Thursday, June 23, 2005

"I AM THE KING'S GOOD SERVANT, BUT GOD'S FIRST!"

We hear the constant claims of so-called Catholic politicians and others who claim to be Catholic and yet vote for pro-abortion legislation. What is the Church’s answer? The Church’s Liturgy gives us the answer.

Each year, on June 22 we celebrate the memorial of two great martyrs, Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher. Both of these great Englishmen paid the ultimate price by giving their lives in witness to Catholic faith.
John Fisher was the Bishop of Rochester, England. He was a saintly man who wrote many works combating the doctrinal errors of his times. Thomas More was married and had a son and three daughters. King Henry VIII appointed him Lord Chancellor of England. Sir Thomas also was a staunch defender the Church.

Until the time of King Henry’s, Great Matter, all of England was Catholic. In 1521, as a reward for responding to Martin Luther’s errors in a book on the sacraments, Pope Leo X conferred on King Henry VIII the title, The Defender of the Faith.

No one could possibly have imagined that, within a few years, both Sir Thomas and Bishop Fisher would be held prisoners in the Tower of London because they remained faithful to the Catholic Church. Yet, this is what came to be!

King Henry wanted Rome to declare his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, his wife, to be null and void. He wanted to take another wife, Anne Boleyn. In 1533, Pope Clement VII decreed that there were no grounds for an annulment. Henry's marriage to Catherine was valid and could not be broken by any power on earth, not even the Church’s.

Despite the Pope’s decree, King Henry divorced Catherine and married Anne. Henry then formally broke unity with the Pope by declaring that he, and not the Pope, was the head of the Church of England. Next, he decreed that all of his subjects, including the bishops and priests, must sign the Act of Supremacy and the Oath of Loyalty to him, thereby rejecting the authority of the Pope. The penalty for refusal to sign: Death by being hung, drawn and quartered!

Every bishop in England signed. In so doing, they formally rejected the Catholic faith that they had sworn to defend by their Episcopal consecration. Bishop John Fisher was the only exception. He fearlessly said that he would remain loyal to the Pope. Just as John the Baptist had been willing to die to defend the sanctity of marriage, so Bishop John Fisher also would be willing to defend the Primacy of the Pope, even in the face of a cruel and merciless death.

Sir Thomas More was just as faithful. Imprisoned in the Tower of London, his wife pleaded with him. His beloved daughter, Margaret, pleaded: "Father, sign the oath! Live!” Thomas More’s' answer was clear: "How many years do I have left? How many pleasures in this life can I enjoy? Nothing is worth my eternal salvation. If I sign, against my conscience, I will lose my soul for all eternity." He remained loyal to the Papacy and refused to sign the betrayal to the Papacy.

Bishop Fisher was beheaded on June 22 and Sir Thomas More on July 6, 1535. The only mercy shown them by Henry was that they were spared the agony of being hung, drawn and quartered. As he stood before the axe, Sir Thomas’ last words were: “I am the King’s good servant, but God’s first”

Saints Thomas More and John Fisher lost their lives but saved their souls. In 1935, Pope Pius XI canonized them to be saints in heaven. As to those who signed the Oath of Loyalty to Henry VIII, we can only pray that they repented from their sin against faith. Pope Paul III formally excommunicated King Henry VIII in 1538.


This is the answer that the liturgy gives to Catholic politicians. In these days, when the rejection of the Papal Teaching Authority has become fashionable, when Catholics in the Congress claim that they must sign pro-abortion legislation, the Church points to these two courageous saints. If we are to remain Catholic and save our souls, we must remain faithful to the teachings of Christ's Vicar on Earth, the Holy Father.

In the Opening Prayer of the Mass of their Feast, the Church prays: "May the prayers of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More give us the courage to proclaim our faith by the witness of our lives." Yes! May we all, each and every one, have the courage to stand up for our faith!

Father Richard J. Rego, S.T.L.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Matt F. said...

Great stuff, father. St. TM is one of my favorite devotional saints. He's not just patron of lawyers, but all public officials. As that is what I do for a living, I try to hold fast to that line "but God's first!"

Any devout Catholic who desires professional adulation in education is eventually going to have to choose their loyalties (save for a few schools and colleges).

9:47 PM  

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