OTTAWA (CCN) — Cardinal Thomas Collins, Archbishop of Toronto, spoke to parliamentarians Dec. 2 on the importance integrity and humility in public life.
Legislators experience “the burden of making a right judgment on matters that affect us all,” Collins told members of Parliament, senators and representatives from many embassies at the All-Party Interfaith National Prayer Breakfast in Centre Block’s parliamentary restaurant. “This can become a severe crisis of conscience if there is pressure put upon a public figure to forsake the most profound principles which define him or her.”
Speaking on the topic “Faith in times of crisis,” the cardinal touched on the various crises in the world in the Middle East, in Ukraine, the violence perpetrated by Boko Haram in Nigeria, and murders of Mexican college students to the recent violence in the halls of Parliament and the “ruthless murder at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The crisis can also concern our own personal journey, he said.
Collins suggested following the example of previous great leaders who have let their faith guide them in times of crisis such as St. Thomas More and St. John Paul II. He also urged cultivation of the virtue of humility, “a virtue rooted in faith, which protects us from becoming disoriented and shattered by the crises we all face.”
“Thomas More lived in a time of extraordinary social upheaval, at least as turbulent as our own, and as violent,” the cardinal said. “He lived with integrity — that is, he was an integer — a whole number: not divided as a fraction, with the public part of him following and conforming to the shifting whims of his monarch, or public opinion, and the inner personal part of him guided by faith and reason to seek the truth.”
“No, to live like that in public life is to be a fraction, not an integer. Integrity means being whole: what he said and what he did and what he believed were one,” he said. “He did not personally believe one thing, while publicly doing another.”
The cardinal stressed More’s faith was not “simply matter of feeling, like taste,” or a “merely subjective faith,” but combined faith and reason.
“He would not sign an oath that expressed what, after much thought, he did not believe to be objectively true; and so he gave his life, a martyr to freedom of conscience,” he said. “Like Thomas More, we all need to be people of integrity — integer-ity — and to look to both faith and reason as we seek to respond to the crises of life.”
St. John Paul II faced both Nazi and Communist dictatorship during his life, but perhaps his greatest crisis was personal, at the end of his life, the cardinal said.
“He was dying in front of the world, reminding us of the dignity that is found in every moment of life to the very end, even in those filled with pain, whose bodies no longer exhibit the beauty of youth,” he said.
“There is a greater beauty, a deeper beauty, than the beauty of youth and superficial physical perfection, and it is found in the human spirit shining through a disfigured body. Our human dignity comes from within, from the fact that each of us is a child of God.”
“In a society that is increasingly all too eager to embrace the most convenient and efficient way to end life, because this or that life is deemed to be not worth living, by whatever criterion one chooses, in the crisis of his last illness the late pontiff reminded us that every human being can live in dignity, regardless of their circumstances, until their last breath, until finally called home to the house of the Father,” he said.
The virtue of humility “helps us all to transcend the crises we face,” he said.
“At all times, and especially in times of crisis, we need to be grounded — not to be lost in a fog of illusion, but to see honestly the reality of our human frailty and of our need for God and one another,” he said. “We need to see ourselves and the world around us accurately, as they truly are, not as we might wish or fear them to be.”
“When we get disconnected from reality, and caught up in illusion — whether it falsely exalts or falsely depresses us — we cannot handle crisis in our personal lives, or in the public responsibilities entrusted to us,” the cardinal said. “Faith helps us in times of crisis, because it gives us the perspective that leads to humility, as we recognize “God is God, and I am not” — a most sane way of seeing things.”
“Different religious traditions have various ways of helping people to become grounded in humility — and humility literally means being in touch with the humus, with the earth,” he said. “It means being down to earth. In the Catholic faith, we have a great treasure in the sacrament of reconciliation, known to many as confession, as a way to become grounded, to humbly recognize our sins, and in the experience of God’s mercy to begin again.”
Collins assured the legislators of the prayers from all the faith communities represented at the breakfast. “We are blessed to live in a country where we can enjoy freedom of religion, not freedom from religion,” he said. “Ever since the earliest days of Canadian history, the principle of the co-operation of church and state has enriched our life as a civil community.”
“Peace, order, and good government flourish when there is a richly diverse political and social ecology in which the state does not presume to do everything, but in which countless voluntary associations, such as religious communities, are vibrantly active in the service of the people.”