Dear SHC Family,
Diocesan letters to the parish are now being indexed.
Look for a new daily homily here each day. Older Homilies can be accessed at the sidebar for
What Belongs to God
The Pharisees and Herodians sought to trap Jesus and asked if one should pay tax to an occupying government like the Romans. Jesus sees their trap, eludes it, and turns the question back on the questioners. “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Mark 12:17).
The simple part is paying one’s taxes. Each citizen has a duty to contribute to the common good. We are called to respect civil authority, to pay taxes, and to “contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom” (CCC 2239). Citizens also have a moral obligation to exercise the right to vote and to defend one’s country.
When civil authorities act contrary to the teachings of the Gospel, we are not bound to follow them. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way.
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. “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mt 22:21). “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) (CCC 2242)
Let’s return to the Acts of the Apostles to put this teaching in perspective. Paul and John had been asked for help by a crippled man who was panhandling in Jerusalem at the Beautiful Gate. Peter said, “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk” (Acts 3:6).
The miracle attracted attention and Peter boldly proclaimed the Good News of the resurrection of Jesus while challenging those who had called for the freeing of Barabbas on Good Friday and the crucifixion of Jesus. The Sadducees, taking exception to the doctrine of resurrection, have Peter, John, and apparently the beggar as well, arrested (Acts 4:1–4) and brought to trial before the Sanhedrin (Footnote to Acts 3).
Peter and John were then ordered “not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Peter and John, however, said to them in reply, “Whether it is right in the sight of God for us to obey you rather than God, you be the judges” (Acts 4:18-19). The Sadducees wanted to be much harsher on Peter and John but they recognized that the crowd was against them. Everyone was praising God for what happened, so the Sadducees had to let them go and treat them gently.
The order not to speak in the name of Jesus runs counter to the Gospel and the commission the apostles had received directly from Jesus. Peter and John also felt the presence of the Spirit and knew they must continue to preach in the name of Jesus despite any consequences. They brought their concern to prayer: “Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness … As they prayed, the place where they were gathered shook, and they were all filled with the holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:29,31).
The miracles continued. “A large number of people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were all cured” (5:16). The Sadducees were filled with jealousy, Peter was rearrested and thrown in jail. During the night, the angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison and turned them back into the streets to preach the Good News.
The next morning, “the captain and the court officers went and brought them in, but without force, because they were afraid of being stoned by the people” (Acts 5:26). Back before the full Sanhedrin, the high priest used his authority to challenge Peter and the Apostles. “We gave you strict orders, did we not, to stop teaching in that name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the Apostles said in reply, “We must obey God rather than men” (5:28-29).
Since last Monday, we have seen a nation enraged at injustice and demanding change. It is the right of citizens to demand justice. Non-violent civil disobedience is a powerful weapon for change. Violence is counterproductive, it only begets more violence. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”
I invite you to pray for peace, the peace that is possible through Jesus Christ. Pope Paul VI said it quite succinctly when in his own era he called the world to pray for peace: “Peace resounds as an invitation to practice Justice: “Justice will bring about Peace” (Cf: Is 32:17). We repeat this today in a more incisive and dynamic formula: “If you want Peace, work for Justice.”[i]