For it is better to suffer for doing good,
if that be the will of God, than for doing evil.
For Christ also suffered for sins once,
the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous,
that he might lead you to God.
This text, from the second reading for today (1 Pt 3:15-18) is a reminder of the courage that we need to be Christians. I am not exactly known for my courage. I am a quiet person, not prone to making waves. I have never taken part in an actual protest against anything. If I do have something of import to say, I am much more likely to say it via writing than in person. If something concerns me, I tend to take it up in prayer rather than immediate action. Lately, however, I have been praying for courage because as a parent you need a great deal of it to stand up to the world and make the right decisions for your children.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes fortitude as one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: “Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.” (CCC 1808)
My children and I recently finished reading the life of St. Thomas More of London by Elizabeth M. Ince. He was a person who exhibited great fortitude. He served as Chancellor of England under Henry VIII. While he and Henry VIII had been friends for a long time, More knew that Henry was not a man to let anyone stand in his way when he wanted to do something. In 1529, When Henry VIII wanted Parliament to declare him the Head of the Church of England, More attempted to resign in protest but his resignation was not accepted. By 1532, the Bishops of England had completely given in to Henry VIII’s bullying and turned over the power of the Church to him. This time, More would not take “No” for an answer to his resignation. He offered his poor health as an excuse and Henry VIII had realized that More was no longer any use to him, but rather simply stood in his way, so he allowed him to go.
In May 1533, the Archbishop of Canterbury consented to Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and Henry and Anne Boleyn were married. Thomas More insulted the King by refusing to attend the coronation ball for Queen Anne, and Henry VIII was out for revenge. He accused More of treason, although as a gifted lawyer, More was able to successfully argue his way out of it before the House of Lords. Soon, Henry VIII had Parliament pass an “Act of Succession” that made any children that Henry VIII and Anne produced the rightful heirs to the English throne. The Act also declared that Henry VIII’s first marriage had not been valid and that Henry was now the head of the Church of England. All over the age of twenty-one were supposed to swear allegiance to the oath. More refused. He was taken into custody and put into prison for over a year. He was beheaded on July 6, 1535, retaining his spirit and sense of humor to the very last moment. He was happy to die for what he believed. He was canonized a saint in 1935.
St. Thomas More lived out the words of the Letter of Peter. He felt it was better to die for doing good, for taking a stand for what was right, even if it was unpopular and precious few were willing to stand with him. He is a good role model for all of us who need a little more courage in our lives!