Thursday, 4 May 2006

Thoughts on the English Martyrs

For priests and religious in Elizabeth I's reign and after, vocation meant either exile (abroad) or outlawry (at home). Many priests (over 300) sacrificed their lives, and all had to be ready to do so - reflecting on martyrdom was part of their seminary formation, as can be seen in the graphic frescoes at the English College, Rome, showing the witness of English martyrs down the centuries.

The martryrs died in an age often celebrated as one of English 'heroes' (e.g. Drake and Raleigh). Their heroism was a natural daring, commonly inspired by the desire for fame or wealth. It often went with cruelty. But compare this with the supernatural heroism of the martyrs. When St Cuthbert Mayne was arrested, he said 'I am the Man' - he reflected Christ's courage in uttering the truth fearlessly in front of his judges and facing suffering and death. All the martyrs (men and women) displayed the virtue of fortitude.

In every age, the Church calls for some special sacrifice. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was exile, fines, imprisonment and death. Today it is putting up with ridicule, marginalisation and indifference. A case in point is our need to defend the Church from the claims of The Da Vinci Code. This requires heroism - standing up for the Faith and not just going along with the crowd. Only God can demand heroic sacrifice. Only God can give us the grace we need - which is why we should ask for the intercession of our martyrs.



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