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St Ferdinand III
King of Castille and Leon (Spain) entered heaven this day in 1252)
I am having difficulty controlling my anger after reading the articles you sent me. It is bad enough that the older politicians over there continue to show their moral vacuity, but it infuriates me to see the same kind of self-seeking shenanigans among the younger generation. It’s our fault, you know. If a country where there are so many Catholics lacks political leadership, it’s the Church’s fault. Let me explain.
A career in politics is thankless. To protect the common good requires constant vigilance and self-sacrifice. It also means putting up with all the petty, dangerous, and humiliating criticisms of the ignorant as well as the knowledgeable. Because it’s so tough, most of the people who are actually endowed by God with the talent for it shy away from it. We who are Catholics, however, ought to know better. This life is for fighting and working for God and neighbor; comfort and ease are for Heaven. Today’s saint is a perfect example.
Ferdinand inherited the Kingdom of Castile (in central Spain) when he was 18 years old. Things were a mess at the time – most of Spain was still under oppressive Moslem rule, and intrigue was disturbing peace and justice in the Christian sectors. Although he was so young, his 35-year reign (which eventually included dozens of other towns and cities, as well as the Kingdom of Leon) began and continued with unbroken prudence, strength, and devotion. His mother, Queen Berengara (older sister of Queen Blanche of France, King St Louis IX’s mother), and his top advisor, Archbishop Rodriquez of Toledo (whom Ferdinand made Chancellor of Castile), provided wise guidance to bolster his innate sense of justice and efficacy.
He became known as “the saint” even in his lifetime, and it wasn’t because he spent all his time on his knees (though he did often spend whole nights in prayer, especially before important battles). Ferdinand reformed the legal system, established peace between competing ruling families, granted clemency to rebels (after subduing the rebellions), founded myriad schools, hospitals, Cathedrals, monasteries, and even a University (in Salamanca), resisted Moslem sorties, and steadily rolled back the tapestry of Islamic Kingdoms that had overrun Christian Spain ever since the eighth century, never giving in to the temptation of unjust recriminations or excessive punishments.
His army was almost always outnumbered and out-resourced, but he relied on God’s favor to bolster his intelligent tactics and undaunted courage, and even the greatest Moslem kings came to admit that his success could only be attributed to supernatural intervention. (The King of Seville, the greatest of the Moslem kingdoms at the time, gave in after a ten month siege, and as he departed stopped on top of a hill from which he could see the ocean to the south and the lost city to the north. There, looking back, he admitted, with tears, that only a saint could conquer such a kingdom with so small an army.)
And to top it all off, Ferdinand enjoyed the just pleasures of a faithful and fruitful family life, untainted by any of the typical sins that men of power tend to fall into.
That’s the kind of civil servant the Church knows how to offer this needy world: someone who pours out his life for the good of his brothers and sisters, leaving all selfish interest behind, as hard as it may be, for as long as it takes. Let’s pray that God raise up that kind of leader over there – fast!
Your angered uncle,