This month we remember a Jesuit priest and martyr who left the relative comforts of 17th-century France to become a missionary to the Huron people in what is now Quebec, Canada. He and his Jesuit companions faced seemingly unbearable challenges in learning a difficult new language, adapting to a foreign culture and way of life, and living in a harsh climate with deplorable conditions—all of this under the constant threats of violence from many parties. Despite the challenges, St. John de Brébeuf and his companions saw their mission grow from very low conversions to Christianity in its early years, to supporting a majority Christian Huron people by 1649.
Brébeuf didn’t cross the ocean with the too-common-at-the-time mindset of “setting these savages right” so that they conformed to a standard one might expect of a “civilized” European Christian of the time. No, Brébeuf found ways to see past his own experience and look with love on these people so vastly different from himself. He learned their language, respected their culture, and listened to their stories. He entered their lives with an open heart and mind, despite the hardships that came of it. Brébeuf understood that he didn’t need to change these people God entrusted to him; rather, he needed to use his understanding, openness, and love to bring God to them in terms they would understand.
John de Brébeuf put himself aside and worked to find God in a people whose life was completely different from his own. That takes a truly open heart free of pride. In this way, I propose St. John de Brébeuf as an excellent model for parents. In our constant efforts to ensure our children have the best start in life, how often do we simply impose our own ways on them, believing our ways to be best? Perhaps we can learn from Brébeuf and listen to our children’s stories with an open heart, taking the time and patience to understand where they’re coming from, and then finding a way to bring God to them through their own terms. In this way, we just might see our children find their right paths very different from our own, but just as perfect in God’s eyes.