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St. Thomas More    Our Patron Saint

Our patron saint has captured human hearts and minds for five centuries. His wit and warmth, reason and judgment, and most especially his immutable faith have drawn scholars and thinking persons to ponder the meaning of his life and death.

Born in 1478, he was the son of a prominent English lawyer. Thomas More received an excellent education, first as a page in the household of a cardinal and later as a classical scholar at Oxford. Although he prepared for the priesthood, he found his vocation as a lawyer, devoted husband, and father.

King Henry VIII chose him for various missions and promoted him in a series of high posts, finally naming him Chancellor of the Realm. He became the first layman to occupy this office.

A forward thinking man, Thomas saw to the classical education of his daughter (an unlikely notion in that time) and advocated church reform. Despite such avant garde thought, however, he refused to acknowledge Henry VIII as head of the English church. His refusal led to imprisonment in the Tower of London.

In the face of death Thomas More held steadfastly to his faith commitment. He was beheaded in 1535. Four hundred years later, in 1935, Thomas More was canonized. His feast day is celebrated on June 22.

Prayer of Saint Thomas More

Lord, grant me a holy heart that sees always what is true and pure
and is not frightened at the sight of sin, but creates order wherever it goes.
Grant me a heart that knows nothing of boredom, weeping, and sighing.
Let me not be too concerned with the bothersome thing I call “myself.”
Lord, give me a sense of humor, and I will find happiness in life and profit for others.

A Saint Thomas More Pilgrimage

The following letter appeared in the Parish Bulletin of August 18, 2013.

This past week I spend a few days in London before travelling north to visit with friends in Scotland. I used one day in London to make what I call a “mini” pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is a journey of moral or spiritual significance usually to a location of importance to a person's faith or spiritual life. We are all familiar with Christians making pilgrimages to such places as the Holy Land, Rome, Compostella and Lourdes. There are countless shrines around the world marking momentous places in the lives of the saints. Pilgrimages are incorporated into the spiritual exercises of all the world’s major religions: Mary and Joseph in keeping with their Jewish faith travelled with Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, many Muslims make a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia and the Hindi travel to bath in the Ganges in India. The act of traveling and the significance of the destination help to evoke a spiritual awakening and enrichment. It heightens one’s sense of the presence of the divine in the world, in history and of our membership in the communion of saints. In my self-directed mini pilgrimage in London I sought to spend the day travelling to and praying at four of the significant sites in the life and martyrdom of our patron saint, Sir Thomas More.

My first stop was in the neighborhood of Chelsea. It was here on the banks of the Thames River that Thomas More built his manor home where he lived and raised his family. A statue of the saint marks the site where his home once stood. The church where he worshipped is still there, although it is no longer Catholic. Thomas More was a faithful Catholic who at home was a faithful spouse and a loving father, in spite of all the demands placed upon him by holding high office. He was Lord High Chancellor for King Henry VIII of England. There, where Thomas More once lived, I prayed for my family and yours. I prayed for all of us who worship together as a parish family. I prayed for the institution of marriage and family life. I prayed in gratitude for my own father, long deceased; and for all fathers, that they be models of faith to their families, and that God give them the wisdom and strength to maintain a proper balance between the demands of work and family life.

Next I went down river to what you and I recognize today as the House of Parliament, but in Thomas More’s time was Westminster Palace. Thomas would have traveled by boats rowed by his servants. I eventually arrived by combination of foot, taxi and the Tube. It was while serving the King in Westminster as Lord High Chancellor that Thomas made clear he served the King best by first owing his obedience and allegiance to God and the Church. It was in the Great Hall of Westminster where this world renowned scholar, lawyer and statesman first found his peers turning on him. They tried to persuade him to compromise his religious principles to appease the King and to maintain his high office. There is a plaque marking the spot where he sat when these same peers, who could not coerce him to compromise his conscience, eventually turned on him and tried him on trumped up charges of treason. Here I prayed for all men and women elected to public office to serve the common good. I prayed that they and all of us recognize our highest allegiance is always to God and that God calls upon all of us to promote the dignity of the human person and to defend the inherent sanctity of all human life. I prayed that all of us have the courage of our moral and religious convictions, even when the times or public policies either reject or are outright hostile to them.

Almost directly across the River Thames from the House of Parliament is Lambert Palace. Today it’s the official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. You get there by crossing what is referred to as London Bridge where Big Ben still stands. Here is where King Henry’s henchmen insisted that Sir Thomas More sign an oath supporting what was referred to as “The Act of Succession”. The king wanted Thomas to make a public declaration that he, the king, and not the pope, was head of the Church in England; thereby tearing in two what had until that time been a united church throughout the history of Christendom in England. The entire Christian community was Roman Catholic, worshipping together in the one faith entrusted by Christ into the hands of the successors to St. Peter. The king’s motivation was a desire to have his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled so he could be free to marry Anne Boleyn, a woman he would later behead. While Thomas had remained silent on the issue of the king’s marriages and their legitimacy he claimed in good conscience he could not recognize the king as head of the Church. Here I prayed in hope for the day in which all Christians would again be united and worship in one shared faith. I prayed that people who hold different views than others treat each other with mutual respect rather than personal animosity and condemnation. I prayed that I and all of us would always remember to put our fidelity to God before our pursuit of the world’s passing pleasures of social position, a successful career and the accumulation of wealth. That our thoughts, words and actions always ought to be directed toward giving greater glory of God and the salvation of our souls, and not compromised for any short term gain of creature comfort.

It was from Lambert Palace, after refusing to sign the Oath of Succession, that Thomas More was taken directly to prison in the Tower of London which is even further down river. Without being given an opportunity to return to his home and family he was immediately confined to a dark dank cell. He was afforded the privilege of having one of his requests being honored: to receive Holy Communion daily from a priest and to have a copy of the New Testament and Psalms with which to pray and meditate. His last request before being taken to the gallows for his beheading was for a priest to hear his last confession and to bring him Holy Communion. In the king’s attempt to further intimidate anyone who might ever think of following the example of Thomas More who refused to compromise his religious beliefs or be forced to act against his moral conscience, the head of Sir Thomas More was posted on a stake for public viewing. Here, at the Tower of London I prayed that neither I nor any of us ever take the sacraments, particularly the sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession for granted, but rather that we avail ourselves of them regularly and value them highly. I prayed that all of us would have the fortitude to proclaim, practice and defend our Catholic faith in this age of the new evangelization.

At the end of the day it dawned on me, as I began my trek back up river to my hotel in Knightsbridge, that one of the spiritual fruits of my "mini" pilgrimage was a renewed sense of hope. For in the very city where our patron saint was martyred he is now remembered reverently and universally honored not only as statesman but more importantly as a saint. The book and movie refer to Sir Thomas More as "A Man for All Seasons”. I think our patron saint is certainly a saint for “Our Season”, for these are times that call for us to promote the values of marriage and family life, to expect integrity from elected officials and men and women in public service, for all of us to be men and women with the religious and moral fortitude necessary to live our Catholic faith with conviction, and whose primary aim in life is to please God rather than men, so as to eventually find ourselves enjoying eternal life in heaven.

St. Thomas More, pray for us.

God Bless, Fr. Paul

St. Thomas More
Sir Thomas More, 1527, by Hans Holbein, the Younger, The Frick Collection
St. Thomas More statue
Fr. Murphy and Bishop Caggiano with the statue of St. Thomas More installed on June 29, 2014.
Thomas More statue at Chelsea Old Church
Thomas More statue at Chelsea Old Church, installed in 1969.