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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Caesar and God

There are two truths that are important for today's Gospel, and they both are contained in Jesus' memorable saying, that we should all have memorized: Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.
The first part is important.  It reminds us as Catholics that we must not shy away from public life and social responsibility, nor should we be opposed to legitimate authority in civil society.   The Catechism says, 1898 Every human community needs an authority to govern it.16 ... It is necessary for the unity of the state. [So, Catholics cannot support anarchy!] Its role is to ensure as far as possible the common good of the society. 1925 The common good consists of three essential elements: respect for and promotion of the fundamental rights of the person; prosperity, or the development of the spiritual and temporal goods of society; the peace and security of the group and of its members.   1900 The duty of obedience requires all to give due honor to authority and to treat those who are charged to exercise it with respect, and, insofar as it is deserved, with gratitude and good-will.  1915 As far as possible citizens should take an active part in public life. ...

Thus Catholics should be the best citizens of every country, and for all kinds of different reasons: it promotes the common good; it fosters stability and peace; it helps with evangelization because non-believers will be more attracted to good citizens; and it is a sign of our humility after the example of Jesus.  So being informed voters and engaging in public dialogue, even going to be on jury for court trials, are all essential elements of good Christians.  We don't try to hide away in our own bubble as the world around us goes up in flames.
But also,  Jesus demands  that we render to God what belongs to God.  Caesar is not God, and neither are we.  The phrase "what belongs to God" in the context of a Roman coin is meant to connect back to the creation story.  The coin had Caesar's image and likeness on it, but we in our very nature were made in God's image and likeness.  So for us, to render what belongs to God must mean our entire life!

Sometimes in this imperfect world Caesar and God will butt heads with each other. We know that in our society today, we are seeing conflicts between our faith and the society, and we have to take sides.  Jesus will at times make demands on us to be sort of conscientious objectors to society.  This is exactly what our bishops have been modeling about the HHS mandate over the past four or five years.  There are other historical figures we can think of from our country as well as the world.  If it is not promoting the common good, we must oppose it with humility and dialogue, trying our best to influence a change in the society.  And here is your challenge for the week: do one thing that promotes the common good in our social order, whether it is researching your vote, writing to the newspaper or to your congressman, or doing some grassroots work for the common good by volunteering in the parish respect life ministries or local community outreaches.  If you do that, you will be living Jesus' message for today, rendering to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.

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