Taken from THE CATECHISM EXPLAINED
Written by Fr. Francis Spirago; Edited by Fr. Richard Clarke, SJ
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, New York, 1927
SECTION B: THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
THE FOURTH COMMANDMENT OF GOD
3. THE DUTIES OF THOSE WHO ARE IN AUTHORITY
1. The Christian ought not to strive after a position of authority which he is not competent to fill (Eccles. vii. 6).
In this respect every one may well take example by Moses. He did not aspire to the post of leader of the Hebrew people, but only assumed it when called by God to do so. In fact, at first he would not accept it, deeming himself too weak for its duties. And later on, weary of the office, he desired to be relieved of it. Pope Gregory the Great fled to the forests when he heard that he would probably be elected Pope. Many eminent Saints, such as St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, accepted the episcopal dignity most reluctantly. Yet all these men were unquestionably well qualified to fill their respective offices. How great is the presumption of those who strive to obtain some high post for which they lack the necessary strength and talents, and to which they are not called by God! Those who aspire to dignities, to the duties of which they are unequal, are like men who take the helm without knowing anything of navigation; or like those who load their shoulders with burdens heavier than they can carry. Our Lord compares such persons to thieves, who force their way into a sheepfold (John x.). But it is not wrong for one who feels himself competent to fulfill the duties of a post, and knows that he may effect much good if he hold it, to endeavor to obtain it. A Catholic may aspire to the priesthood if he has a vocation, or to a place among the governing powers of the land if he possesses the necessary qualifications.
2. He who is called by God to fill some post of authority, must not on that account think much of himself, but rather consider the responsibility laid on him.
A man may be certain that he is called by God, if an appointment is given him without any effort on his own part to obtain it. When St. Gregory the Great was sought for, and his hiding-place in the
forest discovered by the populace, he no longer hesitated to accept the tiara, for he saw it to be God's will that he should do so. St. Alphonsus did not refuse the See of St. Agatha, when Pope Clement XII strongly urged him to accept it. Dignities are apparently conferred by the hand of man, but in reality it is God Who bestows them (Matt. xxv. 15). As a gardener guides the water of the spring whithersoever he will, so God influences kings and princes to bestow their favors on those whom He has chosen to be their recipients.
"The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord; as the divisions of waters, whithersoever He will He shall turn it" (Prov. xxi. 1). He is foolish who thinks more of himself on account of the dignity conferred on him, for it makes him no better in God's sight; virtue alone gives a man true worth and distinction. "Earthly greatness," says St. Thomas Aquinas "is fleeting and short-lived; like smoke, it quickly comes and quickly vanishes: it passes away like a dream."
Virtue, on the contrary, brings everlasting glory. Many that are first here shall be last hereafter, and the last shall be first (Matt. xix. 30). Herod was a king, Mary and Joseph were ordinary people; but he was a bad man, whereas they were just and beloved of God. Mary and Joseph now fill glorious thrones in Heaven; and where is Herod? Many who now in the gloom of this life appear estimable and great, will in the light of eternity, when the secrets of all hearts are disclosed, be seen to be evil and corrupt. "A most severe judgment will be for those who bear rule" (Wisd. vi. 6). The higher the post, the greater the responsibility. [Emphasis in bold added.] This truth should make the great ones of the earth humble, conscientious, thoughtful. God requires those who are in high places to hold their office as if they had it not; that is, they should regard it as only committed to their keeping for a brief period, and should be ready at any moment to give it up.
3. Those who rule others ought to promote as far as possible the welfare of their subjects, and treat them with impartiality and justice.
As those who are set in authority over others reflect in their person the power of God, they should take Him as their model; besides, they are His vicegerents. The plenipotentiary of the emperor is bound in word and deed to conform to the instructions given him by his imperial master; if he acts on his own judgment, he is reprimanded. Governors ought above all to study the welfare of their subjects; since this is the purpose of their appointment. The princes of the earth are God's ministers for the good of mankind (Rom. xiii. 4). The common weal, not the benefit of a single individual, or of a few, ought to be their object, and they should be ready generously to sacrifice their own interests for the good of their subjects. Christ, the Good Shepherd, laid down His life for His sheep (John x. 11). If a shepherd exposes himself to hardships and dangers for the sake of animals destined for slaughter, what ought not to be done for immortal souls, whom Christ redeemed with His Blood, and for whom account must be given? Rulers ought moreover to be impartial, and treat all without distinction, whether rich or poor, with actual kindness, remembering "there is no respect of persons with God" (Rom. ii. 11; 2 Par. xix. 7). "God made the little and the great, and hath equal care of all" (Wisd. vi. 8). He frequently declares Himself to be the helper of the needy and oppressed (Ps. xlv. 2). "The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart" (Ps. xxxiii. 19). The more destitute we are of human succor, the more God regards us with His mercy. Consequently rulers ought to befriend the poor and lowly (Is. i. 17). Unfortunately superiors are apt to think themselves justified in going to all lengths, so long as they do not overstep their powers. Some proud men imagine it to be below their dignity to treat their fellow-men as brethren; they think they would thereby forget what was due to them. This is by no means the case. Those who are in authority must beware of acting unjustly, or of allowing themselves to be corrupted by bribes (Exod. xxiii. 8). They must not favor the rich and powerful, and be induced to give unjust judgment, as was the unhappy Pilate. Fearful, lest the Jews should accuse him to the emperor, he sentenced Our Lord to death, though be knew Him to be innocent. What he dreaded happened; he was accused and condemned and banished to France. The curse of God rests upon unjust judges (Deut. xxvii. 19). Blessed Thomas More used to say that if his father, whom he dearly loved, came to him with a grievance, and on the other side was the devil whom he hated more than words could say, provided the latter was in the right, he should have justice at his hands. No man should ever be condemned unheard. If any one went to Alexander the Great with a charge against another, he used to close one ear, saying: "I give one ear to the accuser, the other to the accused." Even God, Who is omniscient, did not condemn Adam until He had heard his defense and proved to him his guilt.
4. Those who are in high places ought to set a good example.
The reason why superiors are bound to set a good example is two-fold. On the one hand they occupy a conspicuous position, all eyes are on them; like a city seated on a mountain, they cannot be hid (Matt. v. 14). Others imitate them; as is the judge, so also are his ministers (Ecclus. x. 2). Woe betide them if they lead an evil life! On the other hand, superiors can effect much more by example than by precept. Deeds are more eloquent than words. Rulers ought to pray for their subjects; like the husbandman in the Gospel, they should entreat the Lord of the vineyard to spare the barren fig-tree and leave it a year, in the hope that with careful cultivation it may bear fruit. Pastors are specially bound to pray for their flock, and to offer the holy Sacrifice on Sundays and holy days for the living and the dead.