Most Reverend Jerome E. Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee
Today is the feast day of two remarkable saints: St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. We celebrate these two martyrs for their courage in the face of a king’s authority, and their loyalty to our one true God.
John Fisher (1460-1535), a bishop, was a quiet and gentle scholar. He took exception to King Henry VIII’s usurpation of the Church’s authority. He was willing to stand before the king himself in witness to the faith and his own conscience.
His trial was a joke concocted by the king. When condemned to death, he was already so weak that he had to be carried to his execution in a chair. He pardoned his executioner and told the crowd that he was dying for the faith of Christ’s holy Catholic Church. He was truly ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven when the axe fell and he was beheaded.
Thomas More (1478-1535), a friend of John Fisher, is most popularly celebrated in the movie “A Man for All Seasons.” More, a lawyer and chancellor of England, found himself at odds with King Henry VIII for refusing to take the oath following the Act of Succession, which would make the king the Supreme head of the Church of England. Because his silence could not be interpreted as opposing the law, false evidence was produced to condemn him.
“Ye must understand that, in things touching conscience every true and good subject is bound to have respect to his said conscience and to his soul than to any other thing in all the world beside,” said More to the jury at his trial.
The paramount importance of conscience is evident in Thomas More. He suffered imprisonment, loss of prestige and wealth–items the world values—but of little significance if one is not true to God.
His final statement before death was that he was the king’s good servant–but God’s first. One could view this as a universal reminder of our ultimate earthly priority–God.
St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More, pray for us!
Supporting and promoting religious freedom doesn’t deny our loyalty to the government. Rather, it emphasizes our responsibility to LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
P.S. For more information on the lives Sts. Thomas More and John Fisher, I suggest reading “Butler’s Lives of the Saints,” a celebrated reference book that brings the actions of these historical figures to life.
Note: this blog originally appeared as a special June 22, 2012 "Love One Another" email sent to Catholics throughout the Archdiocese of Milwaukee by Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki for the "Fortnight for Freedom" observance. If you are interested in signing up for these emails, please click here.