Sunday, October 18, 2020

How to ‘Give Caesar His Due’ On Election Day

Cyrus the Great of Persia


(Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 18, 2020 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96:1-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-ninth Sunday 2020]


“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

Based on a quick reading of the gospel story we just heard, you might think that this is simply a command to pay your taxes.  But that’s too narrow an interpretation of the text.  Yes, the passage does teach us that we should honor all legitimate civil authority and obey the tax laws and other laws of our nation (unless, of course, those laws command us to do something contrary to God’s eternal law).  But giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s also includes other things—like participation in the political process.  In fact, paragraph 2240 of the Catechism explicitly states: “Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country.”

All that having been said, today is a perfect day to reflect on how we, as Catholics, are supposed to ‘give Caesar his due’ by voting in this year’s national election.

What are the ideas and principles that should guide us, as Catholics, in our choice of candidates?

That, I would say, is the key question we need to ponder.

That question was answered for many Catholics this past week, with a YouTube video that went viral.  The video was of a homily that was given last weekend by Fr. Edward Meeks, a Catholic priest from Christ the King Church in Towson, Maryland.

I’ll read a small portion of it to you this morning.  This is what every Catholic voter needs to know and understand (so make sure you spread the word to others between now and Election Day!).  Fr. Meeks said:

For us faithful Catholics, the starting point of our choice of whom to vote for needs to be that we intentionally think with the Church—something that too many Catholics have failed to do for far too long: a fact that has largely contributed to the dire condition of our culture today. The Church has clearly and consistently based her teaching on the Sacred Scriptures and on the living Tradition embodied in 2,000 years of her Magisterium.  That teaching has led to an array of foundational principles when it comes to us as Catholics and our moral and civic responsibilities. 

It’s not always easy to sift through the myriad of issues at play in presidential politics.  So it becomes crucial then that we properly prioritize those issues, because some are clearly more important than others.  We can respectfully disagree and we can have differences in prudential judgment and opinion on issues like the economy, taxation, immigration, national defense, trade, health care, climate change and so on.  But don’t get sidetracked by the spurious “seamless garment” theory espoused by many in the Church that asserts that issues like immigration and the environment are of equal weight with abortion—because there is a set of issues upon which Catholics must not disagree. 

Pope Benedict XVI specified those issues in his 2012 apostolic constitution, entitled, “Sacramentum Caritatis,” in which Benedict defined what he called our “non-negotiable values”—a concept which he repeated countless times in his pontificate.  Among the list of non-negotiable issues that he identified, chief among them are the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, the sanctity of marriage as the lifelong sacramental union of a man and a woman, and the preservation of religious liberty.  They are non-negotiable because they are of paramount importance in Catholic moral theology.  They are the moral principles where the Church draws a clear line in the sand. And in all of the fog and the confusion and spin that surrounds every political season we must, as faithful Catholics, conscientiously vote in such a way that best upholds and protects these non-negotiable values.  Again: the sanctity of life, the sanctity of marriage, and religious liberty. Not that other issues are unimportant, but these 3 are foundational to who we are as human beings and to what kind of society we are constructing.

I couldn’t have said it better myself!

In conclusion let me add one more point: Remember as we approach Election Day that not every candidate who calls himself a Catholic is with the Church concerning those most important matters mentioned in Fr. Meeks’ homily!  In fact, sometimes non-believers actually support the things of God a lot better than believers do. 

Think, for example, of Cyrus.

Cyrus was the civil leader mentioned in today’s first reading.  He was the King of Persia, who ruled from 559-529 B.C.  He was also a pagan, a Gentile, an unbeliever.  And yet, he is called “God’s anointed” in this text we just heard from Isaiah 45!

Why?  Because he allowed the people of Israel to return to their homeland and rebuild their sacred Temple after they had spent several decades in exile in Babylon. 

He conquered the Babylonians, and then he let the Israelites go home.

Even though he was a pagan, Cyrus of Persia did something that was morally righteous, and that made him a better civil leader than many of the Israelite kings of the past had been!  Thus the Hebrew Scriptures call him the “anointed” of the Lord.

May Almighty God help us to recognize the Cyruses of our generation—as well as the believers of our generation—who deserve our votes.  And may he help us to ‘give Caesar his due’ by actually casting our ballots for these candidates this November—and in every election thereafter.