Lay Holiness in Extreme Situations – Part XXVI

Some laypersons display remarkable virtue, though not technically 'heroic' virtue



I offer for your consideration three interesting groups of people: defenders of the bond; the formerly incorrigible; and surviving family members of martyrs.

Defenders of the Bond

In Catholic parlance, the term defender of the bond refers to the person appointed in an annulment proceeding under canon law to defend, to argue for, the continued validity of the marriage. Such prevents collusion of the husband and wife. I want to use the term here to describe the married party, typically a woman, who is not cohabiting with her husband and does not seek a divorce or, if divorced, does not remarry because she affirms the truth of Catholic matrimony. She affirms this every day, even for decades, until her husband’s death. All the while, she typically has custody of the children and raises them, with or without the help of their father. Without a doubt, she is a defender of the bond. (I’d like to cite here my maternal grandmother, Luella Quan Hughes (1891-1983), who lived apart from her husband starting about 1930 and raised their seven children on her own.)

Some may argue that laywomen have had to endure these situations throughout the Christian era, so there is nothing new here. See Jose Montserrat Torrents, The Abandoned Spouse (1969). Some may argue that these women are duty-bound not to remarry, whatever the hardship, and that, while they are virtuous, they are not heroically virtuous.

Holiness in the (Formerly) Incorrigible

Holiness does not mean sinlessness, whether in life or at the time of death. If you are having trouble discerning holiness in people, try comparing their present with their past. The book Saints Behaving Badly: The Cutthroats, Crooks, Trollops, Con Men, and Devil-Worshippers Who Became Saints (2006) by Thomas J. Craughwell (1956-2018), who wrote columns on saints for diocesan newspapers, is a tool that can help us. Remember Our Lord’s declaration in Luke 15:7: “There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.”

Dr. Bernard Nathanson (1926-2011) was a co-founder of NARAL and committed thousands of abortions. By 1984, he had converted to the pro-life cause. That year, he narrated the pro-life film Silent Scream. In 1996, he converted to Catholicism and wrote an account of his conversion in The Hand of God: A Journey from Death to Life. Why did he convert? He replied, “No religion matches the special role for forgiveness that is afforded by the Catholic Church” (Russell Shaw, “Bernard Nathanson and the Church of Forgiveness,” Catholic News Agency, April 4, 2011).

Servant of God Dorothy Day had had an abortion before her conversion. Norma McCorvey Nelson (1947-2017), who was the anonymous Jane Roe in Roe v. Wade (1973), the case that found a constitutional right to an abortion, converted in 1998 to the pro-life cause and to Catholicism. She wrote an account of her conversion in Won By Love (1998). Abby Johnson worked for eight years at a Planned Parenthood clinic. Her conversion to pro-life is portrayed in the film Unplanned (2019). She and her husband converted to Catholicism in 2012.

Holiness in Surviving Family Members of Martyrs

Wall Street Journal op-ed writer and Catholic William McGurn stated a case in 2017 for canonizing St. Thomas More’s daughter, Margaret (“Meg”) More Roper (1505-1544) (see William McGurn, “A Woman for All Seasons,” Wall Street Journal, June 29, 2017. Also see John Guy, A Daughter’s Love, from 2009). In 1521, Margaret married a man who later converted to Catholicism. They had five children, at least three of whom were born as of Thomas More’s execution. She risked death in smuggling her father’s letters out of prison, collecting his writings for posterity, and taking his head off a pike on a public bridge.

After More was sentenced to death at his July 1, 1535, trial in Westminster Hall, Meg “met him on the way from Westminster Hall to the Tower of London and pressed forward to embrace him.” He wrote to her later:

I never liked your manner toward me better than when you kissed me last, for I love when daughterly love and dear charity hath no leisure to look to worldly courtesy. Farewell my dear child and pray for me, and I shall for you and all your friends that we may merrily meet in heaven. I thank you for your great cost. (Stephanie A. Mann, “Thomas More to His Daughter Meg,” July 6, 2011,

To be continued…


***Editor’s Note: For Part XXVII in this series, click here


James M. Thunder has left the practice of law but continues to write. He has published widely, including a Narthex series on lay holiness. He and his wife Ann are currently writing on the relationship between Father Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope) and lay people.

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