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June 21st, 2010

Saint Thomas More… and High Noon

 
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The following is a reflection for the Feast Day of St. Thomas More, June 22.

In 1952, director Fred Zinnemann released a film that was eventually selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”  The movie was called High Noon, and it starred Gary Cooper as a retired lawman who was being hunted down by a criminal he once brought to justice.  In the film, Gary Cooper had to make the decision whether or not to stand up to this criminal and his posse… or leave town.  While everyone in the town begged him to do the “smart” thing and leave, Gary Cooper decided to stay and face the bad guys in a gun battle to the death.

MFASNow, why am I talking about a 50s western?  Because in 1966, the same director released a movie that would not only win him an Oscar for Best Director, it would win Best Picture.  The film was called A Man For All Seasons and it was based on the life on the saint whose feast we celebrate today: Thomas More.  Much like Gary Cooper’s character in High Noon, Saint Thomas More was faced with making a principled decision, a decision that no one wanted him to make and a decision that could cost him his life.  Again, all around him—even his family—begged him to do the “smart” thing and just go along with the crowd: support the divorce of King Henry the Eighth of England like everybody else and just get on with his life.

What Gary Cooper’s character and Thomas More had in common in both stories is that they both lived up to Jesus’ admonition to “enter through the narrow gate.”  However, while they both went through the narrow gate and stuck true to their principles, Thomas Moore challenges us to reflect on the WAY WE FIGHT our battles.  Because while Gary Cooper’s character chose to fight his battle with a gun, Thomas More fought his battle with his wits and his faith in the righteousness of God.

All of us have times in our lives when we face “High Noon.”  “High Noon” for us might be a disagreement with a co-worker; it may involve a choice between a commitment to social justice or simply doing what is expedient.  It may even involve a fight that we have with a part of ourselves that is holding us back from being all that God created us to be.

What Saint Thomas More encourages us to do through his example is to fight those battles—not with violence—but grounded in the love of God.

 
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The Author : Fr. Tom Gibbons
Since 2009, Tom Gibbons, CSP, has shared insights on faith, pop culture, and seminary life in the Kicking and Screaming blog here at Busted Halo. On May 19, 2012, Tom was ordained a Paulist priest at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York City. He will begin serving St. Peter's Catholic Church in Toronto, Canada beginning in July 2012.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Matt

    The good news is that he didn’t lose “everything”. He held on to the two most important things…his honor and his soul. His property and even his life, were ultimately forfeit regardless of what choice he made in the controversy regarding Henry’s break with Rome. Such is the nature of being a mortal man.

    But in standing up for the Church and his own principles, he saved the only things that truly endure.

    Life is short, even for those of us who _don’t_ get beheaded for our faith. Eternity isn’t.

  • Steve

    As the Chancellor of England, St. Thomas More was charged with the duties of enforcing the laws of England. Just like everywhere else until very recent times, spreading heresy was against the law and even considered treason in England.

    In condemning the six heretics to death during his Chancellorship, More was acting a judge, not an executioner. While I’m personally against the death penalty in 2010, it would be hard for me to say how I’d feel in the early 1500s.

    As far as heroism goes, he gets that tag at his death, when he lost everything, including his life, to stand up for what was right.

  • Ken Gemmer

    Didn’t Thomas More burn heretics alive? How do you square that with heroism?

  • joe

    good piece and good correlations between St. Thomas More and Gary Cooper’s sheriff. High Noon is one of my top ten favorite movies of all time. It’s such a deep and sincere film. what’s so moving about the hero’s journey is that because of his choice to stand firm in his beliefs and stand up and fight, the hero is abandoned by everyone he knows – his wife, his deputies, the people of the town, the politicians he has served, the drunks at the town saloon, even the faithful gathered at the local church. everyone he has ever known and protected leaves him to face the evil alone. he is certainly a character in cinematic history who enters into the dark night of the soul, alone, and filled with fear and resolution all at once. thanks for this post.

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