Our civic duties

By: By Father Dominic Garramone, OSB

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 19

Isaiah 45:1,4-6; Psalm 96:1,3,4-5,7-8,9-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b; Matthew 22:15-21

Religion and politics is a hot topic these days, especially since in recent years politicians on every level of government have sought to build their political base at least in part upon religious affiliation. Newspaper and Internet articles examine “the Evangelical vote” or “the Catholic vote,” television and radio commentators report on how little or much a presidential candidate mentions his faith tradition.

Religious leaders also have been pulled into the political stew, from the controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor, to the New York priest who got in trouble for endorsing Sen. John McCain from a public pulpit.

While separation of church and state is the norm in the United States, there was no such distinction in ancient Israel. The king was supposed to be a representative of God just as much as the priests and Levites were, and was to ensure that his kingdom adhered to divine law, both in word and deed. The books of the prophets make it clear that the disasters that befell Israel throughout its history were caused by infidelity to God.

While God wanted to work through the king and his people to bring about a just society, they were more interested in increasing their own wealth and power at the expense of the poor and the powerless. The final results of this religious indifference were the conquering of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah by the Babylonian Empire, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the deportation of the population in what came to be known as the Babylonian Exile.

The reading from Isaiah shows how God can even make use of a pagan ruler to do his will. Cyrus, the king of the Persians, conquered Babylon and ordered the return of the Jewish exiles to rebuild their homeland. Their laborious struggle to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and restore the Temple is recounted in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, a priest/scribe and governor, respectively, who worked together to create a better, more faithful society. Religious leaders and government officials today could learn from their example.

One might receive a similar message from the Gospel passage: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” is Jesus’ advice, implying that even the most devout Christian “whose citizenship is in heaven,” as St. Paul says, must also be a good citizen of the earthly society to which he or she belongs. Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco writes in the most recent issue of Catholic Digest: “The Catholic Church teaches that all citizens should take an active part in public life. Education, public safety and law enforcement, health care, and so many other essential matters depend for their quality on the direct participation of citizens in the political process. Shrugging cynically and strolling away from any involvement is not a proper response for a follower of Jesus Christ.”

Obviously our Catholic commitment to civic duties is never more evident than in an election year, when our faith impels us to a thoughtful application of Gospel principles to the issues confronting our nation. The bishops have issued numerous statements to help Catholics inform their consciences before voting. Go to www.usccb.org and click on the “Faithful Citizenship” icon. If you don’t have the Internet, visit the local library or ask your parish office to help.

The most recent issues of Catholic Digest and U.S. Catholic also offer helpful articles.

It’s not enough to talk about the issues, we must also be active in our schools and our communities and our nation, taking as our inspiration Paul’s message to the Thessalonians: “For our Gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5b).

Father Dominic Garramone, OSB, heads the religion department and serves as drama director at St. Bede Academy in Peru. He is also subprior at St. Bede Abbey.

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