Today we celebrate Saints Thomas More and John Fisher, two Catholics who were martyred for refusing to accept the new Anglican church created by King Henry VIII. These men’s lives speak to us of integrity. And they provide counterpoint to our current political climate. In 2000, Pope John Paul II declared Saint Thomas More the patron saint of politicians. St. Thomas, pray for us!
16th Century Tyranny, Martyrdom and the Call to Integrity
In 1534 the English Parliament passed the Acts of Treason. They declared children born of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn heirs to the throne, the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon null and void, and the Bishop of Rome no more powerful than any other bishop in England. In brief, Henry VIII declared himself head of the church in England. Anyone who did not support this faced martyrdom.
John Fisher was Cardinal at the time and Thomas More had been the King’s Chancellor. Neither supported the last two provisions of the Acts of Treason, but both affirmed the legitimacy of any Henry-Boleyn heir. It was not enough for Henry.
Cardinal Fisher, who roundly argued against Luther’s arguments against the priesthood and sacraments at the Council of Trent, stood firm against Henry’s arrogation of power. Thomas More chose silence: He spoke to no one of the Act of Supremacy, and therefore tried to avoid a treason charge. But neither man survived. After 15 months in the Tower prison, they emerged emaciated when they were beheaded. Thomas More’s final words were recorded by locals:
“He spoke little before his execution. Only he asked that bystanders to pray for him in this world, and he would pray for them elsewhere. He then begged them earnestly to pray for the King, that it might please God to give him good counsel, protesting that he dies the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
No doubt, John Paul II, prayed long before proclaiming St. Thomas More the patron of politicians. Loyalty to God must precede earthly allegiances. Integrity comes first.
The Call to Integrity
Integrity means wholeness of being. In practical means, a person who acts with integrity acts in concert with his principles. For Catholics, the call to Integrity involves courage and faithfulness. We must act in concert with our faith principles.
It’s so easy in our secularized American culture to reserve our Christian life to Sundays or moments (like Grace or other prayer times) when we call upon God’s presence. The fragmentation of our faith-life is an ever-present hazard.
We all weave in and out of faith awareness throughout the day. Between our parish and domestic church lies a vast plain of spiritual blindness. There are no crucifixes when you enter the grocery store, in your office conference room or at the ball field.
Once upon a time, and definitely in the time that Sts Fisher and More lived, Christian symbols and values pervaded all things. Now faith is segregated from culture. Contemporary American culture segregates Christianity, as they once segregated African- Americans and interned Japanese-Americans. We are not allowed to bring our faith into the flow of daily life.
The challenge for Catholics is to live with wholeness of being: to hold fast to the fullness of integrity by bringing Christian awareness and witness into all walks of life.
As you enter a Church you make the Sign of the Cross. Make the Sign of the Cross as you are about to enter your office, the bank, the grocery store. Bring Our Lord into it all: Let Him bless your every action, and be sure to act in concert with the faith in all your daily dealings.
Those acts don’t have to be external and obvious. Making a little Sign of the Cross over your heart places the Lord in the center of all things. Beware of the tendency to put God in our back pocket, and just take Him out when you pray or worship. Keep the Lord ever before you, and stay whole in your faith through all your daily dealings. May we all be God’s good servant first and foremost!
St. John Fisher, pray for us.
St. Thomas More, pray for us.