Father Isaac Jogues, Father John de Brébeuf and their companions.

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“Do not be afraid.
You are worth more than many sparrows.”

In the Acts of the Apostles Luke tells of the beginning of the spreading of the New Testament throughout the ancient world. While spreading this gospel message had its difficulties, the Apostles were familiar with the variety of cultures and philosophies and languages of that day.It was the world they knew, even though it was about to undergo the miraculous transformation that is the New Testament. In the light of these Acts of the Apostles, ponder the “acts” of Father Isaac Jogues,  Father John de Brébeuf and their companions.

They were Jesuit Priests from France, bringing the New Testament to a new continent,and a new world of which they had no experience. North America of the 1600’s was entirely different from Europe. It was a vast wilderness sparsely colonised by small groups of Europeans. It’s indigenous peoples were so culturally different from  Europeans. The Iroquois and Huron Indians of New York and New England had a cultural lifestyle different from anything in Europe. Their language was totally unrelated from the languages of the Jesuits, and their clothing like nothing they had ever seen.

In Luke’s  Acts of the Apostles, the Apostles could present Christ to the pagans in their own language, and explain Christ to people with cultures and beliefs they knew. Saint Isaac Jogues did not have this luxury, yet knew these people were children of God and worthy of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Knowing that, they were determined to use every resource to deliver that message. In delivering that message they were tortured, and imprisoned. Isaac Jogues wrote of his torture: “These tortures are very great, but God is still greater, and immense.” To prevent Fr. Jogues from consecrating the host his captors cut off several fingers. Escaping torture and being sent back to France, St. Jogues still had the need to deliver the gospel of Christ to these Indian people despite the language  and cultural barriers. Despite a hostile reception and despite torture.

In the return trip to the new world Fathers Isaac Jogues,  John de Brébeuf and their companions were eventually martyred. Yet in death, they were not defeated. Ten years later, Kateri Tekakwitha was born in the same village where Isaac was martyred. She is Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, a young woman born of Indian heritage. Saint Kateri was also ridiculed for desiring to follow that gospel message Isaac Jogues and his companions had delivered. She is the Jesuit victory, the victory of Christ. Many of the Indian tribes, especially in eastern Maine, embraced that Gospel of Jesus delivered by  saints Isaac Jogues, John de Brébeuf ,and their companions; and they continue to follow that gospel today. Those Jesuits knew these indigenous people of a new world were children of God and worthy of the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

A Jesuit in the new world.

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One of the memorials that was in October was skipped this year due to falling on a Sunday. It was unfortunate that Father Isaac Jogues day was glossed over, especially for someone who lives in the area that he preached. In the northeast of the United States and Canada Isaac Jogue’s is an important saint, and likely two of the most meaningful of the saints in this region are him and Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. Kateri is one of the Indian converts influenced by Father Jogue’s. In this wilderness area one does not simply think of these saints as Church figures, they are in these mountains forever linked to this environment that is the New World. It is in this New World environment that I imagine Isaac Jogues and his companions, I picture them entering into this New World, encountering a new civilization, and journeying from that Old World. In that view of the Saint, I envision of their comparison of these two civilizations of old and new; and I can’t help but compare the Church in those two different environments. My thoughts don’t simply end at that comparison though, but they begin to drift towards that modern comparison of the church and it’s Mass before and after Vatican II.

In that Old World was the civilization built through the centuries with the Church at its center. There were the artistic achievements, the scientific achievements, the architectural, musical and everything else that contributed to the grandiose backdrop that was Europe. In that environment the Tridentine Mass takes place in cathedrals that are the focus of their towns. That Mass takes place in a civilization that revolved around the Church, and it is impossible to separate Europe’s achievements and society from that Church. The splendor of that Mass is the splendor of the Church that shaped and guided that Old World.

Turn then though to that priest setting foot on a New World, sparsely inhabited, wild with a splendor of nature, unexplored, and inhabited by a people like Europe has never seen. Imagine that priest going about saying his first Mass on this new continent. Here there are no cathedrals, no cities, none of the art of the old world and that includes it music. There is splendor, but of a different kind. I did read that when these Jesuits arrived in the New World they built settlements, and those settlements did include churches. I also did read though that unlike the Franciscans of the Southwest, these Jesuits did not stay in those settlements for long. They tended to move about quite frequently. Their approach to this New World was different from the church missionaries of the south west. To people like Isaac Jogues life frequently was spent journeying by canoe, and I have heard when they said Mass in their voyages by canoe; that altar frequently was a canoe turned over. What a difference it saying Mass outdoors, in the wild, on a canoe altar. Different from the southwest missions, and nothing remotely similar to that Tridentine Mass of Europe’s cathedrals. Even if it was that Tridentine Mass being said, in a New World it was said in a new way.

It is that comparison of the Mass of Europe versus the Mass of Isaac Jogues that I view the current two forms of the Mass, and I view that comparison in that New World. I cannot living in these woods forget that influence of those Jesuits, and see just a little of their influence in the way Mass is said here today. That does not mean that I disagree with those traditions of the Tridentine, or agree with all that goes on with the contemporary. Many times I am not a fan of that new Mass and the way it is closed in around the local community. I simply acknowledge that sometimes things are done differently here because this simply is a different place that where older traditions developed. This new place has its new traditions too, and at one point that involved a Mass said on a canoe in the open air, and under a canopy of maple trees. No cathedrals, no marble statuary, no altar rail, no stained glass, no pipe organ, no choir, and probably not even that many parishioners. It was after all a Mass being said in a new world, and said in a new way to meet the demands of that time.

I also, in thinking of the life of Isaac Jogues that Jesuit from Europe, wonder how his explorations influence the modern Jesuits in America. How do they incorporate his traditions into their own? I wonder too, can a Jesuit from a New World travel to Old Europe without bringing saints like Isaac with them? For them the journey is a bit like history in reverse.

Much of this might be a ramble, and it might simply be connecting things that are not really connected. Vatican II did not come about simply to incorporate Isaac Jogues experiences into the Church, and the new Mass likely has little to do with a Mass said on a wilderness expedition. They simply are some thoughts I had on that Jesuit priests feast day while staring at the wood lands and lakes and rivers he used to travel through.

Antioch

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The two saints of the last couple of days have me reading about the city of Antioch in south Turkey and nearby Syria. That is the city of Saint Ignatius, and also a city associated with Saint Luke. As I think about it, I think of the current battles that are being waged in that area today. I think of the diverse cultures that have inhabited that region for centuries. I think of it as being known as the first place the term Christians was used. I also think of Ignatius being marched from there to Rome for his execution. In thinking of that city, and looking at its history you cannot miss the fact that Christianity is a valid part of the mid-east. History does tell that they have been rooted in the region since Christianity’s beginning. Christians are not modern invaders to the region. History also tells of those Christians facing persecution as Ignatius did, and as modern Christians in the region do today. What is interesting is how when Ignatius was marched from that region to Rome, he wrote a series of letters to the Churches along his route (his death march). In l reading what that resident of Antioch said to the Churches of the east as he faced execution in the west, it reminds me to pause and listen to what those citizens are saying today. Their persecution today is an ancient story.

The battles between religions, and the societies that those religions are the basis of is nothing new. Many times the battles are for the gaining of territory, for agricultural expansion, security, homelands and every other material need of man. Such were the battles of the Romans, the Greek, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and all the great military empires of the ancient world. They are battles of empires and emperors. Many times those battles of emperors get labeled as religious wars. Ignatius suffered the fate of such a battle, and many in that region still face the same type of persecution today.

Mingled within those battles of warfare though are those spiritual battles of religion. Antioch was not a region of a single faith and in that region that message of a Jewish messiah was delivered to a Gentile audience. It is the region that Jew and Gentile became Christian, and it is that Christian message that Ignatius wished to deliver to his churches as he travelled to Rome. That message that he delivered was of a Christ that Peter and Paul fought to understand, the message and its history that was recorded by Luke. Ignatius’s messages delivered to those early Churches were of loyalty to Christ, loyalty to his Church through an obedience to its Bishops and a warning to avoid false teachings and false teachers. That new Christian religion was something they fought to understand and died to remain faithful to. Ignatius is a martyr who literally walked to his death preaching the Gospel of Christ.

In thinking of that time, I think of today. My thoughts today are not only of the military battles, but those spiritual battles of religion too. My thoughts do turn on occasion towards the spiritual battles between religions, those battles of the Muslim, and the Christian, and the Jew, and the Buddhist, and the Hindu. They are the battles either each trying to prove they are right, or the complacency of relativism, or the rejection of all in favor of secularism. Then of course there are the New Age religions. Let’s not forget the Atheists. Religious, philosophical, intellectual: pick a term. Sometimes peaceful, often lively, sadly often fatal.

My thoughts also turn to the battle within Christianity. Roman or Orthodoxy, or Protestantism. Then though my thoughts shift simply to the battles within my Church, they are the battles of tradition versus the progressive. They are battles between both sides trying to discern Christianity as the early Apostles did, and they are the battles between the faithful teachers and those false teachers Ignatius warned us of. All these battles though are that familiar battle to discern who Christ is, that is the spiritual battle. Sure within that battle there are truths and lies: old truths and old lies, new truths and new lies. Or perhaps better stated old and new understandings. In these battles of Christianity I wonder where it is that I stand, which side is it that I am on. I hear of that battle raging in Rome, and I read all of the reports, but where is it that I should stand? Which side should I take? I don’t think I should take sides quickly though, it is not a simple flip of a coin. It is a battle to discern, to understand, to discover the truth, and to discover Christ’s truth. It is the battle Ignatius fought, and when he decided his decision was something he was willing to die for. For that reason then I am grateful the current battle within the Church is ugly, and angry, and passionate, and confusing, and polarized. Its outcome is important, and everything important is worth fighting for. That is the story of Christianity. [The battles with bullets and bombs I dislike, they cause pain and suffering. The spiritual battles though are another story, they are difficult and often unsettling, but if fought properly they can bring about the greatest of rewards.]

Saint Teresa of Avila

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Woe to you Pharisees, woe to you Pharisees! Jesus blasts those Pharisees for the way that they walked through life. Of course He was not just blasting them, but us too. His outrage was against those that just viewed themselves as all important, those that stuck their nose just a little too high in the air. His anger was towards those who enjoyed their prestige and title, but not the true work that those titles required. He was upset at those who focused on their outward life, but ignored their inner spirituality. Today’s Saint, Saint Teresa of Avila was a champion of that interior life. She was in some ways uneducated, so through life she would not have had the prestige of people like the Pharisees, but she is a doctor of the Church. As a contemplative Carmelite her focus largely was simply contemplating on the mystery of Christ, allowing that Christ to enter into her soul, and then bringing that Christ to others through her writings. It is interesting that the Carmelites had their origin as hermits, and that over time that order became one of mendicants.Their spirituality is described as “contemplation, the foundation of Carmelite life and apostolate; prayer and together with it meditation, recollection and silence; asceticism, which implies sobriety of life; poverty, which implies dependence on others and humble life; the apostolate, both in their churches and outside them.”

Friday, 27 week OT

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Typically when I read gospel texts, or writings from the Old Testament, my first thoughts almost always drift toward the time in which they were written. I tend to view them in light of the issues that were important or controversial back then. Not so with today’s readings though. Today’s readings immediately have me thinking in modern, contemporary terms. I vividly see the current Church Synod taking place through these recent scriptures. Paul’s letter opens “Brothers and sisters: Realize that it is those who have faith who are children of Abraham.” Children of Abraham are those who place their faith in God. In modern times they are the Church and Paul is defending and defining that Church’s doctrine. In the second reading lies that famous quote “By the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons, he drives out demons.” The crowd, in seeing Jesus good works, accuse him of being in cahoots with the devil. Jesus reply is “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house.” That house today also is the Church. Christ makes that statement as good comes from good. Paul’s letter is a declaration of faith, it is faith in Jesus Christ the son of God. That is the foundation of the church.

In that synod, which really is nothing more than a microcosm of the polarity and varieties of today’s society, is that house facing division. Those demons that Christ drove out 2000 plus years ago are still around, and again Christ’s church must go about its role as healer. Those bishops today have to decide if they should keep their faith in Christ, or follow many contemporary and influential members of society, and take the view that Christianity is the work of Beelzubul. Should they stand by the Catechism of the Church, or should they embrace what they had once called the sins of society? In that synod, as in life, there are polarizing views. There are those that rally around traditional teaching, and then there are the modern progressives. The problem though is that each side and either side paints the opposite as the evil one. Bringing about that healing is no easy task.

Of course anyone who has worked in politics can understand that for there to be a meaningful discussion, all sides of an argument need to be presented. People in politics though also must realize that often there are people working behind the scene who have an interest in the outcome of that argument; they wish to spin the issue in their favor. The question today though is who is biasing that argument, who is influencing what those bishops hear and say? There are so many outside groups that have an interest in what that Church stance is on many family issues, and many of those outside groups are bluntly not Christian. Many though do control media, and secular politics, and secular institutions. They do indeed have the power to sway opinion, and they in fact do so for their livelihood. That trick is the devil of deception, evil is veiled as traditionally good and good is painted as evil. It is difficult to separate that wheat from weeds simply because of the powers of deception. None of this detracts from the real need for those bishops to hear from their flock, or from those who were once counted among that flock, or even those who simply desire to be included. It only points to the extreme difficulties that Synod on the Family likely faces. It is the same confusion that caused people to view good works as the power of the devil.

I pray those bishops remember what Jesus Christ said: “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house.” By the power of Christ, I have faith those demons will be driven out, and that the Synod on the Family will have a meaningful Christian outcome. That Christian guidance is so needed to offset the same type synod that has been raging in the political landscape and mass media for years.