‘The King’s Good Servant and God’s first …’
Sometimes a child is born into this world who at an early age so astounds people with his or her intellect that those around them marvel at the grace of God. Such was the case of St. Thomas More, born in London in 1478. As a youngster he excelled at school and was rewarded by being sent to work and study in the home of the archbishop of Canterbury. The archbishop himself took notice of him and encouraged him to enter Oxford, where More received a classic education and excelled in language, religion, the law, literature and even music. There seemed to be no subject he could not conquer.
Thomas More made friends with many scholars and educated religious, and for several years seriously contemplated religious life. He prayed and lived piously, but finally decided he was called to marriage. Although he admired a younger daughter in a respected family, being a gentleman he felt he could not overlook her older sister, and married Jane Colte in 1505. Perhaps God looked favorably upon his sacrifice, for their marriage was a very happy and loving one, producing three daughters and a son. Sadly Jane died very young, and so More married Alice Middleton, an older widow, to help raise his children.
During this time More was gaining a reputation as a brilliant lawyer and writer, producing his most well-known work, Utopia, in 1516. Along with his incredible intellect he was known to have an affable nature and was even something of a jokester. The famous scholar Erasmus once wrote of him: “He seems born and framed for friendship, and is a most faithful and enduring friend...if you want a perfect model of friendship, you will find it in no one better than in More …”
More held different political positions until finally he was named chancellor of England by King Henry VIII. But three years later when the King made several proclamations regarding divorce and the papacy which contradicted the teachings of the Church, he resigned his position. Finally, when More refused to take an oath legitimizing the children of the king and Anne Boleyn, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London and ultimately sentenced to death by beheading. It was during his imprisonment that he proved the worth of his character, keeping joyful and faithful during it all, and berating himself for having lived what he called a life “consumed all the time in pleasure and ease.” He went to his death on July 6, 1535, proclaiming: “I die the King’s good servant and God’s first.”
Saints and our lives
“If I am distracted, Holy Communion helps me to become recollected. If opportunities are offered me each day to offend my God, I arm myself anew each day for the combat by the reception of the Eucharist.”
Whether or not we realize it, we all offend God at times, often without thinking: laughing at an off-color remark, keeping silent when we should speak up, losing our temper too easily, gossiping, etc. And many times we commit those sins because we are not recollected, not living our life in the presence of God. St. Thomas More would have us know that receiving Holy Communion daily is one way to help us be aware of God’s presence in our lives in a real and personal way. If we can begin our day with Mass where we are fed by Christ, with Christ, we become what we par-take of. And that can make all the difference in our day, our thoughts, and our actions.
“Often, actually very often, God allows his greatest servants to make the most humiliating mistakes.” No one likes to admit to having made a mistake, and the more public the mistake, certainly the harder it is to admit to! But if we assume responsibility when something we do goes wrong, God can work within us to bring true humility to our lives and to the situation. St. Thomas More believed that God uses these circumstances to instill grace into our lives, to bring us closer to perfection by the very thing that causes us embarrassment.
“I die the King’s good servant and God’s first.” In modern-day America, we Catholic faithful do not face actual martyrdom for standing true to our beliefs. But Thomas More’s words remind us that we cannot serve two masters, and that we are called to stand firm in the face of various forms of persecution — cultural, social, political — as we proclaim the Gospel of Christ to an often hostile world. We should be especially inspired by More’s witness now, as we join with our nation’s bishops in standing up in defense of religious freedom.
Adapted from “Evangelization and the Lives of the Saints: St. Thomas More,” produced by the diocesan Office of New Evangelization. For the complete pamphlet, visit the Office of New Evangelization at www.drvc.org.