Summary: Our faith must be strong enough to stand firm and not look for “middle” positions.
Thursday of 6th Week in Easter 2018
Our New Testament readings today show two approaches to proclaiming the Gospel of Christ. In Acts, we are seeing Paul at the beginning of his second missionary journey, probably about the year 50 AD. He has just been to what we know as the Council of Jerusalem, where the apostles agreed on his ministry to the Gentiles, and to the doctrines Paul has been preaching. His mission starts in each city with the synagogue, where he proclaims Jesus as the Messiah. He tries to convert the Jews, and usually makes little headway. Then he turns to the Gentiles, preaches, saves many, and baptizes them without insisting they adhere to Jewish practices. Belief in Christ and baptism is all one needs to begin to walk with Christ in His Church. Circumcision is not needed.
However, when he meets Timothy in Lystra, who is son of a Jewish Christian mother and Greek father, he circumcises him. If Timothy had not been circumcised, he would not have been welcome at all in the synagogues they would later visit. He was well known, and his parentage was well known to the Jews. So they would ask, and get the “right answer” from Timothy and Paul. Paul had a very pastoral disposition. He didn’t want to have any stumbling block in front of Jews who would accept the lordship of Christ, so, for instance, he also avoided eating meat that had come from pagan temples, even though he preached that their idols were nothing.
But there is a line that we must draw. We may never deny Christ. Jesus tells us today that the world would hate us as it hated Him. At some point the secular world will require us to deny our faith and morals. In Canada right now, to get government money to help the poor, PM Trudeau is requiring them to state their acceptance of the legitimacy of abortion. That’s wrong on multiple levels. It is direct complicity with evildoing. There can be no “pastoral reason” to hold hands with murderers, other than to assure them of forgiveness if they will repent and change behavior. We must hate the sin and love the sinner, just as Jesus did from the cross.
Last week we heard about sixteenth century priest Richard Reynolds, who went to martyrdom at the hands of Henry VIII because he refused to accept Henry as head of the English church, and admit the legitimacy of his bigamous marriage to Anne Boleyn. Today hear the story of another of the forty martyrs of England and Wales, Humphrey Middlemore.
The Carthusian abbey, the London Charterhouse, was one with great prestige among the English people. The royal commission went there to demand the monks take the oath of supremacy. “John Houghton and Humphrey Middlemore, [their procurator], refused, and were, in consequence, imprisoned in the Tower of London; but, after a month's imprisonment, they were persuaded to take the oath conditionally, and were released.” The conditional oath, which Richard refused to take, added the words “insofar as I am permitted by Almighty God” or similar words.
But that was not good enough for Henry VIII. There could be no conditions. John Houghton was martyred with Richard Reynolds in the following year. Middlemore became prior of the abbey. “Meanwhile, Thomas Bedyll, one of the royal commissioners, had again visited the Charterhouse, and endeavored, both by conversation and writing, to shake the faith of Middlemore and his community in the papal supremacy. His efforts left them unmoved, and, after debating with them, he obtained authority from Thomas Cromwell to arrest three leading monks of the London house: Middlemore, as the vicar, and with him Doms William Exmew and Sebastian Newdigate. All three were thrown them into prison, where they were treated with cruelty, being bound to posts with chains round their necks and legs, and compelled to remain thus day and night for two weeks. They were then brought before the Council, and required to take the oath. They refused, and gave arguments from Scripture and the Church Fathers in favor of the papal supremacy.” That was enough to guarantee their execution.
Our faith must be strong enough to stand firm and not look for “middle” positions. Evil takes over both soul and mind, so evildoers must not only insist on being able to do evil, but they require us to think and say that evil is good. This we may not do. May God preserve us from such days, from such decisions, but may He give us strength to be faithful when that day comes.