Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The path to sainthood

Today is the feast day of (among other people) St. Thomas More, the patron saint of my master’s thesis. I’m not thinking much about martyrdom today, nor, despite the fact that Ireland always reminds me of the tragedy of Church division, about unity. Instead, remembering his prayer scroll that he read from the Tower of London as he awaited execution, I am thinking about the ultimate vocation of the Christian: Love.

Those who are the most holy, from what I can tell, do not get there by trying to be holy. They most certainly do not get there by hammering out whatever imperfections linger with them, nor by striving to be better people. The holiest people I’ve met, at any rate, radiate not perfection but love. Love for God and for ones brother does, after all, sum up the law and the prophets, and we are able to love only because he has first loved us, as John reminds us in his first epistle. The path to sainthood, as it turns out, is a path of receiving the love of God.

I don’t have a clear idea of why that seems to come easier to some folks than to others, how I (for example) could have tried to follow Christ for decades without a sense that he loved me. I don’t know how much love (and then sainthood by extension) is a gift we receive passively or actively (the middle voice, as a friend once speculated). But I do know that a call to holiness, a call to sainthood, is a call to receive God’s lavish Grace.

On that note, on the feast of the good St. Thomas More, I will end with the poem the saint read 475 years ago today as he watched John Fisher marched to the scaffold where he would follow two weeks later. We are called like More not as much to martyrdom as to love; in the light of love, martyrdom almost becomes incidental.
Rede distinctely
pray deuoutly
syghe depely
suffer pacyently
meke youe lowly
giue no sentenc hastely
speke but rathe and that truly
preuent youre spech discretely
do all your dedes in charytye
temtacyon resyst strongly
breke his heade shortly
wepe bytterly
haue compassion tenderly
do good workes busyly
loue perseuerently
loue hertely
loue faythfully
loue god all only
and all other for hym charitably
loue in aduersytye
loue in prosperyty
thinke alway of loue for loue ys non other but god hymselfe. Thus to loue bringeth the louer to loue without ende.

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