The Carthusian Martyrs -May 4th

Earlier this morning as I was looking over the list of saints that are recognized in the Holy Mother Church, I realized that narrowing down today’s list was going to be a daunting task ….There are over thirty saints listed for today…and that’s not counting the groups that are listed as one entry, such as the Martyrs of England and the Carthusian Martyrs….It seems that May the fourth was a busy day… long before the Star Wars movies became so popular.

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Finally, after much consideration and reading, it seems to me, that the Carthusian Monks are a group of courageous men who need a bit of rediscovering…so...let’s begin...

The Carthusian Monks were an English order of monks who were led by Saint John Houghton. They have always been a very strict and austere monastic order. Their monastery was actually a group of hermitages built next to each other. They were the first group of religious to become martyrs, during the reign of terror that King Henry VIII inflicted upon the faithful in the Holy Mother Church of England.  When the Catholic Church refused to acknowledge the validity of his second marriage, this power hungry king tried to remove the rights of the Catholic Church and the Papacy by establishing himself as the head of the Church in England. He created  the Act of Supremacy in 1534. It was his desire to impose this new ‘law’ upon all the religious groups that were living within his kingdom.  When confronted with this new decree, the monks; realized they would need a boost of confidence; celebrated Mass; and  at the consecration of the Eucharist, witnesses saw the Blessed Sacrament elevate, and the Holy Spirit blew through the hermitage, giving the friars the courage they needed to resist the evil impositions being forced upon them. Saint John Houghton, and his fellow monks refused to sign the new decree, having been filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit, they were able to stand firm…and remain faithful to the Lord.

When  John Houghton first refused to comply, he was thrown into the Tower of London and imprisoned for a period of time. After several months of imprisonment, a compromise was reached with the king, and he added the words “as far as the law of Christ allows,” so that the religious group would agree to sign the document. But once Saint John Houghton signed the decree with the other monks joining him, King Henry changed the wording again and St. John and several of the monks were rounded up and thrown in prison once again. In 1535, they were sentenced to death by Thomas Cromwell, in which they were to be hung, drawn and quartered.

It is noted, that as the monks were taken to the place of their execution, they were still clothed in their religious habits. Even as they were hung…nearly to their death, and then  tied behind horses and drug to the gallows, they wore their robes as a sign, a quiet protest to the world….And it just so happens that St. Thomas More, who was in prison at the Tower at the time, was watching from his cell window. He could see the brave monks facing their death with courage and joy. He said to his daughter who was visiting, “Look Meg, those blessed fathers be now as cheerfully going to their deaths, as a bridegrooms to their marriage.”

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St. John, who had nearly been hung to death, was in his captors hands, and as they tore open his habit, revealing his chest, he exclaimed “Oh Jesus, what would You do with my heart?” Before the Saint could die, they began to cut into his body, and in a gruesome display of savagery, they began to quarter him before his body was dead. And then, in like manner, they continued to quarter the rest…

One thing that strikes me as incredibly evil, is the fact that these monks were tortured in the same way that missionaries had been killed by savage men in foreign un-Godly lands, men who had no prior knowledge of God. But the Carthusian monks had not traveled to an uncivilized world…No, they had remained in ‘a civilized’ England; which had up until a very short time before, been Catholic…And these executioners behaved in the very same as way as unbaptized heathens….cutting limbs from men before they were dead… an absolutely unthinkable act in our present day, Christian nation.

St. John and four of his brother monks were killed that day in Tyburn. They are but only the first four, in a long line that runs into the hundreds, of Catholics, who were put to a cruel death at the bloodied hands of King Henry VIII. It is quite ironic, that when the king was younger, he was a staunch supporter of the Faith, he even wrote “The Defense of the Seven Sacraments.” But when the king’s first marriage was in trouble, and he wished to dissolve the bond…a request that was subsequently refused by the Church, something in the king changed….A hatred festered in his soul, and he carried on a fight with the Holy Mother Church, for the remainder of his reign, killing those who tried to oppose him, whether they be a political enemy or not…But most especially, those who infringed upon his distorted view of the Truth.

The king went on to marry six times, murdering a wife here and there, it seems whenever he saw fit to end the ‘sacred bond’… evilness had rotted him to his very core. He is said to have suffered ill health in his later years…some historians say his mind was crazed as well, but what I find interesting is that his heart rotted…as his soul  was destroyed by his anger…and in the end, his body was covered in festering boils and it appeared that the rottenness that had eaten away his soul was ravaging his body. His last words were “Monks, monks, monks…” Perhaps, as he took his last breath, his mind, his heart…. harkened back to those dutiful monks, whom he had unjustly put to death because they loved the Lord…and they loved the Faith…and they stood firm…to their earthly ends.

Today, as we remember these brave monks, who were martyred for the Faith… for the Truth that Christ gave to us….the Truth, the Holy Church has handed down to us…Let us pray, that if we are ever faced with persecution…that we may find our courage in the Lord, pray that we may allow the Holy Spirit to enter our souls and give us the courage we need, so that we may stand firm and give our lives for the glory of God. Let us also pray that the inspiration of these heroic saints, who died on May the fourth, be with us forever….

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