Political candidates with a propensity for exaggerating the truth, committing lies of commission or omission, or giving dishonest answers to questions for fear of not getting elected would do well to recall Thomas More’s example.
Born in 1477, More rose to the position of Chancellor of England under King Henry VIII. Following Henry’s decision to divorce his wife and break with Rome by making himself the head of the Church of England, Henry required all English citizens to sign an oath of allegiance. More, his longtime friend, refused.
More was arrested, imprisoned in the Tower of London, and executed in 1535. His last words were, “I die the king’s good servant and God’s first.”
Pope John Paul II explained the reasons for proclaiming this particular saint the patron of statesmen and politicians: “There are many reasons for proclaiming Thomas More patron of statesmen and people in public office. Among these is the need felt by the world of politics and public administration for credible role models able to indicate the path of truth at a time in history when difficult challenges and crucial responsibilities are increasing.
“His life teaches us that government is above all an exercise of virtue. Unwavering in this rigorous moral stance, this English statesman placed his own public activity at the service of the person, especially if that person was weak or poor; he dealt with social controversies with a superb sense of fairness; he was vigorously committed to favoring and defending the family; he supported the all-round education of the young…. His sanctity shone forth in his martyrdom, but it had been prepared by an entire life of work devoted to God and neighbor.”
Pope John Paul II went on to say that involvement in politics must be approached as a service to others, and not reduced to a matter of winning votes.
What then is the politician’s responsibility? The Holy Father says that it is the politician’s responsibility to pass laws that do not contradict the natural law that is written in the human heart. He points out, for example, that laws which do not respect the right to life of every human being whether healthy or ill, still in the embryonic stage, elderly, or close to death are not in harmony with the divine plan. Neither are those that harm the family, striking at its unity and indissolubility, or seeking to validate unions between persons of the same sex.
Today’s lawmakers are confronted by such ideas and laws that run contrary to their consciences each and every day. Yet, where are our Thomas Mores? Where are those noble individuals who set out to pursue causes and not careers, who bring their faith and consciences to bear, who recognize that truth is more important than power?
“Thomas More died for the truth that makes just governance possible,” said George Weigel, former president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. “…all of us can certainly emulate his conviction that the truth is that on which the world turns, and therefore, that on which public life and politics turn.”
At service to Catholic politicians, says the Holy Father, are the guidelines of the social doctrine of the Church. “They offer a fundamental approach to understanding the human person and society in the light of the universal ethical law present in the heart of every human being, a law which is clarified by the revelation of the Gospel.”
Also at their service is a new role model that politicians can call upon. With the aid of St. Thomas More, politicians can gain the confidence and strength necessary to bear witness to their faith in the difficult decisions they face.
Today’s leaders need not fear obeying their consciences to the point of death. They can take comfort in the words of Pope John Paul II on St. Thomas More, “Invoke him, follow him, imitate him! His intercession will not fail even in the most difficult situations to bring you strength, good-naturedness, patience and perseverance.”