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Giving to God What Belongs to Him

Paul V. Redmond
 Professor Emeritus, Mount St. Mary's University

(10/19/2008)  The day after his religious, triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, Jesus heads to the temple. It was to be a day of teaching and conflict. The young Messiah taught in parables about the Kingdom of God. With sightless eyes of faith the chief priests and Pharisees realized that Jesus was speaking of their failure to be faithful tenants in the vineyard of the Lord and their failure in turning their lives around to accept and live out the Lord Adonai's call to them through Jesus, his Son. Tension mounted as Jesus stood in the temple like an unbeatable, stalwart champion and turned each hostile question back on his enemies. Flattering words introduced the first question: "Rabbi, you do not give a hang for anyone's opinion. As a man of truth, tell us: "Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar?" Jesus cuts through the hypocrisy of their flattering words and deftly responds: "Repay to Cesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." In his response Jesus nimbly sidesteps the false dilemma and underlines his own teaching. "What belongs to God" is one's whole self."

Friends, as servants of God you and I are challenged to make to him a ceaseless tribute of all that we are, all that we say, do, or choose. He gives us the grace to meet this challenge. Such ongoing responsibility to give ourselves to him as we accept his love for us is with us at every conscious moment of our lives. In this present year truth seems to have become seriously wounded. Nonetheless, you and I have to prepare thoughtfully and prayerfully before we exercise our vote. We need to be as informed and concerned about the issues as best we can.

The Internet can help us. Several of you have access to computers at home. Others make use of computers in the local libraries. You will find many sources on the Internet-but some of these sources seem somewhat suspicious when they sound overly pious.

One solid Internet source for Catholics is the United States Bishops' - This text explains the teachings of the Church to help Catholics form their consciences on life issues as well as the teachings of the church on issues of justice and poverty.

The bishops write: "(Our decisions) should take into account a candidate's commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching." (Faithful Citizenship, Part I, 37-38)

Sister Mary Ann Walsh serves as the Director of Media Relations for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. In her article in the October 6 Jesuit magazine - America , Walsh writes: -"God speaks to us through our hearts and our minds. Our hearts are moved when wise decision making reflects lived experience. We are moved deeply when we see immigrants huddled together waiting for employment so they can support their families. . . when we overhear someone without health insurance ask a pharmacist if a non-prescription medicine will cure strep throat. . . when you and I read in a newspaper that a 12-year-old without dental care died of a brain infection that started as an abscessed tooth. Stirrings of the heart must influence our vote in maintaining a preferential option for the poor."

Friends, we need always to test our conscience as we make our moral decisions. Sometimes we may experience a gut reaction as we become uncomfortable with a former decision. Conscience is our mind - our intellect as judging what's right and what's wrong. To listen to our conscience is to listen to ourselves as judging the morality of what we do. In faith, we can also claim that -our conscience is God's voice within us as he calls us what to do. It helps us as well to listen to our gut feeling. "Gut feeling at times may well be our conscience speaking. We need to see whether or not our own wants and desires are in harmony with the truths of our faith and the teaching of the Church." (Walsh)

Two weeks ago in speaking at this 9:30 Mass I stressed that the moral worth of a human being begins at conception-the point when you and I first became members of the human species. That moral worth, which no civil law can give us and no civil law can take away from us, goes up to and includes those who are terminally ill as well as prisoners on death row.

I staunchly affirmed the symbolic value of "pro-life chains" and "marches for Life as strong symbolic protests against the evil of direct abortion. Such public demonstrations have changed and, hopefully, will continue to change hearts and mind. Such efforts, at times, may, however, strike us as idealistic. Since 1973 Roe versus Wade has remained the law of the land; there has been no change in the position of the Supreme Court. In addition to such public protests we need to broaden our horizons to adopt, as well, a social justice approach to tackle the causes of the evil of direct abortion.

An economist friend whose thinking I respect has brought to my attention that the fundamental cause of direct abortion is not poverty, but rather a moral breakdown in the values of marriage and family. I had previously stressed that the cause of direct abortion was an economic one-that of poverty-but I now find myself in agreement with that of my friend, a specialist in the economics of poverty. The strikingly main contributing cause is the ongoing breakdown of commitment to the value of the family and to the value of traditional marriage. You and I are familiar with the tragedies that have been occasioned by the verbal and physical abuse of spouse and of children. You and I both know women and, at times, men who have been abandoned by their spouse who has simply walked out. Poverty also serves as a cause to this tragedy. We should definitely support programs that advance quality care for working mothers and expand children's insurance program coverage especially for low income children and children suffering from AIDS

We should be aware that not all issues are equal. You can never take an innocent human life. Advancement in science is moving beyond the range of embryonic stem cell research to adult stem cell research. The Church has banned embryonic stem cell research, but encourages adult stem cell research. We should remember that "embryonic stem cell research always involves sacrificing a life, however small, for possible scientific gain." (Walsh) It would do us well to check whether or not our candidates have been or remain in favor of approving embryonic stem cell research.

Principles of social justice should guide our decision-making. All people have a basic human right to affordable and accessible health care.. . . that people have a right, as well, to a job that pays a living wage and a right to join a union.

Last week at the 4:00 Saturday Mass on October 11th I spoke on prejudice and racism. Some of my same remarks are pertinent at this Mass. In our struggle to make our moral decisions it is important to ask ourselves: "Just what are the prejudices that clutch at our hearts?" No person is without prejudice. A prejudice is an unexamined opinion that we have before all the facts are in. The uncomfortable, but important thing is to recognize our prejudices, to admit that you and I have them, to look at them closely-to analyze them. Then we need to raise the more disturbing question as to whether or not these prejudices move against our moral worth-and the moral worth of all humans. . . . no matter what their race or religion or ethnic characteristic might be.

I mentioned that the prejudice that solidly diminishes us is the sin of racism. Fifty-two years ago Mount Saint Mary's accepted its first Afro American student. In our recent past you and I recall Klan members walking the streets of Thurmont. We heard whispers of an invisible line at our doorsteps - a line running east to west that expressed hostility to black Americans. Even more recently - two years ago- someone hung a banner at a local bridge south of Thurmont -a sign that flaunted an "unwelcome notice" to our black sisters and brothers. We dare not be guilty as charged with this sin of racial prejudice.

Social justice requires that you and I need to take a stand against unjust discrimination---racial, ethnic and religious. Sister Mary Ann Walsh in her article in America magazine stresses that our current immigration system violates principles which respect and defend the family. . .principles which protect the dignity and rights of workers. Last Monday, October 13th -The Washington Post- headlined an article on Frederick County's uneasy crackdown on illegal immigrants. Officials in Frederick County should read Walsh's observations in the October 6th of America magazine and take it to heart. In our own neighborhoods legal immigrants suffer the slings of silence simply because they speak Spanish. Dare you and I, the descendents of immigrants, deny to others what we would not want denied to ourselves?

We have to question and converse about what constitutes a just war and whether or not there really is such a thing as a "legitimate preventive strike." (Walsh). We need to question, as well, the morality of capital punishment. Recent actions by the Supreme Court may well serve to make us continue to question whether justice cannot be better served by life sentences without parole rather than inflict the death penalty. Dare we allow vengeance to replace justice? We have an obligation to become informed and concerned about the evils which attack the moral worth of all humans.

As a people growing in Catholic Social Justice-which for many years was the "best kept secret of the Catholic Church" --we pray that we may continue to discover the causes of these evils and team up with others, as best we can - even, if only in prayer - to attack them. Our voting begins well before you and I enter the voting booth. Graced by the Holy Spirit you and I stand before our gracious, loving God not only today, but each day - including Tuesday, November 4th. . . and continue to carry out the command of Jesus - " to give to God what belongs to Him."

Read other homilies by Father Paul