Times of Malta ‒ The politicians’ prime calling

The First Reading from the Book of Proverbs highlights a number of traits and blessings that have always been held in high esteem by civilisations both ancient and modern: loyalty, faithfulness, good repute, understanding, long life, riches, honour, pleasantness, peace, happiness.

All these are the choice fruit of wisdom: “Happy is the man who finds wisdom.” So may the Lord, in His goodness and mercy, bless all MPs and their hard work with the gift of wisdom.

To quote the address Pope Benedict XVI gave to the Bundestag in Berlin on September 22, 2011: “Politics must be a striving for justice, and hence it has to establish the fundamental preconditions for peace. Naturally a politician will seek success, without which he would have no opportunity for effective political action at all. Yet success is subordinated to the criterion of justice, to the will to do what is right, and to the understanding of what is right.

“Success can also be seductive and thus can open up the path towards the falsification of what is right, towards the destruction of justice. ‘Without justice – what else is the State but a great band of robbers?’ as Saint Augustine once said.”

The Second Reading from the Letter of Saint Paul the Apostle to the Romans provides solid grounding for communal living: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.”

As Pope Benedict XVI said in Berlin, to serve right and to fight against the dominion of wrong is and remains the fundamental task of the politician. How do we recognise what is right, he asked. How can we discern between good and evil, between what is truly right and what may appear right?

Without justice, what else is the State but a great band of robbers?

“For most of the matters that need to be regulated by law, the support of the majority can serve as a sufficient criterion. Yet it is evident that for the fundamental issues of law, in which the dignity of man and of humanity is at stake, the majority principle is not enough: everyone in a position of responsibility must personally seek out the criteria to be followed when framing laws.”

According to St Paul, the one in authority is “God’s servant for your good”, for our good, for the common good.

Pope Francis has these words of encouragement for politicians in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium n. 205: “I ask God to give us more politicians capable of sincere and effective dialogue aimed at healing the deepest roots – and not simply the appearances – of the evils in our world!”

He described politics as a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good. “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor! It is vital that government leaders and financial leaders take heed and broaden their horizons, working to ensure that all citizens have dignified work, education and healthcare.”

Why not turn to God and ask him to inspire their plans, Francis proposed to politicians. “Openness to the transcendent can bring about a new political and economic mindset which would help to break down the wall of separation between the economy and the common good of society.”

The Gospel Reading from Luke, Chapter 16, brings us to the fundamental theme of accountability. “Turn in the account of your stewardship.” The Master commends the dishonest steward of the parable for his shrewdness. I can imagine Jesus sighing deeply as he says: “The sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.”

This word of Jesus reminds us that there are different levels of accountability: accountability to one’s conscience, to society, and accountability to God who alone weighs and judges the hearts of men and women in truth and justice.

As Pope Benedict aptly declared, “At this point Europe’s cultural heritage ought to come to our assistance. The conviction that there is a Creator God is what gave rise to the idea of human rights, the idea of the equality of all people before the law, the recognition of the inviolability of human dignity in every single person and the awareness of people’s responsibility for their actions. Our cultural memory is shaped by these rational insights…”

In the awareness of man’s responsibility before God and in the acknowledgment of the inviolable dignity of every single human person, said Pope Benedict, the culture of Europe has established criteria of law. “It is these criteria that we are called to defend at this moment in our history.”

The Lord teaches us not to despise fidelity in the small things of life. This includes fidelity in the small acts of everyday life, it includes those many meetings, those decisions that do not reach the headlines the next day, but make up the backbone of governance and service to the community. “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.”

All this may attract the cynical smile and the scoffs of those who feel they are wiser than the children of light. But the Lord insists: “God knows your hearts.” To conclude with the first line from the first reading: “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments.”

This article is based on the homily for Members of Parliament delivered by the Archbishop of Malta during Mass at St John’s Co-Cathedral yesterday, ahead of the State opening of the House of Representatives.