Fighting Government Encroachment

(Homily for Twenty-Ninth Ordinary Sunday - Year A)

"Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent . . .
the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding."
-- Justice Louis D. Brandeis (1856-1941), Olmstead vs. United States, United States Supreme Court, 1928

"A society with such an enlightened tolerance of corruption and savagery needed to bear down hard on minor offenses to convince itself that it still had standards."*
-- Dean Koontz, Sole Survivor

Bottom line: Our bishops have alerted us to encroachments on the Church's legitimate autonomy. Those encroachments could result in an erosion of freedom of religion in our country. The bishops are asking us to respond by putting God first. Our consciences belong to him.

In our Gospel Jesus says to give "to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." Those were challenging words in Jesus' day and they continue to challenge us.

In Jesus' time, government dominated religion. The Roman emperor was himself the "Pontifex Maximus" - the chief priest. In Israel the priesthood had become subservient to the state.** Jesus, by way of contrast, was his own man. When they questioned him about the census tax, he did not have a coin in his pocket. He had to ask them to show him a piece of currency. Noting the image of Caesar on the coin, he said, "Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God."

This pithy - and memorable - saying eventually transformed society. After the fall of the Roman Empire, there was much tension between church and state. Kings constantly attempted to dominate the Church - for example, by appointing bishops. The Church naturally fought back. A crucial moment came in 1215 when the Archbishop of Canterbury (Stephen Langton) gathered English barons to insist that the king respect certain basic rights. They drew up a document called the Great Charter. We know it by its Latin name - the Magna Carta. As every schoolchild knows, the Magna Carta launched the democratic experiment in England - a movement that later spread to America and other countries. If you read the Magna Carta, you will notice that it begins with an affirmation of the legitimate autonomy of the Church.***

Give to Caesar what belongs to him and to God what belongs to him. Yes, we must obey the just laws of our nation. At the same time we must give to God what belongs to him. And what belongs to God? Our consciences - that inner core of our being.

Today freedom of conscience is under attack. You may have seen this news item: "The U.S. bishops have established a new Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty to address growing concerns over the erosion of freedom of religion in America." They mention six areas of government encroachment on freedom of religion. I will address only one.

The bishops are concerned about (I quote): "Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) regulations that would mandate the coverage of contraception (including abortifacients) and sterilization in all private health insurance plans." According legal experts these regulations (again I quote) "could coerce church employers to sponsor and pay for services they oppose."

Those who defend these regulations say that they contain conscience protections. Unfortunately when you look more closely at the conscience clauses, they do not cover most Catholic institutions.**** They would not, for example, cover St. Mary of the Valley Parish. I don't know about you, but if I were forced to choose between Caesar and God, I know who I would choose. When I die, Caesar will not judge me. God will.

Where all this goes, we will know in the coming months. We are not Nazi Germany. We are not the Soviet Union. Still, we would be naive if we did not recognize that there are people in the government who see the Church in a weakened position - and they think that now is the time to bring the Church under state control.

For sure we are in weaker position than we were several decades ago. If we can learn anything from history, however, when the Church appears the weakest she often shows amazing resilience.

Whether we are strong or weak in the world's eyes, what matters is our fidelity to God. And, ironically, when are faithful to God that is when we do our best for our country.

Jesus has guaranteed that the Church will last till the end of time. He not given that same guarantee to the United States of America. As Christians the best thing we can do for our country is to be good citizens of heaven. Give to Caesar what belongs to him and to God what belongs to him.

To sum up: Our bishops have alerted us to encroachments on the Church's legitimate autonomy. Those encroachments could result in an erosion of freedom of religion in our country. The bishops are asking us to respond by putting God first. Our consciences belong to him. Amen.


*Recent example: Kissing is a Crime; Going Naked in Public is Not

**Herod used the high priest Hyrcanus to consolidate his political power and later had him put to death. Caiphas was appointed in 18 A.D. by Roman prefect Valerius Gratus (Pontius Pilate's predecessor). In 37 A.D. the Roman proconsul Vitellius deposed him.

***Here the opening clause of the Magna Carta:

1. In the first place we have granted to God, and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs forever that the English Church shall be free, and shall have her rights entire, and her liberties inviolate; and we will that it be thus observed; which is apparent from this that the freedom of elections, which is reckoned most important and very essential to the English Church, we, of our pure and unconstrained will, did grant, and did by our charter confirm and did obtain the ratification of the same from our lord, Pope Innocent III, before the quarrel arose between us and our barons: and this we will observe, and our will is that it be observed in good faith by our heirs forever.

****The regulations would only exempt those who exclusively employ and serve Catholics. Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., President of Notre Dame stated that the mandate “would compel Notre Dame to either pay for contraception and sterilization in violation of the church's moral teaching, or to discontinue our employee and student health care plans in violation of the church's social teaching.”

The proposed religious exemption stipulates that a church organization is "not a religious employer if it (a) serves those who are not already members of the church, (b) fails to hire based on religion, or (c) does not restrict its charitable and missionary purposes to the inculcation of religious values," according to the bishops’ statement.

"Under such inexplicably narrow criteria — criteria bearing no reasonable relation to any legitimate [let alone compelling] government purpose — even the ministry of Jesus and the early Christian Church would not qualify as 'religious,' because they did not confine their ministry to their co-religionists or engage only in a preaching ministry," the bishops say in their comments to Health and Human Services. "

General Intercessions for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A (from Priests for Life)

Spanish Version

From Archives (for Twenty-Ninth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Trust No Matter What Week 4
2011: Fighting Government Encroachment
2008: Render Unto Caesar
2005: God Owns It All
2002: The Trap of Idolatry
1999: What Belongs to God

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Sunday Homilies

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.

Fr. Brad's Homilies (well worth listening)

Parish Picture Album

(October 2011)

40 Days for Life - Everett, WA

You may have already seen this video. If not, it is well worth 33 minutes of your time:

Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)

Parish Picture Album


MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru