Embracing a Politics of Love
By Christopher Dodson
North Dakota Catholic Conference
On October 3, Pope Francis signed Fratelli Tutti, his encyclical on fraternity and social friendship. In the United States, this event from Assisi fell in the middle of a rancorous election season in a country bitterly divided.
The contrast between the message of the Pope’s encyclical and the state of our nation is striking. Pope Francis calls for a politics of love. We are living in, and have even become accustomed to, a politics of hostility.
How did we get here? Animosity and factional fighting might result from the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden. Primitive societies were marked not only by violence, but a politics based on “us versus them.”
Jesus, however, commanded another way. When asked what was the greatest commandment, he said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Mt 22:37-39.
The two great commandments tell us how we should engage in politics. The first tells us we cannot separate politics, including how we engage in politics, from our faith. The second tells us that the purpose of politics is love.
Christ also taught that we should do to others as we would have them do to us, love our enemies, do good to them, and expect nothing back. Lk 6:31, 35. Vengeance, demanding favors, and wishing defeat on others, therefore, has no place in politics.
Pope Francis’ call for a politics of love, therefore, is not something new or utopian. It comes from the Gospel, from Christ himself.
Politics also means to be in service to all, not oneself or political party. Pope Paul VI taught that “political power . . . must have as its aim the achievement of the common good.” Octogesima Adveniens, 46. This is also required through the principle of solidarity, which Saint John Paul II, taught comes from the “common fatherhood of God, of the brotherhood of all in Christ.” Sollicitudo rei socialis, 40.
The virtue of solidarity means that charity should motivate politics. In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI wrote that "charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as 'social charity.’” Indeed, “charity is at the heart of the Church's social doctrine,” which includes our political activities. Caritas in Veritate, 2. For this reason, Pope Francis is found of repeating Pope Paul VI’s reminder that politics is one of the highest forms of charity.
Thus, there is a direct line from the words of Jesus to Pope Francis’ new encyclical, in which he calls on all people of good will to radically re-envision politics through the lens of love. “Radical” is an apt word to use since while it implies a great change, it actually comes from the Latin for “root” (think “radish.”) The vision might seem new, but its roots are as old as Jesus’ words.
Politics, of course, is marked by hostility, gamesmanship, the desire of power for power’s sake, and, of course, hyper-partisanship. How does a politics of love make a difference in such an environment?
At times it may not. This is especially true since being faithful does not mean merely holding good positions. It also means using good methods.
St. Teresa of Calcutta reminded us that we are not called to be faithful, not successful. In Jesus’s words, “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” Mk 8:36.
Pope Francis wrote more about politics and politicians in his 2019 World Day of Peace Address. In it he included these “Beatitudes of the Politician”, proposed by Vietnamese Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyễn Vãn Thuận:
Blessed be the politician with a lofty sense and deep understanding of his role.
Blessed be the politician who personally exemplifies credibility.
Blessed be the politician who works for the common good and not his or her own interest.
Blessed be the politician who remains consistent.
Blessed be the politician who works for unity.
Blessed be the politician who works to accomplish radical change.
Blessed be the politician who is capable of listening.
Blessed be the politician who is without fear.
All of us, even if we do not hold public office, are called to be politicians of love. Let us embrace this form of charity.
What We Do
The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.