St. John Ogilvie
When given the choice to stick with the status quo or change everything about oneself, radically, totally, most of us choose to just go with the flow, creating the least amount of controversy and conflict. St. John Ogilvie did not, and this is what eventually, at the age of 36, led to his martyrdom.
Born in 1579, less than 45 years after John Calvin began promulgating his teachings about predestination (and conversely, predamnation, which has always seemed like the cruelest of jokes from the harshest of gods to me), Ogilvie was raised a Calvinist. Apparently, his wealthy, noble, Scottish family jumped on that bandwagon as soon as it came through town. They sent their son over to the Continent to be educated, and this is where they made their fatal error. While there, John became a first hand witness to the faith of the Catholics being persecuted because of their beliefs. He saw that they were willing to (and some actually did) die rather then denounce the Church. This set his heart on fire. He chose to convert by the time her 17. 17! At 17 most teenagers biggest, life-changing, earth-shattering decision involves choosing the right college, not gleefully abandoning the church one was raised in and running headlong in the opposite direction. John, though, was just cool like that. He got it. He got why, since the beginnings of the Catholic Church, men and women had been willing to die for their faith rather than turn away from it, even if only in words. He understood what made them cling so tenaciously to the rock that was their Church regardless of all the threats that could be thrown at them. And, once he got it, he became exactly the same way.
After converting, he attended several Catholic schools across Europe, finally deciding to enter the Jesuit order, into which he was ordained in 1610. At this point, he was a man with a plan. He requested that they send him back to Scotland, thinking that, because he was a nobleman, he could get other noble families to help him in his ministry. Apparently, they hadn’t caught the Catholic bug yet, because none of them were willing to risk everything they owned, including their lives, for harboring a papist. Not deterred, he went back to London, and then to Paris, and eventually came back home again. This time, he came incognito, under the name John Watson, a horse trader, and was able to get a foothold. His work was a huge success, and he converted many back to the practice of Catholicism. This is impressive, being as public preaching of the Catholic faith was outlawed in 1560 and his entire ministry was clandestine, conducted secretly in private houses. Think about that next time you think it’s hard being a Catholic in today’s world. Bam.
Eventually, his ministry was betrayed, by someone who had infiltrated John’s community, posing as a Catholic, and he was arrested, tortured, and tried for high treason (because even attempting to convert a Protestant to the Catholic faith was considered punishable by death then). It took them three trials to actually convict him, all the while trying to get him to give up the names of his cohorts. Of course, he never did. He knew that in telling who they were, they’d most likely be put to death as well, and so, just like Christ, he suffered silently for others. He did exactly what most of us hardly ever do: he kept his mouth shut, and we can all learn from that.
He was martyred on March 10 in Glasgow, by being hanged. With his last words, he exhorted any “hidden Roman Catholics” to pray for him, but spurned the prayers of heretics. That is my kind of martyr. The story goes that, as soon as the floor was literally knocked out from under him, he flung a of Rosaries he had hidden on his person into the crowd. They were caught by an enemy of his who subsequently converted and lived out the rest of his life as a devout Catholic. (As a side note, I wonder what lucky family has those beads. Seriously. Could you imagine having as a family heirloom a set of Rosary beads from a martyr? That would be so totally awesome! I’m just saying.) The year was 1615 and John was 36 years old.
The life of St. John Ogilvie can teach us so much about being set on fire for Christ and what it really means. To him, it meant giving up everything he knew, preaching the Gospel in secret, and eventually dying. For us, it might mean something as simple as not being afraid to speak out against something like abortion in the lunchroom of a liberal public high school in downtown Newark, NJ (it’s not fun, trust me). It could even mean just not being afraid to say you’re Catholic and yes, you believe what the Church teaches, yes, even about that, and that, and oh yeah, that. Will any of these get you martyred? Not yet (in most of the world, anyway), thank God. What it will do is help your faith grow and your love of God and His Church will be visible signs to all how awesome it is to be a Catholic. And that’s pretty damn cool.