The dramatic account of St. Isaac Jogues -- in the depth of his love and the depth of his torture -- can't help but make us question.
I am the LORD and there is no other,there is no God besides me. – Isaiah 45:5
After a harrowing escape, risking discovery by his angered Mohawk captors and betrayal by the Dutch settlers who aided his escape, Fr. Isaac Jogues, in a practically cinematic getaway, endured a vicious dog bite and six weeks in a cramped attic, where he faced extreme dehydration and near starvation. One account describes his sufferings, saying, “They gave him [Fr. Jogues] to eat as much as was necessary, not to live, but not to die. God alone, and his Saints, were his company.”
Fr. Jogues returned from the missions of North America — where he had endured a year of slavery among the Mohawk people — to his native France on Christmas Day, 1643. Fr. Jogues was much lauded upon his return, particularly because of his extreme suffering. He had, after all, served as a slave for the Mohawk, including essentially acting as a beast of burden during hunting expeditions. He even lost his canonical digits, the forefingers a priest uses to hold the Sacred Host at Mass, in the course of the many tortures he endured.
To the casual observer, Fr. Jogues’ work, despite the acclaim his suffering had won, would seem to have failed. Yet this did not stifle Fr. Jogues’ faith. In a letter to a priest friend he attests, “My hope is in God, who has no need of us for the execution of his designs. It is for us to try to be faithful to him, and not to spoil his work by our own baseness.” Continually hopeful for his missionary work, confident that it belonged totally to God’s Providence, Isaac Jogues began to long to return to his beloved Mohawk.
In fact, Fr. Jogues considered his bond with the Mohawk so powerful, so intimate that he likened it to marriage. In the same letter, he writes, “In fine, that people sponsus mihi sanguinum est; hunc mihi despondi sanguine meo [In sum, that people is a spouse to me by blood; in my blood I have been espoused to it]. Our good master who has acquired it by his blood, opens to it, if he pleases, the door of his Gospel.” To the Christian ear Fr. Jogues’ words echo the words of the Lord to his people Israel. In Hosea, for example, the prophet describes the faithless Israel as the spouse of the Lord. Despite Israel’s infidelity, the Lord remains steadfast. For the Mohawk, Fr. Jogues so marvelously embodies the resilient and persevering love of God.
Fr. Jogues’ total confidence, total surrender to God allowed him to be free. Only singular devotion, a complete gift of his life to the Lord, could have fueled his desire to return to the Mohawk, once having escaped. During his time among them, Fr. Jogues baptized more than 60 Mohawk. Baptism, the-once-and-for-all washing, imparts divine grace into the soul and claims it for God. Fr. Jogues’ faith in the Lord, that only the Lord is God, combined with the desire for the Mohawk to know and embrace this truth spurred him ever onward.
In the face of the sufferings of our own lives we are easily tempted to cast off our confidence that “the Lord is God and there is no other.” We may well pursue the solace and consolation of many things other than our religious faith. The remarkable thing about Fr. Jogues’ suffering is that he never blamed God for it. Rather, Isaac Jogues found the Lord always with him in the midst of his trials.
The magnitude of his suffering makes this all the more remarkable. Fr. Jogues recalls,
They offer me a thousand and one insults, making me the sport and object of their reviling; they begin their assaults ever again, dealing upon my head and neck, and all my body, another hailstorm of blows. I would be too tedious if I should set down in writing all the rigor of my sufferings. They burned one of my fingers, and crushed another with their teeth, and those which were already torn, they squeezed and twisted with a rage of Demons; they scratched my wounds with their nails; and, when strength failed me, they applied fire to my arm and thighs.”
Why could Fr. Jogues bear such torments? Like St. Paul, Isaac Jogues rejoiced in the opportunity to share Christ’s sufferings. He writes, “This made me render thanks to my Savior Jesus Christ, because, on that day of gladness and joy, he was making us share his sufferings, and admitting us to participation in his crosses.”
Each of us then, should ask, am I able to find Christ in my sufferings? Do I even look for him there? Do I not realize that God, the Lord of all, would not abandon me? There is no other God. And this God is steadfast, always loving and faithful.
Fr. Isaac Jogues’ life is a testament in blood to this one great truth. May our own lives, too, proclaim this saving grace.