Politics needs faith’s blessedness

- in Ottawa –
On May 1 in Ottawa I had the pleasure of delivering a speech to politicians and others at the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Below is an abridged version of that address.

My topic is “Faith in our Common Life: Why Politics Needs Religion.” But permit me to say a few words first about why politicians need religion.

Exactly one year ago, many of you were in the final moments of a federal election campaign. It was a Sunday and the people’s verdict was to be rendered the next day. On a typical Sunday morning I am found in my parish on Wolfe Island, in the St. Lawrence River across from Kingston, but a year ago I was in Rome awaiting the pronunciation of a rather different judgment. Pope John Paul II was declared blessed.

It was an occasion of immense joy, and Pope Benedict XVI took as the theme for his preaching the blessedness of faith. John Paul II is in heaven not because of the mighty works he accomplished on Earth, but because of the gift of faith, which justifies us in the sight of the Father. Benedict — whose name itself means “blessed” — said that his predecessor “is blessed because of his faith, a strong, generous and apostolic faith.”

The gift of faith is intended for all of us. Benedict reminded us of this a year ago: “All of us, as members of the people of God, are making our pilgrim way to the heavenly homeland.” Politicians also take their place in that great pilgrimage. You too will face a judgment, and on that day whatever success you may have achieved in politics will serve you far less than the blessedness of faith.

Catholics hold up the figure of St. Thomas More to those in public life as the model disciple. He preferred to suffer death under Henry VIII rather than compromise the truths of faith, and for that he is admired beyond the Catholic Church. Yet many, including close friends and family, urged him to opt for preferment by the king rather than the blessedness of faith. All of you know that temptation. All of you have been told to go along to get ahead. All of you have been offered the counsels of compromise. All of you have urged to be just a little less faithful, and just a little more realistic. All of you will face, if you have the wit to see it and the honesty to admit it, your own Thomas More moments.

Keeping in mind your own day of judgment will help you to meet that moment with the integrity and courage that is the fruit of the blessedness of faith.

The blessedness of faith is not only for politicians as individual disciples, but for our politics as a whole. Our politics benefits precisely from the best that you have to offer, namely those convictions which are most deeply rooted in your understanding of our origin and destiny, our identity and our mission. It would be absurd to ask you to set aside that which is most fundamental in your thinking when discharging the affairs of state.

Our politics need religion. Not only religion of course, for divine revelation does not provide a legislative program. But if religion and religious believers are driven to the margins of our common life, including our political life, we deprive ourselves of both the intellectual and practical energies that are essential to many of the noble initiatives of our life together.

John Calvin taught that while civil government is “distinct from the spiritual and internal kingdom of Christ” the two are “not adverse to each other.” Indeed, Calvin teaches that “the former, in some measure begins the heavenly kingdom in us, even now upon earth, and in this mortal and evanescent life commences immortal and incorruptible blessedness.”

Your service in politics is a noble one. I have often visited Parliament Hill to offer Mass in the East Block chapel named after Father Sean O’Sullivan, the MP elected in 1972 at the age of 20, and who left the House five years later to become a priest. As a teenager O’Sullivan was in touch with John Diefenbaker, who, upon hearing that the young man intended to run for Parliament wrote to him: “It is the greatest form of service, outside of the Christian ministry.”

I extend to you Diefenbaker’s compliment, even though it redounds to me as well. Your vocation of politics is a noble form of service, and its nobility demands of you the best that you have to offer, including the blessedness of faith.

Fr. Raymond de Souza, left, gave the keynote speech at the National Prayer Breakfast May 1. He is shown here with House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer.
Fr. Raymond de Souza, left, gave the keynote speech at the National Prayer Breakfast May 1. He is shown here with House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer.
Photo by Deborah Gyapong