A Better Kind of Politics

Mar 4, 2021

Given the depths to which our political system seems to have sunk, it is important to remember that politics can be something truly noble and transformative of human society. Pope Francis reminds us of this fact in his encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship.”

“A better kind of politics,” Pope Francis tells us, is “truly at the service of the common good.” Such politics, however, require the right type of popular leader. “‘Popular’ leaders, those capable of interpreting the feelings and cultural dynamics of a people, and significant trends in society, do exist. The service they provide by their efforts to unite and lead can become the basis of an enduring vision of transformation and growth that would also include making room for others in the pursuit of the common good.” Unfortunately, there are other types of ‘popular’ leaders who “are able to exploit politically a people’s culture, under whatever ideological banner, for their personal advantage or continuing grip on power. Or when…they seek popularity by appealing to the basest and most selfish inclinations of certain sectors of the population.” Have we not witnessed the destructive effect of such popular leaders in our own nation’s history?

For Pope Francis, the measure of the soundness of any political system, and of the quality of political leadership, is whether the central focus of political action is the pursuit of the common good and the protection of human dignity, especially that of the poor and marginalized. Undergirding our pursuit of the common good, and desire to protect the dignity of all persons, is our recognition that we are all truly brothers and sisters to each other. As such, “we are all really responsible for all,” in the words of St. John Paul II. Pope Francis instructs us: “…When [people] join together in initiating social processes of fraternity and justice for all,” in response to this truth, “they enter the ‘field of charity at its most vast, namely political charity’. This entails working for a social and political order whose soul is social charity. Once more, I appeal for a renewed appreciation of politics as ‘a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.’” Pope Francis underscores the importance of social charity: “Social charity makes us love the common good, it makes us effectively seek the good of all people…” Our politics is ennobled when it truly seeks the common good and to protect the dignity of all persons.

Can we make a real difference in our world today given the daunting challenges we face? Pope Francis responds with a resounding, “Yes.” “…Every person is immensely holy and deserves our love. Consequently, if I can help at least one person to have a better life, that already justifies the offering of my life…Those who love, and who no longer view politics merely as a quest for power, ‘may be sure that none of our acts of love will be lost, nor any of our acts of sincere concern for others…All of these encircle our world like a vital force.’” Politics is ennobled when it mobilizes persons to realize the good that can be done.

Our political system is capable of the nobility of which Pope Francis speaks. Recall the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Medicare and Medicaid Acts. Our politics can serve the common good of all and uphold the dignity of all if we are willing to elect leaders who will make these the motivating force for all of their decisions.

– Fr. Mark Hallinan, SJ, Associate Pastor