A few years ago, a playwright by the name of Bolt wrote a play called “A Man for All Seasons,” based upon the life of Saint Thomas More, whom we celebrate today. He was a lawyer in the 1500s in London, and became a friend of King Henry VIII. The king elevated him to the position of Lord Chancellor of England, equivalent to our Attorney General of the nation.
However, being a very astute man, Saint Thomas was aware that the king was a ruthless man, and even in the days of their close association, Saint Thomas told his son-in-law: if my head could buy for him a castle in France, he would not hesitate to cut it off for that purpose.
Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife and marry one of her ladies-in-waiting, but the Church forbade it, so the king left the Church and created the Church of England in which he could do what he pleased. Most of England was lost to the Catholic Church because of the sacred principle of sacramental marriage, and many Catholics were martyred for refusing to accept the king as the head of the Church in England. Saint Thomas went to his death, declaring himself “the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” Just a few days before his execution, Saint John Fisher, the bishop of Rochester in England, had been executed by order of the king for the same reason. The two of them were killed in the tower of London; many other Catholics were killed at a place called Tyburn, which was outside the city in those days, but is now right in the heart of London.
Just a few steps from the monument where the gallows, called “the Tyburn tree” stood, there is now a convent of Benedictine nuns whose chapel houses relics of many of the martyrs killed by Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and James I at Tyburn. When you enter their convent chapel, it is striking to see, above and around the altar, a replica of “Tyburn tree.” I did not have the opportunity to celebrate Mass there, but I can imagine that any priest doing so must feel very keenly the significance of offering the sacrifice of Jesus under that three-legged gallows on which many others died for Our Divine Lord. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown. O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.