In December 2014, Pope Francis spoke to the members of the Roman Curia emphasizing many of the human afflictions which could affect them. He said that spiritual petrification can occur when people lose their internal peace, including their vivacity, because they live in a state of absolute dependence on their, often imagined, views. The Pope described these afflictions which affect persons in every walk of life, including those who hold public office. Indeed, the separation of personal faith from a held public office can cause a great deal of affliction, not only in the life of the official, but also in those who are governed as well. In his talk, Pope Francis revealed that he prays to one of the popular saints and martyrs of the Church, Thomas More, every day for a balance of life which can overcome these afflictions. On June 22, we just celebrated the feast of St. Thomas More and it is well to reflect upon him and his life in our day and age today, since he speaks so much common sense to all our political leaders, as well is to all of us. This is especially timely as we prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July.In October 2000, St. John Paul II proclaimed St. Thomas More the patron saint of politicians and men and women involved in public life. By this proclamation, the Pope intended to set the highest moral standards for politicians and elected officials. He wanted to remind all of them that God has the absolute priority in the heart of public affairs. Such rationale has a firm basis in our nation founded on a strong belief in God and moral principles. It was George Washington who clearly enunciated that, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” James Madison, often called the “Father of the Constitution,” said that we cannot govern without God and the Ten Commandments.
Such staunch belief in the relationship between God and government is what caused St. Thomas More, Chancellor of England, to be beheaded for refusing to surrender his moral principles and the Catholic Church in England to the authority of King Henry VIII. He died as a martyr since he saw himself as “the King’s good servant but God’s first.” Ironically, Thomas More was the first layman to hold the office of Chancellor in England, having succeeded Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in this post. Well-known is the case of Henry VIII who sought More’s approval for his divorce and remarriage. More’s refusal to acknowledge the invalid marriage naturally resulted in his refusal to acknowledge Henry’s establishment of the breakaway Church of England with the King as its head. For his convictions, St. Thomas More was committed to the Tower of London, where he was executed for treason in 1535.
St. Thomas More was canonized four hundred years later in 1935. Renowned as the patron saint of lawyers, and now of politicians, St. Thomas More had a healthy sense of himself and would not compromise his own beliefs and moral values, in order to be politically correct and please the king so that he could keep his office. He is a powerful example for politicians and elected officials who, sometimes, divorce their own beliefs from their decisions as leaders in order to win the favor of popular opinion and to be politically correct. Often times, this is done under the context of a false separation of God and state, which was never intended by our founding fathers. The right to life of all people, from conception until natural death, the natural dignity of marriage as a union between a man and woman, the dignity of family which comes into existence through marriage, the equality of all men and women, and the justice that is due to all people in regard to the economy, health, decent housing, and immigration are all matters before our elected leaders and those who seek election. These matters are based on God’s law and not political correctness or partisanship. As a statesman, St. Thomas More gave all for the people he served, and he did so based on his faith.
St. Thomas More has much to say to all of us whether we are involved in government and the political process or have other positions in life. He was a husband, father, lawyer, diplomat, statesman, philosopher, theologian, linguist, teacher, poet, and writer who had, as Pope Francis has noted, a wonderful balance of life and a healthy sense of humor. He was above all a human being with the highest human qualities as God has given them to us. St. John Paul II said of him, “This harmony between the natural and supernatural is perhaps the element which more than any other defines the personality of this great English statesmen: he lived his entire public life with a simple humility marked by good humor, even to the moment of his execution.” His faith in God and His Church was a dominant factor in his life, which made him the outstanding person that he was in every aspect of his life.
From Hans Holbein’s famous dignified painting of him to Robert Bolt’s well-known play about him, “A Man for All Seasons,” St. Thomas More has been the subject of countless studies, books, and admiration by people of all faiths and professions. His relevance to society increases with the passage of time. Before More’s formal canonization, G.K. Chesterton said of him, “Blessed Thomas More is even more significant at this moment than at any moment since his death, even perhaps the great moment of his dying; but he is not quite so important as he will be in about a hundred years’ time.” How true are the words of Chesterton today when we face so much disruption in public office. St. Thomas More has much to teach our nation and its leaders and much to say to each of us in whatever our walk of life. Perhaps the prayer composed by St. Thomas More, which Pope Francis prays each day, is a good one for each of us:
Grant me, O Lord, good digestion and also something to digest.
Grant me a healthy body, and the necessary good humor to maintain it.
Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good
and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil,
but rather finds the means to put things back in their place.
Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumbles, sighs and laments,
nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called “I.”
Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor.
Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke to discover in life a bit of joy,
and to be able to share it with others.
Like Pope Francis, we pray that St. Thomas More will be an inspiration for all men and women who hold public office, as well as for all of us. He gave his life in witness to the truth. There is no separation between faith and the common good.
St. Thomas More, pray for us!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
June 25, 2021