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Retreat Conference given by Mother Marie Therese
(Easter Retreat 2001 EASTER SUNDAY)

"Christ's Victory through His Martyrs. What is our victory?"

by Mother Marie Therese (Mother General)

I would like to begin with a very short story of what I thought being a martyr was all about. In the early days of the Mission, at the very beginning, when I started at the Holy Ghost Community, the 'Little Pebble' came on one of his rare visits, and we were allowed to ask Our Blessed Mother, questions. In one of Her letters to me Our Lady said that I was going to be a martyr. My mind went berserk - I couldn't stand the thought of the pain experienced by some of the martyrs that I had been reading about, like stabbings, roastings, horses pulling you apart. I couldn't bear that. I immediately wrote back to Our Lady and said: "Our Lady, if I am going to be a martyr, please make it quick!"

I don't know what She thought of me at the time, but in Her loving way She put me at ease by saying: "No, My dear daughter - a spiritual martyrdom!" I was very relieved, I could tell you, but I didn't even know what that meant. I came to understand that there were three different kinds of martyrdom - or actually four if you count the Baptism of blood of the innocent ones. So the first martyrdom that I am going to talk about is the physical martyrdom, which we do know a fair bit about.

What is a Martyr? According to the Oxford Dictionary, a martyr is one undergoing death, or suffering, for a great cause. However, for a Catholic it means much more detail than that. It means also dying to our own will and desire for the sake of others. Because martyrdom comes in many different ways, I will talk about the martyrdom of a few Saints.

Blessed Theophane Venard. I had never heard of him before until I started reading through the poems of the 'Little Flower', and found that she had dedicated a beautiful poem to him. So I started reading about his life, and I was quite enthralled. This little boy came from a family of two brothers and a sister. The sister's name was Melanie, and he was very devoted to her, and was his confidante in many of his letters that he wrote home from where he was.

When he was nine he looked after the sheep - and it seems to me that most of these martyrs of today, and of yesterday, all seemed to be either shepherds looking after sheep over in the pastures, and looking after nature and that. So I am just wondering if being in the country we should try and do that too and become shepherds and shepherdesses.

Blessed Theophane Venard used to look after his father's sheep and cattle. He was about nine years old, and he was meditating in the hills, and he had just been told a beautiful story about a martyr - I think it was Father Convoy - and he was so touched by it he decided there and then on the spot exactly what he was going to do - he was going to China, to Tonking, where this Priest had been martyred. Being only nine at the time, I don't think he quite realised the impact of what that was all about. Nevertheless, he was a very holy boy, and when he came back from the hills he told his father what he was going to do. His father realised that all of a sudden his boy had become very studious, attentive to what he was doing, and very pious. His father later decided, as the boy was becoming so well educated, that he would send him to a College - a Seminary. So the boy left home when he was quite young, to go to a preparatory Seminary. He was educated very well there, and it was soon after he left home that his mother died. He came home for the funeral, of course, then he went back to the College, but his heart was at home with his sister Melanie and his father. He used to write beautiful letters to them, and he actually helped them get through the great grief they were suffering, because his mother had been quite young. There he was in the Seminary.

After he left the preparatory Seminary, he decided to go on to the Senior Seminary, although at that time he had a lot of doubts in his mind about whether he was worthy enough to become a Priest. At that time the 'Old Bag' was very busy, and especially with young men who wanted to become Priests.

After he went to the senior Seminary he wrote to Melanie about the great spiritual anguish of his soul as to whether he should continue in this way. Eventually Melanie wrote back to him and encouraged him to continue, as this was what God had called him to do. After the beautiful letter that his sister had written to him he realised straight away what was happening - the 'Old Bag' was getting at him - so he continued on with his studies.

He completed his studies at the Seminary and was sent out to China - of course he was very delighted. He became a Priest and laboured there for about six years - a very young Priest, sent to Tonking. He worked tirelessly for the conversion of the pagans. However, the persecution in China had begun and the Emperor had proclaimed that the Christians were to be stamped out. The Priest had to then go into hiding, and he used to travel from one village to another, as much as he could. The people were very good, they used to hide him, because he was a very, very popular Priest - he had that attraction. Holiness seems to attract people because of his personality, magnetism, and the way he spoke about God.

Unfortunately, there was a betrayer - as there always seems to be in any group - and the Priest was hiding behind a thin partition in this house. No one would have known about it, except a very close friend. Twelve junks arrived with the Chinese soldiers - the soldiers marched into the house. The housekeeper told them there was no one living there but him, but they did not believe him, so they stabbed and killed him. They then went to the partition and kicked it in and asked the Priest to come out. He came out saw what they had done to the housekeeper. His hands were bound, and he was dragged through the streets and placed in a very small wooden cage.

When they got to a major town, the one in charge - the prefect - was not quite in accordance with what they did because he liked him, so he gave him a bigger cage where he was able to lie down and stand up in comfort, whereas previously he was not able to. He stayed there for a long time, every day hoping for his death. This continued for over a year. The rest of the time he laboured, not knowing when the order was going to come through for his execution. He did not know how he was to be executed, but he had a fair idea.

Before the execution order did come through, Blessed Theophane wrote to his people, and this is his last letter to them:

"Well, here I am, in the arena of the Confessors for the Faith. Certainly God chooses the poor and the weak things of this world to confound the mighty. I have confidence that news of my fight will be equally that of my victory, for I do not lean on my own strength, but on the strength of Him Who has overcome the powers of death and hell."

Now you can see he had great devotion and especially to Our Blessed Mother. He didn't fear death, he was always ready to face the executioner, and that is exactly what he did. His order finally came through and he was taken out of the city and beheaded. They threw his head into the river, but it was washed ashore, and it is now venerated in the town of Tonking, in China. Blessed Theophane was ordained at 25 years; laboured for six years, and died at the young age of 31.

We also have other wonderful Saints - like Saint Lawrence. He was roasted alive on the grid-iron, and at his death he said to his persecutors: "You can turn me over, now, I am done on this side." Now Pope Saint Leo wrote about this Saint, and he said: "The interior flame of love was more powerful in consoling his soul, than the flame without, in torturing his body.

We have other martyrs - martyrs that I had never heard of - like Saint Potamiena, a virgin; Marcella, her mother, and Basilides, a soldier. Potamiena was by condition, a slave, because her mother was a slave - and in those Roman times, if you were a slave any property or any children of the slave belonging to the household, was also regarded as a slave. She was educated by her mother in the Catholic Faith, and she had the most extraordinary beauty that drew so many people to her. Her pagan master had evil intentions towards her of course, which always happens, and he made advances towards her. She repulsed him, many, many times, and he was getting sick and tired of this, so he want to the Prefect of Egypt, gave him money, and said: "You have got to make her yield to my requests." So the Prefect of Egypt called for her and said: "Do what your master tells you to do - you belong to him!" She said: "No! How can you possibly ask me to do such lewd actions with him, against what I believe?"

Anyway, the Prefect of course was very annoyed at the insolence of this young girl, so he condemned her to death. He decided to make a real spectacle of her, so he devised a very cruel death - he ordered a cauldron of pitch to be placed upon a fire, and when it began to boil Saint Potamiena was to be thrown in. Now Potamiena, knowing the type of death she was going to have, asked to be let down slowly, by degrees, so that she might suffer the more, and thus manifest her love towards her Crucified Spouse. She died when the pitch reached her neck.

Her executioner was Basilides. Before she had been lowered in to the pitch, he had stopped some young men that were insulting her and her virginity. Because of this kindness, Potamiena said to him: "I will pray for you to my God." A few days after her death she appeared in all her glory to him in a vision and she said to him: "I have prayed to my God for you!" - and she placed a crown upon his head, and said: "God had placed the crown, and that soon he would also reach the same glory that she had reached." Of course he was converted to the faith and was later beheaded.

It was really wonderful - these are really victories, through Christ's Death on the Cross, because they could never have submitted themselves to such deaths unless they had such a great love for God in all that they did. Also her mother was burnt alive, too but of course.

The greatest martyr of all, besides Christ Himself, is Our Holy Mother, Mary, Queen of Martyrs - which is one of Her titles. We never hear much about this title: "Queen of Martyrs". Her martyrdom, I only realised the other day, was the greatest and the longest of all the martyrs put together. Because She had to suffer this from the time of the Incarnation right through until She died. Can you imagine a Mother knowing the future the child She was going to have, the death He was going to experience, the insults and everything that would happen to Her throughout Her life - all for the sake of Her Son. It was Her 'fiat' - but it was also Her great Love of God as well, to do not Her Will but God's Will.

Our Lady suffered a great deal on the Passion, and if any of you have read the 'Poem of the Man God', you would understand and visualise some of the anguish Our Lady went through. Her mental anguish was extreme, and at one time She did not know where He was. She knew He had left Her to go into the Garden of Olives. All of a sudden John comes running in. He had left Our Lord in the Garden after He was captured, and these are Our Lady's Words to John: "Do not lie, John, not even out of pity for a mother, you would not succeed, and it would be useless. I know! Since yesterday evening I have followed Him in His sorrow. You cannot see it, but My Flesh is bruised by the same scourges as His, the same thorns are piercing My Forehead. I felt the blows - everything. But now I now longer see; now I do not know where My Son is Who has been condemned to the Cross, to the Cross, to the Cross. Oh God, give Me strength! He must see Me. I must not feel My sorrow while He feels His. Then, when everything is over, then let Me die, O God, if You so wish. Not now, no - not for His sake, so that He may see Me. Let us go, John! Where is Jesus?

Then we have Her great Spiritual suffering at the tomb. She stayed near the anointing stone, caressing and contemplating, moaning and weeping because She has Our Lord in Her Arms. You can just picture it: Our Lady with Her Divine Son, dead in Her Arms.

Continuing from the "Poem": "I can hear Her Words, every one of them - all of them, very clearly, although whispered between Her Lips - a real conversation of a Mother's Soul with the Soul of Her Son.

"Poor Son! How many wounds!... How much You have suffered! Look what they have done to You!... How cold You are, Son! Your Fingers are ice-cold. And how motionless they are! They seem to be broken. Never, not in the sound sleep of a child, or in the heavy sleep after working as an artisan were they so inert... And how cold they are! Poor hands! My Darling, My Love, My Holy Love, give them to Your Mother! Look how lacerated they are! John, look what a gash! Oh! cruel men! Here, give me this wounded Hand of Yours. That I may dress it. Oh! I will not hurt You... I will use kisses and tears, and I will warm it with My Breath and My Love.

Caress Me, Son! You are ice-cold, I am burning with fever. My fever will be relieved by Your ice, and Your ice will be mitigated by My fever. A caress, Son! Only a few hours have gone by since You last caressed Me, and they seem ages to Me. For months I was without Your caresses, and they seemed hours to Me, because I was always waiting for You to come back, and I considered each day an hour, and each hour a minute, to say to Myself that You had not been away one or two months, but only for a few days, for a few hours. Why is time so long now? Ah! inhuman torture! Because You are dead.

They have killed You! You are no longer on the Earth! No longer! Wherever I send My soul to look for Yours and embrace it, because finding You, having You, feeling You was the life of My Body and of My Spirit, wherever I look for You with the wave of My Love, I no longer find you, I do not find You any more. Nothing of You is left to Me but these cold soulless remains!

O Soul of My Jesus, O Soul of My Christ, O Soul of My Lord, where are You? O cruel hyenas joined to Satan, why have you taken away the soul of My Son? And why have you not crucified Me with Him? Were you afraid of committing a second crime? (Her voice is becoming stronger and stronger and more and more heart-rending). And what was it for you killing a poor woman, since you did not hesitate to kill God Incarnate? Have you not committed a second crime? And is letting a mother outlive her murdered son not the most nefarious crime?"

That is enough reading of the Spiritual Suffering, but it is very, very deep, and needs a lot of understanding and a lot of feeling, because you can understand within your soul how Our Lady felt at this time. But this is not all, because Mary is the Queen of Martyrs; Mary has led the way. But we also have Christ's victory through martyrs, such as the 'Little Flower' - because that is another type of martyrdom, which I haven't spoken about. She suffered great Spiritual martyrdom of the soul.

Saint Theresa of Avila is another one who suffered such mental anguish for about thirty years due to the reformation of the Order.

So why did the martyrs suffer such tortures? What made them suffer so much? Basically, it was the love that they had for Jesus. The more they loved, the less they felt their pain, the less they felt their torments. The sight alone of the sufferings of a Crucified God was sufficient to console and strengthen them.

Now in Maria Valtorta's Notebooks - 14th October, 1943 - there is a very beautiful passage there about the martyrs. Our Lord is speaking; He's telling Maria about His martyrs.

"Believe souls that are listening; believe that nothing is so violent as love, and so destructive as love. Even if the sword or the arrows of tyrants had not bled to death and pierced My Martyrs, fire or pitch had not melted them and burned them to ashes; if the water had not submerged them, or the beasts torn them apart, they would have died just the same, having reached that point of incandescence in love, into which mutual love between the Christian and Christ had taken them. Love opens veins and hearts more than a sword; love consumes more than fire and pitch; love submerges more than water, and love breathes to itself more than a hungry beast. For this reason I said to you: "Do not fear those who can kill your bodies, for the killing of the bodies liberation of the spirit. Love is an immolator, like the sword and fire, like water and the beasts - and in your days in which the great persecutions which crowned the infant Church with purple, do not exist. I tell you in truth that martyrs are not lacking for whom the Flame of Love is sword, fire and beast.

The one you call the 'Little Flower' is not less a martyr than Saint Agnes, for the blade which nipped the life of the former and the latter has a single name at the bottom - and of course you all know what that is - love! And in Heaven, the martyrdom of the former and the latter - though consummated in different ways - received the same reward, for the Glory of God was the agent spurring them to ask for it - and love for souls what spurred them to ask for it."

He goes on to say about fire, swiftly carries one off to fire to the Triune God Who is the perfection of Love, Who is Love itself, and Who in every instance of time, renews and expands His ardour, which goes from the centre to the Three, and from the Three to the unity with ineffable units of Love. Of course we understand what that means: it goes continuously throughout generation unto generation, this great Love of God in different souls.

Now recently in Queensland, Our Blessed Mother gave us a Teaching/Learning suffering, and She said:

"My dear ones: every little suffering that comes your way is an avenue of Grace and Merit, and Mercy for yourself and others. To suffer, raises you up close to the Throne and Heart of your God. It aligns you with Me in the recesses of My Immaculate Heart." There Mary goes on to say: "To suffer is to love, and the key is to suffer with joy in your hearts - the joy that you walk with your Saviour and His Mother, along the same path." And the 'Little Flower' in her last conversation to Sister Genevieve, her old Superior, she showed the Nun an old little breviary she had of the Sacred Heart, and in it the Words of Our Lord to Saint Margaret Mary, were in it, and these, the 'Little Flower' treasured a great deal. Our Lord said: "The Cross is the bed of My spouses; it is there that I have them taste the delights of My Love."

Now, in olden times, death was a great deep and dark-like ocean at night. Most people will not allow themselves even to dwell on it, and seemingly they would seem to be frightened by it. However, because of our faith, the agonising fear of death teaches us to look on death with serene realism. It turns death into a lamp, and this lamp throws enough light to dispel dark and despair. In actual fact, death encourages us to live a good life and strengthens us in our search and expectation of communion with the Saints, and with our deceased. In other words, a vision of incomparable beauty. But how does one enkindle this lamp? How do we give death the power of light, if death is itself the great darkness? It is faith that tells us of Christ's Resurrection, and Christ Himself said: "I am the Light of the World!" And again: "I am the way and the life. He who hears My Word has everlasting life!"

The martyrs themselves never saw death as the end of a life, but as the beginning of everlasting joy and happiness, because truth is the victory. It stands for Christ, the Word of God. Also in Scripture we have these words: "When this mortal has put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting? Now the sting of death is sin, but thanks be to God who hath given us the victory through Our Lord, Jesus Christ."

Finally, in Maria Valtorta Jesus says: "By dying I give life, by dying I build, by dying I create the new people. It is through sacrifice that one gains victory. I solemnly tell you that if the wheat grain that has fallen on the ground does not die, it remains unfruitful. If instead it dies, it yields a rich harvest."

And further on He says: "It is My duty to die to give this Eternal Life to all those who follow Me to serve the truth. O Blessed, O Holy heroic children of Mine: I know what it means to go against the sweet bond of love and the harsh chain of family prejudice, to break them and follow the Lord's order. I know and I remember, and I reward with a special reward, the hidden martyrs of family selfishness, or family love. The Holy martyrs of My Love, as irrepressible as death in them, and as agonising as the fire".

And as a final thought I regard everyone in this Community and in this Mission, as a martyr, and a martyr of truth, because we are the seeds of truth that have followed the truth for so many years. And the victory will be God's because we follow Christ to the end.

I will read you four or five lines of Our Lord to us, as if He were saying them to us, indeed: "May love not only be the guide of your lives, but spur you on such a swift race that will be in flight towards Me, like a butterfly attracted by the Light. Fly to the Light, it is here to receive you and increase its flashes of joy, because it sees you to be faithful."

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