“No evil shall come upon you”, (Jerem. 23. 17). It is a consoling thought that God watches over us with unceasing care; that no matter where we may be – alone in our humble cell or passing through the crowded streets of the feverish panting city – the hand of God is over us and sheltering us from a thousand unknown dangers, guiding us safely along the path of life. Wicked men may plot evil things against us, all the hellish horde may rage in fury round us, but harm us they cannot without His consent who directs all things for His own wise ends.
COMMENT: Fr Doyle certainly personified this tremendous trust in God throughout his own adventurous life. But we also see this abandonment to, and trust in, Divine providence in the lives of all the saints, and none more so than the great Thomas More whose feast is today.
There is something quite fascinating about lay saints. Perhaps it is my own bias as a layman that leads me to this conclusion. There are obviously many great saints who were members of religious orders, but then their entire lives – its structure and timetable and relative freedom from worldly cares – more readily orient that life towards sanctity. Yes, it takes much effort, and grace, for religious to reach heroic sanctity, but at least the external form and support of religious life offers much help in this regard. For those of us in the world, there are few such obvious supports. In fact, today there are so many temptations and structural obstacles that lead us in the opposite direction that it requires an even firmer will, and lots of grace, to even get us started on the road towards sanctity. That, however, is no excuse, for we are all called to perfection! We must grow where we are planted. This is why the many new lay movements and organisations of different types and spiritualities are a great assistance as they provide structure and support for holiness for those who must seek that holiness in the midst of daily troubles and distractions.
St Thomas More himself faced many obstacles to sanctity. It’s not spiritually easy to be the head of a large household and to be one of the most powerful men in one of the most powerful countries in the world. In addition to his extensive legal, political and scholarly pursuits (any one of which would have made for a very complete life), St Thomas was a real family man who took the education of his children (and his daughters!) very seriously. He was renowned for his cheerfulness and for the depth of his spiritual life. It is said that he went to bed at 9pm and arose at 2am every morning, spending several hours in prayer before setting off for his busy public engagements at dawn. He was also known for his asceticism, and wore a hairshirt under his robes. He was a third order Franciscan and, due to his relationship with the Charterhouse, was probably the equivalent of what we would today regard as a Benedictine oblate.
When those around him compromised in order to maintain the favour of the King, St Thomas remained steadfast, and gave up everything to remain faithful to the Church. He knew the truth of Fr Doyle’s quote today – God watches over us with care no matter where we may be and no matter whether we remain powerful and respected or whether we end up in prison awaiting death simply because we upset the powers that be. As St Thomas put it himself:
Every tribulation which ever comes our way either is sent to be medicinal, if we will take it as such, or may become medicinal, if we will make it such, or is better than medicinal, unless we forsake it.
Let us pray today that we too may have faith in God’s paternal care for us; let us pray also for our political leaders, that they remain faithful to, and uphold, the natural law. St Thomas faced death for defending the Faith and the nature of marriage. Let us pray for political leaders, that they may always have the courage to do what is right.
Let us also remember that yesterday was also the feast of the heroic bishop and martyr St John Fisher. Let us pray to him for our bishops, that they will have strength when the time of trial comes.
We shall conclude today with the beautiful prayer written by St Thomas More while he was held prisoner in the Tower of London.
Give me the grace, Good Lord:
To set the world at naught. To set the mind firmly on You and not to hang upon the words of men’s mouths.
To be content to be solitary. Not to long for worldly pleasures. Little by little utterly to cast off the world and rid my mind of all its business.
Not to long to hear of earthly things, but that the hearing of worldly fancies may be displeasing to me.
Gladly to be thinking of God, piteously to call for His help. To lean into the comfort of God. Busily to labor to love Him.
To know my own vileness and wretchedness. To humble myself under the mighty hand of God. To bewail my sins and, for the purging of them, patiently to suffer adversity.
Gladly to bear my purgatory here. To be joyful in tribulations. To walk the narrow way that leads to life.
To have the last thing in remembrance. To have ever before my eyes my death that is ever at hand. To make death no stranger to me. To foresee and consider the everlasting fire of Hell. To pray for pardon before the judge comes.
To have continually in mind the passion that Christ suffered for me. For His benefits unceasingly to give Him thanks.
To buy the time again that I have lost. To abstain from vain conversations. To shun foolish mirth and gladness. To cut off unnecessary recreations.
Of worldly substance, friends, liberty, life and all, to set the loss at naught, for the winning of Christ.
To think my worst enemies my best friends, for the brethren of Joseph could never have done him so much good with their love and favor as they did him with their malice and hatred.
These minds are more to be desired of every man than all the treasures of all the princes and kings, Christian and heathen, were it gathered and laid together all in one heap.