November 25, 2012
We are at the end of the liturgical year, having just celebrated the last Feast of the Year, Christ the King. The Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate, asks Jesus if he is a “king.” The Messiah replies: “Not a king of this world.” Kings of this world buy political power, and as much as they can get; the King of Heaven testifies to the Truth, and eternal truth. “Truth?” Pilate sneers. “What’s that?” Truth is anything that will get me more power, he thinks. Jesus speaks a language that Pilate cannot or will not understand.
The U.S. Government is growing bigger and more powerful. The bigger it grows, the less it speaks the language of truth. Speaking truth to power in this country will get us thrown in jail before long. But here is a truth that probably won’t get me fined just yet: “The government that governs least governs best.” An American president said that, but he was only reformulating an old Catholic principle, “Subsidiary.” This Principle holds that folks should govern themselves at the most local level possible, beginning with the family, and then the neighborhood, and then the village, and then the county, and then the state. Most decisions can and should be handled on the local level. The State or Federal government should step in only when absolutely necessary, because they will be the least knowledgeable, and the most wasteful, means of governance.
I live at a small Catholic College (Thomas Aquinas College, student population 365). The College governs itself much more effectively than larger institutions. Rather than take certain federal tuition subsidies, for example, Thomas Aquinas College offers an extensive work-study program. With 75% of the student body working on campus, the College hires relatively few outside staff. Students do most of the landscaping, maintenance, janitorial, food service, and even development, admissions, and clerical work. The College runs extraordinarily well, with pristine lawns, spotless bathrooms, and a well-oiled physical plant. Students pay less tuition; the College pays less for staffing; students take pride in their work; the College campus looks beautiful all the time. The principle of Subsidiarity is manifest at Thomas Aquinas.
Earthly rulers want power. In democracies, they promise people an easy life in return for that power. People usually see through this kind of thing, but not in periods of cultural decline. I must say that the students at Thomas Aquinas College are in a cultural incline. They don’t want an easy life. They want the truth, and they want a beautiful College, and they are willing to work for both. With joy they cut the grass, paint the buildings, clean the bathrooms, and spend hours over their books, because it is their College. Life is beautiful in this Village, in this Shire, even without much help from Big Brother. We serve the King of Kings while we work, and we don’t have much need for an earthly king.