Thomas More: The Man for This Season
The United States of America is in a spiraling crisis. We need heroic witnesses. So allow me to share my admiration of that great man of God Thomas More.
Saint John Paul II held Thomas More up as a model. “Whenever men or women heed the call of truth, their conscience then guides their actions reliably towards good,” he said. “Precisely because of the witness which he bore, even at the price of his life, to the primacy of truth over power, Saint Thomas More is venerated as an imperishable example of moral integrity.”
More is “a source of inspiration for a political system which has as its supreme goal, the service of the human person.” For Catholics, he’s the patron saint of lawyers and of politicians.
Thomas More’s Witness
What did he do? The England of the sixteenth century was in a serious crisis of politics, culture and faith, much like the times in which we now live in the United States of America. King Henry VIII used his power to demand people accept his new wife and renounce their religious faith. A faithful Catholic, Thomas could not go along.
He held one the highest offices in the land, and was a friend and counselor to the king. He resigned his political position. He withdrew from public life and bore the ridicule of those who once praised him.
The Christian political involvement “is not an intrusion into the government of individual countries. It is a question of the lay Catholic’s duty to be morally coherent, found within one’s conscience, which is one and indivisible.
“There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called ‘spiritual life’, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called ‘secular’ life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture. The branch, engrafted to the vine which is Christ, bears its fruit in every sphere of existence and activity.”
— The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church
He then tried to continue to care for his beloved family, the domestic church of the home, by teaching them how to live lives of virtue and simplicity. He had lost his prestige and his considerable financial resources. He offered his suffering to the Lord .
That wasn’t good enough for Henry. He insisted that Thomas give in. Thomas refused.
The king had his former counselor imprisoned in the Tower of London. There he underwent intense tortures of both body and soul. These came not only from the henchmen of the State but even from his family and friends who begged him to compromise.
At the time, few would have even noticed if Thomas gave in. Probably most people expected him to, because all of his peers had compromised their beliefs to save their positions. He could have justified it by telling himself he would restore his political position and once again influence the king for the good. He could take care of his beloved family.
Instead, this man who loved life, loved his family, properly loved the created world and all of its true goods, loved the Lord first and would not compromise the Truth. He was an ordinary Christian who shows the rest of us ordinary Christians the way to live in the midst of the creeping darkness and distractions of our own age.
He Loved the Lord First
How did he do it? Thomas truly loved the Lord. He prayed. He lived in a communion with the Risen Lord as a faithful son of the Church. He teaches us that the Christian calling requires our constant response to the Lord’s invitation to follow him.
During that brief time which he had with his family before he was imprisoned, when his wife or children complained about their lack he would tell them that they could not expect to “go to heaven in featherbeds.” He taught them to reflect upon the privation and sufferings of Jesus on our behalf. He prayed with them for the grace to join their own sufferings to Jesus’s sufferings on the Cross.
After a year in the Tower, he was brought to trial for his fidelity to the Truth. He was found guilty and sentenced to death, as he knew he would be.
He faced his executioners with the same dignity he had shown in life, speaking with humor and affection to them even before they beheaded him. He said before the executioner cut off his head, “I die the king’s good servant, and God’s first.”
After his death it was found that he had left these words in the margin of the book of prayers he prayed every day:
Give me your grace, good Lord, to set the world at naught … to have my mind well united to you; to not depend on the changing opinions of others … so that I may think joyfully of the things of God and tenderly implore his help. So that I may lean on God’s strength and make an effort to love him …. So as to thank Him ceaselessly for his benefits; so as to redeem the time I have wasted.
A Man for All Seasons
Thomas More is called a Man for All Seasons. He is truly a man for this season. He calls us to a unity of life, to moral coherence and integrity in our exercise of our civic duty, to do what is right no matter what the state threatens us with.
Let us choose those candidates who will hold back the collapse, defend religious freedom, restore to the civil law the Natural Law recognition of the Right to Life, and allow the Christian community, in all of its confessional diversity, truly free — to do what she alone can do, bring authentic conversion to the Nation.
Let us follow Thomas More in turn to the Lord he loved, the Lord he followed all the way to the scaffold. These may be difficult times but they are our times. We were born, and born again, for these times. We are America’s true children, and God’s first.