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  • Sarah Raad

Gloominess

“God preserve us from gloomy saints.” (Saint Theresa of Avila).

Sir Thomas More (Hans Holbein, the Younger)

I love history. I love studying it. I love teaching it. And I love reading about it.


One particular period of history that I enjoy reading about is the period of the Protestant Reformation. During the Protestant Reformation King Henry VIII – who had previously been awarded the title “Defender of the Faith” by the Pope – chose to schism away from the Catholic Church and establish himself as head of the Church of England.


Though the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church was corrupt at that time, the corruption within the Catholic Church was not Henry’s primary motivation in this decision. In fact, Henry was motivated by his desire to produce a male heir, and in seeking to do this, he wished to divorce his first wife (Catherine of Aragon) and marry his second (Anne Boleyn), which was prohibited by the Catholic Church. Accordingly, Henry decided to separate the Christian Church in England from the Catholic Church as led by the Pope in Rome…


As a result of this schism, Henry wished to obtain the compliance of the nobles who surrounded him in the court to gain public support for himself as the Head the Church of England. While most of the nobles supported Henry – publicly swearing allegiance to him as Head of the Church of England, and signing the Act of Succession – some few did not.

The most famous of these was Saint Thomas More - who was an English lawyer, judge, social philosopher, author (of the classic, philosophical fictional text, “Utopia”), statesman, and noted Renaissance humanist - had served Henry VIII as Lord High Chancellor of England from 1529 to 1532. Despite being locked as a Prisoner in the Tower of London for 14 months, Saint Thomas More refused to acknowledge King Henry VIII as the head of the Church in England. Accordingly, on 6 July 1545 Saint Thomas More was beheaded as a traitor, saying with his last words that he was “The king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

And I have been thinking about Saint Thomas More as I have been reflecting on a couple of other martyrs who were killed for the same reason a year earlier than Saint Thomas More… In 1534, while they were on trial, the Judge told the two men, “If you don't swear you’ll be tied up and thrown into the Thames.” But the men merely smiled and they replied, “We just want to go to Heaven. We don't really mind if it is by water or by land!”


And I have been reflecting on that joy – for it surely the gift of faith!


For Christ said to us, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is in travail she has sorrow, because her hour has come; but when she is delivered of the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a child is born into the world. So you have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” (John 16:20-23).


For the saints have such joy! Saint Josemaría claimed that he founded Opus Dei with just “the grace of God, twenty six years of age and good humour.” Saint Ignatius said, “Laugh and grow strong.” And to one of his novices, “I see you are always laughing, and I am glad of it.” And Saint Theresa of Avila said, “God preserve us from gloomy saints.”


And today I pray for that joy in my life – and I pray for it in yours too – for I tend to agree with Saint Theresa of Avila when she said, “God preserve us from gloomy saints.”


For with prayer, I stand on Holy Ground where everything is clear. Here. At the Foot of the Cross.

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