in preparation for their feast on the 4th May
For the description and related prayer for these reflections, please follow the post:
English and Welsh Martyrs – Prayer
Daily Reflections: 27th April – 3rd May
Wednesday 27th April Day 15
Saint Margaret Ward
“I was in prison and you came to me” (Mt 25:36b)
Margaret (d. 1588) came from Congleton, Cheshire, When she heard that there was a neglected priest, Fr William Watson, in the Bridewell prison in London, she resolved to visit him. By making friends with the gaoler’s wife she got permission to see him. At ﬁrst she was thoroughly searched before and after her visits, but gradually the authorities became less strict and she was able to smuggle in a rope. Fr Watson made his escape, but in the confusion he left behind the incriminating rope.
The gaoler immediately guessed that Margaret was responsible and had her arrested. At her trial she readily admitted that she had helped Fr Watson to escape and absolutely refused to disclose his whereabouts. She was offered a pardon on condition that she attended the Protestant church services, but she would not do so.
What began as an act of charity, became for St Margaret an act of heroism, one which cost her her life. In obedience to the Gospel command to visit those suffering in prison, this devout servant brought relief to an imprisoned priest, all the while devising a plan to help him escape. Captured and tortured, she was hanged not just as a martyr for her faith, but as a martyr of justice. She shed her blood in testimony to the suffering of the innocent in chains.
The sacrifice of the holy martyrs is the supreme testimony for justice. In their unjust condemnation they draw our attention to the injustices that are committed against so many of our contemporaries. Devotion to our martyrs should not imprison us in an historical cocoon, but rather sharpen our wits and push us out to confront the injustices in our time. As the charity of Christ should compel us (2 Cor 5:14), the blood of the martyrs serves as our witness.
Thursday 28th April Day 16
Blessed Henry Abbot
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
But do this with gentleness and respect”
(1 Pet 3:15)
Henry Abbot (d. 1597) was an English layman, a convert from the Church of England. Under the Penal Laws, enacted under Queen Elizabeth I, any attempt to convert someone to the Catholic Church was declared an act of treason. Henry Abbot was executed at York, allegedly caught in the conversion of a person to the Catholic Faith.
Having found his joy in the Catholic faith, convert Blessed Henry was always willing to share his faith with those who sought God. His virtues, simplicity of life and zeal, made him an effective evangeliser and he brought a number of souls back to God, seeking out priests to reconcile sinners with the merciful Christ. Falling victim to a plot of a disgraced Protestant minister, he was a pawn used to restore that minister to favour. Condemned for his evangelization, he offered up his life for the Church and her mission to souls.
The Lord urges us, “Go therefore make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19), the martyrs confirm this with their lives. Countless missionaries paid the ultimate price for preaching the Gospel, many suffered hardships and oppression. The courage of these evangelisers urges us to play our part in the mission of the Church: to be evangelisers ourselves. Whatever sacrifices we must make will only bless our efforts.
Friday 29th April Day 17
Saint Robert Southwell
“O dying souls, behold your living spring;
O dazzled eyes, behold your sun of grace;
Dull ears, attend what word this Word doth bring;
Up, heavy hearts, with joy your joy embrace.
From death, from dark, from deafness, from despair:
This life, this light, this Word, this joy repairs.”
The Nativity of Christ
Saint Robert Sourthwell (1561-1595) was born at Horsham St Faith, Norfolk. His father, a courtier of Elizabeth I, conformed to Protestantism out of ambition. His mother, however, remained a Catholic and Robert was brought up in the old faith. He was only in his ﬁfteenth year when he entered the English College at Douai, and two years later he sought admission to the Society of Jesus in Belgium but was refused on account of his youth. He persisted, however, and showed his determination by walking all the way to Rome, where he was admitted to the Jesuit novitiate in 1578.
Ordained priest, he returned to England in 1586 and for the next six years he laboured with great zeal and success in and around London. It was at this time also that he produced his many well-known works of prose and poetry, which give him an honoured place in the history of the golden age of English literature.
He had many hairbreadth escapes, but was ﬁnally arrested near Harrow in 1592. Tried in Westminster Hall, he was condemned to death for his priesthood. On the scaffold he prayed for the Queen, professed his faith and his priesthood, and begged his friends to pray for his perseverance in the ﬁnal struggle.
The poet-priest who sang of Christ and his incarnation, also shed his blood in eloquent testimony to God’s transforming love. The winter’s snows yield the vision of the Christ-Child, and all heartache is burnt away in the fire of his love, and St Robert brought that love to a people borne down by oppression and fear. By his gentle words in verse, his teaching in tracts and books, his preaching and confidential counsel in confession, this holy man, most wanted, touched the hearts of his people with a vision of light: that light was Christ.
The deaths of the holy martyrs are shrouded in light; torment endured, it fades away in the love they bear Christ and in the glory he confers on them. In dying they come to life. Their blood strengthens the life of the Church, it is the seed of Christians. What they “sow…with tears”, St Robert proclaimed, “others hereafter may with joy carry in the sheaves to the heavenly granaries”. The martyrs are all light; they seek to set us alight – alight with the light of Christ.
Saturday 30th April Day 18
Blesseds James Duckett and John Duckett
“For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, who is in heaven,
he is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Blessed James Duckett (d. 1601) was born in Gilfortriggs, Westmoreland, England. Brought up as a Protestant, he was a bookseller and publisher in London, who was converted by a book: The Foundation of the Catholic Religion. After received the Baptism, Duckett refused to attend Protestant services and was then imprisoned twice. Active in the distribution of Catholic materials, he was finally taken to death in April 1601.
Blessed John Duckett (1603-1644) was born at Underwinder,in Yorkshire. At the age of about thirty he entered the English College, Douai; he was ordained a priest in 1639 and was then sent to study for three years at the College of Arras in Paris. In 1644, while working in the North of England, he was arrested and brought to London, where he went under trial and sentenced to death with the charge of being a Catholic priest.
Grandfather and grandson, bookseller and priest, Blesseds James and John, shared in the same death for the sake of Christ though they never met each other. Blessed James devoted his life to spreading the faith through books of Catholic literature: for this he was arrested and condemned.
In the same spirit his grandson John, gifted with an extraordinary gift of prayer, received Holy Orders and ministered in Durham until his call to martyrdom. Familial blood gave way to the waters of baptism and to that communion which is found in the will of Christ.
The holy martyrs testify to the communion of faith within which all the baptised are members of one family, indeed form one body with Christ as its head. Brothers and sisters, they remind us we too are members of that family. Though earthly and human things may seek to divide us, we must not be distracted but rather cherish that union and try to deepen it through charity and selfless service.
Sunday 1st May Day 19
Saint John Southworth
“The law of the Lord is perfect, it revives the soul.
The decrees of the Lord are just, and make wise the simple”
Born in Lancashire, John Southworth (1592-1654) studied at Douai, where he was ordained priest in 1619. He then returned to his native country as a missionary. Arrested in 1627, he was condemned to death for his priesthood, but was reprieved and in 1630 banished from England. He was soon back again, and in the years 1635–36 he worked with St Henry Morse amongst the plague-stricken in London. He suffered three further periods of imprisonment before his ﬁnal arrest in 1654, when he was again condemned to death for his priesthood. This time the sentence was carried out and he was hanged in June in that year.
“I die for Christ’s law”, St John proclaimed, “which no human law, by whomsoever made, ought to withstand to contradict”. In his priestly life, St John lived the law of Christ, reaching out in charity to the destitute in London; bringing the law of mercy to sinners; teaching the Commandments and Beatitudes; urging the faithful to give first place in their hearts to Christ the Saviour.
At his trial he said what many feared to say: that the law of Jesus Christ cannot be repudiated or watered down by any human law. He was sent by his superiors, as Christ sent his apostles, to bring the word of life and lead souls to God. He did what was commanded by Christ: for this he was prepared to lay down his life.
The holy martyrs witness to the law of Jesus Christ, the law of the Gospel which the Church has proclaimed from the beginning. Should earthly powers attempt to usurp this law, supersede it, Christ’s disciples must resist and remain true to what Christ has taught. Blessed are those who walk in the law of the Lord (Psalm 119:1) and even more blessed are those who teach it and defend it (Mt 5:19b).
Learn more with CTS booklet John Southworth, by Fr Michael Archer: The life, ministry, imprisonment and death of ‘Westminster’s Parish Priest’.
Monday 2nd May Day 20
Saint Anne Line
“Now as they went on their way, he entered a village;
and a woman named Martha received him into her house”
Born at Dunmow in Essex, her maiden name was Heigham (1568-1601). Anne was disinherited by her Protestant father, William Heigham, after her conversion to the Catholic faith, and her husband, Roger Line, likewise lost his inheritance on account of his religion. Arrested in 1585, he was banished from England and died in Flanders in 1594.
After his death Anne, who was now left destitute, was helped by Fr John Gerard, and when he established a house for priests in London he put her in charge of it. She managed the ﬁnances, did all the housekeeping, looked after the guests, and dealt with the enquiries of strangers. On Candlemas Day 1601 the pursuivants arrived at the house during Mass. The priest escaped, but Anne was taken and later condemned to death.
“I am sentenced to die for harbouring a Catholic priest, and so far am I from repenting for having so done, that I wish, with all my soul that where I entertained one, I could have entertained thousand.” St Anne was generous to Christ’s servants, taking seriously the Lord’s word that those welcomed his priests welcomed him (Mt 10:40). Her husband taken from her into exile a few short years after her marriage, widowed a few years later, she filled the sorrow in her heart with hospitality for Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and his priests on the run from persecutors.
She is, among the English martyrs, a true mother of priests, feeding them, putting a roof over their head, hiding them from those who wished to kill them and, in the end, even shedding her blood for them. What she did for these Christ’s servants, she did for him (Mt 25:40).
The martyrs teach us generosity of heart, true hospitality. They show us how to open ourselves in service to the other, so in our acts of kindness we witness to the love and goodness of God, and seek to emulate that goodness through our efforts. No matter how small and seemingly insignificant, a generous heart in the service of God can transform the most humble deeds to become the most heroic and rich.
Tuesday 3rd May Day 21
Saint Edmund Arrowsmith
“I die a constant Roman Catholic and for Jesus Christ his sake”
Born at Haydock, in south Lancashire, he was named Brian Arrowsmith (1585-1628) – Edmund was the name he took in Conﬁrmation. Both his parents and his grandparents endured much for the Catholic faith. After endeavouring in vain to go to one of the Spanish seminaries, he entered Douai and was ordained at Arras nearby. He was sent to the English mission in 1613 by the new President of the College, Dr Matthew Kellison, and worked for some ten or eleven years as a secular priest in his native Lancashire.
In 1624 Arrowsmith entered the Society of Jesus, made a short noviceship of two or three months in Essex, and then returned to Lancashire, where he spent the last four years of his life as a Jesuit. After his condemnation he spent two days, awaiting execution, conﬁned in Lancaster Castle, in a dark hole in which he could neither stand upright nor lie down, and with little or no food.
Finally he was dragged out on a hurdle and received absolution in the courtyard of the castle from his fellow prisoner, Saint John Southworth, standing at the window of his cell.
The Lord tells us that “He who endures to the end shall be saved” (Mt 24:13), and St Edmund certainly endured. Persecution during his childhood yielded to poor health in seminary, to a difficult ministry and eventual betrayal by members of his own flock. As stood on the gallows in the midst taunts and temptations to abandon his faith and priesthood he confirmed his Catholic faith, praying for his enemies and the conversion of his country. He was rewarded with the crown of glory and since the day of his martyrdom miracles have abounded.
The holy martyrs teach us constancy – constancy in faith, constancy in virtue, constancy in suffering. As their blood is shed, their sacrifice is an offering for each one of us so we too may have the grace of remaining true to Christ and his Church in our lives, most particularly when we face trials and difficulties. The martyrs point to Christ and urge us to go to him, to entrust ourselves to him; for in him we will find the strength to endure and reward that comes to those who have been faithful: they will sit with him in glory (Cf. Apoc 3:21).
Learn more with CTS booklet Edmund Arrowsmith, by Fr John S. Hogan
Learn more with CTS booklet A Year with the English Saints, edited by Fr Marcus Holden