21st Century Roman Catholicism in England and Wales
The poignant influence of the Forty Martyrs on current Roman Catholic life and thought to create a truly Christian outlook in Roman Catholics.
1. Initial thought
I have given a little background in my freedom of expression essay already released on Kindle Amazon – 8/12/13. The secret of life is to be sincerely truthful. Despite all my emphasis on Holy Mass to achieve this freedom it is often attained outside the three main religions. I do not resile from what I have written in my essay.
2. Contemplation and Catholicism
Roman Catholicism is at the heart of this freedom of expression debate centring on her Holy English and Welsh Martyrs. These Holy Men and Women spur us on to contemplate their fate and outdo each other nowadays in that meditation. We ponder these matters to comprehend their life stories (the Martyrs) and how their example affects our lives. Prayer and contemplation has no meaning if it does not translate into action e.g.:
- Attending Mass and taking Communion
- Offering Holy Mass most vitally by the Catholic Priesthood
- Works of Charity
- The world of work-careers and service
In these actions the thought process grapples with reality and the cycle of thoughtfulness and action is enriched and deepened. This is the essence of a modern practising Roman Catholic’s life, be he Bishop, Priest or religious, layman or laywoman. Life is a prayer as the saying goes. In effect the Forty Martyrs by the drama in their lives accentuate the drama in our lives based on this cycle of contemplation, prayer and action. In a multitude of daily lives there are a multitude of examples of self-sacrifice. These self-sacrificing moments when recalled bring us closer to the Forty Martyrs canonised in the early 1970’s (Paul VI) and thereby our religion is deepened and made more meaningful. The Forty Martyrs are if you like a star of Royal beauty bright to guide us along the road of life’s journey of the soul.
3. The fundamental importance of charity and humility to Roman Catholics
We must be prepared to take the wounding comments and slights on our integrity or we will be dust and ashes. Love bears all things including taunts and slights and humiliating verbal jibes. In Court the Advocate may suffer resounding reverses but he must not give up his metier or the ghost for the sake of his clients, be he for the parent or a criminal defendant or as Crown Counsel. These cases must go up to the wire or they become rigmarole. This is all Catholicism in action as true charity and humility. Never in Court or outside the Court House milieu take these comments or derisive remarks or defeats personally. Our religion is strong enough to withstand a pettifogging and nit picking approach. Whoever you are and whatever you perform do not let it get to you. Take a deep breath and rise up and stand above the pettiness. We are made of sterner and better stuff. The Forty Martyrs will be right behind you – they endured the feared rack e.g. Margaret Clitherow of York, a married woman - died on the rack). Campion was undoubtedly put on the rack for his faith to extract vital information for his inquisitor Sir Francis Walsingham as part of the apparatus of Elizabeth the First, Queen of England. Our trials are nothing compared to the legal process they endured, yet their tribulations were physical – Ours are unreal - unspoken or unwritten and thus may be imagined and misunderstood. We have to cope with the unseen world – the Martyrs of England and Wales were very much up against the visible world. I would rather the invisible world myself. Yet the unseen world is so imprecise and undefined to our eyes and ears we long for the clarity of the Crucifix. Yes we can see it and visualise it but the questions remain. Humility teaches the utter inability of man to predict what is to come and penetrate the hidden world. Again this is Roman Catholicism at work in the cycle mentioned.
4. The direct impact of the Forty Martyrs canonised by Paul VI in the early 1970’s.
For Roman Catholics this canonisation is seminal to Catholic thinking and practice. It has no purpose unless put into effect mentally by Catholics. It means we come last – others first in whatever sphere of life we operate. This self-denying ordinance is the hardest to accomplish. The Forty Martyrs put their lives last and their faith first – the most noble calling possible after Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross Himself. They followed Christ’s example to their own suffering and deaths. John Paul II later honoured the English and Welsh Martyrs not included in this first phalanx of Forty. Yet the spearhead was these Forty Martyrs and they were representative of the whole body of English and Welsh Martyrs. Thus Paul VI aimed his canonisation at these Forty Martyrs in particular; whom he designated the proper spearhead of Catholicism, as the Catholic Church (English Roman Catholic) had done over decades previously in the prayers of the Faithful, to bring about this canonisation of the Forty Martyrs. The spearhead was essential to break the “defensive lines and fortifications” of non-Catholic apathy and Paul VI had no hesitation in making himself commander of this spearhead. There must always be a spearhead unit or regiment in wartime even in peacekeeping. Paul VI made these Forty Martyrs matter to himself as Holy Father so much he canonised them and thus Roman Catholicism would never be the same again. These Forty Martyrs by his canonising actions were translated to the utmost importance in Catholic eyes. His Pauline Papal authority personally backed and instigated this canonisation ceremony. Paul VI was a Pope of immense moral courage. The fact he canonised these Forty Martyrs was a great compliment to England and Wales and its Roman Catholic Church, centred on its principal see Westminster Cathedral, dedicated to the precious Blood of Christ. No other Pope could have done it with Montini’s unique authenticity and willpower. An Italian Pope to England in the 20th Century, as in the days of St Philip Neri – Oratorian in Rome when another Italian Pope sent the English Priests like Campion on their way to 16th Century Elizabethan England and death. Italy has always been close to England. The Roman Catholics of the 21st Century are the new vanguard to reinforce the Forty Martyrs themselves and Paul VI’s leadership of the last Century. Our constant remembrance of this process, their sacrifice of Martyrdom, our prayers, contemplation and our resulting action is Catholicism at work in the 21st Century in the spirit of the Forty Martyrs.
Paul VI stamped his Roman Catholicism in his deep faith and love of England and Wales on the Forty Martyrs by this canonisation for eternity. Nothing could be more crystal clear than these actions of this Italian Pope and Holy Father in Rome directed at these Forty Martyrs of our green and pleasant land.
This lies in the knowledge of the Father’s never ceasing love, the Son’s final act to secure our Redemption on the Cross and the Holy Spirit’s driving emphasis on understanding and persuasion in our lives. The Forty Martyrs persuade us by example in actions rather than words. It would be very unlikely any of us Catholics or non-Catholics will be called presently to Martyrdom – unheard of in religious sense nowadays in England. This religious sacrifice could possibly be made by a practising Catholic or Christian or non-practising Christian nevertheless. The chance of a religious Christian Martyrdom in our age and country in true sense is not just remote it is almost fantasy. But I am reminded of the good thief crucified alongside Christ on Calvary nailed to his separate Cross and his dying plea to the equally dying Christ “remember me when you enter your Kingdom”. What was Christ’s immediate riposte? “You will be in paradise with me tonight” – Let battle be joined and may the best man win!