Thursday, August 04, 2005

Potential patron of the fainthearted

I fully expect to be a wimp in the face of persecution and hardship. I've lived a pretty soft life and I could be tempted to forsake faithfulness for a television show, a frivolous conversation, or a noodle kugel from Zingerman's, much less a genuine threat to something I care about. There could be no more laughable contrast than between this nebbish and the persevering saints of the past who were faithful through thick, thin and even more thin.

Well, today I was reading a back issue of Magnificat and ran across a story of someone who surprised me. Blessed John Hambley was a youthful convert in the days of England when becoming a Catholic was dangerous. He studied abroad for the priesthood but was captured and arrested after his return.

So far, it's no different from anything we might expect to read about Catholic heros from the dangerous 16th century. But this young man, upon being bribed with release, yielded to pressure and forswore the faith. After being set free, he returned to the Catholic faith and was arrested again. Once more he "conformed" to the Protestant religion, but this time he betrayed fellow Catholics into the bargain. Freed yet again, he returned to Catholicism and (surprise!) was arrested again. (The officials must have been delighted to have developed this pipeline of regular information on the Catholic Underground.)

According to trial accounts, Fr. Hambley seemed to be at the point of once again betraying his beliefs and his brothers when there came a turnabout. Some say it was sparked by a letter from a fellow prisoner.
"Upon reading it, the priest wept. Although Father Hambley refused to divulge the letter's contents, he thereafter became steadfast in professing the Catholic faith, expressing deep remorse for his inconstancy, and bravely endured death by drawing and quartering."

Now this is my kind of guy. And my kind of God. I have felt that deep disappointment of failure to live up to even my own modest expectations of virtue, much less the pure goodness of Jesus' example. And when I fall, I am convinced that I am hopelessly faulty and incapable of right action. If you can't do it, my inner sinner tells me, why waste energy trying?

Well this Fr. Handley, young, impulsive and ill-prepared as he was, kept getting on the horse that was bucking him off. He repented; he accepted the shame that he must have experienced every time he appeared as a penitent in front of the faithful. He also seems to have been unskilled at evading arrest, a circumstance that led to his betrayals but which also was foreordained to be an occasion of supernatural and unexpected grace.

Ven. John Handley is the perfect example of a truth I keep repeating to encourage myself and others: "God's grip on us is stronger than our grip on Him."


TS said...

Wow what a story. Thanks for posting this Roz.

Therese Z said...

Lots of saints lived hellish lives, then found the Lord and walked in His Grace the rest of their lives.

I like hearing about Saints Who Almost Screwed It All Up. It's very comforting to sinful me.



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