Monday, April 13, 2015

A Heroic Priest And Witness To Hope

The Parish Priest of St Helen's in Ongar, Essex, Fr Graham Smith, is among those proposing that a former parish priest, Fr Thomas Byles, be put forward as a candidate for canonisation. Fr Byles is, of course, the heroic priest who prepared the doomed passengers of the Titanic for death, twice refusing a place in the lifeboats so to be with those who were going to die, hearing confession, giving absolution, encouraging them and praying for and with them. In the midst of all the panic - and indeed apathy of some, he offered hope to those about to die, commending them to the care of Our Lady as he recited the rosary. Here was an example of a priest who did indeed have the "smell of the sheep" about him and a perfect fulfillment of the Gospel's man who lays down his life for his friends.

I wrote a little piece about him a few years ago on the centenary of the Titanic's sinking, and there is a wonderful article on him in the Catholic Herald from the same time, well worth reading. Rereading that Herald article I am filled with admiration again for this man: here was a true priest, a courageous priest, a priest who manifested all that is good, heroic and holy in the sacred ministry. A priest who is indeed worthy of being raised to the altars. 

As I mentioned in a post a couple of days ago, Pope Francis is open to suggestions that arrive in the post, and he is keen to offer new Saints to the Church - he holds the record and has invoked his right to dispense with miracles in order to beatify or canonise individuals in order to give the Church heroic examples of the Gospel - surely Fr Byles would inspire him in this regard? So let us support Fr Smith and his colleagues in their efforts to have a Cause started.

Now, the question: was Fr Byles a confessor or a martyr? When he heard of Fr Byle's heroic sacrifice, Pope St Pius X said that he was "a martyr of the Church", could a Cause be introduced to have him declared a martyr and thereby dispensing the need for a miracle for beatification? Traditionally his death would fall under the category of "martyr of charity" and in the past such figures were put among the heroic virtue Causes and so required a miracle before glorification. That may well apply to Fr Byles, as Fr Smith suggests. So prayer for miracles and favours would be needed. That said, a Cause for a group of nuns, six Sisters of the Poor, who heroically offered their lives to treat victims of the Ebola virus in 1996 has been introduced as a martyr Cause, so things may be shifting with regard to categorization.  

Fr Joseph Benedikt Peruschitz and Fr Juozas Montvila

If Fr Byles's cause is introduced, surely the other heroic priests of the Titanic should also be included, the Benedictine Fr Joseph Benedikt Peruschitz, who had to endure the mockery of some passengers as he was administering absolution to those about to die, and the young Fr Juozas Montvila who, by the time he arrived on the ship, had already endured persecution for his faith in his native Lithuania. My proposal would be to form one Cause for the three as a group. If permitted to go forward as martyrs then a group Cause would be normal, but if a heroic virtue Cause, then, taking the cue from the Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order, they could be put forward as group of confessors and a single miracle needed for beatification and another for canonisation.

Let us remember this intention in our prayers. Given the scandals and the difficulties many priests face, Fr Byles and his companions offer us priests and laity an edifying example of holy priesthood and faithful Christian discipleship, a discipleship immersed in faith, hope and love even in the face of panic, horror and anguish. How many of those Titanic passengers died in peace thanks to the sacrifice of these holy men? Many I am sure.

Here is a website dedicated to Fr Byles.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the story of these three heroic priests and martyrs of charity. My cousin, Virginia, has a young baby boy who was born with many congenital abnormalities which will require multiple surgeries. At only three months of age, he had his first surgery last week. We pray for his complete healing and recovery through the intercession of Fr. Byles, Fr. Peruschitz and Fr. Montvila. Kindly remember Virginia and her firstborn son in your prayers. This little family needs a miracle.