STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — St. Thomas More is often heralded as a champion of religious freedom, but supporting that effort was his unshakable faith and evangelical joy in the truth about marriage.
“We should remember Thomas More for his domestic witness, the witness of his own marriage, family, and home,” Father Paul Scalia said at a conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville. “His defense of marriage wasn’t purely intellectual. He knew marriage and the family from the inside. He knew the joy in the virtue that was being threatened by its undoing.”
Father Scalia, episcopal vicar for clergy for the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, is the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Commenting on his father’s influence, Father Scalia said, “I saw him striving to be a good Catholic man. I also saw him failing, but I saw him trying, and that’s what’s important.”
The title of his talk was “More Witnesses Needed: St. Thomas More and the Eternal Significance of Marriage.” He spoke July 28 at the Defending the Faith Conference, held each year during the last weekend in July at Franciscan University. This year over 1,400 people from across the U.S. attended the conference.
St. Thomas More, English politician and philosopher, also strove toward holiness, famously giving his life in defiance of King Henry VIII’s divorce and remarriage. Father Scalia noted that More didn’t actually speak out against the divorce until he was already condemned to death.
“He simply resigned his public office,” Father Scalia said, connecting the saint’s example to how a Catholic can respond to civil breaches of morality.
“The shepherds (the priests and bishops) always have to speak out against injustice. They don’t have an option,” he said. In regard to the laity, Father Scalia continued, “They are not always in a position where they can speak out, but they are always in a position to live lives of integrity and holiness in witness to the truth.”
Commenting on the many threats against marriage and the Catholic Church, Father Scalia said: “You can’t force people to be moral. No amount of great laws and laws in perfect keeping with the moral code are going to force people to be moral. You can’t outlaw original sin.
“An external change is helpful, as it can create room for the deeper change, but what is really necessary is not a change of laws, but a change of heart.”
Henry VIII, attempting to validate his marriage to Anne Boleyn, broke from the Catholic Church and established the Church of England. Father Scalia noted that since Henry took issue with marriage, he also would take issue with papal authority.
“Both the church and marriage point to something else beyond and before the state, and in that way, they relativize the authority of the state,” he said. “The church and marriage are inextricably bound to one another; the church is the home of marriage.
“The evangelical mission of marriage is the task that married couples have to reveal the eternal significance of marriage,” the priest continued. “When people bump into a married couple who are really trying to live the sacrament of marriage, they’re bumping into an icon of Christ and the church.”
Father Scalia then broke down marriage into four essentials: freedom, permanence, fidelity and openness to life.
Just as Christ freely gave himself to his bride, the church, Father Scalia said, freedom also must be lived out in marriage. “Freedom within marriage means embracing those regular duties. We are able to do freely what we are already required to do.”
Secondly, marriage must be permanent. “Our Lord endured the sickness, poverty, and the bad times, but he never cast off his bride. What the world encounters when it encounters the permanence of marriage is the bond between Christ and his church that is not just permanent, but eternal,” he said.
“Fidelity is devotion to each other, attentiveness, the constant awareness that they are one flesh. Lovers look at each other. Christ is always looking at his bride with love and longing,” Father Scalia said. “When a married couple does the simple thing of living this fidelity in a deep manner, only having eyes for each other, that’s a sign to the world that, yes, love can be true. Promises can be kept. Yes, God’s grace makes this possible.”
On his fourth point, he said that the union between Christ and the church “is all about new life — the new life of grace.”
“New life requires a great deal of trust between the spouses and in God, as well as sacrifice,” the priest said. “Couples that witness to the openness of life and the joy that should come with it, living that sacrifice joyfully and peacefully, signify that it is possible to make sacrifices and be fulfilled.”