We Can’t Give Up on Politics: Pope Francis & the Restoration Imperative

It’s not sufficient — or acceptable — to be cynical about politics. It’s absolutely true that politics won’t solve our problems and save our souls, but disengagement is not a moral option.

In his latest media interview, Pope Francis observes, when asked about the heads of state who have come to visit him during his first 15 months as pontiff:

Many have come and it’s an interesting variety. Each one has their personality. What has called my attention is the cross made between young politicians, whether they are from the center, the left or the right. Maybe they talk about the same problems but with a new music, and this I like, this gives me hope because politics is one of the more elevated forms of love, of charity. Why? Because it leads to the common good, and a person who, [despite] being able to do it, does not get involved in politics for the common good, is selfish; or that uses politics for their own good, is corrupt. Some fifteen years ago the French bishops wrote a pastoral letter reflecting on the theme “Restoring Politics.” This is a precious text that makes you realize all of these things.

(Translation via the Catholic News Agency.)

It’s our job to restore politics to that which elevates and works for the common good.

This is not a new view of Jorge Bergoglio’s. In a series of conversations with his good friend Rabbi Abraham Skorka (who recently traveled the Holy Land with him), he expressed: “The loss of credibility in the political arena must be reversed because politics is a very elevated form of social charity.” (I discussed that book-length exchange, On Heaven and on Earth with the translator, my friend Alejandro Bermudez, here.)

That newly canonized St. John Paul II is a good go-to saint for redeeming politics now, isn’t he?

St. John Paul II, pray for us.

And here’s a good prayer via The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Pope St. Clement of Rome provides the Church’s most ancient prayer for political authorities: “Grant to them, Lord, health, peace, concord, and stability, so that they may exercise without offense the sovereignty that you have given them. Master, heavenly King of the ages, you give glory, honor, and power over the things of earth to the sons of men. Direct, Lord, their counsel, following what is pleasing and acceptable in your sight, so that by exercising with devotion and in peace and gentleness the power that you have given to them, they may find favor with you.”

  • http://outsidetheautisticasylum.blogspot.com/ Theodore Seeber

    Partisan Politics is incapable of working for the common good. While politics *can* be an elevated form of charity, it is a double edged sword that can also be an elevated form of sin.

  • Mike Blackadder

    Politics is not necessarily an elevated form of charity. It’s only charitable if it’s charitable. Unfortunately the norm of highly compensated career politicians hardly guarantees virtue.
    On the other hand, I agree with Francis in the sense of a common aspiration for larger organized society to serve a function of charity because that is a common ideal. I also agree that sometimes politics could be the best manner to deliver certain functions of charity. And the reality is that a dysfunctional government does not deliver on this virtuous mandate. The answer is not that government is good and needs to be allowed to do more, the answer is that government needs to be rendered accountable to serve the common good and to fulfill its responsibilities in their entirety – which includes the general responsibilities of governance, upholding laws and respecting the boundaries of their authority over others.

  • Episteme

    Partisanship is often rancorous, and inevitable *presented* as rancorous, but is at heart about debate, and therefore at heart about dialogue and rhetoric. Therefore, politics, channeled through idealism (even via intense disagreement) instead of mere purposeful ideology for its own sake — often the politics of the young, despite how the more experienced voter or politico complains of such things — can indeed be channeled into a dialogue on the proper use of charity and the common good.

    Hence we see internal debates (just to use the US as an example) on both left and right — and discussion in center and through the fringes — on policy. You see reformist positions on the left looking at dismantling cronyism and on the right looking at offering opportunity to the middle class. The peril is that you creeping pessimism among the progressive left and establishment right due to a lack of virtue. Where restoration ideas come into play — as the pontiff and the rabbi here both discuss — is in offering support not for the platform of the idealist young but for their ability to enunciate a position on charity and new ideas that benefit a common good versus established government stakeholders. If you better dialogue, you end up with a more Aristotelean complex of politics, and one where more of the citizenry will end up being involved and benefitting (hopefully with a virtuous outcome, trusting in the common good and decency of humanity) in the long run.

    While many Catholics would prefer to withdraw from the world of politics and secular social order, it is a world of men made in God’s image — and that freedom and debate that democracy uses is the same free will and reason which we enjoy as gifts of our legacy as children of Adam with the Divine Spark. To abandon our brethren is both irresponsible as social teaching and would be immoral in terms of evangelization of morality and teaching the proper uses of our intellect, freedoms, and ethics to the wider world as Christ and centuries of Christian thinkers taught us.