St Thomas More and St John Fisher. Simon Knott,

False idols will forever fail us

  • July 13, 2023

As I write this column, I have completed my first three weeks of holidays in the UK. It is a much needed respite and an occasion to return to some old stomping grounds from when I pursued graduate studies. Being here in June, at the tail end of the university term, I revelled in the sublime beauty of English choral evensong in Oxford’s New College chapel and at Winchester and Salisbury cathedrals.

The combination of soaring perpendicular Gothic naves and the music of Gibbons, Howells, Walton and other giants of the Anglican tradition elevates the soul to God through beauty. It also provides an ecumenical opportunity for prayer with brothers and sisters in Christ still separated from full unity with the Catholic Church.

As Catholics, we should be grateful for and seize such opportunities in these days of rampant secularism when it is even more imperative to come together as Christians in prayer for our world and for the restoration of visible unity in the Body of Christ.

At times, we might be doubtful whether such unity is possible. More and more members of formally robust Protestant traditions have departed from their own reformed traditions and from what united us as Christians: common moral teachings, belief in the inspired Word of God, and an understanding of just who Jesus Christ is and our need for salvation through Him. Sadly, many Catholics too have abandoned the faith because it is seen as being too hard or too inconvenient to be lived in its fullness. The promise of salvation seems incongruent with the individualism of our day: “Surely I can save myself?”

Well, we cannot save ourselves. When we try to do it through fashioning our own easy, therapeutic idols that replace Christ and the fullness of salvation He offers, we are let down. Whether we think we are saved through material things, or by our social status, our intelligence, sporting prowess, or physical strength, we will eventually be let down by all these things because they will fade away.

When we place our possessions and ourselves at the centre of our lives, we fail to grasp their transience and so we continue to consume, to move up the social ladder etc. in an exhausting effort to find meaning. Yet what we seek is not a thing but a person. What we seek is not something that is transitory but everlasting because what we are seeking is God. He alone satisfies the longing in every human heart.

The martyrs and confessors of the Catholic faith through the ages understood this reality. Not only did they understand it but they made Jesus Christ, not themselves, the centre of their lives. It was this disposition that enabled them to risk everything and to proclaim the truth of Christ against all the odds and against all falsehood even if it meant to accept death.   

The witness of the martyrs was revealed again to me as I walked into London’s neo-Byzantine Westminster Cathedral on June 22, the feast of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher. These two holy men — one a layman, the other a cardinal bishop — would not yield to the tyrannical Henry VIII who undid a millennium of English history as he sundered England from unity with the Pope of Rome.

Henry’s greatest sin was not his heresy per se, but his pride and vainglory. He believed that he was supreme and that the Church was his to define and control. St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More openly rejected this and placed Christ above their king and his pride. So they met their deaths. The 40 English martyrs we commemorate every year on May 4 offer further examples to us of what it means to put Christ first, to join ourselves to Him and  proclaim His Gospel through our fidelity.

We may choose through our free will to be faithful to something else that we raise up as a false Christ, a false saviour, but such an idol cannot save and in the end will only fail us. When our faithfulness is sorely tempted by the secular ideologies around us, let us keep our gaze firmly on Christ and His truth as did these faithful men and women and in Him find our resting place.

(Bennett is a deacon of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Toronto and Eastern Canada.)

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