth and Jerusalem - streets that have their fair share of enchanting sights, but which still aren't the same streets upon which Jesus would have trod.

As I recall my short visit to Sainte-Marie-among-the-Hurons, I'll be praying for a greater awareness of how the Jesuits of the Huron Mission felt as they struggled to preach the Gospel amid hardships much greater than any I've faced. At the same time, I'll be praying in gratitude for the vocation that allows me to call men like Jean de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues my brothers. AMDG.


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