Monday, March 22, 2010

St. Nicholas Owen (d. 1606)

Nicholas, familiarly known as "Little John," was small in stature but big in the esteem of his fellow Jesuits. Born at Oxford, this humble artisan saved the lives of many priests and laypersons in England during the penal times (1559-1829), when a series of statutes punished Catholics for the practice of their faith. Over a period of about 20 years he used his skills to build secret hiding places for priests throughout the country. His work, which he did completely by himself as both architect and builder, was so good that time and time again priests in hiding were undetected by raiding parties. He was a genius at finding, and creating, places of safety: subterranean passages, small spaces between walls, impenetrable recesses. At one point he was even able to mastermind the escape of two Jesuits from the Tower of London. Whenever Nicholas set out to design such hiding places, he began by receiving the Holy Eucharist, and he would turn to God in prayer throughout the long, dangerous construction process. After many years at his unusual task, he entered the Society of Jesus and served as a lay brother, although—for very good reasons—his connection with the Jesuits was kept secret. After a number of narrow escapes, he himself was finally caught in 1594. Despite protracted torture, he refused to disclose the names of other Catholics. After being released following the payment of a ransom, "Little John" went back to his work. He was arrested again in 1606. This time he was subjected to horrible tortures, suffering an agonizing death. The jailers tried suggesting that he had confessed and committed suicide, but his heroism and sufferings soon were widely known. He was canonized in 1970 as one of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John (8.12~20)

When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." The Pharisees challenged Him, "Here You are, appearing as Your own witness; Your testimony is not valid." Jesus answered, "Even if I testify on My own behalf, My testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no-one. But if I do judge, My decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent Me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two men is valid. I am one who testifies for Myself; My other witness is the Father, who sent Me." Then they asked Him, "Where is your father?" "You do not know Me or My Father," Jesus replied. If you knew Me, you would know My Father also." He spoke these words while teaching in the temple area near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no-one seized Him, because His time had not yet come.

The claims of Christ
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

One of the more notorious of modern forensic inventions is the lie detector. The basis of its assumed validity would seem to be an analysis of the recorded emotions and physical reactions of the one who is speaking, reactions that are deemed to be beyond the easy control of the mind. The analysis can take different forms and can employ different kinds of data to judge the reactions of the subject. Despite margins of error, such methods are admissible in some courts of, for instance, the United States. Whatever be the extent of the usefulness of such devices, there is no doubt that in ordinary life we instinctively form impressions of the truthfulness of a person’s account by the physical manner in which he gives it. He appears calmly objective and balanced or not as the case may be, although we also take into account our prior knowledge of him and the opinion of others about him. A skilled and experienced person may well be able to form a pretty good idea of how truthful a person is, by observing carefully his manner in telling his story. His judgment that a person is likely to be truthful or lying can carry true weight. We all do this to some extent, as we must — even though we are aware that a good “con-man” (as we call him) may deceive his hearers and observers. Many issues are so unimportant that it does not matter to anyone whether the person is truthful or not, as in say, some “true story” a person tells to entertain others in conversation. But other matters are of maximum importance. The pre-eminent case of the critical importance of truth is a claim to have received a divine revelation. There have been so many such claims, and so very many of them have won the allegiance of great numbers right into the modern era. The Baha’i religion was founded by an alleged prophet, as was the Seventh Day Adventist religion. By and large the ordinary person acts and judges on instinct, on a degree of education and on common sense to determine the truth or otherwise of such claims. He is most fortunate if, by the providence of God, he is in fact raised in the truth that has been truly and objectively revealed.

This is not the moment to consider the ways a “prophet” is vindicated in his claims. Rather, with the above remarks as an introduction, I would like to draw attention to the transcendent claims of Jesus Christ and to the spiritual majesty with which he uttered them. St Jerome once wrote that ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Jesus Christ. However such a statement is to be understood — and we could hardly exclude the numerous illiterates from the saving knowledge of Christ — there is no doubt that the long use of the Scriptures gives to the believer a profound conviction of the absolute persuasiveness of Jesus Christ. In particular, the daily reading and contemplation of the Gospels will convince the Christian that Jesus Christ is what he claimed to be. It is very much like growing in a long-standing friendship. In such an acquaintance, the person comes to be known. By immersing ourselves in the Gospels, we contemplate Jesus Christ and we come to know him for what he claims to be. In our Gospel today, our Lord makes a claim that I am not aware was made by any other serious and weighty individual in history. He says — and he calmly says it to the religious leaders who regarded themselves as the light of the nation — that “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12-20). No other individual in all of the inspired Scriptures, and indeed — I think I can say — no one else of consequence in human history, had the temerity to say such a thing. But Jesus Christ said this with sovereign and imperturbable assurance, all the while uttering a unique teaching backed up with incomparable holiness of life and miracles. He is the Light of the nations. This Light that is his very person bestows abundant life on the world. If man wishes to have life in abundance, eternal life, he must live in the Light that is Jesus Christ. There is so much darkness in human history! Jesus Christ has told us that He is the light that dispels the darkness. He comes from the Father; He stands with the Father; the Father is always His witness.

Let us draw near to Jesus who is the treasure and the light of mankind. He stands unique among the prophets and utterly transcends them, be they the prophets of the inspired Scriptures, or those taken to be prophets by the peoples. He is the Prophet par excellence, and far more than a prophet could be because he is none other — O marvellous a fact! — than the Lord God Himself. He, this man among men, is literally and truly God. How extraordinary a thing that the created, material universe contains such a Phenomenon. God so loved the world that He sent His only Son to be the Light of the world. By walking according to this Light, life everlasting will be ours.

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