Today’s Feast | Today’s readings: 2 Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 28:16-20
St. Isaac and St. John were among eight missionaries who worked among the Huron and Iroquois Indians in the New World in the seventeenth century. They were devoted to their work and were accomplishing many conversions. The conversions, though, were not welcomed by the tribes, and eventually St. Isaac was captured and imprisoned by the Iroquois for months. He was moved from village to village and was tortured and beaten all along the way. Eventually he was able to escape and return to France. But zeal for his mission compelled him to return, and to resume his work among the Indians when a peace treaty was signed in 1646. His belief that the peace treaty would be observed turned out to be false hope, and he was captured by a Mohawk war party and beheaded.
St. John worked among the Iroquois and ministered to them amid a smallpox epidemic. As a scholastic Jesuit, he was able to compose a catechism and write a dictionary in Huron, which made possible many conversions. He was eventually captured, tortured and killed by the Iroquois. These eight missionaries received the Great Commission that we heard in today’s Gospel: 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. (Matthew 28:18-19)
St. John prayed for the grace to accept the martyrdom he knew he may one day have to suffer. He wrote about it in his diary:
May I die only for you, if you will grant me this grace, since you willingly died for me. Let me so live that you may grant me the gift of such a happy death. In this way, my God and Savior, I will take from your hand the cup of your sufferings and call on your name: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
My God, it grieves me greatly that you are not known, that in this savage wilderness all have not been converted to you, that sin has not been driven from it. My God, even if all the brutal tortures which prisoners in this region must endure should fall on me, I offer myself most willingly to them and I alone shall suffer them all.
What we see in St. Isaac and St. John and their companions is that we can never relax our zeal for the mission. Whatever the costs to us, Christ must be made known, those who do not believe must be converted, and sin must be driven out of every time and place. That is the mission of disciples in this world, and sometimes the mission results in death. For us that probably isn’t true, but would that we would endure the sufferings of proclaiming an unpopular message to those who need to hear it. Would that we would endure those sufferings with the same zeal for the mission that these French Jesuits did. As I said on the memorial of St. Ignatius on Tuesday, our martyrdom may not be bloody, but it is none the less real. And our mission may not be to a culture so different to us as the Indian cultures were to the French, but that mission is none the less vital to the salvation of the world.