Some may remember the homily I preached three years ago, on the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, relating the story of the priest who was on board, Fr. Thomas Byles:
Exactly 100 years ago, Sunday, April 14th, 1912, Fr. Byles celebrated Mass. It was “Low Sunday” for the first Sunday after Easter. He read the exact same readings we just heard, and those who were on board said he preached a homily about using prayer as your life vest, and the sacraments to save your soul in a spiritual shipwreck.
That night, he was walking the upper deck, wearing his topcoat, and praying his breviary, when the Titanic struck that fateful iceberg.
Fr. Byles remained on the ship, hearing confessions, offering prayers. Twice, he was offered a seat on a lifeboat and he refused. People gathered around him and he blessed them and gave general absolution. He went into third class, where the servants and working class people were staying. Many were Catholic. He heard confessions and offered blessings. He led those on board in reciting the rosary. People on the lifeboats later said they could hear his voice calling out the prayers, and people of every language answering back. Loudest of all, they could hear the desperate pleas: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us now and the hour of our death, Amen…”
Shortly after 2 a.m., the ship slipped into the Atlantic and disappeared. Some 1500 people perished. One of them was Father Byles. His body was never recovered.
In Brooklyn, William Byles and his fiancée went ahead with their wedding, a low Mass presided over by another priest, a friend of the bride. After the ceremony, they changed into clothes for mourning, and returned to the same church for a requiem Mass.
A year later, William and his wife traveled to Rome and were granted a private audience with Pope Pius X, who had heard the story of Father Byles. He told William his brother was a martyr for the faith.
This Sunday, as we hear again the story of a Thomas who doubted, remember this story of a Thomas who sought and believed.
And remember this: God never gives up on those who earnestly seek Him.
Now there is a movement afoot to have Fr. Byles declared a saint:
Father Thomas Byles, of St Helen’s Church, Chipping Ongar, Essex, boarded the ship at Southampton to attend his younger brother’s wedding in New York.
But when it sank in 1912 he twice refused to join a lifeboat and instead remained with passengers to pray.
The current priest at St Helen’s Church said Father Byles should be canonised.
Father Graham Smith said: “He’s an extraordinary man who gave his life for others.
“We need, in very old parlance, to raise him to the altar which means that the Vatican will recognise him as a martyr of the church.
“We are hoping and praying that he will be recognised as one of the saints within our canon.”
Read the rest. Fr. Thomas Byles, pray for us!
Read my full homily here.