Acta Sanctorum: St. John Fisher (June 22)
June 22, 2024
Fr. John Colacino C.PP.S.

June 22
Saint John Fisher

Life (1469-1535)

Catholics of the Rochester diocese are familiar with the name of the great English martyr, St. John Fisher. We have two institutions named after him: a parish (St. John of Rochester, Fairport), and a college (St. John Fisher). Furthermore, in 1961, Pope John XXIII, at the request of Bishop James Kearney, named St. John, one-time head of the old diocese of Rochester in England, to be the patron saint of the American diocese of the same name. It is a commonplace that church life was in decline before the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation. Even though some bishops might not have been worth their salt, there were exceptions. One was John Fisher. The ambassador to England of Emperor Charles V called John “the paragon of Christian bishops for learning and holiness”.

John Fisher was born in Beverly, northern England, the son of a drygoods merchant. He was sent to Cambridge University at age 14, and for the rest of his life was associated with that center of learning. A brilliant student himself, he was ordained a priest at the early age of 22, and soon became headmaster of Michaelhouse College and vice-chancellor of the whole university. In 1502, however, he resigned the mastership in order to become chaplain to Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII. Lady Margaret and her chaplain worked as a team for the betterment of the University of Cambridge. She founded Christ’s College and St. John’s College at Cambridge, and established both at Cambridge and at Oxford a Lady Margaret professorship of theology. Meanwhile, Dr. Fisher was trying to better educational standards. To promote current scholarship, he invited the great humanist Erasmus to join the staff of the university. In 1504, John was elected university chancellor, a post he held until death.

In the same year, King Henry VII named Fisher bishop of the small and poor diocese of Rochester, England. He might well have “graduated” from this small diocese to a more important one, but he always declined the suggestion. He said, “he would not leave his poor old wife” (the Rochester diocese) “for the richest widow” (other diocese) “in England.” Lack of worldly ambition was typical of the man. His life was that of a scholar (he began to learn Greek and Hebrew at middle age); an ascetic (he prayed long, slept short, and ate little): and a pastor (he was most diligent in his duties as a bishop).

When the Reformation broke out, he was selected to preach and write against Lutheranism. Four volumes came from his pen in refutation of Martin Luther’s teachings, although he himself thought that polemics accomplished less than prayers. In the whole English episcopate, he stood out against the political worldliness of his fellow bishops. Only a man of independence could have withstood King Henry VIII when the king denied the validity of his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon. Henry had previously admired Fisher. Now he found him a frustrating obstacle in the way of his securing a declaration of nullity. Dr. Fisher stood firm; so did the king. Imprisonments, attempted poisoning, and warning gunshots did not budge the Bishop. Eventually, when the rest of the bishops weakly took the oath of supremacy to the king as head of the church in England, Fisher fell into the royal net and was accused of treason. As the bishop lingered in prison, Pope Paul III declared him a cardinal. This honor only drove the king to quicker action.

Cardinal Fisher, condemned to death in a pseudo-trial on June 17, 1535, was taken to the scaffold near the Tower of London five days later. The frail, aged victim declared to the people that he was dying for the faith of Christ’s holy Catholic Church. He begged them to pray that he not waver. Then he recited the “Te Deum” in thanksgiving, and the psalm “In te, Domine speravi” (“In thee, Lord, have I hoped.”). His head, once severed by the axe, was impaled on a spike atop London Bridge, as a “warning”. But history has cherished the bishop and condemned the monarch who executed him.

Throughout the Church, a joint feast of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More is celebrated on June 22. However, in the American diocese of Rochester, Fisher alone is commemorated on June 22, since he is the diocesan patron.

--Father Robert F. McNamara

Scripture (James 1:12-18)

Blessed is a person who endures temptation, for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord promised to those who love him. 13 Let no man say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God can’t be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust and enticed. 15 Then the lust, when it has conceived, bears sin. The sin, when it is full grown, produces death. 16 Don’t be deceived, my beloved brothers. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation, nor turning shadow. 18 Of his own will he gave birth to us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

(Year B).  Help me, most loving Father, help me with thy mighty grace. Succour me with thy most gracious favour. Rescue me from these manifold perils that I am in, for unless thou wilt of thy infinite goodness relieve me, I am but as a lost creature.   Thy strict commandment is that I should love thee with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind, with all my power. And thus, I know, I do not, but am full far short and wide therefrom; which think I perceive by the other loves that I have had of thy creatures heretofore. For such as I sincerely loved, I loved them so that I seldom did forget them. They were ever in my remembrance and almost continually mine heart was occupied with them and my thought ran ever upon them as well absent as present. Specially when they were absent I much desired to have their presence and to be there where they were, or else my heart were never in any rightful quiety. 

But alas, my dear Father, I am not in this condition towards thee. For I keep thee not in my remembrance nor bear thee in my thought nor occupy my heart with thee so often as I should, but for every trifle that cometh to my mind I let thee slip and fall out thereof. And for every fantasy that stirreth in my heart I set thee aside, shortly forget thee. I suffer many a trifling thought occupy my soul at liberty, but with thee, my dear father, I have lightly done, and forthwith turn me to, the remembrance of thy creatures and so tarry with thee but a short while, the delight in thy creatures so pulleth and draweth me hither and thither, my wretched desires so blind me. This false world so deceiveth me that I forget thee, which art my most loving father and art so desirous to have my heart and love. 

What are thy creatures but creatures made by thee? Thou made me and them of naught and thou far incomparably passeth all them. And what are my desires, when they are set on thy creatures and not in an order to thee, what are they but wretched and sinful affections? And finally what is this world but a miserable exile, full of perils and evils far unlike that glorious country where thou art resident and sheweth thy most excellent Majesty in wonderful glory? There thou art clearly seen to all thy blessed angels and saints of thy most highly triumphant court. They be there ever present before thy blessed face and behold thy Majesty continually face to face. 

O my dear Father, here should be mine heart, here should be my desire and remembrancy. I should long to have sight of thy most blessed face, I should earnestly desire to see thy country and kingdom, I should ever wish to be there present with thee and thy most glorious court. But this, alas, I do not. And therefore I sorrow at my grievous negligence, I weep for my abominable forgetfulness, I lament my vileness, yea, my very madness, that thus for trifles and vanities forget my most dear and loving father.

Alas, woe is me! What shall I do? Wither may I turn me? To whom shall I resort for help? Where shall I seek for any remedy against the worldly and earthly waywardness of my heart? Whither should I rather go than to my father, to my most loving father, to my most merciful father, to him that of his infinite love and mercy hath given me boldness to call him father? Whose son Jesu my saviour hath taught me thus to call him, and to think verily that he is my father, yea, and a more loving father than is any natural father unto his child. 

These are his words speaking unto the natural fathers of this world when ye that are infect with evil can liberally give unto your children good gifts, how much rather your heavenly father shall give a good spirit to them that ask it of him. These works, most gracious father, are the words of thy most dearly beloved son, Jesu, wherein he teaches us that thou art our very father and maketh promise on thy behalf that thou shalt give thine holy spirit unto them that ask thy son or thee studiously. 

Thou willest that we should believe him and faithfully trust his words. For thou testified of him that he was thine entirely beloved son and bade us hear him and give a full faith unto his words. Wherefore we may be certain and sure of three things. The first is that thou art our father, the second that thou art a more kind and loving father unto us than are the carnal fathers of this world unto their children. The third, that thou wilt give, to such as devoutly ask it of thee, thy most holy spirit. We may be well assured that for thine inestimable goodness, and for the honour of thy name and everlasting truth thou wilt not disappoint these promises, for as much as they were made by thy most entirely beloved son Christ Jesu whom thou sent into this world to make the truth certain and to confirm the same unto us by the blood which he shed for us on his cross.

O Father, then, whither shall I turn in my necessity rather than to thee which have me call thee by this name, a name of much love and tenderness, of much delight and pleasure, a name which stirreth the heart with much hope and constancy and many other delectable affections. And if nothing were told me but only this name, it might suffice to make me steadfastly trust that thou, which hast commanded me to call thee by this name father, will help me and succour me at my need when I sue unto thee; but much rather because my saviour thy son Christ Jesu hath assured me that thou art a more kind and more loving father unto me than was mine own natural father. 

This assurance made by the most entirely beloved son should specially move both thee and me. First it should move me to have an hope and a confidence that thou wilt deal with me according to the same promise. Second, it should also move thee to perform this promise effectually and so to show thyself a kind and loving father in this my petition. My petition, most dear father, is agreeable to that same promise made by thy most entirely beloved son my saviour Jesu. I ask none other thing but thy good and holy spirit to be given unto me according to that same promise which he promised.

I know, most gracious Father, that thou art here present with me albeit I see thee not. But thou both seest me and hearest me and no secrecy of my heart is hid from thee. Thou hearest that I now ask thine holy spirit and thou knowest that I now pray therefore and that I am very desirous to have the same. Lo! Dear father, with all the enforcement of my heart I beseech thee to give thine holy spirit unto me. Wherefore unless thou wilt disappoint the promise of thy son Jesu thou canst not but give me this holy spirit; so by this means I shall be fully relieved of that misery whereof I complained unto thy goodness at the beginning. 

Thy most Holy Spirit he shall make me to love thee with all my heart, and with all my soul, with all my mind, with all my power, for he is the author of all good love, he is the very furnace of charity and he is the fountain of all gracious affections and godly desires. He is the spiritual fire that kindles in the heart of them where he enters all gracious love; he fills their souls in whom he is received with the abundance of charity; he makes their minds sweetly to burn in all godly desires and gives unto them strength and power courageously to follow all ghostly affections and specially towards thee. 

Wherefore, dear Father, when thou hast strictly commanded me thus to love thee with all my heart and thus would I right gladly do (but without thy help and without thy holy spirit I cannot perform the same), I beseech thee to shed upon my heart thy most holy spirit by whose gracious presence I may be warmed, heated and kindled with the spiritual fire of charity and with the sweetly burning love of all godly affections, that I may fastly set my heart, soul and mind upon thee and assuredly trust that thou art my very loving father and according to the same trust I may love thee with all my heart, with all my soul, with all my mind and all my power. Amen.  (Prayer Written in the Tower of London)

Musical Selection (Dan Craig)

With your soul so bent under a crown
Do you even have one real friend around
With your ears beneath the mess you're in
You tell yourself it's worth it just for Anne Boleyn
You took the reins of such a royal thirst
But you swore you'd be a husband first
Oh, you come beating on your chest
Singing sweet self-righteousness
When we both know it isn't true
Now you're asking for my name
Oh Henry, what a shame
I just can't say the words you want me to
So you brought me here to justify
Going left when the road turns right
When you know the rules, you've seen the proof
Way before you saw her bathing on the roof
Now your reasons don't stand up so tough
When the truth is you don't love your wife enough
I wish you could
I wish you could
I wish you could tell when you lie to yourself
I wish you could
I wish you could
I wish you could see what I'm seeing so well
I wish you could
I wish you could
I wish you could tell when you lie to yourself
I wish you could
I wish you could
I wish you could see what I'm seeing so well
It's not okay
It's not okay
It's not okay
You pay a choir to sing your innocents
They come with volume not river
And our words may sound like civil war
But i swear I've never loved you more

All-powerful Father, 
whose servant John Fisher 
put his obedience to your law 
before his submission to the king’s desire: 
help us to be steadfast in faith, 
and always ready to serve your will. 
Grant this through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, 
who is lives and reigns with you, 
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
God, now and for ever. Amen. (English Missal)