Book recommendation “Memoirs of a Frontier Missionary Priest” of Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli

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I am currently reading a book recently put out by the Mazzuchelli Society on the life of Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, mostly taken from his own journals and writings. It’s written from the third person, such was his great humility, and so well done that one forgets from what century comes the writing.

Here are some excerpts from the “Memoirs of a Frontier Missionary Priest” of Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli, O.P., that demonstrate that the native Indian tribes of the 19th century found in the upper Midwest had a better acceptance, understanding and faith in the simple truths of the Catholic religion than do today’s society that embraces contemporary paganism. In fact, the argument could be made that these supposedly uneducated, illiterate and uncivilized people were, when converted (far easier it seems than modern man with his inflated intellectualism and sophisticated technology) more devote, more faithful, and far more unshakable and sincere in the practice of the Faith than can be imagined.

A few prelates or female religious of notoriety might learn a lesson or two from these natives’ commitment to the principles of the sacraments of baptism, marriage, and the Holy Eucharist.

On baptism:
            While the Priest was preparing to administer the Sacrament of Baptism to a great number of Indians, one of them called “The Little Prophet” cast off the woolen blanket in which he had been wrapped and threw it far away; being asked the motive of this singular behavior, he answered that thus he desired to show his sincerity, in utterly despoiling himself of all his evil ways and become a new man.  This was the fruit of the familiar instructions. This Indian had comprehended the true meaning of the change which Faith in Christ should operate in the soul, that is, that the change which makes us live by the spirit and die to whatever is carnal and sinful.  All Christians are acquainted with this doctrine, but few indeed cast far away the mantle of their vices as did this poor savage.

On marriage:
            An Indian chief called Decari, who took the name of John in Baptism, had two wives, polygamy being commonly practiced in the tribe. The Priest having taught him that according to the Law of Jesus Christ he could keep one wife, the husband replied that he was willing to give up one—but had no choice between the two.  The wife who had no children came privately to the Missionary with the proposal that as the other wife was the mother of a little boy, and was of a somewhat dissatisfied temperament, it would be more prudent to leave the latter with the husband so as to put no obstacle in the way of her conversion. So our worthy John was married to the mother, although the other had been his first choice and more worthy of affection. A few months afterwards Providence called the mother out of life; then the husband and son fell as prize to the generous woman who with brave unselfishness had heroically separated herself from her husband for the sake of Religion.

On the Holy Eucharist and devotion by the Indians:

            Although the Indian tongue lends itself with difficulty to the expression of the Religious ideas associated with so great a Mystery, yet the light of Faith shines out in them with such radiance that they comprehend the full doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the most Blessed Sacrament. Docile to the Divine Word in which they trust, they are not searching out the possibility of the mysterious change with vain questionings; but humbly they adore, because Jesus Christ declared that the bread which He would give as food was truly His Flesh, and the wine His would give them to drink was in very truth His Blood

The Missionary on entering the Church one day found there one of the head chiefs of the Menominee tribe, whose name as Ajamita; he was alone, kneeling upright before the Blessed Sacrament, seeming to see nought else but his beloved Jesus.

On the historic original intent and understanding of religious freedom under the Constitution:

            The Constitution of this great Republic was framed by representatives of the people, who all on one plane of equality, were not willing to yield the laws the very least right over their particular and multiform religious creeds; on the other hand, the design of the Constitution was simply to provide for the well-being of each individual, giving him a guarantee of everything pertaining to him as personal property….

            The immediate consequence of the separation of the civil authority from any connection whatsoever with religion was the obligation on the part of the government of the Republic to protect not the religion, but the citizen in the practice of the religion….  The citizens are protected in whatever is mere matter of conscience.  Even when religious practices conflict with the laws in a way, if these practices are not in themselves immoral, unjust or detrimental to one’s neighbor, they are respected b y the laws; for as they concern the conscience alone of the individual, they are held as entirely free of the government authority….

            In a country where the people constitutes itself the supreme legislator through its representatives, the Government must at times recognize religious authority and the latter not seldom depends upon the former….

            Some have thought that the Government of the United States,  because of not recognizing any particular religion must naturally be itself skeptical or atheistic—a most false conclusion in our case…. The very fact that the civil authority is obliged to protect the citizen in the practice of his devotions is the very strongest proof that the majority is religiously inclined….Woe to that country if the mass of its people shall ever become unbelievers! Then will religion lose that protection which makes it now so free to act, and enslaved by general corruption, its ruin and disintegration, humanly speaking, will be irreparable.

            A Republic demoralized is worse than any form of Government whatever; for in such event the demoralization of the will and the general manner of living will take upon themselves the force of laws. In a real Republic the loss of Religion and the general corruption of morals keep pace with anarchy, with dissolution of civil society and at last with absolute despotism.
It’s a great book, inspiring and edifying, and an anti-dote to one’s self complacency and spiritual pride, that’s for sure. I highly recommend it.

Always enjoy reading your blog – hope you keep it up.

Thanks, and warm regards,

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