The annual papal message for the World Day of Peace (Jan. 1, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God) — one of the best glimpses into the minds of the popes regarding social and political issues — offers specific counsel, rooted in the Gospel and Catholic social teaching, about how to work for peace in our time in light of current events.
This year’s message focused on a recurring theme of Pope Francis: that politics, rightly conceived, can be an “outstanding” form of charity. “Man’s earthly activity, when inspired and sustained by charity, contributes to the building of the universal city of God, which is the goal of the history of the human family,” the pope commented.
According to Pope Francis, “Everyone can contribute his or her stone to help build the common home. Authentic political life, grounded in … frank and fair relations between individuals, experiences renewal whenever we are convinced that every woman, man and generation brings the promise of new relational, intellectual, cultural and spiritual energies.”
He added, “Politics is at the service of peace if it finds expression in the recognition of the gifts and abilities of each individual.”
That is why we should make special effort to include those on the margins of society — voices that are often forgotten or ignored, including the poor, the disabled, communities of color, the undocumented, and those who have been incarcerated and are trying to rebuild their lives.
It is also why we should give voice and consideration to the unborn, future generations and even what G.K. Chesterton called “the democracy of the dead” — the traditional laws and social customs established by those who have gone before us.
In other words, the political life of our community requires that everyone participate. Without each person’s active participation in the great conversation of politics, some gift or unique perspective is silenced or ignored, and we are hindered in our pursuit of the common good.
Everyone in our communities has something different and equally important to share.
Blessed is the politician?
Some people have the unique responsibility of holding public office. We can sometimes forget, though, that the authority of public office is not meant to be a position of power but of service. The elected representative is just that: a representative, chosen to advocate for the rights, needs and priorities of the people he or she serves, as well as the common good.
Pope Francis put it this way: “Political office constantly challenges those called to the service of their country to make every effort to protect those who live there and to create the conditions for a worthy and just future. If exercised with basic respect for the life, freedom and dignity of persons, political life can indeed become an outstanding form of charity.”
Pope Francis also recalled the “Beatitudes of the Politician” left to us by the saintly Vietnamese Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, who was incarcerated for many years in a Vietnamese prison. Cardinal Van Thuan knew about dysfunctional political orders, having witnessed the collapse of various regimes in Vietnam. He penned these beatitudes to describe the virtues of the politician who contributes to peace, human dignity and the common good. Among them are: “Blessed be the politician with a lofty sense and deep understanding of his role,” “Blessed be the politician who works for unity” and “Blessed be the politician who is capable of listening.”
Practicing good politics
Politics is rooted in right relationships — with God, with others and with creation. Therefore, political life goes well — and peace can be achieved — when elected officials and the people they represent come together in a relationship of mutual service and respect.
But civility, as we know, is an ongoing challenge. It is, as Pope Francis says, “a challenge that demands to be taken up ever anew. It entails a conversion of heart and soul; it is both interior and communal.”
We can contribute to a politics of peace, then, by resolving to forge new relationships with fellow citizens and with our elected officials.
Start with praying for them. Prayer is, in fact, “the best that we can offer to those who govern,” according to Pope Francis.
Then, resolve to meet your elected officials and start a conversation with them, offering your unique gifts and perspective to ensure that our politicians will make the best decisions for our community.
Adkins is executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference.
Oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana
Marijuana represents a significant part of substance use in America and adversely affects the health of millions of Americans. Its widespread use and abuse, particularly by young people under the age of 18, is steadily increasing while scientific evidence clearly links its long-term damaging effects on brain development.
Legalizing a drug for recreational use that causes these effects on the human body, particularly our youth, is not a path civil society should choose to take. It has been well documented that the United States is currently waging a losing battle against opioid abuse. Our attention must not be diverted from that health crisis, nor do we want to add fuel to it by contributing to the risks for the use of other illegal/illicit/proscribed substances through the legalization of marijuana. The Catholic Church proclaims that “the use of drugs inflicts very grave damage on human health and life. Their use, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, is a grave offense” (CCC 2291).
Call your legislators today and tell them to oppose HF 420 (Rep. Mike Freiberg) and SF 619 (Sen. Melisa Franzen).