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We Cannot Assume the Role of Pilate in Politics

By Matthew Milhon

Pope Francis recently addressed a large crowd of students and teachers from Jesuit run schools and associations in Italy and Albania. As has become somewhat of a custom Francis went off script hitting just the main points of his prepared speech, he then spent the rest of the time answering questions. Francis spoke about doubt and faith, the importance of friends, the meaning of Christian hope, why he chose not to live in the Papal Apartments, among other themes that the audience asked about. One adults question prompted an of off the cuff call to arms when asking what kind of role, if any, Catholics should play in politics.

The Holy Father''s answer, courtesy of Catholic News Service, is at the same time an indictment of complacent Catholicism and a sort of précis on Catholic social teaching wrapped into a few lines given off the top of his head: "We can''t play the role of Pontius Pilate and wash our hands of it,"" he said. "Politics is one of the highest forms of charity because it seeks the common good."

He continued: "Those who complain that politics is "too dirty" should ask themselves why. Perhaps it's "because Christians haven''t gotten involved with an evangelical spirit.""

"It's easy to blame others," emphasized the Holy Father, "but people need to ask themselves: "What am I doing" about it?"

If we unpack Francis'' remarks, there is much for us to chew on. First, it is clear that non-involvement in the political life not an option for the Christian. But more than that it is dishonest to claim that we should wash our hands of it. If you will allow a little eisegesis, Pilate did not wash his hands of the death of Our Lord simply because he wanted to appease the Jews, he wanted to appease the Jews so that the hassle of having to put down another insurrection (and displeasing Caesar in the process) was not visited upon him. So what is the Holy Father saying (albeit implicitly) when we calls us Pilate? He is calling us liars. We do not wish to bow out of public life because it is too dirty, we want to bow out of public life because we are lazy and because "it's too dirty" is a better excuse.

Now that we are properly convicted the Pope goes on to explain why politics is worth the effort. "Politics is one of the highest forms of charity because it seeks the common good." That's solidarity in a sound bite. A foundational principle of Catholic Social Teaching, solidarity is the principle that we are not individuals whose rights trump those of others for any reason, but rather that we are all persons that are deserving of the place that creatures made in the Image and Likeness of God and ransomed by His Blood are afforded by virtue of their mere existence. In a letter to Prime Minister of the U.K. on the occasion of the G8 summit Pope Francis says:

The goal of economics and politics is to serve humanity, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable wherever they may be, even in their mothers' wombs. Every economic and political theory or action must set about providing each inhabitant of the planet with the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom, with the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one's own human potential. This is the main thing; in the absence of such a vision, all economic activity is meaningless. In this sense, the various grave economic and political challenges facing today's world require a courageous change of attitude that will restore to the end (the human person) and to the means (economics and politics) their proper place. Money and other political and economic means must serve, not rule, bearing in mind that, in a seemingly paradoxical way, free and disinterested solidarity is the key to the smooth functioning of the global economy.

Since we are now fired up to conquer the world for Christ what does our Holy Father tell us to do...just that. Get involved with an evangelical spirit the Holy Father says. In a style that is totally his own Pope Francis teaches and exhorts the Church to love Christ and His people for their own sake and that playing the part of Pilate when it comes to the affairs of our neighbors is a dangerous game worthy of reproach.

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