Today, 16 May 2012, is the 355th anniversary of the death of St Andrew Bobola (a.k.a. Andreas, Andrzej), a Polish martyr and priest of the Society of Jesus. By God’s grace he conquered his own temperament, conquered souls with the love of Jesus and conquered the tortures of one of the most brutal martyrdoms on record.
St Andrew Bobola was born in 1591 in the Polish district of Sandomira, into a family with noble roots. From them he received excellent Christian example and a thorough education. He was sent to the Jesuit school near Vilnius. The holiness of the lives of the Jesuits who taught there must have made a good impression upon Andrew, because by the time he was 20 he had entered the novitiate. Interested not only in the studies for the priesthood, but also in attaining holiness, Andrew sought to grow closer to God through prayer and the acquisition of humility. Growing in humility wasn’t an easy task for Andrew because naturally he was inclined to pride, impatience and obstinacy.
Step by step he grew closer to the Heart of Jesus, through long hours before the tabernacle and generous service to the needy. In 1622 Andrew was ordained to the priesthood and with increasing ardour sought to bring as many souls as possible back to the Divine Redeemer. The closer his union with Jesus, the more effective his ministry was to souls. To which ever parish or Jesuit centre he was send, Andrew brought about spiritual renewal and called forth the laity to prayer and fellowship in the sodalities of the time and to service as catechists and as visitors to the poor and sick. Thus when plagues hit the region in 1624 and 1629 Andrew had a ready army of holy helpers to lead in ministering to those struck by these sicknesses.
By 1630 Andrew’s thirst to bring souls back into full communion with the Catholic Church was gathering pace. At the parish of Bobruisk he got stuck into building a church, because the lack of one was drawing people over to the Orthodox Church. From 1636 he was released from parish work and started missionary work, with the prime focus of helping people return to the Catholic faith. Often whole villages returned to the Catholic faith through his zeal and preaching.
Around the age of 52, Andrew’s health deserted him, and he wasn’t able to minister to as many souls. For someone as on fire for the salvation of souls as he was, this would have been a great trial. By the age of 58, (1649), Andrew was healthy enough to return to preaching. Not only did he get them to reconcile with God, but also with each other – thus diffusing disputes and healing divisions.
Meanwhile the Cossacks were mustering on the borders and eager to wipe out Jews and Catholics. When the Cossacks came, the Jesuits had to leave all their buildings and retreat into swampy districts. Andrew didn’t go with them, but returned to places he had visited urging the people to keep the fullness of faith that they had embraced. Where ever he went souls returned to God, and this earned him hostility from several quarters.
With the Cossacks working hard to eradicate Catholicism and Russian troops invading, it was inevitable that Andrew would one day be arrested. It happened at Pinsk in 1657 that he was taken into custody shortly before the Ascension. He was 76 yeas old and about to undergo a long and savage martyrdom. To his torturers he witnessed his faith in Jesus and his immense desire that their souls be saved from hell. Reading the lives of the early martyrs of Christianity, modern ears tend to discount the extent of the tortures they went through. This cannot be the case for Andrew because God decided to preserve his body incorrupt as a witness to the horrible things done to him and as a witness to His own almighty power to suspend the normal laws of decomposition. Andrew was burned, half- strangled, mutilated, partly skinned alive, an eye torn out, stabbed in the chest and finally dispatched with the sword.
It was 40 years after Andrew’s death that God permitted him to appear to the rector of a school for the purpose of showing the rector where his body was. From then on his incorrupt body was several times moved from place to place and now resides in a Jesuit church at Cracow, Poland. Over 400 miracles have been attested through Andrew’s intercession. May his prayers help us to conquer our weaknesses and to draw many souls back to Holy Mother Church and the successor of St Peter.
Saint Andrew Bobola, in this Hour of Darkness – Pray for us. We pray for your intercession before our Most Glorious Lord Jesus Christ that we may have the strength to endure the unendurable…the protection of the Great God Almighty in the midst of persecution and the grace to accept His will.. whatever that may be. St Andrew stand with me, give me fortitude and peace of soul, let not my faith waiver. Let me stand faithfully in union with the Sacred Heart of Christ, under the protection of His Immaculate Mother, always trusting in the Infinite Mercy and Love of God – Our Father. Amen