“The only worthwhile striving is after the highest ideals: If you aim for an easy target, your standard will inevitably decline, and no progress is ever made, except through real effort and real suffering.” - Servant of God Fra' Andrew Bertie                                                                                                                                                 "Work as if everything depends on you, pray as if everything depends on God" - Saint Ignatius of Loyola

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HOMILY FOR BLESSED DAVID GUNSON, M. ON

The Feast of our Martyr, 12th July, was marked by a small pilgrimage beginning with Mass at the Church of the Precious Blood Borough, and a walk past Marshalsea Gaol, then along the route of the martyrdom from King's Bench Gaol to St Thomas Waterings, on the Old Kent Road, along which Blessed David was dragged on a hurdle to be hanged, drawn and quartered on this day in 1541. St Thomas Waterings was the nearest execution site for the Southwark gaols, being just outside the City of London jurisdiction, as executions were forbidden within the boundaries.  St Thomas Waterings was also the site of the Thomas-a-Becket inn, still extant, where Chaucer's Pilgrims drew the lots to decide the order of the Canterbury Tales, and which Blessed David would doubtless have known from happier times.

The Mass was celebrated by Father Gerard Skinner, a notable historian of the English Reformation saints.  We are grateful to him for sending the text of his homily, which will be of interest both to devotees of our Martyr and to students of the Reformation.  It is given in full below.

Blessed David Gunson, pray for us and for England.
Whether for priest or for layman, the bills were pretty much the same: “Paid to a Frenchman who took away the priest’s bowels after he had been hanged: 20s; for coals to make the fire: 6d; for a wright’s axe, to behead the priest: 4s. 6d; for a hand axe and a cutting knife, to rip and quarter him: 14d; and for the horse which dragged him from the hurdle to the gallows: 12d; for four iron brackets, with hooks on them, to hang the priest’s four quarters on the four gates of the city: 3s. 8d; for an iron wedge to break up wood to make a fire on the moor: 18d;   and for a shovel for the fire: 2s; to a mason for two days’ work, securing the brackets to the gates: 10d per day; for carrying the four quarters of the priest from gate to gate, and other charges, 2s; for straw, candle, drink; and string to bind the priests’ arms before he was executed: 9d;       . . .;     for drink which another prisoner had before he executed the priest: 2d.”  This is a list from the Newcastle Corporation Accounts. In such petty sums was the cost of a life calculated. In such sums, doubtless, would the close of the life of the martyr whom we revere today have been reckoned and recorded. 
We will hear of Blessed David Gunston’s life as we follow the path he took to heavenly glory. At this moment, I want to briefly reflect on martyrdom itself. You will know that when we are baptised we are united in the Body of Christ who is Priest, Prophet and King. We are to be Christ-like. 
The martyr is the prophet par excellence – was not a violent death the fate of so many of the Old Testament prophets? And why? Because they were men of faith who so believed and trusted in God that they could not deny, indeed were impelled to proclaim His truth as it had been revealed to the people of Israel, even if it was most unacceptable to the ears of their contemporaries. The prophets who were martyred were men of hope – how else could they offer their lives without the assurance that even though they were to die in the flesh, their virtuous souls were in the hands of God who, at the last, would raise up their bodies too. And the prophets were men of love – for God and for His people: they knew that their example of steadfastness was in itself the most powerful witness of the truth that alone can give life to the children of God. The martyr is a prophet.
The martyr has always the character of a Priest. Every Christian prays as a member of the Body of Christ: ‘through Him, with Him, in Him’. Christ gives the pattern: “As Christ laid down his life for us, so we too ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” (1 John 3:16) St Augustine read that verse of St John in the light of Proverbs 23.1-2, as he knew it: “If you sit down to eat at the table of a ruler, observe carefully what is set before you; then stretch out your hand, knowing that you must provide the same kind of meal yourself.” Receiving the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Lord in the Eucharist, we must apply ourselves as best we can to reciprocating the invitation and lay down our lives in return.
‘This is my Body, given up for you’ – ‘This is my Blood, poured out for you.’ ‘Given up’ – ‘poured out’ – ‘you must provide the same kind of meal yourself’ – the martyr most certainly does.
And the martyr is a searing example of the Christian who knows the astonishing fact that they are children of God & therefore share, by participation, in His divinity and kingship. As Pope Leo the Great proclaimed: 
‘Beloved, let us give thanks to God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit, because in his great love for us he took pity on us, and when we were dead in our sins he brought us to life with Christ, so that in him we might be a new creation. Let us throw off our old nature and all its ways and, as we have come to birth in Christ, let us renounce the works of the flesh. 
 
Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God's own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God's kingdom.’
No martyr was ever perfect, but was perfected in the crucible of their suffering - their faith, hope and love purified in their sacrifice to God. Strengthened by grace, decisive in zeal, they knew above all others that ‘We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures: We are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.’ (Pope St John Paul II) who is Priest, Prophet and King.
Today we celebrate the martyr Blessed David Gunston, the ‘Good Knight’. We look to his example and we beg his prayers. We live in a new age of martyrs. No doubt the forces of evil will even now be reckoning the costs for each cruel instrument, each device that in some new atrocity will propel the saints to heaven. St Paul wisely and urgently counsels,
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”  . . . conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:13-21)