Scandalous Priest and Glorious Martyr

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When July 9 rolls around each year I am always reminded of my personal belief that before our end, perhaps especially for those of us sunk deep in sin, God gives us an opportunity to atone and turn aside from the downward path.

In Sixteenth Century Holland one of the longest wars in history began between Spain and Dutch rebels.  The war was waged on both sides with sickening atrocities.  Among the most violent were the Sea Beggars, Dutch patriots or pirates depending upon one’s point of view.  In June of 1572 the Sea Beggars took the Dutch town of Gorkum, and captured nine Franciscan priests, Nicholas Pieck, Hieronymus of Weert, Theodorus van der Eem, Nicasius Janssen, Willehad of Denmark, Godefried of Mervel, Antonius of Weert, Antonius of Hoornaer, and Franciscus de Roye, of Brussels.  Two Franciscan lay brothers were also captured:   Petrus of Assche and Cornelius of Wyk.

The Sea Beggars also captured the parish priest of Gorkum, Leonardus Vechel of Boi-le-Duc, and his assistant, Nicolaas Janssen.  Also imprisoned were Father Godefried van Duynsen and Joannes Lenartz of Oisterwijk, director of the convent of Augustinian nuns in Gorkum.  Later imprisoned was a Domincan priest Joannes van Hoornaer who bravely came to Gorkum to minister to his imprisoned colleagues and joined them in their captivity,  Jacobus Lacops of Oudenaar, a priest of Monster, Holland, Adrianus Janssen of Brielle, and last, and no doubt he would say least, the subject of this post, Andreas Wouters of Heynoord.

To be blunt, Andreas Wouters had been a lousy priest.  A drunkard and notorious womanizer,  he had fathered several children.  Suspended from his duties  he was living in disgrace when the Sea Beggars captured Gorkum.  This was his cue to run as far away as possible, based on his past history.  Instead, perhaps understanding that God was giving him maybe his last chance to redeem himself, he volunteered to join the captive priests and brothers.

The 19 were tortured and subject to every type of humiliation and mockery, especially Wouters who was constantly reminded by his captors of what a disgrace he was.  William the Silent, leader of the Dutch rebels, sent a letter to the commander of the Sea Beggars, William de la Marck, ordering that the priests and brothers were not to be molested in any way.  Ignoring his instructions, de la Marck ordered them  to be slain if they did not renounce their belief in the Real Presence and Papal Supremacy.  All stoutly refused.

On July 9, de la Marck had the 19 hanged in a turfshed.  As the noose was being fastened around his neck, his captors kept mocking Father Wouters.  His last words before he entered eternity were:   Fornicator I always was; heretic I never was.

The Martyrs of Gorkum were canonized by Pope Pius IX on June 29, 1865, the feast day of the two greatest martyrs of the Church, Saints Peter and Paul.

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  1. Yes, Donald, you are absolutely right in this your Belief :

    “I am always reminded of my personal belief that before our end, perhaps especially for those of us sunk deep in sin, God gives us an opportunity to atone and turn aside from the downward path.”

    Donald, Jesus’ Testimony to Saint Faustina Kowalska, His Secretary and Apostle of His Divine Mercy, conclusively tells us that, at the moment of death, God is there, pleading with the Sinful Soul to turn to Him and accept His Mercy. These Conversations are beautifully and forcefully recorded in St. Faustina’s Diary _ Divine Mercy in My Soul – Nos.1485 – 1487. They are long quotations and I cannot record them here.

    In No.1485, Jesus is giving the Conversation between God and a Sinful Soul. In No.1486, He gives the Conversation between God and the Despairing Soul and in No.1487, the Conversation is between God and a Suffering Soul. These revelations are awesome, coming from Jesus Christ Himself.

    St. Faustina explains that “God does touch the sinner’s soul at the last moment in a wondrous and mysterious way. Outwardly, it seems as if everything were lost, but it is not so. The soul, illuminated by a ray of God’s powerful final Grace, turns to God in the last moment with such a power of Love that, in an instant, it receives from God forgiveness of sin and punishment.” Diary No.1698.

    As an ardent Eucharistic Apostle of the Divine Mercy, I can state with certainty that at that last moment, Father Wouters, definitely received full forgiveness of his sins and the punishment thereof and entered Heaven direct.

    Remember God states in the Scriptures that He does not wish any soul He created to be lost. So, even at the last moment, when Satan is there to make a sinful soul despair of God’s Mercy, God is there, Personally, to convince that soul that His Divine Mercy is unfathomable such that even if that soul had committed all the sins of the world, if it turned to Him at that moment and accepts that final Supra Grace, He will receive that soul joyfully and a Banquet will be celebrated in Heaven.

  2. Reminds me of the story of St Mary of Egypt. She was known to have been either a woman of easy virtue who saw men going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and took it upon herself to go with them on an anti-pilgrimage. But in Jerusalem she had an overwhelming experience of the Divine, repented and fled to the desert to live an ascetic life of penance.

  3. The story of this martyr brings such hope. There are people I/we know that we love and worry over, hoping that they will make the right choice in their last moment, if not before. It is reassuring to hear how our God will reach out to those who we may not have been able to effect a change. Our God is Love beyond words.

  4. Remember Lord Marchmain’s death in ‘Brideshead Revisited’? To the priest it was something he had seen many times; a working of grace that was almost routine. For Charles Ryder it was a Road to Damascus experience.

  5. I have head that from priests also John, occasions on which they are called by relatives to the death beds of hardened sinners with the relatives afraid of the reaction of the dying man or woman, only to have them burst into tears, and eagerly confess and receive the Last Rites with every sign of joy and hope.

  6. This reminds me of Graham Greene’s novel, The Power and the Glory (also known as The Labyrinthine Ways), which features a priest of loose morals who eventually accepts martyrdom.

    I read the book when I was becoming a Catholic and it helped me by showing that the Church realizes the the width of God’s grace and mercy.

  7. Sadly, the mental faculties of some people go away long before physical death, and probably lack the capacity for repentance. I think it’s a lesson not to wait.

  8. Agreed that people should not wait Spambot, but I have always suspected that there is much more going on in the brains of most dying people than outward appearances, or science, can detect.

  9. Felix—-I had the same recall of Greene’s ‘whiskey priest’. He wrote so well of our sinful nature and our sometimes muddled virtues.

  10. Emendemus in melius, quae ignoranter peccavimus: ne subito praeoccupati die mortis, quaeramus spatium paenitentiae, et invenire non possimus.

    (The Responsory for Ash Wednesday, striking a sombre note of warning). The Introit is more upbeat and hopeful:

    Misereris omnium, Domine, et nihil odisti eorum quae fecisti, dissimulans peccata hominum propter paenitentiam, et parcens illis: quia tu est Dominus Deus noster.

    And traditionally they are in this order. Bugnini, however, because of his strange obsession with including sacraments and sacramentals within the framework of the Mass, placed the Introit first, and so it appears in the Ordinary Form. Bad psychology and bad theology. In due course the Pauline Missal will be drastically revised, but in the meantime we at least have the EF to fall back on.

  11. Hi John Nolan. thank you-

    Let us amend for the better where we have sinned through ignorance,
    lest, suddenly overtaken by the day of death, we seek space for repentance,
    and be not able to find it.
    Hearken, O Lord, and have mercy:for we have sinned against thee.

    I does seem like we treat this whole year or these times as Ash Wednesday.. time to fast and think and change direction!
    and wouldn’t it be interesting to talk with Anabale although his current surroundings are, I imagine, purgatorial…

    Thou hast mercy upon all, O Lord, and hatest none of the things which Thou has made, over- looking the sins of men for the sake of repentance, and sparing them; because Thou art the Lord our Go

    the bad psych and theo are rooted so deep that I still hear lots of blowback against the new translation here among well-educated Catholics employed in various church related ministries

  12. Jenny I pray constantly over my own beloved one, which he just as constantly resists. I persist,in hope, through many many tears. Like spambot I wonder if the intellect over time and such immersion, is so darkened that years of upbringing and seminary are lost. I pray for conversion and healing sooner, I hope not at death’s door, but such that not only is he forgiven and saved, but also able to help others he knows and loves.

  13. One thing that strikes me: in that last hour the nineteen martyrs were as though in Hell, surrounded by enemies and jeering hatred. Who was it who recorded the bravery of their passing, so that one day we could know of it? It must have been one of those jeering enemies. And unless the matter came to light during some sort of judicial proceedings, we have to remember that the priests’ murder was in direct defiance of their C-in-C’s written orders. So why describe it? Let alone in such detail? Maybe even in that mob of pirates and cut-throats there was someone who had been affected by their martyrdom, perhaps more than he would admit.

  14. good point Fabio. I also think of our scandalous priest turned martyr who possibly influenced by the steady goodness of the other martyrs.
    Andreas Wouters pray for us.

  15. The whole thing was like a circus to the captors Fabio. They even charged admission to anyone who wanted to view the 19. I don’t have access to the primary records, but it had to be one or more of the bystanders or the captors. Here is a link to the article on the martyrs in Butler’s Lives of the Saints.

    “See the accurate history of their martyrdom written by the learned doctor William Estius, printed at Douay in 1603. Also Batavia Sacra, part. 2. p. 174. and various memoirs collected by Solier the Bollandist, t. 2. Julij, p. 736.”

  16. Spambot, as Eileen states above, believe what Saint Faustina says happens at the moment of death. Yes, a person may even have been in a coma for a long time. The person may even have been mentally ill for a long time with no power of normal human reasoning. But at all times, their soul remains in contact with God. I repeat Saint Faustina writes :

    “Outwardly, it seems as if everything were lost, but it is not so. The soul, illuminated by a ray of God’s powerful final Grace, turns to God in the last moment with such a power of Love that, in an instant, it receives from God forgiveness of sin and punishment.”

    This is the Revelation she received from Jesus Christ Himself. God continues to communicate with the dying person’s soul as long as the soul is still united with the body as Mother Church teaches us and numerous Saints have attested. We need to always remember that God’s Ways are not our ways, God’s Divine Power is beyond human understanding. He created us for Himself and He spares not effort to reclaim each and every soul at the moment of death, no matter what a great sinner that person had been in their lifetime.

    That is why, again, Mother Church teaches us to pray and intercede unceasingly for our loved ones who have turned against God so that they shall be open to receive that final Supra Grace and accept God’s Mercy and be saved.

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