Sunday, October 16, 2011

Homily for 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Homily for the
29th Sunday
in Ordinary Time
Oct. 16, 2011
Matt 22: 14-21
Willow Towers, New Rochelle

“Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matt 22: 21).

In the 1st place, Jesus answers the Pharisees’ trap by turning it on them,: the fact that they’re carrying—and therefore using—Roman coins indicates their own acknowledgement of Roman authority in their daily lives.

In the 2d place, Jesus is teaching all of his listeners—in Jerusalem ca. 30 A.D., and all who’ve read his words since then—that we have proper allegiances in 2 worlds: the world of human society and its good order and mutual concerns, like war and peace, a sound economy, safe travel, the protection of lives and property and the environment, collecting the trash, regulating public utilities, etc.; and the world of the spirit, of our eternal destiny, of moral right and wrong, of our imaging the Creator, of our paying reverence to Him who made us and recognizing that He made us to live with him.

That idea of “image” is one of the keys to the passage. “Whose image is this and whose inscription” on the denarius? Jesus asks the Pharisees. It was the image of Tiberius, the Roman emperor—just as today you’ll find on American coinage and currency at least the inscription “United States of America.” We don’t have an emperor or king, so the images vary from national heroes to national monuments to the Great Seal of the U.S. Foreign coinage, currency, and stamps often bears the image of the sovereign, such as Queen Elizabeth. These images are marks of authority, of a national claim of some sort.
Jesus doesn’t say it, but all of us know, and the Pharisees surely knew, that human beings are made in God’s image. We belong to God at the core of our being, and to him we owe a very fundamental allegiance of worship, honor, obedience. Christians, furthermore, receive a kind of mark, a kind of seal when we’re baptized and confirmed; it’s an image of Christ, marking us as his. When we’re baptized we’re made Christian, one who belongs to Christ.

Therefore Jesus is teaching us that while the material things we use—which money may represent—belong to this world and to the powers of this world, our very selves belong to God. We give to the government, whether we call that “Caesar” or “Uncle Sam,” what it needs to carry out its legitimate purposes, such as those I mentioned earlier. But the government can never claim us, our very selves, our consciences, our relationship with God.

With their rich knowledge of history—both European in general and British in particular, as well as of their own colonial history—our Founding Fathers wisely put into our Constitution an implicit endorsement of Christ’s teaching. We call it the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from setting up an established Church, a Church that has its hand in the government, and prohibits Congress from interfering in the free practice of any religion. The text reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That’s the very 1st clause of the amendment, meaning that our Founding Fathers thought that freedom of religion was more important than freedom of speech, of the press, of peaceful assembly, or of petition, the other fundamental rights listed in the First Amendment.

If you follow the news, of course you know that the New York Times, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the entire liberal establishment shake in their boots at the very thought that some Christian fundamentalist is going to seize the government and start throwing atheists, Jews, Moslems, Buddhists, and who knows who else into jail or burning them at the stake or something. (We’re all old enuf to remember when the establishment was firmly Protestant and was deathly afraid of Catholics coming to power and imposing a kind of papal rule over the country.)

Of late, however, we have a more serious concern than Evangelical Christians taking over the government. That concern isn’t getting a lot of attention in the secular media, but it’s getting plenty in religious media. It’s about the government taking over religion, dictating to what extent believers may follow their consciences, to what extent they may be involved in debate about public policy, to what extent they may make and observe their own rules for governing the church. It’s such a serious concern that our bishops have just set up a special committee on religious liberty to speak up on public policy and coordinate the Church’s response on liberty issues. The bishops are distressed, and all of us should be, over government policies, at both federal and state level, that promote contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage.
The Tribute Money, by John Singleton Copley (1782)

Examples: Catholic agencies are being forced in some places, Illinois and Massachusetts for example, to end their adoption services because they won’t place children with cohabiting couples (either opposite sex or same sex). More and more, religious opposition to homosexual behavior is being branded as discrimination and is coming under legal pressure. (In some countries, tho not yet in ours, religious publications and preachers have been taken to court and fined for writing or preaching that homosexual behavior is sinful.) Fertility doctors in California have been sued, and lost in court, for refusing to inseminate a homosexual couple. Town clerks here in New York are being sued for refusing to sign marriage licenses for homosexuals, even tho there are other officials who will sign them.[1] A catering hall in Vermont is being sued for refusing to host a “wedding reception” for a lesbian couple. The University of California de-recognized a Christian club, among the hundreds of campus clubs, that requires its officers and voting members to adhere to Christian beliefs and lifestyle—that discriminates against atheists, thieves, and homosexuals, you see; the University won when challenged all up to the Supreme Court.[2] There’s fear that public school teachers will be compelled, even against their personal convictions, to teach that homosexuality is acceptable, normal behavior, and homosexual marriage is a justice issue;[3] and fear that public school parents won’t be allowed to take their children out of classes that teach that. You can imagine the position that military chaplains are in now that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has been repealed and the official policy of the U.S. Government and the Department of Defense on homosexuality has been turned around.

In several states and local jurisdictions, Catholic employers, including the Church itself, are required to include contraception in their private health plans. Regulations issued by the Dept. of Health and Human Services, implementing the new federal health care law, require insurers, and private employers who provide insurance, to cover contraception, chemical abortions, and sterilizations; there’s no exemption for religious institutions like Catholic hospitals, schools, or social agencies. HHS is also trying to require the bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services, which assists immigrants and refugees here and around the world, to provide their clients with “the full range of reproductive services,”[4] which means not only contraception but also abortion. The House has just passed a bill to make sure that no federal funds will be used for abortions, which the new health care law does not make explicit, and to secure the rights of conscience for doctors, nurses, hospitals, insurers, and others in regard to abortion—and the Obama Administration is very upset about that bill, upset enuf to threaten to veto it if it should manage to pass in the Senate (which is considered unlikely, given who controls the Senate).[5]

A case argued before the Supreme Court last week[6] involves whether a church—the Lutherans, in this case—or the U.S. government defines who is a bona fide minister of the church and to what extent that person is bound by the church’s own rules.

Back in the 4th century, the Roman emperor Theodosius tried once to enter the sanctuary of the cathedral in Milan during Mass. St. Ambrose told him bluntly, “The emperor is in the Church, not over the Church,” and he had no business in the sanctuary. That was a variation of rendering to Caesar what’s his, and to God what’s his. In 1953, when the Communist regime in Poland passed a law that would allow it, and not the Church, to appoint bishops and pastors, Cardinal Wyszynski acknowledged that Caesar has certain rights, but “sitting himself on the altar” is not one of those rights. Over the next 2 years, 8 bishops and 2,000 priests were imprisoned by the regime for defending the rights of God against Caesar.[7] As our Founding Fathers knew very well, such interference in the affairs of the Church and in the consciences of men has been a hallmark of many tyrants—from the days of the Roman emperors to Henry VIII (who had himself declared Head of the Church of England, if you remember) to the Jacobins during the French Revolution to present-day Red China. We followers of Jesus in 21st-century America must make sure that our own government doesn’t go down the road of ending our liberty to practice our faith in public, of erasing the image of God in our souls.
[1] Thomas Kaplan, “Rights Collide as Town Clerk Sidesteps Role in Gay Marriages,” NYT, Sept. 28, 2011, p. A1.
[2] Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, No. 08-1371.
[3] Dennis Sadowski, “Advance of same-sex marriage deepens concern for religious liberty,” CNS, Oct. 13, 2011.
[4] Bp. Kevin Rhoades, homily at Red Mass, Univ. of Notre Dame, Oct. 10, 2011.
[5] Paige Winfield Cunningham, “House GOP revives abortion issue, irks Obama,” Washington Times on-line, Oct. 12, 2011.
[6] Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC.

[7] Bp. Thomas Paprocki, dinner address after Red Mass, Houston, Sept. 29, 2011.

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