Celebrating a pre-recorded Mass for the June 22 Feast of St. Thomas More, Bishop Ronald Gainer cautioned against the temptation of re-ordering the lives of others and encouraged the faithful instead to ‘enter into the chaos’ of the lives of those we encounter.
“As we celebrate his feast day today and seek about doing our own vocations, I would hope we would ask for that particular grace to avoid the temptation to re-order the lives of others and to allow ourselves to act as Christ acted toward us: to enter in to the chaos of others’ lives [to] stand there as a sign of God’s mercy and understanding,” the bishop said in his homily.
On June 22, the Church celebrates the life and witness of St. Thomas More. A devout Catholic and a lawyer, scholar, author, government servant and Lord Chancellor, he was imprisoned in 1534 and beheaded in 1535 by the order of King Henry VIII for refusing to sign the king’s Act of Supremacy and Act of Succession.
Each year, the St. Thomas More Society of Central Pennsylvania sponsors a Mass on his Feast Day. The Society was established by Catholic lawyers and judges to promote Christian principles in the law in the spirit of St. Thomas More.
The celebration of this year’s Mass was recorded by members of the Diocesan Office of Communications in the Diocesan Center chapel, due to continued social distancing guidelines. It is available for viewing on the Diocese’s YouTube Channel.
In his homily, Bishop Gainer made a connection between an excerpt from St. Thomas More’s personal epitaph and the day’s Gospel Reading for the Feast, the Sermon on the Mount.
St. Thomas More, in his epitaph, refers to King Henry VIII as an “excellent Sovereign” and writes of “the unparalleled graciousness of a most indulgent Sovereign,” even though he was already imprisoned by Henry and knows of his intentions.
The epitaph is “an examination of More’s own conscience, not a condemnation or critique of the king, but an examination of More’s conscience from the viewpoint of God himself,” Bishop Gainer remarked.
He connected it to the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus says to his disciples, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged.”
“[Jesus] talks about the wooden beam in my own eye, which prevents me from seeing the splinter in your eye. By way of that exaggeration, Our Lord is teaching very clearly a truth that I think we all know in our own lives – our own tendency to ignore our faults, to overlook our failings and sins, our shortcomings, and to enlarge the failings of those around us,” Bishop Gainer remarked.
“Many times, we attempt to re-order the lives of others,” the bishop said, advising that we can take a lesson from St. Thomas More’s epitaph and his treatment of others with understanding and mercy.
“St. Thomas More doesn’t agree with Henry’s decisions one bit, but he’s not trying to re-order Henry’s life by his judgments or criticisms,” Bishop Gainer said.
“St. Thomas More shows us the way: we need to enter into the chaos of the lives of others. That requires us to let go of our own idea of what’s right and what’s the correct way…. Enter into the situation of their lives with understanding and mercy,” he said. “Isn’t that what the Son of God has done for us? Isn’t that why Jesus speaks about judgment in the Sermon on the Mount? The Son of God did that for us – he entered into the chaos of humanity in order to save us, and he brought God’s order to all who accept him as Savior.”
Karen Balaban, an attorney and one of the original members of the St. Thomas More Society of Central Pennsylvania, spoke of how the homily and St. Thomas More’s epitaph caused her to personally reflect on her approach to disagreements with leadership.
“The homily reaffirmed my commitment to continue praying for the president in spite of my many disagreements with, and disapproval of, his behavior, character, competence and policies. In spite of these differences with the president, I acknowledge that he is a human being made in the image and likeness of God, and needs our prayers,” she said.
Balaban is in her second tenure of service on the Society’s board, and said “Besides being a beautiful, peaceful venue, the event provides an inexpensive and convenient opportunity for our members and their family to participate in one of the several events sponsored by the St Thomas More Society of Central Pennsylvania.”
“It is special to have an in-person community to worship with, however, since the Feast Day was on a Monday, it would have been difficult for many lawyers to attend,” she pointed out. “I noticed that the YouTube counter said 92 views. That is close to twice the number in attendance last year when the Mass was celebrated at St. Theresa’s in New Cumberland on a Saturday. I was pleased to see the increased level of participation, especially since Bishop Gainer was generous with his time celebrating the Mass, and presented an excellent homily.”
Gerard Mackarevich, a 25-year member of the St. Thomas More Society, also expressed gratitude for the celebration of the annual Mass.
“The bishop made it a meaningful experience for Society members this year, even with the absence of the physical celebration of the Eucharist and the fellowship that goes along with it,” he said. “Bishop Gainer could easily have just postponed this year’s event, but instead made lemonade out of lemons with an intimate remote celebration and a memorable homily.”
Mackarevich, who has worked in private practice and with the state throughout his career as a lawyer, said he was enriched by St. Thomas More’s epitaph.
“How remarkable it was that this humble man who had lost his title and his freedom at the hands of a tyrant could still show respect to the man who took it all from him,” he said.
In addition to the annual Feast Day Mass, the Society also sponsors the annual Red Mass that coincides with the start of the U.S. Supreme Court’s term in October, and gatherings with speakers who address current issues of religious freedom in the state and in the country.
“To me, the best part of the Society is the opportunities it provides for personal spiritual growth alongside committed Catholic lawyers and clergy, whether it is at small group settings like luncheon Lenten reflections and the Advent Mass at [chaplain] Father Paul Clark’s parish, or the larger traditional gatherings like the annual Red Mass,” Mackarevich said.
(For information on the St. Thomas More Society, visit www.saintthomasmoresociety.com.)
(Photos by Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness