We Must Not Retreat: We Need New Thomas Mores For This Age
He was a Christian man who shows us the way to living a unity of life in the midst of the creeping darkness and distractions of our own age
The picture of Justice Scalia in that hat made me reflect on the need for men who embody the courage and coherence of Thomas More. However, we are going over a Moral Cliff which may make the economic maelstrom look mild in comparison.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - There was a scene in the 1972 Film, the Godfather, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, which I will never forget. Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, is the godfather at the Baptism of his nephew. During this baptism ceremony, he must respond to questions such as "Do you reject the glamour of evil?" and "Do you reject Satan and all his works?" by saying "I do."
While Michael is verbally renouncing evil in response to the questions posed by the priest in the midst of the administration of a Sacrament, his orders to kill rival gang leaders are being carried out with a brutality which reveals the face of evil. Michael's "I do's" in denouncement of Satan and his simultaneous participation in numerous acts of murder reveal an absolute disconnect.
That scene depicts a blatant example of what the Magisterium, the teaching office of the Catholic Church, has decried as the "greatest error of our age - the "separation between faith and life". Of course, other examples of this separation between faith and life are not so obvious. Yet, in their very subtlety, they may be more dangerous. Partly because we grow comfortable with them as we compartmentalize our lives.
How many times have we heard otherwise sincere Catholics engaged in business use the expression "its business" while they justify a failure to inform their business practices with the teachings of the faith. Perhaps we are numbered among them. Or, how many times have we heard Catholics, either in political life or exercising their vote say "its politics" to somehow justify morally incoherent political activity or a vote contrary to the Natural Moral law. "The Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life" issued in 2002 called upon Catholics to be "morally coherent" in the exercise of their citizenship. Sadly, the trends in our last election cycle reveal continuing incoherence. .
I have a fondness for Richmond, Virginia and keep up with what is happening there. While I was engaged in my PhD coursework in Moral Theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, my wife and I lived there. I served St. Benedicts Parish in Richmond and commuted to D.C. Among the blogs I read is one written by a fellow lawyer named Kevin Walsh in Richmond called Walshlaw. A January 21, 2013 caught my attention:
"The twitterverse is alive with tweets about Justice Scalia's headgear for today's inauguration. At the risk of putting all the fun speculation to an end . . . The hat is a custom-made replica of the hat depicted in Holbein's famous portrait of St. Thomas More. It was a gift from the St. Thomas More Society of Richmond, Virginia. We presented it to him in November 2010 as a memento of his participation in our 27th annual Red Mass and dinner."
The picture of Justice Scalia in that hat made me reflect on the need for men who embody the courage and coherence of Thomas More. Over the last couple of weeks I have heard from many disillusioned men and women expressing a deep concern over the crisis we face as a Nation. We allegedly avoided the so called fiscal cliff in the United States. However, we are going over a Moral Cliff which may make the economic maelstrom look mild in comparison.
Marriage is under assault as Courts and legislatures are used by cultural revolutionaries who seek to redefine the institution out of existence. The taking of innocent life in the first home of the womb continues unabated. Organizations such as Planned Parenthood which lead the war on the womb are now bragging over their new found clout in the political ruling class.
The Church's outreaches to the sick, the poor and the needy face the boot of a hostile federal government. The HHS regulations through which the Affordable Care Act will be enforced violate religious freedom. Catholic Christians know that the Gospel of Jesus Christ demands a response which goes beyond the walls of our Church buildings. We are our brother and sister's keeper.
We do not reach out to people in need because they are Catholic; we reach out to people in need because we are Catholic. No HHS regulation will compel us to violate our deeply held religious beliefs. No Presidential administration can compel us to stop caring for the poor, the sick and the needy. Clearly, the next few months are leading to an historic Church/State showdown in the United States of America.
On Oct 31, 2000, Blessed John Paul II, responded to petitions from the faithful across the world and issued an apostolic letter, Motu Propio, (on his own authority) proclaiming Thomas More the Patron of Statesmen and Politicians. The letter was addressed to "the Bishops of the Catholic Church and, in a particular way, to Catholic politicians and all lay members of the faithful called to participate in the political life of democratic societies."
Blessed John Paul II wrote "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. And even outside the Church, particularly among those with responsibility for the destinies of peoples, he is acknowledged as a source of inspiration for a political system which has as its supreme goal the service of the human person."
"Whenever men or women heed the call of truth, their conscience then guides their actions reliably towards good. 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. And even outside the Church, particularly among those with responsibility for the destinies of peoples, he is acknowledged as a source of inspiration for a political system which has as its supreme goal, the service of the human person."
The England of the sixteenth century was in the midst of a serious crisis of politics, culture and faith, much like the times in which we now live. In 1534 all citizens who were of age were required to take an oath called "The Act of Succession". It acknowledged that King Henry VIII was married to Anne Boleyn, even though he was not. His desire to divorce Catherine was not sufficient to make that marriage null and his attempt to use his political power to change the objective truth was unsuccessful.
So, the King used the power of his office to promulgate an unjust positive Law by which he proclaimed that he and Anne were lawfully married. He declared himself to be the Supreme Head of the Church in England, thus abrogating to himself the authority to determine that his lawful marital bond was dissolved and denying the authority of the successor of the Apostle Peter.
The Pope refused to collaborate with Henry's demand that he grant him an annulment from his lawful marriage so that he could pursue a different woman as his wife. He would not affirm Henry's decision to place his disordered desires over the objective truth. Thomas More knew the order of truth and applied a hierarchy of values in both his personal life and his public life. He lived as a faithful Catholic Christian, demonstrating a unity of life and moral coherence. He stayed faithful to the Truth.
In 1532, knowing that he could not enforce the declaration of his temporal King to usurp the authority of the Church which had been granted to it by the King of Kings, he resigned his political position. He tried to do so with the kind of integrity that had characterized his entire life. He withdrew from public life and bore the ridicule and taunts of those who once praised him. He offered the suffering to the Lord by joining it to the Cross of the Savior. 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, but he gained the peace which always comes through fidelity to the Lord. His hopes for a life with his family, lived in simplicity and fidelity to the Church, were short lived. The King, by now drunk on his own power, insisted that Thomas take the oath under the Act of Succession, thereby acknowledging the legitimacy of his marriage to Anne and his authority over the Church.
Thomas would not do so because he refused to violate his truly formed conscience. So, 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 some within his own family and circle of friends who failed to understand his actions because their minds had been dulled by compromise.
At the time, few would have even noticed if Thomas had succumbed to the Royal request. He could have "justified" the action through the exercise of his well honed rhetorical and logical skills by calling it a merely perfunctory action. He could have thereby restored his political position, some would have argued, in order to try to influence the King for the good over the long haul. He could have had his substantial properties restored if he had just sworn that oath, others would say, in order to provide material safety for his beloved family. Instead, this man who loved life, loved his family, loved his career and properly loved the world and all of its goods, loved the Lord first and would not compromise the Truth.
He was a Christian man who shows us the way to living a unity of life in the midst of the creeping darkness and distractions of our own age. He held in harmony his vocation as the father of a family with his profession as a lawyer and his service in the highest of Political offices. He knew that there is a hierarchy of values which bring with them a hierarchy of duties and loyalties. His witness in life and in death challenges us to examine whether we do.
How did he do it? Quite simply, he prayed. He lived in a communion with the Risen Lord as a faithful son of the Church which is His Body. He was truly in love with the Lord and chose to live in the Heart of the Catholic Church for the sake of the world. He teaches us, that the Christian vocation requires our constant response to the Lord's invitation to follow him and that we cannot get by on yesterdays' decisions.
During the brief time which he had with his family, after attempting to quietly resign rather than violate his formed conscience and before he was imprisoned, whenever 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 regularly to reflect upon the privation and sufferings of Jesus on our behalf and he prayed with them for the grace to join their own to Him on the Cross. He would not compromise the truth.
Thomas More was a morally coherent Catholic Christian man. That is the lesson of his life and of his Martyrs death. He beckons millions, across the expanse of time unto today, to follow his example as he followed the example of the Lord. This champion of heroic courage in the face of a State which has lost its soul never wavered in his fidelity to the Truth. He would not betray the truth or compromise it on the altar of public opinion or for political opportunism. He knew that to do so would not only have dishonored God and led his family and so many others astray, but that it would have given tacit assent to the emerging despotism of his age.
He was brought to trial for his fidelity to the Truth. Oh, as is always the case with persecution against Christians, it was framed as a charge against the "positive law". There, this outstanding lawyer defended the Truth for which he would later give his life. Thomas used the occasion of the Courtroom, where he had practiced his trade, to defend the Truth and its obligations in the temporal order.
In the eloquent words of Blessed John Paul II, who proclaimed him not only the Patron of all lawyers but the Patron of all politicians, "he made an impassioned defense of his own convictions on the indissolubility of marriage, the respect due to the juridical patrimony of Christian civilization, and the freedom of the Church in her relations with the State."
He was found guilty, even though he was a guardian of true innocence. That unjust verdict brings shame upon every unjust tribunal and misuse of governmental power. Thomas More was martyred for his moral coherence, his fidelity to the Catholic Christian faith. He was beheaded by the minions of a temporal leader who had abused his office and wielded the awful sword, the power of the State (which has as its very source God Himself) to inflict evil against those who refused to bow down in idolatrous worship of lies.
Thomas faced his executioners with the very same dignity he had shown in life, speaking with humor and affection to them even before they beheaded him. After his death it was found that he had left these words in the margin of his Book of Hours: "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..."
We need to reflect on how we are living our own Catholic faith in the midst of an increasingly hostile age. We face a similar challenge to that which faced St. Thomas More as our culture continues its decline. The attacks on true marriage are increasing in their severity. We are being invited to compromise for our own convenience and tempted to accept the rulings of Judicial Oligarchs and Alchemists who think that they can change the nature of this institution by the stroke of a pen.
Their collaborators in political office, some of whom are apostate Catholics, are now beginning to wield the figurative sword of temporal power against us. The recent HHS Mandate which threatens the fundamental human right to religious freedom is the tip of an iceberg. The truths taught by the Catholic Church, and revealed within the common patrimony of the Natural Law, are rejected in an age struggling under what was called by Pope Benedict XVI a "Dictatorship of Relativism."
The most egregious example is the rejection of the truth concerning the dignity and inviolability of ever human life. This fundamental Right to Life is taught by the Natural Law and confirmed by medical science. Yet it is denied by those in control of the power of the State, and the blood of the innocent flows. Thomas More's example calls us to live a unity of life. He calls us to moral coherence and integrity. He calls us to the opposite of retreat; he calls us to courage.
We need New Thomas Mores for this age.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
Keywords: politics, political participation, faithful citizenship, Inauguration, separation between faith and life, faithful citizenship, politics, religious liberty, right to life, Thomas More, Deacon Keith Fournier
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