Sunday, October 21, 2018

Statesmanship Recalled

It seems as if it were only yesterday that the world was commemorating the centennial of Sarajevo and the guns of August! Yet now a full four years have passed, and we are about to recall the centennial this November of the Armistice, which ended the absurdity of World War I - the war which Pope Benedict XV at the time correctly called the "suicide of civilization."

Today the Church calendar commemorates one of the few authentically admirable statesmen during that terrible and pointless war, one who was also at the end one of that war's conspicuous victims, Blessed Kaiser Karl I (1887-1922), Austrian Emperor and (as Charles IV) King of Hungary (1916-1918). Deprived by the vicissitudes of history and by the narrow-mindedness and short-sightedness of the war's victors of the opportunity to lead central Europe into a better future than the painful one the 20th century gave it instead, this last Hapsburg Kaiser recalls an older ideal of political leadership that entailed life-time service and sacrifice for one's subjects, statesmanship as a moral as well as political vocation, one which few, if any, of our contemporary political figures remotely resemble.

In his homily at Kaiser Karl's Beatification in 2004, Pope Saint John Paul II said:

The decisive task of Christians consists in seeking, recognizing and following God's will in all things. The Christian statesman, Charles of Austria, confronted this challenge every day. To his eyes, war appeared as "something appalling". Amid the tumult of the First World War, he strove to promote the peace initiative of my Predecessor, Benedict XV.

From the beginning, the Emperor Charles conceived of his office as a holy service to his people. His chief concern was to follow the Christian vocation to holiness also in his political actions. For this reason, his thoughts turned to social assistance. May he be an example for all of us, especially for those who have political responsibilities in Europe today!

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