John Fisher was born in England in 1469. After he was ordained a priest, the royal family appointed him tutor for Prince Henry, who became King Henry VIII. In 1504, Fisher became bishop of Rochester and also chancellor of Cambridge University. Fisher paid special attention to people who were poor. He wrote eight books against heresy, and Henry, then king, was proud to be his friend.
All this changed when King Henry claimed that his marriage to Catherine, his brother’s widow, was not valid. Henry had become tired of Catherine and interested in young, attractive Anne Boleyn. Henry’s request for a divorce was refused by the pope, and Bishop Fisher supported this decision. He was strong enough to resist signing the document siding with King Henry, though all the other bishops of England had signed it.
Six months later, Henry had parliament write another document, the Oath of Supremacy, claiming that Henry was supreme head of the Catholic Church in England. Again Bishop Fisher refused to sign. This made the king angry. The bishop was sentenced to prison in 1534 on the charge of high treason. The pope declared the jailed bishop a cardinal. Fisher was kept in prison for 14 months without a trial. In June, 1535, he was condemned to death by beheading.
Thomas More was born in 1477, the son of a lawyer in London. He planned to become a priest but then entered law school. His three daughters, son, and friends helped make his home a happy place.
Besides being a shrewd lawyer, Thomas was a charming, witty man, who won the friendship of the king. Henry VIII began his rule of England as a devout king. Later, King Henry asked Thomas to approve of the divorce he wanted. Thomas refused. Of course, the king became angry. By this time, Thomas had become chancellor of England. Henry wanted Thomas on his side. Then when every bishop except John Fisher signed the Oath of Supremacy, Thomas refused to sign. He resigned as chancellor and retired to his country home, hoping for a quiet life with his family.
Thomas, however, was sent to prison. He was kept for more than a year in the Tower of London. The king tried hard to make him change his mind, but Thomas stood firm. He knew this stand would mean certain death for him and disgrace for his family, but he followed his conscience. Finally, after suffering hunger, cold, and loneliness, Thomas was led out to be beheaded on July 6. Seeing that the masked swordsman was quite nervous, Thomas said, “Be not afraid, for you send me to God.” Then he said to the crowd, “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”
Have the students discuss ways to help their friends make good choices. Give them two rules:
Pray for the courage and the right moment to speak.
Advise friends in an honest, respectful way.
Ask the students to recall a time when they did what was right. Have them thank God and pray for help in the future.
Excerpted from Christ Our Life, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio
Image credit: John Fisher by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1543. Public Domain via Wikimedia.