Our Lady of Good Success
Razor-sharp Dialogue of Comfort
By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio – articles – email) | Jan 17, 2017
I feel privileged to have read another book written by St. Thomas More while he was in the Tower of London awaiting execution: A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation (see my comments last November on The Sadness of Christ). More remained extraordinarily calm under fire for his refusal to approve King Henry VIII’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon or to acknowledge the King as “head of the Church in England”. Moreover, when it comes to his Tower writings, Sir Thomas was not only innocent as a dove but wise as a serpent—and perhaps sharper than a serpent’s tooth.
The Dialogue of Comfort is presented as just that, a dialogue between an uncle, Anthony, who is nearing death, and his nephew, Vincent, who greatly fears the Turks will invade their native Hungary. Vincent is hoping that Uncle Anthony can give him sound words of comfort that will help him to be true to Christ in the coming upheaval and persecution. Accordingly, the Dialogue discusses all of the goods which may disappear under the Turks, from prosperity to life itself, and Anthony offers ways of looking at each of them which we can use to keep these losses in perspective, especially as compared with eternal happiness with God.
Throughout the text, More draws on the discussions he has had in the Tower with his wife Alice and his daughter Meg, when they visited him in sore need of comfort for his impending loss. He also peppers the discussion with practical wisdom about how incompletely we appreciate so many things here on earth, and with humorous stories which illustrate how foolish we can be in our attachments. For example, he tells of a man who relies on his ability to ask forgiveness of God with his last few words, rather than striving to amend his life. Riding across a slippery bridge, his horse loses its footing. As horse and rider plunge over the edge into the dangerous waters below, he cries out his few last words, “Well I’ll be damned!”
There is, of course, great spiritual wisdom in More’s Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, but its sharp cleverness consists in More writing of the need for comfort in the event of the Turks’ invasion of Hungary while he was being deprived of the exact same things—the Church, prosperity, status, liberty, health and life itself—by a reputedly Catholic king in England. The evil perpetrated by Henry VIII is so astonishingly abrupt and obvious that the mind boggles that so many in England can remain outside the Church when they reflect on the historical events that led them to become Protestants.
The nature of imprisonment
More’s response (for Anthony is clearly More) to his fictitious nephew’s fear of imprisonment is particularly clever and genuinely deep. He patiently brings Vincent to grasp his point that it is really how we look at our prison that is the chief determinant of how much we suffer there. He gives some examples of the nobility being imprisoned under conditions that are delightful in comparison with the normal circumstances of the lower classes, and he notes the many ways in which so many people seem to be imprisoned by their material, physical, mental and moral circumstances.
But most interesting of all is his proof that every single man, woman and child on earth is imprisoned there by God Himself, and cannot escape that prison except through death. Each of us, then, lives under a judgment, and yet we constantly convince ourselves that we are free and happy and, yes, in charge of our own lives. Referring to a wealthy and powerful man condemned to death but imprisoned on a beautiful estate, with complete liberty to enjoy all its benefits, More continues the dialogue:
ANTHONY: Now, nephew Vincent, what would you consider this man? A prisoner, because he is being kept for execution? Or not a prisoner, because he is in the meantime being so favorably treated, allowed to do everything he wants except escape? I ask you, now, not to be hasty in your answer, but to consider all this carefully. I do not want you to grant anything in haste, and then later, at your leisure, regret it and think you’ve been deceived.
VINCENT: No, by my word, Uncle, in my mind this thing needs no study at all. This man is, for all the favor shown him and all the liberty lent him, still condemned to death and being kept for that reason, and kept under such surveillance that he cannot possibly escape. He therefore is, quite obviously, still a prisoner.
Indeed, one person might despair of such a magnanimous imprisonment, while another might be fully recollected, in constant conversation with God, and quite content in a small cell.
Suffering and contentment
Surely it would be impossible to argue that St. Thomas More did not suffer during his imprisonment. In an effort to crack him, as if the discomforts of his Tower cell were not enough, his books were taken away, and also his writing implements. He was reduced to writing with bits of charcoal on what scraps of paper he could find or conceal. There can be little question that he wrote The Sadness of Christ, A Treatise on the Passion, and A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation at least in part to present all of these meditations and arguments to himself, for his own spiritual comfort.
Yet the calmness and genuine concern for others which Sir Thomas displayed throughout his imprisonment and even up to the moment of death testify to the effectiveness of his own remedy. Fortuitously, Americans in the mid-Atlantic region have a signal opportunity to be inspired by an extensive exhibit on Thomas More which is on loan from the Stonyhurst College Collections in England, until March 31st at the Saint John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, DC. It was there during the Christmas holidays that I was reminded of the prophetic words of G. K Chesterton, written in A Turning Point in History back in 1929:
Blessed Thomas More is more important at this moment than at any moment since his death, even perhaps the great moment of his dying; but he is not quite so important as he will be in about a hundred years’ time. He may come to be counted the greatest Englishman, or at least the greatest historical character in English history. For he was above all things historic; he represented at once a type, a turning point and an ultimate destiny. If there had not happened to be that particular man at that particular moment, the whole of history would have been different.
Once Lord High Chancellor of the Realm, More died “the King’s good servant, and God’s first.” His true public path to glory began with his beatification by Pope Leo XIII in 1888, but he was not canonized by Pius XI until 1935, shortly before Chesterton’s death. In 2000, Pope St. John Paul II declared him patron of statesman and politicians.
St. Thomas More, pray for us.
Totus Tuus, Abba Father.
St. Pio of Pietrelcina – September 23
[Don’t let] the countless temptations with which you are continually assailed frighten you, because the Holy Spirit forewarns the devout soul who is trying to advance in the ways of the Lord, to prepare itself for temptations.
Therefore, take heart because the sure and infallible sign of the health of a soul is temptation. Let the thought that the lives of the saints were not free from this trial; give us the courage to bear it.
[St. Paul] the apostle of the people, after being taken away to Paradise, was subjected to such a trial that Satan went so far as to hit him. Dear God! Who can read those pages without feeling one’s blood freezing? How many tears, how many sighs, how many groans, how many prayers did this holy apostle raise, so that the Lord might withdraw this most painful trial from him! But what was Jesus’ reply? Only this: “My grace is sufficient for you.” One becomes perfect in weakness.
Therefore take heart. Jesus makes you also hear the same voice he allowed St. Paul to hear. Fight valiantly and you will obtain the reward of strong souls.
Pope Proposes St. Clare as Model for Today’s Youth
Writes Message to the Bishops of Assisi for Claretian Year
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 2, 2012 (Zenit.org).- On the occasion of the Claretian Year, Pope Benedict XVI sent a special message to Bishop Domenico Sorrentino of Assisi, Nocera Umbria and Gualdo Tadino, to celebrate the first female disciple of Saint Francis.
Saint Clare’s monastic consecration happened in all probability in 1211 or 1212: hence it is the 8th centenary of the event, for which the Diocese of Assisi has declared a Jubilee Year. The choice of Clare, in certain ways, completes “in a feminine way,” the “grace that a few years earlier the community of Assisi attained with the conversion of the son of Pietro di Bernardone,” wrote the Pope in his message for the Claretian Year.
Again today the Claretian Order, having “become a robust tree, in the fruitful silence of the cloisters, continues to spread the good seed of the Gospel and to serve the cause of the Kingdom of God.”
Clare’s and Francis’ charism “speaks also to our generation, and has a fascination especially for young people,” added Benedict XVI, referring to the 27th World Youth Day being celebrated on Palm Sunday.
It is no coincidence that the Holy Father’s letter was published precisely at the beginning of Holy Week: in fact, the story of Chiara’s (Clare’s) conversion “revolves around the liturgical feast of Palm Sunday,” explained the Pope. It was precisely on the Vigil of this Solemnity that Clare went to Francis to share her choice with him.
The Legenda Sanctae Clarae virginis, quoted by the Holy Father, states that, for Palm Sunday the Saint of Assisi ordered his disciple to go “elegant and adorned” in the midst of the crowd of the people, to then go out of the city the next day, converting “worldly joy into the mourning of Passion Sunday.”
It was thus that, while the other faithful rushed to receive their palm, Chiara “out of modesty, stayed still and then the bishop, coming down the steps reached her and put the first palm in her hands.”
Francis’ new life divided Assisi, between those who harshly criticized Bernardone’s son and those, instead, who admired him. Among the latter was, in fact, Clare, an adolescent of a noble family who, having met the Saint, “allowed herself to be overwhelmed by his ardor for Christ.”
Francis taught his disciple “contempt for the world,” showing her that “hope in this world is arid and bears disappointment,” and transmitted to her “the sweet union of Christ.”
According to Saint Clare’s Testament, it was Francis himself who received the prophecy of the vocation of his first spiritual daughter: the Crucifix spoke to him in the church of San Damiano, announcing that “that place would be inhabited by women who would glorify God with their holy tenor of life.”
Clare was quite a beautiful girl. However, the Poverello of Assisi “showed her a higher beauty, which is not measured with the mirror of vanity, but is developed in a life of genuine love, in the footsteps of the crucified Christ. God is the true beauty!,” continued Benedict XVI.
After Chiara cut her hair to begin her life of a penitent, the ire of her father and other relatives began. However, her mother Ortolana and two of her sisters followed her in her monastic choice. Constrained to flee from home during the night of Pam Sunday and Holy Monday, Chiara went to the refuge that Francis had prepared for her: attempts were made to dissuade her, but the young girl remained firm in her decision.
The Pope then stressed that Saint Clare’s vocation would not have been possible without the blessing of Bishop Guido, with the symbolic gesture of handing her the palm. The event of Francis and Clare, explained Benedict XVI, “shows a particular ecclesial feature.”
In their story, “an enlightened pastor met two children of the Church who entrusted themselves to his discernment. Institution and charism interacted wonderfully, to the point that love and obedience of the Church remain an integral part of Franciscan-Claretian spirituality.
Hence, Saint Clare’s monastic life is profoundly linked to Assisi and it was precisely her prayer and that of her Sisters that saved the city from “violence and devastation” in some difficult circumstances.
Chiara’s, explained the Pope, is the “conversion of love” of a young woman who gives up the “fine clothes of the nobility of Assisi” but keeps “the elegance of a soul that spends itself in praise of God and in giving itself.”
The Saint of Assisi, no less than her mentor and patron of Italy, is the champion of the “privilege” of poverty, which “left the Supreme Pontiff perplexed for a long time, who in the end smiled on the heroism of her holiness.”
Francis’ and Chiara’s example is proposed “to the attention of today’s young people,” wrote Benedict XVI. The Medieval context of their earthly event “has not diminish their fascination,” even at this time when illusions and disappointments abound, “with the thousands attractions of a life in which everything seems possible and licit.”
In fact, examples are not lacking also today of young people who “who take up the invitation to entrust themselves to Christ and to face with courage, responsibility and hope the journey of life, also making the choice of leaving everything to follow him in total service to Him and to brothers,” wrote the Pontiff, before imparting the Apostolic Blessing upon the whole diocese of Assisi, “with a particular thought for the daughters of Saint Clare of the Proto-monastery.”
Brothers and Sisters,
May the Lord give you His Peace!
I would like to pass on to you today two things:
There is a site that Cathy and I found that has helped us in our praying of the Liturgy of the Hours (LOH). Unfortunately, it is “vanilla” in the sense that it does not have the propers for the Franciscan feasts and memorials (you will have to use your Supplements for these days), but for the ordinary days of the year it is a help while praying the LOH (or Christian Prayer (CP) by oneself. It gives you a “virtual community” to pray with by providing a Podcast audio link to click on to listen while you read the Antiphons, Psalms and Prayers either on your monitor’s screen or from your book (It is also most helpful if you don’t have your book handy). It also provides you with a help in setting up your book (both the 4 vol LOH & the CP) by giving you the pages for your ribbon placement. And if you only have CP (in lieu of the 4 volume LOH) it supplements that by also giving you an opportunity to pray the Office of Readings (which in the old Latin Breviary was called Matins (Matutinum)) as well as Morning Prayer (Lauds (Laudes)), Daytime Prayer (Terce, Nones or Sext), Evening Prayer (Vespers (Vespertinum)) and Night Prayer (Compline (Completorium).
Deacon Dennis A Arcand, SFO
You can click on this address below or copy it into your Browser: http://divineoffice.org/