Posted by: fvbcdm | July 9, 2012

Feast of Saint John of Cologne (9 July 2012)

On the 9th of July each year, we Dominicans celebrate the death by martyrdom of one of our members, Saint John of Cologne, also called Saint John of Gorcum, and his eighteen companions who died in defense of our faith in Holland in the year 1572, during the wars of religion in that part of the world.  Of this brave “band of brothers,” only one was Dominican; the others were Franciscans, Norbertines, and diocesan priests. They were captured by the Calvinists in Holland and were told that they would be set free if only they would renounce two doctrines of our holy faith.  And what were they?  They were the primacy of the Pope, and the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.  It almost sounds like a joke to tell Catholics, especially priests, that they could buy their freedom by the renunciation of those two doctrines in particular.  Since any thought of renouncing those two basic dogmas of our holy faith was out of the question, the nineteen were hanged in a barn; one of them was ninety years old.  Years later, their bodies, which had been thrown into a mass grave nearby, were exhumed and brought to the Franciscan church in Brussels, Belgium.  All nineteen were canonized in 1867.  

One Sunday morning, while traveling in Belgium, I wanted to visit that church, not realizing that the remains of these martyrs were enshrined there.  But Mass was in progress, so I sat near the back of the church, next to a glass-enclosed casket with a series of hand-written papers in Latin inside the casket.  I began to decipher the inscriptions, and discovered to my delight that those were the relics of the martyrs of Gorcum,  including my Dominican brother, John of Cologne.  I was very excited by my discovery, and felt like making a public announcement that a Dominican martyr’s relics were there in that casket.  I would probably have been put out of the church for disturbing the Mass, so I celebrated my “find” silently and alone.  But the recurrence of the feast of Saint John of Cologne always brings back to me that happy moment when I found myself sitting beside the relics of one of my Dominican confreres in Brussels. Let us always be aware when we think of, or read the words of, our Holy Father, or when we visit or receive the Holy Eucharist in church or at Mass, that martyrs have gladly died in defense of these gifts of Our Savior to us.  What a beautiful way of saying “thank you” to Our Lord.  He gave his life for us; the martyrs give their lives for him.  Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

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