Summary: He will faithfully forgive us when we ask. But if when Nero demands we drop the incense in prayer to the emperor, if we deny Christ is Lord, then He must deny us.
Thursday of 9th Week in Course 2018
St. Paul wrote the second letter to bishop Timothy during his final imprisonment. Here he calls himself a “criminal,” probably because the cruel emperor Nero had made profession of faith in Christ a capital crime. It is likely that Paul spent about half his ministry in prison for one trumped-up charge or another. This is his last incarceration, and he later in the letter reveals that he knows it will end with his execution. So he gets to the central doctrine with force: if we have died with Christ in baptism, we will live with him in the Resurrection. If we persevere in faith and practical Christianity, we will rule with him. If we sin or aren’t faithful to His teaching, He will faithfully forgive us when we ask. But if when Nero demands we drop the incense in prayer to the emperor, if we deny Christ is Lord, then He must deny us.
I’m reminded of a story I read in the old Daily Missal of the young Christian who was being martyred by immersion in frigid water. He denied Christ and was pulled out and put into lukewarm water to recover him, but he died anyway. That’s just sad. His companions had the martyr’s reward, and what did he have? We don’t know for sure, but the implication is tragic. Christ’s fundamental teaching is right from Torah. We are to worship the one God, and Him alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are to love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s the sacrifice God requires.
In reviewing lately our sixteenth century saints, you’ll get the idea that Henry VIII only martyred men, and only for specific acts of treason that were fundamentally actions that held God’s law above Henry’s. But there’s a woman in the mix who was probably murdered because of something her son did. Margaret Plantagenet was born during the Wars of the Roses in the late fifteenth century, and was caught up in the early history of the Tudor dynasty. Her husband, Sir Richard Pole, was an official of King Henry VII. He died in 1504, and left Margaret with five children in poverty. Henry VIII returned her to favor when he became king.
Margaret’s third son, Reginald Pole, was a cleric. “He represented Henry VIII in Paris in 1529, persuading the theologians of the Sorbonne to support Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon.” But with the marriage to Anne Boleyn inevitable, he split with Henry and became part of the active opposition to the despot king. Pope Paul III made him a cardinal in the middle of all this.
Margaret was arrested, tried and convicted on evidence that was probably fabricated, and held in the Tower of London for two and a half years. Ironically, she was supported financially by the king in this time, and even had servants to attend her. Nonetheless, she had been condemned to death.
On May 27, 1541, she was told she was to die within the hour. “She answered that no crime had been imputed to her.” But she was taken to the place of execution and beheaded most cruelly. Her offense almost certainly was to have been the mother of somebody Henry hated. She left this prayer carved into her cell wall in the Tower:
For traitors on the block should die;
I am no traitor, no, not I!
My faithfulness stands fast and so,
Towards the block I shall not go!
Nor make one step, as you shall see;
Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!
Christ, in Thy Mercy, save all who profess faith in Thee.