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Political service calls for unswerving morality

on Monday, 01 January 2001. Posted in Pope John Paul II, Saints & Blessed

St. Thomas More proclaimed patron of statesmen and politicians

On November 4-5, 2000, the Jubilee of government leaders, members of parliament and politicians was held in Rome. A few days earlier, on October 31, in an apostolic letter, Pope John Paul II proclaimed St. Thomas More patron of statesmen and politicians. At the end of the Mass celebrated in St. Peter's Square on Sunday, November 5, the Holy Father said:

"I once again urge everyone to deepen and spread the knowledge of St. Thomas More, the new patron of statesmen and politicians. His example is truly most appropriate for this purpose: for Sir Thomas More fully lived his Christian identity in the lay state as a husband, an exemplary father and an enlightened statesman. A man of uncompromising integrity, in order to remain faithful to God and to his own conscience, he renounced everything: honours, affection, life itself; but by doing so he acquired the most precious good, the kingdom of heaven, from where he watches over all who dedicate themselves generously to the service of the human family in civil and political institutions."

Thomas More, born in London in 1478, had a remarkable political career in his native country, and was elected to Parliament for the first time in 1504. In 1529, King Henry VIII appointed him Chancellor of all of England, the second highest rank next to the king himself. But in 1532, upon the refusal of the Pope to grant him the annulment of his marriage with his first wife, Henry VIII decided to take control of the Church in England and separate it from Rome (which created the Anglican Church). All of King Henry's subjects were summoned to take the Oath of Supremacy recognizing him as the supreme head of the Church in England, under pain of imprisonment, and even of death.

All Thomas had to do to retain this power and glory was to profess the king of England as the head of the Catholic Church in England. But to Thomas, the obvious fact was that only the Bishop of Rome had the sacred mandate from Christ Himself to run the Church, through the succession of Peter, and that marriage is indissoluble.

Even facing the court, after months of confinement in the tower of London, separated from the family he loved, Thomas could not bend to the world, couldn't go against what he knew to be right, what he knew to be the truth. He followed his conscience, and was beheaded on July 6, 1535. With Bishop John Fisher (the only other official who remained faithful to Rome), he was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1935. Their feast is celebrated on June 22.

In his apostolic letter, Pope John Paul II wrote: "His sanctity shone forth in his martyrdom, but it had been prepared by an entire life of work devoted to God and neighbour... What enlightened his conscience was the sense that man cannot be sundered from God, nor politics from morality."

Observing God's Commandments is the condition for life

In his homily on Sunday, November 5, for the Jubilee of Government Leaders, John Paul Il developed this link between politics and morality, going back to the first Covenant of God with His people, at the time of Moses. Here are excerpts from his homily:

The Israelites promised Moses: "Speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it" (Dt 5:27). In taking on this responsibility, they knew they were dealing with a God whom they could trust. God loved his people and he desired their happiness. In exchange, he asked for love. In the "Shema Israel", which we heard in the First Reading, together with the demand for faith in the one God, there is expressed the fundamental commandment of love for him: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might" (Dt 6:5).

Man's relationship with God is not one of fear, of slavery or oppression; rather, it is a relationship of serene trust born of a free choice motivated by love. The love which God expects from his people is their response to that faithful and solicitous love which he first made known in all the various stages of salvation history.

For this very reason the Commandments, before being a legal code and a set of juridic regulations, were understood by the Chosen People as an event of grace, as a sign of their being privileged to belong to the Lord. It is significant that Israel never speaks of the Law as a burden, but rather as a gift and a grace...

The people knew that the Decalogue involves a binding commitment, but they also knew that it is the condition for life: Behold, says the Lord, I am setting before you life and death, good and evil; and I command you to observe my commands, that you may have life (cf. Dt 30:15). By his Law God does not intend to coerce man's will, but rather to set it free from everything that could compromise its authentic dignity and its full realization.

Distinguished Government Leaders, Members of Parliament and Politicians: I have been reflecting on the meaning and the value of the divine Law, because this is a subject which very closely affects you. Does not your daily work consist of creating just laws and seeking to have them accepted and applied? In doing this you are convinced that you are rendering an important service to man, to society and to freedom itself. And rightly so.

Human law, in fact, if just, is never against, but in the service of freedom...

Jesus answers the scribe who asks him what is the first of all the commandments: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mk 12:30)... (and) Jesus goes on to say: "The second (commandment) is this: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself' " (Mk 12:31).

Love your neighbour as yourself. This saying surely strikes a chord in your hearts, dear Government Leaders, Members of Parliament, Politicians and Public Administrators. To each of you, today, on the occasion of your Jubilee, it poses a fundamental question: how, in your delicate and demanding service to the State and to its citizens, can you carry out this commandment?

The answer is clear: by living your involvement in politics as a service to others. An approach as magnificent as it is demanding! It cannot in fact be reduced to some generic restatement of principles or a declaration of good intentions. Political service is lived in a precise and daily commitment which calls for great competence in the fulfilment of one's duties and unswerving morality in the selfless and accountable exercise of power.

On the other hand, the personal integrity of the politician also needs to find expression in a correct conception of the social and political life which he or she is called to serve. From this standpoint, Christian politicians need to make constant reference to those principles which the Church's social doctrine has developed in the course of time...

There is no justification for a pragmatism which, even with regard to essential and fundamental values of social life, would reduce politics to the mere balancing of interests or, worse yet, to a matter of demagogy or of winning votes. If legislation cannot and must not be coextensive with the whole of the moral law, neither can it run "counter" to the moral law...

At the beginning of the new century and the new millennium, those responsible for public life are faced with many demanding responsibilities. It is precisely with this in mind that, in the context of the Great Jubilee, I have wished, as you know, to offer you the support of a special Patron: the martyr Saint Thomas More.

Thomas More's life is truly an example for all who are called to serve humanity and society in the civic and political sphere. The eloquent testimony which he bore is as timely as ever at an historical moment which presents crucial challenges to the consciences of everyone involved in the field of governance. As a statesman, he always placed himself at the service of the person, especially the weak and the poor. Honour and wealth held no sway over him, guided as he was by an outstanding sense of fairness. Above all, he never compromised his conscience, even to the point of making the supreme sacrifice so as not to disregard its voice. Invoke him, follow him, imitate him!

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