Those who say religion and politics shouldn’t mix know little about politics and even less about religion. True that bad politics shouldn’t mix with bad religion; that leads to evil. But good politics and good religion share a common concern: that the good life is enabled and that evil is disabled.
The description of the good life that predates the Church and modern politics is that of Socrates and the philosophers. The good life is the life of virtue as defined by the four cardinal virtues; prudence and temperance, justice and courage.
We can see that the origin of our current economic crisis was a lack of prudence and temperance, combined with a lack of courage to challenge that intemperance. The paradox is that it’s tempting to think the way out of it is by neglecting the fourth virtue, justice. But the good life always includes all four Cardinal virtues and the absence of any one weakens the other three.
The Gospel of the Rich Man and Lazarus shows this. Dives was unmoved by Lazarus’ plight and lacked any sense of justice, that might motivate him to do something. This lack of just action turned out ultimately to be very imprudent; looking back, he could see that he lacked the courage to temper his selfishness and at least do something to help Lazarus.
But the Rich Man may have reasoned it to himself: “this beggar is probably an intemperate drunkard and an imprudent lay about who lacks the courage to get a job – Justice requires me to leave him to his devices”. Dives’ mistake was to assume that Lazarus was undeserving and to focus on just one virtue. But one virtue emphasised at the expense of the others becomes self-defeating, as Dives discovered to his eternal cost.
As our politicians face difficult choices, it would be a foolish priest who laid down policy choices. But what Christian faith can do is remind us all, politicians and civil society, that Our Lord requires us to see all those who are poor, disabled and vulnerable as deserving of our support. Only if investigation proves that they are scroungers can we challenge their need for support. We must assume virtue until we discover vice.
Let’s remember Dives’ mistake was to treat Lazarus as the undeserving poor. In these austere times, there is pressure to assume that the vulnerable members of society are responsible for their own plight. Our faith in Christ strengthens us to resist that assumption; until proven otherwise, the poor and the weak need our help.
In this Mass, we encounter the sacrifice of Christ, the one who became poor and vulnerable. As we share in his sacrifice, we give thanks that he has called us to this great vocation of Christian living and for some of us, the vocation to public service in politics. Thank you for accepting that vocation and may God give you temperance and prudence with courage and justice at this demanding time.