A Wise and Discerning Heart – Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Tommy Douglas. Source: historicuk.com

I wonder how political leaders throughout the world would respond to God’s offer of a gift. The reading from 1 Kings has God speaking to Solomon, Ask what I should give you. I’m sure that a few leaders would choose to rule for life. Others would look for piles of money and power.

Others would love nothing more than the adoring public constantly saying good things about them, always generating a high rating in polls. There are those who would love to have statues erected and paintings hung with their likeness, and a plaque that says wonderful things about them.

Solomon’s reply to God is what lies behinad the famous phrase about the wisdom of Solomon. He began by acknowledging that he is only a child and doesn’t know how to go out or come in. That’s called humility, something generally lacking in leaders.

Solomon explains his tasks of governance and says, Give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil. God was grateful that Solomon had not asked for a long life or for victory over his enemies.

God said, I give you a wise and discerning mind: no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall rise after you. Some translations speak of a wise and discerning heart.

Pope Francis occasionally invites us to pray for those in political life. A few years ago, his prayer intention for the month was that political responsibility may be lived at all levels as a high form of charity. It’s difficult to maintain a positive view of political figures in a world with non-stop news of corruption and greed.

It seems that it is usually toward themselves and their cronies that politicians direct the high form of charity. These days we are getting non-stop reporting about COVID-19. Some leaders are doing a very good job and some are helping the virus to spread as much as possible.

I’ve often prayed in thanksgiving for this country’s leaders in recent months. Perhaps we need a global pandemic to bring out the best in leaders.

We all know of political figures whose original intention in seeking political office was a desire to bring reform or change, to help the underdog, to find justice for those on the margins of society or to bring a spirit of compassion to the halls of power.

Most today – at least, judging by media reports – seem to give in to the subtle and not-so-subtle abuse of power. However, some manage to go through their entire political career without being accused or suspected of anything problematic, and even leave their city, province or country a safer and more just place.

I’ve been searching the Internet with questions such as: Are there any honest politicians? That didn’t really produce much. We can look at Gandhi, Marcus Aurelius and a few others, mainly ancient Greeks and Romans.

I was usually taken to sites with articles and quotes about how politics and honesty can’t possibly coexist. Finally, I tried to forget the Internet and remember my own sense of the history of this country. Let me give an example of a politician for us to ponder – Tommy Douglas.

Who knows? Perhaps Tommy Douglas had skeletons in his closet, but he seems to have come through history without any glaring blemishes. He is commonly referred to as the Father of Medicare. He was a Baptist minister who was elected to the House of Commons as a member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF).

He left federal politics to return to Saskatchewan as the CCF leader and, eventually, Premier. It was there that he introduced North America’s first single-payer, universal health care program.

Those who know their history know that this did not happen without a lot of fights and negotiations. But Tommy Douglas saw his vision come to fruition. He then returned to federal politics and lead the newly formed NDP party, the successor party of the CCF.

Through much of his tenure, the party held the balance of power. At the same time, the federal government saw that Saskatchewan’s health care program was working and many wanted to adopt their program.

Tommy Douglas saw his dream brought alive by two very different Prime Ministers – John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson. A 2004 poll by the CBC named Douglas The Greatest Canadian. Read about this honest politician and Canadian hero.

I’m sure that if we all dig hard enough we’ll find politicians who were honest and had a strong desire to make a difference in the lives of others. Who are they? Lester Pearson? Robert Stanfield? When I think of politicians and honesty, I always think of a great quote from Vaclav Havel.

At his inauguration speech, upon being named President of Czechoslovakia, he said: For forty years, you have heard on this day from the mouths of my predecessors, in a number of variations, the same thing: how our country is flourishing, how many more millions of tons of steel we have produced, how we are happy, how we believe in our government. I assume you have not named me to this office so that I, too, should lie to you.

He goes on to speak of the uncomfortable truth versus the expedient lie. He was trying to tell the truth, which seemed almost violent and shocking. I love that distinction between the expedient lie and the uncomfortable truth.

Let us join Pope Francis in praying for our politicians, that revelations about corruption and greed may spur honest and compassionate women and men to come forward to serve in elected office. Let us pray for more honest politicians who have the greater good at heart. Let us pray that they will have the wisdom of Solomon.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

  • Beverley Ares
    Posted at 06:51h, 26 July Reply

    I love to read your work. It causes me to think in an enlightened way. Thank you

  • Henry Mandamin
    Posted at 07:28h, 26 July Reply

    We all need to hear this,,especially the politicians

  • Richard Grover
    Posted at 10:03h, 26 July Reply

    Thanks Phil…especially for your comments about Tommy Douglas. 4 facts about Tommy: #1 at this time of global pandemic, Canadians must be grateful that we have a national health care plan .#2 apparently as a young boy before he moved to Saskatchewan, Tommy was an eye witness to Bloody Saturday during the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike.#3 his own mom and dad suffered personally because there was no medicare plan when they were sick. #4 Tommy laughed at political parties that advocated special tax cuts for the rich ie) “the trickle down” economic theory. This theory promises such cuts would be used by the rich to create jobs for the unemployed. Tommy said the farmers of Saskatchewan had personally seen the results of the trickle down theory.When they gave their horse a bushel of grain to eat, they saw what later trickled down.

  • Karen Arthurs
    Posted at 13:03h, 26 July Reply

    Joining you in prayer with this enlightened commentary as a thoughtful reminder of democracy and authoritarianism.

  • Jim Radde
    Posted at 13:49h, 26 July Reply

    Good job Philip.

  • Caroline Maloney
    Posted at 14:03h, 26 July Reply

    Growing up in Ottawa, as high school student at Immaculata High School, I used to “play hooky” some afternoons and bus to Parliament Hill in the hopes of hearing Tommy Douglas in The House! He was such a great orator and you listened when he spoke, with serious intent and integrity. If he wasn’t there, I would head over to the public library for any recent news clips of him I could find.
    Even today, there are no big bronze statues of him on Parliament Hill that I could find, but plenty of others. What does that say about us as Canadians? Tommy Douglas truly is the greatest Canadian we can all be thankful for!
    Thank you, Fr. Philip, for your ever contextual, enriching reflections!

  • Mike Hyland
    Posted at 14:13h, 26 July Reply

    Thanks Fr Philip! Something all of us can faithfully pray for – our politicians.

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