More in Lent: The Sadness of Christ

Catholics make a big deal out of Fridays, particularly Fridays in Lent: no meat, extra sacrifices, and special prayers.

Friday is not so much the ‘start of the weekend,’ as it is the memorial of the day that Christ died. It is a day that deserves special remembrance and ritual.

With this in mind, I would like to introduce a Lenten Friday Special : a selection of readings from St. Thomas More.

Sir Thomas More – whom Erasmus designated the “Finest Mind in Europe” – was appointed Lord Chancellor of England  under Henry VIII, and he is one of the few Lord Chancellors in history to willingly resign this position. Not only willingly, but he begged for over year to be allowed to resign. He could foresee the coming turbulence that Henry’s greed and pride would bring about, and knowing that there was no longer any good he could do in the situation More tried to disentangle himself from the court and tricky politics.

Unfortunately, this was not entirely possible for someone as popular as More. Eventually, he went from being the king’s dear friend and trusted advisor to being imprisoned for treason on refusing to sign the Act of Succession that would have declared Henry as Head of the Church.

While in the Tower, More was terrified of both the pain of execution, and of giving in to his fears. As part of his discipline against this ‘weakness,’ he wrote a meditation on Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, entitled “The Sadness of Christ: Of the Sorrow, Weariness, Fear, and Prayer of Christ Before His Taking“. The book was written a month before his execution, and was supposedly smuggled out of the Tower by his daughter Margaret. In this book he combats his own fears and sorrows with deep consideration of Christ’s suffering and example.

“Thus among other causes for which our saviour vouchsafed to take upon him these afflictions of our frail nature, one was this which I have here before rehearsed, and that as it seemeth very reasonable, that is to wit, he became weak for their sakes that were weak, by his weakness to cure theirs, whom he so entirely tendered, that in all that ever he did in this his bitter agony, it appeareth he meant nothing more, than to teach the faint-hearted soldier how to behave himself in his troublous travail, when he shall be violently drawn to martyrdom. For to the intent he would instruct him that is in fear of danger, both to desire other folk to watch and pray for him, and therewith nevertheless in his own person to recommend himself wholly unto God, and again for that he would have it known that none but himself alone as then should taste the painful pangs of death, when he had commanded those three apostles, whom he took forth with him from the other eight almost to the foot of the hill, to stay still there and to abide and watch with him, then got he himself from them a stone’s cast further (17).”

. . .

“But for those that care for their soul’s health, as each one of us ought to do, unless it be such a man as the mighty hand of God encourageth to martyrdom, which thing must either by some secret means be perceived, or else by some other reasonable ways be well tried and known, otherwise I say is it meet for these folk every man to stand in fear of himself, that he be not over-charged with his burden, that he fall therewith down-right; and therefore lest he, like as Peter did, trust over-much to himself, heartily must he beseech almighty God that he will of his goodness mercifully deliver his silly soul from so great danger. Nevertheless this one point must we keep still in remembrance, that we never so precisely pray to be preserved from peril, but that we commit the whole matter unto God, ready for our parts with all obedience patiently to accept whatsoever his pleasure shall be to appoint us (37).”

In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritu Sancti. Amen.

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