As college students at Seton Hall University, we must be mindful of our vocations and how our school can better serve us in pursuing them.
Almost five hundred years ago, Robert Whittonton first called his contemporary Sir Thomas More “a man for all seasons”, thereby providing the title for Robert Bolt’s classic play about the future saint. Robert Bolt depicts More as a man of high virtue, piety and faith in “A Man For All Seasons.” In Act One, Sir Thomas has a conversation with a Cambridge scholar Richard Rich, a promising and ambitious young man who is still unformed interiorly:
“More: But, Richard, in office they offer you all sorts of things. I was once offered a whole village, with a mill, and a manor house, and heaven knows what else- a coat of arms, I shouldn’t be surprised. Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher. Perhaps even a great one.
Rich: And if I was, who would know it?
More: You, your pupils, your friends, God. Not a bad public, that… Oh, and a quiet life.
Rich: (Laughing) You say that!”
Although brief, this dialogue offers us an important lesson about ourselves, and a means to contemplate on our ambitions. You must ask yourself, what is the root of my ambition? Why am I studying business or trying to have a medical career? What is the end goal of all the work I am putting in? What is the meaning in what I am doing and why am I doing it?
Sir Thomas More poses these questions before Rich more concisely than I have to you, but they are still worth analyzing. Students go to college in order to be educated, but the point of gaining an education is to work and to expand your mind in your academic, practical, and spiritual understanding.
Since Rich was educated at Cambridge University in the 16th century, he felt as though working for the Chancellor of England was the position he deserved. Why?
He desired fame and wealth. Again, we need to ask ourselves, why have we chosen our current paths?
Sir Thomas More eloquently presents four key relationships that we need to keep in consideration when pondering our life situation, and those are with our self, our “pupils”, our friends/family, and our God.
During the college years, students from all backgrounds are finding who they are. This journey may take one down several paths; at Seton Hall those roads will also run through relationships and academic studies.
There is more than a grain of truth in the observation that we are who we associate with. Therefore, the choices we make regarding romantic and friendly relationships will set the stage for the rest of our lives (perhaps even give us people that will stick around, for better or for worse!).
Our academics define who we are because they both reflect our interests and build the ladder for a future career. Therefore, our schooling and recreation make an impact on our lives. This impact should be a positive one, and it should co-balance our intellectual, practical, and spiritual goals.
Knowing oneself requires formation stemming from our choices, and we do indeed choose our studies and our friends. At times it may be difficult to examine our ambitions. We should stop to ask ourselves if we spend any time cultivating a relationship with our self. As undergraduates in 2019, we should see how many people we follow on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter and then analyze if we truly follow ourselves.
We live with ourselves, therefore we need to understand who we are. Some of us may be afraid to look inside ourselves in order to understand why we have our ambitions, or to reflect on our day and think about the errors we made and how to correct them.
Although this may be intimidating, we must remember that many of us truly are not so bad! In coming to know oneself we should ask this final question: do I take advantage of Seton Hall University, and all that it offers, to look at, reflect, and enjoy myself?
Next we have the relationship with our pupils. For many of us, we may not think that we have any pupils. However, we are all surrounded by witnesses, so our actions and words never go unnoticed. Hence, we all have “pupils.” We must be aware of our behavior because it can have an impact on our peers.
That impact may warrant a defamation of our character for misguiding those around us. Likewise, we can also let our light shine before others to build them up.
Therefore, our actions should be rooted in the Gospel so that we can be an example of life in imitation of Christ. The way in which we live may be a model that others look to for guidance on their paths and for their ambitions.
Furthermore, we must have good standing in the eyes of our friends and family. Some may argue that our ambitions are greatly influenced by this group since they have the greatest influence on our lives.
A healthy relationship with our friends provides us comfort. You can choose friends, but not family. Nonetheless, our family backgrounds can help explain our ambitions: they are the deepest root and reason for the paths we choose.
Some people go to college and study to spite their families, others because it is what their families expect of them. Some choose their coursework based on their passions while others because they feel as though they must live up to the standards which their parents set before them.
Since family has such an impact on us, we must come to understand how we can use that influence and apply it to our self-cultivation.
Therefore, if we believe, we must unite our faith with our daily works and relationships in order to give them meaning. Sometimes our faith may conflict with the culture around us, frequently this causes strife and confusion between what the Lord wants of us and what we want of ourselves.
At the end of the day we should keep in mind that the name Israel means to struggle with God (think back to Jacob wrestling the angel of the Lord!). Therefore, it’s okay to wrestle with the Word of the Lord; if nothing else, that just shows that we keep Him in mind daily.
This is the advice presented in Bolt’s More, which is consistent with the man of history. He held power to such a degree that he himself could not maintain a quiet life. However, Sir Thomas More was able to hold fast to the four key relationships through difficult times.
The story is well known that More was a devout Roman Catholic, a lawyer in the King’s court, and the High Chancellor of England during the 16th century. Sir Thomas More served England under the reign of King Henry VIII, his friend. King Henry VIII was married at that time to Catherine of Aragon, a royal woman from Spain. A marriage with her would secure political power for the generations of Tudors to come, because it would give them royal blood.
Henry VIII appealed to the Pope for an annulment on account of two reasons, the first being that he was married to his brother’s widow (something that Henry VIII himself found contrary to the teachings in the Book of Leviticus), and Catherine was unable to bear him a male heir. Fearing for future dynastic wars and for his eternal soul, Henry VIII insisted that Rome grant him an annulment.
The Pope refused to do so. As a result, Henry VIII would question the authority of Rome by digging up an argument thought to have been buried in antiquity: if the Pope is just the Bishop of Rome, and Henry is God’s appointed King of England, who is he to authorize my annulment when my Bishop should who is in England?
Thus, King Henry VIII broke away from Rome and formed the Anglican Church. Sir Thomas More would not recognize the divorce because he found the integrity of marriage, the Church, and the four relationships discussed in this article to be more important than the potential threats which Henry VIII feared.
Sir Thomas More recognized that the four relationships held true, even to the end of his life. Sir Thomas More stayed faithful to these relationships, as we may find in the last words of the man of history: “I die the king’s humble servant, but God’s first.”