Return of the Prodigal Son by Pompeo Batoni - 1773

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Render Unto God

Render Unto God

          In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus is approached by some disciples of the Pharisees and some Herodians with a question with which they hope to trap Him: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax?”  Jesus responds by asking whose image appears on the coin.  The answer is Caesar’s.  Jesus then tells them to, “Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and unto God that which belongs to God.”
          I find it extremely significant that before Jesus answers the question He asks whose image is on the coin.  Since Caesar’s image is on the coin, it (the taxes) belongs to Caesar.  However, we must render unto God that which is His.  On what does God’s Image appear?  Genesis tells us that God created man in His Image.  Us.  We contain the Image of God.  Therefore, if we are to render unto God that which belongs to God, we must give Him ourselves.
          How do we do that, particularly in the context of our civic responsibilities and as citizens of a country?  The holy archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, has written a wonderful book on this subject, Render Unto Caesar, which I highly recommend.  A few of my thoughts follow below.
          As Catholics we know that patriotism, the love of one’s country, is a virtue.  And since the time of Pope St. Pius X, 100 years ago, we have been encouraged to participate in political life, particularly to bring our Faith to bear in the life of our countries.  Love of country must always be subordinated to love of God.  Devotion to country can never approach our devotion to God.  To truly put country first, to support everything our country does regardless of good or evil, and to see ourselves as Americans before anything else, is nationalism, and is a sin.
          Our love of country always has to be ordered to love of God.  This is a good way to measure all of our political activity.  This weekend I joined a public rosary for our country, specifically remembering Our Lady’s words at Fatima that we will have peace if we return to God.  If we do not, there is no hope for real or lasting peace.  On the way, I passed about 150 people “occupying” Irvine.
          It is not my purpose at all to judge the motives of those who have been participating in the “occupations.”  Certainly there are grievances we can all have.  There is such a thing as corporate greed and corruption, and we should oppose it.  The federal government is guilty of artificially inflating the housing market, deflating the dollar, and manipulating interest rates in ways that do not correspond to the economy, but support an unsupportable debt level.  They need to be held to account.
          Certainly there are people protesting that are intending to do what is right, or at least what they sincerely believe is right.  On the other hand, can defecating on police cars be a form of prayer?  Never.  Can the vitriol that is being spewed at people who have become successful, mostly through enterprise and hard work, give honor and glory to God?  Of course not.
          But this is not about the occupiers.  They have to discern for themselves, individually, whether their participation is ordered to the love of country for the sake of the love of God.
          What about us?  This is election season.  As Catholics we have a responsibility to be engaged and participate.  Some will participate more than others and that’s as it should be.  But as we do, we must offer all that we do as a prayer to God.  We pay our taxes, follow just laws, and render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar.  But as we bring our Faith to the public square, we must do it in a spirit of Christian love and justice, and prayer, and render unto God that which belongs to God.