When we think of families, we don’t normally think first of economics and politics. We imagine families as a safe place where we can find protection from the dismal science of economics and the dismal behaviour of politics. Politics and economics are for the big issues, family life is for the day to day human realities.
Yet Pope Francis asks us to join what we separate, and goes further to invite us to pray about politics and economics for families. If we imagine them as totally separated areas how can we pray about them? The answer is surely that our personal and family life is also affected by politics and economics. We may ask how much priority economists and politicians give to the welfare of families when they dream of a good and prosperous society and design policies to achieve it.
If you wonder what politics has to do with family life, you could ask Karthika Gnaneswaran. Her husband Thileepan was recently deported to Sri Lanka, and promptly imprisoned, when his appeal for protection from persecution was rejected by Australia. She and her young daughter are left in Australia. As she was found to face persecution in Sri Lanka, she cannot return there. As a result the family will most likely be permanently separated. A United Nations representative described the action as violating ‘the basic right of family unity, as well as the fundamental principle of the best interests of the child’. The priority or lack of it given by politicians to the family does make all the difference in the world to defenceless people.
Economics also makes a difference to family life. That is why Pope Francis has so strongly criticised the way in which economic policies throughout the developed world are designed to further enrich the wealthy and to impoverish people who are disadvantaged. These policies are supported by many economists and governments who believe that a good and prosperous society follows when individual people and corporations compete with one another without restriction. This vision gives no priority to families or communities.
The Pope has seen the effect of unjust economic policies on destitute families in the slums of his native Argentina. When he became Pope he was an isolated voice. Now even many economists are seeing that unrestricted competition uncontrolled by the care for the common good of society only produces an inequality that hinders prosperity.
That is the big picture. The faces of economic policy, though, are that of the homeless children sleeping in a car because of the lack of public housing. They are of the family who spend no time together because both parents need to work different shifts in order to survive. They are of the husband afraid of losing his job after restructuring, and consequently of losing his home, and of the person seeking protection, deprived of benefits, and forced to accept underpaid work in order to keep his family alive. They are the faces of executives of big corporations that pay little tax, whose multi-million dollar salaries soar far more quickly than the cost of living. These are the faces of an economy that does not serve the common good, in which families, particularly those who live on the edge, are of no account. These are the faces of politics that puts power and wealth before people.
Seen in this way, economics and politics give us much to pray about and many people to pray for. Once we pray for people who have suffered because politics and economics are directed to inhumane ends, we may discover the blessedness of those who hunger and thirst for justice.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.