29th Sunday in Ordinary
A Homily - Cycle A - 2005-2006
First Reading - Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Responsorial Psalm - 96:1-3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10
Second Reading - 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
Gospel - Matthew 22:15-21
Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
The Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They sent their disciples to him with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone's opinion, for you do not regard a person's status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?" Knowing their malice, Jesus said, "Why are you testing me, you hypocrites? Show me the coin that pays the census tax." Then they handed him the Roman coin. He said to them, "Whose image is this and whose inscription?" They replied, "Caesar's" At that he said to them, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God" When they heard this they were amazed, and leaving him they went away.
Our Gospel today from St. Matthew's 22nd chapter is a bit different from the Gospels we have heard over the last several Sundays. Over the last several Sundays we have heard our Lord criticize the Pharisees and the religious leaders of the Jews for their hypocrisy and for not living up to the demands of their positions of authority. Our Lord uses parables to elucidate his criticism and He even takes the Jews themselves to task for relying on their "Jewish-ness" - their ethnicity - as the guarantor of their salvation. This Sunday, however, it is not Jesus who goes on the offensive. Rather, it is the Pharisees who try to trap Jesus and they do it with a very difficult question. They ask Jesus if it is lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not. Why is it such a difficult question? If Jesus says "no" then He could be accused of treason, since He would implicitly reject Caesar, whom the Romans considered to be a deity. If Jesus says "yes" then the Jews could accuse Jesus of blasphemy since Jesus would be recognizing another god, not only God the Father. Rather than give them the satisfaction of a yes or no answer, Jesus answers them in a profoundly deep and beautiful way. He says, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's."
The answer our Lord gives has very serious implications for you and for me. First, it means that you and I have dual citizenship: in the kingdom of heaven and in the kingdom of earth. Second, it means that our citizenship in heaven and all that it demands must serve as the litmus test for how we conduct ourselves as citizens on earth. This makes sense: how we behave here will help decide whether or not we reach our heavenly citizenship. This should come as no surprise. Third, it causes us to consider the role of the Catholic in public life. I am not necessarily referring to a person who holds public office. Rather, the appeal is to the ordinary person in the pew and their exercise of what we call civic duty. Coincidentally, this Gospel is given just weeks before a gubernatorial election in this state.
Before I take on three contemporary ideas that confront us as citizens of this state and of this country, it would be worth spending a few minutes understanding the context in which we live so that these three questions of the day hold more meaning. For nearly 1,700 years, anytime that a Catholic priest or bishop wanted to enact a change in laws or public policy, he would go to one person: the king, the queen, the emperor, or one of their legates. The power was concentrated in one person. However, over 200 years ago, something drastically different occurred - the return to representative democracy became more prevalent. The United States of America is one of the great homes of this type of government. And so, voters replaced the king or the queen or the emperor.
For nearly 1,700 years, you opinion didn't really count for law and my predecessors in the clerical state didn't need to talk to you - they needed to talk to the sovereign. Now, things are much different so that a priest or bishop ascends the pulpit and addresses you regarding political and moral questions and how they are to be understood within the contest of the Catholic faith, he is addressing the new kings and queens of society - the voters. So, when you better understand who you are within your own governmental system, it is easier to understand why priests have to address you on matters of politics and morality in order for the kingdom of earth to better reflect the kingdom of heaven. In former days, the Pope could send a legate to a queen and more often than not, she would listen.
Now priests have to address people more locally and unfortunately we don't often get more of a hearing than media pundits like Katie Couric or Bill O'Reilly. Yet, there is a difference between what we say and what media pundits say The media pundit is out to make money and offers political commentary. The priest, on the other hand, is not in that business. He is offering moral and salvific truth! This has severe implications as to whether or not citizens of earth will reach citizenship in heaven. We do not assert a party line or a party agenda. Our only agenda is the Gospel and the culture of Life. That's our bottom line. This has to shape and form our conscience so that the kingdom of earth looks more like the kingdom of heaven.
So, here are three issues that we must confront as Catholics: First, there is the issue of an apparent separation of Church and state in public life so that there should be no mention of God in the public sphere. It sounds so "American" and yet its application is hardly American. Think of the Founding Fathers of this country. Without exception, these were all deeply religious men. The founding documents of this country are replete with the mention of God. In the Declaration of Independence we read that we have inalienable rights endowed by our Creator. Our currency says, "In God we Trust." Our pledge of allegiance still mentions God. So, the proper separation of Church and state does not mean that God or mention of His name should not have standing in the public sphere. Rather, a proper separation of Church and state means that the Constitution of the United States shall not give preference to one religion over the others so that all religions may be practiced freely.
Many of our Founding Fathers came from countries where there was a state-sponsored religion and those who did not practice that religion could be persecuted or even killed. The Founders did not want that in the new land. So, we still have the right and duty to assert God and his laws in the public sphere. After all, divine and natural law still form the basis for all human law. And yet, so many people buy into this false idea of the separation of Church and state, in spite of the fact that 85% of Americans believe in God. There is a minority of activists who are trying to undermine one of the foundational principles of the proper understanding of religious toleration. It is not tenable for a Catholic to ascribe to a separation of Church and state in this way.
Second, there is the prevalent mindset: "I am personally pro-life, but publicly pro-choice or anti-life." This is untenable for a Catholic. I would submit that anyone who holds this position, which amounts to moral schizophrenia, has not met the Lord Jesus - they lack conversion. Why? Because if you are personally pro-life, that's it! There is no other way of deciding about the sanctity of human life. There is no other option. There are those who feel as if they ought not impose their personal beliefs or the teachings of the Church on others. If you actually believed in those teachings, you would never see the teachings as impositions. The truth shall set you free, says Scripture. And besides, we are not dictating how people should think - we can easily win those arguments on logic alone. This moral schizophrenia is incomprehensible to many people in Catholic countries, such as my beloved Philippines. They will say, "Publicly or privately - it's a life! Where does this dichotomy have any standing? If that's a baby, then that's all you need to know. Babies are persons and persons have rights!"
Third, we hear those within the ranks of the Church and certainly from non-Catholics assert that the Church, because she is a moral entity, should not be involved in politics. Some will say, "Whenever Father talks about politics, the Church gets too political and I don't like it." Nonsense! Every political act, by its nature, is a moral act because it is a chosen, willed act that has moral consequences. Our voting has lots to do with morality. Look at the questions of the day: the status of marriage, embryos, the rights of the dying, euthanasia, abortion, etc. Are these not moral issues? They were moral issues long before they were political questions. And so the Church has a moral obligation to speak out in defense of those who have no rights; in defense of those whose very lives are threatened; in defense of life; in defense of divine precept, by which we will all be judged in the end. And who do we have to address? All of you, for you are the new kings and queens of society.
There are those who charge that the Church's teachings are an obstacle to authentic growth and progress ought to heed the words of our own Fr. deLadurantaye, the bishop's theologian who wrote so beautifully in this week's Arlington Catholic Herald. He writes, The teachings of God and His Church are not an obstacle to human welfare or scientific progress. There are, rather, a sure guide for authentic growth and development. When, for example, we uphold the indissolubility of marriage, we are showing the way to guaranteeing the health of society. When we defend the sanctity and dignity of human life in the face of abortion, euthanasia, or techniques that treat human beings as mere objects, we are promoting a civilization of love. When we act with the firm conviction that the Church's teachings are the only source capable of filling our modern age's terrible religious and moral void, we show ourselves to be true children of God and followers of the Lord Jesus.
These are beautiful words. They carry another implication: In the kingdom of heaven, there is no Democrat or Republican. That is a reality here but the point is to enter into voting with heaven in mind. Our citizenship in heaven is the ultimate litmus test that should determine how we vote on earth. And while there are those who easily write off these life issues as one among many issues such as taxes, education and social security, we ought to remember that there is a hierarchy of rights outlined for us in our foundational documents; life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Without life, the other rights don't matter. Life is not negotiable. Taxes are. And besides, if a politician will support the slaughter of innocent children in the womb, how can I trust them on anything else? If you can't protect children, who are you going to protect?
As we witness the events in Iraq and see voter turnout, which exceeds our own by nearly 2 to 1, in spite of roadside bombings and terrorism and as we look to countries like the Philippines, that for 26 years did not have real elections because they were oppressed by a dictator, we ought to heavily weigh our civic duty to exercise this amazing capacity we have to shape public life by our vote so that the kingdom of earth better reflects the kingdom of heaven! Let us be energized and pursue these issues so that our prayer in the Our Father really means something: that God's will be done ON EARTH as it is heaven. May we not be swayed by the temptations and propaganda of our times so that we may advance the Gospel and Culture of Life in a world so desperate and thirsty for the Truth.
Praised by Jesus Christ! Now and forever!
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