A Saint of all Season: Thomas More and the Radical Decision for the Lord
A few months ago I finished reading Peter Abbott’s biography of St. Thomas More. I hadn’t read a book about a saint for a long time and was hesitant when Fr. John Henry bought me the book and told me that I would love it. I hate the pious fictions of unrealistic individuals that characterized so much of the writings about the saints called hagiographies.
Abbott’s biography of St. Thomas More was quite different. It presented Thomas as coming from a devout family, but being no more or less Christian or Catholic than those around him. In his early career as a lawyer, Thomas was even quite duplicitous. More was an independent thinker. Together with his Dutch friend, Desderious Erasmus, he framed new ways of stating the truths of the Christian Life. His famous book, Utopia, was a satire on the so-called Christian states of his day. His ideas were quite extraordinary for their time, but not excessive. When Martin Luther challenged the authority of the Church, the sacraments, etc, More responded with a vicious attack that would raise as many of our eyebrows as Luther’s theses.
Then something happened that transformed More from a Christian of his day to a saint for the ages, or as Erasmus would later call him, a man for all seasons. More had to choose between his conscience and his king, his faith and his social position, his life and his death. If you visit the Tower of London, the Beefeater guide will point out the area of the prison where More was confined, the place in the courtyard where he was beheaded, and the common grave in the chapel where his body was dumped. What the guide misses is the agony that More went through while waiting for his death. He loved his family dearly and had to endure their constant pleading with him to give in to the King. He prayed continually for forgiveness for his sins, but he was confronted with the questionable decisions he had made in his career. He had nightmares about the sentence of treason, which would be the grueling hang, drawn and quartered. When at the last minute the King commuted his sentence to beheading he felt that he was given a great mercy.
Thomas More was a very real, very imperfect Christian, who was called to make a radical decision for the Lord. He embraced this decision as an authentic reflection of whom he is. His determination to be his best self, helps us to make far less demanding choices in our lives to be our best selves.
The Solemnity of All Saints doesn’t just remind us of those who have made a radical decision to follow the Lord. The Solemnity of All Saints calls us to look at our own lives and to seek out our true Christian persona. We ask the saints today to help us have the courage to radiate the presence of Christ in our lives.