Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both - To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other.

“Politics and the courts are important. But our religious freedom ultimately depends on the vividness of our own Christian faith–in other words, how deeply we believe it, and how honestly we live it. Religious liberty is an empty shell if the spiritual core of a people is weak. Or to put it more bluntly, if people don’t believe in God, religious liberty isn’t a value. That’s the heart of the matter. It’s the reason Pope Benedict calls us to a Year of Faith this October. The worst enemies of religious freedom aren’t ‘out there’ among the legion of critics who hate Christ or the Gospel or the church, or all three. The worst enemies are in here, with us–all of us, clergy, religious, and lay–when we live our faith with tepidness, routine, and hypocrisy.” - Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

Gospel text: (MK 12:13-17)
Some Pharisees and Herodians were sent
to Jesus to ensnare him in his speech.
They came and said to him,
“Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man
and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion.
You do not regard a person’s status
but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?
Should we pay or should we not pay?”
Knowing their hypocrisy he said to them,
“Why are you testing me?
Bring me a denarius to look at.”
They brought one to him and he said to them,
“Whose image and inscription is this?”
They replied to him, “Caesar’s.”
So Jesus said to them,
“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar
and to God what belongs to God.”
They were utterly amazed at him.

Today, we're not intending in our prayerful reflection on today's Gospel to trap Jesus in his speech, but to learn from him the truth that will set us free. And as we ask him the same question about the allegiance we owe to the social order - to our society, our nation, our communities, our families - he turns to us and asks us something.

He doesn't request to see a dollar bill, but rather says to us, "Look in the mirror!"

Next he asks us: "Whose image is this?"

He wants us to recognize that we are made in the image and likeness of God. And then he wants to say to us, "Then give to God the things that are God's."

The best example, I think, comes from the example and last words of one of the great saints in the history of civilization, St Thomas More. After he refused to take a false oath affirming King Henry VIII as the supreme head of the Church in England and another affirming that Henry's marriage to his wife Catherine of Aragon was invalid and that any children from Anne Boleyn would be legitimate heirs to the English throne, he was thrown into the Tower of London where he was harassed and starved, but never relented.

Finally, he was sentenced to death. As he stood on the platform where he would be beheaded, he was asked whether he had any last words. His final statement, right before he had his head chopped off, was "I have always been the king's good servant, but God's first."

This principle of the separation of Church and state comes historically from the Christian reflection on Jesus' principle in today's Gospel of giving to Caesar and giving to God. It was enshrined in our Constitution to prevent any one religion from becoming a national religion and to prevent the national government from infringing on religious liberty; it was never intended as a means by which God could be entirely kicked out of public life.

But that's precisely what is currently happening today in our country. There is a strong push to eliminate "one nation under God" from the pledge of allegiance; to remove "in God we trust" from our currency; to prevent nativity scenes on public property at Christmas time; to purge prayers at graduations and sporting events; to remove any reference to the Ten Commandments anywhere and everywhere.

We're living in an era in which we need many more St. Thomas Mores, because it's time in which supposed conflicts between what we owe to God and what others claim we owe to society are growing.

Jesus is asking us to look in the mirror and see in whose image we are made. Then he is calling us to act in accordance with that dignity.

With St. Thomas More, we are called to say, "We are good American citizens, but citizens of heaven first!"

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