St. Thomas More, Martyr (Patron Saint of Lawyers)
St. Thomas More was born at London on February 7, 1478. After a thorough grounding in religion and the classics, he entered Oxford to study law. Upon leaving the university he embarked on a legal career which took him to Parliament. In 1505, he married his beloved Jane Colt who bore him four children, and when she died at a young age, he married a widow, Alice Middleton, to be a mother for his young children. A wit and a reformer, this learned man numbered Bishops and scholars among his friends, and by 1516 wrote his world-famous book "Utopia". He was known throughout Europe for his scholarship and his innovative views, which led him, for example, to give his daughters the same education his son received - a revolutionary development in those times.
He attracted the attention of King Henry VIII who appointed him to a succession of high posts and missions, and finally made him Lord Chancellor in 1529. However, he resigned in 1532, at the height of his career and reputation, when King Henry VIII manipulated both Parliament and the Convocation of Clergy in order to assume control over the Church in England, and persisted in holding his own opinions regarding marriage and the supremacy of the Pope.
The rest of his life was spent in writing mostly in defense of the Catholic Church. In 1534, with his close friend, St. John Fisher, he refused to render allegiance to the King as the Head of the Church of England and was confined to the Tower. Fifteen months later, and nine days after St. John Fisher's execution, he was tried and convicted of treason. He told the court that he could not go against his conscience and wished his judges that "we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together to everlasting salvation." And on the scaffold, he told the crowd of spectators that he was dying as "the King's good servant and God's first." He was beheaded on July 6, 1535. His feast day is June 22nd.
The Christian steadfastness which Thomas More demonstrated in martyrdom has made his name famous down through the centuries. A martyr for freedom, precisely because he was a martyr for the primacy of conscience which, firmly grounded in the search for the truth, renders us responsible for our decisions, that is to say, masters of ourselves and thus free from all bonds except that bond — proper to a creature — which binds us to God. He reminds us that the moral conscience rightly understood is a "witness of God Himself, whose voice and whose judgment penetrate the intimacy of man down to the roots of his soul" (Veritatis Splendor, n. 58).
Thomas More was venerated as a Saint by the Catholic Church since 1935, and since 1980 his name has been included in the Anglican calendar of Saints. He has been recognized as a symbol of integrity and a hero of conscience by people regardless of their nations or beliefs. His last words, "I die the King's good servant and God's first," remain an inspiration for all those who dedicate their lives to the service of the common good.