“First of all,” Saint Paul writes to Saint Timothy, “I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.”
When is the last time you prayed for President Trump? Or Speaker Pelosi? Or Governor Baker? Or Mayor Perry? Or any of our government leaders?
Not second-guess them, moan or giggle about them, criticize or defend them, surf the cable for sleezy stories about them, but pray for them? Saint Paul admonishes us to pray for them!
Archbishop John Carroll, the first Bishop of these United States, understood the Apostle’s admonition. But then again, he had to. He was named our first Bishop by Pope Pius VI in 1789, the year after the Constitution went into effect.
The Archbishop was no stranger to this fledgling government, having been asked by the Continental Congress in 1776, along with his cousin Charles (one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence) and a certain Benjamin Franklin to go to Montreal to persuade them to enter the war on behalf of the Colonies. While their immediate mission failed, it later helped to establish a bond with Catholic France and bore fruit at Yorktown, where the largely Catholic-financed French fleet cut off supplies to British General Cornwallis, and Washington was able to bring the war to an end.
That was the same year in which Archbishop Carrol distributed a prayer to all the Catholics of these colonies, interceding not only for the Pope and the Bishop, but for the President and the Congress and the Governors of each of the states. Pray for them, Saint Paul admonished. And Bishop Carrol was obedient to his command.
His prayer for President Washington is short and beautiful. It begins by addressing God, the creator of all that is good:
We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed,
He then goes on to ask God to assist “the President of these United States” with his Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude “that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides” in three ways:
1. by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion;
2. by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy;
3. and by restraining vice and immorality.
by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion;
We need look no further than President Washington’s Farewell Address to hear of the importance of religion in American pubic life, for [he wrote] “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports…[an indispensable support, mind you] for whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
Or his successor, John Adams, who wrote to Thomas Jefferson near the end of his life: "I do not know how to prove physically, that we shall meet and know each other in a future state…My reasons for believing it, as I do most undoubtedly, are that I cannot conceive such a being could make such a species as the human, merely to live and die on this earth…thus all would appear, with all of its swelling pomp, a boyish firework."
by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy;
Notice, he prays, now just for justice, but for mercy. It is a complex Biblical injunction understood well by the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who a short time before he died proclaimed “the rule of law is always second to the law of love.”
and by restraining vice and immorality.
How does the Present restrain vice and immorality? First, by his example, which is why they taught me in school to imitate George Washington, caught in the midst of chopping down a cherry tree, but who could not tell a lie. And to be like the young and Honest Abe Lincoln, who whenever he realized he had shortchanged a customer by a few pennies, would close the shop and deliver the correct change—even if the customer lived a day’s ride from the store.
But the President does not restrain vice and immorality only by the way he lives his life, for he enjoys a bully pulpit from which he preaches goodness and morality with inspirational words as well, like:
Ask not, what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.
The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
Or President Reagan, who, upon taking to TV to console a nation mourning the death of the Challenger astronauts, reminded us that they had merely “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”
Words like that change lives, recall our better angels and remind us who we are as Americans and faithful believers.
So let us heed the call of Saint Paul, that more important than the complaining or campaigning is the prayers we offer for our leaders in these United States:
That they might by encourage respect for virtue and religion;
That they might see to the execution of the laws in justice and mercy;
and that they might restrain vice and immorality.
Then, as our first Bishop wrote said our First President some 229 years ago, we will say of them: “By [their] example and [their] vigilance…By their exalted maxims and unwearied attention to the moral and physical improvement of our country, [they will] have produced the happiest effects.”