The following is the third and final part of a reflection on Eucharistic spirituality and the eight great Jesuit martyrs of North American and Canada.
The fifth of the martyrs to die was Fr. Noël Chabanel. Like René Goupil, Fr. Noël was a refined man whose sensitive nature suffered greatly at the brutality of the peoples to whom he ministered. Curiously, though a scholar and professor of classical languages, he was unable to master the language of the Hurons, who mocked and bullied him for his ineptitude. Assailed by feelings of uselessness and tempted to abandon his post, he reacted to the temptations by making a vow of stability before the Eucharist:
“I, Noël Chabanel, being in the presence of the Most Holy Sacrament of Your Body and Your Precious Blood, which is the tabernacle of God among men, make a vow of perpetual stability in this Mission of the Hurons, understanding all things as the Superiors of the Society expound them, and as they choose to dispose of me.”
Fr. Chabanel’s confessor, Père Chastellain, testified that, shortly before his departure to the mission among the Petuns, he had said:
“I do not know what is going on within me, or what God wills to do with me. In one respect I am entirely changed. Naturally, I am very timorous. Now that I am going on a most dangerous mission, and death does not seem to be far away, I no longer feel any fear. This state of mind does not come from myself. May it be for good and all, this time that I give myself to God. May I belong to Him.”
Fr. Chabanel met his death on December 8, Feast of the Immaculate Conception. He was struck down with a blow to the head from an apostate Huron.
The sixth man to die was Fr. Jean de Brebeuf. In the chapel of the Jesuits at Ossossané, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, St. Jean de Brebeuf, not unlike Fr. Isaac Jogues before him, wrote the vow of martyrdom that he would repeat throughout the remainder of his life every day at Communion time in Mass:
“To You, my Lord Jesus, my blood, my body and my soul, now from this very day, I offer myself rejoicingly, so that I may die for You, if so You wish, for You who deigned to die for me. Grant that I may so live, that at length You may wish me thus to die. And so, my Lord, I shall accept your chalice and I shall call upon your name, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”
This vow should be admired in the context of a conversation that Fr. Jean de Brebeuf had with Fr. Paul Ragueneau, in which he was asked if he had any fear of being captured and tortured:
Fr. Ragueneau asked him, “If you were captured by the Iroquois, would you not feel a very great repugnance if they stripped you naked?” “No,” answered Jean, “that would be the will of God. I would not think of myself but of God.” Fr. Ragueneau remembered that he had then asked: “But, would you not have a horror of the fire?” To this, Fr. Jean replied: “Oh, yes. I would fear it if I regarded only my own weakness. The sting of a fly is capable of making me impatient. But I trust that God will always help me. Aided by His grace, I do not fear the terrible torments of fire any more than I fear the prick of a pin."
Sure enough, when the hour of Satan and the power of darkness arrived, de Brebeuf was sustained by God’s grace to the point of a strength that seems superhuman. For hours the Iroquois tormented him. Throughout the entire ordeal, he repeated aloud, “Jesus, have mercy on them!” Finally, they carved open his chest to extract his heart and eat it, in a sad attempt to consume the soul of the man whose spirit they had failed to defeat.
Fr. Gabriel Lalemant was Fr. Jean’s companion in life and in death. The physical contrast between the two men could not have been more pronounced. Whereas de Brebeuf had the physique and the constitution of a bear, Lalemant was described by a fellow missionary as “a man of extremely frail constitution.” The Iroquois who had just tortured and murdered de Brebeuf assumed that Lalemant would be easier to break. In this they could not have been more mistaken. His tortures and death practically replicated those of Fr. Jean, and so did his spirit.
Fr. Charles Garnier, son of the secretary of Henry III, King of France, had been a close missionary companion of Fr. Jean de Brebeuf, like Fr. Lalemant. And, as in the case of Fr. Lalemant, here too there was a marked contrast between the two men. De Brebeuf was remarkable for his strength and Garnier for his gentleness. They were affectionately referred to as “the lion and the lamb.” Garnier was killed by the Iroquois shortly after the death of his hero, Fr. Jean de Brebeuf, during an attack on a Petun village where he was serving. He died like a lamb, but also like a lion:
With his black robe flapping about him, Garnier ran to his chapel there to await death … The Iroquois, swinging their tomahawks and howling like fiends, were closely following in pursuit. He felt the sting of a musket ball in his breast, another in his stomach before he fell unconscious. When his senses returned, he found himself stripped naked and the blood flowing from this wounds. He breathed his final act of contrition. Lifting his head, he saw a man writhing in agony a short distance away. Thinking to help the man, perhaps to baptize him with the melted snow, he gained his feet, but stumbled to the earth after a few steps. Gathering himself together, trying to stem the blood, he walked and crawled another few yards towards the dying man. At that moment, according to a woman who had concealed herself nearby, an Iroquois rushed on him, scalped him, and slashed him with a hatchet on each of his temples, deep into the brain.
Pope Francis affirmed in May 2015 that St. Junípero Serra should be counted among the founding fathers of the United States of America. A bold statement, it provoked more than its share of controversy, but Chief Cerda of the Costanoan Rumsen Carmel Tribe issued an official statement on his tribe’s website supporting the Pope. Could the Jesuit martyrs also be considered “founding fathers” of the United States of America? In the Divine Plan, with their labors, their sweat, blood and tears, did they give spiritual birth to the true soul of a nation? The early Church built many chapels and churches, even basilicas, in recognition of the role of the early martyrs of the Coliseum in the foundation of the faith in Europe, on whose soil their blood was shed. The first Christian believers intuitively recognized them as founders of the Church in Europe.
In the case of these eight great Jesuit martyrs, we are surely contemplating the Presence of the Divine. Something absolutely superhuman and supernatural was at work in their hearts, in their lives and in their deaths. The saints never failed, as Pope Benedict XVI put it, “to find strength, consolation and joy in the Eucharistic Encounter,” and neither will we.
Sources used for this article:
Benedict XVI, General Audience, 17-11-2010.
Fr. Francis Talbot, Saint Among the Hurons (NY: Doubleday Image Books, 1956).
Read the first part of this article here.
Read the second part of this article here.
My blog “Random Reflections”
Fr. Colum Power, born in Cork, Ireland, in 1965, is a Servant Priest of the Home of the Mother. He obtained a Master's degree in literature in 1991 and a doctorate in the History of the Church in 2013. He is author of A Touch of the Gardener's Hand, Honey from the Lion's Carcass, and James Joyce's Catholic Categories. He devotes his time to apostolic activities for the youth organized by the Servant Brothers of the Home of the Mother.
Fr. Colum Power is author and editor of the Blog "Random Reflections", which can be found on the website www.familiesfullyalive.com.