Despite its notorious taxes, i do live in a most beautiful state, New York – especially so in October.
Not just in October, when “the Game” is on our minds (though there’s no nicer time to go), but all year round i encourage people to visit “the blessed shrine of baseball,” Cooperstown. But, whenever i recommend the trip, i always add a loving nudge to another shrine in nearby Auriesville. If you were a Red Sox fan for 86 years – or even more so a faithful Cub fan like me, then the Hall of Fame might well be considered a “shrine of faith,” where men feel like they are in heaven. But Auriesville, it is truly a piece of heaven on earth, made so by the lives of the Jesuit missionaries who were sacrificed there.
October 19 is the day on which their lives-unto-death are celebrated. This day many thousands will stream there from north and south, east and west. On every other day of the year it is the quietest place and the humblest place you can find. Really, you will never see anything like it, humblest and simplest of all the basilicas of the world, hiding in the woods of New York, the inside made completely from the wood of that forest.
Whenever i list my favorite saints, way up there with Francis and Horatio and Paul is one whom most people have never heard of. He wasn’t the famous leader of those daring Jesuits, St. Isaac Jogues. My guy was just a little fella who went along for the ride, Noel Chabanel. i love him because, though he did give his life in the end, his story is more about little everyday suffering we can all relate to. The blow that finished him was only the tiny, last footnote of his real martyrdom.
Young Father Noel had volunteered for the mission, thinking that God might need his special talents. He was a master linguist, and right words were so important to reach the Mohawk. So, he went enthusiastically, but from the moment he arrived, he was the only one who could not get the words right! This led to so much misunderstanding and mockery, daily humiliation. On top of that, he did not have the stomach of his brothers. He was repulsed to the point of nausea by the lifestyle of the Natives, and he endured extreme homesickness and loneliness. Just imagine what it was like when all of the others had been taken and killed, and he was totally alone.
Hardly any of us will ever have to endure physical torture or death for our faith (this blog does go, i know, to some who might…) But, every one of us has to endure countless heartaches and humiliations along our martyr way. Very few will lose their heads, but it is all of those “paper-cut” type wounds that will make or break us, turn us to saints.
Whenever we offer in our humblest of prayers to take on a share of the Lord’s Cross, it is so often the case that the pieces we’ll receive are far from any we expected. Very rarely is it a great chunk. More likely a whole lot of little splinters come, annoying as they are. Just like that beautiful-yet-simple basilica in the woods, so what will build us into wonderful temples of God will be “the wood of our own yard,” so to speak, the simplest STUFF of our most ordinary, mundane existence. None of us needs to travel across the globe to be a missionary.
One of our dear practical Pope Francis’ insights is that it is usually that person we live with, that one who just drives us crazy every day, who Exercises our Real Muscles of Forgiveness and Love (proving our prayerful promise to carry the Cross.) One of the most useful, helpful book in my experience of family living has been Mark Rosen’s “Thank You For Being a Pain” on just that subject of those closest of persons, who are truly sent to be the crosses we asked for – to help us toward perfect love.
Those who have taken my advice and made the trip to Noel’s Shrine are forever thanking me, just as are those who have checked out Rosen’s wisdom. ENJOY – find what Joy there is hiding in suffering.