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Faith and Culture - March 2005

In the world but not of the world

Photograph of Ruth Kelly

Much fuss surrounded the appointment of Ruth Kelly as education secretary; much of it antagonistic to her Catholicism. It is our hope that the work of this able and faithful woman in office will be to the benefit of children, students and education professionals. As such it would be an example of Christian working for the common good. This working for the common good is both an authentication of and proclamation of the Gospel.

The path of the Church often seems along a tightrope as we proceed carefully avoiding the plunge into one error or another. For instance, we need to be part of the world and contribute to the good of the world and be advocates for justice and peace, but our vision is not simply that of a political party. Theocracy is not the vision of Catholic social teaching: we do not want to impose Church law on the state. But secularism is also an ideology we should avoid. The Kingdoms of this world have yet to become the Kingdom of God, but we do live in hope that that will there their destiny. Certainly the Church should work, with others, to build a civilisation worthy of humanity. Humanity without God is less than human. Christian involvement in the world brings with it more than just the secular.

There is a proper secularity, however, which is not the same as secularism. Pope John Paul II has recently written to the bishops of France:

The principle of secularity to which your country is extremely attached, if it is well understood, belongs also to the social doctrine of the Church … It reminds us of the need for a just separation of powers.

The world of politics has its own autonomy which the Church respects and upholds. But the Church is also in dialogue with the political processes as we work for the values of the Gospel and live out our calling to be a sacrament of the Kingdom.

Evangelisation in Catholic teaching is a rich, comprehensive whole. Yes it embraces the person, our inner life and our personal behaviour. It also embraces our corporate life, our social calling and the way people, groups and nations relate to each other. The Gospel of Jesus transforms individuals, it has transformed us into the Church, and it will transform our world. We cannot withdraw from the world or from being active citizens of the State. But neither should we try to collapse the State into the Church.

It is our duty to concretely witness to God’s civilisation of love. In our life in the secular world we are to be ‘leaven in the lump’ as our love of neighbour expresses itself in our responsible and faith-informed citizenship. Our politics needs our involvement. Our politicians need our prayers.