Someone recently questioned why Christians seem to be impotent when it comes to influencing the conduct of public affairs: "One often wonders how it happens that Christians who personally are believers do not have the strength to put their faith into action in a way that is politically more effective."
Good question, especially considering the source: Pope Benedict XVI.
"We can only hope that the inner strength of the faith that is present in people will then become powerful publicly as well by leaving its imprint on public thinking," the pope continued.
The remark came in response to an unusual question-and-answer session between the pope and German journalist Peter Seewald during hourlong sessions over six days in July. They are published as Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times.
The value is the relatively informality of the language, hearing the pope as a "real person" rather than the more formal theological language in his encyclicals and speeches.
Why aren’t Christians as powerful as the opposition: secularism?
In reading the conversation between the pope and Seewald, one could almost make the case that we are irrelevant to what is going on in the world. So with an aggregate millions of people thinking that way, it becomes a self-fulfilling statement of a lack of self-esteem.
The problem is the inclination to dismiss the kingdom of God as unattainable.
Recent church teaching, including his encyclicals, the pope said, is a step in putting things into another perspective, "looking at them not only from the point of view of feasibility and success but from the point of view that sees love of neighbor as something normative and is oriented to God’s will and not just to our desires."
Bring this thought to current issues: environment, poverty, health care, the roster of things that continue to befuddle and irritate.
Worldly view may find something not feasible with little chance of success. But if it is done for love of neighbor and aimed to God’s will, might not God have something to do with its success?
Pope Benedict does find some awareness of a global responsibility to make moral decisions. "A certain potential for moral insight is present," he said."But the conversion of this into political will and political actions is then rendered largely impossible by the lack of willingness to do without."
The lack of willingness to do without. Millions have a choice to do without. There are millions more who have no choice but to do without, these unwilling victims of poverty from causes largely beyond their control.
"How can the great moral will, which everybody affirms and everybody invokes, become a personal decision?" asked the pope. "For unless that happens, politics remains impotent."
Lent seems a good time to begin a willingness to do without.
Kent, now retired, was editor of archdiocesan newspapers in Omaha and Seattle.