Modern Day Saint

Blessed Ralph Milner

We are going to take an exception, with this issue, in regard to only publishing articles on modern day saints. Our selection is a very obscure saint who lived in sixteenth century England. True, we do not have the background of the Elizabethan Age when Catholics were, at best, tolerated and at worse hunted down, often tortured and put to death. However, we do live in the 'modern' age of 'Catholicism Lite' as described so eloquently in our previous article, and we are so much in need of the example of Blessed Ralph Milner.

Ralph Milner was an illiterate farmer, born a Protestant who, so impressed by the lives of those Catholics that he observed, converted to the Catholic faith. He was found out and imprisoned almost immediately after his First Communion. He was later set free and then repeatedly jailed, set free and jailed again. A more prudent man might have left well enough alone and remained free, but saints are not well known for practicing this type of prudence. Each time upon his release Milner worked to provide assistance for those Catholics still imprisoned or he helped conceal the missionary priests who were forced underground to survive. At the time of his final arrest he was in the company of such a priest, named Roger Dickerson, with whom he was brought to trail.

It is here, inside a sixteenth-century trial chamber that the judge took pity on Milner, now elderly and a father of eight, and offered him an opportunity to save his life. The judged ruled that Milner had only to walk through the door, pass along the street, and enter a nearby Anglican Church. This, he said would constitute an act of reconciliation, and Milner would be at liberty to return to his family.

The outcome of the story would seem obvious. Milner could agree to the judge's well meaning proposal and remain a 'secret Catholic' the rest of his life. However, Roger Milner was a saint and there are no 'secret Catholics' within that communion. He responded to the judge: "Would your lordship then advise me, for the perishable trifles of this world, or for a wife and children, to lose my God? No, my lord, I cannot approve or embrace a counsel so disagreeable to the maximums of the Gospel." The judge had no alternative but to have Milner executed with Father Dickerson. This occurred on July 7, 1591.

The awesome choice made by Ralph Milner seems the greatest folly for those of us in this 'modern' generation. It is somehow beyond our poor power to comprehend -- being creatures of this more enlightened and tolerant age. It should not to be taken casually by us in this time of 'Catholicism Lite', of freewheeling theology, of dissident clergy within our own parishes, and of a too-often diffident laity.

Is it not true among the sophisticated 'progressives' within the Church, that the believing traditional Catholic is looked upon as little more than a misguided fool, blind to the ways of the modern world and blundering down some medieval path that leads backwards into a discarded history? That being the case, we would do well to rethink how we might follow the lead of Ralph Milner who, in his simplicity of life and thought, his elemental wisdom and courage, could teach us about the timeless qualities of our faith. Blessed Ralph Milner, pray for our dissident priests and the timid laity among us.

Jim Fritz

Parts of this article were taken from Saints for Today, by Ivan Innerst, Ignatius Press



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