St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher Are Needed Now More Than Ever
by Brian O’Neel
“Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher” (Artist unknown; 17th century)
While his feast falls on June 22, today is actually the anniversary of St. Thomas More’s death. As many reading this will know, he died for the Faith. That is, he died a martyr.
That word “martyr” has been on my mind a lot lately.
I regularly view an app that list the day’s saints, and while every calendar day has martyrs, the weeks leading up to our nation’s Independence Day presented a veritable UN of those who witnessed for the faith with their blood. Chinese martyrs. Irish martyrs. Vietnamese martyrs. Eastern European martyrs of Communism of all stripes.
Perhaps I’m noticing them more because of a personal encounter I and hundreds of others around the nation recently had with two very special martyrs: More and St. John Fisher.
Chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops ad hoc Committee on Religious Liberty Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore invited Janet Graffius, curator of relics—including those of the aforementioned pair—at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, England, to bring these martyrs’ artifacts on a two-week tour for the fifth annual Fortnight for Freedom. She brought with her a tooth and portion of jaw from St. Thomas and a ring with an image of Aristotle on it once owned by St. John.
Graffius says she chose these two men’s relics “because they are renowned for their sacrifice on behalf of their conscience. I had no idea what to expect, and have been deeply moved at the reception wherever we go. Thomas More in particular has a great devotional following in the US. John Fisher is, perhaps, less well known, but his story of principle and bravery in the face of state oppression has met with respect and affection.”
Before audiences in Denver, Miami, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, St. Cloud, Minn., Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and Washington, DC, she wove the spellbinding story of these two men and how, while their peers cowered before the throne’s might, they stood tall against King Henry VIII and his will to power in the matter of his invalid marriage to Anne Boleyn.
I knew Fisher was the lone prelate of Britain’s roughly 69 bishops to resist the king. What I didn’t recall was that he had been Henry’s tutor. And I didn’t know he and More had helped His Majesty write his famous Assertio Septem Sacramentorum (“Defense of the Seven Sacraments”). Indeed, More was one of the king’s best friends.
So when Henry had these gentlemen martyred, he wasn’t ordering the execution of anonymous criminals. Rather he was demanding the deaths of friends, intimates, confidants.
In that age, monarchs regularly mixed with bishops and men of faith. Our time is much different in that respect. As such today’s successor of Henry VIII has little intimate contact with the successors of More and Fisher.
So if Henry so readily dispatched men who meant something to him simply because they opposed him, how readily will future leaders do so with the Christian men and women they do not know and who stand in the way of their aims? Granted this may seem paranoid. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth considering.
Today England still exists, but it is not the same country the two saints knew growing up. It ceased being that England – Catholic, monastic, charitable England – the moment Henry began having London’s Carthusian monks executed some six weeks prior to Fisher’s death.
Today America still exists, but it is not the same country we knew growing up. It has changed, and whether that change is irremediable remains to be seen.
The prospects don’t look good, however.
In California the Obama Administration is trying to force churches to cover abortion in their health plans. California legislators want to compel sectarian schools to hire and accept as students those who disagree with their moral principles. Last week the state Superior Court coerced dating website ChristianMingle.com to provide services to those seeking same sex relationships.
Washington State has removed conscience protections for Christian pharmacists who object to prescribing abortifacients.
The President and a major candidate vying to replace him routinely proclaim our “freedom of worship,” not freedom of religion.
To see the intellectual effects of this semantic shift, just consider that not even 15 years ago, same sex unions were something for which only the fringe Left agitated. Today opposition to legal recognition of these relationships is enough to bring down the full force of government and cultural harassment against you. It can cost you your livelihood.
In her new book The Intimidation Game (1), Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel details how radical secularists on the Left are using with great effectiveness every legal intimidation tactic they can muster to cower non-profit organizations. For instance, government lawyers will send out questionnaires to such groups with the words “penalty of perjury” in bold at the top, and then require them to answer vaguely or confusingly worded questions.
It recalls a scene in a recent episode of The Jim Gaffigan Show, where the district attorney prosecuting Gaffigan’s character for a politically incorrect statement has following exchange with the comedian’s wife, Jeannie.
Prosecutor: Are you married to the defendant, Mr. Jim Gaffigan?California Attorney General and U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris is attempting to force non-profits to disclose their donors. The experience of President Obama’s 2008 Democrat campaign against then-opponent Hillary Clinton’s Super PAC shows this is the fastest way to dry up donations to these outfits.
P: And were you married under duress?
P: Would you not say it’s untrue that your husband has been known to not be disrespectful towards women?
P: Allow me to rephrase. Would you not say it’s true that your husband has not been known to be undisrespectful towards women?
J: Uhm ...
P: It’s a simple “yes” or “no” question, Mrs. Gaffigan.
J: Uhm. (Clears throat.) No. Uh, yes.
One may be reasonably certain that such pressures will not be brought to bear on liberal organizations. After all, look at what a Texas DA did – or attempted to do – to pro-life activist David Daleiden by morphing a grand jury investigation of Planned Parenthood’s sale of aborted baby body parts into one against him. Thank God she failed.
Still, while there is an undeniable agenda afoot, we don’t suffer for our faith in the way our brothers and sisters do in Egypt, whether in the last year or the last week. We don’t have to worry about being systematically targeted by Daesh like our brethren in theMiddle East. We aren’t executed for simply possessing a Bible. The government doesn’t bulldoze our churches.
But so what? Yes, we don’t experience the ultimate evil. But we’re experiencing a creeping evil, a creeping repression, an emboldened minority who would like to see us follow the example of nearly every English bishop circa 1535 and kowtow to the State.
What happens in foreign countries is wrong, but so is what’s happening here.
Ss. Thomas and John are back “home” at Stonyhurst. Hopefully, however, their example stays here with us for a long time to come. We need it.
(1) Amazon Review:
From Kim Strassel-one of the preeminent political columnists writing today and member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board-comes an insightful, alarming look at how the Left, once the champion of civil liberties, is today orchestrating a coordinated campaign to bully Americans out of free speech.
For nearly 40 years, Washington and much of the American public have held up disclosure and campaign finance laws as ideals, and the path to cleaner and freer elections. This book will show, through first-hand accounts, how both have been hijacked by the Left as weapons against free speech and free association, becoming the most powerful tools of those intent on silencing their political opposition. THE INTIMIDATION GAME provides a chilling expose of political scare tactics and overreach, including:
- How Citizens United set off a wave of liberal harassment against conservative politicians
- The targeting of Tea Party groups by the IRS
- How Wisconsin prosecutors, state AGs, and a Democratic Congress shut down political activists and businesses
- The politicization by the Obama administration of a host of government agencies including the FEC, FCC and the SEC
Timed to arrive at the height of the 2016 presidential season, THE INTIMIDATION GAME will shine a much-needed light on how liberal governance and the Democratic machine bullies the political process.