Through a Lens Darkly
"A Man for All Seasons" and the Call to Fanaticism
For More, sharp of tongue and even sharper of intellect, this moment is an opportunity to reach out one last time in an attempt to show his weak young friend the truly damnable blunder he has made. But for the audience, it is that most cathartic of moments when Rich's betrayal is shown in its true light, the absurdity of fatally compromising one's soul for something as transient and fleeting as worldly fame and fortune, cast into sharp contrast with More's impending martyrdom.
Yet even as I rejoice at More's withering rebuke, I realize that it is just as truly directed at me as at the unfortunate Rich. Can I honestly say that I would embrace St. Thomas' uncompromising stubbornness rather than his betrayer's earthly reward? Am I not constantly giving away little pieces of my soul, and for far, far less than Wales?
My "Middle-of-the-roader" failings are rarely the sort with which one strides arrogantly through the Gates of Hell. No, I'm the kind of sinners who slinks my way in, all -embarrassed, through a side entry. We puny folk must struggle constantly against the demoralizingly banal Little Way of Iniquity even as we strive to embrace the Little Way of Love.
Perhaps a little less "littleness" is exactly what I need.
By contrast, his "largeness" is precisely what makes St. Thomas More a fanatic in the best sense of the word—a man whose devotion to his ideals was otherworldly, whose willingness to lay down his life for his beliefs was matched only by his generosity towards those less principled and less courageous than himself. Unlike modern-day fanatics, who impose their values on others without regard to conscience or the vital importance of free will, More's extremism lay not in the way he treats those around him, but in the demands he placed upon himself.
Confronted by the nearly incomprehensible actions of St. Thomas More, my little failures are difficult to sustain. His sharp retort to Richard Rich may have missed its intended mark—Rich's conscience—but it may yet rouse moderates like me from our comfortably mild dissipation.
This Advent, let us emulate St. Thomas More's radical sacrifice by embracing the call to Fanaticism—not the fanaticism that produces violent and hateful fruit, but that which purifies through its single-minded, all-consuming devotion. St. Thomas' earthly life was ended by his unabashed, uncompromising, and profound commitment to Christ. But it was that same fanaticism that saved him for all eternity.
Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. He blogs at Crisis Magazine, where he also contributes feature articles on a variety of topics.