Wreaking Holy Havoc

A certain minor celebrity, alternately smiling and scowling at us from his awkward perch atop Holy Mother Church, has repeatedly instructed us as follows, in his native Spanish: Hagan lo!

Given the tenacity with which this man has steered from one scandal into another, it’s hard to shake the impression that the kind of mess he wants the faithful to make bears a distinct resemblance to that produced by an untrained puppy.

But as our Lord said of the Pharisees (Mt. 23:1-3), Jorge Bergoglio has “sitten on the chair” of Peter, and therefore we ought (insofar as reason permits) to “observe and do” whatsoever he says—so long as we use caution before acting according to his works.

All this is to suggest that we look into a vastly underappreciated phenomenon that the Holy Father, in his curious way, may be bringing to our attention for Providential purposes: the propensity of saintly Christians, when faced with tyranny and terror, to respond by wreaking holy havoc.

Take, for instance, St. Richard Gwyn. This middle class scholar, who found Oxford not worth his while, and was booted from Cambridge for refusing to acknowledge Queen Elizabeth as Supreme Governor of the Church, was content to spend the rest of his life as “a teacher of Welsh children.”

Teaching is considered a quiet life, but Gwyn was not a bashful soul. His contempt for Anglican services, in which “in place of an altar there is a miserable table,” and “in place of Christ there is bread,” caught the attention of his local bishop, who leaned on him to go along with the crowd, despite his convictions.

After once caving in, Richard was attacked by crows and fell terribly sick. He got the memo, and never willingly offended his Lord again.

Initially, Gwyn sought to escape persecution by fleeing (with his family) from one city to another (Mt. 10:23). His first imprisonment ended with his escape, and he evaded recapture for over a year. From June of 1580 to his torturous execution in October of 1584, however, our saint was at the mercy of merciless captors.

Dragged in shackles to sacrilegious ceremonies, Gwyn made his inner convictions known by “clanking and banging his chains the entire time.” Subjected to heretical preaching, he accused the offending priest of exchanging the keys of St. Peter for keys to the wine cellar.

Repeatedly refusing to rat on his Catholic confreres, Gwyn was brutally (and illegally) tortured. He never ceased begging God to release him from his enemies, but also prayed emphatically for their forgiveness. Their cruelty only intensified.

As with many English martyrs, Richard was partially strangulated before witnessing his own disembowelment. This holy troublemaker died on October 15th, calling upon Jesus for mercy.

Dear friends, if we must make some sort of mess, my suggestion would be to study the works of St. Richard Gwyn, and like him to make the kind recommended to us by the highest of authorities (Mt. 5:10).

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