St. John Fisher, Patron of Our Diocese

Homily for June 2018 Holy Hour
Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 91:1-2, 10-11, 12-13, 14-15
1 Peter 4:12-19
Matthew 10:34-39

On the general saints’ calendar, June 22nd, which is this Friday, is an optional memorial of Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More who were both beheaded in 1535 by King Henry VIII.  St. John Fisher was beheaded on June 22nd and St. Thomas More a few days later on July 6th.

St. John Fisher is the patron saint of our diocese.  So, June 22nd is raised from being an optional memorial for us to a feast.  (Tonight’s second reading and gospel are the ones used for the feast day.)  One might want to ask why St. John Fisher was chosen to be the patron saint of our diocese.  To answer this here’s a little history lesson.

He was born in 1469 and became an intellectual.  He became a bishop at the age of 35.  He was named the Bishop of Rochester in England.  Hence, when our diocese was formed in 1868 and named the Diocese of Rochester, the choice was made to name Fisher as the patron saint of our diocese.

As a bishop, St. John Fisher was asked to study the validity of King Henry VIII’s marriage to Catharine of Aragon.  You might remember from English history that Henry VIII was married several times but never had a male heir to succeed him on the throne.

He had some of his wives killed for not giving him a son.  In Catherine’s case, he sought an annulment.  St. John Fisher found the marriage to be valid and, hence, the Catholic Church denied Henry VIII’s request for an annulment.

From this, Henry VIII would ultimately split the church in England from the Catholic Church and declared himself to be the head of the church in England so he could give himself an annulment.

All the bishops and government officials were ordered to sign an “Act of Succession” supporting Henry VIII’s splitting of the church and accepting him as the head of the church in England along with recognizing the annulment.

St. John Fisher and Thomas More both refused to sign it.  St. John Fisher was arrested on false charges and imprisoned for months without a trial.  When Henry VIII learned that Fisher had been named a cardinal, he had him tried and executed for treason.

St. John Fisher (and St. Thomas More) were given multiple chances to change their stance and support the Act of Succession by Henry VIII.  They did not.

Why?  Because their faith was more important to them than what the king wanted.  St. Thomas More was a friend of the king and hand-picked by the king as chancellor of England.  Still St. Thomas More chose his faith over his friendship and allegiance to the king.

St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More are official martyrs of our Catholic Church.  The original meaning of the word “martyr” is “witness.”  Without a doubt, Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More truly witnessed to how important the Catholic faith was to them.

Our responsorial psalm tonight says in the second stanza, “No evil shall snare you, no harm come upon your home.”  One can readily say that earthly harm came to Sts. John Fisher and Sts. Thomas More.  Bad things were done to them but instead of leaving it as something evil, God turned it into a powerful witness.

They faced a “trial by fire.”  They were free to choose to face the fire or to run away, giving into what the king wanted.  They took the Lord as their shelter and refuge.  Rather than run, they chose to accept martyr to share in the sufferings of Christ.  For this, they know the joy of Heaven rather than the evil of Hell.

In our country we are not likely to be martyred for our faith but living our faith does not come without its difficulties.  One would want to think that the faith should bring peace but instead it can bring the sword.  As Jesus says, it can even bring division within families, just as it brought division to the friendship between St. Thomas More and King Henry VIII.

Do we proudly embrace our faith or do we hide our faith?  Do we choose to keep the peace among our family and friends by remaining silent about our faith or do we take up our Cross, speaking openly and boldly about faith?

This is not an easy decision.  If all we do is make our family and friends mad and drive them away, then we have done nothing to evangelize them.  On the other hand, if we simply keep silent, we still have done nothing to bear witness to our faith.

Confusing, isn’t it?

Each situation is different.  If we are being coerced into doing something that goes against our faith, we must say no and let them know our decision is based on our faith.  There might be other times when we are called to speak up for our faith but then to leave it in God’s hands without causing a “war.”

What we need to do is to allow God to place his words in our mouths.  So, let us now take some time in silence to listen to the Lord to allow him to know when to speak up, how to act, and that the Lord give us the words we are to speak.



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