THE MARTYRS OF GORKUM
Today we honour the memory of the Dominican Saint John of Cologne who along with 18 other priests and religious, including two Premonstratensians, Saint Adrian and Saint Denys, are known as the Martyrs of Gorkum. In 1572 the Dutch town of Gorkum was taken over by Protestants who rounded up all the Catholic clergy and religious in the area. Saint John was lured out of his presbytery in the middle of the night on the pretence of administering the sacraments to a dying man. Together with Franciscans, Premonstratensians and Augustinians, Saint John and his Companions were tortured and compelled to abandon their belief in the Blessed Sacrament and in the supremacy of the Pope. They were hanged together in a barn on this day in 1572. The 19 Martyrs of Gorkum were canonised by Pope Pius IX in 1867.
Judah had plenty of reasons to reproach himself. Jealous of his younger brother Joseph, he plotted with his brothers to throw the lad into a cistern. Granted, he did persuade them not to kill Joseph, but only by proposing that they sell him into slavery, pocket the profit, and tell their father that he was killed by a wild animal. When Judah saw the extent of his father’s grief over the loss of Joseph, he began to regret his actions.
Now Judah has been given a second chance. He has vowed to protect his youngest brother, Benjamin, whom Jacob loves just as much as Joseph. Judah assures Jacob that Benjamin will be safe; he even promises to take responsibility for anything that might happen to him.
When Joseph frames Benjamin for stealing his silver goblet, all his brothers show that they have changed. They stand in solidarity with Benjamin, offering to become Joseph’s slaves in his place. Judah in particular says he would rather die than grieve his father again.
It is Judah’s active repentance that gives Joseph the opportunity finally to be reconciled with his brothers. He tells them not to condemn themselves over their past sin. Joseph was able to see the situation from God’s perspective, and that enabled him to help his brothers see the good purpose served by their jealous, selfish action.
When we become aware of our past sins, we too can be tempted to become discouraged. We replay those scenes in our minds, trying to feel even worse about what we have done. We refuse to forgive ourselves and we are unable to move forward in freedom or accept the new beginning God offers us. We lose sight of any good God might want to bring out of our failures, as if our roadblocks really were big enough to bamboozle him.
We know we must forward like Judah. We must acknowledge our past failures and our present inadequacy. Only then can we accept God’s forgiveness and grasp the opportunity to move forward in faith and trust.