Sunday Scriptures

Have We Given to God What Belongs to God?

by Father William R. Dulaney

INTENDING TO entrap Jesus, the Pharisees’ disciples inquire of Him in today’s Gospel, “Teacher, it is lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” Knowing their malice, calling their attention to Caesar’s inscription on the coin that pays the temple tax, Jesus responded, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Replying as He did, Jesus confounded His enemies and taught all who would be His followers they had obligations to civil authorities and to God. How relevant Our Lord’s directive is for us as 21st-century Catholic Americans!

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us God’s fourth commandment enjoins us to honor all who, for our good, have received authority from God. The exercise of authority is measured morally in terms of its divine origin and is meant to encourage a sense of responsibility and the proper use of freedom by all. Good citizens vote, and through volunteer service and taxes, contribute to the common good of the political community.
While earthly leaders can require our money and request our services, it is to God alone we owe our lives and our souls.

The Church is not to be confused with the political community; it is the Church’s mission to render moral judgments whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it.

Obey God Rather Than Man
There may be times the directive of civil authorities or the values of the political community are contrary to the demands of the moral order, the fundamental rights of persons or the teaching of the Gospel. At such times, the Catechism states, we must obey God rather than man.

The Church is not to be confused with the political community; it is the Church’s mission to render moral judgments whenever the fundamental rights of man or the salvation of souls requires it.

In “Living the Gospel Life: A Challenge to American Catholics,” the U.S. Bishops assert that we are called to obey God, to witness to and promote Gospel values in our pluralistic society.

A democracy allows believers to have whatever moral convictions they please, but democracy is neither a substitute for morality nor a panacea for immorality.

Our bishops declare, “Only the tireless promotion of the truth about the human person can infuse democracy with the right values. This is what Jesus meant when he asked us to be a leaven in society. American Catholics have long sought to assimilate into U.S. cultural life. But, in assimilating, we have too often been digested. We have been changed by our culture too much, and we have not changed it enough. If we are leaven, we must bring to our culture the whole Gospel, which is a Gospel of life and joy. And there is no better place to start than promoting the beauty and sanctity of human life.”

Undaunted in their determination to foster respect for human life, the bishops issued “Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility.” In the section titled Human Life, emphasizing our duty to protect and defend it from conception until natural death, the bishops:

• urge Catholics and others to support constitutional protection for unborn life and legislative efforts to end abortion and euthanasia;
• encourage the passage of laws and programs that promote childbirth and adoption over abortion and assist pregnant women; and
• support aid to the sick and dying by encouraging health care coverage for all as well as effective palliative care.
Given the society, culture and political environment in which we live, witnessing to our belief in the sanctity of life as our bishops propose will not be easy, but it is possible and necessary.

In the second reading today, Paul commends the Thessalonians for their works of faith, their labor of love, and their endurance in hope in Jesus Christ as they live in a milieu hostile and indifferent to Gospel values. Their example encourages us to remain strong in our faith and hope in Christ and in our love for His Gospel.

Societies, cultures, rulers, presidents and governments come and go, but God remains. We should repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. What really matters is whether or not we have given to God what belongs to God, and whether we have obeyed God rather than man.[hr] Readings for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
    Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
    Psalm 96: 1, 3, 4-5, 7-8, 9-10
    1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b    
    Matthew 22: 15-21[hr] Father William R. Dulaney is a parochial vicar at St. Gregory the Great parish, Bellerose.