Sunday, September 19, 2010

Pray—or Pay!

(Twenty-fifth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on September 19, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read 1 Timothy 2:1-8.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-fifth Sunday 2010]

Pray—or pay!

That, I would say, sums up the message of St. Paul in the first two verses of today’s second reading from 1 Timothy 2—this text which concerns our relationship with our civil leaders.

He writes, “First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.”

The implication of Paul’s words in this passage is that if we don’t pray for our civil leaders—if we don’t offer supplications, prayers and petitions for God to bless and guide them in their work—we will pay for it! And not just in higher taxes, but in other ways that can be even more devastating.

Pray—or pay! Now some of you might be thinking, “But Fr. Ray, I do pray for the president, the governor, and our other civil leaders—and things are still pretty bad out there!”

True. But it could be worse. And I believe, without prayer, it would be worse—a lot worse!

Of course, the solution to our political and social problems isn’t only the responsibility of God; we also have our part to play—first of all, by electing the best people we can find into office. And that’s why I like this passage of Scripture so much. Because here God indicates to us—through St. Paul—the kind of people we should be looking for at election time.

Notice the reason why Paul says that we should pray for our civil leaders. This is a key part of the text. He says we should do it so that “we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.”

“In all devotion”: this expression points to the idea of religious freedom! A good civil leader respects the religious freedom of his citizens. This is a Biblical notion that we also find in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . “

The Constitution does not promote freedom FROM religion (as some in our culture would have us believe!); quite oppositely, the Constitution promotes freedom OF religion!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a great line in this regard, which is found in paragraph 2211: “The political community has a duty to honor the family, to assist it, and to ensure especially . . . the freedom to profess one’s faith, to hand it on, and raise one’s children in it, with the necessary means and institutions.”

Religious freedom in America, right now, is under assault—and we need to be aware of that fact. Catholic hospitals, for example, should not be forced by the federal or state government to provide services that the Church considers to be immoral. Catholic hospitals and health care facilities should be free to follow Catholic moral teachings with respect to the services they offer and do not offer.

And our Founding Fathers would agree! That’s the kind of thing they were getting at when they wrote the First Amendment.

Along the same lines, Catholic doctors should not be forced to refer for abortions, or prescribe contraception (emergency or otherwise), if such practices violate their consciences. Catholic pharmacists should not be forced to fill prescriptions of RU-486 (the abortion pill) or the so-called “Morning-after pill”.

But there are many political figures today who are working extremely hard to pass laws that would force Catholic doctors and pharmacists to do those very things—and to engage in other practices that are equally immoral! Similarly, there are politicians (usually backed by special interest groups) who want to force Catholic schools to teach that so-called gay marriage is ok, and that sex outside of marriage is morally acceptable. There are even politicians in Washington right now who are trying to restrict what pastors can say from their pulpits on these and other issues of personal morality.

A good civil leader believes in, respects—and promotes in law—religious freedom. And that’s important because, as St. Paul reminds us in this text, religious freedom is a precondition for a “quiet and tranquil life.”

Is it any wonder that life in our culture is becoming less quiet and less tranquil these days?

The second idea Paul mentions there is “dignity”. He says that we should pray for our civil leaders so that “we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion AND DIGNITY.”

A good civil leader, therefore, according to St. Paul, recognizes and upholds the dignity of every human person from natural conception until natural death.

Not surprisingly, that’s strikingly similar to what our Founding Fathers were getting at when they wrote these famous words in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

So obviously any politician who fails to recognize the dignity and the fundamental rights of every human person is not worthy of our support on Election Day.

That immediately disqualifies those who call themselves pro-choice; it disqualifies those who support the destruction of human embryos for research (since embryos are human beings at a very early stage of development). It disqualifies those who in any way support euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. It also disqualifies those who are racists.

That really narrows the field down, doesn’t it?

Not everyone, of course, agrees with these Biblical principles. I understand that. Not everyone sees these issues of devotion and dignity in the same way that St. Paul and our Founding Fathers saw them—as being of paramount importance.

They say, “Well, other issues are important too—like the economy.” Their primary consideration in the voting booth is usually, “Which of the candidates on this ballot will benefit ME the most financially?”

And so, instead of voting according to moral principles like the ones I’ve mentioned here, they vote for the person they think will fill their wallets or pocketbooks the most.

Many Catholics in Rhode Island have done this for years. There’s no secret about that.

Which raises a very interesting question: Where has it gotten us? Where has disregarding the moral law and the principles of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence gotten us here in our beautiful state of Rhode Island?

Sad to say, it’s gotten us one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, and, according to the President himself, “The worst economy since the Great Depression.”

Pray—or pay.

I pray that we will fare better in this year’s election—so that we won’t pay for it with any more unemployment and unnecessary human suffering.