Laying Down our Lives – Br. Curtis Almquist
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We know that all things work together for good* for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. *30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. *35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ 37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In the calendar of the church we remember today eight North American martyrs, all of them Jesuit missionaries, who suffered for Christ between the years 1642 and 1649. We name in particular two of their leaders, Jean de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues.
In 1636 Jogues traveled from his native France to the New France of Canada, where he was assigned to minister in a mission station on the Georgian Bay of Huron in what is now Quebec. Six years later he was captured by the Iroquois and faced horrific suffering for the next twelve months before he made his escape, traveling back to France. Undeterred by his suffering, Jogues returned to New France, amazingly, where he volunteered to open a Jesuit mission among his former captors. He was accompanied by a fellow Jesuit, Jean de La Lande. As soon as they arrived, they were taken captive by the Mohawk people. On October 18, 1646, Jogues was martyred and, the next day, La Lande near present-day Auriesville, New York.
Another missionary, Jean de Brébeuf, was one of the first Jesuit priests to arrive in New France, and in 1633 he settled among the Huron native peoples on Georgian Bay of Lake Huron. Brébeuf’s spirituality was quite mystical, and he had a profound experience of union with the crucified Jesus. Jean de Brébeuf had premonitions that he would share the sufferings of Christ in his own flesh. His visions came true in 1649 when Iroquois war parties invaded the Georgian Bay area for the second year in a row. On March 16, they attacked the mission of Saint-Louis, where Brébeuf and another Jesuit priest named Gabriel Lalemant were staying. The two Jesuits refused to abandon their flock and were captured. Together with Huron captives, the missionaries were ritually tortured and the six were killed, martyred on March 16, 1649.
The first lesson appointed for today comes from St. Paul’s writings to the Church at Rome. At the time, St. Paul was not long from his own martyrdom, a prospect he clearly knew when he wrote, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.[i] In our baptism, we claim truth that in our baptism, “we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection.”[ii]
Today we face one certainty and one possibility. The possibility is the choosing to give up our life today, quite literally, for the sake and love of Jesus. I have to admit I find that prospect mostly unimaginable, especially given the many liberties and protections we experience in this culture and in this day. Nevertheless, we brothers have chosen to remind ourselves of this prospect in our own Rule of Life, where we say, “From the beginning monks and nuns have been encouraged to understand their own commitment in the light of the freedom and trust that enables martyrs to give up their lives to the glory of God. The witness of the martyrs should never be far from our minds as we go forward in the vowed life day by day.” Our Rule gives us brothers a kind of “heads up” reminder to live our life, day-by-day, as an offering, a living sacrifice, however that sacrifice may be invited. We may face the possibility today of a literal martyrdom – a red martyrdom, a blood sacrifice. Meanwhile we all face the certainty of laying down our lives for another, and for the love of Jesus, the daily dying and rising, dying and rising with Jesus. Those daily invitations to give up our lives are relentless, usually quite mundane, oftentimes tedious, hardly heroic, most times unnoticed… except by our own awareness that this is why our life has been extended for as much as one more day. In the words of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits: we have been given life, today, “to know Christ, and to love Christ, and to serve Christ.”[iii] That is the end for which we have been created, how we will want to end today and all of our days.
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