St. Thomas More spelled out for his daughter why even impending martyrdom didn’t make his confidence waver.
God, why is this happening?
That five-word whimper is a prayer we all have found ourselves needing to pray.
Life is usually not what we thought it would be. And what can be done in its difficult moments? Trust. Only trust.
St. Thomas More gives us a remarkable example of how — and why — to trust in difficulties.
More fell from the favor of King Henry VIII because he opposed the king’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon and subsequent relationship with Ann Boleyn. He was beheaded on July 6, 1535, by order of the king. Shortly before his martyrdom, while in jail, he wrote to his daughter, Margaret:
Although I know well, Margaret, that because of my past wickedness I deserve to be abandoned by God, I cannot but trust in his merciful goodness. His grace has strengthened me until now and made me content to lose goods, land, and life as well, rather than to swear against my conscience. God’s grace has given the king a gracious frame of mind toward me, so that as yet he has taken from me nothing but my liberty. In doing this His Majesty has done me such great good with respect to spiritual profit that I trust that among all the great benefits he has heaped so abundantly upon me I count my imprisonment the very greatest. I cannot, therefore, mistrust the grace of God.
A close reading of the letter reveals why St. Thomas is trusting in God:
— He knows God’s mercy and goodness are unwavering, regardless of our behavior and choices.
— He has contemplated the way that God has been faithful in the past and is ever true to his promises. (This is one of Pope Francis’ favorite themes of contemplation as well.)
— He sees how God has found a way to bring great good even out of imprisonment.
By the merits of his bitter passion joined to mine and far surpassing in merit for me all that I can suffer myself, his bounteous goodness shall release me from the pains of purgatory and shall increase my reward in heaven besides.
I will not mistrust him, Meg, though I shall feel myself weakening and on the verge of being overcome with fear. I shall remember how Saint Peter at a blast of wind began to sink because of his lack of faith, and I shall do as he did: call upon Christ and pray to him for help. And then I trust he shall place his holy hand on me and in the stormy seas hold me up from drowning.
And finally, Margaret, I know this well: that without my fault he will not let me be lost. I shall, therefore, with good hope commit myself wholly to him. And if he permits me to perish for my faults, then I shall serve as praise for his justice. But in good faith, Meg, I trust that his tender pity shall keep my poor soul safe and make me commend his mercy.
And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it may seem, it shall indeed be the best.