Lighthouses don’t go running….. Anne Lamott, 2015.
[Jesus said] You are the light of the world. Matthew 5:14.
After all the sublimity of Christmas, the beginning of a new year, the Magi, the Holy Family and candles (last week), today’s readings bring us down to earth and state clearly, without fuss, what our Christian life is all about:
First reading: Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them…
Second reading: I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom
but on the power of God.
Gospel: [Jesus said] Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
And there you have it, summed up succinctly and clearly. Despite our weakness and failings, with God’s presence in and around us, we can stand firm amidst anything life can throw at us. Examples of this are to be found in the lives of the saints, but remember, saints are never aware that they are saints! They simply accept certain principles as life-saving, even though that might be the reason for losing their lives in this world. One example was a humble housewife in England, married with three children. This was in the 16th century, and the England of Queen Elizabeth I had renounced the pope and established her as “supreme governor” of the Church of England (a title which is given to the monarch to this day). Mrs. Clitherow did not find the new system spiritually satisfying and converted to the old faith, which at that time was an illegal thing to do. Worse, she hid Catholic priests as they ministered to those who refused to adopt the new church. At that time, it was treasonable to be a Catholic priest in England, thanks to a highly unfortunate and inflammatory papal bull issued by the then pope Pius V, declaring Elizabeth “the pretended queen of England and the servant of crime” and releasing all English Catholics of any allegiance to her. That made all Catholics potential traitors in the eye of English law. Well, Margaret Clitherow was caught and accused of harboring and sheltering traitors, namely, Catholic priests. To this accusation she made no response (that is, she did not plead guilty or not guilty) simply saying “I know of no offense whereof I should confess myself guilty. Having made no offense, I need no trial.” Today a refusal to plead automatically means a “not guilty” plea is entered for you. Not then. You had to make a plea. If you refused, you were condemned to the peine fort et dure. This meant, literally, a plea would be forced out of you. Clearly this woman was acting totally from her belief and determination not to betray it; she was also aware that if found guilty, her property would be forfeit to the crown, and her children (she had three) would become beggars. All this made her, as it were, a lighthouse amid the tempestuous storms of religious controversy and recrimination of that time. The same can be said exactly of Jesus at his trial when he was accused of being the Messiah and the Son of God; knowing that he was indeed the Messiah and the Son of God (from the events at his baptism), and to deny it would mean the destruction of his entire ministry given to him by God, he simply said “I am” (Mark 14:62), fully aware that the penalty for this perceived blasphemy was death. So these two people were put to death most cruelly, simply because of their belief, which would hurt no-one. In 1970, Margaret Clitherow was canonized as one of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales by Pope Paul VI.
Margaret Clitherows’s house in York, England.
Well we live in less barbarous times, though I’m sure you can find places today where similar things still happen. We Christians are still possible targets for ridicule and contempt, and how we deal with such things will show the strength of our belief. But we do have to be sure that the ridicule is based on the good works we have done, not through some self-glorifying vanity project. Jesus simply went around doing good (Acts 10:38); Margaret Clitherow helped those in danger of arrest, torture and gruesome death simply because they were Catholic priests. So, a question for our times: What have we done to help the poor, feed the hungry, tend the sick, help the refugee, no matter the consequences? How have we loved our neighbor, ourselves and God? It always comes down to the golden command, and how we respond to it.
“The Shambles” where Mrs. Clitherow lived, York, England.
Reflections on the following Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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