Thursday, October 19, 2006

John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, and Comp. Martyrs

Today is the memorial of Isaac Jogues, John de Brebeuf and companions. They were French Jesuit priests who, amidst their missionary work in Canada and North America, were martyred in the year 1649 by the The Iroquois tribe in North America.

My confidence is placed in God who does not need our help for accomplishing his designs. Our single endeavor should be to give ourselves to the work and to be faithful to him, and not to spoil his work by our shortcomings. ~Saint Isaac Jogues

Brebeuf's Instructions to the Missionaries: In 1637, Father Brebeuf drew up a list of instructions for Jesuit missionaries destined to work among the Huron. They reflect his own experience, and a genuine sensitivity toward the native people.

You must love these Hurons, ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, as brothers.
You must never keep the Indians waiting at the time of embarking.
Carry a tinder-box or a piece of burning-glass, or both, to make fire for them during the day for smoking, and in the evening when it is necessary to camp; these little services win their hearts.
Try to eat the little food they offer you, and eat all you can, for you may not eat again for hours.
Eat as soon as day breaks, for Indians when on the road, eat only at the rising and the setting of the sun.
Be prompt in embarking and disembarking and do not carry any water or sand into the canoe.
Be the least troublesome to the Indians.
Do not ask many questions; silence is golden.
Bear with their imperfections, and you must try always to appear cheerful.
Carry with you a half-gross of
awls, two or three dozen little folding knives, and some plain and fancy beads with which to buy fish or other commodities from the nations you meet, in order to feast your Indian companions, and be sure to tell them from the outset that here is something with which to buy fish.
Always carry something during the portages.
Do not be ceremonious with the Indians.
Do not begin to paddle unless you intend always to paddle.
The Indians will keep later that opinion of you which they have formed during the trip.
Always show any other Indians you meet on the way a cheerful face and show that you readily accept the fatigues of the journey.

More words from Brebeuf:

For two days now I have experienced a great desire to be a martyr and to endure all the torments the martyrs suffered.... I vow to you, Jesus my Savior, that as far as I have the strength I will never fail to accept the grace of martyrdom, if some day you in your infinite mercy should offer it to me, your most unworthy servant.... On receiving the blow of death, I shall accept it from your hands with the fullest delight and joy of spirit.... 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.

When I was around 10-13 years old, I was privileged to sing in a wonderful choir in Berkeley, California. Around Christmas time we sang a beautiful Indian carol. It was of course politically incorreect for our choir director to talk to we Berkeley locals about God and religion. Had it been a Christian choir, I know for a fact that our wonderful director would have joyfully told us of the roots of this carol which I loved so much! She herself was Russian Orthodox, and looking back I now realize that most of the material we sang (in many languages: Spanish, Greek, Italian, French, Russian, Latin and more) was indeed very rooted in sacred music and hymns. I have just joyfully discovered today in my research on these martyrs the root of this carol, which I found on the Catholic Culture site:

~A carol which deserves to be more widely known among Catholics is the lovely Indian Christmas Carol written by St. John de Brebeuf, S.J., a French Jesuit missioner among the Huron Indian tribes. Father de Brebeuf translated the Christmas story into Indian imagery for the Indians at whose hands he later suffered martyrdom.

Twas in the moon of wintertimeWhen all the birds had fled,That mighty GitchiManitouSent angel choirs instead;Before their light the stars grew dim,And wond'ring hunters heard the hymn:(Refrain)
Refrain:Jesus, your King is born,Jesus is born,In excelsis gloria
2. Within a lodge of broken barkThe tender Babe was found,A ragged robe of rabbit skinEnwrapp'd Hid beauty 'round.But as the hunter braves drew night,The angel song rang loud and high:(Refrain)
3. The earliest moon of wintertimeIs not so round and fairAs was the ring of glory onThe helpless infant there.The chiefs from far before Him kneltWith gifts of fox and beaver pelt.(Refrain)
4. O children of the forest free, O sonsO sons of Manitou,The Holy Child of earth and heav'nIs born today for you.Come kneel before the radiant boy,Who brings you beauty, peace and joy.(Refrain)

If you live in the East and have never been to the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York, I highly reccomend going. My parents took us there when we were passing through during one summer and I have never forgotten it.


Father, you consecrated the first beginnings of the faith in North America by the preaching and martyrdom of Saints John and Isaac and their companions. By the help of their prayers may the Christian faith continue to grow throughout the world. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen .


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