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That’s Politics!!

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We use the word “politics” far too casually today…..The truest meaning of the word does not convey a sense of partisanship or division, corruption or competition. It had no such meaning when politics first arose from those ancient city-states. 

In its first, best and most useful sense, politics means “our shared life,” the life of the community.  The Greek origins of our word politics (politeia) convey this sense — roughly, “what the city does together.” 

Politics is a community discerning together, sorting through its options and weighing its advantages and disadvantages to arrive at a course of action. When conflicts arise, politics means addressing them through discussion and law rather than violence. 

Politics means valuing our shared life together more than we value winning any argument — and bearing witness to that value in our commitment to dialogue with one another.

In this way, a university classroom also is a political space. A classroom is a community discerning together. We discuss, we grapple with problems, and through dialogue we come to understanding. The classroom exists because none of us comes to understanding alone and, because we value coming to a better understanding together, we also come to value our community of relationship. 

The church also is a political community. The meaning of ecclesia is “the community that is called together,” and so the church is a community called to bear witness together to what we believe. 

I know this is an unfamiliar way to think about politics. But often I think that returning to this way of thinking about politics holds answers for us.

We need to recover the word “politics” from the ways that we abuse it. The word should mean something greater to us than division. Some things in our personal lives and in our public lives need to be objects of greater than usual reverence. It is for that reason that Pope Francis so consistently has pointed us toward “a better kind of politics.”

Yet our communities are suffering. Our national political community is suffering, but so is our church. So are universities. They suffer in different ways, but polarization and an absence of love are the root of all of them. 

Together, the suffering of those communities is a manifestation of our failure to love one another and to love the opportunities we have to recognize one another as friends in the communities we share. To live our faith in that way is the most political thing we can do.

By Steven P. Millies, a professor of public theology and director of the Bernardin Center at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. 

A version of this story appeared in the March 15-28, 2024 print issue of the National Catholic Reporter under the headline: The most political thing we can do as Catholics.

Thanks to Jon Tyson for the photo. 

The author says, “We need to recover the word “politics” from the ways that we abuse it. The word should mean something greater to us than division.” 
For the sake of our children and our grandchildren, how can YOU and I begin to do this? 


Do share today’s Message. May it lead to a fruitful discussion: Please listen to my Podcast. 

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