I begin with a very short and simple prayer from the 16th century. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus be to me a Jesus.” “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus be to me a Jesus.” In other words, be my Savior, Jesus. This 8 word prayer was the favorite prayer of St. Ralph Sherwin.
St. Ralph was an Oxford University Scholar, very smart and talented. Ralph impressed everyone with his intellect, even the Queen (Queen Elizabeth I). He had a bright and promising future within the English Government or maybe even within the Church of England. But all of that changed a year after graduation. He had a profound conversion experience, studying history, and reading the writings of the early Christians he discovered the beauty of the Catholic faith. He wanted it for himself and so he became a Catholic and as a Catholic he felt drawn to the priesthood. So in secret he journeyed to France where he could study to be a priest. You just couldn’t do that in England at that time. All Catholic seminaries were suppressed and destroyed.
Once he was ordained Ralph made his way back to England and he did this in secret. He came ashore at night disguised as a workman. Once in England he made his rounds ministering to those who still practiced the Catholic faith. But after a year of many near misses he was caught and charged with treason. He was sent to the tower of London. In prison he was tortured on the rack. And after one bout on the stretching device he was tossed outside into the snow. There Queen Elizabeth I was waiting for him. She admired his talent and intelligence. So she made a deal with him, if he would recant his Catholic faith she’d make him a Bishop in the Church of England. He’d have money, power, honor, and comfort. He refused; that was his last chance. At his trial he vigorously denied any attempt to raise a rebellion against the Queen. He’s quoted as saying, “The plain reason of our standing here is religion, not treason!” He was found guilty and sentenced to be hung and drawn and quartered. The next day was set for his execution.
As he made his way to the gallows he kissed the bloodied hands of his executioner, forgiving him. Right before dying the last words out of St. Ralph’s mouth was his favorite prayer. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus be to me a Jesus!” These too are our words; they should be the words of everyone.
Not long ago I read some very sobering statistics. I read that 58% of Michigan’s residents have no religious affiliation. They may go to church occasionally maybe at Christmas or Easter, but they don’t have a strong tie with any one religious faith.
From the Gospel we know that the harvest is abundant but that the laborers are few. And in our second reading St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians speaks of this saying, “I long to depart this life to be with Christ for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.” St. Paul remained in the flesh to make the Gospel known, to make Jesus known and loved. St. Ralph Sherwin remained in the flesh, for a time, for the benefit of others to make the Gospel known, to make Jesus known and loved. We too remain in the flesh, we remain in the flesh for the benefit of others, to make Jesus known and loved.
“For it was to strengthen our hearts that He came to suffer and die, came to be spit upon and crowned with thorns, came to be accused of shameful things, came to be fastened to the wood of the cross. All these things he did for us, and we did nothing. He did them not for himself, but for us.” “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus be to me a Jesus.” Be my Savior Jesus!
I have a challenge for you this week, reach out to someone to make Our Lord better known and loved. Invite them to Mass; maybe even teach them the St. Ralph Sherwin prayer. Nothing pleases our Lord more than when this prayer is prayed with confidence and from the depths of the heart.
The Harvest is great but the laborers are few.
Pax et Bonum,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley