“We offer you no salary, no recompense, no holiday or pension. But much hard work, a poor dwelling, few consolations, many disappointments, frequent sickness, a violent or lonely death and unknown grave.”
Well. If Bishop Auguste Martin was trying to sell priests on serving as missionaries in Louisiana in 1873, those hardly seem motivational words. And yet, they came: five French priests eager to serve the Lord in spite of gargantuan difficulty and guaranteed danger. The U.S. Bishops’ Conference voted to advance the beatification cause of the five young men at their plenary assembly last week.
And it makes me wonder: What keeps us from having the kind of zeal and love that surely motivated Fr. Jean Pierre, Fr. Isidore Quémerais, Fr. Jean Marie Biler, Fr. Louis Gergaud, and Fr. Francois LeVézouet? Why do we hesitate to even mention our faith? What keeps us from being missionary disciples right where we are?
One uncomfortable and yet inescapable conclusion: We value pleasure, safety and comfort more than truth. We don’t love God enough. We fear suffering. We fear rejection. We fear poverty.
These are the hard truths we need to face. We could be saints, but mostly we choose ourselves and settle for half-measures.
I include myself in this indictment.
One day we will stand before the Father and see Truth. We will know what, or rather whom, we have chosen.
Echoing in my mind is the well-known song composed by Tom Booth, I Will Choose Christ. I want to choose Him; the question is, do I want to enough? What am I willing to risk? How much do I love Him?
I remember when I fell in love with my husband back when we were college students. We got engaged shortly after graduation in spite of the fact that, in a worldly sense at least, we faced enormous obstacles. We loved each other so much that we jumped in anyway, throwing caution to the wind. Nothing was going to keep us apart.
“You mean you’re not even living together?” my boss at the time asked in astonishment. “You always test-drive a car before buying!” So romantic, right?
It really all comes down to love. And “perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).”
This is what should drive us to our knees in humble surrender. Lord, help me to love You more. Help me to love You despite the obstacles along the way. Help me to love you in the poor and the outcast.
I’m in awe of the Shreveport Martyrs, as the five priests have come to be known. The men served in the midst of the deadliest Yellow Fever outbreak in U.S. history and died of the illness in a three-week span in 1873. Today, hailed as martyrs, their cause for beatification moves forward.
In his 2017 apostolic letter Maiorem hac dilectionem, Pope Francis delineated a new path to canonization dubbed “offering of life.’ He cited the words of the Lord Jesus that “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).”
The apostolic letter states: “Worthy of special consideration and honor are those Christians who, following more than closely the footsteps and teachings of the Lord Jesus, have voluntarily and freely offered their life for others and persevered with this determination unto death.
“Certainly the heroic offering of life, inspired and sustained by charity, expresses a true, complete and exemplary imitation of Christ, and thus is deserving of that admiration that the community of faithful customarily reserves to those who have voluntarily accepted the martyrdom of blood or have exercised Christian virtues to a heroic degree.”
May the example of the Shreveport Martyrs inspire each of us today to greater faith, hope and love.