- St Nicholas Owen SJ - Biography and Last Confession
- A Reflection on Pedro Arrupe SJ for the restoration of the Jesuits
- Reflection: Teilhard de Chardin SJ
- Reflection: Vicente Canas SJ for the restoration of the Jesuits
- Reflection: Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ for the restoration
- Blessed Rupert Mayer SJ - November's reflection
- Fr John Gerard SJ remembers Bl Francis Page SJ
- An exerpt from the Canonisation of St Andrew Bobola SJ
St Nicholas Owen was born in 1562 in Oxford into a devout recusant family, and trained as a carpenter and joiner. As a Jesuit lay brother he became the servant of Henry Garnet SJ, the Superior of the English mission, in 1588 - a time when the penalty for Catholic priests discovered in England was torture and death. His carpentry skills were put to use in building priest holes or hiding places in the houses of Catholics all over the country. Known as “Little Jo hn”, (few of his clients knew his real name) Owen was of very short stature and suffered ill health, including a hernia. Nevertheless he spent eighteen years doing strenuous physical labour in cramped spaces, always alone and at night to avoid discovery. In 1597 he helped to plan the famous escape from the Tower of London of his Jesuit colleague John Gerard SJ. Fr Garnet said of him:
"I verily think no man can be said to have done more good of all those who laboured in the English vineyard. He was the immediate occasion of saving the lives of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular."
Owen was finally arrested in 1606 in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot. The authorities were delighted to have caught him, and hoped to extract valuable information under torture. They were disappointed. Nicholas Owen was arrested and taken away to Marshalsea Prison where he endured a great deal of torture. No exact records of what he endured are in existence, but we do know from Fr John Gerard, of the tortures that he endured:
They took me to a big upright pillar, one of the wooden posts which held the roof of this huge underground chamber. Driven into the top of it were iron staples for supporting heavy weights. Then they put my wrists into iron gauntlets and ordered me to climb two or three wicker steps. My arms were then lifted up and an iron bar passed through the rings of one gauntlet. This done, they fastened the bar with a pin to prevent it slipping, and then, removing the wicker steps one by one from under my feet, they left me hanging by my hands and arms fastened above my head … Hanging like this I began to pray … But I could hardly utter the words, such a gripping pain came over me. It was worst in my chest and belly, my hands and arms. All the blood of my body seemed to rush up into my arms and hands and I thought that blood was oozing out from the ends of my fingers and pores of my skin. But it was only a sensation caused by my flesh swelling above the irons holding them. The pain was so intense that I thought I could not possibly endure it … Sometime after one o’clock, I think, I fell into a faint. How long I was unconscious I don’t know, but I don’t think it was long, for the men held my body up or put the wicker steps under my feet until I came to. Then they heard me pray and immediately let me down again. And they did this every time I fainted – eight or nine times that day – before it struck five … The next morning the gauntlets were placed on the same part of my arms as last time. They would not fit anywhere else, because the flesh on either side had swollen into small mounds, leaving a furrow between; and the gauntlets could only be fastened in the furrow … I stayed like this and began to pray, sometimes aloud, sometimes to myself, and I put myself in the keeping of Our Lord and His blessed Mother. This time it was longer before I fainted, but when I did they found it so difficult to bring me round that they thought that I was dead, or certainly dying and summoned the Lieutenant … I was hung up again. The pain was intense now, but I felt great consolation of soul, which seemed to me to come from a desire of death … For many days after I could not hold a knife in my hands – that day I could not even move my fingers or help myself in the smallest way. The gaoler had to do everything for me.
Nicholas suffered all of this and more, made all the worse by the injuries he had incurred through years of manual labour. Yet he wouldn’t say anything. His two confessions stand from those days.
Examination of Nicholas Owen, taken on the 26th February, 1606.
He confesses that he has been called by the name of Andrews, but doesn’t know whether he has been known by the name Little John or Draper, or any other name other than Owen or Andrews.
That he came to Mr Abington’s house the Saturday before he was taken, but refuses to answer from what place he came to the house from.
He denies that he knows Father Garnett or that he has ever served him, or that Fr Garnett is known by the name Mease, Darcy, Whalley, Philips,, Fermor, or any other name.
He denies that he knows a Jesuit called Oldcorne or Hall, and also denies that he knows that Chambers served Hall the Jesuit.
He confesses that he has known George Chambers for six or seven years, and that he became acquainted with him at an ordinarie in Fleet Street and that at this time he served Mr Henry Drury of Sussex.
The confession of Nicholas Own, taken on the 1st March 1606.
He confesses that he has known and sometimes attended Henry Garnett, the Provincial of the Jesuits for around four years.
He confesses that he was at the house of Thomas Throgmorton called Coughton at the beginning of November last year, when the Lady Digby was there and by the watch that was in town they knew that Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, and the rest of the gun powder plotters were up in arms.
That on All Saints Day last year, Garnett said Mass at Coughton House, and that at that Mass there were around half a dozen people.
That Henry Garnett was at Henlipp, the house of Thomas Abington some six weeks before he was apprehended and Hall the Jesuit was there about three days before the house of Mr Abington was searched.
That while he was staying with Garnett, he made his fire and served him and that both he and Garnett hid in a secret room below the dining room.
There was no new information in these confessions and the authorities lost patience. The tortures became more violent and on the next day, despite a plate they had fitted around Nicholas to prevent the torture further damaging his pre-existing injuries, Nicholas died, quite literally broken apart by the torture.
The authorities were now in an awkward position. Not only had they been torturing illegally an already injured man, but they had murdered him before extracting a confession. A cover up was swiftly arranged with an inquest returning a verdict of suicide.
Many of the martyrs of England died very public deaths on the scaffold of Tyburn, but Nicholas died as he had lived; in secret. We have no memorable saying of his to meditate on – his priest holes, which are his wordless prayers, are all that remain. Nicholas in his agonised, furtive death had finished with all concealment and disguises and was welcomed by Campion and all the martyrs into a fellowship where there is no use for human language.
This is the seventh reflection commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus. A reflection on the life of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
The monks of the Abbey of Keur Moussa sing: O all you works of the Lord, O bless the Lord, To him be highest glory and praise for ever. Wherever it is I am right now, what works of the Lord can I see? Perhaps the sky, the clouds? Perhaps hills or fields, or a horse or a dog, or a tree? Perhaps it’s just the inside of a bus that I can see? Perhaps another human being. Can I imagine all these things, the works of the Lord, praising God, their creator, now? And can I do the same myself?
Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in 1844 was an English poet and convert from Anglicanism. He developed a love of the arts as a young boy, and continued to write and paint all of his life. When he chose to become a Catholic and then enter the Jesuits he destroyed most of his early poetic works, and for his early years as a Jesuit he stopped writing. Following encouragement from one of his Superiors, Hopkins began to write once more and he developed a poetic technique which he described as ‘sprung rhythm’ which he used to particularly good effect to describe nature. His use of language was innovative, employing ancient as well as dialect words, and even inventing new words. He ministered quietly in various schools and parishes in Britain before being sent as Professor of Greek and Hebrew at the newly-established Catholic University in Dublin. Few of Hopkins contemporaries appreciated his poetic gifts and it was only after his death in 1889 when his friend, Robert Bridges, the Poet Laureate, published a volume of Hopkins work that his genius began to be recognised. He has a plaque in Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
The poem, ‘God’s Grandeur’ echoes the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, especially the Contemplation for Attaining Love’, an ecstatic celebration of God’s dynamic presence and action in the cosmos. Can you think of a time when you have felt especially close to God in a natural setting?
‘Generations have trod, have trod, have trod’. Hopkins’s lines imply a common anxiety among Victorian believers, that the modern age of scientific and industrial progress- ‘our smudge and smell’- has distanced us from a direct communion with nature- ‘nor can foot feel, being shod’- and therefore we are further from God. Does this ring true for you? Are there ways in which your busy life has made you less aware, less sensitive to the ‘dearest freshness’ in things?
The poem presents us with a beautifully maternal image of the Holy Spirit, ‘brooding’ with ‘warm breast and bright wings’. What kind of image does this conjure up for you? Does this feminine image help you to grasp the intimacy of God’s love for you?
Notice the use of the word ‘charged’ in the first line. The first meaning that presents itself is that of energy and dynamism, like a charge of electricity. But charged can also mean ‘entrusted’, ‘given a mission’. The task of the created world, the reason for its existence, is to bear witness to God’s glory and grandeur. Does this idea attract me? What about me, am I too ‘charged’ with the task of giving God glory? As you listen again, think about the word ‘charged’ in the first line: ‘the world is charged with the grander of God’.
Speak to God now, about what arises from your time of reflection and the emotions this poem has evoked in you. It may be that you feel regret for a lack of awareness, that, like many people, you have not ‘recked his rod’, that is, you been slow to acknowledge God’s majesty. Or perhaps you feel a renewed sense of energy and mission, of being ‘charged’ with carrying out a great endeavor. As you express these feelings to God, can you also ask him to deepen your sense of wonder and delight at his presence.
This is the eleventh reflection commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus. A reflection on the life of Blessed Rupert Mayer.
The Community of Taizé sing “The Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.”
Rupert Mayer was born in 1876 and became a Jesuit in 1900. He was known as ‘The Apostle of Munich’. In the First World War, he was an Army Chaplain working courageously in the trenches from where he used to crawl out into no-man’s-land moving among the wounded administering the sacraments; “My life is in God’s hands,” he used to say. He was the first German chaplain ever to be awarded the Iron Cross for bravery. In 1916 a grenade caused the loss of his leg and forced him to leave the front lines. Upon the rise to power of Adolf Hitler, Mayer became a fearless and outspoken critic of the evil of Fascism or National Socialism. He was banned by the Gestapo from public speaking, but he continued to preach in Church against the activities of the Nazi party until he was finally arrested and imprisoned in 1940 – the painting illustrates the profile photos taken of him by the police. He was moved between various prisons and concentration camps for the remainder of the war. He was so famous and well thought of that the Nazis were frightened to kill him and turn him into a martyr. On 1st November 1945, while preaching in Munich he suffered a stroke and died. Facing the congregation his last words were, ‘The Lord, The Lord, The Lord’. Parents of the future Pope Benedict had a great devotion to Fr Mayer; he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987.
Lord, let happen whatever you will; and as you will, so will I walk; help me only to know your will!
Lord, whenever you will, then is the time; today and always.
Lord, whatever you will, I wish to accept, and whatever you will for me is gain; enough that I belong to you. Lord, because you will it, it is right; and because you will it, I have courage. My heart rests safely in your hands!
The saints are ordinary people who let God do extraordinary things with their lives. We are challenged to be like them by allowing God to work through our ordinariness. In what way would you desire to be like Rupert Mayer?
Who are the ordinary saints in your own life? Maybe they are amidst your friends, or in your family? How do they inspire you – through their words and deeds? Picture them now and give thanks to God for them.
Evil flourishes when good people do nothing. If we are honest it is fear that often stops us from speaking out. Jesus knows our fears…. and as he greets the disciples, so he greets us saying ‘Do Not be Afraid’. What fears would you like to tell Jesus about – what fears can you hand over to Him?
Rupert Mayer was a man of incredible courage. But as he reminds us his courage comes from God’s will. What is God’s will for you – here and now – not in the future, but here and now, what is God’s will for you?
In what areas of your life do you need more courage? Where or how, do you need God’s courage to flow through you? Ask the Lord to be close to you there, that you can know his will and feel your courage grow.
We aren’t sure when Francis Page was born, but we do know that he was born to a well-to-do English family living in Antwerp. He fell in love with the daughter of a Catholic lawyer for who he served as a clerk and became a Catholic in order to win over the family. He met the Jesuit Fr John Gerard who became an informal spiritual director to him, eventually encouraging Francis to go to the continent for his priestly formation at the English College at Rheims. He was ordained in 1600 and left for London where he narrowly escaped arrest after celebrating Mass at the House of Anne Line.
Fourteen months later Francis wasn’t so fortunate as he was recognised by a woman who made it her business to turn priests over to the authorities so she could keep the reward. He took refuge in an inn, but she made such an outcry that the innkeeper kept him until the authorities arrived. He was arrested, tried, and found guilty of high treason. On his return to London shortly after ordination, he’d applied to join the Jesuits, but it was very difficult for him to return to the continent to enter the novitiate. On the night before his execution he was allowed to join a Jesuit in the adjoining cell; the young priest took vows as a Jesuit, a fact he proudly proclaimed the following day shortly before he was executed.
St Andrew Bobola was born in 1591 in the Palatinate of Sandomir and entered the Society of Jesus in 1611. After his ordination in 1622, he first served at Vilna as a preacher and director of the Sodality. From 1636 he worked as a travelling missionary and, at a time when the Church was subject to fierce persecution, strengthened a great number of Catholics in the faith. In 1657 he fell into the hands of Cossacks and after being subjected to savage torture, he died a martyr’s death in the town of Janow. He was canonised by Pope Pius XI in 1938. In the homily the Pope preached at his canonisation, St Andrew was praised for his endurance, and went on to describe his achievements as models for all Christians to follow. Here’s an excerpt from the Canonisation Homily.