Saturday, November 01, 2008

Caesar 2.0

A couple weeks ago, I posted my homily for the 29th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year A. The readings included the popular dictum, "Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." Rather than post a homily for this weekend's readings for All Soul's Day, which I was looking forward to, Fr. Terry asked me to prepare for the 3 year cycle phenomenon. Each year - A, B, or C - has a different schedule of Sunday Mass readings. Combined with the 2 year cycle of daily Mass readings, all four gospels are read every year (and after three years most of the whole Bible is read). The first time you preach on a particular reading you may pick the most obvious explanation... but what about the next year when it comes around again? Ideally, you can't just recycle the old homily, you gotta think of a different approach. So here's my second homily on what I'm affectionately calling "The Caesar readings"

In St. Matthew’s Gospel, a little before our Gospel reading today, Jesus stumped the Pharisees when he asked them where John the Baptist’s authority comes from. They answered cowardly, “we don’t know” and our Lord taught them The Parable of the Two Sons. Since then with each parable the Pharisees have been increasing in anger toward Jesus. Now they decide to return the favor. They “went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.”

Their plan seemed fool-proof. First, in an act of false humility, they compliment our Lord’s truthfulness and his disregard for opinion or status. Then, they ask him “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” They figured that if he said “Yes,” then they could discredit him among the Jews as one who advocated Roman rule. But, if he said “No,” then they could report him to the Romans for inciting anti-taxation sentiments. He answered not “Yes” or “No”, but this: “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” This was much more profound then the Pharisees expected: “When they heard it, they marveled; and they left him and went away.”

What did Jesus mean by this? Because this passage could be easily misunderstood, let’s look at what Jesus is not saying. He is not saying, “repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” on one hand, and repay “to God what belongs to God” on the other hand. Jesus is not teaching us the separation of church and state here. The simple word “and” between the two phrases tells us that they should be read together as one. Let us be on the look out for those who would use this passage to advocate the divorce of faith from the public square. Faith and Science, Church and State, are distinct, but should never be separate. Therefore we must pray that more Catholics – who are faithful to Church Teaching – will enter into politics. A Catholic’s faith should inform every aspect of his life, from the home, to the bedroom, to the office, to the voting booth, to the floor of the Senate, and the Oval Office. If we only allow faith to impact the comfortable areas of our life – mass on Sunday, conversations with the pastor, religion class, etc – and not the areas of our life that challenge us, then what is the sense in having faith at all? Our Lord does not want lookwarmness, he wants a faith that is complete and alive. Being personally opposed to sin but supporting it for others is not real faith, it’s a cop-out. Pope John Paul I only reigned for 33 days but still had much wisdom in this regard:

In this same society there is a terrible moral and religious void, he wrote, Today all seem frantically directed toward material conquests: make money, invest, surround oneself with new comforts, live the ‘good life’. Few think also of ‘doing good.’ God – who should fill our life – has, on the contrary, become a very distant star, to which people look only at certain moments. People believe they are religious because they go to church; but outside of church they want to lead the same life as many others, marked by small or big deceits, acts of injustice, sins against charity; and thus they totally lack coherence.

We must pray for a society in which faithful citizenship can harmoniously repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.

But, remember, the Pharisees in our Gospel only asked Jesus about Caesar, why did he add the bit about God? I think Jesus is also teaching us here about the religious dimension of man. It is true what Aristotle taught us: “Man is by nature a political animal,” – it is natural for him to be social, to form partnerships, to form cities. But his whole being is not exhausted by his dealings with the cities, his politics. No, human beings have an immortal soul and have God’s law imprinted on their hearts. This soul, nurtured by faith, hope, and love, should inform all that a citizen does, thus making him a faithful citizen. This is why Jesus added the words, repay “to God what belongs to God”. Obedience to civic duties is the responsibility of all who follow Christ as long as these do not conflict with our duties to God. If they do then God’s law wins out in the end. But, when they are in harmony, one’s attention to his civic duties can be a path to holiness.

The Second Vatican Council taught us that:
The laity accomplish the Church’s mission in the world principally by [blending conduct and faith] which makes them the light of the world; [by uprightness in dealings which is an incentive for others] to love the true and the good and which is capable of inducing [them] at last to go to Christ and the Church; by that fraternal charity [which prepares all hearts] for the action of saving grace; [and by personal responsibility] in the development of society, which drives them on to perform their family, social, and professional duties with Christian generosity.

We must realize that our faith has much to bring to the world, to science and to politics. Faith is not an obstacle to the fullest realization of these things, but rather must serve as their guide. Science and technology, guided by faith, recognize the rights of all human beings from the moment of conception; recognize the horror of human cloning and embryonic stem cell research; and recognize that the inherent dignity of our elderly brothers and sisters is not found in the integrity of their biological systems or their functionality, but in their simply being human. Only this type of science can be truly progressive and reach its fullest potential. Science unguided by faith falls into mere ideology, a dominating, ravenous, caricature of what it was meant to be.

Politics, guided by faith, recognizes that marriage, by definition, is between one man and one woman, and this, coupled with its unbreakable bond, guarantees the health of society: it is in the state’s best interest to protect the integrity of marriage, of the family, of the upbringing of children, of Christian education, etc. A Catholic with a well-formed conscience can do much for the common good! But, a society with politics unguided by faith is “at the mercy of aggressive elements and prey to a gradual dehumanization.” Thus we have a society in which the death of 4000 human beings to surgical abortion each day is lauded as freedom and equality; and the destruction of human embryos, tiny human beings, for unsuccessful medical treatments is advanced for political gain rather than real cures. In the Presidential election, only a couple days away, remember that a vote is a political act but it is also a moral act with moral implications.

In the period of silence after this homily, let us examine ourselves and where we stand with these principles. What have we done to bring our Catholic faith to bear on the common good? Are we proud of our faith in some areas, with some people, but reject it in others? Have we abused the gifts of science and technology in our own lives or damaged the larger common good through internet addiction, artificial insemination, contraception, or even abortion? Have we elevated our politics over our faith and become consumed with issues not concerning faith and life themselves but our comforts, our investments, our possessions? If we have done these things, my brothers and sisters, let us be assured that there is hope. This hope lies not in our vote or our candidate but in Jesus Christ. Our Lord, by being born of a family in Nazareth, sanctified family life and showed us the way to holiness through the family, even today! Did not the Gospel of Luke tell us that with Mary and Joseph, Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man?” Did he not teach us: “For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his [soul]?” Jesus is the Way when we have become lost in the political hype. He is the Truth when we have bought the lies of the evil one. And He is the Life when we have fallen to his temptations. In Jesus Christ we are secure and can exclaim with our psalm today “For great is the LORD and highly to be praised; awesome is he, beyond all gods. For all the gods of the nations are things of nought, but the LORD made the heavens. The LORD is king, he governs the peoples with equity.”

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