29th S. 2020: To Caesar and To God

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary time, October 18, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

St. Basil the great said, “It is right to submit to higher authority whenever a command of God would not be violated.” I often hear that the Church should stay out of politics…but as we begin today I want to remind you that “the Church” is not a building, but a people, and we are those people: 1. Christian 2. Citizens–both–one and the same, advancing God’s kingdom, ensuring that “His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s no wonder St. Thomas would say, “Human government is derived from the divine government and should imitate it.”

As ballots pour in, as signs go up, and parades roll out, our Church invites us to consider Jesus’ approach to politics. Jesus tells the Pharisees and the Herodians, “Render to Caesar what is Caesars and to God what it Gods.” With respect, many Christians and non-Christians alike, might wrongfully conclude that what Jesus is arguing for here is a separation of Church and State. Of course, there was no such thing in Jesus’ day, and it would not exist for centuries.

The invocation of the separation of Church and state has as its goal the removal of God from politics entirely. The removal of God from public life entirely. The removal of God from our schools, our public squares, and our places of business. There are those who would like to see God and religion reduced to the shadows. But what then is left? Only practical atheism in our schools, in the marketplace of ideas, and in our businesses. God is truth. God is love. God is justice. God is mercy!

How convenient–a country with no room for God! A country with no truth, no love, no justice, and no mercy! Where only those who have no religious conviction are allowed to share their opinion. Where only those whose view has no God as it’s source can speak. Where lawmakers have to somehow check their religious views and values at the door. Where leaders are supposed to make decisions that are not informed by virtue, and holiness, goodness, and eternal truths. This is madness, and it’s wrong.

This IS NOT a country that I want to live in. It is NOT the country that I fought for, and it is not the country that our forefathers founded. Our country declared its independence with the words, “that all men are created equal, that are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” We declared independence because the rights that God gives his children were being trampled upon! That’s God and politics right there! 

The First Commandment is to love the Lord your God. The First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution is that, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” There are two clauses there – congress will not establish a religion, and congress will protect our right to freely exercise our religion…as a citizen! We are not expected to check your faith at the door in this country. Our founders didn’t and didn’t expect us to either! 

This is what Jesus means when he says to render to both caesar and God. We, body and soul, live out our Christian life in this world. All authority, in heaven and on earth comes from God. And to the degree that earthly government is aligned with that of heaven, as St. Basil says, we must be obedient, because our obedience is to the good, wherever it is found. 

Jesus said pay the tax, for crying out loud! The coin, the denarius, paid the census tax. It was a day’s wage for every man, woman, and slave age 12-65. That tax paid for the privilege of enjoying the benefits and security of living in one of the greatest empires the world had ever known. A small price to be sure. Hey, pay the tax already! 

And make sure that the government who spends that tax spends it in a way that honors and glorifies God – with a concern for the rights and dignity of the human person from conception to natural death. That recognizes the needs of families and their right to participate in community life. For an awareness that people have basic rights and that governments have a responsibility to respect them. That in policies, we must be mindful of the poorest among us, the dignity of work, and the rights of workers. We need government that believes in one human family and seeks unity among people on the streets, in the nation, and among nations, and that embraces the truth that we are stewards of God’s creation and have a responsibility to protect it, sustain it, and ensure clear air, clean water, and a healthy climate for future generations. 

I want to cringe every time I hear, “Well, I wouldn’t do that, but I can’t impose my view on others.” or “I think that’s wrong, but I don’t think it’s right to tell other people what to do.” Yes we can impose our view! We can tell other people they’re wrong! And should! Every law that has ever been passed is because something was wrong and people don’t want other people to do it! Traffic laws, criminal law, social law–all of it is passed because someone thought it was wrong and that no one should do it. “I mean, I wouldn’t drink and drive, but I can’t say that others shouldn’t do it.” “I wouldn’t kill someone, but who am I to impose my religious view on others.” We can. We should. We must. Make no mistake, someone’s views and values will be imposed. Laws will be passed. Either by God’s people or by those who claim no God.

The role of the Church is not to tell us what to do, it’s to remind us of who we are. What we believe. And that we must courageously act on that belief in every part of our life – to Caesar and to God.

28th S. 2020: Where’s Your Garment?

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary time, October 11, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

Last week I encouraged each of us to appreciate and even love both this country and this church, and today the Gospel calls us to consider the quality of that love for God. Each of us has indeed been loved by God and has been invited to the great banquet of the Lamb, but showing up to the feast is not enough, God wants us properly dressed.

There is quite a confusing end to the parable that Jesus tells us today. Jesus compares the Kingdom of God to a King who throws an amazing feast! You can just imagine the expense, right? Food for days, goblets, and candles, wine, paintings, chandeliers, and every sort earthly delight. Few people in Jesus’ day, and even in on our own, will ever witness such beauty, decadence and pageantry. Probably as close as any of us will get is to watch a royal wedding on t.v.–something like when I was a boy watching the beautiful Princess Diana and Prince Charles on their wedding day at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Called “the wedding of the century” the glamorous ceremony was attended by 3,500 guests and watched on television by 750 million people. 

In today’s Gospel, although the king had made all the preparations, his invited guests refused the invitation outright, others went to work, and others laid hold of the messengers and killed them. Jesus’ audience would have known immediately who Jesus was referring to. How uncomfortable to be among the chief priests and the elders of the people as Jesus told the story, knowing that he was accusing them of refusing God’s invitation of life and love, of celebration and the joy that God promises to all who enter his Kingdom. Worse still that not only did they refuse the invitation, they even killed the messengers–the prophets of God that told the people of God’s generosity and inclusivity, but warned them also of God’s demands.

And because God’s people refused the invitation, the great King said, “My banquet hall will be filled!” The King opens wide the doors to the hall, “Go out into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find,” the King commands. The servants went out and gathered all they found, the bad and the good alike…and the hall was filled. 

Those roughians, those on the streets, “the bad and the good alike,” well that, of course, is us. We who are not Jews and the natural heirs to the wedding feast of the Lamb, but we are among those who have been invited anyway. We are the gentiles, the unclean who have been invited by Jesus, but who by the blood of the lamb and through the waters of baptism, have been made clean, been made pure…white as wool. 

I think sometimes we forget that we had no claim on God and God’s kingdom, had no ticket to the wedding feast at all, but because of God’s generosity and inclusivity, we enjoy the Kingdom even now on earth, and in its fullness when we pass on. I think sometimes we are quick to celebrate God’s love for us, God’s generosity toward us, but like spoiled children, are slow to rise to the demands that his relationship has on us. And for the spiritually lazy, for those who remain luke-warm, for those who have a sense of entitlement among us, today’s Gospel has a clear warning–you can be thrown out, just as quickly as you were invited in. 

The king sees a man not dressed in the king’s wedding garment, and was without excuse. Standing before the king, enjoying choice food and choice wine, he hadn’t even made the smallest preparations to attend the feast, and upon arrival, he did not dress the part. Many of us might find the King’s actions harsh. The king is the one, after all, that opened the doors and invited those along the roadways, in the fields, the good and the bad alike, right? That’s true, he did. But the King did NOT say, show up just as you are, make no preparations, do your own thing, I expect nothing in return. The man was selfish, enjoyed the king’s generosity, and gave nothing in return–not even so much as to wear the king’s garment. The man was bound hand and foot and thrown out into darkness. “Many are invited, few are chosen,” Jesus says.

What exactly was this wedding garment that the man refused to put on once invited to the king’s banquet? We find a clue in the Book of Revelation. There, the Church is referred to as the Bride of Christ, and the unity of Jesus and the Church for eternity, the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. In Revelation 19, after the great battle between Jesus and the beast of the Apocalypse, when Babylon falls, and God’s reign is fully realized, the wedding begins. In verse seven, “For the wedding day of the Lamb has come, his bride has made herself ready. She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment. (The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones.)” The man was thrown out because he was invited, but did not clothe himself properly.

And there’s the warning for us. We have been invited to the most glorious Wedding the universe has ever known. No expense was spared. God’s own son is wed to his bride, the Church, and everyone of the guests must put on the wedding garment or be thrown out. And the garment is our righteous deeds, our actions, the quality with which we live our life toward others. Our “righteous deeds” manifest themselves in acts of mercy, kindness, generosity, and service. Our “garment” is speaking well of others, refusing to gossip, sticking up for the unpopular at school, being respectful of our parents and authority and caring for others. This is our garment. If we were to stand before the king today, will he find us wearing ours or will we be reduced to silence and thrown out?

27th S. 2020: Gratitude

Today’s reflection is for the Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary time, October 4, 2020, and the readings can be found by clicking here. The video of the homily can be viewed by clicking here.

We live in a pretty amazing country. In this country, men and women can buy property—they own it, they plant it, and they profit from what it yields. My grandfather, like many immigrants, moved here with very little. Slowly, and not without sacrifice, he purchased cows, hay, tractors, and land. He actually leased the land that his dairy was on, but he eventually bought forty acres on Linwood and another forty on Bradbury. It was the land he loved the most. He had his garden, grew his cucumbers, and as we sat and ate he marveled at what an amazing country this was. He looked out over his property and said, in his thick Portuguese accent, “Ah! Nothing betta! No country betta than this.” I share my Avo’s love for this land.

In today’s parable Jesus talks about people who did not own the land, but leased it, like my Avo. But unlike my Avo, these tenants were greedy. They wanted to use the land, benefit from its fruit, but not pay what was their due. They worked the land, and that was good. They grew the crops, and that was good. They harvested the land, and that too was good. But when it came time to pay their taxes they failed miserably.

Instead of loving the land and being thankful for the blessings that they received from it, instead of being grateful for the generous landowner that invested so much in it for their use—planting the vines, building a hedge around it, digging in a wine press, and building a tower—instead of being grateful and humbly and joyfully giving back, they became sick with greed, killing the man’s servant, killing even more after that, and finally killing even the man’s own son, with delusions the land might be theirs—which of course, as anyone could easily tell, was nonsense. Far from the land being theirs, the crowd answered correctly, “The wretched men would be put to a wretched death, and the vineyard would go to other tenants who would render the payment at the proper time.”

Greed, my brothers and sisters, selfishness and greed. It causes our minds to become twisted. Nothing is ever enough! Many in our country, in our churches and in our families are sick with it. There’s no such thing as enough! Jesus commands us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, to visit the ill and imprisoned, but in a world sick with greed we have no time for others. Time is money, we say! We do not take the time to spend with others and we don’t spend money to come to the aid of others. We cannot be Christians if we are sick with greed. We cannot be Christians if we care more about wealth and riches than meeting the basic needs of others. 

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental provider of education and medical services in the world. The Church runs 5,500 hospitals, 18,000 clinics, 16,000 homes for the elderly and those with special needs, with 65 percent of them located in underdeveloped and developing countries. We should be proud to be Catholic, we should be excited about supporting the Church and all of whom they serve. Gratitude is the antidote to selfishness and greed. The world wants to convince you and me that our cup is only half full, my brothers and sisters, far from being half full, our cup runneth over! 

Living in this country, belonging to this Church, being blessed with schools and hospitals, with homeless shelters, with policeman and fireman, and the strongest military the world has ever known so that we might have security and peace and the right to live our faith, love our faith, and practice our faith–that’s something to be grateful for, and should cause us to not only give back, but especially to give God and country their fruit at the proper time. 

I served in the Marines as a way to give back to this country that my grandfather taught me to love. I pay my taxes because roads and security, national parks, and clear water isn’t cheap. I volunteer in the community. I pick up trash when I see it, and I recycle as much as I can. It’s an attitude that we have. It causes us to treat this land and it’s people with dignity and respect, and to ask others to do the same. People of faith must register to vote, participate in the elections, and elect leaders that love God and this country as much as we do, and who are willing to serve it. That’s giving fruit at the proper time. 

Our parishes are beautiful, they’re God’s gift to our communities, but they need to be worked! Seeds of faith need to be planted, bills paid, grass mowed, calls made, and Masses livestreamed. Your parish needs volunteers with hands and feet ready to work, but also funds that keep salaries paid and lights turned on, candles bought, and wells dug. Volunteering and offering our hard earned treasure—that’s giving fruit at the proper time.

Fr. Manuel had nothing to do with this homily, I promise, it’s from the heart. I love my parish, and I love my country. There’s room for improvement on both and it’s the responsibility of those who enter the vineyard to do the hard work and give the fruit at the proper time.

I’d like you to reflect this week on this country and its leaders. I want to encourage you to register and vote. I’d also like you to consider how much you’ve been blessed by your parish, and I want to encourage you to offer your time, talent, and treasure. Let none among us be among the wretched who are perverted by selfishness and greed, but instead be among the righteous who selflessly serve God and country with a grateful heart. Amen?