October 19, 2021
by Luis Rodriguez, S.J.
Creighton University's Jesuit Community
click here for photo and information about the writer

Memorial of Saints John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests, and Companions, Martyrs
Lectionary: 474

Romans 5:12, 15b, 17-19, 20b-21
Psalm 40:7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 17
Luke 12:35-38

Praying Ordinary Time

Homily of Pope John Paul II on his visit to the Shrine of the North American Martyrs

Bio of John de Brébeuf

Bio of Isaac Jogues

Gabriel Lalemant | Noel Chabanel| | Charles Garnier | Anthony Daniel | John Lalande

It is difficult to write about the North-American martyrs close to five hundred years after their martyrdom. Looking at events of the 1640s with a lens crafted in our own time is a mismatch and runs the risk of incurring in revisionism. Progress made in ecumenism and pluralism since that time was simply not available to those missionaries.

Because it may be difficult to judge fairly the things they did, it becomes important to value their desire and generosity, even if mistakes could be recognized today from our own point of view. It is because of their desire that they were canonized, that they are canon for us. There are canons for a number of activities, such as Michelangelo for classical sculpture and Beethoven or Mozart for classical music, even if artists today do those things differently. A canon is something we can measure performance against and our martyrs’ desire is canon for us, not because of historical limitations of the actual implementation of their desires, but because they were guided by a deep faith conviction.

When we “put our money where our mouth is”, our credibility increases. When we put our lives where our mouth is, we gain maximum credibility. The Greek word martyr translates into English as witness and indeed, in the case of martyrdom, a most credible witness. The value of martyrdom lies in the fact of accepting for a cause what we would not spontaneously accept. Jesus accepted in the garden something he did not spontaneously want to undergo and his martyrdom is supreme witness.

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