Quick Catholicism quiz. Who can ordain a bishop? A bishop. Only a bishop can ordain a bishop. Kind of like only a human mother can give birth to a human child. Only a man who is a bishop can make another man a bishop.
Now, we’re not done. One other thing is necessary. In order for any bishop, anywhere in the world, to ordain a bishop, he must have something in hand. He cannot ordain another bishop unless he has a particular document. Right! A letter from the Pope which says, “Yes. Ordain this man a bishop. I approve.”
The Church operates in every country on earth. Every nation has its own distinctive characteristics, its own customs, its own politics. The Church cannot live her life in some sort of a-political vacuum. We always find ourselves embroiled in the drama of our particular place and time.
In any nation where the Church finds Herself, She embraces the place as Her home. In other words, a Catholic owes the same loyalty and allegiance to country as anyone else. In fact, we Catholics have all the more reason to cultivate patriotism. We love our country in God. We believe that the Lord has given us this place to be our avenue to heaven, day by day. We work out our salvation here. So we love our country like a monk loves his monastery or a nun loves her convent.
But a bishop cannot ordain another bishop without a letter from Rome. In other words, no nation can turn in on itself, like its own little world–and cut off the larger, universal family of Christ. Our country can and must demand our loyalty—but never in such a way that we would have to choose between country and Church.
We love America all the more because she makes no claim to be above God, or even alongside God. The United States: “One nation, under God.” Under. God above. Country below. God first. Country—not first.
St. Thomas More made a brilliant career as a lawyer and a judge of cases. He could clear huge courtroom backlogs quickly, because his mind retained and processed laws and facts like a supercomputer.
But, when push came to shove, St. Thomas did not rely on his own keen mind. He did not rely on his own incisive judgment. And he did not rely on the venerable laws of his island nation, either. King Henry wanted Thomas to declare that he, the king, had a case for divorce. Thomas said, “You know what? The Pope knows best. I defer to the judgment of the Pope.”
We revere St. Thomas More as a martyr of conscience. He searched his soul for guidance when others pressured him to go along with the king’s wishes. Thomas would not betray himself.
He cracked his brain for a workable solution. He never wanted to die a martyr. He would have been happier to find a compromise.
But the king made Thomas choose. Choose between loyalty to the Church and continued life on earth. Let go of the sure bond you have with Christ, and live. Or keep your grip on that sure bond, and put your head on the chopping block.
St. Thomas prayed for King Henry until the end. He prayed for him until the axe fell. Thomas would have preferred peace. Better to have harmony between Church and state, friendship and patient tolerance for everyone.
But conflicts can serve to clarify things. When St. Thomas faced his final choice, the decision he had to make could not have been clearer.
I love my country. I love my king. I love my family, and my home, and the good work which God has given me the talent to do. But do I love these things more than my Church? More than God and truth and my hope for eternal life?
God first. Our immortal souls come first.