AURIESVILLE, NEW YORK — “This ... is a cri de coeur, a cry from the heart,” writes Bishop Robert Barron in his “Letter to a Suffering Church.” “I am a lifelong Catholic, and I’ve been a priest for 33 years and a bishop for four years. I have dedicated my life to the Church. The sexual abuse scandal has been for me, for millions of other Catholics, and especially for the victim-survivors, lacerating. I have written this book for my fellow Catholics who feel, understandably demoralized, scandalized, angry beyond words, and ready to quit. What I finally urge my brothers and sisters in the Church to do is to stay and fight — and to do so on behalf of themselves and their families, but especially on behalf of those who have suffered so grievously at the hands of wicked men.”
I cracked open Barron’s work and read this passage while sitting on the grounds of a “natural reliquary.” In the 17th century, French Jesuit missionary Fr. Isaac Jogues was among the Catholic priests tortured and killed in a Mohawk village near the upstate New York hamlet of Auriesville. It’s hard not to feel intense awe and sorrow while walking around. Awe at these men who loved God and His people enough to be tortured for them. Sorrow at today’s lack of faith — often in our lives and certainly in our culture.
Not too long after Jogues’ martyrdom, a girl named Kateri Tekakwitha was born here. She would be baptized not too far from here by Jesuit missionaries. She became a saint in 2012. There is now a shrine dedicated to her and to Jogues and his two martyred colleagues in Auriesville, the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs.
When you think of Jogues and his fellow Jesuit missionaries, and of Kateri, you start to dive even deeper into the depths of “a suffering Church.” All of us have endured suffering at one time or another, some of it overwhelming. But how many of us enter into it joyfully, believing that it might have a redemptive purpose? How many professed Christians see it as uniting us to the suffering of Christ?
Coming to a place like this, a Catholic starts to feel like she must help the renewal of the Church. Being here, you know you must stay and fight — and not just in the Church, but in the world.
This place is about a 45-minute drive from Albany. I started the day, in fact, in the cathedral that is a stone’s throw away from the governor’s mansion. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has been known to describe himself as a former altar boy, recently expanded abortion in the state, and has been proud of it.
Our culture can be harsh in all kinds of cruel ways. There’s something here in the trails of this holy site that reminds us that — no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in — we can live up to our Christian ideals, our American ideals. Father Jogues escaped from his captors, but came back for the people whom he loved, whom he baptized. He knew that this would almost certainly end in further torture and his death. But his desire to serve people who wanted Jesus in their lives took precedence. Surely, even in the face of evil in the Church and in the world, Christians can stay. By all means, come here or to another place of pilgrimage and be renewed. Because the legacy of the martyrs and people like St. Kateri Tekakwitha is who we are — the evil isn’t. And the world — people of all faiths — needs people who believe the truths of the Gospel and want to live God’s mandate of love in the world.