The Kennedys, Nancy Pelosi, Vice President Joe Biden. These are the names that Americans think of when they are asked to name the top Catholic political figures. Former Senator Rick Santorum, a Catholic, of course made a recent resurgence in the political world after the Republican primaries, but there are few new Catholic stars in the national political spotlight today.
Meet freshman Senator Marco Rubio, who is already a rising national star and already the subject of vice-presidential speculation. The son of Cuban immigrants, Rubio still has the spark of a politician who feels he owes his success to things greater than himself.
In June, Rubio delivered a well-received speech at the Faith and Freedom conference in Washington D.C.
“We believe government is an important institution in society; it’s just not the most important institution in society,” he said. “It’s a reminder of those of us who serve here in Washington, that while our job is very important, and what I do in the U.S. Senate matters a lot, what I do at home matters more.”
Rubio has admittedly enjoyed a speedy rise to national prominence, but he reveals in his new memoir that his faith supported him during his deepest political struggles, particularly during his recent Senate campaign.
Already an important figure with a legacy in Florida politics, a frustrated Rubio planned to drop out Senate primary race, when the more popular and better funded Republican, former governor Charlie Crist, seemed unbeatable.
As many of his Republican colleagues abandoned him, he was confronted with anemic fundraising reports. He was written off by his party, the political press, and even some supporters. His wife and his friends however, were convinced he should stay in the race to wage a principled campaign.
This did not make him happy. “I went to sleep angry and confused. I wanted out, but the people I trusted wanted me to fight to the bitter end,” he writes after a grueling night spent trying to convince his friends to let him drop out, in order to save his political career.
Later he quotes his wife as saying, “nothing important in life is easy, and the problem with you, Marco, is that you want it to be easy.”
“I was furious with her,” he admits.
After glumly resigning to running what he thought was a losing race he turned to his faith for support and inspiration. One scripture quote in particular that he writes, inspired him at that time was Joshua 1:9.
“I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
The rest, as they say, is history, as he went on to shock the political world upsetting his opponents by a substantial margin.
Today, Rubio has emerged a stronger political force, although he has yet to boast a long track record of legislative success.
Rubio helped lead the battle in the Senate by co-sponsoring the Blunt Amendment in the Senate, a failed attempt to restore the right for religious freedom for employers in the wake of the HHS mandate issued by the Obama administration.
Although baptized a Catholic, Rubio’s parents joined the Mormon faith after they moved to Las Vegas as a young child, while his family lived in Las Vegas. Rubio explains that even as a youth he told his family he wanted to return to the Catholic faith, after watching a papal Mass broadcast on television during the Easter season.
A similar situation happened in his own family, as his wife was drawn to an evangelical Church, which he attended because of its “accessible and contemporary” message.
Eventually, he writes he was drawn back to the Catholic Church, thanks to some help from a friend who gave him books by Scott Hahn, which showed him the richness of the Catholic tradition.
“A deep, almost mysterious, emotion attachment pulled me back into the church,” he writes. “The challenges of the church’s teachings and sacred traditions inspired me to not just practice Catholic liturgy, but comprehend it. By 2005, Rubio was reading the popular Magnificat periodical and attending daily Mass with his friend.
Today, Rubio attends Mass every Sunday with his family and raises the children as Catholics. But, he still attends services at Christ Fellowship – an evangelical church, with his family.
“To paraphrase a title of one of Scott Hahn’s books, I have come home to Rome, but with a real appreciation for the work being done by my brothers and sisters in Christ, who live their faith in other traditions,” he explains, noting that some of his Catholic friends question his decision to occasionally attend services at the evangelical church.
In one of the closing chapters in his political career, Rubio cast off political correctness in his 2008 Farewell Speech to the Florida House of Representatives.
“God is real. God is real. I don’t care what courts across this country say. I don’t care what laws we pass. God is real,” he said excitedly, electrifying the room.
“God is not some sort of old man with a big white beard that just kind of hovers over the world and makes us feel good from time to time, God is a real force of love,” he added. “He loves everyone that has ever lived.”
Rubio’s earnest attitude has won approval from tired political activists and is already inspiring the next generation. In an era of self-important political figures who preach their version of political and economic change it’s encouraging to see the newest star in the Senate preaching a message rooted in his faith.