Thursday, October 19, 2006

St. Isaac Jogues: A Courageous Comeback with Great Heart

I remember the story of St. Isaac Jogues (or at least the gory details of it) from my grade school days at St. Pius X. Although being a typical 6th grade boy, I didn't recall the moral of the story; most accounts agree Isaac had great spiritual success with the Huron Indians in upper Canada before being captured by the Iroquois. Here the "Catholic Online" entry describes his cruel 13-month treatment by the tribe quite curiously. "The story of their torture cannot be described here ... suffice it to say they were beaten to the ground, assailed by knotted sticks and fists, and had their hair, beards and nails torn off and their forefingers bitten through." With these details, one can only wonder what the entry would have been like if the author had decided to describe the torture.

In any event, with the help of (believe it or not) the Calvinist missionaries (who in those days were more likely to torture Catholics than aid them) he escaped, was sent back to Europe on a ship half dead and amazingly survived this 2-month pleasure cruise, arriving in Britain on Christmas morning 1643, where he was received with honor by the Queen Mother of Louis XIV and received the even greater honor of being able to celebrate the Mass by Pope Urban VII despite the fact he could no longer elevate the Host with his mutilated hands.

Now my grade school recollection not only has Isaac on his even more remarkable return trip to the Americas being beaten while stripped naked, tomahawked, then beheaded (as well as the girl who always got queasy during Science class dissections leaving the room to throw up at this point of the text) but also had Isaac getting his tongue cut off and later (after his death) his heart ripped out and eaten by the Indian chief. The Catholic Encyclopedia does not confirm these last two details, but does state as fact that, on his amazing comeback, Jogues actually forged a peace treaty with the warlike Iroquois and converted many of them before a few skeptics in the tribe decided their current famine was due to the black magic of the "black-coats" and decided not to take any chances.

And so, on my return trip to Isaac's life, the thing that stands out most, besides his great love for the Eucharist (he originally named Lake George the Lake of the Blessed Sacrament, and Urban bent the canonical rules for him to celebrate Mass - the only time this pope did so - because of St. Isaac's devotion) was that his courage was universally admired by both kings and peasants, Catholics and Calvinists, friends and enemies. Even the Iroquois that hated him the most admired him as a worthy foe. And if the eating the heart detail was correct, it shows that the chief was actually on the right trail also. For in the Eucharist Miracle of Lanciano, where the Host actually turned into flesh during the Consecration, scientists determined that this flesh was that of a human heart. In the Eucharist, Christ sacramentally gives us his heart, and with it the ability to love not only friends but enemies (a gift Isaac most certainly possessed) with a courage that is not savage. And this is a detail even the most spiritually timid can readily remember.

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