Thursday, December 5, 2013

St. John Almond on the Son Rise Morning Show

I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show today at about 7:45 a.m. Eastern/6:45 a.m. Central to talk about today's English Martyr, St. John Almond. Last year was the 400th anniversary of his execution and the Archdiocese of Liverpool remembered the martyr with a special Mass at a parish in his hometown:

St John Almond was born in Allerton, and so the people of St Bernadette’s can rightfully call him one of their own. He was educated in Much Woolton before moving to Ireland, later travelling to Rheims and then on to Rome where he trained for the sacred priesthood. St John was ordained in 1598, returning to the ‘English Mission’ in 1602. The full weight of the penal legislation against Catholics was in place by this time and so according to the 1585 Act ‘Against Jesuits, Seminary Priests and other such like disobedient persons’, as a Catholic priest come from abroad specifically with the intention of preaching and teaching the Catholic faith, celebrating the Mass and other sacraments and reconciling others to the Catholic faith (‘persuading to popery’, as it was known) St John and his fellow priests, were liable to be charged with high treason. Usually after a period of harsh imprisonment for the purposes of interrogation, which was often accompanied by torture, Catholic priests, after sentence, would be hung (briefly in order that choking may occur), drawn (disembowelled whilst remaining conscious), and quartered (beheaded and dismembered).

St John was a distinguished student, gaining a Doctorate in Divinity, and at a relatively early age he was noted for his theological knowledge and his ability as an apologist and defender of the faith. During his trial he debated points of faith with the protestant Bishop of London, Dr King, and even on the scaffold prior to execution he dealt adeptly with attempts by two protestant ministers to humiliate him and rubbish his arguments. He dealt so eloquently with his three opponents that they had to admit that although they disagreed with him, nevertheless, he was indeed skilful in debate. Dr King said of him that he was, ‘one of the learnedness and insolentest of the Popish priests [sic]’. Before his death St John prayed, distributed alms to the poor, and gave his final oration, concluding
with these words: ‘To use this life well is the pathway through death to everlasting life’.  . . .

St. John Almond was arrested in 1608 and then again in 1612; he was condemned to death because he was a Catholic priest in England under the Elizabethan statute of 1585 that made his presence in country an act of treason. Several priests had escaped from prison and St. John Almond was chosen to suffer the consequences. In 1612, both the Archbishop of Canterbury George Abbott and the Bishop of London John King were more strident in their anti-Catholicism and more zealous to prosecute Catholic priests. Nonetheless, St. John Almond is one of only three priests executed in 1612 (the others were Blessed Maurus Scott, OSB and Blessed Richard Newport on May 30) and it's interesting to note that he had escaped execution in 1608 when England and James I were still in the thrall of the Gunpowder Plot.

James I believed that persecution was the sign of a false church (which also shows he knew this persecution to be on religious grounds, not merely for state security). Also, the diplomatic positions that James took emphasized peace and conciliation with Catholic Spain or even France, so persecution would be suspended during when it was the diplomatic thing to do--when he was negotiating for the Spanish or French matches, for example. The ambassadors of Spain actively campaigned for priests to be freed and exiled. On the side of enforcing the Elizabethan statutes against Catholic priests were his Archbishop of Canterbury and Parliament, so a few sacrificial lambs would be offered up from time to time, and St. John Almond was definitely one, suffering not only for his priesthood but for the escape of fellow priests. He is one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales canonized by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

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