St. Sir Thomas More lived from 1478-1535 and rose to prominence during the reign of England’s King Henry VIII (1491-1547; r. 1509-1547). More had considered a religious vocation during the early years of his life, but instead opted for a career as a lawyer. More first became known to the future Henry VIII, when the latter was Prince of Wales. In 1503, More delivered the funeral oration for Queen Elizabeth of York; Prince Henry’s mother, wife to Prince Henry’s father Henry VII (1457-1509), and daughter of the late King Edward IV (d. 1483). The young Prince Henry was so impressed and deeply moved by the (then) 25 year-old More, that the two would become very close friends by the time Prince Henry ascended the English throne as King Henry VIII in April 1509.
More would serve on King’s Privy Council and later as Lord Chancellor of the Realm, following the death of the late Chancellor Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Though Wolsey and More rarely saw eye-to-eye, Wolsey named More as his successor to the Chancellorship (The Lord Chancellor was the highest ranking subject in the kingdom, second only to the royal family). Henry VIII’s preoccupation with providing a male heir to insure the continuation of the Tudor Dynasty drove the King to divorce his first wife, Queen Katharine of Aragon (1485-1536), whose only surviving child was a daughter, Mary (later Queen Mary I; 1516-1558). Henry VIII then took a new wife Anne Boleyn (1501-1536) in the hopes of begetting a male heir to succeed him. In doing so, England then separated from the Roman Catholic Church. The process of separation was solidified in 1534, when Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy. Under the Act, all English subjects were required to swear an oath of allegiance acknowledging the King (not the Pope) as Supreme Head of the newly created Church of England. To refuse would bring a charge of high treason, and if convicted, the citizen was declared a traitor and sentenced to death by beheading.
More had foreseen the turn events would take, well before they said events were set in motion. In turn, More resigned as Chancellor in 1532. More retired to Chelsea Manor, in the hopes of living out his remaining years quietly and uneventfully. This was not to be.
More was beheaded for high treason on July 6,1535, for refusing the oath of allegiance required under the Act of Supremacy. More’s last words on the scaffold were
“I am commanded by the King to be brief. And since I am the King’s obedient subject, brief I will be. I die the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”
Sir Thomas More was canonized a saint of the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI in 1935. On this Solemn Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year, the legacy left us by St. Sir Thomas More prompts believers to ask ourselves these questions:
-What is the spirit behind the service we render to God? Do we serve God humbly? Or do we feel ourselves superior or greater than others by “our” service?
-Do we serve the Kingdom of God truly–as Christ the King wills and would have us to do?
-Or do we serve an earthly “kingdom,” principality, or institution under the guise of “serving God” in Christ the King?
-Is our service for God’s greater glory, or for the greater glory of ourselves?
In order to “BE” Christ we must die to self, and all of the self’s ego-centered demands. If Christ is truly our King, then it is high time to either get going with or persevere in the endeavor of dying to self, thanks be to the grace of God!!! For it is not (either) for ourselves or for some earthly or human-centered institution for which we live, but rather we LIVE FOR, to echo the words of St. Sir Thomas More–GOD FIRST.