There is, in our day, a certain tendency to think of religion as something meant not for men but for women. With such a distorted view of religion, too many men are content to give in to the temptation to sit back and let women do most of the work in the parish. Regrettably, this tendency also carries over into the life of the domestic Church in the family home. Men become aloof from the practice of the faith and then we wonder why our children also grow aloof in the practice of the faith. We should fight against this temptation with great fervor! Fortunately, we men are blessed with a manly Catholic organization known as the Knights of Columbus.
Several of them recently participated in the annual trek to Guatemala engaging with other men in the building up of our mission there. They readily gave of their vacation time, treasure and their talents to help other people get a better start in life. They are real men, the kind who are not afraid to participate in the life of the Church. Besides their great amount of manual labor in the sweltering heat of the jungle, they participated in daily Mass and Rosary and the praying of the Liturgy of the Hours as part of their regimen. They understand the works of charity and fraternity in building up the Body of Christ on earth, so that we may one day be with the saints in heaven. They participated in their own heroic Catholic manly way that was not unlike that which made the great English statesman, Thomas More (one of my heavenly patrons), become a saint; his feast day is July 6th.
All of us must strive to become saints, but we can’t do so by remaining aloof from the life of the Church. If we are to be victorious over those forces that seek to draw us away from holiness and away from union with Christ, we must engage in this spiritual battle. We cannot do so half-heartedly, but must do so purposefully and with great intentionality.
In his reflections on “The Sadness of Christ,” St. Thomas More, said that Jesus “wished His followers to be brave and prudent soldiers, not senseless and foolish.” Because of our modern tendency to see religion as, if you will, women’s work, these might surprise us. But if we consider the life and witness of this one-time Lord Chancellor of all England, we see a man who exemplified a heroic Catholic manhood to an extraordinary degree, a man who, because of his deep loyalty, was a brave and prudent soldier of Christ. We see this most clearly in his defense of marriage and of family life, for which reason King Henry VIII ordered his execution by decapitation.
Those who knew him well would hardly dare to call St. Thomas a fool. His had one of the keenest intellects of his day and he used it to engage with such noted figures as his good friend, the noted humanist, Erasmus. We might say, however, that there are certain aspects of a “wise” foolishness found in Saint Thomas. The first sort of foolishness found in him is that of a good wit and ready humor, which he used to entertain his family and friends. The second sort found in him is that of the wisdom of God for, as Saint Paul tells us, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men” (I Cor. 1:25). There were, to be sure, some who did think him foolish for his repeated refusal to sign the Oath of Supremacy of King Henry VIII, St. Thomas allowed himself to be considered a fool in the sight of this world, and in so doing showed the wisdom of God. In this, he showed not only his sensibility, but also his great prudence, “for what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life”? (Mt. 16:26)
To be able to engage in such discussions and to demonstrate the errors of the reformers and to lead straying Catholics back to the Church, St. Thomas first had to understand and explore their questions and study the teachings and history of the Church. He made the time to do so while living as a devoted husband and father, as a faithful friend to many, and while bearing the heavy burden of serving the King in the second highest office of the land (after king).
We are often not as busy as St. Thomas, yet we still make many excuses about why we do not study the faith in greater depth. We recognize gaps in our knowledge, but what do we do to fill them? More often than not, we wait for someone else to come along and fill them for us, all the while keeping the gaps secret to ourselves so they cannot adequately be filled.
Today, we have greater access to more resources than Saint Thomas could ever have dreamed of having. We have the Catechism of the Catholic Church available on our bookshelves. We have the writings of the Church Fathers and saints available on our smartphones and computers. We have a veritable trove of information available to us in apologetics magazines and podcasts. But do we avail ourselves of these many resources?
You can have such a household where an education in the Christian faith takes top priority. As one simple way to move in this direction, I invite you to read a part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church each week. Take it slowly and part by part. Read a section of it first by yourself; think it through and pray over it. Then, gather your families and begin a discussion about whatever aspect of the faith you have read and reflected upon. With its four pillars of the Creed, the Sacraments, prayer, and the moral life, the Catechism can guide you and your families into a deeper knowledge and love of God. This was the overriding goal of St. Thomas for his family and it should be our primary goal, as well.
St. Thomas was known to spend every Friday in what he called his New House, his private oratory, despite the great duties he had as Lord Chancellor and as a husband and father. He spent those Fridays in prayer, reading the Scriptures and other spiritual books, and writing his own spiritual books. Because of the spiritual fruits he reaped from such devotions, he encouraged others to do something similar.
You can choose for yourselves some quiet, solitary place in your own home, as far removed from noise and company as reasonably possible, and sometimes secretly resort to that place, all alone, imagining that you’re actually going out of this world and going over to God.
It sometimes happens when we seek to pray that we do not know how to talk to the Lord or what we should say to him. This is especially so if we are not already in the habit of prayer. Saint Thomas tells us, “…our Savior teaches us to pray, not that we may roll in wealth, not that we may live in a continuous round of pleasures, not that something awful may happen to our enemies, not that we may receive honor in this world, but rather that we may not enter into temptation.” He also suggests something of an order for prayer to help guide our thoughts and keep us focused on the present moment. You don’t have to spend an entire day each week in prayer as Saint Thomas did, but you should spend at least time in prayer each day.
At the end of his life, St. Thomas famously said, “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” As much of his life was devoted to the administration of justice and he did everything in his power to judge justly, he refused bribes and showed no preference for the rich, treating them in the same way he treated the poor. He was concerned not with the advancement of his own position, but in faithfully discharging the duties of his office. In this way, he served both God and king, while at the same time serving his neighbor.
To judge justly and without preference for persons can be a great challenge for mortal, sinful men, but St. Thomas knew that God’s assistance is always at hand, for It often happens that God shows us a particular area for our service through the words of others, or by repeatedly calling our attention to a particular situation. If we don’t close our eyes to his light or our ears to his voice, we can cooperate with his grace and serve him in our brothers and sisters. For you who wish to be godly men, I ask the Lord to show you how you can serve the poor in your communities. Can you volunteer at a local food pantry? Are there repairs to a home you can make? Is there some assistance you can give to a crisis pregnancy center? Find some way that you can help those less fortunate than you and do so at least once each month, with your family, if possible.
In all of this, as we strive to become heroic Catholic men, we may be tempted to apathy and grow weak in our desire to grow in faith, hope, and love. When we find our desire for sanctity waning, we should seek the intercession of Saint Thomas, who offers these words in such a situation: “Then if we are so overcome by weariness that we no longer have the heart to go on, if we are so soft and lazy that we are about to stop altogether, let us beg God to drag us along even when we struggle not to go.”
In his life and in his death, Thomas More showed himself to be a brave and prudent soldier of Christ; he showed that religion is the realm not of only of women, but also of men. If he, who had so much to lose, could live in this way, if he could be a faithful and intentional disciple of Jesus, then so can you and I.