Friday, June 22, 2012

Fortnight For Freedom - Day 2

      There are challenges to our freedoms that occur all of the time.  This has been the case throughout the ages.  Today in her calendar the Church recognizes two individuals who confronted a time of testing and a challenge to the basic human freedom of conscience guaranteed by our human dignity as children of God and the law of their land.  They are Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More.  They lived in England at the time of Henry VIII and were men of deep faith and strong conviction.  They were both beheaded in 1535 on the charge of treason toward the king for refusing to sign the Act of Supremacy enacted by Parliament and demanded by the king, declaring a break with the Church of Rome and an acknowledgement of the king as the head of the Church in England.  Both stood their ground while others caved in to the pressures placed upon them.  Both are remembered as men of courage and men of conviction.  I love their stories.

     John Fisher was a scholar, a priest, and for thirty-one years the Bishop of Rochester, England.  He served in many capacities, including probably being a tutor to the future king in his youth.  He was noted for his holiness and simplicity of life.  When confronted with the pressure to agree to seek a decree of divorce for the king from his wife, Catherine, Bishop Fisher would not agree.  When it came time to sign the Act of Supremacy, he again refused.  He was named a Cardinal by the Pope in May of the year he died, but he was in prison and could not accept the Red Hat.

     Thomas More was a family man, married to his first wife, Jane, with whom he had four daughters, and upon her death to his second wife, Alice.  He was deeply religious, well educated, a lawyer and politician, and renowned for his honesty and integrity.  He was a friend and confidant of the king, who named him Chancellor of England and knighted him.  But in the dark days of Henry's rebellion, Sir Thomas was faced with a choice that he did not want to make - God or king - but which he knew he could not escape.  His defense of his conscience was paramount in his life's decision. 

     If you have never seen the play or movie, A Man For All Seasons starring Paul Schoffield, or even if you have, try to find a copy and watch.  It presents the inner and outer struggles that occur when religious freedom is compromised and threatened.

     Both were declared saints of the Church in 1935 and serve as models of strength and courage.  Both are reminders of the importance to be vigilant in the defense of religious freedom.


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