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Pastor's Letter 20201018 - 18 October 2020 - The God of History

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October 18th, 2020

29th Sunday, Ordinary Time

Today’s Theme: 

“The God of History”


A Message from Father Michael


Scripture Note

Our First Reading highlights the return of the Hebrew people from exile in Babylon—made possible by King Cyrus (Isaiah 45:4-6.)  In it we see God’s love for His people, Israel and of His lordship over all peoples. 

The consummate shepherd, Paul shows his concern for the Christians at Thessalonica, in our Second Reading (1 Thessalonians 1:1-5.) 

Today’s Gospel selection highlights one of the questions put to Jesus in order to see if He would declare Himself on the side of those opposed to paying taxes to the Romans, or, if He would side with those who collaborated with them (Matthew 22:15-21.)  If He said, “Yes,” He would lose the esteem of the people and would be regarded as a traitor to the Jewish cause and religion.  If He said, “No,” He could be denounced as fomenting rebellion against Rome.  In His answer, Jesus recognizes that the State has its role, but with limited power, which does not supplant God.

Dual Citizenship

The question as to whether or not it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar was serious, and it really put Jesus “in a spot.”  He didn’t want to be seen as a traitor to the Jewish cause, but neither did He want to be cast as a rebel toward Rome.  The answer, with which we are all familiar gave us a Biblical reference for the separation of Church and state.  (This is not lost on people in our modern day, and it has been taken to extremes by those factions who protest any reference to or mention of God in public affairs.)  He wanted to emphasize, rather, that people can accommodate loyalty to the state in their lives, without an alienation to God. 

Everyone has “dual citizenship—” one, in the heavenly realm, and another, in the natural world.  Each of us is a citizen of a country in which they happen to be living, or in which they were born.  Each of us owes allegiance to the state in matters of law and order, and public services, i.e. transportation, water, light, sewage, etc.—domains that are impossible for individuals to manage by themselves.  In other arenas, such as the case for citizens of the USA, they also benefit from public education, Social Security, Medicare, unemployment benefits, and so forth. 

The State also has “rights,” inasmuch as it represents the welfare of each person, it also must be responsible in assuring citizens’ play their part in making the country a good place for everyone.  In response to those collective rights, everyone is required to be “good.”  Failure to be a good citizen is also a failure in one’s Christian duty.  Cheating the state is tantamount to cheating one’s fellow citizens, and in turn, our responsibility to God. 

But human beings are also called to be citizens in the Kingdom of Heaven, to which they also owe allegiance—and which usually does not clash with that owed to the secular state.  When obligations are opposed, however, we face the complex choice of to which authority we will be subject. 

By recognizing the authority of the State, Jesus gave us only a principle, not a detailed political theory or a blueprint for Church-state relations.  It has been left to human beings to work out those implications, which, in practice, has proven to be quite difficult.  It’s not always clear what is intended “for Caesar” and what is “for God.”  Christ also made the assumption that Caesar’s claim would be just—but He didn’t give him a “blank check.” 

In the ‘70s motion picture, “Fiddler on the Roof,” the main character, Tevye, was charged with the tenuous position of “keeping his balance.”  His 19th century Russian Jewish community came under persecution from the government of the time, enacting laws that contradicted their pious way of life.  Similarly, for us, when Christians encounter laws that are “un-Christian,” they must decide how they can maintain a balance between their citizenship in the Kingdom while simultaneously being good citizens here and  now. 

Ultimately, our deepest and first loyalty is to God.  To God alone do we render worship, but in other realms of existence we gladly acknowledge and serve the secular powers.  We should always be vigilant, and prayerful for that those to whom we have entrusted with representation of our interests do so with wisdom and justice.      

The Christian and Politics

Modern politics is an arena fraught with controversy and misunderstanding.  In this day of social media and hotly-conflicting views, political figures are subjected to hostile caricatures and ridicule.  In spite of whatever “good intentions” they may have professed during their candidacy, and no matter how positively they may subsequently perform in their elected office, the populace nonetheless maligns and perverts them at virtually every turn.  One wonders how anyone would willingly put themselves forward for such abuse! 

Historically, Christians have tended to “opt out” of the affairs of the world, leaving them to others the dangerous, daring and responsible roles as politics, law-making, enforcement and business.  In doing this, however, they are relegating these positions to others who may not be motivated by Christian values and principles.

In our modern world, however, people of all beliefs have thrust themselves “into the fray” of the public spotlight of politics.  Seeing these roles as an opportunity to serve the public weal, however, they find their political positions as well as their religious ideals are on display and not beyond reproach.   It’s a stalwart individual, indeed, who is strong enough in character and physique to withstand the barrage of such criticism and public abuse. 

We can find, nonetheless, several wonderful examples of individuals of conviction who braved the public life and serve as beacons of Godliness. 

1.      Dag Hammarskjold was Secretary-general of the UN.  When he died in a plane crash in central Africa in 1961 at the age of 56, the world lost a servant of peace.  He was that rare person for whom public service is not simply a career or a means of achieving power, but a religious vocation, a way of being faithful to God.  He drew inspiration from the Old Testament prophets, saying, “Indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, and in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”  He also said: “No life is more satisfactory than that of selfless service to your country or humanity.”

2.      Nelson Mandela is yet another example.  Mandela tells how when he began to get interested in politics a friend tried to warn him away, saying “Politics brings out the worst in people.  It is the source of trouble and corruption, and should be avoided at all costs.”  Fortunately for South Africa and for the world, Mandela ignored his advice.

3.      Mahatma Gandhi is another example of a deeply religious man who involved himself in politics.  He said, “I am in politics because I cannot separate life from belief.  Because I believe in God, I have to enter politics.  Politics is my service of God.”     

It’s a great pity that politics is so lowly regarded.  Politics plays a vital role in creating the kind of society in which we live.  What greater vocation is there than to assume responsibility or national and international affairs—to work for peace and justice in the world, for the betterment of human life for all. 

But politics remains a challenging profession and temptations for abuse of one’s position are great.  To promote one’s personal welfare over that of society means it’s not easy for anyone, let alone people of faith, to be involved.  It requires that a person be a servant of God, and of “Caesar.” 

Because the lines of division between the two are not clearly marked, are sometimes blurred and often overlap, the challenge for a righteous politician is formidable.  In practice, it may not be possible, at times, to define, let alone draw, a clear line between the civil and religious sphere.   For a believer, in a sense, everything is given to God, even that which is given to Caesar.  But if it is a question of having to choose one against the other, the Christian has only one choice.  Nonetheless, history demonstrates that a separation of Church and State is absolutely essential.  Those instances where the “Church-State” amalgam held sway were incredibly deleterious to long-term benefit to society. 

Anyone who ventures into the political realm undertakes the herculean task to work for a kind of “balance” that only the “fiddler” was able to repeatedly maintain.

May God Richly Bless You!

A person “should not submit his personal freedom in an absolute manner to any earthly power,

but only to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Caesar is not the Lord."  CCC 1994

To listen to a live stream of the Liturgy of the Word for this Sunday, click here:  https://youtu.be/mBVxH765C50

Festive Praise.docx

Festive Praise.mp3

Edited by Father Michael
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