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Saints are part of our DNA as Catholics. They are our friends, our personal companions on our faith journey. They comfort and challenge us, they give us guidance and hope, they help us find God’s plan for our lives. Walking With the Saints passes on the stories of selected holy people who are powerful examples of Christian living.

Walking With the Saints

Martyrs: Belief in Action

by Robert F. Morneau

Martyrs are witnesses of the faith. Their witness goes all the way; they are willing to lay down their lives for their religious convictions. Martyrs move beyond mere words into deeds, professing their beliefs in action. Manifesting a graced courage in the face of suffering and death itself, individuals like Sts. Agnes, Thomas More, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) and Ignatius of Antioch, Archbishop Oscar Romero and St. Stephen all participated in the self-giving of Jesus. We do well to reflect upon their lives and witness. Let us now ponder the faith unto death of Thomas Becket, Isaac Jogues and Miguel Pro.

St. Thomas Becket (1118-1170)

Religion and politics don’t mix well. The Church and the state have had a tumultuous relationship, one evidenced by considerable violence. In the 12th century we see this conflict of Church-state played out in the lives of Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury, and Henry II, king of England. (In the 16th century a similar drama involved St. Thomas More and Henry VIII.)

At one time, Thomas Becket and Henry II were friends. Henry named Thomas his chancellor, the individual controlling the finances of the realm. When the Diocese of Canterbury opened, King Henry appointed Thomas Becket the new archbishop, though at the time Thomas was not even ordained a priest. After ordination and installation, he left behind his worldly ways and dedicated his life to being an authentic disciple of Jesus. This involved a renewed spiritual life and a decision to protect the Church from encroachment by the state, namely, King Henry II.

Needless to say, the king was not pleased. Thomas was exiled to France for six years. From there he excommunicated the king and others when they transgressed privileges reserved to the religious leader of England. A reconciliation was attempted but failed. Thomas Becket eventually returned to England and then, on December 29, 1170, four of Henry II’s knights entered the cathedral and killed the archbishop.

Finding a new center

What happened in the mind and heart of Thomas Becket? As a friend and trusted companion of the king, what brought Thomas Becket to give up worldly power and influence to promote the gospel and the Kingdom? Surely, it was the action of grace. Becket said yes to friendship with God rather than friendship with a king who was going to exploit the Church. Here is an example of a major conversion, a finding of a new center and a whole new way of life.

In her novel Saints and Villains, Denise Giardiana writes about the Lutheran theologian and anti-Nazi activist Dietrich Bonhoeffer (who is considered by some to be a martyr). In one scene, Bonhoeffer is asked about the meaning of sainthood: “What do you think, Bonhoeffer? How does an ordinary man like Becket become a saint? Is sainthood truly the fruit of a holy life? Or is it stubbornness, or pride, or sheer luck? And would that be good luck, or bad luck?”

Witness to the truth

Thomas Becket was an ordinary person. God was always present to Becket, offering the gift of grace, namely, God’s very life. At some moment, Becket said yes to that new life. Sainthood was not the result of doing “holy” things like extensive prayer and fasting; nor was it the product of pride or luck. Rather, it was the working of the Holy Spirit that empowered Becket to follow the path of truth, love and courage.

Good or bad luck? Coincidence? Becket’s life and death were part of God’s providence. Perhaps in common speech we might say: “Becket was sure lucky to be given the gift of eternal life.” But this simplifies the matter. God sends prophets, martyrs and saints because the world needs witnesses to truth, beauty and goodness. Thomas Becket (and Thomas More) have influenced political leaders as well as common citizens to do the right thing regardless of the cost and sacrifice. The lives of the saints are not just good stories. They are narratives that challenge us to respond to God’s call in our lives with courage and nobility.


St. Isaac Jogues (1607-1646)

The Church’s mission is evangelization. A letter from a high school junior about to be confirmed captures the essence of this call: “I want everyone to know who God is.” Through Baptism and Confirmation, we are called to share the good news of God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus.

St. Isaac Jogues wanted everyone to know about the mystery of God revealed in Jesus. He left his native France and traveled to Quebec in North America. There he worked among the Hurons and Mohawks, communicating the good news of the gospel. He and his fellow Jesuits learned the language and customs of the Native Americans and grew to appreciate the spirituality already present among the various tribes. The Jesuits experienced what is known as reverse evangelization—an awareness that God has been at work in all times and all places long before any missionary approached a specific country or people. The challenge is to recognize how God’s grace has been operative in that land and then to point out attitudes and behaviors that contradict gospel living.

Disciple of the Lord

While working with the Hurons and experiencing many hardships (cold, starvation, sickness), Isaac Jogues was captured by a warring party of Mohawks. He and his companions suffered brutal torture. Eventually, Isaac Jogues escaped and returned to France, where he was honored and acclaimed. His superiors allowed him to decide what he would do next: remain in France or return to North America.

Return he did, in 1644. Two years later, while attempting to negotiate an agreement between the government of Quebec and the Mohawks, Jogues was martyred. He had left materials for the celebration of Mass in a Mohawk village. When an epidemic struck the village, the people blamed the items for the disease and death. Upon his return to the village, Mohawk braves beat and killed him.

Jesus proclaims that anyone who leaves mother or father, brother or sister for the sake of the Kingdom will share in the joys of eternal life. Isaac Jogues left his beloved homeland and faced incredible hardships to fulfill his vocation as a disciple of the Lord. Such sacrifice is admirable and worthy of emulation. Isaac Jogues did what Jesus did: He offered himself for the sake of the Kingdom.

Freedom and grace

In her classic, Creative Prayer, Brigid E. Herman says of saints: “Their sainthood lay in their habit of referring the smallest action to God. They lived in God; they acted from a pure motive of love towards God. They were as free from self-regard as from slavery to the good opinion of others. God saw and God rewarded: what else did they need?”

Isaac Jogues was a free man. Through grace he escaped the two prisons that incarcerate so many of us: self-regard and human respect. He had the liberty to do what God asked of him regardless of his own well-being or the opinion of others. Isaac Jogues referred everything to the Lord: the brutally cold winters, the cross of suffering, the joy of the Eucharist and his preaching. United with Christ, all became holy.

As Isaac Jogues approached death he was not alone. The spirit of the risen Lord filled his soul with courage and surely, like Jesus on the cross, the devoted missionary prayed for the forgiveness of those who killed him. If we had been there we might have heard him saying under his breath: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Blessed Miguel Pro (1891-1927)

In his biography St. Francis of Assisi, G. K. Chesterton speaks of saintly revolution: “The transition from the good man to the saint is a sort of revolution; by which one for whom all things illustrate and illuminate God becomes one for whom God illustrates and illuminates all things.”

Father Miguel Pro was involved in both political and personal revolutions. The political revolution was in Mexico, where violent repression of Catholicism was under way in the Revolution of 1910. Prior to being executed by a firing squad in November 1927, Father Pro did his priestly ministry in disguise in Mexico City. He managed to celebrate the sacraments, serve the needy and mediate God’s courage and strength to those facing arrest and death. In 1988, Pope John Paul II beatified Miguel Pro as a martyr.

Father Pro underwent a personal revolution. After studying in Europe, he returned to his native country and began his priestly work. During his years of formation, Miguel Pro learned to make God the center of his life. This “revolution” is at the heart of conversion—the journey from self to God. It is a shifting of centers: God moves to the center, and we are on the periphery. Father Pro made that painful journey through God’s transforming grace. Here was the source of his courage and endurance, the source of his holiness.

Revolutionary trust

A significant part of Fr. Pro’s personal conversion (a la “revolution”) was how he dealt with his pain. The emotional suffering came from worrying about his family; his physical pain came from stomach problems. In the midst of these struggles, Father Pro trusted in God’s providence as he would trust in God on the day he was executed. That trust was truly revolutionary.

Like St. Francis of Assisi, Father Pro trusted deeply in God’s ways and God’s will. As Chesterton stated, the saint has eyes to see how God is manifest in all things and, because of that graced vision grounded in trust and faith, every person and event take on divine significance. St. Francis, Miguel Pro and all the other saints are individuals through whom the light, love and life of grace are manifested. They become windows through whom God shines.

The common people of Mexico responded to the death of Father Pro by acclaiming him a saint. The political machine that tried to eliminate the Catholic resistance had its plans turned upside down. The resistance only grew because of this martyr’s blood. By proclaiming the good news of Jesus through his sacrificial death, Father Pro’s witness to the gospel captured the imagination and heart of thousands of people.

Justice, courage, the cross

Long before the seven principles of Catholic social teaching were articulated, Father Pro was living them in his own unique way. To mention a few: the dignity of every person, the call to solidarity, preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, rights and responsibilities. Just as the Mexican government of his day denied these values to the people, Father Miguel fought to protect and promote them. Blessed Miguel Pro was a man of justice and courage.

As he went before the firing squad on that fateful day in 1927, Father Pro extended his arms in the form of a cross before the bullets riddled his body. This last gesture proclaimed the centrality of Jesus and the cross in the life of this saint. The true instrument of any graced revolution is this symbol from Calvary.

Next: Immigrant Saints

Stepping Out in Faith
by Joan McKamey

Participate in the self-giving love of Jesus. Follow in the footsteps of…

• St. Thomas Becket, who said yes to friendship with God over friendship with the king. Recommit to your own friendship with God. Celebrate this with a friend who reveals God’s love to you.

• St. Isaac Jogues, who faced hardships, torture and death in order to bring the Good News to peoples of different cultures. Engage someone of a different ethnic background from yours in a conversation about the difference faith in God makes in your life.

• Blessed Miguel Pro, who trusted in God through both emotional and physical pain. Share your burdens with God. Reach out to others whose pain keeps them from reaching out to you. Listen as they share their pain without interjecting your own experiences.

Share how these and other saints inspire you on your faith journey.
We will post selected inspirations in this feature.
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