Conscience Conversations, Pt. 3: A patron saint for citizens

M:  If you’re okay with it, Brendan, I’d like to go one more round on the topic of saints for Catholic citizens.  There’s one in particular I’d like to mention.  He’s possibly a special one for Catholic Conscience:  Saint John Cardinal Fisher was a friend of Saint Thomas More, and was martyred with him.  He served as bishop of Rochester, England, and was chancellor of Cambridge University.

A quotation of his that I saw in Magnificat Magazine has caused me to wonder why he is not more frequently invoked, and what sorts of things we at Catholic Conscience might turn to him for. The quote was:

In the beginning of the world, almighty God made paradise a place of honest pleasure.  And from out of that place issued a flood divided into four parts, signifying the four capital virtues: justice, temperance, prudence, and fortitude, with which the whole soul could be washed and made pleasant as with so many waters.  But contrariwise, the devil has conceived and made another paradise of bodily and sensual pleasure, and from out of that come four other floods, far contrary to the others:

  • the flood of covetousness contrary to justice,
  • the flood of gluttony against temperance,
  • the flood of pride against prudence, and
  • the flood of lechery against fortitude.

Whoever is drowned in any of these floods finds it hard to be turned to God by true contrition, for the raging of them is so great and overflowing…

What is the remedy for us who are in the midst of all these floods?  Where shall we fly?  Truly, God is the only remedy and refuge, for without his help none can escape without being drowned…

This Saint seems to me to have great potential for Catholic Conscience, especially as he does not yet appear to have been claimed as patron of any particular cause:  whereas St. Joseph is patron of workers and St. Thomas More is patron of lawyers and politicians, St. John appears to have been adopted only by individual schools, parishes, and dioceses.

What do you think?  Has St. John Fisher got things to teach us?  Should we consider adopting him, with St. Mary, as a patron of Catholic Conscience?

B: Your question has provoked the best kind of response—you’ve inspired some Googling! I have never heard of Saint John Fisher and so I’ve done some reading to see what I could learn. I’m so impressed by what I’ve discovered. So much of this extraordinary Christian’s life can act as a spiritual guide for all of us as citizens.

First, John Fisher the academic. He won the patronage of the King’s mother and used it to found Christ College and St. John’s College at Cambridge. He was famously Chancellor of Cambridge, and Bishop of Rochester. And so we start with the first great virtuous work of his life: the work of education, of teaching theology, of deepening the Christian understanding. We can take so much inspiration from his relentless commitment to spiritual formation and growth, which is so much part of our mission at Catholic Conscience.

Second, John Fisher the man of principle speaking truth to power. He incurred the wrath of his King again and again, particularly as Henry VIII marched Britain towards schism. Like Thomas More he eventually paid for his principles with his life. And like Thomas More we can be inspired by his example of refusing to violate the core tenets of his faith—of standing firm where moral clarity was needed.

Third, John Fisher the preacher. Apparently one of his great missions in life was to improve the standards of preaching in England. He was a legendarily charismatic and compelling public speaker, and his many sermons and books made him a leading European theologian. Catholic Conscience and its members dare to speak openly and publicly about Catholic social teaching and about building a society and culture of love and tenderness. We can learn from Fisher in this mission. Fisher is an example of a daring and thoughtful public persuader, who used the power of words to win hearts. Like Francis de Sales, he should inspire us in our mission of evangelization.

Fourth, and certainly not least of which, is John Fisher the citizen. What greater act of citizenship is there than speaking out against injustices promulgated by power? What greater act of love for neighbour is there in a democracy, than a willingness to speak up when the politics of the day is failing the public? In his principled stands on the issues of his time, John Fisher models citizenship—even to his death. And so, in our mission of forming good and active Christian citizens, we could hardly do better than such a noble model of Christian citizenship.

Matthew, what most struck you in reading about the life of John Fisher? And were it up to you what he would patronize, what would you choose?

M:  I think maybe you’ve suggested the answer yourself: my answer to both questions is citizenship.  Specifically, I would nominate Saint John Fisher as patron of Christian citizenship, because it strikes me forcibly that he used the full range of his prodigious gifts, to the limits of his strength—to the extent of laying down his life—to bring Christ to others, to everyone around him in society: to the students and the diocese he was given to oversee, to his peers in academia and the Church, and to the secular powers above him.  And on that basis, it seems to me that you have made a great case for naming him one of the patrons of Catholic Conscience.

Do you agree?

B: I couldn’t agree more.

Saint John Fisher, pray for us!

Twice a month, Matthew Marquardt and Brendan Steven get together over breakfast and talk about what it means to be a Christian citizen. These are their Conscience Conversations. Want to join the conversation? Want to learn more about Catholic social teaching, and how you can serve your community as an active Christian citizen? Reach out to us: email growth@catholicconscience.org

Matthew Marquardt is President of Catholic Conscience, a partner at a major Toronto law firm, and a parishioner at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

 Brendan Steven is Executive Director of Catholic Conscience, a writer based in Toronto, and a parishioner at St. Basil’s Catholic Church.

Conscience Conversations, Pt. 3: A patron saint for citizens