At the start of this year, I followed Jennifer Fulwiler’s advice and got a Saint for the Year, using the website she set up. The Saint randomly chosen for me was St. Isaac Jogues, S.J. As I stated at the time, I was initially a bit disappointed. I’d never heard of St. Isaac, and people I knew were getting cool Saints I’d been meaning to lean more about, like St. Raymond of Peñafort.
It was foolish of me to be disappointed, because what God surprised me with was better than what I would have chosen for myself (as usual). I’ve been amazed at St. Isaac’s life. He was a Frenchman by birth, but joined the Jesuits to spread the Gospel and save souls. He was sent as a missionary to the Hurons, the tribe also known as Wyandots. This went well until the Hurons were attacked by the Mohawks, a tribe so notorious that their name means “man-eaters.”
The Mohawks believed the Jesuits, who they called the “blackrobes” (in reference to their cassocks), were sorcerers, both because of the sacraments, and because disease seemed to follow in their footsteps. They’d also learned enough about Catholicism to have some shocking cruel forms of torture. For example, they burnt off or ate several of Isaac’s fingers, to make it impossible for him to consecrate the Eucharist.
For thirteen months, he underwent constant torture at the hands of the Mohawk, without even attempting escape. It wasn’t until the Mohawks planned to burn him alive that Isaac allowed himself to be rescued by some Dutch Calvinists. He went back to Europe, where he received a special dispensation to consecrate the Eucharist with his remaining fingers. Said Pope Urban VIII: “It would be shameful that a martyr of Christ not be allowed to drink the blood of Christ.” And indeed, that’s what Isaac was: a living martyr. He voluntarily laid down his life for Christ, only to be allowed to take it up again (see John 10:18).
Then Isaac did the unthinkable. He laid down his life a second time for the same people, saying as he left his home country again, “I go, but I shall not return.” And indeed, he didn’t. Although he was at first well-received, after the Mohawks’ crops failed, they turned on him, torturing him with knives, tomahawking him to death, and beheading him.
Even in death, he lead others to Christ. He inspired his colleague, Father Jean de Brébeuf, to face his own martyrdom three years later, with bravery and confidence in the Lord,. And incredibly, Isaac Jogues’ killer even converted to Christ, taking the baptismal name Isaac Jogues.
Isaac continues to lead others to Christ. To give a personal example, I was talking to a St. Mary’s parishioner last week, who I’ll call “Jack.” He revealed that he’d been at a men’s group meeting in January where I’d mentioned St. Isaac Jogues, and the Saint for the year idea. Jack took the idea to heart, and devoted himself to learning more about St. Peter Julian Eymard.
Recently, while reading the subway, he was reading some of Eymard’s writings. The man sitting next to him struck up a conversation about it, and revealed himself to be a fallen away Catholic, and proceeded to ask about the areas of the faith he struggled with: the problem of suffering, the violence in the Old Testament, and so on. Jack responded over the course of the few minutes they had together, planting a seed that just might help bring this stranger back to the faith.
|The North American Martyrs
(Sacred Heart Church Parish, Cincinatti, OH)
Neither Jack nor I will likely ever know what became of the man, or whether he acted upon it, but it’s easy to see the Hand of God working in events like this. I hadn’t gone out intended to persuade people about the Saint of the Year idea. Jack hadn’t gone to the subway planning to evangelize. Yet God had His own goals, and accomplished them with plenty of bit players on earth and in Heaven, including St. Isaac Jogues.
Today is St. Isaac Jogues’ feast day, along with the other North American Martyrs. Consider asking God today how He can better use you in spreading His Gospel.