The Personal Fasts of St. Francis
The Fast in Honor of Mary
"He embraced the Mother of Our Lord Jesus with indescribable love because, as he said, it was she who made the Lord of majesty our brother, and through her we found mercy. After Christ, he put all his trust in her and took her as his patroness for himself and his friars. In her honor he fasted every year from the feast of Saints Peter and Paul until the Assumption." This fast lasted from June 29th until August 15th each year.
The Fast of Christmas
"All the friars without exception must fast from the feast of All Saints until Christmas..." and so he did.
The "Benidictus" Fast
"In his extraordinary devotion to Christ, he fasted every year for forty days, beginning at the Epiphany, the time when Christ himself lived in the desert. Then he would go to some lonely place and remain there shut up in his cell, taking as little food and drink as possible, as he spent all his time praying and praising God."
The Fast in Honor of St. Michael and the Angels
"He had an unshakable love for the Angels who burn with a marvelous fire, so that they are taken out of themselves to God and long to inflame the souls of the elect. Each year he fasted and prayed in their honor for forty days from the feast of the Assumption." "He also kept most devoutly a fast of forty days in honor of St. Michael between the feast of the Assumption and his feast." Hence, this fast, for the angels, whom he loved dearly, began on the Assumption and ended forty days later, i.e. the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, September 29th.
The Fast in Honor of Peter and Paul
"...he embraced all of the Apostles with the greatest affection, and especially Saints Peter and Paul because of their passionate love of Christ. In his reverence and love for them, he used to keep a special forty-day fast in their honor." This fast ended on the feasts of SS Peter and Paul, June 29th, at which time the fast in honor of Our Lady was begun.
The Lenten Fast
"All the friars are to keep the Lenten fast before Easter..." and so he did too.
VISITOR'S MESSAGE: Fr. Altier: A Prelude to Lent
(Compliments of Linda Curtiss BSP)
Recall that for 40 years the people of Israel wandered the desert and that was because of their disobedience and their lack of trust in God. So God allowed the people to go out into the desert and there in the desert He taught them that He was completely trustworthy. He taught them there in the desert how much He loved them and then as the people recognized the love of God they were able to love Him in return. They recognized that in His love for them that He was with them; that He would fight their battles, that He would feed them, that He would care for them as long as they would do His will.
If we look around right now we realize that the New Israel needs to be moved out into the desert as well. The New Israel is the Church and the Church is in constant need of being reformed. And right now, perhaps more than ever, the Church needs a reformation. St. Peter reminds us that any time that God is going to…purify the world, it begins with the Church. If we look at what has gone on in the last couple of years, at some of the scandals that have come out and some of the different problems that have been made public…this is part of the purification of the church. It is a necessity and such things are going to continue to be exposed as all the things within the Church need to be purified.
Following the purification of the Church and of course completing the purification of the church, is going to be a much broader purification that is going to happen within the world. And that is soon to come. The Church needs to be purified first and the members of the Church also need purification and consequently we have an opportunity right now as Lent is about to begin, to freely cooperate in the purification that needs to happen. The Church asks that each one of us will look at the areas in our lives that need to be changed. In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us that a new piece of cloth is not sewn onto an old cloak and new wine is not put into old wineskins. The reason He's saying that is because His intent was to start something entirely new. He wants us to change our ways. And so each one of us now is called to look into our hearts and to ask ourselves what needs to be changed.
Now if we look around in our own lives we can ask ourselves; "what areas am I not trusting God?" In what areas am I not loving God? In what areas am I not being obedient to God.? In what areas do I not have faith in God? And I suspect, if we are honest, that we are going to find all kinds of places where we can answer that question. Where do we fail to trust God? Many of us put much more trust in money than we do in God. It needs to go! Where are we failing to love God? To be obedient to Him. We can look at these areas of sin in our lives because most of us when we go to confession usually have to confess the same things over and over again. That's a normal problem that people deal with. But in confessing the same things over and over again, we certainly have a good idea of what needs to go.
Why does God then need to lead us out into the desert? To strip us from all of the things that stand in the way. Are we willing to go out into the desert? Are we willing to trust in God and to love Him? One way or the other the purification is about to happen. We can choose it. We can cooperate with it and we can begin the purification now ourselves by getting rid of sin; by getting rid of selfishness and by doing something in the season of Lent that is going to be truly substantial. Or we can let God do it and if we wait until God does it we're not going to be very happy being out in the desert. We will grumble and we will complain and many will fall away and that is a tragedy. The choice is ours. The Lord is inviting us out into the desert and there He will speak to our hearts and there He desires that we will respond to Him in love. Are we willing to do that? Are we willing to accept His invitation...To open our hearts and to go out in the desert to be united with the Bridegroom of our souls, and to love Him as He has loved us.
( Fr. Altier's complete Lenten talks are available on www.desertvoice.com )
Father Robert Altier, our Visitor, is a Roman Catholic priest in the archdiocese of Saint Paul-Minneapolis. Ordained in 1989, he currently serves as assistant pastor at the Church of Saint Agnes in Saint Paul, Minnesota. A member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, Fr. Altier has a great devotion to the Holy Eucharist and Our Blessed Mother Mary, and is loyal to our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.
Fr. Altier serves as president of Help the Helpless, a charitable organization benefiting handicapped children in India. His deep commitment to providing orthodox instruction of the Catholic Faith to the faithful led him to begin the ever-popular "Fundamentals of Catholicism" catechetical series which is now in its 16th year. Recordings of this series and over 200 other talks by Father Altier are available through Divine Mercy Tapes (651-454-8800) and Leaflet Missal Company in Saint Paul, MN.
Fr. Altier is also a regular guest on the Drew Mariani Show every Tuesday afternoon on Relevant Radio.
HAVE A HOLY AND HAPPY LENT!
DRAW CLOSE TO THE LORD,
AND CONSIDER REAL WAYS TO AMEND YOUR LIFE
AND CHALLENGE YOUR RELATIONSHIP TO GOD.
Bruce and Shelley
FROM THE SECOND READING: Fourth Sunday of Lent
by Janet Klasson BSP
"For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. This is not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life." (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Theology aside, one of my favorite movies of all time is that Christmas classic, "It's a Wonderful Life" starring Jimmy Stewart. I love redemption stories; they give me hope. Perhaps that is why I am so drawn to St. Francis.
The story of the redemption of young Francis Bernardone is one that offers great hope for all of us sinners. Young Francis Bernardone is referred to in the Catholic encyclopedia as "the very king of frolic". His faith during his misspent youth was buried deep under the refuse of worldly commodities and aspirations. Buried but not gone completely, for even then we are told, he had a heart for the poor.
The conversion of St. Francis puts flesh on the above scripture passage. By grace he was saved through faith. That tiny spark of faith flickering in the heart of young Francis was all God needed. Enter grace—grace in the form of forced inactivity. After defeat at battle, Francis was taken prisoner and held for a year, plenty of time in which to reflect upon the emptiness of his past life. This started Francis on the road to sanctity that has led to the forming of this association nearly 800 years later. It was a gift of God. It was not the result of his works—St. Francis would have been the last to boast about that.
St. Francis knew very well that he was what God had made him. He was created in Christ Jesus for good works, and he poured himself into those works which God prepared beforehand to be his way of life.
Eight hundred years later, can we do the same? The gift of faith within us is a gift we have not earned or deserved. It was not our doing and we cannot boast in anything we accomplish, because without the grace we have been given through the gift of faith, we would be living a life bereft of meaning. Our vision would become distorted. We would fall deeper into sin and revel in it.
If we find ourselves drawn to the life of penance, it is because we have been given much—much forgiveness, much grace, much healing. Like St. Francis, we too have a past, perhaps a very sinful past. For some of us it is not so distant, either. Our gratitude for the gift of faith should be unending. But beyond gratitude we too must flesh out this Scripture passage by fulfilling the plan of God for our lives. For he has created us in Christ Jesus for the good works prepared for us beforehand.
As Brothers and Sisters of Penance, we embrace the way of life of given to us by St. Francis. Through fasting and prayer God gives us the strength to go forth in the apostolate he prepared for us beforehand. Lent is a perfect time for us, as Brothers and Sisters of Penance of St. Francis, to reflect on our apostolate. Perhaps, if we have not already done so, we could discuss with our spiritual director or someone else our specific call and discern how best to fulfill it. Even St. Francis had to discern the path he was to follow. He too made wrong turns, especially in the beginning. It does no harm for us to periodically review our path; once we see where we have been and the wrong turns we have taken, it becomes easier to discern what direction we should go. The opportunity to discuss this with someone who supports us on our journey is a gift of inestimable value.
As we enter into our Lenten fast, may we give thanks to God for what he has made us, and may we embrace the good works he has prepared for us beforehand.
Janet Klasson BSP
NO GREATER LOVE: by PAUL BEERY BSP
"God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in
him." (I John 4:16)
These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity
the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the
resulting image of mankind and its destiny. In the same verse, Saint John
also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: "We have come to know
and to believe in the love God has for us."
Pope Benedict XVI, in his first encyclical, continues:
"We have come
to believe in God's love": in these words the Christian can express the
fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an
ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person,
which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. St. John's Gospel
describes that event in these words: "God so loved the world that he gave
his only Son, that whoever believes in him should have eternal life." In
acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core
of Israel's faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth.
The pious Jew prayed daily the words of the Book of Deuteronomy which
expressed the heart of his existence: "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is
one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and
with all your soul and with all your might."(6:4-5). Jesus united into a
single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love
for neighbor found in the book of Leviticus: "You shall love your neighbor
as yourself" (19:18). Since God has first loved us, love is no longer a
mere command; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws
near to us.
Wow! So much could be said about this wonderful letter entitled: "God
is Love." I confess, if it is not apparent, that the reason I write is to
promote the awareness of this reality. Since the goal of our life on earth
is to love and be loved, there is NOTHING more important than to realize
there is NO GREATER LOVE than the love God has for us, as though each
person were the only one that existed in His sight. Divine Love is
neglected in our day when lesser loves and lusts take center stage. We
neglect this reality to our own peril, and that of our fellow brothers and
sisters of the human family. I will never cease to come back to the
infinite source of our love life. Even the choir needs to hear the message
again and again in order for the PRO-LOVE, PRO-LIFE Gospel of Jesus Christ
to be fully understood in the face of relentless propaganda promoting its
opposite, the Culture of Death. Almost as important is the manner through
which we put faith, hope and love into practice in our everyday life.
There is nothing more unseemly and unholy than for a follower of the Light
to mistakenly promote the works of Darkness, by falling under the
captivating spell of the Tyranny of Relativism.
Pope Benedict has made that more difficult through his teaching. The
latest in a long line of outstanding pontiffs, he has provided a
comprehensive analysis of "the love which God lavishes upon us and which we
in turn must share with others." In the first part he seeks "to clarify
some essential facts concerning the love which God mysteriously and
gratuitously offers to man, together with the intrinsic link between that
Love and the reality of human love." The second "treats the ecclesial
exercise of the commandment of love of neighbor" so as to call forth in the
world renewed energy and commitment in the human response to God's love."
He does this by examining the relationship between eros and agape, showing
both the difference and the unity of love in creation and salvation
history, as Jesus, the Incarnate Love of God, came to show us how to love
Pope Benedict gave an important address to the curia last December
22, where he asked the question, "Why has the reception of Vatican II been
so difficult?" Along with his predecessors, he is in a perfect position to
correct the record on Vatican Council II.
He knows the subject well, having been an expert for the German Bishops
during the Council, soon surpassing even Karl Rahner's influence.
Beginning as a "progressive" theologian, however, he quickly discovered the
battle for the soul of Vatican II was heading for a break with traditional
Catholic teaching. He left a periodical "Concilium", and helped found
"Communio", which emphasized unity and continuity in the Church.
The Age of Christendom where Church and society are one is over. The
Scientific Age has placed faith on the SIDELINES. The greatest error of
this age, as well as the greatest threat to the Faith, is moral relativism.
The previous greatest threat, the pope believed, was "Liberation Theology",
which disappeared with the downfall of Soviet-style Communism. This issue
is treated later in the encyclical, the Church's charitable activity as a
manifestation of Trinitarian Love, which is not political or ideological.
The Tyranny of relativism is so destructive because it directly
contradicts the truth. Jesus DEFINED HIMSELF as THE TRUTH! "I have come
to BEAR WITNESS TO THE TRUTH." "Modern Man" needs to hear the TRUTH free
from wrangling. The Church therefore must confront Modern Man with the
AUTHORITY OF TRUTH at the POINT OF DECISION! Jesus wishes to FORCE PEOPLE
TO MAKE DECISIONS! If Jesus did not enable the Church to speak with the
infallible Authority of Truth, there would be doubt. In a phrase that
should be etched upon our hearts, Douglas Bushman, a renowned Catholic lay
theologian said, "As soon as DOUBT creeps in, REBELLION BEGINS!" Vatican
II spawned a rebellion: on the right by the few who believed it went too
far, and on the left by legions who believed it didn't go far enough, who
used a vague "Spirit of Vatican II" as their authority to dissent from
Church teaching even to this day. No one knows this better than Pope
Benedict. He said of those placed in positions of authority to shepherd
the People of God and defend them from the wolves: "A bishop who seeks
appeasement is abhorrent." Appeasement will not bring peace to ourselves,
the Church, or the world. We must love people in the truth, not allow them
to live a lie.
The importance of this point cannot be over-emphasized. Who will
become a martyr if the truth is in doubt? If we don't take TRUTH
seriously, one may as well say to Jesus: "I'm not convinced by your Passion
and death on the Cross! DO IT AGAIN just to make sure!"
Jesus gave us His
Church, so the Authority of Truth through the Vicar of Christ would be
forever safeguarded. Pope Benedict gives a magnificent exposition of the
truth. He said: "The Church exists so God may be seen by all." A fractured
Church provides a poor witness, however. The Holy Spirit is stirring
desires for unity among the scattered.
A recent convert to the Catholic Church said: I'm tired of being
pope. That's not our job. Unity can only come about through recognizing
the Truth: THE CHURCH EXISTS SO GOD MAY BE SEEN BY ALL! To see that GOD IS
LOVE! That God wishes to SHARE HIS LOVE!
During Lent we enter into the
desert to understand God's love for us, and to realize He is our First
Love. And we are His. In the aloneness of our hearts we hear His call for
fidelity to the covenant He made with us. A lukewarm response will not do.
Our lives must change. The Brothers and Sisters of Penance, like the first
disciples, respond to the teaching of Peter as described in Acts. 2:
"Believers devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the
fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer, with glad and sincere
hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people."
FRANCISCAN SAINTS: Saint Thomas More (1478-1535)
"A strong and courageous spirit who knew how to despise resolutely the flattery of human respect." (From the acts of Canonization, 1935)
Thomas More was born in 1478 from an English barrister, afterwards made a Knight and Judge of the Kings Bench. His maternal grandfather was the Sheriff of London. John More, the father of Thomas More, had six children. Thomas was the second child, junior by three years to his sister Joan. Thomas was sent to St. Anthony's school, the best in London. The boy was smart and cheerful and became a leader among his fellows. He was about twelve years old when he went to live at Lambeth Palace, to be a page to Archbishop Morton. It was a dazzling experience for a bright and observant lad. Here, in the shadow of the archiepiscopal chair, he witnessed a continuous flow of politicians and petitioners, envoys and churchmen. He was attendant at the great functions, playing his role in the complicated etiquette of the time, standing behind his master, always watching, listening, learning.
After two years the boy was sent to Canterbury College at Oxford. Life at Oxford was harsh and regulated by monastic discipline and a student was fined when he broke the rule. The day began with Mass at five, studies commenced at six. Latin was the language of the Halls. The first meal was not served until ten in the morning, the second and last at five in the afternoon. The food was meager. The afternoons were usually devoted to examination, discussion, and disputation. The students had to attend all Church ceremonies, and every member of a Hall was required to be in by eight in the evening. Thomas More suffered all the hardships of a poor scholar, for his father gave him a very scant allowance.
Lack of money did not prevent More from being happy at Oxford. His friends and teachers, indeed most of the undergraduates at that time, were in Holy Orders. The Church was the sure highway to success and security in the society. Yet More chose another road. The monastic life held a fascination for him. His father became alarmed, as he did not wish Thomas to enter a contemplative order. He wanted his son to follow his own footsteps and wear the long robe of the Law. He abruptly took the youth from the University and brought him to London. Thomas had little taste for the family profession; nevertheless he accepted his destiny with docility and good heart. The same diligence, the same rapid facility he had shown in the past, accompanied More's application to Law.
The altar still beckoned to Thomas, even though he worried over his fitness to approach it. In the London Charterhouse, the monks led a solitary and contemplative existence, regulated by lengthy devotions, studies, and manual labour. To those austere men, More brought his perplexities, asking them to assist in discerning his vocation. Should he become a Carthusian monk? Should he be simple priest or Franciscan friar? Or was it his destiny that he should remain a layman? They gave a wise decision. Thomas More was to come and live with the monks, but he was not to take vows. Time and prayer and contemplation would furnish the answer to his problems.
For nearly three years Thomas More remained with the Carthusian Order,and lived as an ordinary monk. He was given a pallet in a solitary cell and he wore a hair shirt to "tame his flesh." He observed the rules of silence and of fasting, then all of a sudden he left the Charterhouse and married a country miss from Essex, Jane Colt. What occasioned this abrupt change? Well, Thomas chose to be a chaste husband rather than a licentious priest. The question of priest, monk, or layman had been solved in favour of the last, but certainly not because of loss of faith. More remained deeply religious, even to the degree of continuing to subject himself to the penance of the hair shirt. He joined the Third Order of Saint Francis.
The role of husband fitted Thomas More awkwardly at the beginning. Jane Colt was ten years his junior. The girl bride missed the companionship of her sisters, and liked not at all the exchange of country life for London life. But the adjustment to each other was quickly made, and with compatibility came an idyllic happiness. A child was on the way and during the long wait the young wife cheerfully took lessons in music from her husband, and made effort to share his learning and to absorb his teaching.
Once Thomas was certain that the way of the Carthusians was not for him, he turned his attention to public affairs. In the beginning of the year 1504 he was elected to the House of Commons. He was only twenty-four, but immediately he won celebrity by raising an eloquent voice against the wishes of the King. It was risky business. Henry VII had convened this parliament to extort money in the form of "reasonable aids, on the occasion of the marriage of his daughter and the knighting of his son." A docile Commons probably would have submitted if young Thomas More had not rallied and strengthened the opposition. He spoke with the audacity of youth. In revenge, the king imprisoned More's father and not released him until a fine was paid and More himself had withdrawn from public life. More thought of fleeing the country, and with exile in mind, he began to study French. The projected exile did not materialize, for the King died and the hostilities of his reign were pushed to the past.
More became a close friend with the great philosopher Erasmus during the latter's first visit to England in 1499. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship and correspondence. More was sharing with Erasmus a deep hatred of war and passion for peace, More had assiduously applied himself to the business of law. Success came with remarkable quickness. Success at the bar was matched by domestic happiness. Jane had now some understanding of her husband's bent and was not afraid of his distinguished friends. She had learned to perform on the viol and she could sing prettily. Like most young parents she and her husband dreamed of, and made plans for, a larger residence. Her husband had definite and elaborate ideas for the education of his children. They were all to be scholars. The girls were not to be exempted because of their sex for unlike most of his contemporaries, he held enlightened views on the position and education of women.
Thomas held a particular devotion to his firstborn, Margaret, which was never to waver and which always was to be reciprocated. She was taught Latin, Greek, Logic, Philosophy, Theology, Mathematics, and Astronomy. It was a formidable course upon which to embark a young girl, but its terrors were lightened by the charm and humour and genius of More's personal direction and understanding. Margaret was only five years old and her young brother not yet a year when their mother, the sweet-natured Jane, suddenly died.
Before a month passed More married again. It was a deliberate action. He had four young children, three of whom were girls, in his house. Professional tasks and civic duties occupied most of his hours. No matter how scrupulously and carefully he acted the father, there still remained the necessity of a mother's care. With this thought in mind he chose a widow, seven years older than himself, Mistress Alice Middleton. Of her children by her first husband, one, Alice, was young enough to be brought up with More's children. It was a practical arrangement, this union. His second wife was a good woman and an efficient housekeeper.
By the time he had reached his thirty-fifth birthday, Thomas More had achieved a state of living that would have satisfied the aims of most men. He was a lawyer with a wide and lucrative practice. As Under-Sheriff he had gained an envied position in the City of London. He was a popular Bencher amongst his colleagues at Lincoln's Inn. He was an acknowledged scholar with a large circle of distinguished friends. He was a fond parent and a considerate husband.
That More was God's servant first and foremost was readily seen in his life of prayer and penance. From the time he was a young man, More started each day with private prayer, spiritual reading, and Mass, regardless of his many duties. He lived demanding mortifications in his characteristically discreet and merry manner. He generously cared for the poor and needy, and involved his own children in this same work. He had special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, to frequent meditation on the Passion, and to the rosary. Long hours he gave to religious exercises. Every morning saw him at Mass. Every day this busy lawyer recited prayers and read the Psalms with his household. He made numerous pilgrimages, and underwent austerities that were worthy of the monastery. Even when he became Lord Chancellor of the realm he wore beneath the splendid robe of office a hair shirt that chafed and bloodied his body. The act of penance was confided to his beloved elder daughter Margaret, and it was she who washed the penitential garment. She was capable of understanding such asceticism, unlike his wife, who strongly disapproved.
There were difficulties between the merchants of London and those of Flanders, and More was appointed to an embassy which was to represent the English interest. In the early summer of 1515 the envoys made their departure from England, and it was with heavy heart that the home-loving More said farewell to his family.
In More's mind the ambassadorial honour was poor compensation for leaving his family. There was also the question of expense. His lucrative legal practice naturally suffered during his absence, and he had no other revenues. "When I am away, I have two households to maintain, one in England and another abroad. I received a liberal allowance from the King for the persons I took with me, but no account is taken of those whom I leave at home." He expected his stay abroad would not be more than sixty days, but because of the Tournay troubles the negotiations dragged, and he was gone for six months. His own finances reached a critical state. While on this trip, in 1515, More wrote his most famous work, "Utopia". Erasmus certainly did much to provide More with the inspiration to write this book tracing his own conception of the reforms and philosophy necessary to an ideal commonwealth where people were to live in peace and justice.
More returned from his diplomatic mission to Flanders. He still practiced law and still occupied his beloved office of Under-Sheriff. In 1521, Henry conferred knighthood upon More. At the same time he was appointed Sub-Treasurer of the Exchequer, a post that carried more dignity and a much larger salary.
More was in his forty-seventh year when in 1525 he was given the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster. Then, on the twenty-fifth of October he was summoned to Greenwich, where the King gave him the Great Seal and proclaimed him Lord Chancellor of England.
In the Courts and as Speaker of the House of Commons, More was loaded with work, but he saw the dangers of the day and prepared to wrestle with them. The religious and civil confusion caused in Germany by the revolt of Martin Luther, and other "Reformers," brought him forth as a defender of the traditional Catholic Faith. His "Dialogue," which appeared in 1528, rebuked the Reformers, while his "Confutation," dealt more especially with the various heresies, which were soon to undermine the Catholic Faith of Europe and lay the foundation for much of the present unbelief.
More's life changed abruptly when King Henry VIII got infatuated for Anne Boleyn and asked the annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragón. Henry VIII asked Thomas to support him, and Thomas refused.
As yet the Pope had given no absolute or final decision about the annulment. Soon after, Clement, in a Papal Brief, renewed a previous Edict and threatened ecclesiastical punishment for Henry and any woman who should attempt wedlock with him while the case was in the hands of the Rota. After the issuance of this Brief there was little hope in Henry's mind that he could force the Pope to his wishes. He now undertook the first major and drastic move in the separation of England and the Holy See. It was on the thirteenth day of July, 1530, that Henry dropped every presence and left his wife for all time. As far as he was concerned, she was not his wife nor his Queen any longer.Anne Boleyn openly was installed in the apartments formerly belonging to Catherine. Meantime he abolished annates, the payment of his first year's revenue that was made to the Holy See by each newly appointed Bishop. The Church in England was now the property of the King. It was a historic event, the subjection of the Church to the temporal power. The next day, Sir Thomas More resigned his post as Lord Chancellor and withdrew from public notice. The words of Christ must have haunted him: "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God, the things that are God's."
During this time, on January 25, 1533, King Henry secretly "married" Anne Boleyn, who was already pregnant. As Anne's hour to give birth drew near, Henry forced through Parliament an act declaring all appeals to Rome illegal. June 1, 1533, was set as the date for the crowning of Anne Boleyn as Queen of England. Three Bishops of the new Anglican Church sent Thomas some money to buy a new robe to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn, but he refused.
More could not have had any illusions concerning the dark way that was ahead, but the resignation of the Chancellorship brought to him a temporary peace and happiness. He left office a poor man, with but a remnant of his former wealth and no pension. There still lived about him the little commonwealth of his children and grandchildren that was his joy. He could no longer afford the staff of officers and servants who had attended him as Lord Chancellor, but they were not abruptly discharged. One of his first concerns was to find employment for all.
The clergy, recognizing More as their champion, thought to reward him. They collected a great sum of money, which he refused, giving as his reason that if he were in their pay, he would no longer be a disinterested and unbiased defender. Some of his friends pointed out that he was now a poor man and that it would be well for him to accept so that his wife and children would profit. But he was obdurate. Death was in his mind and he made ready for it. He sought to prepare his family for the day that was sure to come.
He had not long to wait. The English parliament passed an Act of Succession which made Anne Boleyn's issue the first in succession to the Crown and thus, by legislation, deliberately made a bastard of Catherine's daughter, the Princess Mary. The Lords and the Clergy were summoned to subscribe to the Act and, as the first layman of consequence, so was Sir Thomas More. He refused and was officially summoned to appear before the Royal Commission.
It was on the Sunday following Easter, the twelfth of April, that he received the news. He went back to his own home and spent the evening hours with his family. It was ever his custom on what he thought to be important days to receive Holy Communion. The next morning he followed this procedure. Then came the difficult moment of saying goodbye to his wife and children. He was journeying by water but he would not permit them to see him embark. He shut the garden gate himself. After boarding the boat he remained silent for a long time.
More was ushered in to face the Commissioners. Gravely he was told that it was his duty to prove his loyalty. He made no quick gesture of defiance, nor did he indulge in grand heroics. He was a lawyer, and in such proceedings he was on his own ground. He asked that he be allowed to study the Act of Succession. Permission could not very well be refused, and he was given the document. He read it carefully and said he was ready to swear to the Succession, for it had been made a law of the land by Parliament. But as for the rest, the acceptance of the King's Supremacy over the Church, he could not subscribe.
When More was brought again before the Commission, he stated that his position was unchanged and his answer was the same. They sought to sway him, but it was to no avail. He would swear to the Act of Succession, but he would not accept the King's authority in spiritual matters. More was imprisoned in London's Tower. The gloom of the dreaded entrance to the Tower did not prevent More from joking with the porter. In the same lighthearted vein, he told an official who apologized for the wretchedness of the cell he was to occupy: "Assure yourself, Master Lieutenant, I do not mislike my cheer; but whensoever I so do, then thrust me out of your doors." He who still wore a hair shirt and who once had thought of becoming a Carthusian monk was not going to complain of life in a cell. Nor was he to concern himself with worldly cares.
In the beginning of his imprisonment he was allowed the amenities of pen and paper, and he wrote to his daughter: "Since I am come here without mine own desert, I trust that God, by his goodness, will discharge me of my care, and, with his gracious help, supply my lack among you."
As the months passed his imprisonment was made more harsh. No longer was he allowed to take his afternoon walk outside his cell. The solace of a chaplain's visit was denied. Even pen and paper were taken from him, and for the remainder of his confinement he resorted to the scrawl of charcoal on whatever material he could find. Lack of writing materials forced him to cease work on his Treatise of the Passion. Thomas commented Jesus' agony in the Garden, his being "sad unto death" (Mt. 26:38), surely thinking of his own death as well.
In spite of the stern conditions of his confinement, More managed to keep in commumication with his daughter, Margaret. After the winter of 1534 we find him painstakingly scratching a letter with a piece of coal: "Mine own good daughter, our Lord be thanked, I am in good health of body and in good quiet of mind: and of worldly things I no more desire than I have. I beseech him make you all merry in the hope of Heaven. And such things as I somewhat longed to talk with you all concerning the world to come, our Lord put them into your minds as I trust he cloth, and better too by his Holy Spirit: who bless you and preserve you all. Written with a coal, by your tender loving father, who in his poor prayers forgetteth none of you all ... And thus fare ye heartily well for lack of paper. Thomas More, Knight."
It was on the first day of July 1535 that the ex-Chancellor was taken to trial. He was made to walk on foot the distance from the Tower to Westminster Hall. Nor was his route direct. It was decided that he should be displayed as an example of one who had fought the King's wishes. So, dressed in a rough gown, he was taken through the most populous streets. The results were different than intended, for his appearance served only to excite the pity of the people. The effects of his imprisonment and long ordeal were very evident. His shoulders were bowed, he was terribly thin, and his uncertain and faltering gait showed that he was not used to exercise. The forms of a trial were to be followed, but there was not a man present who was in doubt of what the verdict and sentence would be.
More well knew his fate, but he was resolved to conduct his defence with every resource and knowledge of the law that was at his disposal. He voiced a fear that his memory and understanding, "which are both impaired, together with my bodily health, through a long indisposition contracted by my imprisonment, should now fail me so far as to make me incapable of making such ready answers in my defense, as otherwise I might have done."
It was all over. The solemn procession formed to take Thomas More back to the Tower. The executioner's axe, with edge turned toward him, was carried before him. Sir William Kingston was in charge of the escort. Young John More managed to push himself past the guards, and kneeling at his father's feet, asked and received his blessing. Kingston, who had seen many severities, was so moved that he wept. "Good Master Kingston," the prisoner gently told him, "trouble not yourself, but be of good cheer, for I will pray for you and my good lady, your wife, that we shall meet in heaven together, where we shall be merry forever and ever."
At the Tower wharf members of his family and friends waited. Margaret, his favourite daughter, "without consideration or care of herself, passing through the midst of the throng and guard of men, who with bills and halberds compassed him around, there openly, in the sight of them all, embraced him, took him about the neck and kissed him, not able to say any word but, 'Oh my Father! Oh my Father!'
He gave her his fatherly blessing, telling her that whatsoever he should suffer, though he were innocent, it was not without the will of God, and that therefore she must be patient for her loss. After separation she, "all ravaged with entire love of her dear father, suddenly turned back again, ran to him as before, took him about the neck, and divers times together most lovingly kissed him," a sight which made even the guards to weep and mourn.
Within his cell, More prepared for death. He took up his piece of coal and laboriously scratched his last letter to his daughter, telling her to convey his farewells and blessings to the various members of his family and a few friends. He gave instructions as to the disposal of a few belongings, and said: "Farewell, my dear child, and pray for me, and I shall for you and all your friends, that we may merrily meet in heaven."
With the letter, his final writing, he sent the instrument of penance, the hair shirt that she had so often washed, the secret that she had shared with him.
The moment came when the cell door was swung open and Sir William escorted him from the Tower. He was dressed in a rough robe and he carried a red cross in his hand. His steps were uncertain but his spirit was strong. A woman pushed through the soldiery and offered him some wine. He refused the wine saying that Christ at his passing drank no wine, but gall and vinegar.
A vast mob had assembled to watch him die. They eagerly waited for his last speech for it was the custom to permit a man to speak before his last moments on earth. Thomas' words were brief but they were to be immortal: "I am dying the King's good servant but God's first." He knelt and recited the psalm 51,the psalm of the Brothers and Sisters of Penance: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy great mercy...".
They wished to cover his eyes with a piece of cloth but he insisted on performing the act himself. He put his head on the block and made his last pleasantry, telling the executioner not to strike till he had shifted his beard for that it "had never offended his Highness." The executioner measured his distance. He did his work with precision. One clean blow and Thomas More's head was severed from his body. The King's will had triumphed.
The news of the execution was taken to the King. He was playing at cards with Anne Boleyn. They laughed.
Who will be laughing on God's last judgement day?
Submitted by Anna Ferroni—Turin, Italy
RULE OF THE BSP: ARTICLE 9
They are to fast daily, except on account of
infirmity or any other need, throughout...the greater fast from Carnival
Sunday until Easter.
THE ADMONITIONS OF ST. FRANCIS:
XXIII. True correction
Blessed that religious who takes blame, accusation, or punishment from another as patiently as if it were coming from himself. Blessed the religious who obeys quietly when he is corrected, confesses his fault humbly and makes atonement cheerfully. Blessed the religious who is in no hurry to make excuses, but accepts embarrassment and blame for some fault he did not commit.
Annunciation by Blessed Fra Angelico, San Marco Convent, Florence, Italy; painted in 1438-1446
BROTHERS AND SISTERS OF PENANCE OF ST. FRANCIS
a.k.a. the BSP, is a non-profit Private Association of the Faithful, which is dedicated to renewing the ancient way of penance as contained in the First Rule of the Third Order of St. Francis of 1221 for lay people in our modern world. We have the blessing of the Catholic Church to do this through several of its bishops. If you are bound by another Rule of life in another profession of the way of St. Francis that does not permit you to enter other religious families you are nonetheless invited to become an Honorary member of our Association and add the elements of this beautiful way of life that Saint Francis of Assisi gave us to the lifestyle of your profession.
All members, and Franciscans, are welcome to submit articles for consideration for inclusion in this newsletter if they are directed towards the spiritual formation of members or are the outgrowth of the lifestyle of the Association. Just send them to the BSP at
firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to share this newsletter with your friends or neighbors. It is intended to be the primary monthly communication of the Association. And if you can find it in your heart and in your budget remember that donations to the BSP are used strictly to promote the lifestyle and are tax deductible. We remain, always, sincerely yours in the love of Jesus Christ!
Bruce and Shelley Fahey BSP
Welcome to the Brothers and Sisters of Penance!
"He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. "