Tag Archives: martyrs

Bl. John of Cetina & Bl. Peter de Dueñas

11 May

“Franciscans of Spain, they were sent to the Muslim kingdom of Granada in order to try and evangelize the inhabitants and were predictably killed.”
~ Basil Watkins

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Of Purple Pentecost & Pugilism

8 Dec

Our son Crispin was Confirmed today, praise God — chrismation and a bishop, sealed in the Spirit and “Peace be with you,” the Fruits and the Gifts and the whole shebang! Amen!

Still, it wasn’t your typical Confirmation.

For one thing, it took place during a regularly scheduled Sunday morning Mass — a departure from every other Confirmation I’ve ever attended. Not a problem, really, but definitely different.

And this time, it was just kids from our own school and CCD program — again, not a problem, but in a Cathedral parish, we’re accustomed to Confirmations that include multiple parishes, and sometimes in multiple languages.

The most tangible difference, however, was the purple. Liturgically, the Advent Sunday took precedence over Confirmation, so the church was awash with purple linens and vestments. I’m used to red at Confirmation, and, frankly, I missed it.detail-of-pentecost-EL-GRECO

Red is the color of fire, of course, which is why it’s associated with Confirmation. It’s the Sacrament that seals the recipient with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit — the same Spirit who manifested his arrival on Pentecost in tongues of flame. We might not have had the red vestments today, but, as the bishop pointed out, at least we had fire in the Gospel which quoted John the Baptist:

He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand.
He will clear his threshing floor
and gather his wheat into his barn,
but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.

John himself was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he demonstrated it by his fiery prophesy: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

Red is also the color of blood, and we usually associate its liturgical use with martyrdom and sacrifice. In this sense, it has Confirmation associations as well, for there’s a commission inherent in the firming up of baptismal dignity that demands boldness in living out the faith. The Catechism puts it this way:

[I]t gives us a special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross.

Apparently, this dimension of Confirmation was not lost on my son, for Cris chose St. Isaac Jogues as his Confirmation saint — a bloody saint if there ever was one. Jogues and his Jesuit confreres were among the first missionaries to the native peoples of North America. Jogues was known as the Apostle to the Mohawks, and, like the original Apostles, the Jesuit witnessed to his love for Christ in laying down his life in service. Here’s how the old Catholic Encyclopedia summarized St. Isaac’s demise:

The Iroquois met him near Lake George, stripped him naked, slashed him with their knives, beat him and then led him to the village. On 18 October, 1646, when entering a cabin he was struck with a tomahawk and afterwards decapitated. The head was fixed on the Palisades and the body thrown into the Mohawk.4489079666_da52df5aed_o

And it’s not as if Jogues wasn’t prepared for this end, for here’s what he wrote in a letter shortly before it all came about:

I shall be happy if our Lord will complete the sacrifice where He has begun it, and make the little blood I have shed in that land the earnest of what I would give from every vein of my body and my heart. In a word, this people is “a bloody spouse” to me (Exodus iv, 25). May our good Master, who has purchased them in His blood, open to them the door of His Gospel.

Fire. Blood. Confirmation is not for the fainthearted. And this brings us to a third association with the color red: Warning. Red stop signs, for example, and, in my line of work (i.e., nursing and healthcare), bio-hazard containment. The warning sign of Confirmation is hinted at in the Catechism where confirmandi are compared to soldiers “marked with their leader’s seal and slaves with their master’s” (CCC 1295). To be Confirmed is to be enlisted, to fight, to be put to work. Pretty much it means to take it on the chin, and come back for more.

So, perhaps the purple of Advent isn’t such a jarring departure after all, for it directs our attention forward to Christmas — and Christmas is immediately followed by a sea of red: St. Stephen, the first martyr, on the 26th, followed by the Holy Innocents on the 28th, and Thomas Becket the next day. Liturgically, it seems that the Church doesn’t want us to miss that connection every year — i.e., that following the Prince of Peace will entail a bloody battle. Christmas brings joy, but it also brings a brawl, and we can think of Confirmation as supernatural conditioning for following through on our Christmas convictions, come what may.

ryanrobfDuring the Civil War, Admiral David Farragut faced a heavily mined Mobile Bay that stood between him and the Confederate base he meant to attack. In defiance, Farragut ordered his fleet to proceed through the Bay, shouting out, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” This is good advice, spiritually speaking, for the newly confirmed — it’s what I’m telling my son in any case.

And it’s in keeping with the gift he received from his sponsor: A Notre Dame boxing hoodie. I’ll bet Isaac Jogues is pleased.


A version of this story appeared on Oblation, a blog of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.

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