29th Sunday: Forming Citizens
God often uses people with earthly power for His ends even though they may not realize it. Cyrus had earthly power. He was the king of Persia who invaded Babylon and brought an end to the Babylonian Empire in a matter of months. The ancient Hebrews had nothing but fond memories of Cyrus because it was Cyrus who ended their exile and sent them back to Judea. Cyrus may have been just solving the need to rebuild Palestine without having to do it himself while at the same time setting up a friendly buffer state. He did a similar thing with people from other lands who had been held captive in Babylon. He saw all these people as draining the resources of his new capital. Perhaps someday they would unite and cause a rebellion. It made political sense to release them back to their lands in the most friendly way, molding them into allies. Still, Cyrus did the will of God, even through he may not have realized it.
The same could be said about the Eastern European communists who realized that they had to cede power to the revolutionary forces throughout the communist world such as in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and even what had been the Soviet Union. The communists may have only been doing what was politically necessary, and may to this day deny that there was Divine Intervention at work, but don’t tell that to the devotees of Our Lady of Fatima. Seventy years earlier Mary spoke of the fall of communism. The Church sees the hand of God in the deliverance of the people of these many countries from the forces of atheism.
The political motivation of the Founding Fathers may have been less than pure as they chose to break with England, some, like Samuel Adams may have had purely monetary reasons. That did not mean that God wouldn’t use them to establish a country based on deep faith in Him, respect for the dignity of human beings, and ensuring that dignity through freedom of religion. “In God we trust,” may have been conceived to rally people behind the revolution, but God’s hand had to be present when weak colonies found a way to unite and defeat one of the most powerful nations of the eighteenth century. Regardless of original motivation, virtue, the living of God’s way, became the core value of our country.
At the time of the first reading, Cyrus was the most powerful man on the earth. His successors would continue his power, but eventually they would be defeated by a new power, that of Alexander of Macedonia, Alexander the Great. The Greeks were defeated by the Romans. Certainly the Emperor of Rome was the most powerful man in the Ancient World. His representatives carried the full weight of his power in the territory they administered.
Picture then Jesus standing before Pilate. Who was more powerful? On earth, politically and militarily, that would be Caesar as represented by Pilate. In the realm that really matter, God’s Kingdom, there was no comparison. Jesus was and is the King of Kings. Even Rome’s earthly power could be, and would be taken away from it. The only power that lasts, the only power that really matters is the power of the Kingdom of God.
We recognize the power of the state. We respect our country for promoting justice, peace and harmony. We pay taxes to support the government’s effort to protect us, to care for us, to ensure our freedom, to promote democracy, etc. We will even die for the sake of protecting the future of our country and our children. We render unto Caesar what is Caesars. We are patriotic.
We also recognize that there is a greater power. We live for God and country, in that order. The Kingdom of God comes first. If we should ever be confronted with the choice of God or Country, there is no choice. We choose God. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” we read in Philippians 3:20. If a law were to promote immoral behavior, we look to change the law and return the country to morality. This is patriotism. However, if the country were to demand that we behave immorally, as, for example, demand that our medical students take a rotation where they would have to perform abortions, then we would be forced to oppose the country to the extreme of refusing to follow its laws even if this meant the loss of a career, even if this meant the loss of personal freedom. We render to Caesar what is Caesars, but Caesar is temporary, a physical society. We render to God what is God’s because God is forever, and we will always be member of the spiritual Kingdom.
With all this being understood, we thank God for our country. We pray for our country. We train our children to be productive, loyal members of our country. Those who choose to enter the military to protect the American way of life are certainly heros and patriots. Those who choose to enter a life of service to their fellow citizens by becoming EMT’s, firefighters, police, workers in the fields of medicine, education, and law, etc, ensure the healthy future of our country. They are patriots.
We spend a great deal of energy, time and money to train our children to be good Americans. Every bit is well spent. But do we spend the same or greater energy training our children to be solid, productive members of their other country, the citizenship that last forever, their citizenship in the Kingdom of God? Certainly, most of you are here at this Mass because you have children and want them to take their rightful place in the Divine Society that is the Church. Most or our parents are adamant that their children receive the sacraments. This is wonderful. I have caution our parents. Bringing your children to the sacraments is just part of the task you have assumed when you took on the responsibility of training them in the faith. First communion and confirmation are not graduation certificates. They are driver’s licenses. They don’t mean that a job is done, they mean that tools have been given for the children to get to work. Just as you wouldn’t stop leading your children to take their rightful places in American society when they left Middle School, you cannot feel that you have completed your mission as parents when your children, at about that same age, 14 or 15, receive the sacrament of confirmation.
I will be your pastor for 23 years this January. For me this is wonderful. You are wonderful. But I have to tell you that I have experienced a very sad situation that is repeated over and again in some of our best families. I have experienced families that have been adamant in training their children in the faith, suddenly disappear from Church when their youngest is confirmed. This is a sad experience that tells me that somehow I and the Church are failing to convince people of the necessity they have to form their children to take on leadership in the Church when they become adults.
Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Caesar’s empire died out. It was replaced by thousands of other political entities, all of which had a claim on the patriotism of its citizens. God’s empire will never die out. The Kingdom of God is forever. It has a claim on its citizens to a spiritual patriotism. Our children need to experience this patriotism throughout their lives, not just at the time when they are prepared for sacraments. It is not enough to teach them that they are members of this Kingdom. They have to join their parents in acting as members of the Kingdom. It is not enough to teach them that they are Catholic. They have to experience living as fervent Catholics. It is not enough to provide the initial experiences of the sacraments for our children, we have to train them to value having a sacramental life.
We want the very best for our children. They are our treasures. We want them to be good and active citizens. We have got to expend all the energy that we can muster up to lead them to be not only patriotic Americans, but determined and fervent leaders in the Kingdom of God. We need to form them to assume their rightful places in the leadership of the Church. We need them. They are the Church of the future.
May God give us the perseverance to lead them into that future.