The early church writer Tertullian wrote that, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.”
The North American martyrs watered the earth with their blood. It was blood made holy by the reception of the sanctifying and life-giving Blood of Christ in Holy Communion. From this fertile soil of upstate New York and Canada, came some of the first native Christians. Among this number was a little flower who sprung up and blossomed, St. Kateri Tekakwitha, nicknamed the Lily of the Mohawks.
Who were the North American martyrs? They were eight Jesuits from France who heard the call Jesus to be missionaries in new foreign lands. They were most willing to love and service those who never heard about Christ. St. John de Brebeuf was the first from the Society of Jesus to minister to the Huron people. He learned the native-language and spoke it – – he translated a catechism and wrote a book on grammar and phraseology in the Huron language. In his great zeal for these Native Americans, he wrote a guide to his fellow Jesuits on how to understand, treat, and serve them. He, along with his Jesuit companions underwent harsh winter climates, foods that they were not used to, and physical exertion from canoeing from one place to another. Some of them experienced spiritual desolation and dryness in prayer, yet they kept going by the grace of God who strengthened them. Finally, they underwent the most brutal forms of torture imaginable.
During the French and Indian war, marauding bands of Iroquois natives made their work dangerous. St. Isaac Jogues had fingers cut off and could no longer offer Holy Mass. Eventually he escaped a time of imprisonment and went back to France where he was hailed as a hero and living martyr. He got a compensation from the Pope to say Mass with his mutilated hands. Amazingly, out of love for Christ and the people he served, he went back to North America where he was martyred. St. Isaac and his Jesuit companions laid down their lives for Jesus, knowing that their reward in heaven would be great because they would be with the Lord. In this way, they became an image of the Eucharist, bread and wine offered for the life of the world. Their strength came from the Body and the Blood which must be the source of strength for all those who follow Christ Jesus. As a kind of gruesome backhanded allusion to the truth of the Eucharist, some of the barbaric torturers of these martyrs cannibalistically ate their flesh seeking to receive a share in their strength. (In the Holy Eucharist we eat the living resurrected flesh of the Son of God made man).
Most of us will not be called to red martyrdom as we are small, but we can still proclaim the Gospel with our lives and by our love. Jesus sends us forth and promises to be with us till the end of time.