October 16, 2005 Twenty-ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Reading I (Isaiah 45:1, 4-6) Reading II (1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b)
Gospel (St. Matthew 22:15-21)
In the second reading today, Saint Paul speaks to his Thessalonian converts and he thanks God for these people and tells them, You know how you were called; it was not in mere words alone but in the power of the Holy Spirit. For most of us, we were probably baptized when we were little babies so we do not remember anything that preceded the fact of our call, which makes it actually even more profound because even though we are fully aware that from all eternity God has called each of us, for someone who is an adult convert, they look at the process that they went through and all of the graces that were there leading them to the faith. Of course, because they were adults at the time that they chose Christ, they tend to take Him very, very seriously and their faith tends to be very much central to their lives; whereas very often somebody who was baptized into the faith as an infant simply takes things for granted because it is something that has always been there. But the fact of the matter is that each and every one of us from all eternity has been chosen by God.
We can look at it and say, “Well, it was my parents who had me baptized.” That is true enough, but as is made very clear in the readings today, nothing happens in this world unless it is part of the providence of God. You look, for instance, at the first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. In one of the most extraordinary prophecies in all of Scripture, Isaiah prophesies about a man by the name of Cyrus. Cyrus was the Persian king who sent the people of Israel back to Israel, back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. Until the time that he became the king, he had no knowledge of the Jewish people. But God chose him, a pagan, as the means by which to bring the Jews back to their own land and to rebuild the temple of God. So we see that the way God works is even in regard to governments, with regard to all the events of our lives.
As we look around the world today and we see the people who are in charge, whether it be in our country or in another, they are there because it is God’s Will. Now people can talk about whatever they want regarding the politicians, how corrupt some of them might be, how they seem not to be doing God’s work at all, whatever it is that you might want to say, but we have to remember that given the circumstances doing God’s work may include in this case allowing some very bad things to happen. And so they are doing God’s Will because God will allow through political leaders, as well as through religious leaders, that through their corruption we will be able to see our own sinfulness. We have to understand that the corruption we see in the government, as well as within the Church, is nothing but a reflection of the sins of the rest of us. We cannot stand in judgment pointing fingers at these other people and talk about how evil they are because all we can do is look at the sins of this world.
All you have to do is think back about eight or ten years ago, or whenever it was, when the President of the United States was caught in an extraordinarily scandalous situation with a young woman, and the people of the United States applauded him for a great part and thought that what he was doing was perfectly fine. In fact, all it did was encourage them to continue doing their own horrendous practices. Certainly, there were some people who were horrified by what happened, but for the most part all that was happening was a reflection of what so many people in America were doing. The vast majority of people simply saw it as a justification for continuing what they themselves were doing. “After all, if it is okay for the President of the United States to do it, it must be okay for me,” seemed to be the rationalization.
Even though God will allow things like this in order to show us our sinfulness, the fact is that most people do not want to repent. All we have to do, even locally, is think about something that happened in this past week, another scandal regarding this ridiculous football team. As I pondered the situation, I thought, “A football team has 40 players on it. Over the last 20 years, the number of people who play on this football team (consisting of 40 men) who have been arrested for doing stupid and scandalous things is probably more than the number of people who work for 3M, and there are only 40 of them. Yet we treat these people as though they are the greatest things that have ever walked the earth.” We have to ask ourselves: What is the problem here? We have our priorities completely mixed up. When the heroes of America are tattooed creatures that go out and do horrible, scandalous things, instead of being horrified by what they do we just shrug it off because after all they are 6 ½ feet tall and weigh 300 pounds and they have millions of dollars and they are our great ones, so it must be okay. No, it is not, but these are the gods of America engaging in the religion of America. Therefore, Americans excuse all of their unfortunate things. Rather than the people of this country looking and saying, “You know, we are bowing down in homage before these unfortunate souls and all they are doing is reflecting what we ourselves are doing. We need to see in that that what we are doing ourselves is wrong.” But we do not do that. Instead what will happen is that well over 50,000 people will pay more than $100 next week to go watch them play football. For what?
So when Our Lord says, Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s, we need to think about this. We are paying some pretty serious homage to lots of very unfortunate things, and the homage that we give to God tends to be fairly minimal. If we look at the situation with a football team, we would take Our Lord’s words and simply apply them: Give to the football team what is due to it and give to God what is due to Him. We tend to give to a football team way, way more than what is due to it; and we tend to give to God way less than what is due to Him.
You might be sitting back saying, “Well, thank goodness I don’t like football because at least I don’t fall into that trap.” Just look at your life and ask what trap you are falling into. Where is the honor and the homage given? You see, God has chosen you. He has chosen you for Himself, as Saint Paul made very clear, and He has chosen you through the power of the Holy Spirit to do His work. He has chosen you specifically to give Him honor and glory. Saint Paul, speaking to the Thessalonians, tells them how grateful he is and how he thanks God for them everyday. When we read the other letters, he says the same thing to the other churches that he founded. These are not just a matter of mere words.
Any parent, I think, will be able to understand this. When you look at your children, how grateful you are for these wonderful gifts in your life. That is precisely the way that we also as priests look at you as members of the congregation. We are exceedingly grateful to you. You have to understand that what you do in making the sacrifices that you make, in coming to worship God, in trying to live a holy life, you are the greatest hope and encouragement on a natural level for us. We are extraordinarily grateful for you. And my hope for you is that your holiness will grow, that you will serve God even more and with greater zeal. The reason that week after week I would stand up here and exhort you, and maybe sometimes it feels like I am beating you over the head (that is not what I am trying to do), but the reason for that is not because I think you are so rotten and horrible and living a rotten life, but because there is so much gratitude and so much love that what we want is the best for you. Your hope and encouragement is reciprocated, and we have nothing but hope and love and gratitude for you. Just as Saint Paul could be so grateful for the people who believed in his word, so too are we, because it is not our word that you are being touched by but it is the Word of God. It is not just a mere human person that you are looking to–it is Jesus Christ. I cannot tell you the joy it gives me to know that you are giving praise and honor and glory to Jesus Christ.
So I hope and pray that that will continue, that we will remove from our lives whatever stands in the way of being able to carry out the Will of God, that we will continue to look at our own priorities in life and that we will adjust them so that God is always number one, and to make sure we do not fall into the traps that this world has to offer, because God allows all of those traps. He allows them to test our faith. He allows them so that we will have the ability to see our own weakness and our own sinfulness, because if they were not there we might think ourselves to be extraordinarily virtuous. It would be like the person who does not have a TV set, for instance, who says, “You know, I think I’ve gotten over my addiction to the TV. I haven’t watched it for months now.” But there was not one there to watch. And as soon as they bring the TV set back into the house, there the person sits once again. There was not any virtue that was developed, rather it was simply the lack of ability to practice the vice. That is why God allows the various difficulties and troubles in our own lives and even in the world–so that we can see where our weakness is. God does not want us to be tripping and falling, but what He wants us to do is to grow in holiness, to grow in virtue, to be able to see where we are weak, and to be able to develop the strength to fight against those areas so that as the devil attacks throughout our lives–and especially as he attacks at the last hour of our lives–that we would be able to withstand him, which we would not be able to do if we had not fought against the areas of weakness in our own lives throughout our lives.
Again, we come right back to that point: Give to each what is due. Whatever it is that this world has to offer, do not make too much of it, do not get too caught up in it; be very careful to keep the priorities straight and to be able to judge things in accordance with their proper value. Whether it is the government, or whether it is a football team, or whether it is some hobby that we have, or whatever it might be, give to each only what is their due. But above all, make sure that we look at the One Who loves us perfectly, Who provides everything for us, Who is in complete and total control of everything that takes place in this world for our good, and give to God what truly belongs to God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.