Citizens of Two Worlds
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim, Sj (The Freeman) - October 21, 2017 - 4:00pm

In 1956, Queen Elizabeth, the widow of King Albert I of Belgium, visited Warsaw, Poland, which was then dominated by communist Russia.  A chief of protocol was assigned to accompany Elizabeth to Mass.  On the way there, she asked him, “Are you a Catholic?”

“Believing,” replied the official, “but not practicing, Your Majesty.”

“Of course,” said Elizabeth, “then in that case you must be a communist.” 

The official replied, “Practicing, Your Majesty, but not believing.”

The Polish official’s heart was in the right place when it came to the issue of the relationship between Church and state.  The same cannot be said of the officials in today’s Gospel.  Jesus forces them to look into their hearts on this vexing issue of religion and politics, knowing full well that they will find hypocrisy there.

The Pharisees were strict observers of the Jewish laws, which forbade them to accept the emperor worship, which the Romans were trying to impose.  To honor coins with the face of Caesar imprinted on them would be idolatry.  And yet, the Pharisees in today’s Gospel carry Roman coins.

Jesus’ response “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God,” offers no basis for a theory of politics. Jesus certainly did not intend to divide the world into two autonomous spheres – areas belonging to Caesar and areas belonging to God, each with its respective and exclusive jurisdiction. 

When Jesus says, “Give to God what belongs to God,” we must remember that the whole of creation belongs to God, including Caesar! Neither did [Jesus] answer the question of what precisely belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God.  This he left to the personal decision of each person, who must solve the problem of the opposing claims of God and Caesar.

We Christians have a dual citizenship.  We are citizens of two worlds – citizens of the world and citizens of heaven.  As such, we have obligations towards each, which we must respect and honor.

It is hoped that the dual citizenship and the obligations we have to each will never come in conflict.  But if they ever do, the Christian must resolve the conflict.

And Christians have had to do this since the time of Jesus.  They did it during the Roman persecutions of the Church.  They did it during the middle Ages.  They did it in the 16th and 17th centuries, when tens and thousands of Christians fled to America in order to practice their religion without state intervention.  They do it today in communist countries and other dictatorial regime, in Middle East and Africa.

We can find a clear illustration in the classical case of St. Thomas More, the English martyr.   Let’s recall the story:  King Henry VIII of England was validly married to Catherine of Aragon. 

He appealed to Rome to annul the marriage, so that he could marry his mistress, Anne Bolyn.

But, there was no honest basis for annulment.  Rome refused.  Henry took matters into his own hand and remarried.

The king then ordered his friends and officials to sign a document declaring that they agree that the king acted rightly on this matter.   Many of More’s friends signed the document, but More refused.  King Henry demanded that he sign or face arrest, trial for treason, and execution by the state.

More still refused.  He had two obligations, one to God and one to his country.  When they conflicted, More has no choice but to remain faithful to his obligation to God.  He said, “I am the king’s good servant, but God’s first.”

And so today’s Gospel reminds us of our dual citizenship.  We are citizens of the world and citizens of heaven.  We are citizens of God’s Kingdom and the Church, and citizens of the Philippines.

We have an allegiance and an obligation to each.  We hope that the obligations will never clash. 

But if they ever do, we must resolve them as Thomas More did, without compromise to our God or to our conscience.

There was a young man working for a firm that did weapons research.  It was interesting and well paid work.  And he knew it was considered extremely important to his country’s security. 

But he came to believe that the creation of more and more efficient ways of killing people was wrong, and quit his job. 

Not satisfied with that, he also destroyed some important research documents as a way of protesting the weapons program.  He ended up in jail but curiously enough he retained the friendship and respect of several people who believed that the weapons were needed  for the nation’s defence and for the sake of peace.  And they all attended the same church.

And there was the elderly woman, who found she couldn’t bear the idea of unborn babies being destroyed by abortion, even though it was perfectly legal in her country.  She joined a group that kept vigil outside abortion clinics, and when they refused to move, they were arrested.  She wasn’t charged and was sent home.  But soon she was back at the vigil.

All these people, and many others, make different choices based on their convictions.  Jesus reduces the debate over religion and politics to a question of priorities.  And for the Christian believer, there can be but one sovereign.

I would like to end with a prayer sent me by my friend, Ron Miros.  It was an invocation by Rev. Joe Wright at the opening of the Kansas Senate some years ago:

“Heavenly Father, we come before you today

to ask Your forgiveness

And to seek Your direction and guidance.

We know Your Word says,

“Woe on those who call evil good,”

But that’s exactly what we have done.

We have lost our spiritual equilibrium

and reversed our values.

We confess that:

We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word

and called it pluralism.

We have worshiped other gods

and called it multi-culturalism.

We have endorsed perversion and called it

an alternative lifestyle.

We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.

We have neglected the needy

and called it self-preservation.

We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.

We have killed our unborn children

and called it a choice.

We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.

We have neglected to discipline our children

and called it building self-esteem.

We have abused power and called it political savvy.

We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions

and called it ambition.

We have polluted the air

with profanity and pornography

and called it freedom of expression.

We have ridiculed the time-honored values

of our forefathers

and called it enlightenment.

 

Search us, O God, and know our hearts today.

Cleanse us from every sin and set us free.

Guide and bless these men and women,

whom you have sent

To direct us to the center of Your will.

I ask it in the name of Your Son, the living Savior,

Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

With the Lord’s help may this prayer sweep through our own country, and wholeheartedly become our desire so that we truly can be called a Catholic nation that fears the Lord!

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