August 28, 2009

Faith and Family / Sean Gallagher

St. Thomas More: A man for all husbands and fathers

Sean GallagherAs a new academic year begins, my mind has turned at times to memories of when I was a student at St. Joseph School in Shelbyville in the 1970s and ’80s.

I was a bit different from other kids back then. I loved history.

I remember sitting in our Indiana history class in the fourth grade with Mrs. Livingston learning about George Rogers Clark’s exploits in what is now the southern part of the state during the Revolutionary War. Learning about those pioneer days just fired my young imagination.

I also recall, even as a grade school student, writing a paper or making a presentation about the Reformation. I got help from St. Joseph parishioner George Sheehan, who volunteered in the school library at the time. He guided me to books where I could learn about Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, Ulrich Zwingli and King Henry VIII.

I’m still interested in history. But being busy in my life as a husband and father and in my career, I don’t have the time to learn about just anything. A lot of the time, my reading is focused on topics that will help me live out my vocation better.

Maybe that’s why I’ve recently returned to Reformation-era England in my reading.

For a few months now, I’ve been fascinated by St. Thomas More (1478-1535).

As a highly educated lay man, he was an unusual figure at the time. More was the first lay lord chancellor of England, the predecessor of its current office of prime minister.

He is probably best known for going to his death as a martyr for his refusal to pledge allegiance to King Henry VIII as the supreme leader of the Catholic Church in England. Henry had claimed that title, in large part, so that he could divorce his wife, Catherine, in order to marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn.

More’s refusal to act against his conscience was immortalized in the Robert Bolt play, A Man for All Seasons, which was later made into an Oscar-winning movie of the same title in 1966.

But as much as I venerate More for his martyrdom, I am also drawn to him for his dedication to his calling to be a husband and father.

Although his second wife, Alice Middleton, was not well educated, More respected and loved her, and valued her assistance in the management of their estate. (More was a widower when he married Middleton.)

More dedicated himself greatly to the education of his children, including his daughters. It is said that King Henry witnessed a philosophy debate held by two of More’s daughters.

Beyond growing in knowledge, More desired that his children be virtuous.

And, of course, as we know from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, the greatest of the virtues is love (1 Cor 13:13).

That leads me to recall a scene in A Man for All Seasons where More’s daughter, Margaret, pleads with him shortly before his execution to give in to the king’s demands, saying to him, “Haven’t you done as much as God can reasonably want?”

More responds by saying, “Well, finally it isn’t a matter of reason. Finally, it’s a matter of love.”

Every thought, word and deed of a husband and father should be motivated by love for his wife, children and, above all, God. †

Local site Links: