The Incredible Martyrdom of St. Peter Mary Chanel

Exactly 8 years ago today I was sitting nervously in a chapel in Wellington, New Zealand. Why the nerves? Because I was at the tail-end of 10 day speaking tour that was to culminate that day with five full talks (i.e. one hour each)…and my voice was gone…absolutely toast.

My throat hurt like the dickens and I sounded like Froggy from the Little Rascals.

But as soon as the celebrating priest announced it was the feast of St. Peter Mary Chanel, a peace flooded my soul and I knew all would be okay.

Why? Because this guy was incredible. And given what he endured for this region of the world, I figured he had my back (and my throat).

St. Peter Chanel is the patron of Oceania (of which New Zealand is a part). And in the initial draft of my first book (Louder Than Words: The Art of Living as a Catholic), his story was my opening chapter.

That said, the original publisher asked me to change it because his story is – shall we say – a bit hard core. St. Peter was a missionary who went to Futuna, a beautiful little Pacific island full of palm trees, sandy beaches…and barbarous cannibals.

His was not a peaceful death. 

It seems that while he met with very limited success overall, St. Peter had managed to convert the local king’s son. And in retribution the island monarch sent an assassin to “deal” with the French missionary priest.

Led by the appointed murderer, a group of thugs beat Fr. Peter ferociously.

And even for Catholics whose sensitivities are probably (and regrettably) a bit dulled by numerous stories of martyrdom, this one can’t help but move you. 

They essentially smashed him to bits.

And yet, as the savage beating of his assassins brought him to the brink of death, all Fr. Peter whispered was “Tis well, tis well.” 

His life was finally ended by a hatchet.

Of course, his enemies thought they had won, figuring that if you kill the priest, you kill the religion. They were wrong. 

Within three years this warring island of cannibals was one hundred percent Catholic – completely converted. How? After all, no churches had been built, only a few people on their deathbeds had been baptized, and the few catechumens that existed were now without a shepherd. 

Yet when the Bishop came to collect the fallen priest’s body, the natives unexpectedly begged for more missionaries to be sent. 

Eight months later, two churches had been built and the entire island converted (and remains overwhelmingly Catholic to this day).

So what caused the turnaround? 

How did a martyred priest who had so little to show for three grueling years of labor affect the conversion of so many? 

The answer lies in the fact that while Futuna was the final battlefield, Fr. Peter had been fighting this war for many years. 

In the midst of the common duties of seminary and parish life in France, he had developed a deep interior life totally devoted to our Lord and His Mother. 

Well known for his humility and simplicity, he loved those with whom he lived and worked, and they loved him back. In fact, the eulogist at his funeral mass invited Christian educators and evangelists to look to the example of Fr. Peter Chanel so as to “learn how much of self-abnegation and meekness, vigilance and steadfastness, of the spirit of prayer and interior virtues, is required…to beget Jesus Christ in souls.”

At home or abroad, the weapon Fr Peter wielded in his battle for souls was simple, but powerful – holiness. The natives of Futuna had never met anyone like him. 

The well of his love and patience was so deep that all referred to him as “the kind hearted man.” His prayer, virtue, and complete abandonment to Our Lord provided the fertile soil for the seeds sown by his preaching. 

His very life was a witness to the Gospel in a way that buildings and programs can never be.

In the end, the very man who had buried the final axe in his head reportedly desired that visitors would walk over his own grave on their way into St. Peter Chanel’s island shrine. 

Yes, even the assassin had been converted. 

Such is the power of a life lived for Christ. Such is the power of a saint…which is exactly what we’re all called to be.

Ours might not be the gruesome martyrdom of St. Peter Chanel, but every one of us is called to a bloodless, “white martyrdom.” We’re called to a daily dying to self that conforms us to the contours of the Cross of Christ.

Put simply, we’re called to holiness. 

Never forget that every moment of this life is ultimately preparation for our moment of death. It’s preparation for eternity. Lord willing, it’s preparation to join the patron saint of Oceania and all the saints of all time in the family of God in heaven.

So, please…St. Peter Mary Chanel, pray for us! (And thanks for healing my throat!)

God bless!

Matthew

P.S. The FREE streaming of Catholic Mysticism & the Beautiful Life of Grace ends soon! And so do the discounts for the entire Science of Sainthood experience. CHECK IT OUT HERE!

“Seriously! Why weren’t we taught this before?”

How Humans Can Resemble Angels…for Better or Worse

It’s no secret that perseverance is one of the most important attributes of the spiritual life. And yet, it’s often the case that following the initial euphoria of Easter, many of us fall back into the same-old bad habits we sought to destroy during Lent.

We let down our guard and forget to keep seeking hard after the Lord. And while it’s a foolish move for all of us, for some, it’s a very dangerous game.

Let me explain.

The great Dominican, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, tells the story of how St. Catherine of Genoa was drawn at a very early age into a deeply powerful relationship with the Lord. But after a few years of progress, she “fell off the spiritual wagon,” so to speak.

She returned to a more worldly life.

Five long years later she finally came back to her senses and threw herself back into the spiritual life out of a fervent desire to draw as close to the Lord as possible.

And she never wanted to regress again.

“If I should turn back, I should wish my eyes to be torn out, and even that would not seem sufficient.”

And maybe you’re thinking, “Whoa! That’s pretty intense!” And it is. 

But St. Catherine had finally come to the understanding that even the tiniest iota of God’s precious grace is worth more than anything andeverything this world can offer.

And thank goodness she did!

Because Father Garrigou says while some souls might squeak into eternity with a half-hearted approach, for others like Catherine, “mediocrity is not possible; if they do not give themselves entirely to God on the road of sanctity, they will belong wholly to themselves.”

Why?

Because these people have a spiritual temperament that inclines them to a kind of “all or nothing,” type attitude.

Their God-given desire for “more” is extremely powerful.

And if they don’t totally give themselves over to the pursuit of God, they’ll give themselves over to the world…completely. Once turned from God, they turn totally in on themselves and dive headlong into the dark pit that leads to eternal misery.

That’s why Fr. Garrigou says there’s a sense in which they resemble the angels.

Referencing St. Thomas Aquinas, he says, “The angel…is either very holy or very wicked; there is no middle course…Either it becomes holy, forever established in supernatural good, or it turns away from God forever.”

Of course, we have to remember that these souls only resemble the angels.

Unlike angels, our decisions are never completely final. God is always ready to receive us back when we fall.

For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him,” says 2 Chronicles 30:9.

That said, we never want to presume upon God’s mercy. That’s a sin. 

We need to persevere and turn our eyes to the Lord daily.

Regardless of our spiritual temperament, there’s absolutely zero reason to everroll the dice on eternity by toying with the sinful pleasures of this world. There’s no reason to be half-hearted in our pursuit of God.

So don’t waste the Easter graces Christ has given us!

Every one of us needs to develop the same “all in” attitude as St. Catherine so as to make real spiritual progress and be transformed in Christ.

Our relationship with Him is everything!

As St. Paul declares, “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ” (Eph 3:8).

God bless you!

Matthew

P.S. The FREE streaming of Catholic Mysticism & the Beautiful Life of Grace ends soon! And so do the discounts for the entire Science of Sainthood experience. CHECK IT OUT HERE!

“Seriously! Why weren’t we taught this before?”

099: Understanding Suffering through the Eyes of St. Paul

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It’s impossible to read St. Paul’s letters without coming across the topic of suffering. It’s everywhere.

And it’s because the question of suffering is constantly nagging us. Why do we suffer? What does it mean? If God loves us, how come we suffer?

Enter St. Paul.

His teaching is absolutely essential to the understanding of suffering and how it can become beautifully redemptive through the Cross of Christ.

So to unpack his amazing (very Catholic) teaching, I asked Dr. John Kincaid, an expert on St. Paul, to join me on the Art of Catholic.

In this episode we discuss:

  • The essence of the Catholic teaching on redemptive suffering
  • How what I was taught as a Protestant about suffering didn’t really understand St. Paul
  • How we can actually “rejoice” in our suffering along with St. Paul (Col. 1:24)
  • Why it’s okay to be weak (yep!)
  • The incredible meaning behind Paul’s discussion of “labor pains” in Galatians that will totally expand your view of redemptive suffering

This is an incredibly eye-popping conversation and it’s perfect timing for our liturgical time of the year, as well as what’s going on in the world.

God bless and enjoy!

Matthew

P.S. I was besieged with emails asking for more time to go through the FREE streaming of Catholic Mysticism & the Beautiful Life of Grace? So I’ve decided to leave it up a little longer! Join thousands of Catholics from all over the world and dive into what Christ calls the “one thing” necessary! CHECK IT OUT HERE!

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