Every saint in Heaven, and on earth, are worthy of remembrance. Not
only as models of those who have gone before us as examples as to how to live
our lives for the Lord, but also because of the various ways they did so.
Many times we use the lives of the saints to see how they handled similar
situations in our own lives. When I think of the times we live in, I feel
drawn to the lives of two saints whose lives and times mirror our own. They
are St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas More.
St. Francis saw the rise of the middle class, the merchants. Where many
of the noble families lived in poverty, the rising merchant class lived in
relative luxury. As a young man dreaming of knighthood, St. Francis gave a
noble knight his new, expensive armor for the knight's poor, rusted pieces.
His times were rocked by those who felt that the Church and the world was too
involved in riches. One heretical sect went so far as to kill religious who
they felt didn't enforce others to 'share' the wealth. When St. Francis'
conversion was complete, he and his companions went from town to town
preaching how good repentance was.
"When the people heard them, they said: "Who are these men, and why do
they speak like this?" They made this comment because at that time the fear
and love of God had died out in the country and no one spoke of penance which
indeed was considered as folly. This attitude was caused by the temptations
of the flesh, the cupidity of the world, and the pride of life; the whole of
mankind seemed engulfed in these three evil forces." (Legend of the Three
Companions; St. Francis of Assisi; Omnibus of Sources; pg 922)
Today, we see much the same attitudes. To speak of sin, penance and conversion is deemed
foolish. The notion that sin is only what one considers a sin, etc. This
attitude, then as now, stems from a loss of the fear and love of God. After
all, if, as they feel, God loves them regardless, then there is no need to
follow His commands, whether out of love for Him, or out of fear of
punishment. This attitude either comes from, or contributes to, sin. Pride
of life, temptations of the flesh, cupidity, all lead to sin, and in some
cases smother the love of God we are to have.
As Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe noted, when sin
becomes the center of one's life, they tend to keep away from the Church, who
could give them comfort and relief. Some go so far as to even oppose and
attack the Church. St. Francis' answer to the challenges was simple.
Obedience. He wrote:
"...what is more hopeless than a religious who spurns obedience?" (Celano's
Second Life CXIII, Omnibus, pg. 485)
"Take a lifeless body and place it were you will. You will see that it
does not resist being moved, it does not murmur about its position, it does not
cry out if it is allowed to lie there. ...'This' he said,' is a truly
obedient man; he does not ask why he is moved, he cares not where he is
placed, he does not insist on being changed elsewhere." (Ibid. chap CXII.,
"Holy Obedience puts to shame all natural and selfish desires," (The Praise
of the Virtues.)
"Brother Francis promises obedience and reverence to his holiness Pope
Honorius and his lawfully elected successors and to the Church of Rome." (The
Rule of 1223; Omnibus of Sources, pg. 57)
Through obedience to God and His Vicar on earth, St. Francis of Assisi lit
a flame of faith that illumined the Church for centuries.
St. Thomas More was opposed to the corruption and abuses found in the
Church of his day. Many religious seemed more intent on gaining earthly
honors and wealth than serving God. Though he admired Cardinal Wolsey as a
statesman, no doubt, he wished he was a better servant of God. Politics and
religion, who many see as unable to reconcile, were Thomas More's life. He
was often found deep in prayer and fair and just in his duties as a judge.
He would say that when a statesman forgoes his conscience for the sake of his
public duties, he leads his nation, on a short route, to chaos. Today, we
hear Catholics such as ex-Gov. Cuomo and Sen. Ted Kennedy (and many others)
say that they personally are against abortion, but...
Thomas More recognized that the King was appointed by God to care for
the people of his realm, to see to their secular needs, whereas the Pope was
responsible for their spiritual needs. When these two worked in concert with
one another, their people flourished. More was appointed Henry VIII's
Chancellor, the highest office in England beside the King, and was well
received. "The King was known to put his arm around More. This growing
favour, by which many men would have been carried away," writes the
Encyclopedia Britannica, "did not impose upon More. He discouraged the king's
advances, showed reluctance to go to the palace and seemed constrained when
he was there. Then the King began to come to More's house and would dine with
him without previous notice." (The Trial of Sir Thomas More)
However, unlike Cardinal Wolsey before him, when King Henry opposed the
Pope in trying to secure a divorce, More was not one to 'forgo his conscience
for the sake of his public duty'. When, to secure their holdings, some of
the English bishops renounced their obedience to the Pope, More resigned as
Chancellor, claiming ill health.
From then on, though he never made any comments against the King, he was
hounded and persecuted.
"He was summoned to the court to answer an obscure charge of accepting a
bribe while Lord Chancellor. When his daughter brought him news that the
charge was dismissed, he said 'quod differtur, non aufertur' or 'that which
is postponed is not dropped.' Sir Thomas More was a marked man.
In 1534, Henry enacted a law which declared him supreme ruler [in England],
bar none, including the Pope. All citizens were to accept this by oath."
(Ibid) With this in hand, Henry could grant himself a divorce. The refusal
of such prominent men as Bishop John Fisher (now a saint) and Thomas More
cast a shadow on this self proclaimed supremacy. Neither called for Henry to
be overthrown, just that the King was not able to do what he did. "If the
world were flat, would the king's command make it round? Or flatten it if it
On May 17th, 1535, after 14 months of harsh imprisonment in the Tower of
London, he was brought to trial. No sound evidence was found to convict him
of treason until:
"The King's solicitor general was sworn in as witness and testified that
More has 'confessed' to him, in a private conversation in the Tower of London
several months earlier. According to Richard Rich, More had linked the King's
supposed 'supremacy' with the right of Parliament to depose of the sovereign.
How, then, could Parliament depose of a King if he were supreme, More had
allegedly asked? This was sensational testimony and would suffice to convict More." (Ibid)
Richard Rich's perjury sealed More's fate.
"The sentence for treason was then handed down: That he should be carried
back to the Tower of London and from thence drawn on a hurdle through the
City of London to Tyburn there to be hanged till he should be half dead; that
then he should be cut down alive, his privy parts cut off, his belly ripped,
his bowels burnt, his four quarters set up over four gates of the City, and
his head upon London Bridge...Henry the 8th later commuted the sentence to a
quick beheading." (Ibid)
Thomas More never set out to be a martyr. But his faith in God wouldn't
allow him to compromise the truth for political expediency. Of his accusers
he said, "albeit your lordships have been my judges to condemnation, yet we
may hereafter meet joyfully together in Heaven to our everlasting salvation."
Again, faith and obedience were the keys. After his sentence was read
St. Thomas More spoke:
"I will now in discharge of my conscience speak my mind plainly and freely
touching my indictment and your Statute withal. And forasmuch as this
indictment is grounded upon an Act of Parliament directly repugnant to the
laws of God and His holy Church, the supreme government of which . . . may no
temporal prince presume by any law to take upon him, as rightfully belonging
to the See of Rome, a spiritual preeminence by the mouth of Our Saviour
Himself . . . only to St. Peter and his successors bishops of the same See...
Very and pure necessity . . . enforces me to speak so much. Wherein I call
and appeal to God, whose only sight pierces into the very depth of man's
heart, to be my witness . . . the Church is one and indivisible, and you have
no authority to make a law which infringes Christian unity." (St. Thomas
More, Catholic Encyclopedia)
As he stood on the executioners scaffold, on July 6th, he forgave his
executioner and asked him to "bear witness that he . . . suffered death in
and for the faith of the Holy Catholic Church." His last words were
reportedly, "I die the King's good servant...but God's first."
One year to the day, Anne Boleyn climbed the same scaffold, and shared his
fate to further satisfy the appetite and desires of Henry VIII.
The Communion of Saints are with all of us all the time. They join with
us to give glory and praise to God, and join their prayers to ours for our
needs and supplications. But I can think of no better saints when faced with
a world where truth is distorted for expediency, worldly gain, and/or selfish
Both Francis and Thomas More gave up lives of affluence, comfort and
power, to follow the real power. One gave up material comfort, the other
political. Both gave up their lives for God. One symbolically by donning
the garments of a beggar, the other, literally.
"Then Jesus told His disciples, 'If any man would come after Me, let him
deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his
life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For
what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?'"
To the world, both men were fools who gave up wealth, power, and fame for
a foolish notion.
But to God, no doubt as Jesus said, "Well done, good and faithful servant; you
have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the
joy of your master...Come, O blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom
prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25:21;34).
For both, obedience to God was first.
Pax Christi, Pat