A Christian perspective on being a politician


In the past days, there has been the book launch of the book written by my Franciscan confrère, Fr Thomas Moore OFM Conv, entitled: Jiena Thomas (I am Thomas). This well researched book in Maltese, which tackles the life and political career of Saint Thomas More, serves to send the message that political life is, in fact, an arena wherein holiness can be attained.

The Apostolic letter issued as motu proprio, titled on Proclaiming Saint Thomas More Patron of Statesmen and Politicians, on 31 October 2000, by Pope Saint John Paul II, states this clearly in its introductory paragraph.

“The life and martyrdom of Saint Thomas More have been the source of a message which spans the centuries and which speaks to people everywhere of the inalienable dignity of the human conscience, which, as the Second Vatican Council reminds us, is ‘the most intimate centre and sanctuary of a person, in which he or she is alone with God, whose voice echoes within them’ (Gaudium et Spes, 16). Whenever men or women heed the call of truth, their conscience then guides their actions reliably towards good. Precisely because of the witness which he bore, even at the price of his life, to the primacy of truth over power, Saint Thomas More is venerated as an imperishable example of moral integrity. And even outside the Church, particularly among those with responsibility for the destinies of peoples, he is acknowledged as a source of inspiration for a political system which has as its supreme goal the service of the human person” (no.1).

Saint Thomas More remains a shining example of what moral integrity is all about. For him the call of truth and its political ramifications went well over partisan interests and the allurements that power and prestige presented both to him as well as to his political associates of the time. Thus, an authentic politician sticks to the truth, as inscribed in his and her conscience, because s/he knows that this is the best way to serve the common good of the people s/he was called to serve. In the Doctrinal Note called On Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life, published by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith on 24 November 2002, we read:

“Among the saints, the Church venerates many men and women who served God through their generous commitment to politics and government. Among these, Saint Thomas More, who was proclaimed Patron of Statesmen and Politicians, gave witness by his martyrdom to the inalienable dignity of the human conscience. Though subjected to various forms of psychological pressure, Saint Thomas More refused to compromise, never forsaking the constant fidelity to legitimate authority and institutions which distinguished him; he taught by his life and his death that man cannot be separated from God, nor politics from morality” (no.1).

When man is closely united with God then his and her way of doing politics is moral. That is why it is important that, you and me, pray for our politicians so that they may govern us well because they govern us according to God’s fatherly and motherly heart. In an interesting homily delivered at the morning Mass he celebrated in the Chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, on Monday September 16 2013, Pope Francis said that a ruler should be humble like the centurion of the Gospel who, in front of Jesus, instead of boasting of his power, chose to humble himself.
“He was a humble man and instead said to the Lord: do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof”, the Holy Father observed. “With humility he said: only say a word, and my servant will be healed. These are the two virtues of a ruler, and this is what the word of God inspires in us: to love people and humility”.
A humble politician will never let power turn him and her from a human into a monster simply because s/he becomes a power freak. On the contrary, a real politician is overwhelmingly humbled when s/he is entrusted with the service of governing her and his people. Standing in front of her and his people’s show of trust the politician is to engage himself and herself in that ongoing healthy examination of conscience which permits him and her to exercise his and her political ministry at the best of his and her capabilities.

In that insightful homily Pope Francis said: “Every man and woman who assume the responsibility of governing should ask themselves these two questions: Do I love my people, so that I may better serve them? And am I humble enough to hear the opinions of others so as to choose the best way of governing?” Then, the Argentinian Pontiff concluded that if they “do not ask themselves these questions, they will not govern well”.

Due to what we hear, read and see for many being a politician means being corrupt. However, this unjust sweeping statement is not true. We cannot merely brand politicians as a class of corrupt people. Distrust in politics and politicians won’t solve problems. On the contrary, it will aggravate the existing problems and surely will create more in the process. Therefore, irrespective of one’s weaknesses political participation is essential for a country to thrive. And this holds true, above all, for all those who claim that they are practising Catholics. Within the context of the same homily Pope Francis said:

“Perhaps the leader is a sinner, as David was. I have to work with others, with my opinion, with my words, to help amend: I do not agree for this reason or for that. We need to participate for the common good. Sometimes we hear: a good Catholic is not interested in politics. This is not true: good Catholics immerse themselves in politics by offering the best of themselves so that the leader can govern”.

A final word, for us citizens, both Catholics and non-Catholics. Let us wholeheartedly pray for our politicians to exercise their political service well. As Pope Francis concluded in his September 2013 homily: “Let us pray for leaders that they govern us well. That they bring our homeland, our nations, our world, forward, to achieve peace and the common good. This word of God helps us to better participate in the common life of a people: those who govern, with the service of humility and love, and the governed, with participation, and especially prayer”.

Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap