Politics is rife with scandal, increasingly of the personal sort. There is daily news of some fresh impropriety by a national leader. These private sins, once exposed, force our nation to confront things most would prefer not to think about, let alone talk about.
After the initial shock, the discussion inevitably becomes a debate about the relationship between one’s private life and their public service. Do private sins make one unfit for public power? As always, we can look to the Gospel for guidance.
In this Sunday’s gospel (Lk 16:1-13) our Lord lays out a common sense maxim: “the person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones.” It is fairly easy to apply this to politicians. Their private actions are small matters. These decisions generally only impact themselves (their virtue, their character) and their families. But if they are not trustworthy in these small matters, should we trust them with great ones? Paul employs the same principal concerning the selection of bishops (see 1Tim 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-10). In addition to public skills, bishops must be remarkable in personal virtue. Paul can’t imagine a separation of the public and private spheres: “for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the church of God?” The same may be applied to our secular leaders. If they can’t manage their own lives, how can we trust them with our common life?
Yet, perhaps we prefer not to think about politics at all. Perhaps we prefer to ignore earthly affairs and focus exclusively on heaven. Discouraged by public discourse we may feel tempted to opt out. We might even argue that we are avoiding temptations to anger. But just as we cannot separate the private from the public, neither can we separate the kingdom of God from the secular. We are bound to seek God’s will “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Christians have great contributions to make to the common good. We can offer moral guidance and example. We have an intellectual tradition treating the full range of human experience. We are committed to the true and the just, but equally committed to mercy. We have a lot to offer our fellow man. But most important of all is our payer.
This Sunday, St. Paul instructs us on politics: “I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority” (1Tim 2:1-2). Prayer is our first and best contribution to the common good. By it we petition the true God for our true good. By prayer, we entrust the small things of our time to him who is trustworthy in every time.
Father George K. Nixon serves as assistant pastor at St. Philip Parish, Greenville. Ordained in 2011, he holds a licentiate in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. “Verbum Domini” is a series of Father Nixon’s reflections on the Scriptures.