25/10: Feast of the 40 Martyrs of England & Wales… So what? 

After King Henry VIII proclaimed himself supreme head of the Church in England and Wales, a violent wave of anti-Catholic persecution began – and lasted over a century. It started with the executions of Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, but didn’t end there. Hundreds were killed between 1535 and 1679; the Church recognized the heroism of 40 martyrs from England and Wales in a canonization ceremony on October 25, 1970. (Later, a separate feast on May 4 was created to recognize the 284 canonized or beatified martyrs of the English Reformation.)

The group of 40 martyrs celebrated on October 25 contains a variety of Catholics. The group is composed of “13 priests of the secular clergy, three Benedictines, three Carthusians, one Brigittine, two Franciscans, one Augustinian, 10 Jesuits and seven members of the laity, including three mothers.”

The martyrs were gruesomely tortured before being hanged or killed, but remained steadfast in their faith, refusing to renounce their Catholicism.

Many of the saints were jovial at the prospect of death.

Cuthbert Mayne, a secular priest, replied to a gaoler who came to tell him he would be executed three days later: “I wish I had something valuable to give you, for the good news you bring me…”  Edmund Campion, a Jesuit, was so pleased when taken to the place of execution that the people said about him and his companions: “But they’re laughing! He doesn’t care at all about dying…”

One striking story of heroism under extreme torture comes from the martyrdom of a laywoman, Margaret Clitherow.

She was accused “of having sheltered the Jesuits and priests of the secular clergy, traitors to Her Majesty the Queen”; but she retorted: “I have only helped the Queen’s friends” … On Friday March 25th, 1588, at eight o’clock in the morning, Margaret, just thirty-three years old, left Ouse Bridge prison, barefooted, bound for Toll Booth … Her arms were stretched out in the shape of a cross, and her hands tightly bound to two stakes in the ground. The executioners put a sharp stone the size of a fist under her back and placed on her body a large slab onto which weights were gradually loaded up to over 800 pounds. Margaret whispered: “Jesus, have mercy on me.” Her death agony lasted for fifteen minutes, then the moaning ceased, and all was quiet.

Their resolve in the face of certain death is inspiring. They show us that our life on earth is indeed very short and what truly matters is our faithfulness to God. As St. Thomas More famously said: “I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.”

Here is a list of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, whom we can invoke for their intercession in whatever persecution we may be enduring.

St. John Almond
St. Edmund Arrowsmith
St. Ambrose Barlow
St. John Boste
St. Alexander Briant
St. Edmund Campion
St. Margaret Clitherow
St. Philip Evans
St. Thomas Garnet
St. Edmund Gennings
St. Richard Gwyn
St. John Houghton
St. Philip Howard
St. John Jones
St. John Kemble
St. Luke Kirby
St. Robert Lawrence
St. David Lewis
St. Anne Line
St. John Lloyd
St. Cuthbert Mayne
St. Henry Morse
St. Nicholas Owen
St. John Payne
St. Polydore Plasden
St. John Plessington
St. Richard Reynolds
St. John Rigby
St. John Roberts
St. Alban Roe
St. Ralph Sherwin
St. Robert Southwell
St. John Southworth
St. John Stone
St. John Wall
St. Henry Walpole
St. Margaret Ward
St. Augustine Webster
St. Swithun Wells
St. Eustace White         Source 

Comment: 

So?  Our nearest cousins will be celebrating the Feast of the 40 martyrs of England & Wales on Thursday next, 25 October. So?  They suffered and died for the Faith during the Reformation – centuries ago.  What – if anything – do they have to teach us, today?  We’ve moved on from those days, when people were tortured and killed for their beliefs. We’re ecumenical now, we’re tolerant, we embrace equality and diversity… What on earth do medieval martyrs have to teach us enlightened folk today…  Shouldn’t the Feast days of martyrs be removed form the calendar, as a goodwill gesture, in the name of ecumenical progress?  Seriously?  Or, should that be “satirically”…  😀

The question for discussion really has to be: what is the most important thing the martyrs have to teach us all – north and south of the English border in this modern age? And if you have a particular favourite saint among the 40 martyrs, share that with us…

A Very Happy Feast of the Assumption!

Wishing all our bloggers and readers a very happy Feast of the Assumption.  Feel free to share your favourite prayers, hymns, stories – even your favourite jokes, of the good clean fun variety – to celebrate the Feast.  But first, click here to read Munificentissimus Deus – the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius XII defining the dogma of the Assumption in 1950.  

Organ Donation – The UGH! Factor…

The Church is very clear on the meaning of death. “Death can mean decomposition, disintegration, a separation,” Pope John Paul II said in a 1989 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. “It occurs when the spiritual principle which ensures the unity of the organism no longer exercises its functions in and upon the organism, whose elements, left to themselves, disintegrate.”

The scenario has become a familiar one in the news media. There is a tragic accident, a young victim, and a distraught family. Within the next few days, follow-up stories report approvingly that the organs of the brain-dead patient have been donated. The family expresses relief that at least some good has been derived from what might otherwise have been merely a senseless tragedy. Most readers find little controversy in these stories. Donating the organs of a brain-dead patient has become a routine procedure at both secular and religious hospitals throughout the US, and throughout the world. However, a small but growing number of ethicists tire protesting what they deem an overly hasty rush to procure organs for transplant a rush which, they contest, is sometimes so hasty that “brain-dead” patients are in fact alive when they are put to the knife.  Click here to read more…

Comment: 

The Scottish Government plans to bring forward legislation to change the current situation where it is necessary for patients to  choose to donate their organs at death, and such volunteers often carry a card specifying that they wish to donate organs.  Read more here.  

The system is to be changed so that patients must opt-out – otherwise, our organs may be presumed to be available.  I have sent the following email to Aileen Campbell, MSP, Minister for Public Health in Scotland: 

Dear Ms Campbell,

With reference to the planned legislation to enforce “opt out” of organ donation, please advise how to go about opting out.

I presume this entails notifying my GP, but I would also like to ensure that I carry a card to indicate that I do not wish to donate an organ, NOR do I wish to receive one, in any emergency situation that may arise, so I presume that there will be a card to read “I do NOT wish to donate”, as there is an opt-in card already available.

I look forward to your advice on these matters, as soon as possible.  Thank you. END

Now, I know that the new Catechism of the Catholic Church praises organ donation in the highest terms:  Donation of organs after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as a manifestation of generous solidarity… (#2296)

So, why do I have such a revulsion against the very idea?  Whatever happened, I ask myself, to accepting God’s will when afflicted with serious illness, albeit allowing for the pursuit of available treatments to improve or restore health. Having someone else’s organs transplanted into us, seems to me, to go way beyond that.  However, I get the feeling that I’m very much in the minority on this subject.  I won’t be won over:  the revulsion I felt when I first heard about organ transplants has never left me – but I look forward to learning how other bloggers view this matter.  Over to you!  

Chartres Pilgrimage & Young Catholics

Comment:

The funeral of one of the victims of the Manchester terror attack, a 14 year old Catholic  girl from Scotland, took place today. Her Parish Priest preached a homily in which he naturally praised the teenager, and said:  “In 14 years [she] packed a lot into her 14 years. 14 happy years. That’s so important for us to remember today – [she] was a happy girl, she had 14 happy years and in the last few days of her life she was the happiest you could ever imagine. The last thing in [her] life was happiness – she had spent a wonderful weekend away [from Scotland] going shopping, going to nice Cafes, going to the cinema and then going to her pop idols (sic) concert – Ariana – she was the happiest she had ever been- and that’s what we hold onto today- the happiness of [her] life… ”  

I couldn’t help contrasting this priest’s assessment of a happy teenage life with a recent conversation I had with another 14 year old – a young Scots boy who is currently participating in the Chartres pilgrimage.  Last week he was very excited about the pilgrimage, telling me details of the event, explaining that he would be able to win graces; he was also, of course, excited at the prospect of his first ever trip abroad, first plane journey and looking forward to meeting young people with whom he has been in internet contact through his homeschooling programme.  Yet, through all of his excitement, he was keen to go to Confession before making the trip.  “Between the possibility of a plane crash” he said “and a possible terrorist attack, I want to be ready to go to my judgment!”  At one time, that was the standard Catholic attitude to death: to be prepared, not least when going on a long journey. 

Pray for the repose of the soul of the young Scots girl struck down so cruelly in the Manchester attack, given the possibility that hers was an un-provided death.  And let’s pray, too, that more and more young people are led, by Divine Providence, one way or another, into the traditional Faith.  I’m told that the Chartres Pilgrimage is a very effective way to do this. What do you think?

17/10: Feast of the “First Fridays’ Saint”!

SAINT MARGARET MARY ALACOQUE, VIRGIN—1690  Feast: October 17

In seventeenth-century France the faith of the people had been badly shaken; there was rebellion against the Church and neglect of its teachings; the rise of Protestantism and the spread of the heresy of Jansenism[1] both had a part in the weakening of the structure built up through the ages. But as every threat brings its response, so now there rose up fresh, strong forces to counter these trends. Three famous religious, who are today venerated as saints, were particularly effective: John Eudes and Claude de la Columbiere were French Jesuit priests and writers; Margaret Mary Alacoque was a simple nun of the order of the Visitation. Their special work was to popularize the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To represent this trio and this movement, we have chosen Margaret Mary Alacoque.  

Click on image to read the 12 Promises of the Sacred Heart

Click on image to read the 12 Promises of the Sacred Heart

She was born in 1647 at Janots, a small town of Burgundy, the fifth of seven children, of Claude and Philiberte Alacoque. Her father was a prosperous notary; the family owned a country house and farmland, and had some aristocratic connections. Margaret’s godmother was a neighbor, the Countess of Corcheval. As a small child Margaret spent a great deal of time with her, but these visits were brought to a sudden end by the death of the countess. The father died of pneumonia when Margaret was about eight, and this was another severe shock to the little girl. Claude had loved his family dearly but had been short-sighted and extravagant. His death put them in hard straits. However, Margaret was sent to school with the Urbanist Sisters at Charolles. She loved the peace and order of the convent life, and the nuns were so impressed by her devotion that she was allowed to make her First Communion at the age of nine. A rheumatic affliction kept her bedridden for four years. During this time she was brought home, where some of her father’s relatives had moved in and taken over the direction of the farm and household. She and her mother were disregarded, and treated almost as servants. This painful situation grew more acute after Margaret’s recovery, for the relatives tried to regulate all her comings and goings. Not allowed to attend church as often as she pleased, the young girl was sometimes seen weeping and praying in a corner of the garden. It grieved her deeply that she could not ease things for her mother. Her eldest brother’s coming of age saved the day, for the property now reverted to him, and the family again had undisputed possession of their home.

Philiberte expressed a hope that Margaret would marry; the girl considered the step, inflicting severe austerities upon herself during a period of indecision. At the age of twenty, inspired by a vision, she put aside all such thoughts and resolved to enter a convent. While awaiting admission, she tried to help and teach certain neglected children of the village. At twenty-two she made her profession at the convent of the Visitation at Paray-le-Monial. The nuns of the Order of the Visitation, founded in the early years of the seventeenth century by St. Francis de Sales, were famed for their humility and selflessness. As a novice Margaret excelled in these virtues. When she made her profession, the name of Mary was added and she was called Margaret Mary. She began a course of mortifications and penances which were to continue, with more or less intensity, as long as she lived. We are told that she was assigned to the infirmary and was not very skillful at her tasks.

Some years passed quietly in the convent, and then Margaret Mary began to have experiences which seemed to be of supernatural origin. The first of these occurred on December 27, 1673, when she was kneeling at the grille in the chapel. She felt suffused by the Divine Presence, and heard the Lord inviting her to take the place which St. John had occupied at the Last Supper. The Lord told her that the love of His heart must spread and manifest itself to men, and He would reveal its graces through her. This was the beginning of a series of revelations covering a period of eighteen months. When Margaret Mary went to the Superior, Mother de Saumaise, with an account of these mystical experiences, claiming that she, an humble nun, had been chosen as the transmitter of a new devotion to the Sacred Heart, she was reprimanded for her presumption. Seriously overwrought, Margaret Mary suffered a collapse, and became so ill that her life was despaired of. Now the Mother Superior reflected that she might have erred in scorning the nun’s story and vowed that if her life were spared, she would take it as a sign that the visions and messages were truly from God. When Margaret Mary recovered, the Superior invited some theologians who happened to be in the town -they included a Jesuit and a Benedictine-to hear the story. These priests listened and judged the young nun to be a victim of delusions. Their examination had been a sheer torture to Margaret Mary. Later a Jesuit, Father Claude de la Columbiere, talked to her and was completely convinced of the genuineness of the revelations. He was to write of the nun and to inaugurate this devotion in England.

For many years the nun suffered from despair, from self-inflicted punishments, and also from the slights and contempt of those around her. In 1681 Father Claude returned to the convent and died there the following year. Margaret Mary was appointed assistant and novice-mistress by a new Mother Superior who was more sympathetic towards her. Opposition ceased-or at least was restrained-after an account of Margaret Mary’s visions was read aloud in the refectory from the writings left by Father Claude, who had taken it upon himself to make known to the world the nun’s remarkable experiences. That she was finally vindicated was to her a matter of indifference. When she was forty-three, while serving a second term as assistant superior, Margaret Mary fell ill. Sinking rapidly, she received the Last Sacraments, saying, “I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.”

Although the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was practised before this time, it now gained a strong new impetus through the work of Father John Eudes and the writings of Father Claude. The Sacred Heart is regarded as “the symbol of that boundless love which moved the Word to take flesh, to institute the Holy Eucharist, to take our sins upon Himself, and, dying on the Cross, to offer Himself as a victim and sacrifice to the eternal Father.” The cult first became popular in France, then spread to Poland and other countries, including, at a later period, the United States. The first petition to the Holy See for the institution of the feast was from Queen Mary, consort of James II of England. The month of June is appointed for this devotion, and since 1929 the feast has been one of the highest rank.  Source

Comment

I sometimes wonder if there are  many modern Catholics who still value devotions such as the Nine First Fridays.  Does anyone know?  What about the Catholics in your circle of family and friends – do they ever mention “doing the First Fridays”?  Do the diocesan priests ever preach about this devotion? Have YOU made the Nine First Fridays? If not, why not?