Saturday, December 28, 2013

Martyrs and the Persecution of Priests

An altarpiece at the Shrine church.
If you get off I-90 in the middle of upstate New York near Auriesville and travel a few miles along a hilly rural road, you may find yourself at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Martyrs. The Shrine is the location of a church dedicated to the North American Martyrs, and it is in this location that the Jesuit priest St. Issac Jogues and his companions the Jesuit brother St. René Goupil and a layman St. John Lalande were martyred. Fifteen years after their death, St. Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656.

Looking out from the bluff, you can see the Mohawk River winding its way through the rolling countryside, and try to imagine the days when it was untamed wilderness and the Jesuit missionaries struggled to bring the Gospel to the people of this “new” land. The lived with great hostility and suffered many physical deprivations, but they did it out of love of God and the truth.

The Shrine also honors the North American martyrs of Canada, one of them being the priest St. Jean de Brebeuf , a missionary Jesuit to the Hurons who was captured by a group of Iroquis, brutally tortured, and martyred. During his time as a missionary he learned the Huron language and wrote this beautiful Huron Carol (translated into English by Jesse Edgar Middleton):

‘Twas in the moon of winter-time
When all the birds had fled,
That mighty Gitchi Manitou
Sent angel choirs instead;
Before their light the stars grew dim,
And wandering hunter heard the hymn:
“Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.”


Within a lodge of broken bark
The tender Babe was found,
A ragged robe of rabbit skin
Enwrapp’d His beauty round;
But as the hunter braves drew nigh,
The angel song rang loud and high…
“Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.”

The earliest moon of wintertime
Is not so round and fair
As was the ring of glory
On the helpless infant there.
The chiefs from far before him knelt
With gifts of fox and beaver pelt.
“Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.”

O children of the forest free,
O sons of Manitou,
The Holy Child of earth and heaven
Is born today for you.
Come kneel before the radiant Boy
Who brings you beauty, peace and joy.
“Jesus your King is born, Jesus is born,
In excelsis gloria.”

We need the beauty of the Christmas story today as much as ever. The little babe, God become Man, is greater for humanity than anyone could ever have imagined. And that is the message that the missionary priests brought to the first American people. During our modern time, where there are priests are failing to live up to their priestly vocations and so many accused of horrendous things, I think about the Jesuit missionary priests who gave their lives to convert people so hostile to Christianity. While they succeeded in teaching some about the truth, there were others who hated them for it.

The Church has never been a stranger to hatred, and will not be until the second coming. I would like to believe that all our priests are living pure, holy lives, and God knows the truth. As faithful Catholics, we must pray for our priests and for the Church to become more holy. We can turn to the North American martyrs and ask their intercession for all priests that they live out fully their vocation to priesthood and holiness.

And then there is the Infant Jesus, who was adored and wondered at on the first Christmas and who we still adore today. Christmas is a reminder of the simple beauty of an infant who is God, who grew up to establish the Church, who ordained the first priests. There is something about the Child Jesus, the Holy Infant, that can help one remember the first love they had of God, that can rejuvenate a tired priest, who faces the daily hostility of the secular media and the suspicions of people who do not understand the choice to be celibate.

As the Church, we need to stand strong behind our priests and bishops, pray for them, and especially that the truth be made clear. And for those who have sadly done the things of which they are accused, we need to pray for their conversion and repentance. No matter how hostile the world becomes towards the Church and her clergy, it will not change that  God came to Earth and that “Jesus your King is born” and that we will have joy in Him.

We must remember those who were persecuted for their faith, have their heavenly reward, and that we are called to it as well. On this Feast of Stephen the first Christian martyr, we pray,

St. Stephen, pray for us.

Originally the at Truth and Charity...


The North American Martyrs.







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