Sunday, October 18, 2015

On the Death of Saint Isaac Jogues

This is my homily for 19 October 2015 on the Feast of the North American martyrs.

At the age of twenty, Carlo Spinola entered the Jesuits in Genoa and was soon sent to Milan for pre-Theology due to his ill health.  From his first days he begged to be sent to the missions, but his superiors hesitated due to his many sicknesses.  In fact, it was not until twelve years later that he was assigned to the missions in Japan. 

So he set sail from Genoa, where his ship hit a rock and had to return to port. The second time he left they arrived in Barcelona, but there he was then forced to walk 774 miles to Lisbon, where he boarded a ship that was so buffeted by storms that he ended up in Brazil, slowly crossing back across the Atlantic to where he had begun.

When they set out a third time they were captured by English pirates and imprisoned in England for several months.  He escaped and headed back to Lisbon for a fourth departure and finally, two years after he has begun, he arrived in the Philippines.  It took him another four years to reach Japan, but I will spare you the details of that delay.  

For twelve years Father Spinola taught mathematics and astronomy and preached the Gospel in Japan, until the presence of foreign missionaries was outlawed and he and a hand full of his fellow Jesuits chose to go underground. He managed to elude the priest-hunters for four years, going out only after dark.  When he was captured, he was imprisoned in a small cage exposed to the elements for two years until he was sentenced to death.

On the day of his martyrdom, he and his fellow missionaries were tied to stakes to suffer death by "slow fire." After they lit the flames, he could be heard singing Psalm 117 until he died:  “O praise the LORD, all you nations; acclaim him, all you peoples! For his merciful love has prevailed over us; and the LORDʼs faithfulness endures forever.”

Meanwhile, back in France, the young novice Isaac Jogues entered the Jesuits and began to read the story of Blessed Carlo Spinola.  He was so inspired by the story of the Martyrs of Japan that he carried a little holy card depicting the saint in his cassock pocket, not unlike the ones so many of you hang outside your rooms today.  His one desire was to offer his life with Christ on the Cross and Father Spinola in the missions.  It was a desire God granted him twice.

For at the same age as Spinola, Father Isaac Jogues was sent to New France, which we know today as Quebec and Upstate New York, where he was captured and tortured.  Three of his fingers were slowly crushed by chewing and smashing and finally hacked off with sharp sea shells.  Remarkably he managed to escape and return home, where he was acclaimed a "living martyr.”

All of his friends and his family and even many of the Jesuits urged him to stay in France, but he didn’t.  All he could talk about was returning to the missions where he had suffered so terribly and almost lost his life. 

Why did he want to go back?  That was very much on my mind this summer when I spent a day at the Shrine in Auriesville, New York where they killed him.  I’ve been there many many times, but this time all I could think of was “Why?.…Why did he want to go back?”

And then I remembered that holy card he carried in his pocket.  That’s why he went back! Because, like Father Spinola, all Isaac wanted was to give his life away and to join it with the Cross.

So he returned to New France, and two years later he walked the same road of sorrows once trod by the man whose holy card he carried in his pocket, joining his life and his death to the perfect sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross.

And thus it will be, my brothers, for the man who seeks only what matters to God, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of his life.