22nd Sunday after Pentecost
In today’s Gospel, Our Blessed Lord is put to the test. A trap is laid for Him by His enemies. Yes or no, do we pay the tax to Caesar? If He says yes, He immediately estranges the Jews who detest the Roman hegemony over the land. If He says no, He runs into trouble with the occupying powers. His answer then is not a human one but a divine one. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.
By these words, Our Blessed Lord clearly set limits to the authority of Caesar. All things belong to God, including Caesar. That is precisely why the State exists only to serve the interests of God and God’s creatures. Since the whole universe exists only for God and to lead to eternal salvation the souls of men, then the State must acknowledge that fact and do nothing to impede it. On the contrary, the State must protect the rights of the true religion and foster everything that can help men achieve their salvation, banning all that would turn them away from it.
There is must talk at the moment in Catholic circles about the concept of the common good. It is used to justify many of the recent coercive decisions of our governments that limit essential freedoms and force us to get in line with government policies. The term is usually used to refer to a collective understanding of how we should all serve the interests of others and promote all that helps our country and indeed all of humanity to prosper. The problem with such a definition is that it is incomplete. The common good of society does not trump the rights of God, nor does it override the Ten Commandments, nor, more to to the point, does it take precedence over the innate rights of individuals. If the State does not recognise God, His commandments and the rights of His Church, then it will inevitably find itself in grave conflict with both God and the Church. This is why the collaboration of the Church with the State has its limits. The laws of the State are valid before God only if they do not contradict the Divine Law manifested in the Natural Law. The Catechism teaches: “Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner… A human law has the character of law to the extent that it accords with right reason, and thus derives from the eternal law. Insofar as it falls short of right reason it is said to be an unjust law, and thus has not so much the nature of law as of a kind of violence. Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1902-1903).
So what really is the common good? Let’s propose this definition: “The common good signifies the collective advantages that accrue to the citizens of a country and are protected by its legitimate government when they are united together and live in accordance with the Natural Law in the pursuit of the ultimate end for which they were created”. In other words, the final end of human life, which is God and eternity and the salvation of souls, cannot remain outside of the definition of the common good, for if it is left out, then the common good is reduced to an earthly coexistence which will be determined by a State that would lose its moorings to the Natural Law and thereby to God. And this State will end up usurping the powers and prerogatives of God.
The Catechism teaches further that the first of the essential elements of the common good “presupposes respect for the person as such. In the name of the common good, public authorities are bound to respect the fundamental and inalienable rights of the human person. Society should permit each of its members to fulfil his vocation. In particular, the common good resides in the conditions for the exercise of the natural freedoms indispensable for the development of the human vocation, such as the right to act according to a sound norm of conscience and to safeguard . . . privacy, and rightful freedom also in matters of religion” (CCC, 1907)
Furthermore, “respect for the human person entails respect for the rights that flow from his dignity as a creature. These rights are prior to society and must be recognised by it. They are the basis of the moral legitimacy of every authority: by flouting them, or refusing to recognise them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy. If it does not respect them, authority can rely only on force or violence to obtain obedience from its subjects. It is the Church’s role to remind men of good will of these rights and to distinguish them from unwarranted or false claims” (# 1930).
Pope St Pius X expressed this with the greatest lucidity when he said that “there is no moral civilisation without the true religion”. How is that? It’s quite simple. Hear C.S. Lewis: “To the Materialist things like nations, classes, civilisations must be more important than individuals, because the individuals live only seventy odd years each and the group may last for centuries. But to the Christian, individuals are more important, for they live eternally; and races, civilisations and the like, are in comparison the creatures of a day. The Christian and the Materialist hold different beliefs about the universe. They can’t both be right. The one who is wrong will act in a way which simply doesn’t fit the real universe. Consequently, with the best will in the world, he will be helping his fellow creatures to their destruction” (God in the Dock, Ch. 7 Man or Rabbit?).
So what we take from God, we inevitably end up giving to Caesar. When we refuse obedience to God, we end up transferring allegiance to Caesar. And Caesar without God, my dear Friends, whatever his name might be in any given age and place, is a ruthless and merciless lord, because Caesar without God becomes auto-referential, Caesar becomes god.
By rejecting the truth of God, man can only come up with recipes for destruction. When Caesar pretends to be god, or to not need God because he has, or thinks he has, science, he inevitably joins ranks with those who seek to harm humanity. This explains why it is that modern society, after having rejected the one true Catholic faith, ended up rejecting Christ Himself, and having rejected Christ, ends up rejecting man himself. This was the lifelong struggle and message of Pope St John Paul II who grew up under an oppressive atheistic regime, and who fought so hard to prevent what happened in the Soviet Union from happening to the rest of the world. Over and over again he repeated that the violation of the natural law, especially in the area of innocent human life and the free exercise of religion leads to a regime that becomes progressively inhumane. Today, it would seem that we are on the verge of seeing for ourselves what that monster looks like, as mighty globalists use lies and unfounded theories to promote reducing the world’s population, directly contradicting the Creator’s command. Where God says: Increase and multiply, they say “decrease and die”. Where God says: what you did to the least of these little ones you did to me, they say: “innocent baby parts are disposable matter to be abused at will”. Where God says, Go and preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, they say: “Don’t leave your house, or else we will put you in jail”. Where God says, Till the earth and rule over the animals, they say: “Animals have more rights than babies”. Where God says: You shall freely eat with discernment all the plants of the earth, they say: “Take this experimental drug, and don’t ask any questions, or else…” And the list could go on. It is truly amazing that there are people who do not see that a government that gives more rights to animals than to innocent unborn children cannot be trusted to protect your life. If the unborn have no right to life, no one does. If your grandparents can be “made comfortable”, so can you be “made comfortable” when our present day Caesars decide there are too many people on the planet (which they have, by the way). Caesar turned God becomes a tyrant. Caesar without the true religion fabricates an awful monster, that you really don’t want to see, but which is now being unveiled before our eyes.
If that seems excessive, we need to ask: Really, can the common good of society benefit from the fact that a government sanctions the theft of unborn baby parts while the babies are still alive? Can the common good which demands the freedom of individuals benefit from coercing people into receiving drugs they refuse to take and which violate their conscience? If freedom is an essential element of the common good, and if freedom is an essential part of informed consent, how can “no jab, no job” benefit the common good? Here too the list could go on and on.
This is why Our Blessed Lord made it clear that we must give to God what is God’s. That is to say, each of us individually and all of us gathered in society, must acknowledge the truth under pain of destroying ourselves. So many of these truths are hard to hear. Some of them are all the more hard to hear when it is all too evident that many of those in authority over us are “in the know”. One can excuse a poor, ignorant man who never had a chance to learn. One cannot excuse those who hold degrees and power.
Hear again C. S. Lewis: “The man who remains an unbeliever (because he does not want to know) is not in a state of honest error. He is in a state of dishonest error, and that dishonesty will spread through all his thoughts and actions: a certain shiftiness, a vague worry in the background, a blunting of his whole mental edge, will result. He has lost his intellectual virginity. Honest rejection of Christ, however mistaken, will be forgiven and healed – ‘Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him’. But to evade the Son of Man, to look the other way, to pretend you haven’t noticed, to become suddenly absorbed in something on the other side of the street, to leave the receiver off the telephone because it might be He who was ringing up, to leave unopened certain letters in a strange handwriting because they might be from Him – this is a different matter. You may not be certain yet whether you ought to be a Christian; but you do know you ought to be a man, not an ostrich, hiding its head in the sands” (ibid.).
My dear Friends, St Paul in today’s epistle – another one of those captivity epistles written from prison where he had been thrown for his defence of the Gospel – prays that the work God began in the Philippians may be brought to fulfilment for the day of Christ Jesus. What is the day of Christ Jesus? It is the day of His manifestation in glory when He will come to judge the living and the dead. It is the day that every Christian soul must long and pray for. And the more we suffer under the tyranny of a godless society, the more that prayer should surge up in our hearts and come to our lips.
Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly, and grant to those who trust in Thee the grace to remain firm in the truth against all oppression and corruption, and that, far from running away in cowardly shame, we may be worthy to stand before Thee, before Thy glorious Mother and all the Saints of Thy heavenly court. Amen.