Lin Weeks Wilder

Lin Weeks Wilder

Books, Christianity, conversion, Education, faith, fear, Gospel, politics, sacraments, Virtues

Maintaining the Integrity of Words: Religious Freedom Week

maintaining the integrity of words
Trust Reliability Sincerity Commitment Integrity Consistency Words

Maintaining the integrity of words

isn’t my phrase. But that of Bishop Erik Varden and expresses a belief that is dear to my heart.

Why do I think it so dear that it warrants 800 words?

There are a number of reasons: even as a kid, I loved words. The process of learning to use words that perfectly encapsulated worlds of meaning, like craven, flummoxed or truncated, was massively fun. After all, when we speak or write, we’re looking to peak others’ interest in something of universal value, aren’t we? But there’s a rub, a significant one: we can’t be certain that our intended meaning is what is heard or understood.

In the undergraguate linguistics course I thought would bore me to tears, I learned. Sister Marie Bernard was fascinated by the power of the vernacular upon those who lived and spoke it. And her admonitions to her students were simple and practical: while the meaning of a word may be clear and precise to you as a writer or a speaker, understand always, there are those in the listening or reading audience to whom the meaning of that word may be something else entirely. Her thoughts and viewpoints far beyond her time, Sr. Marie Bernard was fascinated by the power of the vernacular upon those who lived and spoke it.

Perversly, the almost universal embrace of deconstuctionism--Modernism–among intellectuals and college and university academics has dispensed with the problem of meaning: there isn’t any. For the deconstuctionist, meaning is wholly subjective and resides in one’s personal feelings. There are no absolute truths. Of course this is a euphemism for atheism but when dressed up with five syllable words, it becomes compelling, sophisticated, and mysterious. And we know that euphemisms work exceedngly well to quiet consciences. Hence the primary reason to write about maintaining the integrity of words.

For last Saturday’s memorial of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, Bishop Erik Varden exhorts us to ponder why we are here by recalling the origin of our reason, intellect and speech.

Adam’s task of naming the animals in Eden was not restricted to a Linnéian classification of species. As king and priest he named his fellow creatures for what they were, blessing them.The words we employ to engage with the real are not erratic constructs. God, making us in his image, made us capable of speech so that our many words might echo his one Word in antiphonal response.

The Greek Fathers loved to say that man is λογικός, that is, capable of λόγος. To be human is essentially to be of the Word. That is how the Word could be incarnate. Now, it does not take more than a bout of ‘flu to remind us that we’re dust, subject to decay. Yet our spirit is fit to conceive of and utter words with a bearing on eternity. Hence the need to recall that what we say, and don’t say, matters — at times more than all else.

Sts. John Fisher & Thomas More

I first met Saint Thomas More

when assigned Robert Bolt’s play, A Man For All Seasons in the English class mentioned earlier. From Bolt’s first words, I was hooked. Bolt was an atheist, like me. “More was a man,” Bolt writes in his Preface to A Man For All Seasons, “who did not race to martyrdom.” Unlike most of the saints revered by the Church and rejected by Bolt. Quite the contrary. More was a man of law and a loyal subject of the King of England, considering King Henry Vlll to be a friend. Married with four children, Thomas More was a lover of life, good food and fine wines. He was a humanist; a concept which in the sixteenth century, conveyed complete submission to God and his law. 

He was a man who did not want to die. I well recall my hunger-yearning, more accurately, for something or Someone so precious that I would give my life rather than betray it-Him. I’ve come to believe that my conversion to Catholicism was influenced by my first friend in Heaven, the Patron Saint of Politicians, Thomas More.

Like More, Bishop John Fisher was a friend to Henry. He and More helped the young King Henry formulate his answer to Martin Luther’s The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, The Defense of the Seven Sacraments. Bishop Fisher used his literary skill and theological training to produce prolific writings revealing the errors in Luther’s theories., becoming known in all of Europe.

But Henry’s divorce changed everything. Initially, Fisher consoled the king. But when he realized where Henry was headed, Fisher aggressively supported Henry’s wife, Catherine of Aragon both privately and publically, the only one of England’s seventy bishops to do so.

“Kings usually think that they are permitted to do whatever pleases them, because of the magnitude of their power. Therefore it is good for these kings in my opinion, to submit themselves to the decrees of the church…lest perhaps they kick over the traces and do what they like, so long as they can weave together some appearance and pretence of right.”

The History of England-Bishop John Fisher

Sixteenth century England

was replete not just the usual political machinations but horrendous torture and death for the enemies of King Henry Vlll. Bishop John Fisher and Thomas More’s refusal to sign the Act of Supremacy declaring Henry, not the Bishop of Rome, head of the church, plunged them into the enemy camp. The king who had been declared “Defender of the Catholic Faith” by Pope Leo X through his writings against the teachings of Martin Luther, had broken with Rome and created a new religion.

It’s tempting to judge the sixty-nine bishops who signed the oath and the many thousands of former Catholics who joined the king in persecting and killing the Catholics who refused to recant their faith. Until we think about Jesus. And relect on his visit to his home in Nazareth where he could perform no miracles. “He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

This layman and Catholic priest were two very different men yet they had this in common: “their speech was Yes or No. And no threat of terror could substitute one for the other. They resolved to die because they held Truth dearer than life itself.

We, too, are called to bear witness to the truth in a world seduced by phantasms, sometimes by outright lies. Who knows what account we may be called upon to give in our times, our so strange times? May our martyrs help us to revere the truth. May we be consecrated in the truth, graced to suffer and, yes, even to give our lives for love of it. Amen.

Coram Fratibus-Sts John Fisher and Thomas More
Maintaining the integrity of faith

Photo from National Catholic Register, July 6, 2016

Maintaining the integrity of words: religious freedom week ended yesterday

Five letters, a small, simple word– faith– but one that holds the fate of the world and that of each soul.

In his last letter from the Tower, More wrote to his daughter, Meg. ”

….”I will not mistrust him, Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear. I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink…Margaret, I know this well: without my fault he will not let me lost…do not let your mind be troubled by anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.”

A Man For All Seasons
Post Tags :
a man for all seasons, king henry Vlll defender if the faith, religious freedom week, robert bolt, saint john fisher, truth

2 thoughts on “Maintaining the Integrity of Words: Religious Freedom Week”

  1. Mary Baxstresser

    Love that each week you broaden my thoughts with your words . Sister Marie Bernard would be very proud. Thank you for sharing Lin. I enjoy being reminded of St. Thomas More.

    1. Wish you could see the broad smile evoked by that comment about Sister Marie Bernard!! Thank you for thaking time to write my friend.

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Lin Wilder

Lin Wilder has a doctorate in Public Health from the UT Houston with a background in cardiopulmonary physiology, medical ethics, and hospital administration. 

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