Reflexion: remembering Saint Sir Thomas More

'Pretence... does not befit our time of life; many young people would suppose that Eleazar at the age of ninety had conformed to the foreigners' way of life and, because I had played this part for the sake of a paltry brief spell of life, might themselves be led astray on my account; I should only bring defilement and disgrace on my old age. Even though for the moment I avoid execution by man, I can never, living or dead, elude the grasp of the Almighty. Therefore if I am man enough to quit this life here and now, I shall prove myself worthy of my old age, and I shall have left the young a noble example of how to make a good death, eagerly and generously, for the venerable and holy laws.' 
_______________________— 2 Maccabees 24-28

'England hath need of thee, she is a fen / Of stagnant waters; altar, sword and pen, / Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower, / Have forfeited their ancient English dower / Of inward happiness.'
_______________________— W. Wordsworth, 'London, 1802'

Today, England celebrates the feast day of two very special saints: Saint John Fisher and Saint Sir Thomas More, both of whom were beheaded after refusing to acknowledge Henry VIII's Act of Supremacy. They were man enough to stand up and declare that no king could ever be the head of the Church, only God can — and that no man could ever do whatever he wanted with the institution of marriage, something sacred given to us by God.

Saint Sir Thomas More holds a special place in my heart, and he (along with Saint John Fisher) is among the saints whom I regularly invoke for prayers. He was a lawyer, the then Lord Chancellor, the Treasurer of the Exchequer, a father, a teacher, a musician and writer, and most importantly, a man of faith. That's a lot!

Now a number of people are going to turn round and tell me that More ordered the burnings/killings of some heretics of his day. However true this is, what matters is the fact that he is now a saint — he is at peace with God — and that he has had extraordinary courage in defending the Faith, and even living to that example, not asking for martyrdom, but when it came to him, he shed his blood by Christ's example.

To show the kind of esteem that both religious and secular scholars give him: I remember back when I was doing my LLB Year 2 (this was somewhere in October 2010). We had our first Land Law lecture in the St Albans Law School. Just to get our minds warmed up, the lecturer decided to ask us about prominent law figures. The picture of More above was shown in the slides. When the lecturer asked, "Does anyone know who this is?", not many people knew the answer. But then again, the public would've expected me to answer 'Sir Thomas More' in reply. Instead, I answered happily, "Saint Thomas More!", thus giving away my identity and convictions: from that moment it dawned upon me that I was the only Catholic among 200-odd law students in my year. The lecturer was delighted to find that I had answered correctly, however unexpected the answer was!

Religious and secular scholars both agree that we'd never find a man like More in a long time. Oooooohhh, how right they were.

The issues during More's time, that is to say, about 480 years ago, are the same as they are today: the meaning of marriage is still being compromised, there are people lording over spiritual issues as if they were the key determiners of matters of faith from day one, there is still persecution and discrimination on the grounds of conviction. Marriage is no longer magical precisely because we changed it to suit our own whims and fancies. We have no more beautiful images of Prince Charming coming to pursue a very sensible, kind-hearted but strong princess. Instead, there is a complete haze, as marriage seems to have been reduced to a contract between any two people for any time. Divorce almost always falls into the picture. And because we can't even be consistent with it, no one's even going to take us seriously whenever we talk about marriage, unless it suits the person listening to us.

Henry VIII, you have a lot of explaining to do.

And while reflecting on More's courage in the face of his friend, the king, who betrayed him, I think upon his words: he declared that he died "the king's good servant, but God's first".

I'm sure he will have said that with so much boldness that people either thought he was rude, or possessed a certain bravado which he wouldn't get away with. Some would say that he spoke like a lawyer. Naturally so — he was the Lord Chancellor of his day. Yes, and people like him had families and raised them with love and faith. The whole point behind it all is that he loved, he wanted what was best for his friend, the king. The king did not listen to him, but God saw through the shedding of his blood, and now he's a saint. Times like these, we need passionate people, people who through their actions, their speech and their emotions, mean what they say and say what they mean.

More started what we continue today: the defence of marriage as an insoluble union between one man and one woman with openness to children. It is the building block of strong families. He recognised that when his friend, Henry VIII, was erring. Of course, we who defend marriage recognise that, and get all the flak for it! But if he went to the block and was willing to put his life on the line, then we should have the same courage. I remember having a debate-turned-argument with a friend of mine, who basically took the stubborn, lop-sided view that one could do anything he wanted with marriage, and it was a shoddy understanding of love: his understanding of love is that it was based on warm feelings. But the love that More espouses, the love that the saints espouse, is the same love shown by Christ: agape (pronounced ah-ga-pay). It means that we act and intend what is best for the other. This even applies to loving our enemies, and the people who don't get along with us.

Let's face it: married couples aren't going to remain lovey-dovey all the time. That's the reality of marriage. Parents and children would fall out with each other. Friends would break apart. There are no warm feelings involved in changing a nappy at crazy-o'-clock in the morning. There are no warm feelings involved in caring for someone with Alzheimer's — in fact, much of it is piercing sadness. True love is not dependent on feelings — it is just wanting the best. More wanted the best for his friend, and he wanted to serve God, even unto death. And he did, as his friend ordered him to be put to death. He is the much-needed witness that Britain needs today.

There need to be extraordinary people standing in defence of marriage, in defence of the unborn, in defence of the people who are persecuted and whose liberties have been taken away, in defence of the virtue of forgiveness, in defence of peace. More was such a man. I wanna be one too.

I will expected to be frowned upon for writing all that I write, but to hell with political correctness! The world does not belong to the strong and the brutal, because strong and brutal alike will die as meek men do. The world does not belong to those who think they can have their way. Rather, it belongs to those who are faithful, those who stand as men of principle.

Saint Thomas More, pray for us!

See also:
Thomas More, Man for this Moment: Moral Coherence and Religious Freedom 


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