We were glad to welcome Father Lawrence back from his travels and to hear a bit about his experiences. Such a joy to have him back!
Discussion of the book began by touching on some difficulties with its frequent mention of persons met, visited, and/or helped by Gerard, and those who were of help to him. Some members found this initially confusing, and one found it quite off-putting. We went on to consider who were the people Gerard was calling “schismatics”, and why he found them “much more difficult to move”. Talking about the dangers people faced, both personal and social, we could understand, to some extent, why people would change their religion based on the command of the king or queen. We also talked about the differences between that society, where religion was very important and indeed a way in which an individual might find his identity, and today’s society.
From members talking about Gerard’s insistence on an exact and well-considered examination of conscience for those wanting to convert, Father Lawrence went on to talk about making a general confession, and in answer to some questions gave details about the circumstances in which a person might make a general confession.
In choosing a book for July, we considered that perhaps we have had enough history for a while, and chose the autobiography “The Story of a Soul” by St. Therese of Lisieux.
Above is the title of the book we focused on for our April meeting. Actually, we only discussed the first half, saving the second part for the May get-together. The book is quite fascinating, and is by John Gerard, S.J., a priest who ministered to Catholics in England during the reign of Elizabeth I from about 1588 – 1606. He was hunted, hidden in specially-constructed priest holes, arrested, imprisoned, tortured, escaped, and continued to work as a priest. As I understand it, he originally wrote of this period under the order of his superior, writing in Latin and intending the book only to be read by other Jesuits. In the early 1950’s, his writings were translated and published but went out of print, and this book was re-issued only last year by Ignatius Press.
We began the meeting with a bit of historical background, considering Catholicism in the reigns of Henry VIII, his daughter Mary, and daughter Elizabeth I. We also talked a bit, based on our previous reading, of the ongoing attempts of the English Crown over the centuries to control the Catholic Church and to foster suspicion of Catholic loyalty to the Crown because of the religious authority of the Pope.
As for our featured book, members spoke of being astonished by its contents and questioned why they had known nothing of these events. Father Tom was particularly moved by Gerard’s ability to debate, persuade, and convert so many people. We look forward to discussing the second half of the book at our May meeting.
As I read the second part of The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest, I jotted down a few topics that seemed interesting to me, and on which I would like to hear others’ views. I’ll list them here.
- Was it because the times were so dangerous that Gerard was able to convert so many people?
- Were people generally more devout then?
- Gerard says the “schismatics” were “much more difficult to move than heretics”. Why do you think that was?
- Gerard advises people to make a “good and exact” examination of conscience, and often had them take several days over it. Does our practice differ today? If so, why? Any comments?
- Gerard tells of many people who influenced relations and friends to convert (of course, there were also many who could not). Would that be possible for us today?
That’s all for now. I’ll let you know how our May meeting goes.