Core: noun, the most important part of a thing, the essence; from the Latin cor, meaning heart.

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 Volume 2.10  This View’s Guest Column November 11, 2002 

“Repay to Caesar What is Caesar’s, and Repay to God What is God’s”
    Rev. Robert J. Johansen    

Homily for 29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A
October 20, 2002

Matthew 22:21

In his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul thanked God that the Thessalonians had “shown their faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope, in Our Lord Jesus Christ.” And in the year or so that I have been here in our parish, I have seen many of you show your faith in action: in your generous commitment of your gifts and talents, your time, and your financial support of the work of Christ in St. Joseph parish.

Your willingness to respond to God’s call in your lives, to make a return to God for the generosity and love He has first shown you, gives honor and glory to God. And so I, like St. Paul, am thankful for the generosity and faith which you have shown.

In our Gospel today, we hear Our Lord tell us that we are to repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. Certainly our efforts at exercising good stewardship are part of following Christ’s command to “repay to God what is God’s.”

But the other side of Our Lord’s command is to repay to Caesar what is his, and clearly he means that we must repay to Caesar only what is Caesar’s, no less, and no more. We must never give to Caesar that which properly belongs to God. The history of the last century is filled with death, horror, and unspeakable evil all because men gave in to the temptation to make Caesar, to make the state, the government, supreme and all encompassing in its demands. The systems that did this, communism and fascism, unleashed all manner of evil upon the world because they made the state into a sort of God.

But these failed ideologies are but the worst examples of this temptation to give the state what belongs to God. In our own country, in our own society, we too have succumbed to that temptation, and have allowed our governing bodies to usurp power and authority that do not belong to them. That power was illegitimately taken, but make no mistake: we are not without responsibility, because in all too many cases, we have allowed it to happen.

Our Declaration of Independence states that “all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” and that chief among these rights are “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” The Declaration recognizes that God is the source of these rights. They do not come to us because of any decree of a king, a president, or government. They belong to us because we are created by God, in His image and likeness. We posses these rights simply by virtue of being human. The most basic human rights come to us from God.

Just as no government can confer these rights, none can take those rights away. No king, no president, no congress, no governor, and no Supreme Court has the authority to revoke or take away our most basic rights.

But in our country, the most basic right all is not protected for the most innocent and vulnerable of all — the unborn. At any time from conception to the moment of birth the life of the unborn child can be snuffed out by an abortionist. A life created by God ended by a cruel instrument. This is stark, harsh language, but the reality is stark, and harsh, and ugly. And our government, led by our courts, says that this cruel and ugly reality is a “right”.

But no decision of a court, no act of Congress, can turn a crime against innocent human life into a right. To say this is to compound murder with a lie. And the language used by those who support and defend this so-called “right”, the language used to justify this evil, is a tissue of lies.

For they dress up the evil of abortion in language of “Choice”. And “choice” has a nice ring to it: we’re Americans, after all; we believe in freedom, we believe in the right to make our own choices. But, curiously enough, we don’t see people trying to disguise the reality of other crimes with language of “choice.” Let me give you an example: What would we think of someone who said, “I recognize that some people think that child abuse is wrong, but I think it should be left up to parents to decide whether or not they should abuse their children. The government has no business trying to interfere with a parent’s decision to abuse his or her children”? What would we say to someone who asserted his “freedom” to “choose” whether or not he should abuse his children? What would we think of a politician who defended and protected the freedom of choice of child abusers?

Such a position is monstrous, and it is absurd. And the absurdity of that kind of talk, the monstrosity of such a position, should illustrate for us the monstrosity and absurdity of the “pro-choice” position. The pro-choice position would be laughable if the consequences weren’t so dire and tragic. But, many people, and unfortunately many women, have been misled and duped by the advocates of “choice”, with tragic results.

Also tragic is the fact that some politicians, who are running for either for national or statewide office, and some of whom even call themselves Catholic, advocate this “pro-choice” position and language. At worst, such politicians are liars, with the blood of innocents on their hands. The best one could say about such a politician is that he, or she, is tragically, desperately confused.

Those who represent us and exercise the power of governance have a special responsibility to guard and protect the weakest and most vulnerable among us. A Catholic politician who adopts the so-called “pro-choice” position egregiously fails his, or her, responsibility, because presumably he or she should know better.

Adam Cardinal Maida, the Archbishop of Detroit, recently said:

Catholic public officials have a special moral obligation to understand and accept wholeheartedly the Church’s teaching on the dignity of innocent human life; they may never advocate for, or actively support, legislation which would allow direct attacks on innocent human life. When it is impossible to overturn or prevent passage of a law which allows or promotes abortion, an elected official should always seek to limit the harm done by such laws. Nor can Catholic political leaders justify inaction with regard to the dignity of human life simply on the grounds that abortion is the law of the land, because ultimately, there is a higher law, the law of God.

If politicians, especially Catholic politicians, have such a grave and weighty responsibility, then we, who vote for these leaders also have a grave responsibility, especially now as the election approaches in a few weeks. Cardinal Maida also said “These basic truths about right and wrong must shape our political judgments and our decisions about how we vote.” We have a duty to vote for candidates who support the dignity of human life by opposing abortion and by actively working to remove this great evil from our land.

The right to life is the most basic, the most fundamental right. Because of this, no issue outweighs or trumps that of protecting innocent human life. No political program, no proposed legislation, no economic consideration can justify a decision to support a “pro-choice” candidate. The right to life is the most fundamental: without it no other rights mean anything. And abortion is the pre-eminent threat to human dignity in our land today. Therefore opposing it and supporting leaders who oppose it is our foremost duty in making decisions about our votes.

God creates and gives the gift of life. God bestows on us the most basic human right to life. Let us reverence and protect that gift and right, by exercising our right and duty to support and vote for leaders who will also protect and reverence the right to life. Let us not permit any power, any government, any leader, to do violence to or take away the gift of life which God has given.

The Blog from the Core
October 23, 2002

© Rev. Robert J. Johansen 2002. Used with permission.

    Webpage © ELC 2002    

 Volume 2.10 This View’s Guest Column November 11, 2002 

The View from the Core, and all original material, © E. L. Core 2002. All rights reserved.

Cor ad cor loquitur J. H. Newman — “Heart speaks to heart”