Isaac Jogues: Missionary and Martyr - Martin J. Scott


Christ has said: "He who loses his life for My sake shall find it." The heroic missioners among the savages lost their lives for Christ's sake. They did not leave Europe and civilization for fame or fortune, but to bring Christ into the lives of those who dwelt in bondage to sin and superstition. They sacrificed their lives in order that they might bring everlasting life to those who maltreated and tortured them. Truly they were followers of Him who became man in order that mortals might become in a sense divine. "To as many as received Him, He gave them power to be made the sons of God."

They certainly received Christ, who not only opened their hearts to Him but also consecrated their lives to preparing other hearts for His reception. When we consider the degraded condition of those whose hearts the martyred missioners opened to Christ, we need no further proof of their love and devotion to His cause, nor of His love of them in return. Earthly monarchs reward and decorate those who are conspicuous in their service. Civic honors are conferred on statesmen, and military decorations on soldiers, for distinguished service to country. These distinctions are bestowed not only as a reward for service, and as a mark of gratitude on the part of rulers, but also and mainly as an incentive to others to give loyal and generous service to country.

God's Kingdom on earth has its distinguished subjects. It has its heroes in every rank of service. It also has sometimes its superlative heroes, those who make the supreme sacrifice of life to maintain or extend the Kingdom. The Church of Christ is God's Kingdom on earth. This Church is not unmindful of her distinguished subjects. As monarchs of earth confer dignities on subjects distinguished for service, so does she. The canonized saints are those of her subjects whom she has officially recognized as deserving of her highest honors. There are innumerable saints besides those who are canonized. The canonized saints are those whom God has put His seal on, and whom in consequence His Church has solemnly proclaimed to be among His glorified companions in heaven.

It may be asked how can the Church on earth infallibly declare that a certain person is a. glorified saint in heaven. The Church does not so proclaim a saint arbitrarily. As miracles were the sign by which Christ's mission manifested divine approval, so they are a sign by which the sanctity of a servant of God is attested. Evidently God does not work a miracle to approve a false mission, or to crown a life that is not holy. Consequently when a person has lived a notably holy life, characterized by the practice of the highest Christian virtue and sound Christian faith, and moreover whose relics or intercession after death are the means by which miracles are wrought, it is safe to conclude that such a one has won the favor of God in the Kingdom beyond.

It is for the Church, whose guidance by the Holy Spirit is guarantee of inerrancy, to pronounce on the holiness and doctrine and miracles of the person in question. Consequently, whenever, by general report, a person dies in the odor of sanctity, the Church through the bishop of the locality where the person lived, institutes an inquiry into his life, holiness and faith, and also into any reported miracles by his relics or intercession. In such matters the Church is the most critical and exacting investigator on earth.

The story is told of a skeptic who was wont to accuse the Church of credulity in matters concerning the miraculous. Happening to be in Rome while a commission was examining into a reported miracle he attended one of the sessions. He was amazed at the exacting nature of the inquiry. Afterwards meeting one of the cardinals he said that he never knew how hard it was to become a saint. The cardinal asked him what he thought of the evidence for the reported miracle. He replied that it would be accepted as proof positive in any court of law. The cardinal then told him that it was rejected by the commission as insufficient. This incident led the skeptic into a closer examination of the Catholic Church, with the result that he entered it.

It is because at times it is so difficult to assemble witnesses and procure evidence that the canonization of a saint is delayed. It is also a matter of great expense, as persons must often come from a distance and with considerable loss to their ordinary interests.

Canonized saints are classified as Martyrs, Confessors and Virgins. Martyrs are they who sacrifice their lives in testimony of the Faith of Christ. Confessors are men of supremely holy life; and Virgins are women of the same exalted virtue who have moreover practised the highest perfection of chastity. For the canonization of Confessors and Virgins, besides a most holy life, there must also be the added sanction of miracles as an attestation from above that the persons in question have been crowned by Almighty God.

Often it is not evident whether a person was martyred for the Faith or slain for other causes—political, military or personal. Hence when a person is held by general report to be a martyr, he may not be ecclesiastically venerated as such until the Church has officially pronounced him to be a martyr. Even after the solemn declaration of martyrdom and beatification, the person ordinarily is not canonized a saint unless proof of subsequent miracles is furnished. It will thus be seen that although Christ has guaranteed infallibility to His Church, she does not consider herself exempt from doing everything that human industry and prudence can suggest in arriving at a true conclusion.

When we speak of a canonized saint, we mean by the term one who has been officially proclaimed a saint, in accordance with the rules and procedure of the Church. Canon means rule. A canonized saint, therefore, is one who is solemnly declared to be a saint by the highest religious authority in the world, and in accordance with the requirements demanded by ecclesiastical legislation. Holy men and women without number have been saints. God alone knows them and how many they are. They are found in every career of life. For one canonized saint there have been doubtless millions not thus distinguished. Canonization does not make a saint, but merely declares, on the authority of God, that such a one is a saint, and in consequence may be venerated as a saint and prayed to as a saint.

Miracles are the sign language of God. Holy persons by whose relics or intercessions miracles are performed, are rightly considered to have God's approval on their sanctity. Hence before a person is canonized, no matter how holy he may have been, and no matter how sound his doctrine, he must have, ordinarily, God's seal of miracles on him.

God does not allow everyone to do him such distinguished service as to have the honor of dying for Him, but only those who have given proof of generous devotion to His cause. The lives of Father Jogues and companions were sublimely holy for long years previous to their heroic deaths. That God allowed them to die for Him is proof that they had that love for Him which deserved to be forever crowned. The meaning of the word martyr is witness. By Christian usage the word is restricted to those who witness to Christ or His Church by their blood. The highest test of devotion to a cause is to uphold it by the sacrifice of life. The martyrs are they who have thus manifested their devotion to the cause of Christ.

Once the Church is certain that one's life has been surrendered in consequence of proclaiming or living the Faith she does not hesitate to proclaim such a, one Blessed. It may be asked therefore why it was that nearly three hundred years passed before the beatification of Jogues and companions. The Church, although never hasty in these matters, is, on the other hand, not unnecessarily slow. Three hundred years seem a long while in the case of those who like Jogues and companions championed the Faith so heroically. But if we understand the strict requirements of evidence which the Church demands for canonization we may appreciate, in a measure, the delay in the case of the Jesuit martyrs of North America.

Almost directly after the deaths of these servants of God, the Archbishop of Rouen directed the missioners at Quebec to collect testimony concerning the virtues and martyrdom of these Christian heroes. It seems that from the very date of their death Jogues and his companions were regarded by their Jesuit brethren and by the faithful at large as martyrs. In point of fact the Sovereign Pontiff Pope Urban VIII, in granting Jogues a special dispensation to say Mass with mutilated hands, said:

"It would be unjust that a martyr for Christ should not drink the Blood of Christ." Although not formally venerated as martyrs, in the ecclesiastical sense, they were nevertheless so regarded in the devotional thoughts and prayers of the faithful.

However, the Christian world was in a state of turmoil at the time of these martyrdoms, and for a long period afterwards. Wars, revolutions, political disturbances and upheavals in all parts of the world diverted attention from the eight heroic lives so cruelly sacrificed in savage lands, and interrupted the investigations into the facts surrounding their deaths. But the record of their heroism, although hidden in the annals of the Jesuit Relations, which for the time being became a more or less buried treasure, was not destined to be forever lost sight of.

Non-Catholic historians, in searching for documents bearing on the early history of North America, gradually became acquainted with the Jesuit Relations, and discovered in them a mine of information and of heroism. They then began to make known to the world at large the priceless treasure which they had found. Parkman, in particular, gave to the world his history of "The Jesuits in North America," drawn in great part from the Relations collected by Felix Martin, S.J. At about the same time was discovered Fort St. Mary, which was so closely associated with the heroism of Brebeuf and his companions, martyrs like Jogues. Meanwhile the site of Jogues' martyrdom was definitely identified near Auriesville, New York, by General John S. Clark, the leading topographical authority of the state.

In the year, 1852, was published the translation of Bressani's history of the early Canadian missions. This graphic narrative of superlative heroism engaged the attention of every lover of noble deeds, and brought vividly to the attention of the Canadian Government the historical value of the Jesuit Relations. As a result the Canadian Government at great expense assembled from all parts of the world documents or copies of the Relations and had them reprinted in three large octavo volumes.

The official recognition by the Canadian Government of the historic value of the records of the early Jesuit missioners revived interest in their wonderful deeds and lives, and led to active measures to have them proclaimed martyrs in the ecclesiastical sense of the term. Interest in their cause grew in consequence of the admirable life of Brebeuf compiled by Felix Martin, S.J. This was followed by an excellent life of Jogues by the same author, which aroused unusual interest in the cause of the martyrs.

It was no surprise therefore that when the third Plenary Council met at Baltimore in the year, 1884, it solemnly petitioned the Holy See to introduce the cause of the beatification of the martyrs of North America. The Seventh Provincial Council of Quebec, held two years later, likewise added its voice to that of Baltimore's for the beatification of these heroic servants of God. In consequence of the favor which these petitions met with at Rome, the Archbishop of Quebec began in 1904 an official inquiry into the lives and virtues of the martyred missioners, and, as a result of the findings, the Plenary Council of Quebec, 1909, addressed Pope Pius X in behalf of the beatification of Jogues, Brebeuf and their companions, slain by the Iroquois.

The Sacred Congregation in 1912 after due consideration of all the data concerning the cause decreed that it should proceed, and in 1916 signed a decree declaring that the final steps should be taken for proclaiming the martyrdom of the blessed servants of God. Accordingly in 1920 an Apostolic Commission sat at Quebec to take evidence on the life and doctrine of the martyred missioners. As a result of this investigation the Holy See, the 21st day of June, 1925, solemnly proclaimed the decree of beatification of the eight Jesuit martyrs of North America: Jogues, Brebeuf, Gamier, Lalemant, Chabanel, Daniel, Goupil and Lalande.

On that day, thousands of pilgrims from every part of the world, together with other thousands of resident Romans, filled to capacity the vast Basilica of St. Peter's, in order to hear the Vicar of Christ proclaim that these heroic missioners had shed their blood for Christ, witnessing to Him by the sacrifice of their lives. Afterwards the vast throng beheld the edifying spectacle of the Holy Father and the Cardinals going in procession to venerate the relics of the newly proclaimed Blessed.

Thus it came about that these men who in the solitude of the forest gave testimony to God in their blood, were now the recipients of veneration from tens of thousands of ardent followers of Christ, with Christ's Vicar, himself, leading the way. After long years of delay these martyrs were at last decorated on earth by the King of kings, the Lord of time and eternity.

When Christ's Vicar declared Blessed these servants of God, it was the voice of God proclaiming their beatitude, and announcing that they had been crowned at death in the Kingdom of heaven. "He who loses his life for My sake shall find it" For Christ's sake Jogues and his companions in martyrdom gave up life in indescribable torments. But they relinquished a perishable life for life everlasting. God is not outdone in generosity. Nothing done for Him is unseen or unrewarded. The martyrs made the supreme sacrifice. Theirs, accordingly, is supreme glory forever. They were close to Christ on Calvary. Close they are now to His throne in heaven. They proved their love and loyalty by the severest test. Hardly had the shouts of the savages proclaimed the end of the martyred Jogues, when his heroic spirit was welcomed by Christ in the realm of glory and, before the whole court of heaven, proclaimed forever blessed.