Monday, October 19, 2020

Gnawed Off Fingers By Br. Bartholomew Calvano, O.P. on October 19, 2020

Gnawed off fingers. That was the reward Saint Isaac Jogues received for preaching the Gospel. There were other tortures too, but the missing fingers were what really left their mark. They couldn’t be hidden. They weren’t just any fingers either. His thumb and index finger on both hands were either missing or mutilated. You’d be hard-pressed to find worse wounds you could give a priest. At the time, these were the only fingers with which a priest could lawfully touch the Eucharist. That meant that even after escaping his imprisonment he was unable to celebrate Mass. It would be months before he made it back to Europe and received permission to be allowed to hold the Eucharist with his remaining digits, which only the Pope could give. These wounds could reasonably spell the end of a missionary career, but St. Isaac Jogues returned to the New World again to preach the Gospel. He was martyred in 1646, only ten years after he had gone to New France for his first mission. Today we celebrate not only St. Isaac Jogues, but all of the North American Martyrs: eight Jesuits martyred between 1642 and 1649 in New York and Canada. These men believed the Gospel was worth suffering and dying for. They counted the cost they paid as a more than fair exchange to lead men and women into a relationship with Jesus Christ. All of us have heard this same Gospel. Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, became flesh, was born of the Virgin Mary, suffered, died, and on the third day rose from the dead. He then ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He did this for our sake, so that we might be forgiven of our sins and have eternal life with him. What value do we place on this Gospel? Is it worth a few fingers? Death? Some of us may have received the Gospel at such a price. There are still martyrs today. For many of us, however, we received the Gospel in more peaceful circumstances. Blood wasn’t spilled to preach it to us. The surpassing worth of our faith may be less obvious to us. For this reason, remembering the lives of the saints who poured out their blood for the sake of the Gospel can help enkindle in us a commensurate appreciation for the worth of the Gospel we have heard. Even if we have received the Gospel peaceably, we may not always be able to live out that Gospel faithfully without persecution. The class of persecution we might face is unlikely to be that of gnawed off fingers. The wounds we receive will be less gruesome and more easily hidden. They might be ridicule, mockery, exclusion from social circles, not being promoted at work, not being hired for a job, or abandonment by friends and family. Should such struggles come our way, the example of the saints such as Isaac Jogues and the other North American Martyrs can serve as encouragement that the Gospel really is worth the suffering we endure. ✠Image: St. Isaac Jogues, CC BY-SA 4.0

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