2012-06-22

A Fortnight Later...

In 1521 Henry VIII was declared "Fidei Defensor" by Pope Leo X for his pamphlet accusing Martin Luther of heresy. Thirteen years later Henry abandoned Rome completely through the Act of Supremacy. That same year Parliament also passed the Treasons Act which made the king the "Only Head of the Church of England on Earth."

Those were guilty of treason who:
"...do maliciously wish, will or desire by words or writing, or by craft imagine, invent, practise, or attempt any bodily harm to be done or committed to the king's most royal person, the queen's or the heirs apparent, or to deprive them of any of their dignity, title or name of their royal estates, or slanderously and maliciously publish and pronounce, by express writing or words, that the king should be heretic, schismatic, tyrant, infidel or usurper of the crown..."

Anyone who denied in thought, word, or action that Henry VIII was the "Supreme Head of the Church in England" was guilty of treason, punishable by death. St. John Fisher was the only English bishop who refused to swear to the Act of Supremacy. St. Thomas More also joined in committing this praiseworthy act of treason.

Before their deaths, the stripped, emaciated bodies of both St. Fisher and St. More shocked the crowds at the scaffold. They had suffered utter destitution during their fifteen months in the Tower. St. John Fisher marched towards death courageously and was executed on June 22nd. (Interestingly, his sentence and death by beheading greatly paralleled that of his namesake whose feast was the very next day.) A fortnight later on June 6th, his body was laid beside that of St. Thomas More who had been executed earlier in the day.

Both saints serve as a model of courage and strength during these odd political times. Both saints had practiced mortification from early manhood. They had disciplined their bodies with fasting and other penitential acts. They had strengthened themselves with a devout prayer life. These virtuous habits prepared them for the political persecution they endured, and helped them to accept their eventual imprisonment and execution.

In today's world that encourages over indulgence, we run the risk of being weak in times when strength is required. As seen in the example of today's saints, mortification and prayer bolsters our human nature, and cuts out diseases wearing on the soul.

St. Thomas More, St. John Fisher, pray for us so that we may be prepared for what trials God permits us to endure.

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