June 17, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

The wisdom of the saints: St. Thomas More

John F. FinkSt. Thomas More, whose feast is on June 22, is possibly the best example of a man who could be eminently successful in secular life while still maintaining the religious practices that can make anyone a saint. I titled my book about him St. Thomas More: Model for Modern Catholics.

This “man for all seasons” was the father of four children and foster-father of another, an eminent lawyer and judge, Lord Chancellor of England, one of the greatest authors of the 16th century—The Complete Works of Thomas More, published by Yale University Press, consists of 15 large volumes—and a deeply spiritual man.

He was beheaded on June 6, 1535, because he would not acknowledge King Henry VIII as supreme head of the Church in England.

He wrote that even the greatest of earthly pleasures is “little, simple, short and suddenly past.” Why, he asked, would any sane person buy a momentary pleasure for an eternity of pain?

Furthermore, he said, if we would compare all the pleasures of this world, we would discover that the greatest by far is a clear conscience.

He was in prison because his conscience would not allow him to condone King Henry’s actions. Many times, his family tried to persuade him to sign the oath that would free him from prison. They criticized him for what they called his “scruple of conscience.”

When his wife, Alice, called him a fool for remaining in a filthy prison with rats and mice when he could be free, Thomas asked her, “How long, my Alice, shall I be able to enjoy this life?”

“A full 20 years, if God so wills,” Alice replied.

Thomas said: “Do you wish me, then, to exchange eternity for 20 years? Here, good wife, you do not bargain very skillfully.”

In a letter from prison to his daughter Meg, Thomas said that he trusted fully in God’s merciful goodness.

He wrote, “By the merits of his bitter passion joined to mine and far surpassing in merit for me all that I can suffer myself, his bounteous goodness shall release me from the pains of purgatory and shall increase my reward in heaven besides.”

If he felt himself weakening, he wrote, he would do as St. Peter did when he was sinking in the water: “call upon Christ and pray to him for help. And then I trust [that] he will place his holy hand on me, and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning.”

He was fully confident, he wrote, that God would not let him be lost. “I shall, therefore, with good hope commit myself wholly to him. And if he permits me to perish for my faults, then I shall serve as praise for his justice.”

He finished the letter: “And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.” †

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