Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Martyrdom existed as a solid fixture in the early church and the blood of martyrs, as Tertullian noted, was the seed of the church. The Jesuits recognized that martyrdom was part and parcel of the spread of the faith and frequently placed themselves in situations in which martyrdom would be the logical outcome of their efforts. Our readings today describe the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist. Although John was not a Christian martyr, St.Stephen has that honor, he nevertheless died because of proclamation and witness to the Law of God.
The high status of Christian martyrs made these men and women both the objects of envy and adulation, so much so, that being sent to a place where martyrdom would be a real possibility was seen as a real advantage. Although martyrdom no longer was a possibility in Europe during the 19th century, the evangelization of Africa and Asia opened up the possibility of dying a martyr’s death. In fact, by the 1840s young Jesuits were chaffing at the bit to get through with their studies so they could be sent to work and possible martyrdom. A wise Jesuit spiritual director knew that true martyrdom can only occur with spiritual preparation and so he suggested a type of prayer for those in academic formation to help them in their groundwork for their future work on the missions. This wise Jesuit, Fr. Francis Xavier Gautrelet, helped promote a spiritual formation which grounded not only future missionaries, but assembled and helped form a community of men and women whose daily prayer and humble efforts were focused on the love of the Heart of Christ so that Heart may be better known. Fr. Gautrelet knew that unless we “die” to our own self-interests and move our hearts closer to the heart of Christ, one could die for a cause but it would not necessarily be that of Christ’s. Fr. Gutrelet realized that all men and women can share in the work of missionaries, even the martyrs, when they transform their lives towards the Heart of Christ. This movement became known as the Apostleship of Prayer, started by a Jesuit whose namesake, Francis Xavier, knew that a single focus on the Kingdom of God could transform small talents and turn them into great means for evangelization.
These brief thoughts on Ignatius could end in no better to way than to recall how his insights on how to follow Christ were developed by others for the spread of the kingdom of God.
The Apostleship of Prayer website is: http://www.apostleshipofprayer.org