Politics – not exactly everyone’s favorite issue.
Although this topic tends to be avoided during casual everyday conversation, and can be counted on as an unmistakable point of tension at dinner parties, Pope Francis recently encouraged Catholics’ participation in the political realm. Pope Francis warns: “we can’t play the role of Pontius Pilate and wash our hands of it [politics].”(1)
The political realm admittedly has fallen into the traps of “society,” whereby viewing man as a utilitarian being, denying his intrinsic value as a communal creature. Spirituality is no longer seen as a part of the pursuit of happiness, and personal existence is replaced by a social structure. Perhaps this is why we are frustrated with discussing politics, and shy away from political conversations. Today, the good of man is seen solely in his function and efficiency as a mechanism to higher order, completely diminishing his need for community, which man was originally created and man for.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “All men are called to the same end: God himself. There is a certain resemblance between the unity of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love. Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God.” (2) Genuine encounters of community nourish a communion of persons based on love, rather than utility. Communion between persons should be based on love that reveals and communicates itself as acceptance. Christ first and foremost gave this love: “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) Christ is the center of love and community, as He Himself exists within the Trinity. As such, evangelization and political reform must return to the individual and communal aspect of man. This modification is best displayed within the New Evangelization, by which Pope John Paul II declared “a new ardor, expression, and method” of outreach to society.
The New Evangelization offers Christians a different perspective on how to live their faith within contemporary society, and more specifically, politics. In fact, the “polis” was originally designed so that all men may not only live, but live well. It was a preservation of community and personal existence. As flawed creatures, a social structure with authority is necessary to rule mankind, specifically on the basis of justice.
It is now the Christian aim and task to accept and receive this true image of the world in reality. This can only be accomplished through the person, and the personal; by this, I mean that it can only be possible through an attitude of being personally present, which manifests itself in a twofold way. First, Christians must be present within the Church as active participants, partaking in the sacraments and responsibilities of a Catholic.
Secondly, Christians must be personally present to the people around them, fostering conversations about politics, and being witnesses of justice and truth; Monsignor Albacete advocates that “the New Evangelization happens when someone whose humanity is cultivated by the Incarnate Son of God embraces without reservations someone who has not and they begin to experience a new way of being human together.”(3) This is such a profound description of the duty of the Christian in a world that rejects community. The New Evangelization calls for Christians to resist the impersonalization of man by giving witness to the presence of hope in the world.
Technology, artificial necessities, media, and the culture of death have destroyed the space of interpersonal relationships. If we are communal creatures, doesn’t this also destroy part of us?
It is crucial to note that the New Evangelization does not rely upon changing the culture, but changing the individual, the personal, and the relational. The gospel’s message of evangelization is not founded on ethics or culture; that is, the Church is rather concerned with a personal encounter with Christ, which can then be shared with another individual. Often, the blame for our society is placed on “politics” or organizations, but we tend to forget that the individual encompasses these things, and has the potential to be changed. Leo Tolstoy touches on this point: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one things of changing himself.” (4)
Contrasting with the individual, the State focuses on the societal, which is a necessary aspect for man. The Catechism states that “the human person needs to live in society.” (5) To rectify the utilitarian view of society, the Church continues its job in providing for the individual work of souls, while the State should promote the public good. Because we do not live in a perfect world, the perfect political system will never be accomplished; however, if we look at everything that Jesus Christ accomplished under the reign of paganism, it can give us hope and a renewed evangelical attitude within our contemporary system – we cannot give up.
Although politics is grounded on the structure of society, it is more individual than it appears. If men make the decision to foster personal experiences with each other, then the network of genuine relationships can grow from individuals to society. Individuals must persist in pursuing genuine relationships with other human beings, bringing them to the truth of the gospel through Christ. Our responsibility is to give witness to a different kind of life. This does not call for a revolution – only to live a life as an example to another way of being, channeled with God’s presence. Living radically what we believe in Christ is the New Evangelization at work in society. Politics, as Pope Francis states, is “one of the highest forms of charity because it seeks the common good.” Let us therefore accept Pope Francis’ challenge to pursue the evangelical spirit in politics and within our communities.
1) Pope Francis in address to the Youth, June 7
2) Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1878
3) The Praxis of Resistance, Msgr. Albacete, pg.11
4) Leo Tolstoy
5) Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1879