All Saints' Day reflexion: subtle erosion of the Catholic identity in history books, and other stories

A blessed All Saints' Day to all. I bear in mind that we are not solely celebrating the lives of the saints — we are celebrating you and me!


History is currently a compulsory subject for Malaysians at GCSE level. Earlier, it wasn't. A few decades ago, GCSE History was associated with Arts students. I was a Science student in Forms 4 and 5 (Years 9 and 10 to us Britons), and my eyes lit up when it was announced that I would be doing History. I loved History; I still do. History is the one way through which we are told of events of great importance which happened in centuries, even in millenia past. Yet again, even when I was in Year 10, four years ago, I realised the one thing that left history books completely wanting. In 2007, whilst I was still in Malaysia, I ranted on how history is, pretty much, 'his side of the story' [1]. After my arrival in Britain, I was blessed to learn the history of this nation in ways that no one would ever have thought of.

I'll be point blank about this: homilies, apologetics, debates and discussions, and visits to the places where momentuous things happened.

If there's one thing my history books never taught me, it'd be the fact that the Reformation in Britain was brought about by what would've been a coup d'état if it involved a change of rulers. It was force. All our history books told us was that, in refusal to acknowledge the sanctity of marriage, and in divorcing Cathering of Aragon and marrying Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII broke ties with the Holy See and established the Church of England in protest. What we did not know was that in doing so, everyone who defended 'the old faith' (Catholic Christianity) could be punished by hanging, drawing and quartering. Yes, in his reign, being a Catholic was a capital offence. Saints Edmund Campion, John Fisher, Thomas More and Oliver Plunkett were among the many who were executed during the time.

What we also did not know was that at around the time Westminster Abbey was built and consecrated, right up to that period of chaos with Henry VIII, Irish historian Eamon Duffy finds that the faith and vocations were being lived out to the full. There was a Benedictine monastery in Westminster Abbey right up to the time the Benedictine monks were shooed out. No one dares call the Middle Ages the 'Dark Ages' anymore except our history books: there is every evidence of communal growth and artistic development, though much of it has been centred on the love of God (think the architecture of the time, plainchant, the Gutenberg translation of the Bible, etc., etc., etc.) What we did not know was that there were three English versions of the Bible that were sacrilegious and these were burnt —
  • one version mentions a certain 'Parable of the Vinegar' instead of a 'Parable of the Vineyard',
  • one version, the so-called 'Wicked Bible', had for the Sixth out of Ten Commandments: 'Thou shalt commit adultery'.
  • another version, dubbed the 'Murderers' Bible', had a scripture misprint that made the whole thing sound UTTERLY WRONG. Instead of 'let the children first be filled', it read, 'let the children first be killed'.
What we did not know was that it was not a decision of the people, but rather, of the king himself. The people wanted the old Faith, and a lot of them were willing to hide priests in their homes (or even in the Knights Templar!) because they knew how important Holy Mass was. Some laymen were even hung for this. Our history books, on the other hand, mentioned the bit about the Reformation as if it were something to be taken pretty casually. They did not give us the full impact of Henry VIII's actions. They did not talk about people like King Edward III (I think?) who has later become St Edward the Confessor. They were hell-bent on mentioning that the Middle Ages were the Dark Ages.

As a Year 10 student, I found that there was something wrong with what was being mentioned in the history books. It just felt wrong. The only thing I could point out back then was that not enough information was given. Now, I can boldly say that the identity of Catholic persecution is being literally eroded from those history books, if the syllabus has not already changed. That lack of information was compensated for in my two visits down the Tyburn trail — a beautiful but very unsettling journey — and I can vouch that not many people would ever have this golden opportunity to go around London, only to be deeply disturbed, but also to be comforted within.

Not many people are going to have that opportunity. But heck, not many people are even going to listen, are they?


"If the master suffers, the followers suffer too."

We cannot say the same about politics unless, God forbid, we are at war. There is no solidarity involved when it comes to allegiance to, say, a Prime Minister. There is allegiance as far as a monarch is concerned, but do many people know the sufferings of Her Majesty? There definitely is solidarity in faith: no man is an island, and whosoever professes a faith will be dependent on, and naturally, will help, his brethren in faith. Together, they strive to maintain solidarity with God, and in doing so, they also try to keep to whatever God has called them to do. Therefore, whenever the Master suffers, you can be downright sure that the followers will suffer too.

Christ Jesus in his time was far more than a good human teacher. C.S. Lewis gives us three possibilities — he was either mad, bad or the Son of God. He would not have had any authoritative power if he were mad (people were literally unsettled), when every early disciple could swear that there was authority. He would not have healed anyone if he were bad. Do it by elimination and see what you have left. The servant can never be greater than the master. Thus, if the people of the time took Christ Jesus, tortured and abused him, scourged him and crucified him, his people can expect to be abused too. St Paul reminds us that Christ was abused because of sin — we're bound to be no different in that respect.

I remember, online and in real life, I have discovered people who have set out to tear me apart because I am a Catholic Christian. This is not new, folks, this is not new. A lot of my friends have suffered the same fate, but we're strong even after all that — the storm is past, and we are standing. It is in times like these that I learn how precious the words of Christ are:

"Happy are  you when people abuse you, persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven."

I have every reason to be happy to defend God's truth in the face of opposition. And yet, I am also honestly sad, because not only do they seek to tear Christians apart — they don't even know what they're doing in doing so. They particularly don't know how to deal with Christians who witness to the truth with gentleness and love.

I'm sure Jesus in his time on earth had to answer questions by the Pharisees and Sadducees who wanted to trap him — and yet, he successfully silenced them. I am not a good debater. I can only speak well is all. I break down and cry a lot. I did cry over the people who tore me apart, because deep down, I knew that they were missing something. Not too long ago, I was called to the Interfaith Conference at the Key Centre in College Lane Campus. I later learned the malice behind the invitation, and I knew better. I imagined Jesus himself, as well as some early disciples, would have seen such irritating groups of people as thorns in their flesh. I naturally felt the same way too. It was horrible, but I just had to tell myself that.

Today, on All Saints' Day, as I write, the storm is past, but I am keeping my head up. Lots of people have mentioned that the best way to tell others about being a Catholic Christian is to live the way that Christ Jesus would want us to live. I'm trying. I don't know how successful I even am, but I know I'm trying. And I trust that my friends and all who enter the parish church of St Peter's Hatfield are trying their very hardest too. Yet, I cannot deny that even when we do live out that example, we will still be questioned. St Stephen was questioned right before execution, and surely he was not the only one.

The hate goes on even today, but I'll put it blankly — if we were to go on talking about hatred, we'd just be the same as everyone else. Well, here we are, bearing the crosses of our day, and ready to do it — because Christ bore his cross to Calvary out of love, and it's only right that out of love for him and neighbour, we do the same.

[1] 'His Side of the Story' was written for a Malaysian audience. It was written at a time where the history of Islamic civilisation took the fore in Malaysian history textbooks and revision notes, and very little was mentioned about the history of the early civilisations (the Greek civilisations, Rome, India and China). The lack of information regarding general world history really put me off, and it pained me to think that I was missing a lot of things that my parents had learnt during their school years. Events mentioned in this article include the riots of 13 May 1969 (where communists took advantage of the results of an election to cause chaos in West Malaysia, claiming several lives and injuring a number of others — there was anarchy, to put it simply) and the infamous Confrontation (where Indonesians, in particular, vowed to tear Malaysia apart at the time of its foundation in September 1963).


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