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Saturday, July 10, 2021

Searching for Shepherds Like St. John Fisher

See any good shepherds?
I suspect most Catholics know about the saintly martyr Thomas More. The movie, Man for All Seasons, a classic of religious cinematography inspires devotion to the saint even after more than 50 years. The casting was terrific! There isn't one false note among the characters. I get chills when I hear Wolsey (Orson Welles) lament on his deathbed that if he had served God as diligently as he served the king he wouldn't have been abandoned in his old age. That he made such a statement is historically recorded. In fact, the film, based on Robert Bolt's play, corresponds to what's known of St. Thomas More whose own son-in-law, Roper, wrote a biography.

But how many remember anything about St. John Fisher, the only bishop to resist Henry VIII? 

Perhaps they could tell you that he was the sole member of the English hierarchy who refused to bow to the king's desire to replace the authority of the pope by making him head of the Church in England. Anything else? I doubt it.

This morning I was catching up on the last few days in Butler's Lives of the Saints. I usually choose one saint of the day to read in the morning. (There are many, often unknown saints whose lives are well worth reading.) Today I backed up to July 8th to read the entry on St. John Fisher. A brilliant man, he was ordained at only 22 and named Bishop of Rochester at 35. At the time, he was chancellor of the University of Cambridge where he turned a mediocre institution into a solid center of learning. He had the proverbial "full plate" already. Here's what Butler says about his embrace of new responsibilities:

He accepted with reluctance an office which added the cares of a diocese to his work for Cambridge. Nevertheless, he carried out his pastoral duties with a zeal and thoroughness exceptional in those days. He held visitations, administered confirmation, disciplined his clergy, visited the sick poor in their hovels and distributed alms with his own hands, and exercised generous hospitality....

What was his private life like? 

St. John Fisher's private life was most austere: he limited his sleep to four hours, used the discipline freely and, though his fare was of the scantiest, he kept a skull before him at meal-times to remind himself of death. Books were his one earthly pleasure: and, with a view to bequeathing his books to Cambridge, he formed a library which was among the finest in Europe.

Personal ambition he had none and, when offered preferment in the shape of wealthier sees, he refused them, saying that "he would not leave his poor old wife for the richest widow in England".

St. John Fisher, bishop and martyr, pray for us.

So he stayed in the Diocese of Rochester until his arrest and martyrdom. He deserves to be better known

Reflecting on his life, I thought of our own bishops? Can you see your bishop "visiting the sick poor in their hovels?" Can you see your bishop living an austere life or allowing himself only four hours of sleep a night to rest from his labors? Does your bishop live in a huge mansion with a wine cellar? Does he fill his chancery with scores of underlings and refuse appointments with his faithful unless they're big donors or "important" people? How many of our U.S. bishops resemble St. John Fisher? For that matter, how many of us resemble little humble lay saints like the children of Fatima? 

Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send us shepherds after his own heart. We certainly need them!

St. John Fisher, pray for us.

1 comment:

Don said...

Terrific post