Deacon Michael's Homily for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time - October 18, 2020

Here's my homily for the 29th Sunday or Ordinary time reflecting on just what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God.

Today's Gospel provides the occasion for a bit of a civics lesson for us, useful for considering the realities the nation faces presently.

The Sunday readings for this Sunday can be found HERE

I welcome any questions, comments  and observations in the comments box below.  Peace.

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29th Sunday of Ordinary (October 17-18, 2020)

Ah...taxes.  

One of everyone’s favorite subjects, especially in even numbered years.

Who’s going to raise ‘em? 

Who’s going to cut ‘em? 

Who’s paying them and who isn’t?

The debate is a perennial and endless back-and-forth in politics, among office holders and seekers alike.

In today’s reading some of Jesus clever adversaries try to trap HIM into this too 

...right in the middle of a red hot political scene in his own day. 

But...Jesus doesn’t bite. 

He deftly changes the focus 

...to a deeper issue than just taxes and bill paying.

“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” 

He raises the question of just what belongs to who...in the first place.

Just what does belong to Caesar, and just what belongs to God? 

Who do we offer our lives to...first?

Who gets our first allegiance?

Whose voice gets the last word for us?

These are important questions, especially in these unsettled times. 

By God’s grace and our good fortune, our own Catholic tradition has done quite a lot of thinking about these matters.

The Catechism lays out the basics. 

...derived from centuries of both experience and thoughtful reflection.

For us, civil authorities, government leaders, our stand-ins for Caesar, are seen as stewards of God’s gifts.

As citizens, and Christians, our responsibility is to cooperate with their rightful and legitimate decisions and actions.

Citizens, it says, are “to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity and freedom.”

...this along with being responsible for the common good “make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote and to defend one’s country”.

...this responsibility assumes the right and duty to justly criticize Caesar for actions we believe “harmful to the dignity of persons and the good of the community.”

As Americans, this arrangement is very familiar to us

...where in matters pertaining to Caesar and the people, reciprocal rights and responsibilities condition so much

...and where at least in theory we honor truth, justice, solidarity and freedom

...though one could be forgiven for wondering a bit about that these days.

So what isn’t Caesar entitled to? 

It’s also a critical question.

There is a simple and short answer. 

Caesar is never entitled to our conscience, or any act on our part that violates it.  

Though I usually resist doing this I think it best to hear the words of the Church’s teaching tradition on this matter directly

...as it is laid out in the Catechism 

There it says:

“The citizen is obliged in conscience NOT to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community.” 

It continues by specifically pointing to the language in today’s Gospel:

"Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." 

...and also Peter’s words to the Sanhedrin when refusing to obey them and stop preaching the Gospel saying 

"We must obey God rather than men".

All pretty clear...and challenging.

In our public life today there are so many shrill, demanding and adamant voices

...all wrapped up with things of Caesar

...making calls on allegiance, loyalty or support

...the voices of parties, movements, ideologies, social class, sex, among others 

...even race seems to be making a certain ugly comeback. 

For us these voices can never have the first loyalty or the last word

...for us these first and last things are of God. 

As disciples of Christ we are called to inform our consciences on such calls for allegiance, loyalty and support based on what our tradition offers  

...as “the demands of the moral order”

...the “fundamental rights of persons”

...and the “teaching of the Gospel” which informs them. 

This is hard work. 

It requires us to see clearly what is going on around us, who is asking us to do what and why.

Once we reach a conclusion so informed, we are bound to act and behave consistent with it, no matter what.

With regard to specific circumstances, government actions or failures to act 

...that could call for working to reverse or change them

...or at the very least not to lend it any support to what is wrong

...and make it known just why.

By virtue of making known just why

...we would be performing an act of Christian witness.

This can require some courage, especially if it means leaning against the crowd. 

Just as there is in paying taxes there could be a price to pay for this

...but we should be at peace with it

...as we are, best we can, fulfilling an obligation to one far greater than Caesar

...or anyone else.