Sunday, October 21, 2012

Book Review: Father John Gerard's Memoir

As this author notes:

It is difficult to over-estimate the importance of the Elizabethan period in English history to the problems of our own times. In the sixteenth century, the English crown was determined to assert the authority of the State over the minds and hearts of all those within its borders. This was the essence of the war on the “old religion”, which insisted on the indissolubility of marriage, on the authority of the Pope in spiritual matters, and on the necessity of the Church for salvation.

This situation closely mirrors our own, as the various Western powers, in the name of a secular relativism controlled by the modern State, gradually restrict the rights of Catholics and other non-compromising Christians to express and live their Faith. With each passing year, there are more statements that Catholics are not allowed to say, more actions they are not allowed to perform, and more immoral policies they are forced to support.

For this reason, it is also difficult to overrate the decision of Ignatius Press to bring out a new edition of The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest, written by John Gerard, SJ to describe the secret work of the Jesuits in England in the 16th and early 17th centuries. A generation ago, this account might have been read mainly out of historical interest; now it reads like a prophecy.

Even the Gunpowder Plot Society calls Father John Gerard, SJ, "one of the most fascinating of the Jesuit priests in England".

Reading his memoir of his time in England as a missionary priest, I can see why--and in this Year of Faith, he provides a magnificent example of absolute trust in the Providence of God. As Father Gerard hides, finds places for other priests to hide, wears disguises, works to convert fallen away Catholics and sympathetic Anglicans, he is always reliant on God's protection and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He describes his efforts to convince potential converts as never being his own successes, but inspired by the Holy Spirit. Father Gerard endures torture, experiences danger and discomfort, and enjoys comfort and safety, all with the same spirit of faith in God, love for the Church and the people he converses with, and hope that everything he does in the mission for the good of others will be rewarded with success. Father Gerard is even concerned for the wellbeing of the gaoler when he escapes from the Tower, doing all he can to divert blame from the man and his wife! He writes vividly and directly of his efforts and also of those who suffered martyrdom: St. Anne Line, Blessed Edward Oldcorne, St. Nicholas Owen, and several others. His memoir also highlights the Catholics who suffered fines and imprisonment, arrest and questioning, especially the many women who ran their households as safehouses and often yearned for the religious life (for which they had to go into exile, of course.

This Ignatius Press edition includes some excellent supporting material--an introduction by Father James V. Schall, SJ., footnotes, endnotes with more detail, and several appendices. Please note that I purchased this book; I recommend it highly.

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