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.
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. Today’s Gospel reading calls us to store up treasure in heaven, knowing that the things of this world are fading. St. Isaac, St. John and their commandments inspire us to do this very thing: making Christ known, relying on the treasure of blessing he brings us and promises us, and accepting that this world’s glory is not worth our aspirations. This will not be easy, of course, in a culture that largely rejects the promises of heaven in its pursuit of instant gratification. But perhaps the witness of these French Jesuits would help us to bravely witness to the Truth with the same zeal for the mission that they did. Our mission may not be to a culture so different to us as the Indian cultures were to these men, but that mission is none the less vital to the salvation of the world.