A Lancastrian weaver’s proof of heaven
SIR – Fr Ronald Rolheiser (November 24) tells of near-death experiences in which people have felt the closeness of God, citing as an example Dr Eben Alexander’s Proof of Heaven: a Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, in which the writer, adopted as a baby, met the younger sister he never knew he had.
As a Lancastrian bred and buttered, I find personal reassurance in the pre-death experience of the Chorley weaver Roger Wrenno, who was hanged at Lancaster on March 18, 1616 for relieving and assisting Fr John Thules, who was hanged, drawn and quartered there on the same day. Both were offered their lives if they would take the Oath of Allegiance, but they declined.
When Wrenno was being hanged, the rope broke with the weight of his body and he fell to the ground. A fresh rope was found. After kneeling for a few moments in prayer, he ran to the ladder and went up as fast as he could. “How now,” said the sheriff, “what does the man mean that he is in such haste?”
“Oh, Sir,” Wrenno replied, “if you had seen that which I now have just seen, you would be in as much haste to die as I now am.”
We may assume that Roger Wrenno was not the only martyr to have been given a glimpse of the afterlife on the day that he went to his death. As Fr Rolheiser has pointed out, the God we cannot even imagine is as close to us as we are to ourselves.
St Helens, Lancashire
The BBC’s great service to Catholics
SIR – Now that Gunpowder has run its three episodes, it is worth summing up its impact. I cannot think of another recent television series that presents so sympathetic a picture of the beleaguered Catholic recusants. It demonstrates the desperate situation of the recusants, given some reason to hope for relief by the new king, and then disabused.
The laity were pauperised by fines, and, if they helped a priest, suffered for treason. It is also clear that Fr Henry Garnet opposed the scheme as he did throughout. His strong advice, tendered directly and also through Rome, was always that Catholics should remain loyal subjects to the Crown. In 1604, he ensured the failure of a lesser plot, the Bye Plot, by informing the government.
The errors of the series are mostly errors of compression: nearly all that is portrayed did happen, but not in the short period, 1603 to 1605, formally covered by Gunpowder and not always concerning the same people. Fr John Gerard’s escape from the Tower happened earlier in 1597, not through a drain but along a rope stretched from a tower across the moat to the river. Perhaps that would have been too expensive for Gunpowder.
Again, but earlier in 1598, Jane Wiseman was sentenced to the peine forte et dure, a punishment even worse than that represented. Queen Elizabeth’s Council reduced the sentence to imprisonment. She was released in 1603.
The film referred to St Anne Line. She became another martyr, now canonised. Widowed, and firmly Catholic, in spite of ill health she opened a safe house for priests encouraged by Fr Gerard. Her activities became well known, and on February 2, 1601, Candlemas, she was arrested in a raid, on the 26th she was found guilty of felony for assisting a priest, and the next day she was hanged.
Fr Garnet was accused of improper relations not with her but with Anne Vaux. She was indeed devoted to him, but in no improper way and had tried to ensure his safety at Hindlip Hall, Worcestershire. Fr Garnet was arrested, not in London but with Fr Edward Oldcorne at Hindlip Hall in January, 1606.
Fr Garnet was hanged, drawn and quartered after trial in May, 1606. Sympathetic bystanders ensured he died by hanging before evisceration. He was a martyr as surely as those canonised, even more so as he bore the crushing responsibility of being the superior of the Jesuit mission, agonising over his 20-year mission over the loss of so many of his brethren.
Do the inaccuracies matter? They do because inaccuracy is the root of false legend. Yet the full story is complex, even more so than I have represented here. In the balance, Gunpowder can only help a wider understanding of the Catholic story and perhaps help to dispel the sense even today that Catholics are not really English patriots.
Fr Leo Chamberlain OSB
St John’s Priory
Easingwold, North Yorkshire
SIR – Fr Ed Tomlinson (letter, November 10) makes a number of assertions about the treatment of the ordinariate in the context of ARCIC, church buildings and the deployment of ordinariate clergy. These questions are for the bishops’ conference to answer if they so wish. The Ordinary, while not a bishop, is, by concession, a member of the bishops’ conference.
Fr Tomlinson, as a member of the ordinariate, has a right to ponder those questions; however, the answer to the latter two points is, I think, a simple matter of logic and economics. The response to the ordinariate among Anglican lay people has been very poor, but was embraced more enthusiastically by Anglican clergy. Ordinariate lay members across the country number fewer than a large parish. Handing over buildings to groups with even fewer people than the parishes they are replacing would be nonsensical. Given the disparity in clergy versus lay numbers, if ordinariate priests weren’t invited to work in existing diocesan parishes, whom would they minister to?
W J Farren
Poor Pius XII
SIR – I am rather puzzled regarding the latest news of Pope John Paul I (World news, November 17). No doubt he lived the Christian virtues in a heroic way. However, why is it that all the popes of the Council have now either been canonised or declared Blessed, while the Cause of Pius XII is still on the back burner? Is it because Vatican II itself has now been canonised and poor Pius XII would have no truck with it?
Dr John Harmsen
SIR – Your “Most overlooked story” of October 27 concerns the Catholic population worldwide in 2015. In this regard, it is worth noting that the Church’s Annuarium Statisticum has a note to say that China is not included in its survey. This is seldom adverted to in referring to this subject. Most observers estimate that China has around 12 million Catholics, almost one per cent of the population. This gives a greater total Catholic population than the one cited.
Fr Raymond Hickey OSA
St Monica’s Priory, Jos, Nigeria
SIR – I was delighted to read that Pope Francis has urged people not to chit-chat before Mass. In England this practice is relatively recent. As a boy (I am in my 70s) I recall reverent silence in church was the norm. In my family we used to mock our Anglican friends and relations for two things: they chatted in church and chose which church to attend according to their preference for the service. Now Catholics do both these things.
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