19 October 2015

Saint Jean de Brebeuf, S.J.: I felt myself drawn to Christ as to a magnet

Of the many writings of the North American Martyrs collected together in Jesuit Missionaries to North America: Spiritual Writings and Biographical Sketches, the most moving - for me - is taken from the diary Saint Jean de Brebeuf, S.J.

In the year that the Hurons turned against the Jesuit missionaries - 1637 - Father de Brebeuf offered himself to Jesus as a martyr:
...this vow, I repeat, my Lord Jesus, that if you most generously offer me the grace of martyrdom, me, your unworthy servant, I will never reject this favor. Never will I permit myself either to avoid the occasions of death that may present themselves (at least insofar as I judge these to be for the greater glory of God) or to withhold a joyful acceptance of the blow when it is struck. And so, my Lord Jesus, beginning with today, I joyfully offer you my body, my blood, my spirit, so that - if such be your holy will - I may die for you, who have deigned to die for me. Help me to live in such a way that you will allow me thus to die. Yes, Lord, I take the cup and will invoke your name: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!
Three years after he wrote these words, Father de Brebeuf was making his annual retreat when he experienced a mystical vision on 14 February 1640. He describes it thus:
On the fourteenth, during the time of meditation, it seemed to me that I saw Christ our Lord hanging on the Cross and coming toward me as if to remove the burden from himself and place it on my shoulders. I willingly offered my body, but I do not know what happened. I know only that I saw, as it were, a corpse snatched from the Cross, but it no longer had the same appearance as before. It was completely covered with leprosy, "having neither beauty nor comeliness." Nevertheless, I know it was the body of Christ our Lord, because the wounds in the hands were quite evident. My thought then was that in our meditations Christ Crucified should not be considered as he is usually represented, but as a "leper; there is not beauty in him, nor comeliness" (Isaiah 53:4, 2).

Toward evening on that same day, when I was preparing to meditate on Christ's perfections and on the many different relationships that he had with me and that I, miserable wretch, had with him, the thought came to me that all the aspects of his extraordinary love for us should be referred to this charity as to a central point. At once I seemed to see an immense rose window, breathtaking not only for its size but also for its variety, yet even more because all its beauty seemed to emanate from the center.
Unlike Simon of Cyrene, whose body was forced to carry the cross for the Lord, Father de Brebeuf willingly offered his body for this task, so great was his love for Jesus.

We are often deeply touched by the desire of the Saints to ease the burden of the Lord and our hearts are warmed when we see an image of Saint Francis of Assisi receiving the body of the Lord from the cross. But how willing are we to receive the cross from the Lord, and even to be placed on it ourselves?
In a letter written to a confrere on 28 October 1637, Father de Brebeuf expressed his trust in the divine will:
If it is his holy will that at this hour we should die - oh, fortunate hour for us! And still, if it be his will to reserve us for other labors - may he also be blessed! If you should hear that God has crowned our insignificant labors, or rather, our desires, help us to bless him, for it is only for his sake that we desire to live and to die. It is only he who can give us the grace to accomplish this.
Let us ask Saint Jean de Brebeuf to intercede for us. May he teach us to love Jesus Crucified above all us and to resign ourselves to the divine will in joyful trust.

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