I have been a daily Mass going Catholic since the age of 13. But yet in my teens and my twenties I yet was a relativist. I believed firmly in my faith and lived my life accordingly. But if a friend of mine told me of their plans to commit a serious sin, I said, “That’s cool. That’s your business.” In short, relativism which holds that everyone’s opinion is correct and there is no objective right and wrong, leads to the sin of omission.
Relativism began to creep into our culture with the Reformation. Somehow denying the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the authority of the Magisterium and the role of the human mother of Jesus in our sanctification that brought about many of the evils we face in our culture today.
Growing up in London at the peak of the Middle Ages, More did not have any attractive or compelling models of people who consciously set out to achieve Christian perfection in and through marriage. He did have many attractive models of priests who achieved sanctity by renouncing the world. To some extent More actually never shook completely this prejudice of his age that marriage was not a path to sainthood.
But in his early 20s he lived near the London Charterhouse, a Carthusian monastery, where he participated in the monk’s life of prayer, and learned their austere ways of living. He learned from the best spiritual masters in the London of his time. Many of these Carthusians later joined More in suffering death and some torture rather than reject their Catholic faith. But More discerned through these men that he was called to marriage. He became in his own words “a chaste husband rather than a licentious priest.” But he continued the practices of prayer and mortification he learned there throughout his life, actually wearing a hair shirt until his death.
The manner in which he chose his wife was unusual too. He picked her based on the good character of her parents. Jane Colt, age 17, was the oldest of 11 daughters, but More was actually attracted to her younger sister first. But feeling that it would be an insult if the younger sister married first he fixed his interest on the eldest. Unfortunately, she had not been educated as had been More, who at age 27 was already an accomplished scholar, lawyer and writer. When he set about improving her education, she resisted violently. She repeatedly threw herself on the floor and cried.
More looked for a solution to this problem, so arranged to visit her family and go hunting with her father. The father-in-law did not want to get involved so he told More that he had given her once and for all, and More should simply exercise his rights as a husband and beat her. More responded: “I know my rights as a husband, but I’d prefer to have her cured by your authority.”
So the father-in-law spoke to his daughter, reminded her that she had been a very homely girl, and he had not thought he could find her a husband for her at all. But with great difficulty he’d found the kind of husband any girl would long for. And now she was setting about to rebel against his authority. After that scolding, the girl promptly went down on her knees, begged her father’s forgiveness and did the same with her husband. After that both spouses were devoted to each other as both made the basis of their marriage the pursuit of virtue. Jane died in the sixth year of their marriage leaving More with four little children and no one to care for them. Within one month he married Alice Middleton. Six years his senior, Alice was the best and most virtuous of all the available women he knew. But again she lacked his education, or even his sense of humor. But they came to love each other well because of his kindness and humor.
Just before Jane’s death, (in 1510) More was elected to Parliament, and then Undersheriff of London. This meant that he was hearing hundreds of cases a year as a judge in London where his careful concern for justice got him a reputation as a completely incorruptible judge who would even make decisions against his own family members if they were in the wrong.
After 8 years of serving the common people as undersheriff, More reluctantly joined the king’s service because he saw an opportunity there to end the wars King Henry the VIII had undertaken in his ambition for power. More had known King Henry the VIII since they were boys, and they were good friends. King Henry would sometimes show up at More’s house in Chelsea unexpectedly “to make merry,” have dinner, and then stroll through More’s gardens arm in arm. This prompted More’s son-in-law, Roper, to congratulate him on the extraordinary favor he enjoyed with the King. But in this relationship, Sir Thomas More showed great realism and humility. “Son Roper,” More responded,” I may tell you that I have no cause to be proud because of this; for if my head could win him a castle in France, it should not fail to go.”
More rose to the position of Chancellor of England and the King’s secretary. But King Henry the VIII was getting restless in his 20-year marriage to Queen Catherine, his first wife. While he had had other affairs that had ended amicably without disturbing his marriage, a young woman named Anne Boleyn refused to bed the king, holding out for marriage. Ann Boleyn wanted to be queen in Catherine’s stead. King Henry wanted Ann. The Catholic Church did not grant divorce. What to do?
Ann began feeding the king Protestant texts. These texts said that the king ruled by divine right and not by the will of the people. Despite More’s efforts to constantly remind the king that he had previously spurned these Protestant authors, Henry gradually gave in to the bad advice of a group of straw men who used Henry’s lust to gain power. Amazingly Parliament defended the Church, but the Church’s own governing body gave in. In 1531, Henry was declared Supreme Head of the Catholic Church in England. In 1532 More resigned his office, but did everything he could to avoid confronting the King directly. In 1533, the king’s puppet archbishop approved the king’s divorce. Ann Boleyn had her coronation as queen of England and many Catholic bishops attended. They sent More money for a gown so he could go also, but More sent it back saying diplomatically through a story that he did not want to compromise his virtue. By 1534 Henry was trying to get More indicted for treason against the king. And everyone had to sign a document saying the king was the Supreme Head of the Church of England, or else they faced execution. More’s friends and family signed. All the Roman Catholic bishops in England signed except one, John Fisher, and he was executed as was More. More would not sign.
Locked in the Tower of London, for 15 months before his execution on July 6, 1535, More wrote the “Sadness of Christ.” He had meditated long and hard on the Passion of Christ his whole life. Now, the fruit of that meditation would allow him to go to the gallows telling jokes.
In the Agony in the Garden, More saw a “clear and sharp mirror image” of what occurs in every age. Many of God’s martyrs went to their deaths joyfully, hardly noticing that they were being killed. But for some reason, the Gospels record that Christ was so full of fear he sweat blood and had to be consoled by an angel. More pondered why Christ, who was God, allowed Himself to show such weakness. Besides He had told his followers not to fear death, but the enemy who can take away eternal life.
More wrote, “For He hardly intended it to mean that they should never under any circumstances recoil from a violent death, but rather that they should not, out of fear, flee from a death which will not last, only to run, by denying the faith into one which will be everlasting.”
He compared this decision for martyrdom when it absolutely cannot be avoided to an amputation. The doctor tells you to endure the momentary pain of the amputation so that you might have the pleasure of health and the avoidance of even more pain. “Indeed, though our Savior Christ commands us to suffer death (when it cannot be avoided) rather than fall away from Him through a fear of death (and we do fall away from Him when we publicly deny our faith in Him), still He does not require us to do violence to our nature by not fearing death at all.”
In fact, Jesus said, “If you are persecuted in one city, flee to another.” All of Christ’s disciples did just that until God in His Providence led them to their end. More counsels us not to volunteer to for martyrdom. It is only required if your last remaining choice is to deny God or die.
More said that Christ foresaw that there would be many people of such a delicate constitution that they would be convulsed with terror at the thought of being tortured, so he chose to encourage them by the example of his own sorrow, sadness, weariness and unequalled fear. For these little sheep, Christ deliberately placed the story of His own Agony in the Garden into Scripture by telling it to the apostles after His Resurrection! More concludes there were no witnesses to the sweating blood of Christ because they were all asleep. Plus he didn’t have time to tell anyone about it until after He was dead. Nevertheless, he wanted us to know of his weakness and fear to encourage his followers in future ages.
|Joseph sold into slavery in Egypt|
But nevertheless, in the “Sadness of Christ,” More contrasts sharply Judas being wide awake planning Jesus’ betrayal, while the other 11 were asleep. “Does not this contrast between the traitor and the apostles present to us a clear and sharp mirror image, a sad and terrible view of what has happened throughout the ages form those times even to our own? Why do not bishops contemplate in this scene their own somnolence? Since they
And while the apostles slept out of sadness, many sleep down through the ages even until More’s time “because of a fear of injury to themselves, a fear which is so much the worse as its cause is the more contemptible, that is, when it is not a question of life or death, but of money.” How many times have I heard that we cannot preach against abortion from the pulpit because we will lose our non-profit tax exempt status. The bishop of Arlington, Virginia, some years ago said if money is preventing us from standing up for human life, Catholic Churches should surrender our tax exempt status voluntarily.
Thomas More and brave Bishop John Fisher were not canonized until 1935-- 400 years after their deaths. The Catholic religion which More defended with his life was outlawed in England until 1829. Only in 1850 did England have its Catholic hierarchy restored, and their first act was to request Sir Thomas More be given his due.
Nothing happens accidentally, everything is gifted providentially. G.K. Chesterton said in 1929 that “Blessed Thomas More is more important at this moment than at any moment since his death, even perhaps the great moment of his dying; but he is not quite so important as he will be in about 100 years time.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, St. Thomas More was canonized on the eve of the atrocities of World War II. But he is gaining in popularity now.
What has happened to our world in the meantime! In California, a court has legalized homosexual unions, which will lead to homosexual marriage nationwide because anyone can marry in California, whether resident or not. In Boston, the Catholic Church has been forced to stop handling adoptions because they are required by law to allow homosexuals to adopt. The Anglican Church is ordaining both women and homosexuals as bishops. The remnant of true Catholics in the Anglican religion are petitioning Rome directly to accept them back into the Catholic Church because when they tried to return to the Catholic faith some years before, they were not welcomed by the Catholic bishops in the United Kingdom. In Florida, Terri Schiavo, a handicapped woman was starved to death by a judge who ruled in favor of her estranged husband. Terry’s Catholic bishop would not send a priest to her side when she was dying so a bishop from another diocese in the United States sent one of his bishops. Recently, I heard Jesse Ramirez on the radio, and the same thing happened to him. He was having a fight with his wife over her infidelities. She grabbed the steering wheel on the car he was driving and he ended up in hospital in a vegetative state. She had his feeding tube removed. Jesse had joined his wife’s religion, the LDS, to keep the peace in the family, but he was a lapsed Catholic. So his parents asked the Catholic bishop to give him the last sacraments, but the bishop refused saying Jesse was dead. However, another court stopped the starvation, and Jesse recovered to return to the Catholic faith, receive the sacraments and tell us the story on the radio a few weeks ago.
My dear friends, please do as St. Thomas More said, and pray constantly. Pray for priests. Pray for bishops. Pray for lay Catholics in United States in positions of authority. Ask God to give them the courage of Christ as exemplified in the life of St. Thomas More. Lord, keep us all awake. The only way for these catastrophes to have fallen upon us in our age is because many, many Christians have fallen asleep. Many voters have fallen asleep. Some years ago I was contrasting the persecution we suffer in the Legion of Mary in the U.S. versus China. In China, they imprisoned us, they killed us, they tortured us. In the U.S. we suffer from benign neglect and supreme indifference. But as St. Thomas More told his family, “We’re not going to heaven in a featherbed.”