Those who have died for the faith are witnesses to hope. Had they not believed in the promise of eternal life would they have chosen to die? Christ told us not to be afraid of those who can only kill the body but to fear God who can cast both body and soul into Hell.
St. Stephen (c. 35 AD) was a deacon of the Church in Jerusalem who became the first martyr to bears witness to hope. He was brought before the Sanhedrin and accused of blasphemy against Moses and God. Stephen traced the history of the chosen people leading up to Christ but seeing their unwilliness to hear the truth he accused them of opposing the Holy Spirit, persecuting the prophets and of murdering Christ, the holy one of God. At this, they became livid with rage. Stephen filled with the Holy Spirit looked intently to heaven and said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened and and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." In this way he affirmed his belief in the resurrection Christ and the eternal life which He had promised. His prosecutors lead Stephen out of the city and stoned him to death. While he was dying he cried, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them';(Act 7:60) and having said this he died.
Sir. Thomas More became chancellor of England in 1529 AD under Henry VIII. At this time the King was bent on having his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled so as to marry Anne Boleyn. Sir Thomas refused to sign a letter asking the Pope to annul the marriage and Pope Clement VII declined the request. So Henry decided to have himself declared the head of the Church of England. The decree read: "Be it enacted by authority of this present Parliament that the King, our sovereign lord, his heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall be taken, accepted and reputed the only supreme head on earth of the Church of England, called Anglicana Ecclesia; ...." (Act of Supremacy, 1534) Sir Thomas refused to take the Oath of Supremacy. As a consequence, he was arrested and imprisoned in the London Towers. Many tried to change his mind but his response was always the same, "that the statute was like a two edge sword: if he should speak against it, it should procure the death of his body; and if he should consent to it, he should procure the death of his soul."
The sentence handed down at his trial was terrible. He was to be hanged, disemboweled and quartered with parts of his body placed on the four gates of the city and his head placed on the London bridge. This sentence was later commuted to beheading because he had been the chancellor of England.
His closing remarks to the court was an act of hope and forgiveness. In the Acts of the Apostles, he told them, St. Paul was present and consented to the death of St. Stephen but both of them are now saints in heaven, friends forever. Likewise, I verily trust and heartily pray that despite your judgment and condemnation of me here on earth, we may one day meet together happily in the everlasting salvation of heaven.
At the execution sight, after mounting the scaffold and declaring to the people that he "died the King's good servant but God's first" he knelt down and prayed Psalm 50 which is an act of repentance for sin and hope of salvation.
(Please click to hear the Miserere)
Sir Thomas More was beheaded on July 6, 1535 at about 9 AM. Pope Pius XI declared Sir Thomas More a Saint on May 19, 1935. On the 31st day of October in 2000, Pope John Paul II proclaimed Saint Thomas More the patron saint of politicians for proclaiming the truth in season and out.