In a few days, we will have the results of our national and local elections, and we will get the types of leaders we deserve. In what has become a bitter and very contentious race to the top, we will harvest the results of our failure to deal realistically with the issues of an election, and our surrender to a media-driven frenzy that has focused almost exclusively on the superficial, cult-driven, flawed personalities that are the product of over-inflated egos. Where did we get lost?!!
In his reflections on The Sadness of Christ, one of my patron saints, St. Thomas More, said that Jesus “wished His followers to be brave and prudent soldiers, not senseless and foolish.” If we consider the life and witness of this one-time Lord Chancellor of all England, we see a man who exemplified a heroic Catholic manhood to an extraordinary extent, — a man who was a brave and prudent soldier of Christ. We see this most clearly in his defense of marriage and of family life, for which reason King Henry VIII ordered his execution.
Those who knew him would hardly dare to call Thomas More a fool. He had one of the keenest intellects of his day, and used it to engage in debate with many noted figures. We might dare to say that there are certain aspects of a “foolishness” found in St. Thomas More. The first sort of foolishness found in him is that of a good wit and ready humor, which he used to entertain his family and friends. The second sort of foolishness found in him is that of the wisdom of God for, as Saint Paul tells us, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (I Cor. 1:25). There were, to be sure, some who thought him foolish for his repeated refusal to sign the Oath of Supremacy. St. Thomas willingly allowed himself to be considered a fool in the sight of this world, but, in doing so, he showed the wisdom of God. He showed not only his sensibility, but also his great prudence, “for what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life.”
Living in the midst of the Protestant Reformation, St. Thomas actively engaged in the weighty questions of his day, many of which are needlessly debated again in our own day: Can women can be ordained priests? Is the Catholic Church the only Church Jesus Christ established on this earth? Why can’t priests marry? How can Jesus be truly present in the Eucharist? Though he often found such questions to be foolish, Saint Thomas always sought to engage those who asked these questions in a genuine dialogue and discussion — not to gloat over their error or demonstrate his superior intelligence, but to lead them to the truth. He would patiently draw out of them the true conclusions to their own questions, and showing how the other conclusions of the reformers were incorrect and inconsistent with the Scriptures and the history and tradition of the Church. He did all of this in his books and letters, and conversations with his family and friends, co-workers and neighbors. He wasn’t afraid of controversial topics and questions; rather, he invited others into those controversies in order to come to the truth of the matter. In this way, he sought to bring those who had left the Church back into its fold, to receive God’s grace and mercy in the Sacraments, and to be restored to communion in the Body of Christ.
But to do so, St. Thomas first had to understand their questions and explore and study the teachings and history of the Church. He made the time to do so while living as a devoted husband and father, as a faithful friend to many – all this while bearing the burden of serving the King in the highest office of the land.
Much of his life was devoted to the administration of justice, and he did everything in his power to judge justly. He refused bribes and showed no preference for the rich, treating them in the same way he treated the poor. He was concerned not with the advancement of his own position, but in faithfully discharging the duties of his office. In this way, he served both God and king, while at the same time serving his neighbor.
We are often not as busy as St. Thomas, yet we still make many excuses about why we do not study the faith in greater depth. We recognize the gaps in our knowledge, but what do we do to fill them? More often than not, we wait for someone else to come along and fill them in for us, all the while keeping this dark secret to ourselves, and leaving those gaps unfilled.
Today, we have greater access to more resources than St. Thomas could ever have dreamed of having. We have the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We have the writings of the Church Fathers and the lives of the saints available on our smartphones and computers. We have a treasure trove of information available to us in many apologetic magazines and podcasts. But do we avail ourselves of these many resources? I can’t help but wonder if Thomas were to look in our homes today, would he be able to see something like this about our own households? What are the chief subjects of discussion in our homes –Faith, or something less important?
At the end of his life, Saint Thomas famously said, “I die the king’s good servant — but God’s first!!” To judge justly and without preference for persons can be a great challenge for us, but St. Thomas knew that God’s “assistance is always at hand, if we are willing to work with it.” In both his life and death, More showed himself to be a brave and prudent soldier of Christ. If he, who had so much to lose, could live in this way, if he could be a faithful and intentional disciple of Jesus, then so can you and I. We, too, are called to be, and can be, brave and prudent soldiers of Christ.