Posted by: fvbcdm | October 9, 2015

Feast of Saint Louis Bertrand (9 Oct 2015)

Coming out of Greek mythology, there is the story of the poor fellow Sisyphus, who was condemned to try to roll a very heavy stone up a hill, but it would always escape his control and roll back down into the valley where he would have to start all over again. It is the classic story of frustration.

Today, that story comes to mind as we Dominicans celebrate our brother, Saint Louis Bertrand, a Spaniard and a Dominican priest who spent most of his religious life in Spain as the master of the novices. He was eminently successful at that. But for one 6-year period, he was sent to the New World where he labored in what is now Colombia in South America and Panama in Central America. Life for the missionaries in those days and places was something like the stone-rolling misery of Sisyphus. First of all, the country was hostile and alien. Mosquitoes, leeches, terribly rough terrain, tropical fevers, and nearly impenetrable jungles faced the people coming from Spain, a totally different kind of country. Then there were the natives of the Americas: people who in some ways were remarkably civilized and artistic, but in terms of their morals, were totally savage.  In a number of cases, they readily accepted Baptism from the Spanish missionaries, and then turned on them and killed them. They spoke a variety of languages, all of them incomprehensible to the European missionaries and very difficult to learn. Their culture was alien to that of Christian Europe; their religion was as often as not a form of devil-worship, voodoo, and the horrors of human sacrifice.

Then, the Spanish missionaries had to put up with the terrible excesses of their own people: the local government set up by the Spanish leaders, and the military troops stationed in the New World who denied by their behavior all that the missionaries were trying to teach the natives in their catechism classes. The missionaries had to beg the King of Spain and eventually even the Pope to declare that the American natives were truly human beings with immortal souls, and must be treated with at least the minimum of respect, justice, and love. Far too often, there was no respect, justice, or love shown by the politicians and soldiers toward the native peoples. Right here in this part of the country, we find the lack of true Christian principles among our earlier settlers. Just 16 miles from where I live there is a Texas town called Nacogdoches. A few miles to the east there is a Louisiana town called Nachitoches. Same name, with Spanish and French pronunciations. And why are they there? Because the Spanish thrust up into east Texas was undertaken to resist and counter the French thrust westward from the Mississippi River. Weren’t they all Catholics? Yes, they were. But unfortunately they were French Catholics and Spanish (or Mexican) Catholics, and were more interested in their own political kingdoms than in the Kingdom of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus the Church and the State spoke very different languages and had very different objectives in mind. Once, when a priest reprimanded the conquistador Pizarro in Peru for the way he treated the natives, he responded, “You might be concerned about their souls. I am concerned about getting as much of their gold as I can.” No wonder the missionaries were frustrated and their tasks were made so difficult!

We all suffer frustrations from time to time. When that happens, let’s remember people like Saint Louis Bertrand, the Franciscan [Saint] Junipero Serra in California, and our Dominican brother Father Bartolome de las Casas who, in 1515—just 23 years after the discovery of America—went back to Spain to implore the King to demand justice and respect for the American natives and to forbid their enslavement. If everyone who calls him or herself a Christian and a Catholic were so in fact as well as in name, life would be so much easier and happier. Thank you for seeking God’s truth.  God Bless you.  Father Victor Brown, O.P.

Note:  This message was composed some years ago.

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