19 October 2011

Martyrdom of St. Jean de Brebeuf

Fastened to stakes and summarily subjected to brutal torture the two blackrobes now faced their moment of martyrdom, and it had come suddenly and without warning.

Brebeuf was assailed with blows to his head, face, shoulders, loins and legs. Yet all he thought of was his beloved Hurons now fellow captives. "My children," he said to them, "let us lift our eyes to heaven at the height of our afflictions; let us remember that God is the witness of our sufferings, and will soon be our exceeding great reward. Let us die in this faith; and let us hope from his goodness the fulfillment of his promises. I have more pity for you than for myself; but sustain with courage the few remaining torments. They will end with our lives. The glory which follows them will never have an end."

"Echon," these said to him, "our spirits will be in heaven when our bodies shall be suffering on earth. Pray to God for us, that he may show us mercy. We will invoke him even until death."

For the next few hours it was torture by fire, necklaces of red-hot hatchets, burning-coals, mutilation, mock baptism with boiling water and scalping. "Father Jean de Brebeuf," writes his friend Paul Ragueneau, "suffered like a rock, insensible to the fires and the flames, with-out uttering any cry, and keeping a profound silence, which astonished his executioners themselves. No doubt, his heart was then reposing in his God. Then, returning to himself, he preached to those infidels, and still more to many Christian captives, who had compassion on him."

Death came for this stalwart blackrobe about four p.m., on that March 16, 1649. He who could be described as an apostle, a brave adventurer, a skilled writer, a careful ethnologist, a man of vision had now become a martyr. His goodness was legendary with all who had known him - Champlain, his Jesuit brethren who loved and admired him, Mere Marie de l'Incarnation and thousands of unknown Hurons.