Memorial of the European Jesuit Martyrs — Honoring Jesuits Who Denied Themselves, Took Up The Cross, And Followed Jesus

Photo by Jerry Feng, Media Team

The following homily was delivered by Fr. Sigmund De Guzman, SJ last 21 January 2016 during the High School Mass for the Memorial of the European Jesuit Martyrs Sts. John Ogilvie, Stephen Pongrácz, Melchior Grodziecki, and Mark Križevci; Bl. Ignatius de Azevedo and Companions James Salès and William Saultemouche.

Matthew 16:21, 24-27

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

There is a legend about a grandfather clock that stood in a corner of a house for three generations, faithfully ticking off the minutes, hours, and days – – – its means of operation was a heavy weight suspended by a double chain. One of its new owners, believing that an old clock should not bear such a load, released the weight. Immediately the ticking stopped. According to the legend, the clock asked, “Why did you do that?” The owner replied, “I wanted to lighten your burden.” “Please put my weight back,” replied the clock. “That is what keeps me going.”

Just as the clock ticks off the minutes, hours, and days as a result of a heavy weight, we often need to carry our burdens to become all God intends for us to be. Sometimes we wish that God would remove our burdens and take away all our difficulties; but just as the clock is crippled without its weight, so would we be crippled if God did that for us. God doesn’t take away our problems and difficulties, but He promises to be with us in the midst of our problems and difficulties, and to use these difficulties to restore us, making us into better, stronger people.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

If the work you have now has some unexpected inconvenience and crosses, console yourself by reflecting that no work is without them. Those who only know comfort will always live a very uncomfortable life.

Our highest fulfilment, greatest happiness, and widest usefulness, therefore, are to be found in living in harmony with God’s will “ Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Today we honor Jesuits who denied themselves, took up the cross, and followed Jesus. These are the martyrs of the Protestant Reformation in Europe.

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John Ogilvie, a Jesuit who went to (Protestant) Scotland disguised as a horse trader to minister to Catholics there. He preached in secret, celebrated mass discreetly in private homes. [He was] Discovered, arrested, imprisoned by Calvinist Protestants. [He was] Eventually hanged for refusing to give up his faith and pledge allegiance to King James. He was 36 years old.

Frs. Melchior Grodziecki and Stephen Pongracz were Jesuits who became companions in martyrdom 16 years later after their ordination – together with Mark Krizevci, a Congregation of Mary priest. They were sent to Kosice (a stronghold of Hungarian Calvinist, a major branch of Protestantism). When they refused to denounce the faith and the Pope in Rome and convert to Calvinism, the three missionaries were imprisoned and tortured to death; brutally burned, dismembered, and beheaded. The Protestant leader did not allow the burial of the martyrs until 6 months later, after their deaths, when a devout Catholic Countess received permission to bury them.

Blessed Ignacio de Azevedo. A Jesuit Portuguese sent to Brazil. After two years he went back to Rome to recruit new missionaries for Brazil.  During their trip back to Brazil, while sailing near the Canary Islands, their boat was attacked and captured by a fleet led by French Huguenot (A Huguenot is a member of a French Protestant denomination).  Azevedo and his 39 companions were massacred.

Fr. James Sales, a Jesuit priest and William Saultemouche, a Jesuit lay brother, were Frenchmen – sent to preach a course of Advent sermons, and to have discussions with some of the local Calvinist Protestant ministers in a mountain country of central France. Fr. James Sales preached effectively and won many Calvinists back to the faith. However, they were seized and dragged before a tribunal of Calvinist Ministers. When James refused to deny the faith, especially in his belief in the Blessed Sacrament, he was shot pointblank. James Sales told William Saultemouche to escape, which he could easily have done. But William refused to abandon Fr. James. Instead William embraced the wounded priest James. William was stabbed to death with eighteen thrusts of the dagger.

The deaths of these European Martyrs reveal to us the ultimate measure of our faith – which is not where we stand in moments of comfort and convenience and consolation. But the ultimate measure of our faith is where we stand in times of challenge and controversies and desolation.

Are you able to suffer without complaining, to be misunderstood without explaining?

Are you able to endure without breaking, to be abandoned without abandoning?

Are you able to give without receiving; able to ask without commanding; to love despite misunderstanding?

Are you able to turn to the Lord for guarding; Able to wait for His own rewarding?

We all have a cross to carry. I have to carry my own cross. If we don’t carry our crosses, we are going to be crushed under the weight of it.

So, do not ask God to give you a light burden; ask Him to give you a strong shoulder to carry a heavy burden.  Amen.

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