Pope Paul VI to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey

"(B)y entering into our house, you are entering your own house, we are happy to open our door and heart to you." - Pope Paul VI to Dr Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The English and Welsh Martyrs , Mass at Westminster Cathedral, Tyburn Tree

It was 15 years ago this week when after enduring a sleepless, 16 hour bumpy flight from Manila via Hong Kong to Heathrow, I checked in a budget hotel near Victoria Station, London. Hungry and a bit disorientated so early in the morning, I asked the hotel concierge where the horrors! nearest McDonald's was. The woman at the desk told me in a somewhat Cockney accent to walk along Victoria Street and on my right at the corner of the piazza, is a Mc Donalds. Well the piazza did not just reveal a McDonald's but the magnificent brick pile called Westminster Cathedral. So I went for a peek through the cathedral doors.

I was just in time for the 7:00 AM Mass. And I reckoned it would be quite rude to leave so I attended the service. The saints that were being commemorated were the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales, for it was their October 25 feast day. The officiating priest was Fr Alan Hopes, who I found out in Wikipedia became a bishop and now will likely be the first Bishop of the Anglican Ordinariate in England. Bishop Hopes was an Anglican priest who joined the Catholic Church in 1992, just as the Church of England authorized the ordination of women as priests.

That morning Mass was memorable since it was my first Latin Mass! Fr Hopes sang the Latin parts of the Novus Ordo Mass in a way that your soul will be lifted up to heaven and there was the excellent choir to sing too. There were a handful of worshipers at that early hour. Some were from Africa, North America,Latin America, Asia, two Filipinos who if I remember were sailors on shore leave and some Australians. London is such a cosmopolitan city that a Catholic service is made really Catholic since worshipers come from all over the world.

Even if  What I remember about Fr Hopes' homily is the fact that the 40 Martyrs came from all walks of life. There were the unlettered, the womenfolk, the priests, nuns, brothers and all sorts of religious, tradesmen like Nicholas Owen, the short man who made the priestholes, men of letters like Robert Southwell, and of course the nobility. The most famous of these martyrs is Edmund Campion, who probably was the most eloquent of them all. Campion was offered all honours and even a bishopric by the Queen herself, if he would just attend Anglican services. Though Campion was able to Brag, the rest lived their lives as ordinarily as possible until God brought them to the spot where they have to make that choice! The complete list of all the English and Welsh Reformation martyrs are here.

My favourite  among the English and Welsh martyrs aside from Thomas More, Edmund Campion and John Fisher is none but Margaret Clitherow, the Pearl of York. Her home has become a site of pilgrimage in the Shambles at York.

Fr Hopes mentioned the "Tyburn Tree" which at first I thought was a tree planted to commemorate the martyrs. The next day I took the bus and stepped off at Marble Arch, walked to Tyburn and there was the "tree" which to my horror is not the one with leafy branches but the gallows by which the martrys were killed. Nearby is the Tyburn Convent which commemorates the site.

Not only Catholic and Protestant martyrs died here. (Protestants died too for their convictions) All sorts of criminals and political prisoners did. Tyburn thus has many meanings for us.

The English and Welsh martrys were ordinary men and women. Some of them had wealth and privilege, learning and eloquence, and many had none of those. But God brought them to the spot (right at the foot of the Tree, where the Queen's agents were authorized to set them free if they conformed to the Anglican settlement) where they had to choose following Him in exchange for their lives. It was and still is not an easy choice to make. Today we are unlikely to be brought to Tyburn and we can't choose to go to Tyburn but  God may bring us there.

Most likely we will be brought to smaller and unpretentious Tyburn Trees where we are not asked to give our lives but our positions, career opportunities, job and financial securities and possibilities for advancement in society if not for accumulation of wealth. The only thing to do  is to look  the other way. But this means too to conform to the ways of the world, as they say. And doing that is easy. What then would be our choice?

The martyrs were able to make their choice not on their power or wit alone but by God's grace. We pray for that grace. Not all the English Catholics were given the choice, many lived faithful lives and died peacefully. But still they  had that grace.

The first Filipino saints were laymen who lived during the same historical period of the English Reformation. St Lorenzo Ruiz was brought to a Japanese version of the Tree (which the Japanese probably copied from the Europeans) and Blessed Pedro Calungson was cut down by a machete. They could have escaped but made that Choice!

We are not going to ask the intercession of the 40 Martyrs, St Lorenzo Ruiz and Bld Pedro Calungsod for God to bring us to make that choice, but to give as grace so we can live our lives as better Christians. And just for that reason, we have to close the book of the Reformation. The Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church venerates the memory of these English and Welsh Martyrs.

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