When Pope Francis addressed a joint session of the United States Congress is September of 2015, this is how he described politics: “Politics is an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one, the greatest common good.”
He went on to say that “all political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity.”
“Politics” has become a dirty word in our national discourse, but the Pope’s speech reminds us that politics is not about wielding power, advancing an ideology, or enriching yourself.
What politics is truly about is deciding how we want to live in community with each other. In other words, politics is one way we put into practice our responsibility to act as each other’s keeper (cf. Gen 4:9). Every person of faith has a responsibility to participate in the political life of his or her community.
Our model for this is the first apostles, who devoted themselves to the welfare of their community. Scripture tells us that they had all things in common. They would sell their property and possessions and divide them among every member according to each one’s need (Acts 2: 42-45).
Of course, we live in a different time and place than the early apostles, but even though the specifics of our politics is different today, our goal is the same as their: to create a community where everyone looks after each other, and especially looks after those who are marginalized and/or living in poverty.
Does our society live up to this ideal? Do our government’s policies enable justice and promote the common good? If not, then we must challenge the structural causes of injustice. We must work to change policies that perpetuate this injustice and implement alternatives that uphold human dignity and care for our common home.
As Pope Francis challenged Congress and all of us, let us resolve now to live as nobly and as justly as possible, to educate others not to turn their back on their “neighbors” and everything around them.
Let us “take up the task of serving the common good with joy and hope” (USCCB, Faithful Citizenship). A more just world is possible, but it is only possible if each of us gets involved!