Thoughts from Modern Martyrs – Just de Bretenieres

Saint Just de BretenieresJust de Bretenieres (pronounced Bret-on-yair), martyr in Korea, was the only brother of the late venerable and respected superior of Saint Francis de Sales College in Dijon, France. He was born February 28, 1838, at Chalons-sur-Saone, and his father was the Baron of Bretenieres, a small village about seven miles out side of Dijon.

A remarkable incident which has been recorded of his early life by the Abbe d’Hulst, was told to the writer In a visit to France, by the young er brother, Christian. When Just and Christian were respectively six and four years old, they were playing one day in the garden of the chateau at Bretenieres. Just was digging a hole by the side of a path when a sudden cry escaped him which drew to the spot Christian and the boys nurse. Just, pointing down into the opening, declared that he could see Chinese who were beckoning him to go to them. Neither Christian nor the attendant could distinguish anybody, and no further mention was made of the occurrence, which apparently passed out of the minds of all concerned.

Twenty years later, however, on the eve of Just s departure from the Paris Seminary for Foreign Missions, he turned to Christian, and, breaking silence on the subject, spoke of the incident to his brother, who also vividly recalled it.

Just and Christian de Bretenieres made their preparatory studies under a governess and tutors at Bretenieres and Dijon, a German priest being with the boys for a considerable period. In the summer months, during seven years, the family travelled through Europe, taking up various nature stud ies and examining masterpieces of great artists, sculptors and architects. The advantages derived from these studies has made Christian de Bretenieres s college one of the best in France.

Just took his Bachelor degree at Lyons, and, when only eighteen years of age, translated from the German Dr. Neumayer s work on Christian Art. Two years later, he began his clerical studies with the Sulpicians at Issy, outside of Paris. One of his fellow students describes Just de Bretenieres at this time: “His tall figure indicated perfect health and strength; his face was pale and showed an energetic temperament; his forehead, high and framed with waving hair, expressed the nobleman; but the great charm was in his eyes, which were infinitely mild, yet lighted with fearlessness. His frankness and native modesty inspired immediate confidence.”

Just de Bretenieres entered the Paris Seminary for Foreign Missions in 1859. His parents were staying in that city at the time, and the news which the son announced was a severe blow which they both faced with silent grief, but with perfect resignation, the father actually presenting his son in person at the Mission House in the Rue du Bac.

Just de Bretenieres stayed in this nursery of apostles from November 1859 until 1864. Some of the recent directors remember him perfectly as talented but unpretentious, and, as Father Delpech expressed it to the writer, “carrying to the extreme his love of poverty and self-denial. The works of Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross were, according to his broth er Christian s statement, responsible in no small degree for his remarkable spiritual development, which brought from one of his colleagues this estimate: “Just de Bretenieres has such a great soul that I hope God will some day allow him to be canonized, even if He should not grant him the grace of martyrdom.” The latter desire was constant with Just de Bretenieres, yet he felt sincerely what he said occasionally, “I am not the stuff of which martyrs are made.”

The allotments to missions are not known at the Missions Etrangeres until shortly before the young priests departure. When Just de Bretenieres was told that he should go to Korea, his joy knew no bounds. Three others were to accompany him, Fathers Dorie, Beaulieu and Huin. The class numbered eleven and all departed together.

They stopped at Cairo and after a voyage of forty days arrived in Hong Kong. The four “Koreans”, as they were called, then went on to Manchuria to await a favorable opportunity for landing on the closely guard ed coasts of Korea. Ten months from the time they left Paris these young priests reached their mission. Just de Bretenieres remained with Bishop Berneux, living in the back room of a Christian s house, where he stayed in hiding. “It is the only place I have,” he wrote to his parents, for exercising my long limbs. Like a squirrel in his cage, I turn round and round, and imagine myself making delightful excursions in the mountains.” As the room was not high enough for the tall young man who occupied it to stand erect, we can understand his special difficulty in securing exercise. Here the Christians assembled in turn to attend Mass and to receive the Sacraments.

Through the perfidy of a native Christian, Bishop Berneux was captured February 23, 1865. Four days later, Just de Bretenieres was arrested and tried, at first without torture. He had as yet learned only enough of the Korean language to fulfil a necessary ministry, and could make but one reply to all questions: “I came to Korea to save souls, and I will joyfully die for God.” He was tried again on each of the four following days, and every question was accompanied by the bastinade, administered with heavy cudgels on the leg-bones, the bottom of the feet and the great toes. He did not utter a cry during this ordeal.

After each interrogatory, Just’s mangled limbs were wrapped in oiled paper and he was taken back to prison. When the sentence of death had been pronounced, he was thrown into a filthy jail which the deafening noise of a bell ringing continuously night and day, the darkness, the vermin and foul air made more dreaded than torture itself. Although Just de Bretenieres had to spend several days in this awful abode, where his wound ed body had no resting place except the bare, humid ground, he had the supreme consolation of meeting there his Bishop with Fathers Beaulieu and Dorie who had all undergone similar treatment.

On March 8th the four prisoners were carried in wooden chairs, their legs and arms bound to the rungs, their heads drawn backward and tied. Above the head of each was an inscription; Just’s bore these words: “Paik (Just’s Korean name), rebellious and disobedient, condemned to death after many tortures.”

Bishop Berneux was the first summoned. His head fell to the ground at the third blow. Just was called next. His attendants unloosed him and tore off his clothing. Then they threw water on his face and sprinkled it with lime. Each ear was bent over and fixed with a dart. Under his arms, tied behind his back, they passed a pole, by which he was suspended and carried about the arena in decreasing circles until he finally reached the centre. Here they placed him on his knees, a soldier holding the cord by which his hair was tied. Six executioners, armed with immense broad-bladed knives, surrounded the young priest whose serenity never forsook him for an instant. Four blows were struck, and Just de Bretenieres was among the band of martyrs.

His body was thrown by the Pagans into one grave with his three companions in martyrdom. Five months later, the faithful ventured to give these sacred remains Christian burial.

It was not until September of that year that M. and Mme. de Bretenieres received word of their son s glorious end. The father shed tears abundantly, but the mother did not weep; her mute agony was terrible to behold, but these parents had the grace to renew, in the presence of Bishop Rivet who brought the news, the sacrifice, which they had made to God, of their child; and, together with Christian, they recited a Te Deum.

A letter to Mme. de Bretenieres from a missionary in Tonquin stated that two of his brethren, through a novena to her martyred son, had obtained the conversion of a person who had not been to confession for fifty years. An uncle who had not been to the sacraments since his youth, became ill but would not hear of attending to his soul s welfare. Suddenly he asked for the priest and died a most edifying death. This took place in March, 1866, a few days after the martyrdom in a far-away land of the nephew whom he loved so well.

There is one more touching and beautiful incident which Christian de Bretenieres told to the writer. When Just was nine or ten years old, he brought a rose bush from his mother to the Sisters of Charity at Dijon. For twenty years it never blossomed, but the Sisters cherished it as a memento of Just and would not permit the gardener to destroy it. In the Spring of 1866, after the martyrdom in Korea, two buds appeared developing perfectly. The bush lived on but has never blossomed since.

Thoughts from Just de Bretenieres

Pray, and pray much; it is in prayer that you will find the greatest strength.

Ask God with all your heart, particularly at Holy Communion, to make you understand what it is to live only for Him.

Would be ashamed when approaching the Holy Table if, hearing a voice urging me to consecrate myself entirely to God, I should answer, “I cannot accept Thy sweet invitation; I hold to other things besides Thee.”

God will not bestow the sacrifice of blood on one who has not made other sacrifices.

I am like a bell, I have but one tone: all is vanity except to love God.

The charity and devotion of the future missionary should be, like Our Lord’s, as vast as the world.

He who is consumed by the love of souls, crosses the seas without thinking of the danger he runs; he bounds with delight if God leads him where everything menaces his life; he cannot restrain his songs of joy if he sees himself exposed to persecutions, threatened by the sword, ever on the point of dying of hunger, fatigue, misery, anguish.

How can he be a martyr who does not love?

The true lover of souls thinks he does not suffer enough, because he still sees souls around him deaf to grace; he begs Our Lord to let him suffer more.

Is it not reward enough to know that one is doing the will of God?

Desire is, with the grace of God, the first step we can take; the fruit comes later. God gives it as a reward.

We must be careful not to lose the presence of God.

Vanity, vanity! This is serious; think of it often.

Would that I might always, like Saint Teresa, see our Lord with the eyes of faith, in the depth of my heart.

He who is consumed by the love of souls becomes mad; he stops at nothing; no sacrifice costs him any thing.

Martyrdom is the heroic act of love.

To love aught else but God, is not to love.

Pray that I may be a martyr and that no one will know it.

The love of souls is the one thought that can urge us to do mad things.

Thinks of it, my friend, I, I am going to say Mass.

Thou knowest, my God, that I have never loved any thing but Thee.

Oh! he who knows the value of a soul counts not the cost of saving it.

It would be strange if the Queen of Mothers, whose glory consists precisely in giving and blessing, should refuse her aid to those whom she has brought forth spiritually.

Perfect confidence, it is true, is difficult to acquire; it demands a great act of faith, and, at the same time, a great mistrust of our own views: but, at least, we can ardently desire to acquire it.

A house from which men go forth to war against the devil, thoroughly armed for conquest, must surely be the object of God s abundant graces.

Our Lord asks of me continual recollection whatever may be my occupation.

Embrace a life in the world with fear; do as those in the world do not, while living in its empoisoned atmosphere.

Do you think God will grant so great a favor, so great a reward, as martyrdom to those who will not deprive themselves, for His glory, of a few moments of repose; while He refuses it to hundreds of missionaries consecrated to Him, who keep nothing back?

Perfection is like a very, very high mountain; it takes much time and trouble to reach the top; but we can always get there if we wish. (Words of Just at the age of 12.)

To depend on anything apart from Our Divine Saviour, is to be of the world.

Have great confidence in the Holy Virgin; when we abandon ourselves to her it is impossible to go astray.

When one looks upon a consecrated Host and listens to Its divine appeal inviting him to the conquest of souls in distant lands, is it possible to resist?

Is not the Blessed Virgin the best of all mothers?

I hear a voice which tells me, “You are made to despoil yourself of everything in the full sense of the term.”

I would blush to ask for martyrdom so long as I blushed not to refuse God small sacrifices.

Have by you what is indispensable, and deprive yourself of all else.

I am more and more convinced that Our Lord asks of me continual recollection whatever may be my occupation.

If you ever hear the blessed voice of God calling you, ah! do not turn a deaf ear; for if the edge of the cup presented to you seems poisoned with gall, know that within is a delicious beverage.

I wish to possess nothing as my own.

All that you believe to be capable of satisfying you, apart from God, will satisfy you never.

One who is consumed by the love of souls, seeks to make sacrifices; he complains of not finding them, and he finds them not.

Oh! the poor, the dear poor! are they not more agreeable to God than those who live in luxury and vanity?

When among the poor, put aside all vanity, all idea of superiority; work with them, serve them, show them how to do better what they are doing; and then they will believe you when you speak of the good God.

One thing is essential: to love God.

What a happiness to be able to say, “I eat the bread of alms!”

I never had any other idea than that of embracing a life poor, not only affectively, but effectively.

He who esteems Heaven, values nothing else; he tramples under foot all the little inconveniences of life.

When I am troubled, I sing softly some hymn to the Holy Virgin; this does me good and gives me courage.

Do not give yourself too much to what is attractive and apparently good, without stopping to judge it by sound principle.

With the least good will one can find time for prayer.

Instead of looking for difficulties, cast yourself at the feet of God and be humble.

Do not heed the thought that love is for the other world: it is for this also; and the true life is the life of love.

The folly of the holy love of Our Lord cannot be separated from the love of souls.

He who is urged by the love of souls thinks he will find it a sacrifice to leave places to which he is attached, to part from friends without whom it seemed he could not live, to break with hopes that smile on many others; and these sacrifices are for him, the beginning of Paradise on this earth.

Can he who knows the worth of a soul, think of anything else?

I pity those who have made a bad use of graces, for their last hour will be terrible.

Love of souls is a devouring thirst which nothing can appease, because one is mad with an enviable folly.

Above all things preserve your peace; do not allow yourself to be disturbed by what is said to you, or what is going on around you.

Mortifications come to the missionary from all sides, with out his having the trouble to seek them; this is why life on the mission is so good.

God blesses the missionary’s work, because of his hardships.

He who values only Heaven, listens to the voice of God when it calls him.

Pray without ceasing; words are not necessary, it is the heart that prays.

Only those who are not given to God, find themselves lonely when unable to converse with men. For a true Christian it is quite the contrary.

The missionary is poorer than any Religious; while the Carthusian knows that his three nuts will be given him tomorrow as today, the missionary, eating his frugal repast, cannot be sure of the next.

Act only by love.

Each new day makes me desire holy poverty more ardently.

What happiness! for twenty years I have wished to be poor, and now I really am so.

They said I was mad to go to Korea, but it was folly that cost me nothing.

Silence in the presence of God is the first condition for any advance in the spiritual life.

The days which we shall have to pass here below in tears are few indeed; should we not then rejoice to be able, by so short a trial, to obtain so great a happiness?

Nourish love in your heart; seek love in solitude.

Seek in the holy Eucharist the strength and courage to live as good Christians.

We should do like many of the saints, who, when they had nothing more to give, gave their clothes.

It is not for the pleasure we derive from it that we should pray; we must love God alone, even should He give us nothing in return.

When one is separated from men, and thinks he is most alone, then he is least so. Everyone believes this, but very few make the trial of it; they mistrust the boundless goodness of divine Providence.

The voice of Jesus is heard only in the silence of the heart.

Happy those whom God calls to this portion of His vineyard.

Many envy the lot of the mission ary in Korea; if it were better known they would envy him more.

You will truly love Jesus when nothing turns you from Him; when all that you love be loved but for Him.

We can, as it were, immerse ourselves in Jesus, losing ourselves in Him, without a backward glance.

If you form the habit of retiring within yourself many times a day, you will soon be able to do it even when speaking and acting.

We must make every effort to obtain the love of God.

We are all sojourners on this earth; our Home is above.

We must love joyfully; doubtless the sight of our miseries, both past and present, will preserve us from all presumption.

The good God may give you what in this life are called pains and trials; but he whose heart is not of the world, but Jesus Christ s, calls them jewels added to his crown.

There is One very near you Who knocks at your door every hour of the day, Who begs you to listen to Him, and to keep silence in order to hear Him.

Ask for martyrdom: it is God’s will that we beg this favor.

One becomes mad, yes, mad, in presence of these mysteries of love.

We should hold so little to sensible consolations that when we are deprived of them, it will not trouble us in the least.

The sight of Jesus, so beautiful and and so good, detaches the heart from all that is created, and binds it in an invincible manner to this amiable Saviour.

It is with our eyes fixed on the source of all love that we should walk; then years are nothing; it matters not whether we are only recently, or have been a long time in His service.

Do not make love consist in what is sensible.

Walk by love rather than fear; walk by love alone.

May you have as many crosses as God will give you strength to bear!

Do we not ask for martyrdom in the prayer we address to God every day after the Memento for the dead, when we pray to be made partakers of the company of the holy apostles and martyrs?

If you acquire the habit of recollecting yourself frequently, you will finally, like so many of the saints, do it continually: and this will be your greatest happiness, and scarcely any thing will be able to trouble you.

Let us sing in our hearts the continual mercies of divine Providence.

It is essential that we love Jesus with all the ardor of our soul.

Deprive yourself of everything; I do not refer to physical necessities, but to things of the mind and heart.

Nothing is capable of satisfying our heart, small as it is, but the unending possession of Him Who has loved us to madness.

Our Lord sees the least particle of good will, which He Himself puts into our heart; so whatever we may do, provided we often renew our good purpose to do all for love of God, it suffices.

Love for Our Lord should dominate every other affection and thought.

Offer to God every kind of trials, as an oblation to rejoice His Fatherly heart.

We must keep nothing back; we should not give to anything what soever the least part of ourselves.

Thoughts of our own misery and the fear they inspire, should pale before the rays of this Sun Which rises in the Orient to inflame us with ardor and love.

Joy should fill our hearts and keep us in profound peace, since, as privileged children, we repose on the side of Jesus, Who Himself nourishes, vivifies, sustains and fills us.

We should wish and desire nothing but what tends to the love of Our Lord.

Be always cheerful, no matter what contradictions or repugnances may assail you.

The devil tries to frighten you by temptations to low-spirits and to regrets for the past.

After what shall we run, and for Whom shall we seek, except for One Who urges us to give ourselves entirely to Him?

– from Thoughts from Modern Martyrs, edited and arranged by Father James A Walsh, M.AP.