One of the charming things about being an Anglican were the petitions in the Book of Common Prayer for “HMQ” aka Her Majesty the Queen. How quaint and Queenly is this beautiful prayer?
Almighty and everlasting God, we are taught by thy holy Word, that the hearts of kings are in thy rule and governance, and that thou dost dispose and turn them as it seemeth best to thy godly wisdom: we humbly beseech thee so to dispose and govern the heart of Elizabeth thy Servant, our Queen and Governor, that, in all her thoughts, words, and works, she may ever seek thy honour and glory, and study to preserve thy people committed to her charge, in wealth, peace, and godliness: grant this, O merciful Father, for thy dear Son’s sake, Jesus Christ our Lord.
It was not only quaint and queenly, but very Christian. In the second chapter of his epistle to Timothy St. Paul writes,
“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people, for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
This passage from the New Testament came to mind when a bewildered parishioner asked who a good Catholic might support in the upcoming presidential election. It seemed to him that both choices were bad choices.
One party says they are for the poor, the immigrants, the prisoners and are against war and killing, but they are heartily in favor of abortion, same-sex marriage and a chilling, secular, anti-Catholic agenda. The other side says they are pro-life, pro-marriage Christians, but they appear not only to be in the pocket of lobbyists, fat cat bankers and unscrupulous capitalists, but they also seem to be warmongers and racists with no concern for the refugees, the immigrants or the poor. One front-runner has a track record of incompetence, corruption, immorality, crooked deals and dishonesty while the other front-runner is a vulgar, thrice married, casino owner who insults women and is in favor of war, torture, indiscriminate deportation, and capitalizes on the electorate’s fear, anger and hatred.
A friend observed, “It seems to be six deadly sins of one and a half dozen deadly sins of the other.”
With such disappointing options the best thing to do is to remember St. Paul’s advice to pray for kings and all in authority over us. When we consider who was in authority over St. Paul the advice suddenly becomes profoundly disturbing and moving at the same time because the kings in authority over the early Christians were just about as monstrous as you can imagine.
The first emperor during St. Paul’s lifetime was Caesar Augustus, who died in the year 14 AD when St. Paul would have been about twenty years old. Augustus was succeeded by Tiberius who reigned until the year 37 AD—just four years after the death of Jesus. He was followed by Caligula, whose short reign was followed by Claudius, who was succeeded by Nero, and it was during the persecution of the Christians by Nero that St. Paul was martyred in Rome around the year 65 AD.
If we think we are faced with an unsavory selection of rulers, think of the Christians to whom St. Paul was writing. Tiberius was a decadent, cruel, spoiled, lustful, disease ridden pedophile. Caligula was even worse. A violent, extravagant, incestuous maniac, he was eventually assassinated. His uncle Claudius was an able administrator, but he was probably murdered by his wife to make sure his nephew, Nero came to the throne. Nero competed with Caligula for the trophy of the most insane, sadistic, decadent and extravagant of the Roman Emperors.
These were the “kings and those in authority” St.Paul advised the first Christians to pray for. His wise words echo down the ages with common sense and an understanding of life’s realities. The fact of the matter is, it is the way of the world for men and women of power to do everything they can to attain and retain power, and even the decent ones will usually have to compromise their values to win high office.
When times are bad, there is little the ordinary man or woman can do but hope for the best and expect the worst. St. Paul’s advice to pray for our leaders not only brings God’s graces into the situation so that we might actually be spared the worst and get the “best”, but praying for our leaders also helps us not to worry and succumb to fear.
Through prayer we put it all into God’s hands. We focus on what we can do on the local level to bring about God’s kingdom and the result, as St. Paul says, is “ that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”
Fr. Dwight Longenecker is a former Evangelical, then an Anglican and now a Catholic priest. Visit his website at dwightlongenecker.com to browse his books and be in touch.