Saint Thomas More and family


Bishop Rene Henry Gracida

It may seem strange that the Church would give this Sunday the title of GAUDETE SUNDAY since it is only the third Sunday of Advent and after three weeks we should not need encouragement to continue our preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

There is a huge difference between LAETARE SUNDAY which is the fourth Sunday in Lent and GAUDETE SUNDAY.

Both words, GAUDETE  and LAETARE  are Latin words meaning “rejoice.” It makes sense that after four weeks of fasting and abstinence during the penitential season of Lent the Church should give us a little encouragement to look forward to the Easter celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But why should the Church tell us to rejoice after just two weeks of the Advent season which is not penitential?
The answer can be found in today’s Gospel.

Our Holy Mother the Church invites us to keep in mind and rejoice in the realization of just who Jesus Christ is just as Saint John the Baptist surely rejoiced when he heard the good news that the long promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, had begun the public ministry which would lead many Jews to believe in him and in what he was promising.

How do we know that Saint John the Baptist rejoiced?  We know it because he himself told us that he did.

Let’s reconstruct what happened.  John moved violently in his mother Elizabeth’s womb, he “lept” is the word of the Gospel of Saint Luke, when The Virgin Mary, carrying Jesus in her own womb, greeted Elizabeth who was pregnant with John.

Later, Jesus approaches John who is baptizing in the river Jordan and asks to be baptized.  John declines for he recognizes his cousin, Jesus, but Jesus insists and so John baptizes Jesus, only with water.

John continues his baptizing with just water and hears nothing about Jesus’ public ministry.  John denounces King Herod Antipater for taking his brother’s wife as his own.  Herod had John imprisoned.  In prison John hears about Jesus’ public ministry and sends two of his disciples to ask if Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus sends word back to John in prison.
Jesus tells John’s disciples, as we heard in today’s Gospel according to Saint Matthew:

“Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.  And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

Jesus was telling John in the message he was giving to John’s disciples to bring back to John, “look I am doing the work of the Messiah, which only the Messiah could do therefore I am who I am.”

When his disciples return to John in the prison and tell him what Jesus had said to them their tone of voice and facial expressions may have indicated to John that they resented that Jesus was able to do more than John who only baptized with water and preached a call to repentance for sins.  But John would not tolerate their envy of Jesus.  He said to his disciples, according to the Gospel according to Saint John the Evangelist:

“A man can lay claim only to what is given to him from heaven.
You yourselves can bear me out:  I said: I myself am not the Christ, I am the one who has been sent in front of him.
The bride is only for the bridegroom,
and yet the bridegrooms friend,
who stands there and listens,
is glad when he hears the bridegroom’s voice {coming}.
This same joy I feel, and now it is complete.”

That same joy, of which Saint John the Baptist spoke, is the same joy that the Church invites you to experience as you learn from the texts of not only the Sunday celebrations of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, but also from the texts of the daily Masses which I have urged you to join in celebrating during this season of Advent.

The fact that the saint who first gave his life as a testimony of Christ was Saint John the Baptist, the Precursor of the Lord, always remains a great lesson and a serious warning to pastors and to the faithful of the Church. John the Baptist’s testimony of Christ consisted in defending without a shadow of doubt or ambiguity the indissolubility of marriage, and in condemning adultery. The history of the Catholic Church is glorious in the luminous examples set by those who have followed the example of Saint John the Baptist or have, like him, given the testimony of their blood, suffering persecutions and personal disadvantages. These examples must guide especially the pastors of the Church of our day, because they do not cede to the classic clerical temptation to seek to please man more than the holy and exacting will of God, a will that is simultaneously loving and very wise.
Through the numerous ranks of so many imitators of St. John the Baptist as martyrs and confessors of the indissolubility of marriage, we may remember only some of the most significant. The first great testimony was that of Pope St. Nicholas I, dubbed the “Great.” It was an encounter in the ninth century between Pope Nicholas I and Lothair II, the king of Lorraine. Lothair, initially united, but not espoused, to an aristocrat by the name of Waldrada, then having been united in matrimony with the noble Theutberga for political reasons and having then separated from her and having married his previous companion, wanted the Pope at all costs to recognize the validity of his second marriage. But although Lothair enjoyed the support of the bishops of his region and the support of the emperor Ludwig, who arrived to invade Rome with his army, Nicholas I did not cede to his demands and did not at all recognize his second marriage as legitimate.

Lothair II, the king of Lorraine, after having rejected and shut up his consort Theutberga in a monastery, was living with a certain Waldrada, and having resorted to calumny, threats, and torture, asked local bishops for a divorce so he could marry  her. The bishops of Lorraine, in the Synod of Aachen of 862, ceding to the machinations of the king, accepted the confession of infidelity of Theutberga, without taking into account that it had been extorted by violence. Lothair II then married Waldrada, who became the queen. There followed an appeal of the deposed queen to the Pope, who intervened against the consenting bishops, provoking disobedience, excommunication, and retaliation on the part of two of them, who turned to the Emperor Ludwig II, brother of Lothair.
The Emperor Ludwig decided to act with force and at the beginning of 864 he came to Rome with arms, invading the Leonine City with his soldiers, even breaking up religious processions. Pope Nicholas was forced to leave the Lateran and to take refuge in St. Peter’s Basilica, and the Pope declared that he was ready to die rather than permit a living arrangement more uxorio outside of a valid marriage. In the end the emperor ceded to the heroic constancy of the pope and accepted his decrees, even constraining the two archbishops in rebellion, Gunther of Cologne and Theutgard of Trier, to accept the decision of the pope.
Cardinal Walter Brandmüller gives the following assesment of this emblematic event in the history of the Church: “In the case we have examined, this means that that, regarding the dogma of the unity, of the sacramentality, and of the indissolubility of a marriage between two baptized people, there is no way back if not – inevitable and therefore to be rejected – of considering it to be an error which must be corrected. The way of acting of Nicholas I in the dispute regarding the new marriage of Lothair II, as conscious of principle as it was inflexible and fearless, constitutes an important milestone on the road to affirming the doctrine regarding marriage in the Germanic cultural context. The fact that this Pope, like various of his successors on similar occasions, proved himself to be the advocate of the dignity of the person and of the liberty of the weak – in general they were women – has made Nicholas I worthy of the respect of historiographers, of the crown of sanctity, and of the title of ‘Great.’”
Another shining example of confessors and martyrs regarding the indissolubility of marriage is offered by three historical figures involved in the affair of the divorce of Henry VIII, King of England. They are Cardinal St. John Fisher, St. Thomas More, and Cardinal Reginald Pole.
When it became known for the first time that Henry VIII was looking for a way to divorce his legitimate wife Catherine of Aragon, the bishop of Rochester, John Fisher, publicly opposed such efforts. St. John Fisher is the author of seven publications in which he condemns the imminent divorce of Henry VIII. The Primate of England, Cardinal Wolsey, and all of the bishops of the country, with the exception of the bishop of Rochester, John Fisher, supported the attempt of the king to dissolve his first and valid marriage. Perhaps they did it for pastoral motives and for advancing the possibility of a pastoral accompaniment and discernment.
Instead, Bishop John Fisher had enough courage to make a very clear declaration in the House of Lords affirming that the marriage was legitimate, that a divorce would be illegal and that the king did not have the right to take this route. In the same session of Parliament the famous Act of Succession was approved, which required all of the citizens to take the oath of succession, recognizing the children of Henry and Anne Boleyn as the legitimate heirs of the throne, under penalty of being guilty of high treason. Cardinal Fisher refused the oath, was imprisoned in 1534 in the Tower of London and in the following year was decapitated.
Cardinal Fisher had declared that no power, human or divine, could dissolve the marriage of the king and queen, because marriage was indissoluble and that he was ready to give his life gladly for that truth. Cardinal Fisher noted that in such circumstances that John the Baptist had not seen any other way to die more gloriously than to die for the cause of marriage, notwithstanding the fact that marriage was not so sacred at that time as it would become when Christ spilled His Blood to sanctify matrimony.
In at least two accounts of his trial, St. Thomas More observed that the true cause of the hostility of Henry VIII against him was the fact that Thomas More did not believe that Anne Boleyn was the wife of Henry VIII. One of the causes of the imprisonment of Thomas More was his refusal to affirm by oath the validity of the marriage between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. At that time, in contrast to ours, no Catholics believed that an adulterous relationship could be, in particular circumstances or for pastoral motives, treated as if it were a true marriage.
IMPORTANT: To respectfully express your support for the 4 cardinals’ letter to Pope Francis asking for clarity on Amoris Laetitia, sign the petition. Click here.
Reginald Pole, future cardinal, was a distant cousin of King Henry VIII, and in his youth had received from him a generous scholarship. Henry VIII offered him the archbishopric of York if he would support him in the cause of his divorce. So Pole would have had to be an accomplice in the disrespect that Henry VIII had for marriage. During a conversation with the king in the royal palace, Reginald Pole told him that he could not approve his plans, for the salvation of the soul of the king and because of his own conscience. No one, up to that moment, had dared to oppose the king to his face. When Reginald Pole pronounced these words, the king became enraged to the point of pulling out his knife. Pole thought in that moment that the king was going to stab him. But the candid simplicity with which Pole had spoken as if he had pronounced a message from God, and his courage in the presence of a tyrant, saved his life.
Some clerics at that time suggested to Cardinal Fisher, Cardinal Pole, and Thomas More, that they should be more “realistic” regarding the matter of the irregular and adulterous union of Henry VIII with Anne Boleyn and less “black and white” and that  perhaps it would be possible to carry out a brief canonical process to certify the nullity of the first marriage. In this way it would be possible to avoid schism and to prevent Henry VIII from committing further grave and monstrous sins. However, there is a great problem with such reasoning: the entire testimony of the revealed word of the divine and uninterrupted tradition of the Church say that the reality of the indissolubility of a true marriage cannot be repudiated, nor can an adultery consolidated by time be tolerated, whatever the circumstances may be.
A last example of the testimony of the so-called “black” cardinals is the affair of the divorce of Napoleon I, a noble and glorious example of members of the College of Cardinals for all time. In 1810, Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, then the Secretary of State, refused to attend the celebration of the marriage between Napoleon and Mary Louise of Austria, given that the pope had not been able to express himself regarding the invalidity of the first union between the Emperor and Joséphine of Beauharnais. Furious, Napoleon ordered that the goods of Consalvi of the other twelve cardinals be confiscated and that they be deprived of their rank. These cardinals would then have had to dress like normal priests and were therefore nicknamed “black cardinals.” Cardinal Consalvi recounted the affair of the thirteen “black” cardinals in his memoirs:
“On the same day we were obligated to cease to use the insignia of cardinals and to dress in black, from which came the denominations of “Black” and of “Red,” by which the two parts of the College were distinguished. . . . It was a miracle that, in his initial fury the Emperor ordered three of the thirteen cardinals to be shot, that is Opizzoni, me, and a third, whose identity is not known (perhaps it was Cardinal di Pietro), and then when it was limited to me alone, it wasn’t carried out.
Then Cardinal Consalvi recounts in more detail:  “After much deliberation between us thirteen, it was concluded that, regarding the invitation of the Emperor, that we had respect for marriage, that we would not attend, that is, neither the ecclesiastical [wedding] for the reason given above, nor in the civil [wedding] because we did not believe that it was appropriate for a cardinal to authorize, with his presence, the new legislation, which separates such an act from so-called nuptial benediction, [and that] despite the supposition that the act had been disconnected from its previous association,  we did not believe it to have been disconnected legitimately. We decided therefore to not attend. When the civil marriage was done in Saint-Cloud we thirteen did not attend. The day arrived in which the ecclesiastical marriage was to be done. The seats were prepared for all of the cardinals, the hope not being lost up to the last moment that all would attend at least the event that most interested the Court. But the thirteen cardinals did not attend. The other fourteen cardinals attended. . . . When the Emperor entered into the chapel, his first glance was towards the place where the cardinals were and, upon seeing only fourteen, his face had such an expression of anger, that all of the attendees clearly took notice of it.”
“Thus arrived the day of the showdown. After bringing all of the thirteen cardinals to the Ministry of Worship, we were led into that chamber where we also met the Minister of Police, Fouché. Upon our entrance, Minister Fouché, who was at the hearth and whom I approached to greet, told me in a low voice: “I foretold it to you, Lord Cardinal, that the consequences would be terrible: what pierces me is to see you among the victims.” The Minister of Cult began to speak and accused the cardinal and his twelve colleagues of being involved in a conspiracy. Regarding that crime, prohibited and punished with the greatest severity under existing law, he found himself in the unpleasant necessity of showing the orders of His Majesty to our gaze, which were reduced to these three things, to wit: first, that our goods, not only ecclesiastical, but also patrimonial, would be removed from us from that movement on and confiscated; second, we were forbidden to use the insignia of cardinals or of any uniform appropriate to our dignity any longer, because His Majesty no longer considered us to be cardinals; third, that His Majesty reserved to himself from now on the right to decide regarding our persons, some of which made us understand that we might be placed on trial. . . . On the same day therefore we found ourselves obligated to not make use of the insignia of cardinals and to dress in black, from which then arose the name of the Blacks and the Reds, by which the two parts of the College were distinguished.”
May the Holy Spirit raise up, among all of the members of the Church, from the most simple and humble of the faithful to the Supreme Pastor, always more numerous and courageous defenders of the truth of the indissolubility of marriage and of the corresponding immutable practice of the Church, even if, on account of such a defense, they would risk considerable personal advantages. The Church must more than ever exert itself in the announcement of matrimonial doctrine and pastoral care so that in the lives of spouses and especially of the so-called divorced and remarried there might be observed that which the Holy Spirit said in Sacred Scripture: “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled” (Heb. 13: 4). Only a pastoral approach to marriage that continues to take seriously those words of God, reveals itself to be truly merciful, because it leads the soul of the sinner on the secure path to eternal life. And that is what matters.
(Bishop Athanasius Schneider)

Jesus Christ calls us to be holy, even as Saint John the Baptist was holy.

In what does holiness consist for us who are not called to be prophets in the same way that John the Baptist was a prophet.
The Church tells us that
Every one of us has a “state of life”
for those of you who are married Jesus Christ call you to be faithful to your spouse and to love and respect your spouse.
If you do that with heroic virtue you will enjoy the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ more perfectly and be blessed !!!

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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