My most recent article for Catholic Stand was published this month, entitled "Lessons in Leadership from St. Thomas More." I was inspired by a visit to the exhibit on the life of St. Thomas More at the St. Pope John Paul II Center in DC, as well as all the change happening politically in our country. St. Thomas More was an example of leadership then, as now. The original article can be accessed here, and the body is copy/pasted below. Enjoy!
Lessons in Leadership from St. Thomas More
St. Thomas More, patron saint of civil servants, statesmen, and politicians, lived a life of moral courage. A 15th-16th century saint, More was poet, author, lawyer, scholar, and Lord Chancellor in the British monarchy during Henry VIII’s scandal-ridden reign. For adhering to his Catholic faith, and silently refusing to acknowledge King Henry’s divorces and marriages, St. Thomas More went from trusted advisor to royal prisoner.
As big elections and leadership transitions occur across the globe, there are a few things the humble St. Thomas More can teach everyone – especially elected leaders – about governing with courage and authenticity.
Religious Freedom is Nonnegotiable
It was because of his religion that St. Thomas More ultimately left his coveted role in Henry VIII’s government, and later lost his life. In short, Henry, a Catholic, demanded an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. Thomas More knew this was contrary to Church teaching, and combined with Henry’s increasing hostility to the Church, could not be a witness or supporter of Henry’s policies. To the very end, even when locked in the Tower of London, St. Thomas More never agreed to testify against his beliefs or his Church.
Religious freedom is the greatest of Americans’ freedoms, and we believe the right to worship according to one’s conscience is nonnegotiable. Unfortunately, the fight for religious freedom is a constant battle. The world needs leaders who recognize this sacred, inherent right to believe, and not just respect the right, but fight for it. Conscientious objection, public prayer, free observance of faith-centered holidays, and all the elements that make up a free religious life, make for a strong nation. St. Thomas More understood this, and those leading our modern world need understand also.
Interestingly enough, More never formally condemned Henry VIII’s actions. His final words, just before he was beheaded, were that he was “The king’s good servant, but God’s first.” In the award-winning movie, “A Man For All Seasons,” which depicts More’s finals years and relationship with Henry VIII, Cardinal Wolsey tells More that Henry needs a son, viewing the need as justification for the annulment and remarriage. He asks More, “What are you going to do about it?”
More’s response: “I pray for it daily.”
Rather than wade into the political fight, More remained neutral, yet loyal to both his God and his King. St. Thomas More chose to stay above petty politics and knew nothing could be gained by declaring public enemies. All too often, our own politicians rely on personal attacks to make their point, but what the world needs now are level heads and productive dialogue, maintaining peace as the ultimate goal.
Keep Family Close
Although he held demanding state duties, St. Thomas More was primarily a family man, with a devout home full of visitors and those he mentored. He had a strong relationship with his daughter, Margaret, who he educated equally alongside his sons, and his wife was his confidante and counselor. For More, his family relationship was his top priority after a relationship with God.
Keeping family first will help leaders when things get complicated on the world stage. The support of loved ones, and a sense of correctly ordered priorities, makes a difference both in one’s mental and emotional health, but also in decision making. As the great St. Pope John Paul II said, ““As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” It is imperative that today’s leaders make decisions that will strengthen families.
Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide
In another great line from “A Man For All Seasons,” Thomas More says, “I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos.” In all things, More sought the moral, just route. Speaking of morality is a politically incorrect thing now as it was in Henry VIII’s day, but that did not stop More and it shouldn’t stop today’s leaders, either.
If you’d like to learn more about St. Thomas More, I recommend watching “A Man for All Seasons.” Also, if you live in the DC area, the St. Pope John Paul II Shrine is having an exhibit on St. Thomas More’s lifeuntil March. Lastly, take a look at some of his writings, which include the novel Utopia and his famous “The Prayer in the Tower,” to get a personal sense for the man and saint.
St. Thomas More, patron of statesmen, pray for us and our world in this time of change!