The American Martyrs and the Message of Salvation

As this «Ad Rem» reaches you, many of our religious, joined with several tertiaries, youngsters and other companions, will be on pilgrimage from Lake George, New York to the Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York, a trip of some seventy miles. The Pilgrimage for Restoration, made possible by the National Coalition of Clergy and Laity, is a real pilgrimage, not simply a tourist event. Pilgrims walk through the woods and roads of beautiful upstate New York singing hymns, praying the Rosary, and meditating together in their small brigades, each of which is named after a saint or mystery. At night, they camp in tents or under the open sky. The combination of arduous physical effort and interior delight accompanying the spiritual exercises (especially the pre-dawn daily Mass) has been described as “the agony and the ecstasy.”

The Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary sponsor two brigades: The St. Joseph Brigade for men, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary Brigade for women.

The event is in honor of the Eight North American Martyrs (Feast Day: September 26). While most of the Martyrs died on the Canadian side of the border, three of them — St. Isaac Jogues, St. Rene Goupil, and St. John de Lallande — died in what is now New York State. Goupil was martyred in the Mohawk village of Ossernenon (now Auriesvile), where his precious remains were lost. Pilgrims can walk down into the beautiful ravine where he was last seen — one of the most beautiful places on earth.

The story of the Martyrs is told briefly in an article on our web site. The life of St. Isaac Jogues, Saint among Savages, is available in our bookstore.

The Martyrs and “Outside the Church there is no Salvation

The entire Catholic world at the time of these martyrs believed unequivocally that a man had to die in the true Church and with the true Faith in order to be saved. Regardless of the speculations of some theologians regarding the salvation of unbelievers — some of the ideas condemned as “Laxism” about thirty years after the Martyrs — it was well known and universally believed that the savages in the New World would be lost if they did not die as Catholics. This belief, vivified by an ardent Charity, is what led to the missionary zeal of the Jesuits who came here.

Here we are over 350 years later and one is called a heretic for believing exactly what they died for. Most people who call themselves Catholics believe that one can be saved in any religion. But that is not what the Church teaches, no matter how obscured her teaching has been by her own clergy and theologians.

Of all of the excuses for denying this dogma, the most persistent is the objection that it leaves most men somehow out of the reach of salvation, especially those ignorant natives who have never heard the Gospel. But Our Lord Himself taught us that there are few who are saved. Now, we do not know the exact proportion of the elect to the reprobate, for Our Lord did not reveal it. But we know enough to avoid denying the Church’s doctrine simply because it implies fewer will be saved than will be lost.

God’s Providence will get the supernatural requisites (faith, grace, the sacraments) to those He has predestined, even if we don’t fully understand how. That is hard for the natural man to believe, but it is a supernatural truth writ large in the story of the Martyrs.

Father Feeney’s favorite account from the adventures of his fellow Jesuits was that of the heroic death of St. Anthony Daniel, with which I bring this «Ad Rem» to a close:

“Hardly had the Father ended Mass, and the Christians — who according to their custom, had filled the church after the rising of the sun — were still continuing their devotions there, when the cry arose, ‘To arms, and repel the enemy!’ — who, having come unexpectedly, had made his approaches by night. Some hasten to the combat, others to flight: there is naught but alarm and terror everywhere. The Father, among the first to rush where he sees the danger greatest, encourages his people to a brave defense; and — as if he had seen paradise open for the Christians, and hell on the point of swallowing up all the infidels — he speaks to them in a tone so animated with the spirit which was possessing him, that having made a breach in the hearts which till then had been most rebellious, he gave them a Christian heart. The number of those proved to be so great, that unable to cope with it by baptizing them one after the other, he was constrained to dip his handkerchief in the water (which was all that necessity then offered him), in order to shed abroad as quickly as possible this grace on those poor savages, who cried mercy to him, using the manner of baptizing which is called ‘by aspersion.’”

“…Meanwhile, the enemy continued his attacks more furiously than ever; and, without a doubt, it was a great blessing for the salvation of some that at the moment of their death, Baptism had given them the life of the soul, and put them in possession of an immortal life. When the Father saw that the Iroquois were becoming masters of the place, he, — instead of taking flight with those who were inviting him to escape in their company, — forgetting himself, remembered some old men and sick people, whom he had long ago prepared for Baptism. He goes through the cabins, and proceeds to fill them with his zeal, — the infidels themselves presenting their children in crowds, in order to make Christians of them. Meanwhile the enemy, already victorious, had set everything on fire, and the blood of even the women and children irritated their fury. The Father wishing to die in his church, finds it full of Christians, and catechumens who ask for Baptism. It was indeed at that time that their faith animated their prayers, and that their hearts could not belie their tongues. He baptizes some, gives absolution to others, and consoles them all with the sweetest hope of the saints, — having hardly other words on his lips than these: ‘My brothers, today we shall be in heaven.’

“The enemy was warned that the Christians had betaken themselves, in very large numbers, into the church, and that it was the easiest and richest prey that he could hope for; he hastens thither, with barbarous howls and stunning yells. At the noise of these approaches, ‘Flee my brothers,’ said the Father to his new Christians, ‘and bear with you your Faith even to the last sigh. As for me’ (he added), ‘I must face death here as long as I shall see here any soul to be gained for Heaven; and, dying here to save you, my life is no longer anything to me; we shall see one another again in heaven.’ At the same time, he goes out in the direction whence comes the enemy, who stop in astonishment to see one man alone come to meet them, and even recoil backward, as if he bore upon his face the terrible and frightful appearance of a whole company. Finally, — having come to their senses a little, and being astonished at themselves, — they incite one another; they surround him on all sides, and cover him with arrows, until, having inflicted on him a mortal wound from an arquebus shot, — which pierced him through and through, in the very middle of his breast, — he fell. Pronouncing the name of Jesus, he blessedly yielded up his soul to God, — truly as a good pastor, who exposes his soul and his life for the salvation of his flock.” (Father Rageneau’s Relation; quoted in Fr. John Wynne, S.J., The Jesuit Martyrs of North America, The Universal Knowledge Foundation, New York, 1925, pp. 197-200.)