Thomas More: The Saint for the Synod | Dr. Samuel Gregg | CWR
Just as some contemporary Northern European bishops are presently seeking to fudge similarly settled Church teaching, considerable efforts were made by bishops in 1533 to persuade More to be more flexible with Henry VIII's demands
“To live together as brother and sister? Of course I have high respect for those who are doing this. But it’s a heroic act, and heroism is not for the average Christian.”
Among the many statements made by Cardinal Walter Kasper while making his case for changing Church teaching that prohibits divorced and civilly-remarried Catholics who choose not to live as brother and sister to receive communion, this was perhaps the most revealing. It reflects an approach to Christian morality which goes beyond presenting (and thus essentially marginalizing) Christ’s moral teaching as an ideal that, sotto voce, no-one’s seriously expected to follow in all their free choices. It also effectively downplays something that all Christians must face at some point: the Cross.
Every Christian has a cross to bear. The point is not whether we stumble under their burden. We all do. What’s crucial is that we repent, get up, and resolve to go and sin no more. Each Christian is after all called to holiness, not averageness. In short, striving to be a saint isn’t just for extraordinary people. It’s something Christ asks of all His followers: rich or poor, man or woman, African or German. In our equality-fixated age, the call to be a saint is in fact one of the great equalizers for Christians—not least because, as Saint John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, “Before the demands of morality we are all absolutely equal” (VS 96).
In that sense, the lives of the saints, especially the martyrs, may well be the strongest refutation of the Kasper proposal, not to mention the entire canopy of ideas for which, as everyone knows, it is serving as a stalking-horse. And one saint whose life is particularly relevant for the 2015 Synod on the Family is surely Thomas More. Universally recognized as a scholar, statesman and lawyer, we often forget that More was also a son, father, and husband. Moreover, one of the principles for which More gave his life could not be more pertinent for this Synod’s reflections: the indissolubility of marriage in the face of Henry VIII’s determination to live as man and wife with a lady who, in the Church’s judgment, was not his wife.
To the extent that More’s story is known by Catholics, it’s invariably for his choices in the last years of his life. Fewer are familiar with the more everyday aspects of More’s time on earth.