29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A

Published: October 19, 2014

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at the Men’s Cursillo Mass that was held at St. John Catholic Center in Little Rock on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014.

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Bishop Taylor

In today's Gospel, Jesus' adversaries are trying to get him in trouble but he refuses to take their bait. Many people opposed the Roman occupation of their country by refusing to pay the tax they had imposed to further exploit their defeated nation. They said only God had the right to rule Israel. Hence the trap: will Jesus assume an attitude of open rebellion against Rome by rejecting the tax and face those consequences, or will he downplay God's sovereignty over Israel by paying the tax and thus discredit himself in the eyes of his own people? His response is very instructive for us today.

Human government should be at the service of the common good, and while there is often a question of whether its policies serve instead the vested interests of the powers that be (as in the case of the Roman occupation), they do have legitimate authority, including the authority to impose taxes: "Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar."  On the other hand, God's authority is absolute and without limits, so when the demands of human rulers conflict with those of God, what God requires must prevail: "Give to God what belongs to God."

This has serious implications for you and me as we prepare for the upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 4. "Giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar" means that as citizens, we must participate in the process, even when that process is frustrating and it seems like there are no good choices. And I'm not going to make it any easier for you: neither political party has our endorsement. Both take positions that are contrary to our faith and damaging to the common good.

God's authority is absolute and without limits, so when the demands of human rulers conflict with those of God, what God requires must prevail.

But we should not assume an attitude of open rebellion by refusing to vote. To help us sort out what to do, the bishops of the United States issue — or re-issue —for every election cycle a faithful citizenship document to help us make a prudential judgment regarding how best to "Give to God what is God's" in the difficult and confusing choices before us. This is not just a matter of opposing evil; it also requires that we work actively to do good. The document can be downloaded from the Internet (or a two page summary), but the seven key themes of Catholic social teaching which we must weigh seriously as we consider how to vote are:

  1. The Right to Life and the Dignity of the Human Person — at every stage of life from the first moment of conception to natural death. Abortion is an intrinsic evil which must always be opposed; likewise euthanasia and the destruction of embryos for research.
  2. The Call to Family, Community and Participation — in particular regarding the sanctity of marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman open to the gift of new life.
  3. Rights and Responsibilities — including religious liberty whereby we are not forced to act contrary to our conscience (such as the HHS Contraceptive Mandate) and access to those things needed for human decency, including universal access to health care.
  4. The Option for the Poor and Vulnerable — with special concern for the weakest among us.
  5. The Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers — including the right to earn a living wage and the need for comprehensive immigration reform.  
  6. Solidarity — that we work for the common good, not just our own perceived self interest.  
  7. Care for God's Creation — to be good stewards of the environment now and for the future.

So there you have it. You and I have a lot to pray about between now and Nov. 4: a renewed politics that focuses on moral principles, the defense of life, the needs of the weak and the pursuit of the common good. And of course we must also consider each candidate's integrity, philosophy and performance. "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's" — do your civic duty and vote. But "Give to God what is God's" — in the choices you make in casting that ballot.