Saturday, January 14, 2017

Another Poetic Martyr

Francis Philips writes in The Catholic Herald:

What a good idea it was for the Christmas issue of the Catholic Herald to include a free DVD about the English martyrs, produced by St Anthony Communications and narrated by Fr Marcus Holden and Fr Nicholas Schofield. I watched it the other night and was reminded again of the sacrifices that some brave men and women were prepared to undergo for the love of their faith. . . .

The DVD she refers to is Faith of Our Fathers: In Search of the English Martyrs, which I reviewed in 2014. She writes about the English Martyrs of the English Reformation and the Recusant era and mentions one not highlighted in the documentary:

One of my own favourites, not mentioned in the film which is why I now bring him to readers’ attention, is Blessed Thomas Belson, 1563-1589. Belson, one of the four Oxford martyrs, came from a prosperous landowning family near Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire. (I happen to live near the parish church.) He studied at Oxford and then renounced his possessions in order to dedicate himself to the humble but vital task of assisting priests in their travels between England and the Continent. He was hanged aged 26 on July 5 1589.

All that remains of this selfless young man is a 16-line Latin poem he wrote, probably after his first imprisonment in the Tower in 1586. Translated by Michael Hodgetts, it concludes with the lines:

Why should I rail on fortune or repine?
Why should I grieve? God’s remedy is mine.
Endure then, as philosophers maintain
A brave man should, adversity and pain.

On the surface these are skilful lines, the evidence of a classical education aligned to conventional piety. Then one remembers they were written in prison, anticipating the probability of a painful public death, and that their author, the son of a wealthy family and assured of a comfortable career in the (Protestant) Tudor world, was only 23 when he penned them.

This website posts the entire poem:

I look about me, sick and faint of soul;
The dwelling of God's glory is my goal.
But, though I look about so constantly,
No answer comes, none turns to rescue me.
Yet, as I wander through the grassy dale,
Or higher, as the mountain crags I scale,
Until alone on lonely peaks I gaze,
I grieve for having left my Saviour's ways.
And when I think how gentle is his touch,
And how his justice could demand so much,
My mind is changed, my labours seem the less,
and I regret my former foolishness.
Why should I rail on fortune or repine?
Why should I grieve? God's remedy is mine.
Endure, then, as philosophers maintain
A brace
(sic) man should, adversity and pain.

Blessed Thomas Belson had studied at Blessed John Henry Newman's college, Oriel (where Newman was a Fellow)! He was beatified by Pope St. John Paul II in 1987.

As soon as the Eighth Day Institute January Symposium is over, I'll watch and review the latest documentary from St. Anthony Communication: To Be A Pilgrim: The Canterbury Way:

An ancient trail of pilgrimage runs through south-east England; a pathway along which so much of English identity converges. It is the way of St Thomas Becket, the martyr who stood up to a King and inspired Christendom. It is a route that drew countless pilgrims in ages past, captured the imagination of Chaucer and is reviving in our own time.

This film follows Fr Marcus Holden and Fr Nicholas Schofield as they journey from London to Canterbury. Along the way they discover the story of St Thomas and some fascinating traditions: the Rood of Boxley, the splendour of Rochester, the 'second Carmel' at Aylesford and many more.

By retracing the steps of the medieval pilgrims, this film draws out the rich Christian heritage of England and reflects on what it means 'To Be A Pilgrim.'

In the meantime, I'm wrapping up my presentation and looking forward to the weekend!!

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