I’ve heard lots of commentaries recently by people who are utterly infuriated with politicians. Now, this blog isn’t generally concerned with politics, but I ran across a priceless reflection this week that seems perfectly suited for the times in which we live.
As regular visitors to gratefulconvert.com know, the late Fr. Ray Ryland was a dear friend, mentor, and source of tremendous inspiration for many years. Among his countless positive contributions to our lives was his column in OSV’s The Catholic Answer magazine (well worth the cost of a subscription, by the way). Do you think politics and sainthood can ever go together? Here is Fr. Ray’s take:
Question: When I look at the world of politics, I’m dismayed by the character of most politicians. Perhaps deep involvement in the political life of a country almost inescapably involves personal moral compromises. That makes me wonder: has there ever been a canonized saint who was a politician?
Fr. Ray’s Answer: The prime example of a saint who was a politician is the Englishman St. Thomas More (1478-1535). He was successively a member of Parliament, an ambassador to France and Flanders, a member of the Royal Council, speaker of the House of Commons, and finally Lord Chancellor. The latter position made him, after the king, the most powerful political figure in the English realm. St. Thomas More was canonized in 1935.
On October 31, 2000, Pope John Paul II proclaimed St. Thomas More to be the patron saint of politicians. At the time, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray explained that the pope wanted to remind politicians “of the absolute priority of God in the heart of public affairs.”
This saint was a most gracious and generous martyr for the Church. He was condemned to death for his refusal to acknowledge King Henry VIII as head of the Church in England.
When officials imposed the death sentence on him, he reminded them that St. Paul (before his conversion) had consented to St. Stephen’s being stoned to death for his faith, and had even taken part indirectly in the execution. Even so, he added, “both now[are] two holy saints in heaven, and shall continue there friends forever.”
“So I verily trust,” he concluded, “and shall therefore heartily pray, that though your lordships have now here in the earth been judges to my condemnation, we may yet hereafter in heaven merrily all meet together, to our everlasting salvation.”
Various rulers have also been canonized, such as St. Louis IX, King of France (1214-1270) and St. Elizabeth, Queen of Portugal (1271-1336). Yet St. Thomas More will always remain the chief example of sanctity achieved in the midst of a busy, demanding life; in his case, a political life.
His life perfectly illustrates the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, No. 4): Laity, we are told, must “not separate their union with Christ from their ordinary life; but through the very performance of their tasks, which are God’s will for them, actually promote the growth of their union with Him. This is the path along which laymen must advance.”
Fr. Ryland’s column “TCA Faith” appeared from 2004 through 2014 in The Catholic Answer magazine, published by Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, IN 46750. Copyright(C) 2014 by Father Raymond O. Ryland, Ph.D., J.D.
St. Thomas More provides us with such an extraordinary witness! His preemptive forgiveness is a timeless example of authentic faith at a time when we need it most. It reminds me of Rachel Muha, the remarkable woman who forgave her son’s killers. Or recently, those in Charleston who came forward and forgave the murderer of their family members. There is power – and healing – in forgiveness, and faithfulness.
The last paragraph of Fr. Ray’s response serves as a reminder to us all – not just politicians – that as Christians, we’re called to live our faith at all times, including in our work. As it happens, I was just down at EWTN this past week discussing that very topic with Fr. Mitch Pacwa on EWTN Live. So no matter what politicians are up to, I’d like to encourage you along the path of faithfulness, and offer a few practical suggestions that might help. Many blessings on your faithful work – and let’s pray for our politicians to become more saintly!