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Sunday, June 22, 2014

St. Thomas More; Obedient Even Unto Death...

"I die the King's good servant, but God's first."  

-- St. Thomas More is one of my favorite saints and subject of one of my favorite classic films, A Man for All Seasons.  He was a 16th Century Oxford scholar, author and lawyer, who became Lord Chancellor of England during the reign of King Henry VIII, and was martyred for refusing to render alliance to the King over the Catholic Church. 

At the time, King Henry wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry his lover, Anne Boleyn, and when Pope Clement VII denied him an annulment, he broke away from the Church and started his own; the Church of England, upon which he declared himself as spiritual head. 

He demanded loyalty from his subjects, especially those in authority, and submission from the clergy.  Those that didn't, including More and St. John Fisher, a Catholic Bishop and close friend of More, were thrown in prison.  As higher profile officials, who refused to succumb to King Henry's pressure, they were tried, convicted of treason and eventually executed. 

St. Thomas More was a devout husband and father, a man of conviction, righteousness, courage and honor.  He stood up for his beliefs despite the consequences and never wavered from being true to God, the Church and his conscience.  

In the Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus is described, "Though He was a Son, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered."  St. Thomas More experienced some of that suffering during his imprisonment, separation from his family, unfair trial and execution.  He followed in the footsteps of Christ, who was obedient even unto death.   

Thomas More has become a symbol of conscientious objection ever since and, today, with governments infringing on religious rights all over the world, he is more relevant than ever.

In his book, Render Unto Caesar, Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life, Archbishop Charles Chaput writes, "Thomas More persuades the modern heart not because he wanted to die but because he didn't.  He used all of his skills to avoid martyrdom, but he refused to escape it when the price came down to the integrity of his faith... More obeyed his conscience because he knew he was obligated to obey God first... His sacrifice was not an act of self-assertion... It was an act of obedience."       

Upon the scaffolding before his execution, More is said to have uttered the quote above, "I die the king's good servant but God's first." He was beheaded on July 6, 1535.  Four hundred years later, he was canonized a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1935 and declared "Patron of Statesmen and Politicians" by Pope John Paul II in 2000.  

Interestingly, when Pope Benedict XVI spoke before the British Parliament in Westminster Hall in 2010, it was reportedly the first time that a Roman Catholic was allowed to speak there since St. Thomas More's trial.

The Catholic Church celebrates his feast day on June 22nd.

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