Thursday, June 21, 2012

Invoking Thomas More, John Fisher, and Woody Guthrie

posted today  at the KC Star's MidWest Voices blog

There may be few pieces written here about the Fortnight for Freedom (June 21-July 4, 2012) organized by the United States Conference of Bishops and set to begin on the vigil of the feast day of two saints venerated for their matrydom, their stand against a king, their loyalty to a Pope. It’s an awkward divisive set of issues behind the upcoming program of national prayer and protest. The American bishops believe religious freedom is at stake and many Christians, not just Catholics, believe that too. How high are the stakes? That’s for you to decide and, if you choose, act.

I’ll focus upon that word above, act. That’s all we’ll see over this fortnight – acting. There will be no action, no passports burned, no oaths of allegiance unsigned. There will be no blood here in the USA unlike in other countries where people have a lesser degree of religious freedom. Crack the world atlas. There is no vehicle for action other than cardboard, thick markers, and your vote should you choose to be among the minority who go to the polls.

Invoking Thomas More and John Fisher seems interesting to me. Their Catholic titles of saint missing from this to pique your interest in them as people. They’re both worth a few moments of attention on this the vigil of their feast day. King Henry VIII ordered their executions. More was a writer, scholar, Chancellor, and father. Fisher was a bishop in England. More attended Oxford. Fisher attended Cambridge. Both are remembered in the Anglican church liturgical calendar. In the Catholic Church they share a day, June 22. The theme of the day is religious, freedom, liberty.

Recently I saw Bruce Springsteen give a speech at a music festival; an impassioned pep talk to songwriters. He stood before one of those corporate logo backdrops. He invoked Woody Guthrie during his speech. At the end of his remarks, Springsteen held his shiny black guitar above his head like a champion to recognize the crowd’s applause. His guitar looked beautiful, but it had no sign. Woody’s guitar had a sign on it – “This Machine Kills Fascists”. Bruce is an actor.

I have my personal patron saints. I made the list when I was young and all have the given name Thomas.

Thomas the Apostle: he needed to see to believe. I liked his humanity. Apparently he traveled as far as India after, as Father Cuccia used to day, “The huddle broke” after Pentecost.

Thomas Becket: Chancellor to the King, then Archbishop of Canterbury. Incurred the disfavor of King Henry II. Murdered in Canterbury Cathedral by some of Henry’s loyal followers. Complicated guy. King Henry VIII later had Becket’s bones removed from Canterbury Cathedral, for the bones induced event’s like the Canterbury Tales, and pilgrimages, invocations.

Thomas More: a writer. Complicated guy. He took a stand, refused to sign an oath. Beheaded at the Tower.

The last person is not a saint and I doubt he’ll get the canonization high sign from any Pope soon. Thomas Merton: writer, monk. Some people call him a mystic. I find him rather human. Real. I like his writing. He makes me think and explore on my own. His anti-war, civil rights movement supporting writing suffered a censoring by his Order and Rome in the early 6os. Merton wrote a lot of letters to people. He lived for a time as a hermit with frequent visitors, admirers like Joan Baez and the Berrigan brothers (consider them for some action, not acting lessons).

The Fortnight for Freedom will be mere acting with no action, despite invoking Thomas More and John Fisher, who lost their heads over their beliefs. The King had their heads placed on stakes, long pikes, for display at the Tower Gate. How high were the stakes then? How high are they now?

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