St. Thomas More, whose feast day was last Friday, lived a life full of tough choices, culminating in his decision to stand up to King Henry VIII when he severed the church of English from the Catholic Church, over the issue of divorce. Most people who have heard of him at least know two things More—that he was the author of Utopia and that he was ultimately executed for his beliefs.
St. Thomas More lived an incredible life—one filled with many material blessings and moral achievements, as well as major setbacks and spiritual challenges. It’s hard to imagine how anyone but a saint could have handled these with such grace. What can we learn from More? What questions does his life and work pose for us? Below are five questions based on his bio (available here on EWTN) to ask yourself.
(A disclaimer: I have adapted and revised these questions from one of the discussion coordinators at a local young adult I attend. So credit goes to her for coming up with these stimulating questions!)
1. Spiritual self-awareness: St. Thomas More reportedly thought long and hard about entering the priesthood, with vigils, fasts, prayers, and similar austerities, according to his friend Erasmus. But he “proved himself far more prudent than most candidates who thrust themselves rashly into that arduous profession without any previous trial of their powers”—ultimately deciding to be a “chaste husband rather than an impure priest.” Do we seek the same self-awareness and honesty about our lives, our gifts, our strengths, and our weaknesses? If so, have we taken the appropriate actions to make the necessary changes in our lives?
2. Self-mortification: More, like a number of other saints, practiced self-mortification, as a reminder of his love for Christ and a way to offer his suffering for the good of others. How can we mortify ourselves to “bring about the kingdom”?
3. Gratitude for and detachment from worldly gain: More rose to the highest ranks of English society in terms of political power and wealth—only to lose it all. How can we maintain an ‘attitude of gratitude’ for what we have without becoming attached to our material blessings?
4. Faithfulness in the face of persecution: More stood against the king in his decision to break off from Rome and appoint himself head of the church in England. He persevered through trials to the very end—a treason trial, imprisonment in the tower of England, and his eventual beheading. How can his life help us in our current battle for religious freedom?
5. Love of neighbor: It’s a true mark of his charity that More was not merely concerned about preserving the integrity of the Church in England—he also took great personal concern with Henry VIII and how his actions would affect his salvation. Do we have a similar love for our neighbors? Do we care about their salvation?