In 315 BC, King Cassander of Macedon established the capital of Macedonia in the ancient Greek port town of Therma. As was popular among conquering rulers, he renamed it, in his case he renamed it for his wife who was the half-sister of Alexander the Great. Its inhabitants adapted to Hellenistic rule, and the city had its own government and king and was a fast-growing part of the Macedonian empire. After the fall of the Macedonian empire to the hands of the Romans in 168 BC, the city quickly adapted to Roman rule and because of its willing submission to Roman authority it became quite prosperous. An important trade hub between Asia and Europe, it rapidly developed into a multicultural city, with large populations of Greeks, Romans, Jews, Africans, and Persians.
Then one day around 50 AD, three men came to town and stirred up trouble. They had the audacity to say that Claudius Caesar was not a god and was not the king and supreme ruler of the world. They defiantly said that the real immortal and ever-living God had sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to establish his eternal kingship and dominion over earth through His birth, death, and resurrection. These revolutionaries preached for three weeks, spreading their message and making converts until the people they couldn’t convert formed a mob and ran Paul, Timothy, and Silas out of Thessolonica. Yet the seeds they planted in that short time took root. The early church that was established among the Thessalonians not just endured, but grew as they abandoned their old ways of adopting to the rule of whatever conquerer was in power at the time. Instead, they submitted to the rule of Jesus Christ, who’s kingdom endures forever.
Of course, the Thesselonians were persecuted for their beliefs, and some were martyred by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans for the crime of inciting rebellion. Following the rule of God is hard, especially when it conflicts with our own desires. And if you’re a person in power, like Henry the VIII, it’s often easier to change the rules to suit your own whims. It’s much less trouble to establish the Church of England, with yourself as the Supreme Head than to submit to Church rules you find inconvenient. Five wives and several acts of Parliament later, being Catholic was a high crime for those who refused to be converted to Anglicanism.
Seen as a serious threat to the Church of England, remaining Catholics were actively hunted after the monasteries and convents were closed. In 1579, Richard Gwyn was arrested for being a Catholic by the Vicar of Wrexham, himself a former Catholic. Gwyn escaped and spent the next 18 months on the run until he was captured. He was shackled and carried to the Anglican church in Wrexham and placed in front of the pulpit so he could be forced to attend service. In response, he kicked his legs so hard that the noise of his chains drowned out the preacher, so they put him in stocks in the public square, where he proceeded to heckle the Anglican minister. For the next three years he continued to defy and heckle the authorities and worked to make converts to Catholicism. Richard Gwyn was eventually condemned to death by hanging, drawing, and quartering and martyred on 15 October, 1584. His last words were, “Jesus have mercy on me.” He is one of 359 Catholics martyred during the English Reformation.
It’s been almost 500 years since Henry the VIII started the English Reformation. But the persecution of Catholics continues, even here in the United States. Recent judicial nominee Brian Buescher recently came under fire for his membership in the Knights of Columbus. Senator Kamala Harris called the Knights “an all-male society” and asked Mr. Buescher if he was aware that the Knights held anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage views when he joined. Senator Mazie Hirono went further saying, “The Knights of Columbus has taken a number of extreme positions. For example, it was reportedly one of the top contributors to California’s Proposition 8 campaign to ban same-sex marriage.” She then asked Mr. Buescher if he would end his membership in the Knights if he was confirmed.
Today we are not facing crucifixion in this country for being Christians. We are not facing being hung, drawn, and quartered for being Catholic. We are not facing being martyred for holding such “extreme” views as traditional marriage and life beginning at conception. But that is today. That is here. Christians and Catholics around the world are being martyred right now for our beliefs. Only God knows what tomorrow will bring us in our country. Only He knows what tests we will face in the future as we hold fast to our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and to the magisterium of the Catholic Church. The life of a Catholic Christian has always been a life of persecution for what we believe. We are hated by all nations for the sake of the name of Jesus. Our cross to bear is the Cross of Jesus Christ. So, brother Knights, brothers in Christ, be resolved to stand fast in the face of persecution. Stand fast in Jesus Christ.