This week we celebrated the life and martyrdom of an Irish Jesuit brother, Blessed Dominic Collins and the simplicity and holiness of a universally-celebrated, Spanish Jesuit brother, St Alfonso Rodriguez. Within this context, I couldn’t resist looking at their lives to see what it is about them that informs and inspires our own lives as Jesuits and the lives of so many of God's people. This exercise also gave me the opportunity to contemplate the Brother’s vocation in the twenty-first century and everything it may entail!
Let’s start with Brother Alfonso. His vocation story was one marred with a lot of suffering. He once was happily married and had three children. Then, within five years, he witnessed the death of each member of his family due to the same illness. His response to these events was one that exhibited great character. He did not blame God for his loss, nor did he become a bitter old man. Instead, he turned his grief into meditation, into prayer. He was around 40 when he entered the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) as a lay brother.
Alfonso took great joy in actively listening to those who came to him for advice, embracing their uniqueness and dignity with his own brand of love and communion with the Word of God. In other words, he set the world on fire by quietly keeping the flames burning in the hearts of the many people he encountered. He did so not by fixing their problems, but by listening to them with all his heart. It’s a humbling lesson for us as Jesuits, and as men and women of faith. Many of us want to go out there and change or fix the world. And maybe we will, but the act with which we accomplish this doesn’t have to be a grandiose one.
And now let’s look at Brother Dominic, a martyr for the faith and a lesser known Jesuit. Like St Ignatius of Loyola (the founder of the Jesuits), Dominic was a military man. Originally from Ireland, he served in the French army before he eventually served in the court of King Phillip II of Spain as Governor and representative of the French king. Following his service to the Spanish crown, he met a man named Thomas White (a Jesuit) who introduced him to the Society of Jesus and inspired him to desire something better for his life. Dominic entered the Jesuits as a Brother in 1598.
Four years later he was missioned to Ireland to look after the needs of the Irish forces engaged in battle with the English. The town where he worked was eventually captured by the English, who were excited to get their hands on a Jesuit, hoping to get him to relinquish his faith through torture. Not only did he not renounce it, but he expressed, and professed his Catholic faith anew before his persecutors. This infuriated them, and they executed him on the 31st of October 1602.
One element that affects the story of these two brothers has a very contemporary relevance as well: facing evil, and making sense of its presence in our world. This past week, as we know, a Frankenstorm hit the East Coast of the US and many nations in the Caribbean. In response to it, one of my Jesuit friends in New York stated, “Natural disasters are difficult to understand. For even the most devout person who may be faced with a catastrophic loss, it can really shake them. It's one thing to read about this in a theology book. It's another to have your house swept away.” Both Alfonso and Dominic dealt with their own incomprehensible hardships, but approached them from the same premise: we don’t struggle through this alone.
The Gospel passage for the feast of Blessed Dominic reflects that sentiment perfectly, “whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit because without me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). We must never stop talking about and longing to do everything for the greater glory of God. Whether we achieve this through martyrdom, spending more time with the homeless or having a more fervent prayer life, we can’t do this alone. Alfonso and Dominic understood this and this insight nourished and strengthened the freedom which gave life to their vocations. The awareness that we are not alone continues to inspire us to today. God is for us: we have many saints and blesseds who serve us as inspiration. Saint Alfonso Rodriguez, S.J. and Blessed Dominic Collins, S.J., pray for us.