Sunday, October 19, 2014

Giving To God What Is God’s

(Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 19, 2014 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I.  Read Matthew 22: 15-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily: Twenty-ninth Sunday 2014]

Bishop Tobin made headlines again a couple of weeks ago, when he publicly criticized a political candidate for governor in the state of Rhode Island—a candidate who on that day had proudly accepted the endorsement of Planned Parenthood (the nation’s largest abortion provider), and who had also announced her intention to try to repeal Rhode Island’s current law banning partial birth abortion (a procedure that even many pro-choicers admit is nothing short of infanticide).

Oh yes, and did I mention that this politician also claims to be Catholic?

All of this, of course, provoked the usual hysterical responses from those who, in one way or another, support the killing of babies in our country:

“The Bishop should mind his business.”

“Who is he to push his morality on the rest of us?”

“The Bishop should keep his nose out of politics.  Doesn’t he know about the separation of church and state?”

Now I wonder if these very same people are just as vocal in their criticism of guys like the Reverend Al Sharpton—who’s a commentator on a major news network in this country, and who also happens to be a Baptist minister!

I wonder how many of the Bishop’s critics have also sent letters to MSNBC recently, saying, “How can you allow a Baptist minister to do political commentary on your network?  Don’t you know about the separation of church and state?”

I’ll bet you not a single one of them has!  Because the truth of the matter is, my brothers and sisters, this critique only goes in one direction.  If you’re pro-life, and pro-traditional marriage, and a supporter of the Ten Commandments they say these things about you; if you’re of the opposite persuasion they say nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  And that’s especially true in the mainstream, liberal media.  You can make the most partisan political statements imaginable (which Sharpton does every day), and not a critical word is spoken.  Or written.

Hopefully you realize that all this public criticism is by design and has a very definite purpose.  Aside from being an attempt to violate the right to free speech of some American citizens, all of this public criticism is ultimately designed to intimidate!  It’s designed to try to intimidate into silence people like Bishop Tobin, and me, and all those who would take a public stand against the moral evils that are currently plaguing our society.

Haven’t they figured it out yet that it’s not going to work?

They must be slow learners!

But all of this is not really anything new, as we see in today’s gospel story from Matthew 22.  Here we have men whom I would describe as “some of the spiritual ancestors of the critics of Bishop Tobin”—the Pharisees and the Herodians—trying to find a way to accuse Jesus of either being disloyal to his religion (Judaism) or disobedient to the “state” (in this case, the Roman Empire).

The Pharisees were anti-Roman, while the Herodians to a great extent supported Rome, since the Romans kept them in power.  In many respects, the beliefs of these two groups were at opposite ends of the political and religious spectrums.  But they were united on one issue: their hatred of Jesus.

So they asked our Lord a question that they thought would trap him: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”

Had Jesus said, “Yes, it is lawful,” the Pharisees would have accused him to his fellow Jews of being disloyal to his religion; had he said, “No, it is not lawful,” the Herodians would have denounced him to the Roman authorities.

Jesus, of course, didn’t take the bait.  Instead, he gave the perfect response (which shouldn’t surprise us in the least because Jesus was—and is—the divine Son of God!).  He asked to see a Roman coin; then he asked his questioners to identify the person whose image was on the coin.  When they responded by saying, “Caesar’s,” Jesus answered with his famous line, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but give to God what is God’s.”

Which immediately raises a very interesting question: What is “God’s”?  What is it, exactly, that belongs to the Lord?

Well, in the interest of time, let me give you the short list of the things that DON’T “belong to God”: sin; evil; death—and all the bad things that follow from those realities.

Like hell.

Which means that EVERYTHING ELSE IS THE LORD’S!  Everything that is genuinely good belongs to God; everything that is true belongs to God; everything that is rooted in love and that proceeds from love belongs to God.  It all belongs to God because it’s all the gift of his grace!

The problem with the Catholic candidate for governor that Bishop Tobin criticized the other day is that she doesn’t understand this (and perhaps she doesn’t care to understand it, as is the case with all-too-many Catholic politicians these days—on both sides of the aisle).

If you’re a human being—and especially if you’re Catholic—your politics “belong to God” (in the sense that you’re supposed to be guided by HIS DIVINE LAW in forming your political views!).

I hope you realize, my brothers and sisters, that the whole reason we had slavery in this country for so many years is because a lot of Christian, white Americans acted like their politics and their business practices DIDN’T belong to the Lord!  Consequently they disregarded his divine Law in dealing with people of a different skin color.

And they thought that was perfectly acceptable.

Well it wasn’t.

Actually this idea that everything which is good and true and loving “belongs to the Lord” is contained in the Lord’s Prayer, which was given to us by Jesus himself, and which is supposed to be the model for every other prayer we utter.

In that prayer, we say these very important words: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

There’s no sin, or evil—or death—in heaven.  We all know that.  Well, if those are the only things that don’t “belong to God”—and those things are not to be found in God’s heavenly kingdom—that means that EVERYTHING in heaven belongs to the Lord!

And if the situation in heaven is supposed to be the model of the way things should be on earth (which is what we’re saying in that line of the Our Father!) then that means God’s will and his divine Law are supposed to be our reference points for EVERYTHING in this life!

The way we conduct ourselves in public; the way we conduct ourselves in private; the way we conduct ourselves in the bedroom; the way we do business; the way we raise children; the way we treat the sick; the way we treat the dying; the way we treat the elderly; the way we act at work; the way we act at school; the way we act with our friends; the way we treat our enemies; the way we speak; the way we form our opinions—and yes, the way we form our political viewpoints: it ALL belongs to the Lord!

Dear Lord, help US to believe that.  Dear Lord, help all candidates for public office in our country to believe that.  And, dear Lord, help us all to live our lives accordingly.  Amen.