On the Motives of the North American Martyrs: Part 1

Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is to gain. (Phil. 1:20-21)

North American Martyrs statue

No doubt St. Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, was an inspiration for the eight Jesuits known today as the North American Martyrs: SS. Anthony Daniel, Charles Garnier, Noel Chabenel, Isaac Jogues, John Lalande, John de Brebeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, and Rene Goupil.

These men all took the spirit of the Apostles with them to the natives of North America, in the modern-day regions of Ontario and upstate New York. And they would welcome and meet the same fate as Christ’s own.

It is this authentic apostolic spirit that has lived on in the Church – in spite of staggering odds – and has fueled every genuine missionary effort since Pentecost, a spirit that produces a zeal to make Christ known and loved, to spread His Gospel and His holy Catholic Church, and to suffer what God ordains in order to secure that.

At its core, the Apostolic spirit is the spirit of a soldier.

Whenever we read heroic accounts of soldiers on a battlefield, we need to remember that, in order for them to perform such acts of valor, they needed to be in a certain frame of mind: they had to be convinced that what they were fighting for was worth dying for, and they had to see the good of their fellow men as more important than their own safety.

For this reason, the moment a solider sets his foot on a battlefield, he has to consider his own life as forfeit; this is partly because he needs to psychologically deal with the reality of being in mortal danger all the time, and partly to inspire sentiments of valor.

This is really no different for the Catholic, especially as we all feel the pressure mounting from a secularist movement that is now brazenly enboldened in attempts to rid society of any trace of God. Pope Leo XIII wrote over a century ago that “Catholics are born for combat,” and a serious approach to the spiritual life, God’s commandments, and Church teaching will reveal how true that is.

We have the world, the flesh, and the devil to contend with, and the fight is not pretty at times.

If we are confirmed, it means that we must look at ourselves as soldiers called to forfeit one life for a greater life: it is the call to crucify the old Adam in us and, through humility and cooperation with grace, to put on the new One, Christ. That is the reality of the Cross and the transformation Christ wishes to work in us.

This is quite invasive, because love, if it is to have a lasting effect, is invasive: God started it all by “invading” humanity through the Incarnation. And if a Man walked the earth and claimed to be God and proved His claim, we have an obligation to respond to His commands: this response calls for an ever-increasing loyalty, a commitment that puts the hand to the ploughshare without looking back.

So since this life of ours is one of spiritual combat, the greatest lie that exists today is that there is no battle to be fought, that the battle between virtue and sin is merely a matter of opinion, that the battle between good and evil is merely a matter of perspective, and that the battle between right and wrong is merely a matter of custom.

Statues of the Canadian Martyrs
Modified from a photo by Benoit Rochon.

Our modern world has worked hard to replace true virtue with sentimentality and some false notion of “tolerance” that really amounts to relativism, void of any internal conviction based upon love of God and the Cross of Christ.

Does not the blatant contempt shown towards Christianity support the reality of this condition?

There is a real battle to be fought, because the only true peace that comes in this life is the peace God grants when we endeavor to live how He wants us to.

That is: to be members of His Church, to use the Sacraments, to do good and avoid evil,  to embrace the difficult things for His sake, to utilize our state in life for His glory, no longer counting what it may cost to be a devout follower of Christ, and, if we fall into sin, to get out of it quickly through confession.

In essence, to live as one who knows and loves Christ crucified, to let His words influence every part of our lives, thereby making eternity the most important thing.

To be continued….

September 25, 2020