Saint John Fisher, the Cardinal Martyr and inspiration to the young


The feast of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More is celebrated today in England and Wales (the anniversary of St John Fisher's martyrdom) in the modern calendar and on 9 July (the anniversary of St Thomas More's martyrdom) for those who celebrate the traditional Latin Mass.

The Redemptorist Fr Bridgett's 1890 "Life of Blessed John Fisher" tells of how the Saintly Cardinal Martyr (also in fact the only Cardinal Martyr) was patiently awaiting the time when the writ for his execution would arrive. Finally, Sir Edmund Walsingham, the Lieutenant of the Tower, came to see him just before 5am to break the news. He waffled for a bit about St John Fisher being an old man and therefore not expected to live too much longer anyway - a "good innings" speech about as inappropriate as those usually are. Then let us take up Bridgett's narrative:
[the lieutenant] told him at the last that he was come to signify unto him that the king's pleasure was he should suffer death that forenoon.

'Well' (quoth this blessed father), 'if this be your errand, you bring me no great news, for I have long time looked for this message. And I most humbly thank the king's majesty that it pleaseth him to rid me from all this worldly business, and I thank you also for your tidings. But I pray you, Mr. Lieutenant' (said he), 'when is mine hour that I must go hence?'

'Your hour' (said the lieutenant) 'must be nine of the clock.'

'And what hour is it now?' (said he).

'It is now about five,' said the lieutenant.

'Well, then,' said he, 'let me by your patience sleep an hour or two, for I have slept very little this night, and yet to tell you the truth, not for any fear of death, I thank God, but by reason of my great infirmity and weakness.'
When I first read that as a teenager, I found it inspiring and I never pass the feast day of the great man without thinking of it with a little more pride in the inheritance we have from our forebears in the faith in England, and a portion of that motivating shame that makes you want to do better in following their example.

As the great man came to the outer boundary of the imposing complex in which he had been confined since April of the previous year, he had the opportunity for what we might say was a last taste of Lectio Divina:
And as they were come to the uttermost precinct or liberty of the Tower, they rested there with him a space, till such time as one was sent before to know in what readiness the sheriffs were to receive him; during which space he rose out of his chair, and standing on his feet, leaned his shoulder to the wall, and lifting his eyes up towards heaven, he opened his little book in his hand, and said: 
'O Lord, this is the last time that ever I shall open this book, let some comfortable place now chance unto me whereby I thy poor servant may glorify Thee in this my last hour '; and with that looking into the book, the first thing that came to his sight were these words:
'Haec est autem vita aeterna: ut cognoscant te, solum Deum verum, et quem misisti Jesum Christum. Ego te clarificavi super terram: opus consummavi, quod dedisti mihi ut faciam: Et nunc clarifica me tu Pater apud temetipsum, claritate quam habui prius, quam,' &c.
And with that he shut the book together, and said: 'Here is even learning enough for me to my life's end'.

*"This is life everlasting, that they may know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent. I have glorified Thee upon the earth, I have finished the work that Thou gavest me to do. And now glorify thou me, O Father, with thyself, with the glory which I had, before..." (Jn 17:3-5)
That passage and its place in the life of St John Fisher, has inspired many a young man in his vocation to the priesthood, including myself. For a prayer appropriate to the evening of the feast day - and indeed on 6 July, I suggest reading the school hymn which is listed in the links below.

Keep the faith!

Some older posts on St John Fisher

How to respond to scandal in the Church (May 2006)
St John Fisher and St Thomas More showed great clear-sightedness in dying for the authority of the Pope when so many of the Popes of their time gave such bad example.

Feast of St John Fisher (June 2006)
Quotes St John Fisher's scathing comments to his fellow Bishops who visited him in the Tower of London to try to persuade him to submit to take the oath admitting King Henry VIII to be the head of the Church in England.

Hymn to St John Fisher (Jan 2007)
The fine words of the hymn of my old school, The John Fisher School in Purley.

Cardinals' badge of honour (Feb 2007)
Quotation from St John Paul when he mentions St John Fisher.

St John Fisher's cell (Mar 2008)
A link to photos of St John Fisher's cell in the Bell Tower of the Tower of London.

"Alone of thy peers" (Jun 2010)
Narrative of when St John Fisher stood up to his brother Bishops and King Henry VIII when they tried to steamroller him at the legatine court.

St John Fisher's prayer for holy bishops (Jan 2014)
"Raise up men fit for such work..."

Celebrating St John Fisher (June 2017)
We need a Fisher counterpart to "A Man for All Seasons"

Saint John Fisher and integrity in public office (July 2017)
In prison, St John Fisher insisted on reading the statutes of St John's College before he would agree to put his seal to them.


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