Monday, July 6, 2015

On the Feast of St. Thomas More

Happy Name Day, William Thomas!
Our youngest son, William Thomas, was named specifically for St. Thomas More.  Shortly before God sent crazy William along, we'd read the novel  A Man Born Again by John Edward Beahn (an excellent book we highly recommend) and, finding ourselves the parents of children numbering in the double digits, felt like St. Thomas was just the man we needed on our saintly speed dial.

The father of four children and the counselor and father figure to several others during his life, St. Thomas was the consummate family man, intimately involved in the lives of his children, highly interested in their education, their friendships, and their health, -- physically, mentally, and spiritually.  We're fortunate to have proof of his fatherly concern for his children in the letters he wrote them, and I've never found a better model than this father for saintly, every day parenting ; all through his correspondences -- clearly on  the surface and in between the lines of his practical advice on every day matters, St. Thomas shares his love of God, his love of his Faith, and the priority he holds them.

As most Catholics know the story goes, Thomas More backed up his words and advice to others with action.  He didn't just talk the talk; he was one of the few who get the chance to really walk the walk.  Many of us have played out the scenario in our minds...  Seriously what would we do if we do if we really had to choose between our Faith and the status quot?  What if we had to choose between our Faith and our lives?

Thomas, a respected employee of the "government" of the king of England in the 16th century (he was named Lord Chancellor of England in 1529) was forced to make that choice -- and he was horrified that he had to.  He was not one to run to the embrace of the executioner.  He had a family he loved that he didn't want to leave and, hoping it might be possible to circumvent the the madness of King Henry's obsessions, he tried to find a loophole out of the whole business.  But it was not to be.  When required by King Henry VIII to sign allegiance to him over the pope, accepting Henry's newly formed Church of England, St. Thomas, against the pleadings of his loving family, refused -- and refused; and refused -- and ultimately lost his life rather than give up his Roman Catholic faith. 

 And his family was left behind.  No father to protect them, to support them, to joke and advise and hug them on his return from the castle every evening. It was a sad earthly loss. I'm sure his family never stopped missing his physical presence. But, what an example! And how they must have benefited from his intercession for them in heaven!   Thomas More's legacy to all of us is the example of his real love -- of God, of his Faith, and of his family -- and even his nation; for love of all, he maintained his integrity, his love of truth, his ultimate and unwavering honor of the laws of God and the Church. Loved so much that he made the ultimate sacrifice for it.  Though the whole world -- even his own family -- was against his decision to hold true to the Church against Henry VIII, there was never anything more important to St. Thomas than eternal salvation -- for himself and for his family.  Everything else was transitory; he taught his children so and sealed his belief with his blood.  His children did not get to live out the rest of their lives in earthly comfort and honor in King Henry VIII's England, but they had a father who was a saint.   And you can't beat that.  You really can't.

A fascinating description of St. Thomas from a contemporary:

To begin then with what is least known to you, in stature he is not tall, though not remarkably short. His limbs are formed with such perfect symmetry as to leave nothing to be desired. His complexion is white, his face rather than pale and though by no means ruddy, a faint flush of pink appears beneath the whiteness of his skin. His hair is dark brown or brownish black. The eyes are grayish blue, with some spots, a kind which betokens singular talent, and among theEnglish is considered attractive, whereasGermans generally prefer black. It is said that none are so free of vice. His countenance is in harmony with his character, being always expressive of an amiable joyousness, and even an incipient laughter and, to speak candidly, it is better framed for gladness than for gravity or dignity, though without any approach to folly or buffoonery. The right shoulder is a little higher than the left, especially when he walks. This is not a defect of birth, but the result of habitsuch as we often contract. In the rest of his person there is nothing to offend . . .He seems born and framed for friendship, and is a most faithful and enduring friend . . .When he finds any sincere and according to his heart, he so delights in their society and conversation as to place in it the principal charm of life . . .In a word, if you want a perfect model of friendship, you will find it in no one better than in More . . .In human affairs there is nothing from which he does not extract enjoyment, even from things that are most serious. If he converses with the learned and judicious, he delights in their talent, if with the ignorant and foolish, he enjoys their stupidity. He is not even offended by professional jesters. With a wonderful dexterity he accommodates himself to every disposition. As a rule, in talking with women, even with his own wife, he is full of jokes and banter. No one is less led by the opinions of the crowd, yet no one departs less from common sense . . . 
   -- Erasmus,  July 1519

Celebrating the Day

*  You can find the life story of St. Thomas -- in a nutshell -- here.
*   There are two versions of the life of St. Thomas on film, A Man for All Seasons, of course.  One stars Paul Scofield (1966), the other, Charlton Heston (1988).  (Though we can't help liking Charlton Heston, we prefer the Scofield version, ourselves...)
* It might be appropriate for the day to serve traditional English fare.  Here's a recipe for Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding and here's one for Cornish Pasties.  You can find lots of other ideas here.

Prayer of St. Thomas More

Give me the grace, Good Lord...

To set the world at naught. To set the mind firmly on You and not to hang upon the words of men's mouths.

To be content to be solitary. Not to long for worldly pleasures. Little by little utterly to cast off the world and rid my mind of all its business.

Not to long to hear of earthly things, but that the hearing of worldly fancies may be displeasing to me.

Gladly to be thinking of God, piteously to call for His help. To lean into the comfort of God. Busily to labor to love Him.

To know my own vileness and wretchedness. To humble myself under the mighty hand of God. To bewail my sins and, for the purging of them, patiently to suffer adversity.

Gladly to bear my purgatory here. To be joyful in tribulations. To walk the narrow way that leads to life.

To have the last thing in remembrance. To have ever before my eyes my death that is ever at hand. To make death no stranger to me. To foresee and consider the everlasting fire of Hell. To pray for pardon before the judge comes.

To have continually in mind the passion that Christ suffered for me. For His benefits unceasingly to give Him thanks.

To buy the time again that I have lost. To abstain from vain conversations. To shun foolish mirth and gladness. To cut off unnecessary recreations.

Of worldly substance, friends, liberty, life and all, to set the loss at naught, for the winning of Christ.

To think my worst enemies my best friends, for the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred.

These minds are more to be desired of every man than all the treasures of all the princes and kings, Christian and heathen, were it gathered and laid together all in one heap.

(Written by St. Thomas when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London)

St.Thomas More wrote the following letter to his daughter Margaret with a charcoal stick. It was written from prison on July 5, 1535, the day before he was executed.

Our Lord bless you, good daughter, and your good husband, and your little boy, and all yours, and all my children, and all my god-children and all our friends. Recommend me when ye may to my good daughter Cecily, whom I beseech Our Lord to comfort; and I send her my blessing and to all her children, and pray her to pray for me. I send her a handkercher, and God comfort my good son, her husband. My good daughter Daunce hath the picture in parchment that you delivered me from my Lady Coniers, her name on the back. Show her that I heartily pray her that you may send it in my name to her again, for a token from me to pray for me.
I like special well Dorothy Colly. I pray you be good unto her. I would wot whether this be she that you wrote me of. If not, yet I pray you be good to the other as you may in her affliction, and to my good daughter Jane Aleyn too. Give her, I pray you, some kind answer, for she sued hitherto me this day to pray you be good to her.

I cumber you, good Margaret, much, but I would be sorry if it should be any longer than to-morrow, for it is St. Thomas's even, and the utas of St. Peter; and therefore, to-morrow long I to go to God. It were a day very meet and convenient for me.

I never liked your manner towards me better than when you kissed me last; for I love when daughterly love and dear charity hath no leisure to look to worldly courtesy. Farewell, my dear child, and pray for me, and I shall for you and all your friends, that we may merrily meet in heaven. I thank you for your great cost. I send now my good daughter Clement her algorism stone, and I send her and my godson and all hers God's blessing and mine. I pray you at time convenient recommend me to my good son John More. I liked well his natural fashion. Our Lord bless him and his good wife, my loving daughter, to whom I pray him to be good, as he hath great cause; and that, if the land of mine come to his hands, he break not my will concerning his sister Daunce. And the Lord bless Thomas and Austin, and all that they shall have.

St. Thomas More, help us, by your holy example and your prayers, to save our own souls and lead our children also to heaven. Help us to form our consciences rightly in these difficult times, to always stand up for our Faith even when the whole world around us is caving in to worldly pressure.  

*Repost from 2012

1 comment:

Cathy Keller said...

Saint Thomas is one of my favorite saints. My dad's name was William Thomas, but he was named after Saint Thomas Aquinas. Have a wonderful day!