Deo gratias, tomorrow’s Easter Vigil marks the one-year anniversary of my reception into Christ’s true Church. Every now and then I re-read my conversion story – my first article for the Herald – and balk at how much was left unsaid. For instance, I didn’t have time to explain why I decided to join the Latin Mass community instead of the ordinariate. Maybe someday I will.
The omission I most regret, though, relates to this anecdote:
One day, while we’re playing frisbee in the yard, mum calls and says my grandfather had suffered a massive stroke. The doctors aren’t sure he’ll pull through. I can feel my heart breaking. My grandfather is my hero. I’m closer to him than anyone else in the world.
Without a word to my friends, I run to the Marian grotto. Students tend not to hang out there. It’s set right next to the graveyard where the Xavierian Brothers are buried. When I get there, I find myself clutching the Virgin’s feet. I beg her to pray for my grandfather. If he lives, I promise to say a rosary every day for a week. She does, and he does, so I get permission from campus ministry to borrow one of their beads.
I used the money my grandparents gave me for Christmas to buy my own rosary. I don’t tell them; they were, like many older New England WASPs, gently anti-Catholic. Still, I don’t hold it against them. Mary didn’t.
I didn’t get to mention is that it was a St Thomas More rosary. My initials are engraved on the back of the crucifix. And, when I was confirmed, I took the name Thomas – “being, I hope, the Queen’s good servant, but God’s first.”
It’s a nice story, I think. But what gets me is that I have no idea why I chose a Thomas More rosary back when I was a sophomore in high school.
St Thomas is very dear to my confirmation sponsor, whom I met in college. He had a print of Holbein’s portrait on the wall of his dorm room and made me watch A Man for All Seasons. That, I thought, was my first proper introduction to Thomas More. I decided early in the conversion process to take him as my patron.
It was only sometime later that I happened to find my old rosary and realised my own arrogance. I didn’t choose St Thomas: St Thomas chose me. Long before my heart turned to Christ, he marked me out. He took up my cause and spent years patiently praying that I would come home to the Church – the Church he loved so dearly, and for whom he gave his life.
For that, I’m grateful. Aside from Christ, Thomas More is the man I most admire. He was an able statesman, a brilliant writer, an unequalled orator, and the most learned man in Europe. Like Our Lord, he never hesitated to lovingly but sternly admonish us. (Christ, he writes, “used to spend the night praying under the open sky while the hypocritical Pharisee was snoring in his soft bed”.) He was also a model of Christian manhood: dutiful husband, diligent father, and gracious master of his house. I’m a better Catholic – and a better person – for knowing him.
That’s one of the great revelations I had after my conversion. No doubt I had a “personal relationship” with Christ as a Protestant, but Catholics are invited to enter such relationships with all the denizens of heaven. We can peel back the veil of blindness and ignorance and glimpse life in the Kingdom of God, which is loud with the hymns and prayers of the faithful departed.
So, maybe we should all set aside a little time this Holy Saturday to keep company with our patron saints. Take this opportunity to get to know them better. Except for Christ and his Mother, they’re our best friends and greatest advocates.