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Bishop's Homily for the 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time

October 22, 2017

Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
[Damien-Marianne Catholic Conference at Hawaii Convention Center, Honolulu]

Has anyone been to Amish Country?  This is a small enclave of people who take their faith so seriously that they believe in a very simple way of life.  They do not amass wealth or collect all the modern conveniences.  Although they now have motor vehicles, it would not be unusual to see them travelling with horse and buggy.  They are a small group and so quaint that they are actually a tourist attraction.  People go to Amish country hoping to spot a family in a horse and carriage, to buy their homemade jellies and jams, or to admire their beautiful quilts.

It is the dream of many that the Catholic Church would be very much like the Amish.  They already think we are so behind the times that we are quaint.  Their hope is that our numbers will diminish to the point that we will become a harmless group, living in our own enclaves, not interacting much with the rest of the world.  There is already a certain touristy attractiveness to us, and people are fascinated with the robes and regalia, the conclaves and processions.  But for many, there are not much more than entertaining curiosities.

And sometimes we even help these people achieve their dream of making the Catholic Church a quaint anachronism.  But I think today’s Scriptures are a key to the challenge before us to be fully Catholic and to be such an influence in the world that no one would ever think of us as simply a dying breed with quaint customs that make us happy and that have a certain appeal to tourists.

The Pharisees and Herodians who confronted Jesus had an either/or mentality.  Either you are faithful to God, or you are faithful to Caesar, and if you are loyal to one, you cannot be loyal to the other.  It is interesting to note, however, when their hatred for Jesus reached the point of wanting to eliminate him, they did not hesitate to appeal to Caesar, asking Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, to condemn him to death and demanding that the forces of Caesar apply their own methods of torture and capital punishment to him.  This is why Jesus immediately recognized their hypocrisy.

It is God’s intention that we render to God what belongs to God and to Caesar (that is, to our government) what belongs to Caesar.  But how do we do this?  If we who are fully dedicated to worship of the true and living God, besides whom there is no other, does not our worship compel us to go out and make God’s love present in the world in which we live, in the laws that govern us, and in all of our educational and cultural institutions?  Since God became human in the person of Jesus, there is no longer such a clear “either/or” dichotomy between what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar.  In fact, we are called to be loyal to both, so that the earthly can be transformed by the heavenly and all that is human become divine.

We live in a very diverse culture, and we Catholics do believe in freedom of religion.  And so our task is not to make our government a Catholic government.  It is to be so engaged in the body politic in which we live so that we can convince our legislators and fellow citizens that there is a life-giving law that is written into every human heart.  We know that law as the law of love of God and love of neighbor, as the commandments of God.  We have all heard people say to us Catholics, “You should not impose your morality on me.”  But what are laws in the first place but a community’s articulation of its morality?  And if we believe that God’s law is written onto every human heart, then no society will be truly just unless it follows God’s law.  But here we can learn from our first reading from the prophet Isaiah.  He speaks of Cyrus, the King of Persia, a foreign king, who did not know the Lord, acting as the Lord’s chosen instrument, as God’s anointed one to save Israel.  Cyrus did not have the theological background or lingo of the people Israel, to whom the true and living God had directly revealed himself, yet Cyrus was in tune with what was truly right because he was in tune with what God had written in his heart.  While he was successful in building an empire, he did not make himself a god, but respected the people who were under his rule.  This is the way we need to approach the incarnation of our faith in the body politic, not necessarily mentioning God, but realizing God’s truth is truth for everyone and that if we live in the truth we will be free people.

St. Marianne and St. Damien were definitely people of faith, who loved the Lord Jesus with their whole hearts, minds, and strength.  Yet they served all people in need and thus proclaimed the universal law of love that is written in every heart.  There was no “either/or” mentality for them that led them to think that building a home for the poor, giving hope to the hopeless, or making life more livable for all were secular or “Caesar” activities that did not concern them as people of faith.  Their faith compelled them to draw out from every heart – whether Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Buddhist, or atheist – that universal law that keeps us all together as one family.  So it is out task and our challenge not to allow our faith to become antiquated and quaint, and we do this by giving tribute both to God and to Caesar, by living our faith fully and living it in the contemporary world of culture and politics, of education and entertainment, of art and social service.

As I said at the beginning of this Conference, I hope we will leave here poorer.  Even though we have been greatly enriched by what we have learned and experienced, it is now time to take it out to Caesar, where we may be rejected, where we may be criticized or persecuted, or even put to death.  But it is precisely there that God wants his fired-up disciples to go to set the rest of the world on fire with his justice, love, and peace.