I heard one of the most perfect, succinct homilies over lunch today. First of all, today is the Feast Day of Ss. Thomas More and John Fisher. John Cardinal Fisher is the only member of the College of Cardinals to be marytered: like More, he ultimately went to a martyr’s death. [Turns out, my biographical info. on Fisher may have been not only incorrect, but libelous of him. Mea culpa, St. John Fisher, pray for me! See Comments for more details.]
I imagine everyone knows who St. (and Sir) Thomas More is: he was the brave English lawyer and scholar who refused to acknowledge King Henry VIII (a layman) as head of the Church of England, and lost his own head as a result (famously declaring himself “the king’s good servant, and God’s first”). A mere three years prior to this, he had been Lord Chancellor, and he ghost-wrote A Defense of the Seven Sacraments for Henry, earning his king the ironic title “Defender of the Faith.” A brilliant thinker, he coined the word “utopia” in his book by the same name, and had left a deep impression upon history before dying a martyr’s death. But the depths of his mind couldn’t near the depths of his soul. In the famous portrait of More, you’ll note upon careful inspection that he wears a hair shirt underneath his lordly robes. It was a reminder to him not to store up his treasure upon earth. He was willing to play the part of a statesman, but at his core, he was quietly a saint. More is the patron saint of public officials, lawyers, and judges, and (in my opinion) ought to be the patron saint of Washington, D.C.
So it’s the feast day of Fisher and More, and the Gospel reading happened to be the beginning of Matthew 7, the famous (and often misunderstood) “Judge not, lest ye be judged” passage. So when it comes time for the homily, Father makes a brief reference to the relevance of judgment in More’s life – although not a judge, he was a lawyer and a statesmen, so judgment was a concept very near his mind (In fact, More wrote a book worth reading called The Four Last Things, which deals with Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell). Then he quotes an extended passage from More himself (this is taken from Thomas More: A Portrait of Courage, by Gerard B Wegemer):
Bear no malice or evil will to any man living. For either the man is good or wicked. If he is good and I hate him, then I am wicked.
If he is wicked, either he will amend and die good and go to God, or live wickedly and die wickedly and go to the devil. And then let me remember that if he be saved, he will not fail (if I am saved too, as I trust to be) to love me very heartily and I shall then in like manner love him. And why should I now, then, hate one for this while who shall hereafter love me forever, and why should I be now, then, an enemy with whom I shall in time be coupled in eternal friendship?
And on the other side, if he will continue to be wicked and be damned, then is there such outrageous eternal sorrow before him that I may well think myself a deadly cruel wretch if I would not now rather pity his pain then malign his person.”
I loved it. It was as if St. Thomas More gave the (brilliant) Matthew 7 homily on his own feast day.