Today is the feast day of my confirmation saint, Saint Thomas Becket, the holy, blessed martyr. His story tells us how foreign to our time the Middle Ages are. Becket was a worldly cleric who had risen to be chancellor of England for Henry II. Henry seized the opportunity to place his man, Becket, on the throne of Canterbury as Primate of England. Becket had a sudden and complete religious conversion and fought Henry for the liberty of the Church for which Becket suffered exile and, ultimately, murder. In penance for Becket’s murder Henry had himself beaten by the monks at Canterbury before the tomb of his former friend who, two years after his death, was canonized by the Pope. For over three centuries his tomb became one of the major pilgrimage sites in Europe and inspired the immortal Canterbury Tales.
The Middle Ages were fully as immersed in sin as our own time, although with different mixtures of evil, but the sins of the Middle Ages were often followed by great penances and acts of contrition that brightened and inspired countless lives down through the centuries. This we have lost and this we must regain. G.K. Chesterton put what we lack in high relief when he wrote about Saint Thomas: Continue reading
When July 9 rolls around each year I am always reminded of my personal belief that before our end, perhaps especially for those of us sunk deep in sin, God gives us an opportunity to atone and turn aside from the downward path.
In Sixteenth Century Holland one of the longest wars in history began between Spain and Dutch rebels. The war was waged on both sides with sickening atrocities. Among the most violent were the Sea Beggars, Dutch patriots or pirates depending upon one’s point of view. In June of 1572 the Sea Beggars took the Dutch town of Gorkum, and captured nine Franciscan priests, Nicholas Pieck, Hieronymus of Weert, Theodorus van der Eem, Nicasius Janssen, Willehad of Denmark, Godefried of Mervel, Antonius of Weert, Antonius of Hoornaer, and Franciscus de Roye, of Brussels. Two Franciscan lay brothers were also captured: Petrus of Assche and Cornelius of Wyk.
The Sea Beggars also captured the parish priest of Gorkum, Leonardus Vechel of Boi-le-Duc, and his assistant, Nicolaas Janssen. Also imprisoned were Father Godefried van Duynsen and Joannes Lenartz of Oisterwijk, director of the convent of Augustinian nuns in Gorkum. Later imprisoned was a Domincan priest Joannes van Hoornaer who bravely came to Gorkum to minister to his imprisoned colleagues and joined them in their captivity, Jacobus Lacops of Oudenaar, a priest of Monster, Holland, Adrianus Janssen of Brielle, and last, and no doubt he would say least, the subject of this post, Andreas Wouters of Heynoord.
To be blunt, Andreas Wouters had been a lousy priest. A drunkard and notorious womanizer, he had fathered several children. Suspended from his duties he was living in disgrace when the Sea Beggars captured Gorkum. This was his cue to run as far away as possible, based on his past history. Instead, perhaps understanding that God was giving him maybe his last chance to redeem himself, he volunteered to join the captive priests and brothers. Continue reading