At first I didn’t know what I was looking at. An excited friend forced this book into my hand, and I thought, oh boy, how long will this one take to get to! I think most can intuit the long list of books to which I am committed to reading, as editor and mainstay of the Review.
I didn’t know what to make of this work because, for the first three or four years after my conversion, I feverously read every saint’s life I could get my hands on, and, autobiography, well, that was (and still is) my absolute favourite! I spent many hours in the BX 4700 (Library of Congress designation) section at the three universities in my home town in those days. Thus, I’m still not sure how this one slipped by me.
This is the detailed and edifying account of a priest who spent his time ministering to the persecuted hold-over Catholics during the time of Elizabeth I and James I. He was born in 1564 and died in 1637. Yes, while Shakespeare was writing his greatest works, Fr. Gerard was being hunted, tortured and imprisoned. And yet he escaped and continue on with his work.
This book is the record of a priest’s daily work. It describes the lengths to which he went to hide from the authorities who would drop by at a moment’s notice. It describes the torture he suffered, the personalities involved, and, most of all, the resiliency of his faith. One cannot but see in its pages a blueprint for the priests of our generation.
It is almost silly to point out that what this book records is what we can expect in the near future. As North American culture careens ever-closer to finally committing to the totalitarian enforcement of its valueless-values, thereby finally joining the ranks of the illiberal Muslim and communist countries of the world, we are seeing more and more governance of thought. Gerard was persecuted because it was supposed that priests—especially Jesuit priests—were plotting against the crown. This was one of the general suspicions under which the very first Christians lived in the Roman Empire. Plus change… Today, real Christians are thought to foster violence against homosexuals. (Precisely where has this occurred?) It’s a flimsy allegation, but one that is promoted to justify modernity’s campaign of anti-Christianity. Christianity has been persecuted in almost every country in the world in the last hundred years, excluding almost only the U.S. and Canada. But it is now beginning. Whether you are talking about Mexico, Germany, or Argentina ‘good reasons’ have always been given for doing bad things to Christians. You have to learn to spot these justifications and name them for what they really are.
But we don’t need to be afraid, Fr. Gerard clearly shows us. Persecution is not bigger than the Holy Spirit. One of the biggest lies is that we are powerless against the modern propaganda machine of the state. Put yourself in Fr. Gerard’s shows. Imagine living in a Catholic country, and that over a mere fifty years’ time 99% of the people abandoned the Church. That was England in the 16th century. And yet nearly five hundred years later, the Church of England is dying and the Catholic Church is yet still presenting itself as the only authentic form of Christianity that can stand against the tide of paganism. Much can happen with God. Gerard’s life revealed that. He lived in a hopeless time, perhaps as we do today, and yet he laid the seeds for the resurgence that we are harvesting today.
In dark times only a few candles will burn, and that’s all that’s needed. This book will encourage you to become such a light.
(Ignatius Press, 2012, Length:395 pages; $ 15.26)