Pursuing the Political Common Good

Continuing St. Josemaría’s letter on freedom and public life, the saint addresses politics as something good and noble, serving the common good of society. Because of that, we are all called to chip in with our vote and our support. As St. Josemaría writes:

Politics, in the noble sense of the word, is fundamentally a service aimed at achieving the common good of the earthly City. But this good extends to a very wide sphere, and consequently it is in the political arena that the most important laws are debated and passed: those affecting marriage, the family, education, private property, and the dignity (the rights and duties) of the human person. All these matters and others too pertain in the first instance to religion, and they cannot leave a [Catholic] apostle indifferent or uninterested.

The Work [Opus Dei] has no political agenda whatsoever. That is not its goal. Our only aim is spiritual and apostolic… For this reason, the Work of God has never entered nor will it ever enter into the struggle between political parties…

But you, my children (each one personally), would not only commit an error, as I said, but you also betray our Lord’s cause if you were to allow those who are unworthy, incompetent or enemies of Christ and his Church to direct the affairs of the state.

Collected Letters, 3/42

While Opus Dei and the Church don’t have a political agenda, it does have an interest, especially in matters that impact the dignity of the human person and his rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as well as issues affecting marriage, the family, and education. This is why the Church speaks up regarding the unborn child’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and euthanizing the sick and dying. Issues can be so fundamental to the human person that they become religious.

There are people in public life who are enemies of the Church—at the time of St. Josemaría these included communists, anarchists, secularists…Today in this country there are many other groups of individuals who are—some even claim to be Catholic.

Politics ought to be a noble service to the common good, so those so inclined to the “vocation” for politics need to exercise it with personal sacrifice and a detachment for their personal success:

Some, on the other hand, will have a natural inclination to dedicate themselves to politics. But they will not do so like those careerist politicians, who pursue expediency and compromise just to hold an office and be able to live off the public life of their country, ready to sell their first-born rights for a bowl of lentils. Far from being eager to dominate, they will unite to their professional life a desire to serve their fellow citizens in politics or in trade unions.

… those of you with a vocation for politics, act freely in this area, without giving up the rights you have as citizens. Seek your sanctification there, while serving the Church and your country. Pursue the common good of all in whatever way you think best, because in temporal matters there are no dogmas.

Collected Letter, 3/43

One doesn’t have to be Catholic to view politics as a noble, disinterested service to others, nor is everyone called to this particular kind of service. As St. Josemaría says:

Obviously it would be unreasonable to expect ever citizen to be professionally involved in politics. This is materially impossible… if for no other reason because of the great amount of specialization and full-time dedication that all work requires nowadays, politics included.

Collected Letters, 3/46

[Not all of you need to] take part every day in the political debates. For many people—the majority—it will suffice that they have clear criteria on all issues that affect the Church, that they can give healthy doctrine (which is not political but religious) to their friends and companions, and finally, that they carry out their civic duties in an upright fashion whenever the government of the country asks it… always fulfill your duties faithfully and demand that your rights be respected. Everyone should act freely, because it belongs to our particular divine calling to sanctify ourselves while working in our ordinary tasks according to the dictates of each individual’s conscience; we feel that we are personally responsible for our activities, which we have freely decided upon with the boundaries of the faith and morals of Jesus Christ.

Collected Letters, 3/43

So we are called to freely exercise our rights and duties for the service of the common good, and to demand the same from our politicians. Let’s pray for our leaders and for the electorate, that our society pursue what is good for all.

Father John Waiss is the pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is also a member of Opus Dei, the prelature founded by St. Josemaria Escriva.