Summary: In this age, when Christians of all kinds are being ridiculed, harassed and threatened in many different ways, we need to look at the martyrs of the past two thousand years and take courage.

Tuesday of the 14th Week in Course 2019

Jacob ben Isaac was a cheat, a liar and a thief. You may recall from an earlier reading in Genesis that he lied, cheated and stole his older brother, Esau’s, first-born blessing. Then, wisely, he left town and took up with Laban, where he married two sisters and got himself a family, and by his own labors made himself a wealthy man. Now, at God’s command, he is returning to Palestine and hoping that Esau won’t–in his wrath–destroy him and his family. So he sends considerable bribes ahead of him and is alone.

Suddenly a divine messenger appears and wrestles with Jacob all night. And when the other guy sees that he cannot win, he cheats and dislocates Jacob’s hip. Jacob realizes that he is defeated, and probably also figures that it was God justly cheating him as he had cheated his brother. He asks for and receives a blessing, and, moreover, a name change. He will be called Israel, or God-fighter. It should be noted that, with rare exceptions, the rest of the Old Testament illustrates how Israel, his descendants, time and time again contended against the divine will, until Jesus, Son of God, came to do God’s will all the time.

Matthew records that the Pharisees continued that tradition of ignoring or fighting against the will of God, manifest in the life of Our Lord. Jesus casts out a demon that kept the possessed man from speaking, and the man speaks. But the Pharisees won’t change their minds–Jesus must be a cheat or demon-possessed Himself. But they cannot stop Jesus from doing God’s will, from showing his love and fidelity to humankind. The Pharisees were not helping their people. “They were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Obviously, we need to follow the command of Christ to pray for ministers, both clerical and lay, to take up the challenge and spread the Gospel of love and healing to the world.

Today the Church commemorates many saints, among them Blessed Adrian Fortescue, martyred under King Henry VIII. But I’d like to share the story of a Dominican priest who was martyred in Holland about four decades after Adrian. I think it shows how in every age men and women have done the will of God, even to their own detriment, following the example of Christ.

In the late sixteenth century the Low Countries were under the rule of Spain, but Calvinist thought had taken root there and gave revolutionaries a religious cause to bolster their political aim of throwing off Spanish rule. In June, 1572, Gorinchem or Gorkum fell to the Protestants, who captured nine Franciscans and a couple of other priests. The Dominican priest Joannes, who was born in Cologne, heard of their imprisonment and “hastened to the city in order to administer the sacraments to them.” He was seized by the revolutionaries and imprisoned with the others.

“In prison at Gorkum (from 26 June to 6 July 1572), the first 15 prisoners were transferred to Brielle, arriving there on 8 July. On their way to Dordrecht they were exhibited for money to the curious. The following day, William de la Marck, Lord of Lumey, commander of the [Protestant army], had them interrogated and ordered a disputation. In the meantime, four others arrived. It was demanded of each that he abandon his belief in the Transubstantiation, the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, as well as the belief in the Papal supremacy. All remained firm in their faith.”

Prince William of Orange sent a letter telling his subjects to leave priests and religious unmolested. Despite this, the nineteen Catholic prisoners were taken to a storage shed and hanged. “A shrub bearing 19 white flowers is said to have sprung up at the site of their martyrdom. Many miracles have since been attributed to the intercession of the Gorkum Martyrs, especially the curing of hernias. The beatification of the martyrs took place on 14 November 1675, and their canonization on 29 June 1867.”

In this age, when Christians of all kinds are being ridiculed, harassed and threatened in many different ways, we need to look at the martyrs of the past two thousand years and take courage. The Lord who stood with them in every adversity will stand with us, and suffer in us for the salvation of the world. So we can say together, St. John of Cologne and all you martyrs of Gorkum, pray for us.

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