"I cannot mistrust the grace of God." – UPDATED

Today brings us the feasts of three great saints, a bishop, Paulinus of Nola, and two martyrs, St. John Fisher, and St. Thomas More.

Therefore, the day gives us a wealth of choices in the Office of Readings. After the scriptural reading from the first book of Samuel, we can peruse an edifying letter by Paulinus, (“only recently have I begun to breathe in the air of life; only recently have I put my hand to the plough and taken up the cross of Christ. I need to be helped by your prayers to persevere to the end.”) or a treatise on Christian Perfection by St. Gregory of Nyssa, who is always a favorite, or we can read the a moving and inspirational excerpt from a prison letter written by St. Thomas More, to his daughter, Meg.

The More letter was new to me; I have been a lackluster Christian and it has taken every day of my nearly 52 years to come to understand and accept the challenge to trust in the Lord with one’s whole heart, and testify to the great truth: that all things happen for the best.

This is a lesson I have lately been discussing with one of my sons, and perhaps that is why the letter touched me so personally.

I particularly liked More’s line to Meg: “If he permits me to perish for my faults, then I shall serve as praise for his justice.” This echos Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, “In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ. In accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in his beloved,” and it presages the Carmelite mystic, Bl. Elizabeth of the Trinity, whose whole vocation found meaning in her perceived and promised role as laudem gloriae “the praise of glory.”

Although my reading is nothing special, I really wanted to share the letter with you, so I have recorded a podcast of it. The last paragraph is worth committing to memory, and even for use as prayer:

And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.”

I know some of my Lutheran friends are not fans of St. Thomas More. But I think they can agree that if he did nothing but instill that profound and true reality into the heads of his children, he did a very good and worthy thing.

Slightly Off Topic: More’s allusions to Peter brought to mind something I had written just about a year ago, concerning Matthew 14:25-31, and its Icon:

As long as he kept his eyes on Jesus, Peter had been able to do the impossible, the unimaginable. It was when he looked away, focused instead on the tumult surrounding him, that he doubted. And as soon as he doubted, he began to sink. As soon as he thought of himself, focused on his perceived reality, Peter was pulled under.

This is a particularly restful Icon. The colors are lush, the waves in foreground and background are wonderfully hypnotic, and the shore invites a trek into the wilderness. But it is the beautifully-rendered, compassionate and loving face of Christ that holds and keeps your focus. He reaches out to Peter, whose own face is open with a dawn of understanding, and Christ, meeting his eyes, uplifts him.

To trust is the most difficult thing. But I am learning, with every new day, that it is the only way; trust teaches obedience, which is the narrow and royal highway by which we speed God’s glory along, and become its praise.

UPDATE: Also read this timely piece on Bonhoeffer, by Cal Thomas, which relates to the More excerpt in theme (and will make my Lutheran friends happy!)

Speaking of Bonhoeffer, it was just about a year ago I was tussling with another blogger over George Tiller, William Long and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, here at First Things.

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  • Steve P in La Crosse, Wis.

    St Thomas More also informs my understanding of patriotism. He describes as “the King’s good servant, but God’s first,” and I think that’s got the priorities right. Patriotism is a fundamental virtue, but it is nonetheless subordinated to love of our true homeland.

  • Steve P in La Crosse, Wis.

    Also, check Peter Ackroyd’s excellent “Life of Thomas More”.

  • Jeff

    I have trouble believing that all things happen for the best and shudder to think what a lousy Christian I am in comparison to More.

    A man who had everything the world could offer, and slowly had it all stripped away from him, and at any time he said the word he could have had it all back. The last three years of his life seemed to be a torturous recreation of the Devil tempting Christ on the mountain, “I will give you all these things if you will but bow down and worship me.”

    As for the Lutherans, well it’s their loss. I don’t think Thomas cared that much for Martin either.

  • Jeff

    Further to the final comments in this great post, I think maybe it’s because we really don’t know the “end of the story” of people like More that we have such trouble trusting that all things do work out for the best. We have to work so hard to imagine the beautiful reception More must have enjoyed in Heaven after the horror he endured in his last years, that I think we just don’t think about it enough.

    Lately I’ve been trying to analogize the constant work we put into getting into good neighborhoods, towns and homes in the United States to the next life. It may be crude, but it’s effective in a way. People like More must have the most amazing oceanfront mansions in Heaven. He is in Newport with thousands of prominent neighbors (like Mother Theresa) and great parties. Our goal should be to join them.

  • Joseph

    SS John Fischer and Thomas More are two members of my little personal daily litany – what could be more timely and appropriate than the intercession of two men who died at the hands of an overreaching state.

    But dearest to me is their contemporary St Sidney, an obscure victim of bloody Henry, of which almost nothing else is known – isn’t that the fate of most martyrs?

  • CV

    This past weekend I was in Washington DC and happened to stroll past St. Joseph Catholic church on Capitol Hill. Stopped in for a visit (beautiful church!) and took special notice of a statue of St. Thomas More near the entrance. I explained a bit about his life and sacrifices to my teenage daughter, and how appropriate it was that he be remembered in that particular neighborhood (if only more legislators would take his example to heart). I didn’t have any idea that his feast day was so close…

    Then in the course of some spiritual reading last night I stumbled upon the story of Christ and Peter and the boat with some commentary about trust in God (I literally opened the book and happened to hit upon that story).

    And here I am reading you today, Anchoress, and you have a post about both! This is one of those moments when I feel like the Holy Spirit is trying to get something through to me, as I cope with certain situations that have recently arisen in my own life and work.

    I guess I better pay attention :-)

  • Valerie Hayes

    A prayer I say comes from a letter of St Thomas More to his daughter:

    though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear. I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help. And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning.

    [Yes, if you listen to my podcast, you will see it is the same letter...-admin]

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  • mrp

    With the feast of St. Thomas More mentioned on a First Things blog, I would like to share one of my favorite passages from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’ “Public Square” (The Best of The Public Square Book Two p.67 section “Alien Citizens”).

    “It is an awkward posture, being an alien citizen. It poses irreversible problems for both “God and country” and “God or country.” Christians critically affirm their responsibility for the politics of the earthly city, knowing all the while that their true polis is the City of God. Loyalty to the earthly city is joined to an allegiance that others who do not share that allegiance cannot help but view as subversive. It is as with Thomas More on the scaffold, “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” And, had Henry only known it, Thomas was the king’s better servant because he served God first. Like so many others over the centuries, Henry had a “Christian politics” that demanded a totality of allegiance that no alien citizen could render him.”

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