Quote of the day: 4 December

The whole city is truly scandalized.

In our quote of the day for 2 December we remembered the anniversary of the abduction of Saint John of the Cross from his chaplain’s quarters at the monastery of the Incarnation in Avila. We read Saint Teresa’s anguished letter to King Philip II wherein she provided the backstory and described the abduction of Saint John and his companion and fellow confessor, Fray Germán. More important, Teresa begged the king to intervene in the affair.

Saint Teresa’s letter was dated 4 December 1577. We recall that she wrote how the Carmelite vicar provincial “is holding these confessors captive in his monastery after having forced his way into their cells and confiscating their papers” (Letter 218).

 

 

2017-08-17 (1)
Saint Edith Stein wrote the Science of the Cross in the final months before her arrest in August 1942. Did a correlation between Saint John of the Cross’ abduction and the arrests of the Jews come to mind? | Photo Credit: Bundesarchiv (Creative Commons)

 

 

Today we turn to Saint Edith Stein’s Science of the Cross to provide us with more details of his abduction; we refer to her introduction, “The Message of the Cross”. Let us recall that scholars differ on the date of the abduction; by Edith’s calculation, the event occurred on the night of December 3 and Teresa wrote to the king on the very next day. Based on this knowledge, Edith recounts the story:

On the night of December 3, 1577, several of the Calced with their accomplices broke into the living quarters of the nuns’ two confessors and took them away as captives. From then on, John was missing. True, Holy Mother learned that the prior, Maldonado, had taken him away. But where he had been taken was not revealed until nine months later when he was freed.

Nine months. During nine months Saint John of the Cross would be exposed to cruel captivity in Toledo, penned up like a political prisoner. For all intents and purposes, John actually was a political prisoner, a prisoner because of the jealous machinations of the prior in the Carmelite friars’ convent in Toledo, Fray Hernando Maldonado. Maldonado: he of whom Saint Teresa wrote to King Philip, “he is more capable than the others of making martyrs.”

 

French Underground inspects blindfold in Paris Yad Vashem photo record 1460_179
After the liberation, a member of the French underground in Paris inspects a blindfold used on prisoners during interrogations | Photo credit: Yad Vashem (Creative Commons)

 

We will let Saint Edith continue the story of Saint John’s abduction:

Blindfolded, he had been brought through a lonely suburb to the monastery of Our Lady in Toledo, the most important Carmelite monastery of the mitigated Rule in Castile. He was interrogated, and because he refused to abandon the Reform he was treated as a rebel. His prison was a narrow room, about 10 feet long and 6 feet wide. Teresa later wrote: “small though he was in stature, he could hardly stand erect in it.”

At this point, the conditions of Saint John of the Cross’ confinement remind us of Saint Teresa’s vision of hell, where she wrote in her autobiography:

The entrance it seems to me was similar to a very long and narrow alleyway, like an oven, low and dark and confined; the floor seemed to me to consist of dirty, muddy water emitting a foul stench and swarming with putrid vermin. At the end of the alleyway, a hole that looked like a small cupboard was hollowed out in the wall; there I found I was placed in a cramped condition. All of this was delightful to see in comparison with what I felt there. What I have described can hardly be exaggerated (Life 32:1).

Here is what Edith has to say about Saint John’s “cramped condition”:

This cell had neither window nor air vent other than a slit high up on the wall. The prisoner had to “stand on the poor-sinner-stool and wait until the sun’s rays were reflected on the wall in order to be able to pray the breviary.” The door was secured by a bolt.

Small wonder that when Saint Teresa wrote on 4 December to King Philip, she remarked, “I would consider the confessors better off if they were held by the Moors, who perhaps would show more compassion.”

 

Dachau Frans de Wit Flickr 14997966451_3b62cd0105_o
Dachau concentration camp | Frans de Wit / Flickr

 

There was a daily routine of psychological and physical torture, as Saint Edith explains:

At first every evening, later three times a week, and finally, only sometimes on Fridays, the prisoner was brought to the refectory where, seated on the floor, he ate his meal—bread and water. He was also given the discipline in the refectory. He knelt, naked to the waist, with bowed head; all the friars passed by him and struck him with the switch. And since he bore everything “with patience and love” he was dubbed “the coward.” Throughout, he was “immovable as a rock” when they commanded him to abandon the Reform, attempting to bribe him by offering to make him a prior. Then he would open his silent lips and assure them that he refused to turn back “no matter if it cost him his life.”

He bore everything with patience and love. How rich were his counsels to Saint Teresa’s nuns in later years! When he exhorted them to practice patience, they understood that he had the bitter life experience to qualify his counsel:

Serve God, my beloved daughters in Christ, following in his footsteps of mortification, in utter patience, in total silence, and with every desire to suffer, becoming executioners of your own satisfactions, mortifying yourselves, if perhaps something remains that must die and something still impedes the inner resurrection of the Spirit who dwells within your souls (Letter 7 to the nuns at Beas, 18 November 1586).

Saint Edith tells us that “the youthful novices who were witness to the humiliations and mistreatment wept out of compassion and said “This is a saint” when they saw his silent patience.”

 

Juan de la Cruz (silence profile pic 22)
Credit: Portal Carmelitano

 

 

John of the Cross, St. 1991, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Revised Edition, translated from the Spanish by Kavanaugh, K and Rodriguez, O with revisions and introductions by Kavanaugh, K, ICS Publications, Washington DC.

 

Kieran Kavanaugh, K, Rodriguez, O, and Teresa, 1976, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, ICS Publications, Washington DC.

 

Stein, E 2002, The Science of the Cross, translated from the German by Koeppel, J, ICS Publications, Washington DC.

Quote of the day: 12 August

You were a man of heroic faith, Isidore Bakanja, a young layman from the Congo. As a baptized person called to spread the Good News, you knew how to share your faith and bore witness to Christ with so much conviction that, to your companions, you appeared to be one of those valiant lay faithful who are catechists. Yes, Blessed Isidore, completely faithful to the promises of your baptism, you really were a catechist, you worked generously for “the Church in Africa and its evangelizing mission”.

Isidore, your participation in the paschal mystery of Christ, in the supreme work of his love, was total. Because you wanted to remain faithful at all costs to the faith of your baptism, you suffered scourging like your Master. You forgave your persecutors like your Master on the Cross and you showed yourself to be a peacemaker and reconciler.

In an Africa painfully tested by struggles between ethnic groups, your luminous example is an invitation to harmony and to the rapprochement between the children of the same heavenly Father. You practiced fraternal charity towards all, without distinction of race or social condition; you earned the esteem and respect of your companions, many of whom were not Christians. In this way, you show us the path of dialogue necessary among men.

In this Advent of preparation for the third millennium, you invite us to accept, following your example, the gift that Jesus made of his own Mother on the Cross (cf. Jn 19:27). Dressed in the “habit of Mary”, like her and with her, you continued your pilgrimage of faith; like Jesus the Good Shepherd, you came to give your life for your sheep. Help us who have to walk the same path to turn our eyes toward Mary and take her as a guide.

Saint John Paul II
Homily, 24 April 1994
Eucharistic Concelebration for the Beatification of Isidore Bakanja


Isidore Bakanja worked as an assistant mason for white colonists in what was then the Belgian Congo and now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He was a convert, baptized 6 May 1906 at age 18 after receiving instruction from Trappist missionaries. Rosary in hand, he used any chance to share his faith; though untrained, many thought of him as a catechist. He left his native village because there were no fellow Christians.

He found work as a domestic on a Belgian rubber plantation. Many of the Belgian agents were atheists who hated missionaries due to their fight for native rights and justice; the agents used the term “mon père”the formal term used to address a priestfor anyone associated with religion.

Isidore encountered their hatred when he asked for leave to go home. The agents refused, and he was ordered to stop teaching fellow workers how to pray: “You’ll have the whole village praying and no one will work!”

He was told to discard his Carmelite scapular, and when he didn’t, he was flogged twice. The second time the agent tore the scapular from Isidore’s neck, had him pinned to the ground, and then beaten with over 100 blows with a whip of elephant hide with nails on the end. He was then chained to a single spot 24 hours a day.

When an inspector came to the plantation, Isidore was sent to another village. He managed to hide in the forest, then dragged himself to the inspector. This was the inspector’s report:

“I saw a man come from the forest with his back torn apart by deep, festering, malodorous wounds, covered with filth, assaulted by flies. He leaned on two sticks in order to get near me – he wasn’t walking; he was dragging himself”.

The agent tried to kill “that animal of mon père”, but the inspector prevented him. He took Isidore home to heal, but Isidore knew better.

“If you see my mother, or if you go to the judge, or if you meet a priest, tell them that I am dying because I am a Christian.”

Two missionaries who spent several days with him reported that he devoutly received the last sacraments. The missionaries urged Isidore to forgive the agent; he assured them that he already had.

“I shall pray for him.
When I am in heaven,
I shall pray for him very much.”

After six months of prayer and suffering, he died, rosary in hand and scapular around his neck. [Source: ocarm.org]

 

Hans Beeckman, Royal Museum for Central Africa wood biology expert, in Yangambi - DRC.
Hans Beeckman, Royal Museum for Central Africa wood biology expert, in Yangambi – Democratic Republic of the Congo | Photo by Axel Fassio/CIFOR | cifor / Flickr | Learn more about forest conservation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the work of CIFOR, the Center for International Forestry Research at cifor.org

 

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