St. John Fisher not only fought Henry VIII’s attack on marriage and the papacy; he wrote exhaustively against the heresies of Martin Luther. Think of the power of grace if all our bishops (and the pope) acted like St. John Fisher. The heretics in public office would cringe! Fr. James Martin, S.J. would be sent to a monastery to reflect on his promotion of sodomy. Faithful priests and laity would be loved instead of reviled and persecuted. Henry VIII was reluctant to execute St. John. Imprisoned in the Tower, he was dying already; why make a martyr of a dying man? But the pope sent a cardinal’s hat for the imprisoned bishop which so infuriated Henry that he had Fisher executed the next day and hung his head on London Bridge. Stanley Jaki, in his introduction to St. John’s Defence of the Priesthood, writes that “Stuck on a pole on London Bridge [his head] did not begin to shrivel and to frighten. Within a week or two it became known even in Germany that Fisher’ head ‘grew more florid and life-like, so that many expected it would speak – a thing we read in the acts of certain martyrs.’” After two weeks when Fisher’s face still had a rosy countenance, the king had it cast into the Thames. St. John Fisher is a saint for our day, a role model for priests and bishops. He wrote many works among which is Exposition of the Seven Penitential Psalms from which the quotes below are taken. Let us pray that all our bishops imitate this great saint!
Advice to the sinner - Turn to God: “We read in Scripture of a time when the sea was very troubled: while our Savior Jesus Christ slept in a ship, all the sea was moved and stirred with stormy tempests, but immediately when he opened his eyes, it was assuaged and put to rest with one word (Mt 8:26). This trouble and unquietness of the sea signifies the trouble of the soul when almighty God turns his face away from the sinner, for it is written...when you, good Lord turn away thy face, all things shall be troubled (Ps 103:29). Therefore, the vexation of the soul shall not be mitigated and done away with until our merciful Lord God turns himself toward the sinner, and our Lord shall turn himself as soon as the sinner is converted from his sinful life....O blessed Lord, how ready is your mercy to sinners who turn themselves to you by doing penance.”
Be humble and submissive: “Whoever will be heard of God must submit himself willingly to be corrected for his old sins, or at least be ready in his soul to humble and submit himself. It accords with justice and equity that a person who has followed his own sensual pleasure against the will of almighty God should redeem and make amends for his error by following the will of God contrary to his own bodily delight and worldly pleasure. For sin must surely be punished either by ourselves or by almighty God. By taking upon us the pain or punishment with good will, we make satisfaction to almighty God of our trespasses. We can indeed put this thing into action and accomplish it by patiently suffering these four scourges: the adversities and punishments sent by almighty God, the injustices done by our neighbors, the chastisements we give ourselves willingly, and the penance ordered by our bishops or spiritual fathers after they have heard our confessions. By all these scourges the noisomeness of sin is removed.”
The devil pursues us: “There is not one of us who does not have some wicked spirit pursuing him with great hatred and undoubtedly this wicked spirit, by long and daily exercise, has gotten by craft a thousand wiles and means to beguile any person. For having been alive from the beginning of the world up to this time, he has learned all the deceitful crafts by which a man may be subverted, regardless of how strong he is. Moreover, whenever he has gotten the better of anyone, he is by that deed made bolder and in a way stronger. And he that is so overcome is made weaker and feebler....Not only damned spirits are malicious adversaries to me but also their helpers, that is to say, those persons and cursed folks to whom everything virtuously done is odious or hateful....These wicked sinners are very ungrateful and hostile to those who are converted to a better life by penance...What shall we do? The devil many times grieves us, the world pursues and chases us. What remedy can be found among so many adversaries? Truly, he who is almighty can assist us and none other. Let us actively ask his help, for since our adversaries continually and every moment pursue us, therefore we must pray continually to almighty God...neither to forsake him nor to go away from him at any time but to give heed to his help.”
Seek God’s mercy: “If Jonah in the whale’s belly, destitute and far from all help from any creature, had not been assisted by the great mercy of our Lord...who could have saved him from being turned into a part of the whale’s nature by digestion, with the residue being voided out through his guts like dung into the deep sea? We can well perceive by this that a sinner who falls from one degree of sin into another – unless he will shortly return to the state of grace by amending his life, call to almighty God his maker for help, and have full trust in that merciful Lord – will at last by despair be incorporated into the substance of the devil, be conveyed through his belly, and fall into the deep pit of hell. But Jonah in his jeopardies cried out to our merciful Lord God, asking for mercy, and obtained it at once, for by the commandment of God, he was delivered from all perils....If a sinner will do likewise, almighty God without doubt will show his mercy and utterly deliver him from all peril of damnation.” Turn to this powerful intercessor in all your needs. St. John Fisher, bishop and martyr, pray for us.