Today we celebrate the feast of the Jesuit martyrs who gave their lives to bring the Gospel to the native peoples of North America, six priests and two oblates, the most prominent among them being St. Isaac Jogues, martyred in upstate New York in 1646, and St. Jean de Brebeuf, martyred in Ontario, Canada, in 1649. They were willing to die for Christ and the Gospel because they believed, as did the great missionary, St. Paul, that "God our Savior… wishes all men to be saved…" (1 Tim.2:4).
These words are often quoted these days as evidence that God will, in the end, welcome everyone of every race, culture and religion into the everlasting halls of Heaven. St. Paul's full statement, however, is: "God our Savior… wishes all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim.2:4). His meaning is clearly that men are saved precisely by coming to the knowledge of the truth, which can be had only through faith in Jesus Christ, as Jesus Himself testifies: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Me" (Jn.14:6). Hence the missionaries of all time faced every hardship, persecution, and even martyrdom, in order to bring to all men the knowledge of the truth, that they might be saved.
This past Tuesday, many of those for whom the missionaries labored throughout the Americas assembled in Washington, DC, for the opening of the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. They represented thousands of "American Indians and other native peoples" from northern Canada to the southern tip of South America. There were colorful costumes, native music and dancing, and impressive ceremonies to mark the event. One can only hope that it represents a justified pride in their identity and heritage, which has survived the catastrophic disruption of the way of life that was theirs before the coming of the Europeans. But at the same time we must fear that it represents a sort of Indian "Tower of Babel" at which Christ and Christianity will have little place.
Today there is little place for God anywhere. Leaders parade their religion when it is to their political advantage, but they prove by their actions that their hearts are far from God. The unfortunate result is clear from God's word through Isaiah the Prophet: "Forasmuch as this people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips glorify Me, but their heart is far from Me, and they have feared Me with the commandment and doctrines of men… wisdom shall perish from their wise men, and the understanding of prudent men shall be hid" (Is.29:13,14).
God's Commandments are everywhere giving place to the "commandment and doctrines of men." To begin with, every form of government is flawed because of fallen human nature. The Greek philosopher, Plato, says in his Republic that democracy usually ends up in some form of tyranny. Is democracy, American style, what everybody needs and wants? Government "of the people, by the people, for the people," is a closed loop. God and His Commandments are treated as an appendage that can be excised or simply ignored. The greatest irony is that while democracy is being preached abroad, we are being overcome by tyranny at home.
Although you can still vote for the party of your choice, democracy is already dead, since our laws are now being made by a few who are not answerable to the people, but to a global power over which the people have no control. I was shocked, but hardly surprised when I learned that same-sex marriages will now be legal in my home province of Nova Scotia, which became the sixth province of Canada to allow such perversions when the province's Supreme Court ruled Friday that banning them is unconstitutional. Needless to say, the people of Nova Scotia were not consulted.
We are approaching the day when every kind of immoral activity will be considered moral and normal, and those attempting to live by the Commandments, and to educate their children in the ways of truth and righteousness, will be considered criminals. As Big Brother decrees in George Orwell's novel 1984: "War Is Peace; Freedom Is Slavery; Ignorance Is Strength." But God decrees in Isaiah: "Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. Woe to you that are wise in your own eyes, and prudent in your own conceits" (Is.5:20,21).
The missionaries were wise and prudent in the things of God. But the most successful, indeed spectacular, missionary effort of all time was not initially the work of the missionaries, but of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who appeared to the Indian Juan Diego at Guadalupe, Mexico, in 1531, leaving the imprint of her image on his tilma. The missionary efforts of the Church in Mexico had met with much resistance because the Indians were still attached to their Aztec gods, though the religion itself had been crushed. But during the years that followed our Lady's apparition, the missionaries had their work cut out for them, as up to nine million Indians asked for baptism. They could not resist a Heavenly Mother who had left them her miraculous image, saying to Juan Diego:
"Know for certain that I am the perfect and perpetual Virgin Mary, Mother of the True God . . . here I will show and offer all my love, my compassion, my help and protection to the people. I am your merciful Mother, the Mother of all who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who have confidence in me. Here I will hear their weeping and their sorrows . . . their necessities and misfortunes . . . Listen and let it penetrate your heart . . . Do not be troubled or weighed down with grief. Do not fear any illness or vexation, anxiety or pain. Am I not here who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not your fountain of life? Are you not in the folds of my mantle? In the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?"
We learn from Our Lady of Guadalupe that we need not fear tyranny, or any danger or trial whatsoever, if we have God's mercy and protection. Jesus offers us this invitation: "Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden light" (Mt.11:28-30).
Holy North American Martyrs, pray for us! Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us! Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us!