St John Roberts

Priest and martyr (entered heaven in 1610)

Dear Jake,

That’s some strange stuff your religion professor is dishing out.  All that talk about the faith of the people leading the Pope and Bishops to a deeper understanding of God’s revelation has a grain of truth in it, but the grain is laced with deadly poison.  The guarantee of unity among Christians and the guarantee of an authentic interpretation and presentation of the revelation of Christ is the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of St Peter, the Pope.  If your religion teacher is a faithful son of the Church, he will point this out every chance he gets, and support all his instruction with references to official Catholic teaching through the centuries.  If he isn’t doing that, you would be wise to delay your acceptance of his doctrine until you can cross check it with reliable sources. Don’t be alarmed or anything; yours is quite a normal situation. The conscientious Catholic has always had to be careful to avoid falling into doctrinal error.  The beauty of being Catholic is that such avoidance is possible for us – Catholics have the great privilege of knowing when their teachers or pastors are wrong; all they have to do is have recourse to the Catechism. Other Christians have no reference point but their own wits.

The divine institution of the Papacy and the whole hierarchical structure of Christ’s Church has been the cause of true heroism on the part of many Catholics.  Today’s saint is a prime example. Roberts was from an English family of high rank and received his early education at the hands of a saintly priest, which disposed him favorably towards the Catholic faith.  As a young man, he attended Oxford but took a pleasure trip to the Continent before finishing his course of study. There, in the Church of Notre Dame at Paris, he was formally welcomed back into the Catholic Church.  (You will remember, of course, that the Church of England had officially broken with the Catholic Church back in 1584 under King Henry VIII. After that, things got progressively worse for English Catholics.) Fired with a supernatural zeal to labor for the reconciliation of his English brethren with the Ancient Church, he signed on as a seminarian at the English College in Valladolid, Spain.  Against a steady stream of opposition, he finally succeeded in being ordained to the priesthood and making vows as a Benedictine monk. Soon after that, his hopes were realized when he and a Welshman (Fr Augustine Bradshaw) were sent to Britain on a Papal commission to pastor their persecuted brethren and reclaim the country for the true faith.

They had to travel in disguise, as it had been made illegal for Catholic priests to enter or minister in England, but even so, they were soon captured.  The next nine years witnessed an uninterrupted series of arrests, imprisonments, banishments, and returns. Roberts succeeded in winning numerous converts through his exemplary treatment of the sick during a London epidemic, but most of his time was spent celebrating the sacraments in secret and traveling around to avoid detainment while he continued to feed the flickering flame of the Catholic faith.  During his final imprisonment, when he was brought to trial, the judge accused him of being a deceiver and seducer of the people, to which the courageous monk replied (referencing the first papal missionaries who had been sent to England back in 597), “So then were our ancestors deceived by blessed St Augustine, the apostle of the English, who was sent here by the Pope of Rome, St Gregory the Great… I am sent here by the same Apostolic See that sent him before me…” His defense was energetic and convincing, but not compelling enough.  He was condemned for treason, and two days later he and a layman named Thomas Somers were hanged. Then their severed heads were displayed on London Bridge, to deter any would-be disciples. St John Roberts was only 33 years old.

So you see, my dear nephew, it is no small thing to set oneself up as judge of the Pope when it comes to issues of Christian faith and morals.  I will pray for your religion professor, and pray for you, that both of you may stay ever wed to the lasting truth which alone leads to life.

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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