Summary: What do you do when you are being ground between the wheels of governments mired in error?
Ss Philip and James 2018
There’s a beautiful icon from the early part of the last millennium that shows a visualization of the Trinity. The Father is pictured looking to His left, and the Son is pictured looking to His right, and the Holy Spirit is right between. The remarkable thing is that the Son is the mirror image of the Father, and the Father of the Son. It’s a literal artistic interpretation of the words of Jesus to Philip in today’s Gospel. When we see the Son, who is Jesus, we see mercy, compassion and love. Yes, we see hatred of sin, too, because we see infinite love of the sinner, and sin really hurts us. God loves us, and that’s why He hates sin.
There is a logical inference, of course, that we can make from the words of Christ, and He confirms that by saying “he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father.” Jesus is in heaven so that His image–we are His image–can be all throughout the world, doing the loving works that He did in the first century. One week from today is the traditional day of Ascension. It looked like Jesus was gone. But with the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, the work that Jesus did can continue through us. Just as we could see the Father’s face in the face of Jesus, so today our friends, our associates, even our enemies need to look at us and see the face of Our Lord.
In every century Christ has raised men and women to do His work on earth. As we continue to look at the sixteenth century, we should recall the stories of the men and women of England who were caught up in the dramatic tragedy of Henry VIII and his six marriages. Henry was married to Katherine of Aragon, daughter of the Spanish king. She had been married to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, who died before the marriage could be consummated. The Old Testament had conflicting rules about one marrying the wife of one’s dead brother, so the Pope gave a dispensation to allow the marriage of Henry and Katherine, that produced only one living child, Mary Tudor. Every male child of the union died. Ironically, that may have been because of a genetic disease of Henry’s.
So Henry, seeking a male heir, looked for another wife, and found Anne Boleyn. For various reasons, the Pope was unwilling to give a declaration of nullity to Henry so he could marry Anne, and Anne insisted on a marriage relationship. Katherine was not cooperating, and many of the English clergy were siding with Henry. Ultimately they convinced Henry that he could take control of the English church. Henry had himself declared the head of the Church in England, and had the English bishops pronounce the marriage to Katherine null and void. He married Anne in January of 1533. She promptly gave him another daughter, Elizabeth, no sons, and after 1,000 days of marriage, she lost her head. From all his wives Henry had but one son, sickly Edward.
But the wheels of schism and heresy had been set in motion. Bishops and lower clergy and religious and even government officials like Thomas More were ground between those wheels. The first Act of Supremacy stated that Henry was "the only supreme head on Earth of the Church of England" and that the English crown would enjoy sole jurisdiction over the English church. Then Parliament passed the infamous Treasons Act, providing that “to disavow the Act of Supremacy and to deprive the King of his ‘dignity, title, or name’ was to be considered treason.”
So imagine the situation of the several thousand men and women religious in the various English convents and monasteries, particularly those with a high public recognition. In 1534, Sister Elizabeth Barton, the “holy maid of Kent,” was executed for opposing Henry. One of her spiritual advisors, Father Richard Reynolds, was caught up in the aftermath, and arrested with three Carthusian priors. It appears that Henry’s people bribed penitents to testify that Reynolds had advised them of the illegitimacy of Henry’s marriage in confession. The faithful priests were tried, convicted, and then hanged, drawn and quartered. St. Richard Reynolds and thirty-nine other Catholics are celebrated tomorrow in the commemoration of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. May their prayers serve to keep Catholics faithful in the midst of this culture of death.