Category Archives: martyr

Teach us to love

St. Alphonsus Ligouri, whose feast is celebrated today, is notable for the place he gave to love in his moral teaching. It flows, I believe, from his understanding of God.

In a sermon, found in today’s Office of Readings, he tells us:

Since God knew that man is enticed by favors,  He wished to bind him to his love by means of His gifts: “I want to catch [humans] with the snares, those chains of love in which they allow themselves to be entrapped, so that they will love me.”

Today is also the anniversary of the killing in 1996 of the Dominican bishop of Oran, Algeria, Pierre Claverie. He was a proponent of dialogue and solidarity with Islam.

In a letter, shortly before his death, he wrote:

“That is probably what is at the basis of my religious vocation… I wondered why, throughout my Christian childhood when I listened to sermons on loving one’s neighbor, I had never heard anyone say the Arabs were my neighbors.
“It is my conviction that humanity can only exist in the plural. As soon as we claim to possess the truth or speak in the name of humanity we fall into totalitarianism and exclusion. No one possesses the truth; everyone seeks it.
“So that love vanquishes hate, one must love to the point of giving one’s life in the daily combat from which Jesus himself did not escape unscathed.”

In a world filled with hate and resentment, in a world that fears the “other” – especially if the other is a migrant or the other is from another religious tradition, these words need to help us grow in love.

It is not easy because it sometimes demands a change in us. As the martyred bishop reminds us:

“There is no life without love. There is no love without letting go every possession and giving oneself.”

May God give us the strength and the courage to love.

The elusive patroness of philosophers

Today the church commemorates Saint Catherine of Alexandria, a patroness of philosophers.

As a philosopher, I rejoice that a woman is our patron. But there’s one problem: Saint Catherine might never have existed! Now that’s a philosopher’s dilemma.

According to the legend, Saint Catherine became a Christian after an intellectual search led her to Christ. The Emperor, fascinated by her beauty, had her brought before him. Stirred by his lechery he asked her to be his consort. (What a good virgin martyr’s story without a lecherous emperor.) When this didn’t work, he urged her to give up her faith. She was so convincing in her argument against this that the emperor brought in fifty philosophers who were so moved by her arguments that they became Christians and were martyred. Catherine was thrown into jail where she converted the emperor’s wife, her jailer, and two hundred soldiers. Frustrated by all this, he planned to kill her by a machine made of spoked wheels, but it flew apart and she was untouched. Then the emperor had her beheaded. And, not make things even more fascinating, angels took her body and buried it on Mount Sinai.

Saint Catherine was a very popular saint in the middle ages and into the modern era. But the Catholic Church first suppressed her feast but then restored it in 2002. Alas, such is the fate of women philosophers.

Robert Ellsberg, in All Saints, ends his short entry on St. Catherine, a saint who may never have existed, thus:

[Saint Catherine] may continue to represent the subversive power of women’s wisdom, a voice which many would like to silence lest it subvert the whole world with its irrefutable logic. So Catherine continues to inspire and illuminate us with her edifying story, like the light emanating from a distant star which no longer exists.

St. Catherine of Alexandria, pray for us.


Mosaic of women saints in Ravenna

Journalist martyr Blessed Titus

Fr. Titus Bransdma was a Dutch Carmelite priest who was killed by the Nazis at Dachau by lethal injection on July 26, 1942.

A seminary professor, expert on mysticism, and advisor to Dutch Catholic journalists, he did not flinch from speaking out against the evils of Nazism.

In 1935, while Holland was still free, he wrote and went on a lecture tour in opposition to marriage laws that restricted the rights of Jews.

After Holland was invaded by Germany in 1940, he advised the Catholic newspapers that they should refuse to publish Nazi propaganda and advertising.

After spending several months in various prisons, where he wrote a biography of St. Teresa of Avila, he was sent to Dachau. There his health failed and he was sent to the hospital, not a place of healing but of horrid medical experimentation. There he was killed.

What strikes me is his willingness to speak out boldly, even though he knew that it would cost his life.

Some would say he was imprudent. He should have been less outspoken and tried to oppose the Nazis more diplomatically, some might way.

But prudence is not cowardly refusal to speak up in the face of risks. The virtue of prudence is the capacity to know what should be done and then do it, not counting the personal costs.

False prudence lets injustice and violence go on without speaking out. Real prudence means being a witness to the truth, “speaking truth to power,” using the pointed Quaker as the Quakers say.

Blessed Titus Brandsma was a martyr, a witness. May he inspire us – and many in the Church – to witness to the truth in the face of attacks on the poor, the weak, the marginalized.



Cigar Box Ray

Forty years ago today, on October 20, 1975, a forty-five year old Iowa priest was martyred in Morochata, Bolivia.

A farm boy from Independence, Iowa, he got a bachelor’s degree in farm management from Iowa State University in Ames.

He became a priest of the archdiocese of Dubuque and served for a few years there before serving in Bolivia for several years as a Maryknoll associate. After this he served in a parish in Cochabamba, Bolivia, which was served for many years by priests of the Dubuque archdiocese. There he helped found a school for the poor.

Father Ray Herman

After several years there he went to the town of Morochata, with its fifty scattered missions, where most of the people spoke Quechua. He visited the villages about once a year and also formed a network of seventy of more indigenous catechists.

On October 20, 1975, he dedicated a ten-bed hospital in Morochata which he had helped found. That night he was strangled and shot in his bed in the rectory.

It is not clear why he was killed. He was fairly apolitical, but in those days, when a US-supported dictator ruled in Bolivia, anyone who worked with the poor might be considered suspect.

He was buried back in Iowa. A priest friend, Father Leon Connolly, brought back all his possessions, except for books and clothing, which would fit into a cigar box. Father Ray was an inveterate cigar smoker.

What simplicity! What real poverty! What giving of himself for the poor!

But for him, it was sheer joy. As he once told a visitor,

“I have wanted to give everything to our Lord, and only since I have come to Morochata do I feel that I am really happy, and to some degree at least, successful in giving all to Christ,”

Would that we could imitate his entrega – how giving himself for God and the poor.

The imprudence of a martyr

…let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will be spoken no more.
Jeremiah 11: 19

 In a few days we will celebrate the 35th anniversary of the martyrdom of Blessed Monseñor Romero, the archbishop killed at the altar on March 24, 1980.


Yet a few days before his martyrdom, a Jesuit missionary from Catalonia, in Spain, was abducted and killed in Bolivia.

Father Luis Espinal, Padre Lucho, was abducted from a jeep in La Paz Bolivia in the evening of March 21, 1980. He was tortured in El Alto, near La Paz, and his bullet-ridden body was found the next day.

Luis Espinal was a print and television journalist, as well as a movie critic. His work revealed the oppression and injustice at the root of the Bolivian political and social system of his day.

His assassins tried to silence his voice, as they often try to silence the voices of truth and justice.

Father Luis Espinal’s martyrdom has been overshadowed by that of Monseñor Romero but his witness and his words can inspire us to live the truth of the Gospel in our daily life – no matter the cost.

It may have seemed imprudent to Padre Lucho – as wellas to Monseñor Romero – to be quiet in the face of persecution and death. But, as Fr. Luis Espinal once wrote this prayer:

Everyone speaks to us of prudence, Lord, but of a prudence that is not yours, that we search for in vain in your Gospel. Jesus Christ, we give you thanks because You did not stay silent so as to avoid the cross, because You lashed out at the powerful, knowing that You were gambling with Your life…. You do not want a prudence that leads to omission and that makes imprisonment impossible for us. The terrible prudence of stilling the shouts of the hungry and the oppressed…. It is not prudent to ‘sell all that you have and give it to the poor.’ It is imprudent to give one’s life for one’s God and for one’s brothers and sisters.

May God give all of us the true prudence that give us the courage to stand up for justice and not the “prudence” of the world that keeps us silent in the face of suffering.