Sunday, 4 December 2016

'The Way of the Cross'

Wednesday, 30th November was the feast of St Andrew.

One of the twelve apostles, Andrew was the younger brother of Simon Peter; both were fishermen, and both  were invited by Jesus to be ‘fishers’ of men. After the coming of the Holy Ghost, Andrew preached in Palestine, and then in Scythia, Epirus and Thrace. He was martyred by crucifixion at Patras in Achaea in Greece. Because St. Andrew deemed himself unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross as that on which Christ had been crucified, he asked to be tied to a 'Crux decussata' or an X shaped cross. St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, and a relic is kept at St Andrews Metropolitan Cathedral, Edinburgh. A beautiful prayer is offered at Second Vespers (November 30), the ‘Antiphon at the Magnificat’:-     
                       ‘When the blessed Andrew had come to the place where the cross was prepared, he cried out and said:  O good Cross, so long desired, and now made ready for my longing soul!  I come unto thee with confidence and joy; do thou likewise joyfully receive me, the disciple of Him who hung upon thee.'

        'Crucifixion of St Andrew' -  by Matia Preti (1613-1699)

I am currently re-reading ‘Henry Garnet (1555 – 1606) and the Gunpowder Plot’ by Philip Caraman S.J.. This is an engrossing account of the life and death of Henry Garnet, a Jesuit priest, who was born in Derbyshire in 1555, educated at Winchester, and after studying for the priesthood in Rome, returned secretly to England in 1586 where he was to spend the following 20 years building up the Jesuit mission, culminating in his execution in 1606 for alleged complicity in the Gunpowder Plot, a conspiracy which he wholeheartedly condemned but was powerless to prevent.
    Whilst reading this book, a few thoughts come to mind. Although these events occurred over 400 years ago, anti-Catholicism in England in one form or another, has existed in varying degrees since that time. The 17th century was a period of great suffering for English Catholics. There were many martyrs executed for their Catholic faith, and many Catholics dispossessed of their homes and property for the same reason. England was a mission country, where priests were forbidden by law to enter under pain of death. During the latter part of the 17th and all of 18th century, as well as the vital role of the priests of the English Mission,  the Catholic faith in England was preserved mainly through established Catholic families of means and property, with personal clergy and private chapels, offering Holy Mass and the Sacraments to local Catholics. Often such families employed and housed Catholic families, creating small  mutually supportive Catholic communities.  Certain Catholic foreign embassies in London opened their embassy chapels to the local Catholic populace for Mass and the Sacraments.   Anti-Catholic laws were still on the Statute books, and could be enacted, although this became increasingly rare. The mid -19th century saw Catholic emancipation , with steady development of the  Church in England, Wales, and Scotland, with new dioceses, churches, schools, and even hospitals. The large influx of Catholic immigrants from Ireland, demanded urgent spiritual and practical support,  but also provided a readily available and willing labour force on which the Church could call.  The revival  of the English church at this time owes much to the influence of the Oxford Movement and the conversion to Catholicism of several influential Anglicans, but it also owes a huge amount to the Irish, of whom some 80% or thereabouts were Catholic.
The following table shows the numbers of Irish-born residents in England, Scotland & Wales, from 1841-1921:-       
  • xxxxx1841xx 415,725
  • xxxxx1851xx 727,326
  • xxxxx1861xx 805,717
  • xxxxx1871xx 774,310
  • xxxxx1881xx 781,119
  • xxxxx1891xx 653,122
  • xxxxx1901xx 631,629
  • xxxxx1911xx 550,040
  • xxxxx1921xx 523,767

The first half of the 20th century was a period of consolidation within the Church, with a high number of ordinations to the priesthood and vocations to the religious life, both men and women. The Catholic Church under Popes Benedict XV,  Pius XI and Pius XII constantly sought peace in the world, sending a  powerful plea to a world torn apart by warfare, a plea largely ignored by  the world's statesmen.  Political upheavals on a massive scale, two World Wars interspersed with specific national wars, and economic uncertainty on a global scale, combined by the 1960s to produce an increasingly radical and  materialistic society, which  inevitably had a  knock-on effect on the Catholic church.  The drastic and unsettling changes brought about by Vatican 2, particularly in the liturgy and traditional devotions of the Church, affected – some would say infected, every sphere of Catholic life, especially Catholic education and vocations, which plummeted in numbers. Over the past fifty years we have seen State legislation  on matters completely opposed to Catholic teaching; viz. legalised abortion, same-sex marriage, IVF,  ‘normalisation’ of homosexuality as a lifestyle, effective denial of ‘conscience’ rights in certain professions and jobs, dubious ‘equal rights’ legislation ; the list goes on.  It is fair to say that compared to certain countries where the Church is openly persecuted, the Catholic Church in England today enjoys freedom of expression and worship,  and exercises a certain influence for good, however Christian beliefs and principles are increasingly under attack by influential and powerful secular lobbies, supported by politicians in high places.  Regrettably there have been public scandals, particularly child abuse, involving priests and religious, which have done great harm to the Church, with its perceived image not helped by recent confusing and contradictory statements from Rome concerning certain doctrinal issues, statements which have yet to be clarified. To conclude, we know through our Faith that the battle for souls between good and evil, between God and Satan,  will continue until the end of time. Above all, we can be certain from Christ’s death and His Resurrection from the dead,  that good will prevail.


                                                   Fr Henry Garnet S.J.  1555-1606

   Returning to the 16th century and the reign of Queen Elizabeth,  the following extract from Fr. Henry Garnet’s biography, illustrates  the formidable difficulties faced by Catholics of the time.  
         Fr. Campion and Fr. Persons were two of the first Jesuit priests operating in England during this period. Fr Campion was convicted of 'treason' viz. working as a Catholic priest in England, and was hanged in  December 1581. Fr Persons returned to Rome, where he died in 1610,  having devoted his life to the establishment of seminaries and colleges in Europe specifically intended for the formation of missionary priests to be sent to England.
           Fr Southwell and Fr Garnet, also Jesuit priests, followed in the footsteps of their colleagues, with Fr Southwell convicted for working as a Catholic priest, and hanged at Tyburn in 1595. Fr Garnet, the subject of this biography, was hanged in 1606 for 'treason' – alleged complicity in the Gunpowder Plot. 
          Fr.William Weston, a Jesuit and Catholic priest, was imprisoned from 1586 to 1603, when he was exiled, spending his remaining years in the English seminaries at Seville and Valladolid in Spain. 
          Fr. Aquaviva was the Jesuit Superior General, based I think, in Rome.

 'Pastoral difficulties in England in 1587'  

‘The government’s answer to the successful mission of Campion and Persons had been the Act of 1581, which made it a treasonable offence to withdraw the Queen’s subjects from the religion established by law; it had also imposed a fine of £20 a month on all who refused to attend Church. 
             In March 1587, after Southwell and Garnet had been in England less than a year, this Act was amended to enable the Crown, in default of the fine, to take two-thirds of the property of the recusant, as he was now called, ‘leaving the third part only ….. for the maintenance of the same offender, his wife, children and family.’
             It was the self-sacrifice of the Catholics who attended Mass under this dire penalty that won Garnet’s admiration. No word of his was exaggerated in his praise of their splendid spirit; here was heroism that Aquaviva could understand, and Garnet was determined to spare him no details of his own experience. The Act, as he explained, covered not only the land but the town houses as well as the country estates of the Catholic gentry.
          ‘At this very moment of writing’, Garnet explained, ‘orders have been sent to every county commanding this barbarous legislation to be enacted. Would that all foreign Catholics at least appreciated our calamity, if they cannot see it with their own eyes: there would be tears at the sight of anxious widows, orphaned little boys, the break-up of noble families, the almost extreme penury of Catholics. Earlier we had seen this in some measure and it caused us extreme sadness and distress of soul; now we witness still harsher laws. This is the scene outside the walls of prison, at the entrance to the courts. I say nothing of the use of manacles and torture. Imagine what justice means …. and mercy also, when we owe it to the Queen’s personal pleasure that we are not annihilated, that we are yet alive and breathing, particularly at a time when any utterly base creature can cast it in our teeth that we are unfitted to have our share of life in common with them.’
           Garnet is referring here to a clause in the Act that empowered any person whatsoever, to delate his neighbour as a Catholic, and thus, for his own pecuniary gain, bring down on him the severity of the law. With cumulative eloquence Southwell described the same enactment: ‘We are made the common theme of every railing declaimer,’ he wrote, ‘abused without means of hope or remedy by every wretch with the most infamous names. No tongue is so foresworn but it is of credit against us: none so true but it is thought false in our defence.’ Indeed, Catholics were without legal means of protecting their property, homes or family. 
           On the plea of assisting the local justices, bands of ruffians could rob, housebreak, drive off cattle, take possession of lands as they pleased: Weston had given a picture of the desperate situation even before this Act was passed. Without exaggeration, he told how every wretch ’lay in ambush for them (Catholics), betrayed them, attacked them with violence ….. plundered them  at night, drove away their flocks, stole their cattle’. 
           Now  Garnet witnessed yet worse persecution, for in the spring of 1587, ‘Orders in Council’ enforcing the new fines, were sent out to every county; during the summer and autumn assizes. Catholics, both prominent and simple, had been summoned for not attending Mass; the records of their appearance and reasons for refusing to attend services are extant in county archives.  At York alone hundreds of citizens were imprisoned; their replies before the Bench show a grasp of the fundamental principles of their belief and give deeply moving witness to their sincerity. Only a few among them yielded to pressure; and they, as Garnet explains, were men who had always been timid and were now forced under duress, to abjure their faith and ‘in the presence of the sheriff of their county to attend the profane services’. Those who remained stalwart in their resolution, reported Garnet, ‘now await the extreme penalty and all that the worst injustice can devise’.

Ack.  ‘Henry Garnet 1555-1605 and the Gunpowder Plot.’ by Philip Caraman S.J. (Longmans, Green & Co. 1964)

For the next 100 years or so, the survival of the faith in England was in the balance, with little hope of improvement in the foreseeable future.  Among the  missionary clergy,  one man in particular, a convert and secular priest, the  Rev Richard Challoner (1691-1781) later Bishop Challoner, was to become probably the most influential voice and driving force of English Catholicism in the 18th century.  The extract below, taken from ‘Richard Challoner, the English Mission 1730-1742’ gives some idea of the hardships facing English Catholics in 1730.

            ‘When Challoner returned to England in the late summer of 1730, he found a Church silenced and generally alienated from society, with Catholics effectively barred from much community life. 
     Apprehension, frustration and loneliness, arising from the cumulative effect of perpetual ostracism and incessant injustice and oppression, had replaced physical martyrdom. 
     In 1723, for instance, £100,000 was automatically assessed on Catholic landowners above 18 years of age, Catholic gentry were debarred from sitting or voting in either House of Parliament; they were incapable of inheriting land so that family estates passed to Protestant next-of-kin should they so choose; they were unable to purchase land but were required to pay double land tax on such real property as they owned; they were forbidden to keep arms and were liable to be deprived of any horse above the value of £5. 
     They were disqualified from holding any office in the army or the navy; nor could they practise as a barrister, doctor, or schoolmaster. 
     They could not send their children to be educated abroad without a fine; and in order that due check might be kept on them and their property they were bound to register their name and estate under penalty of forfeiture, and to enrol all deeds. 
     Although some laws were rarely enforced, they could be and occasionally were, on individual Catholics.
     The situation for the clergy was even worse, with their very presence in the country illegal.   Between 1700-1778 the law was summed up as follows:-
“By the statute of Queen Elizabeth, 27, c.2, it is High Treason for any man who is proved to be a priest, to breathe in this kingdom.”

                                          Bishop Richard Challoner  (1691-1781)
                "Nothing," he writes, "makes more for the old Religion, than an impartial view of the first origin of all these new sects of pretenders to Reformation. Every circumstance that attended the change of Religion introduced by these Reformers, demonstrates that God had no hand in their work ...... The motives which set these men to work were visibly bad: the means they employed to compass their ends were illegal and unchristian; and the fruits that ensued both in Church and State, and in the lives and manners of particulars, were such as a good tree could never have produced. All which things, as they are undeniably plain from History, clearly show that none of these new sects have any share in the Church of Christ; which therefore must be sought for elsewhere, viz. amongst
the followers of the old Religion: there Christ left it and there alone we shall find it."

   (ack. 'The grounds of the old religion' - Bishop Challoner 1741)                                                    

                                    Our Lady of Walsingham

'O Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and our most gentle Queen and Mother, look down in mercy upon England, Thy Dowry, and upon us all who greatly hope and trust in Thee. By Thee it was that Jesus, our Saviour and our hope was given unto the world; and He has given Thee to us that we might hope still more. Plead for us Thy children, whom Thou dost receive and accept at the foot of the Cross O sorrowful Mother. Intercede for our separated brethren, that with us in the one true fold, they may be united to the chief shepherd, the Vicar of thy Son. Pray for us all dear Mother,  that by faith fruitful in good works, we may all deserve to see and praise God, together with Thee in our heavenly home. Amen.'