Friday, November 2, 2012

St. Thomas More in Paris

This was truly one of the great highlights of our recent trip to Paris. I had visited the Basilica of Saint Clothilde in the Seventh Arrondisement before, but had either missed this (or it's new since my visit!): a shrine to St. Thomas More as the patron saint of politicians. It makes sense for him to be there in that role, since the parish is very close to the Assemblee Nationale of France. Here is a picture that shows the (modern) Parliament of England over this shoulder:
And my husband took a picture of the plaque to the left of the door, which part of Blessed Pope John Paul II's motu proprio declaring St. Thomas More a patron saint of statesmen and politicians:
(You can certainly see the photographer's reflection!) These are the relevant excerpts, I believe:

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). . . . 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. . . .

Given his inflexible firmness in rejecting any compromise with his own conscience, in 1534 the King had him imprisoned in the Tower of London, where he was subjected to various kinds of psychological pressure. Thomas More did not allow himself to waver, and he refused to take the oath requested of him, since this would have involved accepting a political and ecclesiastical arrangement that prepared the way for uncontrolled despotism. At his trial, he made an impassioned defence of his own convictions on the indissolubility of marriage, the respect due to the juridical patrimony of Christian civilization, and the freedom of the Church in her relations with the State. Condemned by the Court, he was beheaded. . . .
In this context, it is helpful to turn to the example of Saint Thomas More, who distinguished himself by his constant fidelity to legitimate authority and institutions precisely in his intention to serve not power but the supreme ideal of justice. 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 favouring and defending the family; he supported the all-round education of the young. His profound detachment from honours and wealth, his serene and joyful humility, his balanced knowledge of human nature and of the vanity of success, his certainty of judgement rooted in faith: these all gave him that confident inner strength that sustained him in adversity and in the face of death. His sanctity shone forth in his martyrdom, but it had been prepared by an entire life of work devoted to God and neighbour. (This paragraph is redacted and summarized in the plaque's excerpt.)
As we draw to the close of another political season here in the U.S., may St. Thomas More inspire the elected and the electors to remember that "government is above all an exercise of virtue".

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