As he stood upon the scaffold, John Fisher – the only English Bishop to oppose King Henry VIII’s Oath of Allegiance - said to those gathered around: "Christian people, I am come hither to die for the faith of Christ’s Holy Catholic Church, and I thank God hitherto my stomach hath served me well thereunto, so that yet I have not feared death."
With the Bishop of Rochester, the Lord Chancellor Thomas More – the first layman appointed to this post - also trusted fully in the Lord, not fearing even death. To his daughter, Margaret, he wrote: "Do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best."
Together these holy martyrs call us to consider not only our trust in the Lord, by how well we conform our lives to the high calling that is given us as adopted sons and daughters of God. Too often do we seek the easy way out, as it were, begging God to remove all hardships and difficulties from our lives, whatever they may be. It is precisely in these moments that these martyrs not only urge us to place all our hope and trust in God, but they show us how to do so. It was Thomas More who wrote to his children, saying, "We cannot go to heaven in featherbeds." We attain heaven through a sharing in the Cross of Christ.
Thomas and John knew well what Jesus meant when he said, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). This these holy martyrs did. Standing upon the scaffold, the Lord Chancellor of England said, "I die the King’s good servant and God’s first."
The weakness of which both John and Thomas may boast is their unwavering loyalty to God and his Church, this loyalty that led them reject the power and prestige of this world. Saint Francis of Assisi often said, "the saints lived lives of heroic virtue, [but] we are satisfied to talk about them." We must do more than simply talk about the lives of the saints; we must emulate them and follow in their footsteps, confidently trusting in the will of the Lord and going where he calls.
Let us, with John and Thomas, place our treasure in the Cross of Christ, that we, too, may "remain faithful until death" and receive "the crown of life," standing forever in the glory of Christ our King (Revelation 2:10).