Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Blessed James Duckett

Today is the feast day of Blessed James Duckett. Who was he?

James Duckett was an Englishman who lived during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. As a young man he became an apprentice printer in London. This is how he came across a book called The Firm Foundation of the Catholic Religion. He studied it carefully and believed that the Catholic Church was the true Church. In those days, Catholics were persecuted in England. James decided that he wanted to be a Catholic anyway and would face the consequences. The clergyman at his former church came to look for him because James had been a steady church goer. He would not come back. Twice he served short prison terms for his stubbornness. Both times his employer interceded and got him freed. But then the employer asked James to find a job elsewhere.

James Duckett knew there was no turning back. He sought out a disguised Catholic priest in the Gatehouse prison. The old priest, "Mr. Weekes," instructed him. Duckett was received into the Catholic Church. He married a Catholic widow and their son became a Carthusian monk. He recorded much of what we know about his father.

Blessed Duckett never forgot that it was a book that had started him on the road to the Church. He considered it his responsibility to provide his neighbors with Catholic books. He knew these books encouraged and instructed them. So dangerous was this "occupation" that he was in prison for nine out of twelve years of his married life. He was finally brought to trial and condemned to death on the testimony of one man, Peter Bullock, a book binder. He testified that he had bound Catholic books for Blessed Duckett, a "grave offense." Bullock turned traitor because he was in prison for unrelated matters and hoped to be freed.

Both men were condemned to die on the same day. On the scaffold at Tyburn, Blessed Duckett assured Bullock of his forgiveness. He kept encouraging the man as they were dying to accept the Catholic faith. Then the ropes were placed around their necks. Blessed Duckett was martyred in 1602.

Martyrs such as James Duckett go against everything we've learned from the Candy version of history. Good model Christians such as Elizabeth persecuted Catholics? Even killed them?

The printing press was used for something besides printing Reformation literature? I would point out that there must have been literate Catholics, despite the Catholic Church's famous attempts to keep people illiterate, but one could make the argument that Bl. Duckett could read because he not Catholic, and used the books to try and convert other people who weren't Catholic.

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