St. Louis Bertrand and the Martyrdom of Moving

October 9, 2017

Today the Dominican Order celebrated the feast of St. Louis Bertrand. In this reflection, Fr. Louis Bertrand Lemoine, O.P. highlights an important aspect of his patron saint’s legacy. Fr. Louis Bertrand presently serves as a Parochial Vicar at St. Louis Bertrand Church in Louisville, KY.

St. Louis Bertrand is most often remembered as a great missionary, or perhaps for the miracles he performed, or as one who embraced penance. However, he is less remembered for suffering one of the more banal forms of martyrdom — the martyrdom of moving.

Louis began his life in Spain, and then had a fruitful ministry as a missionary in the New World. However, he was not meant to finish his days there; instead, he returned to Spain, and there lived the rest of his life.

St. Louis Bertrand’s extraordinary renown as a missionary should not obscure another key facet of his sanctity — his patient suffering in the face of having to move to different assignments.

The martyrdom of moving involves no bloodshed, no pagan magistrates, and none of the other usual elements of Christian martyrdom. However, it is a martyrdom nonetheless, since moving to a new assignment always involves dying.

Even though St. Louis Bertrand desired to enter the missionary field, we can nonetheless imagine the ways he suffered as a result of leaving his native land, the place when he began his religious life, and his loved ones, to undertake an arduous journey to an uncertain future. Then, when he returned to Spain, he had to leave behind the scores of people he had baptized, and for whom he no doubt had developed great affection. How could he not suffer — he was a spiritual father leaving behind thousands of children.

This martyrdom of moving is more or less inevitable in the way of life St. Dominic left to St. Louis Bertrand and all his sons. Dominican itinerancy seems exciting to the inexperienced, in the way a young person might get excited at the prospect of joining the Navy to “see the world.”

However, like the poisonous draught served to Louis, Dominicans for 800 years have found the itinerancy of our life to be a bitter drink at times, made harder to stomach by the hiddenness of its sufferings. In the history of the Church, some have even fled the religious life just to avoid reassignment.

Yes, moving is a martyrdom. I remember one friar preaching at a Mass on his final weekend before departing for a new assignment. To many loved ones whom he had grown to know and love over the course of his assignment, he said quite simply, “It’s hard for us, too.” It’s hard to leave those whom you love; it’s hard to die to your own dreams for your vocation; it’s hard to leave behind a loving community of the faithful, and to become a stranger yet again.

But if moving is a martyrdom, then it must also be a seed that bears fruit. If it is suffered with love, then it is another way to “fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church,” as St. Paul would say. St. Louis Bertrand suffered his itinerancy with love, and with zeal for the souls of the New World.

In some ways, the most banal sufferings in life are the hardest to bear. Yet, those who suffer the martyrdom of moving do not suffer alone. How many other countless Dominicans, over these past 800 years, have also suffered the martyrdom of moving in silence?

Yet, if we suffer when we move, then it means that the way of life left to us St. Dominic is working. The point of religious life is to teach us to love, and if it hurts to leave those whom we serve, then we have begun to learn how to love.

Photo: St. Louis Bertrand (left) in the Colonade of St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City.

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