Whether you’re particularly religious or not, Christmas is special. It’s a time, uniquely cut out and endorsed by the federal government, for us to rest and to celebrate; to express gratitude for life’s greatest gifts. As we honor the advent of Our Lord, it is also a time of reflection upon our own corporate, and individual, purpose.
Politics has become so invasive that I fear, whether consciously or not, too many (myself included) may be treating it as our purpose in this life.
It most certainly is not.
This tendency to put all stock in politics is not new, nor is it uniquely modern.
The great poet Dante Alighieri wrestled with it 700 years ago in a Europe rife in conflict and power-grabbing, as politics dominated the attention of just about everyone. Dante gained the title of “spokesman of the Middle Ages” not chiefly as the author of the Divine Comedy, but for being the foremost political, religious, and social critic of his day. In his not-too-widely read treatise On Monarchy, Dante argues that politics, and particularly government, is a means, not an end to be pursued for its own sake. Man’s true end is found elsewhere:
“The proper function of the human race, taken in the aggregate, is to actualize continually the entire capacity of the possible intellect, primarily in speculation, then, through its extension and for its sake, secondarily in action.”
It’s a bit heady and abstract, but here’s what it means in short: Man’s ultimate purpose is to contemplate what is right and good, and then to do it.
Dante would have emphasized the intellectual pursuit primarily, which is important, but I wish to emphasize action.
Fulfilling that purpose means doing good, and it takes shape in the individual life, not in the political. If you’re parents, it is to love your children. If you’re a child, it’s to love your parents. If you’re able-bodied, it’s to help those who aren’t. If you have, it’s to give to those who don’t have. It is any number of things that we have the opportunity to do in the ordinary course of our lives.
Most importantly, it is to be done for its own sake.
We know this, I think, but we must be reminded that doing good is more than something we do – it’s what we’re meant to be.
(Take this article over to social media and start a conversation with your family and friends)