Sunday, October 18, 2020

'Hands off, Caesar!' (Sunday homily)

 There are a number of passages of Sacred Scripture 

that get distorted in their meaning; today’s Gospel is one of them. 

Specifically, when our Lord says, 

“repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, 

and to God what belongs to God.”

This passage got brought up when the Obama Administration 

sought to force employers – including religious employers – 

to provide contraception and abortion-causing drugs 

as part of insurance.

As you know, the Catholic Church and many others fought this;

the Little Sisters of the Poor were on the front lines of this battle. 

I regret to point out that one of the candidates for President 

says he will revive that battle if he is elected.

All during this, we’ve heard people say, 

“Render unto Caesar.” As if Christ is supposedly saying,

what government wants, government gets.

Let’s just get this clear right now. That’s wrong!

That is not what Jesus is saying in this Gospel.

First, notice the discussion was specifically about a tax—

And about a coin.

They show him the coin, and he asks, “whose image is this?” 

That word is the key: because the coin bears Caesar’s image, 

then it belongs to him. Let him have what bears his image.

Got that?

Then listen what Jesus says next: 

“And what belongs to God, give to God.”

The coin bears Caesar’s image; 

But tell me: what bears God’s image, God’s inscription?

Well, that would be all of Creation! 

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” Psalm 19 says; 

creation bears witness to God, Paul wrote to the Romans. 

Above all, the image of God is the human race. 

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” 

is what God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit said 

before they created humanity: 

“male and female he created them.”

So when our government says it’s OK to destroy unborn children? 

And to torture people as part of war? 

Or to humiliate the poor, because they are poor? 

Or to push aside the sick and elderly?

These are God’s treasure! They bear his image! Hands off, Caesar!

Do you know where this applies most clearly? Marriage.

Recall again what Genesis said: 

“in the image of God…male and female, he created them.”

When we say we are made in the divine image, what does that mean? 

God is the Creator above all. 

While God created everything out of nothing, what do we do?

If you are an engineer or architect or in construction, 

you can build whole cities, 

but you have to labor with wood and stone and steel – 

you can’t make it out of nothing. 

If you are a writer or poet or painter, 

you can create people and worlds and histories—

but they only exist on canvas, or the printed page, 

or the silver screen. 

You can’t breathe them into life.

But there is a moment—just one!—

when man in breathtaking audacity soars to the skies 

and comes whisper-close to being just like God,

and in a moment of unrestrained love, generous and sacrificial,

actually does it! Actually creates something from nothing!

And not just any something, but the greatest of somethings—

another divine image, a human being that will live forever!

It’s when a man and woman come together in the marital embrace.

Marriage – requiring a man and a woman;

I repeat, requiring a man and a woman – 

is when humanity is most fully the image of God!

Hands off, Caesar!

When Jesus said these words, 

no one asked him, or anyone else, 

what the laws should be, or who should govern. 

But in our time, you and I make those decisions,

And we have an election in just a couple of weeks.

You and I decide who will be Caesar, 

and what he will be able to do. 


Remember that you and I are God’s “coin”; 

We were inscribed with his Name when we were baptized 

in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, of the Holy Spirit!

As the coins in our pockets get soiled and disfigured, so do we.

Good news! 

There is nothing God loves more than to restore his image, in you,

to make it beautiful, to make it shine!

That’s what he does in confession, in calling us back to him.

In the Gospel, they were all concerned about that coin, 

bearing Caesar’s image. 

But notice, Jesus couldn’t care less about the coin.

What matters supremely to him is you.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Catholic, not Marxist, or Racist, Social Justice (Sunday homily)

 Last week in my homily, for “Respect Life Sunday,” 

I touched on the duty we have to advocate justice for the unborn, 

for the elderly and others who lives are at risk in our country. 

This is the pre-eminent moral issue of our time, our bishops have said.

Having said that – and keeping that always in mind – 

there are other things deserving our attention with an election near.

One of the things that is so striking in the first reading 

is the abundance. There is more than enough for everyone, 

and what God provides is first-class. 

This calls to mind what our faith teaches us about “social justice.” 

I know that term sets some people’s teeth on edge, 

but the idea was Catholic long before 

some political types tried to make it their own. 

It is a Biblical idea: yes, you and I are indeed our brother’s keeper.

This past summer, what did you and I witness? 

In some places, people protesting – I mean, actual, peaceful protests – 

for the cause of justice, including racial justice. 

That is something we can all respect and applaud. 

But then we also saw people choosing destruction 

and trying to hijack calls for justice in pursuit of violent revolution.  

For example, some of these hijackers 

have a false notion of “racial justice.” 

The late Dr. Martin Luther King said it so beautifully: 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day 

live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, 

but by the content of their character.” 

But many people today are saying we’ll never get there, 

and they want to keep sorting people by race and other categories. 

So you have some colleges that are actually agreeing 

to segregate campus activities by race. 

Others react with so-called “white nationalism.” 

As Catholics, you and I must speak up for the principle of solidarity:  

that we are all one human family, created in God’s image.

The Catholic Church in this country has advocated for measures 

to ensure working people are treated fairly 

and can find their own voice, acting collectively if that is their wish. 

We Catholics have pushed for a “safety net” to make sure 

everyone has the most basic things. This is why, back in the 1880s, 

Father Michael McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus. 

This safety net has included government measures, 

but that isn’t what social justice is only or even mainly about. 

First and last, it is about our own hearts, 

whether you and I are open to others, 

despite all the attempts to divide us from each other. 

Our human family has God as our generous father, 

who demands we imitate that generosity.

That calls to mind another principle of Catholic social teaching, 

which is that the good things of this earth, which God created, 

were given for the benefit of all people, not just some.

Maybe you’re thinking, OK, fine; how does all this connect 

to the election? 

Well, I’m asking you to keep these things in mind.

Being a Catholic citizen includes being a voice for equity and solidarity.

Be light, not darkness; choose hope, not cynicism.

What’s not acceptable for a Catholic 

is to think only in terms of self-interest – 

what’s good for me and mine – and to forget about the common good.

There is a lot of “us and them” talk these days, 

and some really want to stoke hostilities: 

rural against urban, race against race. 

Don’t get sucked into this; push back against it. 

Meanwhile we have this hapless figure in the Gospel. 

He had been invited to this great party by the King, 

but he couldn’t be bothered to make even a little effort. 

God gives us so much. 

What will God say to us if we don’t make the effort 

to help make our society better,

by speaking up for what is right, 

by getting involved in positive ways? 

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Respect Life Sunday homily

 The first Sunday in October is always “Respect Life Sunday.” 

Given so many negative trends in our society, the need is obvious.

Meanwhile, we have a big election in a month, so that makes this even more timely.

And, meanwhile, every year I give you a report on parish finances. 

I know that’s a boring subject, and some would rather I not bring it up, 

but you work hard for the money you contribute to the parish,

and I want you to know it’s being used with care.  

Let me start with the financial stuff and move on from that. 

Last week we inserted a summary of the past fiscal year, 

with some history from prior years, 

and as usual, we included a proposed budget. 

I’m not going to go over it in detail now, but after the 5 pm Mass Saturday 

and after the 11 am Mass Sunday, 

I will stay and answer any questions anyone has – 

and that goes beyond the financial report. 

But let me give a brief overview.

We planned for a tight budget and all was going well – till March!

Then, of course, the virus hit, and everything went sideways.

But something amazing happened: despite the shutdown through May, 

you continued to be generous; weekly collections only dipped a little.

So we were all pretty nervous back in April, but God was good; 

you were faithful, and we came through.

We applied for and received a so-called loan from the government; 

I say “so-called” because if we fulfill the conditions, 

we keep the money; and I am entirely confident that will happen.

Now, for the current fiscal year: 

your weekly giving continues to sustain the parish. 

Losing our annual festival was a big blow.

But again: God is good, our parishioners are wonderful, 

and a number of those who sponsored the Queen of Hearts event 

chose not to take their money back even after we had to cancel it. 

All that means less of a deficit than we feared. 

We never want to plan for a deficit, but the thing is, 

most of our expenses are pretty fixed.

The help from the government was contingent on not laying people off, 

and if we’d not accepted that help, we’d have a much bigger hole.

With so many people being out of work or facing reduced hours, 

I am reluctant to stand here and ask anyone to dig deeper.

If we stay steady, we’ll be fine. That’s why we have reserves.

Now let’s talk about what we try to focus on this Sunday every year: this is “Respect Life Sunday.”

When this comes up, especially in election years, 

there’s no avoiding the fact that this is, in part, a political question.

I say that because there are always folks 

who don’t think anything political should ever be brought up in a homily. 

Talking about respecting life rings hollow 

if it never results in any change in society and in laws. 

It’s not only about changing laws, and – in an election year, 

about voting – but it certainly includes these things. 

And for those who say a priest isn’t supposed to talk about politics, 

let me explain something. 

I can pretty much talk about anything that crosses paths 

with the teachings of our Faith, and that is pretty much everything. 

The only thing the Archbishop wants me to avoid 

is endorsing or opposing candidates, which I’m certainly not going to do.

When we talk about respecting life, obviously that has wide application;

It’s entirely fair to say that it’s more than about legal abortion, 

or euthanasia, which is helping people kill themselves,

or the death penalty. 

So it is true that issues of poverty and bigotry and war

and how our country interacts with other countries are all connected. 

In the same vein, it is likewise true that other issues on people’s minds, 

like questions about the environment, or taxes and spending, 

Family life, protecting the true nature of marriage,

law and order, respect for democratic norms, and more,

are also moral questions and they are important.

That said: our bishops have said some issues matter more,

And common sense says that as well.

Obviously with a lot of issues, one side isn’t clearly morally wrong, 

and when we debate things like climate change, 

people can legitimately take different approaches 

on how serious you think that is – compared to other things – 

and also on how you tackle the problem.

But certain issues aren’t like that. 

There is no moral justification for legal abortion. None at all. 

Same for euthanasia. 

There is no justification for redefining marriage, 

because that is ultimately an attack on the family as God designed it.

So it is not possible to be Catholic and support legal abortion,

any more than it was possible, 50 years ago, 

for a Catholic to defend race segregation. 

And it’s the same for redefining marriage.

Let me say a word about the death penalty.

The Church argues that we would be better off 

if we got rid of capital punishment; 

but Church teaching does not put it on the same level as abortion, 

because we have always recognized there are situations 

that can justify executing a guilty criminal, 

but nothing can ever justify killing executing an unborn child. 

In the first reading, God reminds his people: 

you are my vineyard, I formed you with great love and care – 

but I want justice, not bloodshed, God warns them.

God expects the same of us. 

Each of us has a solemn duty to work for justice, 

especially protecting the right to life 

of the unborn, the aged and the vulnerable.

There are lots of ways we can do that, 

but it certainly must include 

how we exercise our precious right to vote.