27 November 2023

Uploading Christ's Program

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe/Last Sunday after Pentecost

    [In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen]. While I now bristle at an app update taking more than 20 seconds, I am old enough to remember the days where, to play a game on the computer, you had to insert the floppy disk, and wait for it to load.  Or when you had to sign-on to the internet by getting your dial-up going, and hope that there was a good signal.  I remember starting software updates at night, because they were going to take hours, hoping that the install didn’t stall out, and you got the blue screen of death which meant you had to do a hard restart and do the process all over again.
    As we come to the last week of the liturgical year [in which we celebrate Christ the King], we are reminding about the kingship that Christ should have over our lives.  St. Paul says [in his letter to the Colossians] that we have been transferred from the power of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of God.  And our Gospel points us to the end of time, when Christ will return to fully establish His Kingdom, which was inaugurated in His earthly ministry, His Passion and Death, and His Resurrection and Ascension.  
    But perhaps we feel like that transfer from the power of darkness to the kingdom of the Son has stalled a bit.  It’s like we inserted that floppy disk when we were baptized to install the new program in our lives, but it hasn’t finished the installation yet, and maybe our screen in life even seems frozen up.  We’re waiting for Christ to return.  Maybe even we see signs that Christ Himself prophesied would mean the end was near, but Christ hasn’t returned yet.  We still wait in joyful hope for the return of our Savior, Jesus Christ, as St. Paul says to St. Titus.  
    In the meantime, we have an opportunity to make sure that Christ’s program downloads more and more into out souls and into our lives.  Each day we have in this “already, but not yet” of the kingdom of God allows us to make sure that we model our lives more and more on the life of Christ, so that we can say with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.”
    The temptation is to hedge our bets, and try to guess the time of Christ’s return.  Christ, in Matthew 24 [the Gospel we heard today] describes some of the signs that will indicate His return.  But the same Christ also says that we will not know either the day or the hour.  Still, He advises us to ready ourselves, so that whenever it does happen, Christ will find us prepared for His return.  Sometimes we can so concern ourselves with figuring out the signs, that we forget about living the life of a disciple.  If we live as a faithful follower of Christ, it won’t matter when the end comes, because our lamps will be trimmed like the five wise virgins, and we will welcome Christ the Bridegroom, and enter into His wedding feast in heaven.
    So how do we prepare ourselves?  The Lord lays out part of the judgment in [our Gospel today from] Matthew 25.  How did we care for the least of His brothers?  Did we feed the hungry?  Did we give drink to the thirsty?  Did we welcome the stranger?  Did we clothe the naked?  Did we care for the sick?  Did we visit the imprisoned?  These are the Corporal Works of Mercy, and they are not optional for a disciple.  Their execution may look different depending on our vocation.  After all, what mother or father has not fed a hungry child, or clothed him or her (or possibly even a spouse who didn’t know how to dress himself?), or cared for the sick?  For spouses and parents, the more challenging works may be how to prudently welcome the stranger (how many times do we hear as a young child about stranger danger?).  But think about it in our own parish.  If we see someone we don’t know, do we take the time to welcome them to the parish?  We don’t have the scare them by swooping in like a hawk anytime we see someone new (there are plenty of bad examples of people being turned off to the faith because those who approached them saw them merely as numbers to add to the flock, rather than people who may be searching).  But do we ask them if they want to sit by us, or if maybe they need help following the Mass because it’s been awhile since they last went, or maybe they’re unfamiliar with the prayers?  That may be more natural for me, as a priest, as I greet people after Mass, but I can continue to work on it.  Maybe for me as a priest the challenge is more how to clothe the naked, or feed the hungry.  Some of the corporal works of mercy will always challenge us, while others will come to us more naturally.  But we should work at incorporating them all into our life whenever and however we can.
    Sometimes God gives us opportunities to exercise those corporal works of mercy, and we only need respond.  There’s a story about a woman named Wanda Dench who, eight years ago, texted a person she thought was her grandson about Thanksgiving plans.  The grandson had changed his number without telling grandma.  So instead of her grandson, she texted a young man named Jamal Hinton who was in high school.  They figured out the error, but then Jamal asked if he could still come over for Thanksgiving dinner.  Even though Wanda didn’t know Jamal from Adam, Wanda texted, “Of course you can. That’s what grandmas do…feed everyone.”  And for eight years, they have spent Thanksgiving together.  I don’t know if Jamal needed a free meal, but he probably needed somewhere to go for Thanksgiving, otherwise he wouldn’t have asked.  There may have been numerous reasons not to allow Jamal over.  But Wanda felt called to have Jamal over, and it has become a beautiful story of generosity.
    Christ will return in glory, “to judge the living and the dead,” as we proclaim every Sunday in the Creed.  When exactly, we don’t know, but it will happen.  Until then, Christ invites us to live out the Corporal Works of Mercy as part of following Him, so that when He does return, He will find us ready to welcome Him as our triumphant King.  As St. Peter says in his first epistle:

The end of all things is at hand.  Therefore, be serious and sober for prayers.  Above all, let your love for another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.  Be hospitable to one another without complaining.  As each one has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace…so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and dominion forever and ever.  Amen.

20 November 2023

Thanksgiving for Faith, Hope, and Charity

Resumed Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  This week our nation takes a break to celebrate Thanksgiving: a day of food, family, and football (and the Lions might even win this year!).  So how fitting is it that St. Paul, in the epistle today, begins with thanksgiving for the people of Thessaloniki.  According to one Scripture scholar, St. Paul gives thanks in all but four of his epistles: his second epistle to the Corinthians; his first epistle to St. Timothy; his epistle to St. Titus; and his epistle to the Galatians.  In particular, in this first epistle to the Thessalonians, St. Paul gives thanks for their “work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope.”  In other words, St. Paul expresses gratitude for the three theological virtues active in their lives: faith, hope, and charity. 

    If Bishop Boyea, a successor of the Apostles himself, were to write a letter about us, what would that letter say?  What virtues would he praise in us that he has seen at work?  What would he have to say about our faith, our hope, and our charity?
    When it comes to faith, we can use the word ambivalently.  We sometimes mean the articles in which we should believe and we sometimes mean our trust in God.  In today’s epistle, St. Paul seems to highlight the former, as he talks about the people’s conversion away “from idols to serve the living and true God.”  And that aspect of faith is important.  Do we believe what God has revealed as true?  Not too long ago we took the Disciple Maker Index, and I have to say that our answers from the questions on beliefs of the Church were quite high.  So that’s good.  But one of the areas that we discovered we need to work at is sharing that faith that we hold so strongly with others. 
    Because our beliefs, the revelation of truth and happiness from the God who made us, is not only for our own benefit, and then we hide it under a bushel basket (to use a Gospel metaphor).  If we truly have charity, the love of God for others, then we want others to know the truth and happiness that we have found in following Christ and making His life our own.  The Gospel is not our possession to be buried in a field until the master’s return (to use another Gospel metaphor).  We are called to invest it and help it to multiply so that the Master receives a return on what He gave to us.
    The other aspect of faith is harder to quantify, but is no less important.  Do we trust in God?  And do we trust, not only when things are going well, but when they do not go the way we want them to?  Bl. Solanus Casey comes to mind in this regard.  He would say, “Thank God ahead of time.”  We can only do that if we trust in what God will give us to or allow us to experience. 
Bl. Solanus Casey
    I have been working on this with the replacement of our boiler.  We ordered our new boiler towards the end of May, and were told it could take 26 weeks of lead time, due to supply chain and employee issues.  I had hoped back then that we would get it before it got cold.  That, obviously, did not happen.  But, as the cold weather started to approach in October, I asked our Blessed Mother to watch over us and intercede for us to get our boiler sooner, or at least to keep our church at a temperature that we could still occupy it.  I tried to thank God ahead of time for taking care of us.  And I have not been disappointed; well, not totally.  I certainly wish we had our new boiler already.  But, as cold as it has gotten at night, our building has not dropped thus far below 57 degrees.  And we have had some nice, sunny 60 degree days interspersed which have also helped.  I choose to believe that our Blessed Mother has been keeping the church warm, despite cold outside temperatures.  I choose to have faith, even faith as small as a mustard seed, that everything will be alright, and our church, while not a toasty temperature, will stay warm enough where we can stay here until we get our new boiler.
    Very much connected to that trust is hope.  St. Paul describes hope as the confidence in receiving that which is, as yet, not seen.  Hope helps us to persevere towards the fulfillment of Christ’s promises to us, though we do not experience them in their fullness right now.  Heaven and the fullness of new life in Christ is our ultimate hope.  Hope helps us to keep going, even though it seems like heaven and the life Christ desires for us is so far away, or even when what Christ promises seems impossible.  Living the virtue of hope especially helps us when somethings or everything seems to be working against what we desire.
    Many bemoan the state of the Church these days.  Many have wandered away from the Church to do what they consider worship on their couches in front of a screen; or to attend ecclesial communities whose music is more adapted to their secular tastes; or simply to stop living according to the teachings of Christ altogether because they seem so antiquated.  We have had our own struggles with the Extraordinary Form restrictions, though, for the most part, we have not had to endure many restrictions outside of the sacrament of Confirmation.  Even within those who profess to be Catholic, many are confused or sow confusion and try to change teachings that cannot be changed.  So the Church seems attacked from without and even from within.  But in the midst of all of this, we keep our eyes on Christ and his promises that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church, nor will death and sin have the final say, because Christ has already conquered sin and death.  Hope gives us the ability to cling to Christ throughout whatever storms arise, knowing that if we stay with Him and His Church, we will arrive in safe harbors at the appointed time.
    Lastly, charity.  When many hear the word charity, they think of going beyond the norm to give to someone in need.  But the theological virtue of charity animates us to love with the love of God, at least as close as we can on this side of heaven.  Charity, a specific form of love, helps us to give God our best out of devotion to Him, and to care for those for whom God cares, especially the poor, widows, and orphans.  The love which is charity draws us out from ourselves and wills the good of the other.  We love because God first loved us.  And God’s love for us didn’t come because we deserved it, but as a generous gift to those who were totally unworthy of love. 
    And that love was sealed with the sacrifice of Christ, which is re-presented for us today in an unbloody manner in the Most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Charity, the love of God, means sacrificing ourselves for the other, just as Christ sacrificed Himself for us.  And the more we share in the fruit of that sacrificial love, the more we share in the result of that sacrificial love, which is the resurrection and pure joy with God in heaven.  Love, especially sacrificial love, doesn’t always feel good, but it always brings about good, because when we love others we are sharing God, and God is Goodness itself, just as He is Love itself. 
    There are many ways that we can sacrifice for the other.  This can be in our own families, and letting them get their way rather than our own (as long as it is not harmful for them).  It can be in the work we do for the poor and the needy, especially as holidays approach.  I think we’re all paying more for just about everything.  For those who don’t have more to spend because of unemployment or underemployment, can we help them to still have a good Thanksgiving or a good Christmas by our generosity?  I say generosity, but it’s really just good stewardship, because every good thing is a gift from God, and we’re merely passing on those gifts that God has shared with us.
    Today I give thanks for you, my beloved children in Christ.  I am truly blessed and humbled to be your pastor.  Throughout my time here I have been inspired by your faith, by your hope, and by your love.  We are not done in growing in these virtues, but we have a good foundation in Christ for our future.  May God continue to inspire your “work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ,” who with the Father and the Holy Spirit live and reign for ever and ever.  Amen.  

13 November 2023

Patience with Us and Others

Resumed 5th Sunday after Epiphany
    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  I am a perfectionist.  I strive always (even if not always wholeheartedly) to do tasks correctly, without any errors.  In some ways it’s virtuous, but in other ways it is a thorn in my side.  But every human person, whether a perfectionist or not, desires perfection.  That desire for the perfect is really a desire for God, implanted in our soul.  It is, as St. Augustine of Hippo says, that our hearts are restless until they rest in the perfection of God.
    But if this is so, why the reality that the Lord’s parable points to today?  Why does God allow weeds to grow up among the wheat?  Why not deal with evil as it comes up, when it is smaller, rather than waiting until the end to deal with it?
    St. Peter gives us some guidance in his second epistle.  He writes about how some are wondering if Christ ever will return, because it’s not happening as quickly as they would like.  The first pontiff responds, “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard ‘delay,’ but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”  In the mysterious plan of God, weeds can become wheat.  The smallest opening to God’s grace can allow one to move from being a sinner on the highway to hell to a saint climbing the stairway to heaven.  If, by the power of God’s grace, bread can become the Body of Christ, then it should not surprise us that, by the power of God’s grace, a limb separated from the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, can be restored to that perfect society.  So God allows the wicked chances to repent.

    But we should not only look outside at the world and see weeds sown amongst wheat.  We should not only look to the Mystical Body of Christ, which is a corpus permixtum, a body mixed with saints and sinners, as St. Augustine says in his work, The City of God.  But we should also look to ourselves and our own soul, which is itself a corpus permixtum, a mixture of good and evil.
    We can say with St. Paul, “I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate….I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.”  We are not always, as St. Paul encourages us to be, “holy,” or acting with “heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving on another.”  We are not always ruled by the peace of Christ; we are not always thankful to God or to others.  Our lives are not always governed by the Word of God.
    And yet, God is patient with us.  He gives us time to repent.  He gives us time to change our ways to become more like His.  He always gives us sufficient grace to choose the good, but our wills do not always see the benefit of living according to Christ’s rule for our life, though it be an easy yoke, and a burden that is light.
    And that patience even extends after we die.  Purgatory is a dogma of the Church.  It is part of the reality of the afterlife.  And it demonstrates God’s mercy for us, who are mixed fields.  Now, to be sure, if some of the types of weeds in our soul are deadly, then they cannot enter, as we hear from the Apocalypse of St. John: “Then the angel showed me the river of life-giving water…On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month; the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations.  Nothing accursed will be found there anymore.”  If we die in a state of mortal sin, we cannot go to Purgatory or Heaven.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in paragraph 1035 states, “Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend to hell.” 
    But should we not have deadly weeds in our souls, but smaller venial weeds, God is patient with us and allows those “who die in God’s grace and friendship, but [who are] still imperfectly purified…[to] undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”  He does not exclude us from the Beatific Vision if, after our life, we have not achieved the perfection proper to our nature.  As long as we have not made a conscious choice to reject Him through a mortal sin, God can extend His patience to us even after we die, so that we can be united to Him for eternity in heaven. 
    I have said this before, but it’s worth repeating: the fact that Purgatory exists as an example of God’s patience and mercy should not make us aim for Purgatory.  Go to the heights, as Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati says, and aim for heaven.  Because at least if you don’t quite make it, you can still make it to Purgatory.  But if you don’t quite make Purgatory, there’s no consolation prize, but only wailing and gnashing of teeth. 
Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati
    And besides God’s patience spurring us on to utilize the opportunities for growth in holiness for ourselves so that we can go to heaven, God also invites us to be patient with others.  If God is patient with us, so we should extend that patience to others.  And that only happens if we love others.  How many times does a parent put up with those small, but frequent, bad decisions of their children (or sometimes even larger bad decisions as they go through adolescence)?  They discipline their children to help them to know the consequences of doing what is wrong, but they don’t throw them out on the street after the first time they hit a sibling, tell a lie, or break curfew.  Because of the love that parents has for their children, they endure multiple bad decisions and keep working to achieve the desired good behavior.  God does the same for us because of His great love for us.  We, too, are called to love with God’s love, which we call charity, as best as we can, not only with our family members, but even to those whom we do not know.  Patience is, as my spiritual director has told and tells me, and exercise of love for the other.
    The desire for perfection is good.  God calls us to be perfect, that is, to follow His will in our lives according to our human nature.  And our desire for the perfect comes from our desire for God, who is the perfect source of all goodness.  Still, when we see a lack of perfection, whether it be from others or in ourselves, we should not despair, nor should we go on Sherman’s march to the sea, destroying everything along the way.  The Lord invites us today to have patience, to mimic His own patience with us, because change can happen; weeds can become wheat; any sinner can become a saint.  And sometimes the sinner just needs a little more time to repent.  God is patient with us; be patient with others, so that we, and they, may enjoy the eternal peace of heaven, where God reigns eternally: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

The Parable Against Sharing

Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
    This is the sort of Gospel that a young kid wants to hear: the ladies who had enough oil didn’t have to share with the ladies who used up all of theirs.  Where was this Gospel when someone wanted me to share my Halloween candy with other kids?

    Of course, sharing is generally a good thing.  We have a responsibility to care for others, especially those who do not have enough.  But what are we to make of this parable?  Because the five wise virgins didn’t share their oil with the five foolish virgins who burnt theirs all up, and Jesus commends the wisdom of the five.  And Jesus commends them because there was a chance that, if the five wise virgins shared, they would have run out of oil, and you would have had ten foolish virgins, rather than just five.
    The main point of the parable is that, when it comes to welcoming Christ, one ought to be ready at all times, and nothing should stand in the way of making sure that we are ready.  The five wise virgins are praised because they focused on welcoming the bridegroom above everything else.  While those who were not ready for the bridegroom’s return were left outside, and though they were invited to the wedding, because of their foolishness, the bridegroom says, “‘I do not know you.’” 
    St. Paul describes the day of Christ the Bridegroom’s return as a day that will come “with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God.”  On that day, as we will hear on the Feast of Christ the King, God will separate the just from the unjust, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  For the sheep it will be a day of great rejoicing as they are led into heaven.  For the goats it will be a dies irae, a day of wrath, as God respects their rejection of Him and they are locked outside in the fires of Hell.
    The sequence, Dies Irae, used to be said or sung at every funeral before the liturgical reforms of Vatican II.  And if you only pay attention to the first two stanzas, it does seem quite harsh:

Day of wrath and doom impending!
David’s word with Sibyl’s blending,
Heaven and earth in ashes ending!

Oh, what fear man’s bosom renders,
When from heaven the Judge descendeth,
On whose sentence all dependeth.

Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth;
Through the earth’s sepulchers it ringeth;
All before the throne it bringeth.

But the later verses display great faith and confidence in Christ’s salvation:

Faint and weary, Thou has sought me,
On the Cross of suffering bought me.
Shall such grace be vainly brought me?…

Through the sinful woman shriven,
Through the dying thief forgiven,
Thou to me a hope hast given….

With Thy sheep a place provide me,
From the goats afar divide me,
To Thy right hand do Thou guide me.

And this is the point of being ready: that when we are prepared for Christ to return at any time, the surprise of when it actually happens will be a joyful one, rather than the fearful surprise of Christ’s return if we live in a way that shows that we do not want to be with Him eternally.  It’s like the difference between being a kid left home alone, but doing all the chores that mom and dad asked you to do, and they get home earlier than expected and being a kid left home alone, figuring you have plenty of time to do those chores, so you’re going to leave it to the end, but then you’re having so much fun you don’t realize how quickly time is passing, and then mom and dad come home early.  The return is the same; your reaction can be quite different.
    How do we live like the wise virgins, then?  How do we keep our lamps trimmed so that our oil does not run out, and when the Bridegroom does return, we can still have lit lamps?  Part of the best advice is to keep Christ at the front of your mind throughout the day.  How often do you think about Jesus throughout the day?  How often do you make a short prayer, or even just the sign of the cross as you progress through the daily grind?  When we remember Christ, we tend to remember better how He taught us to live, and we are more likely to follow through than if we don’t keep our Lord in mind.
    Do we keep death in front of us?  No one hopes for an early death, but no one plans for an unexpected death, either.  That’s why they call it unexpected.  If we are doing our best to avoid sin, and making regular confessions, then we’ll be ready, either for death or for Christ’s return, which is closer today than it was yesterday.  One mortal sin on our soul at the time of death could erase the years of grace that we have lived.  So avoid those sins at all costs, or if you do fall, make sure you’re going to confession and working on eradicating those sins from your life, which is only possible with God’s grace anyway.
    Today’s Gospel does not tell us that we shouldn’t share.  But it does tell us to make sure that we spare no attention in preparing ourselves for the return of the Bridegroom and welcoming Him.  May the day of the Bridegroom’s return not catch us off guard, and so become a dies irae, but may it rather fulfill our lifelong hopes and joy of waiting for Christ, and so, as the Dies Irae chants, “Call [us] with Thy saints surrounded.”

06 November 2023

Going to Jesus with Faith

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost

    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  This passage of the raising of the Jairus’s daughter (in Matthew’s account he is only called a certain official), with the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage sandwiched in-between, is important enough that it is included in all three synoptic Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  And we have two things going on: one, the Lord goes to raise the daughter of Jairus (Luke and Mark put her at the point of death, but not dead yet); two, the Lord heals the woman with the hemorrhage, seemingly without even knowing it (at least in the other accounts).  But both of these accounts show important aspects of the life of a disciple: going to Christ and having faith.
    In both parts of today’s Gospel, the people go to the Savior for what they want.  The official goes so that his daughter might have life.  He pleads with Christ to heal her, but after she has died, to raise her from the dead.  The woman needs healing, and interrupts the Lord’s journey to Jairus’s house.  She does not feel comfortable speaking with Christ, but has confidence that all she has to do is touch His clothes and she will be healed.  In both cases, the people go to Christ for what they need, and He provides for them.
    In both parts of today’s Gospel, that approach to the Lord is motivated by faith.  Jairus has faith that the Lord will heal or raise his daughter.  The woman has faith that if she but touches the hem of Christ’s garment that she will receive the healing for which she has long been searching.  In all three Gospel accounts, this story is fairly early in the Lord’s public ministry, so this faith is based mostly on the hope for who this itinerant rabbi might be.
    The two temptations for us as followers of Christ are to fall into the error of a kind of fideism, which the philosopher Alvin Plantinga describes as “the exclusive or basic reliance upon faith alone, accompanied by a consequent disparagement of reason”; or rationalism, where faith has no role in our lives, and we only follow scientific realities.  Now, both might seem like an extreme no one here would fall into, but they can sneak up quite quickly. 
    In the case of a brand of fideism, we go to God, which is good, but we don’t also utilize what God has revealed through human reason.  There are those who refuse to seek medical treatment because faith in God’s healing will suffice, and if God wants the person to be healed, that person will be healed.  When someone is sick, we should go to God to ask for the health of an individual.  We should have faith that God can do amazing things without any assistance from another, just like in the Gospel.  But we should also utilize that gifts that God has given, whether to us or to others, in utilizing the natural sciences to work God’s healing.  If a child’s arm is broken, we don’t just pray over that child, hoping that the bone will set itself correctly.  We pray for healing, and we take the child to a doctor to set the arm and put it in a cast.
    In the case of a type of rationalism, we ignore God altogether, and rely simply upon our wisdom.  While this might seem like something we would never do, especially as people who go to church, it can sneak in quite easily and clandestinely to our lives, such that, as we approach decisions, we fail to include God in those decisions at all.  We start out from the view that we know what is best, and ask God simply to affirm our decision, rather than putting our decision to him, and leaving space in our life for His will to be done.  We allow our reason to take the place of God’s providence, and leave no room for God to act.
    St. Paul says in today’s epistle that we should follow his example, and St. Paul was someone who both used reason and relied on faith in God.  He avoided the vicious extremes of fideism and rationalism, and took the virtuous middle road of rational faith, leaving room for God and also utilizing his own wisdom.  We see this in the trial St. Paul undergoes before he is sent to Rome for Caesar’s decision.
    St. Paul had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would go to Jerusalem to undergo imprisonment and hardships.  When, on his way to Jerusalem, he stopped in Caesarea, a prophet by the name of Agabus came to St. Paul, “too Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, ‘Thus says the holy Spirit: This is the way the Jews will bind the owner of this belt in Jerusalem, and they will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”  St. Paul was open to the will of God leading him back to Jerusalem.  But, when on trial before the high priest and Sanhedrin, Paul also realized that some were Pharisees, who believe in the resurrection, and some were Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection.  He used that knowledge to pit them against each other, saying that he was on trial for his belief in the resurrection of the dead, such that the Pharisees wanted to release him, but the Sadducees would not allow it.
    Towards the end of that trial, the Lord spoke to St. Paul and said, “‘Take courage.  For just as you have borne witness to my cause in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.’”  St. Paul was transferred back to Caesarea to be questioned by the Roman governor Felix.  The case wouldn’t be decided, as Felix and his successor, Festus, wanted to curry favor from the Jews, no doubt to help keep peace.  When St. Paul saw that Festus wanted to send him back to Jerusalem, he invoked his right as a Roman citizen, and said, “‘I appeal to Caesar.’”  Festus keeps him a little longer and lets him speak to King Agrippa.  King Agrippa, after hearing Paul’s testimony and witness of his faith, admits that Paul had done nothing wrong, and told Festus, “‘This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.’”  But St. Paul knew that God wanted him to witness to the faith in Rome, so he appealed to Caesar, rather than risk the chance of being set free again.  St. Paul trusted in God, believed what God had revealed to him, but also used his reason and wit to cooperate with the plan of God.
     Our challenge today is to follow the example of Jairus and of the woman with the hemorrhage and of St. Paul: to go to the Lord when we are in any need, and to have faith in His plan.  This doesn’t mean that we ignore God’s gift of reason to us, nor does it mean that we ignore God and only use our reason.  Rather, we take our desires and plans to God, and submit them to His Divine Providence, knowing that sometimes God will intervene in some way to change our plans to be more in accord with His, and that sometimes God will allow our plans to proceed as we desired.  But the key is that we have faith in God, and that we go to Him in any need: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

Obedience and Humility

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
    Obedience and humility.  These two virtues, pointed to in our readings today, are probably two of the least practiced or appreciated virtues in society today.  In fact, there are probably people who consider either both or at least one of those virtues as not really that good.

    Driving in Flint, I see examples of disobedience all the time.  And I’m not talking about driving maybe 1-5 mph over the speed limit.  Even (or maybe especially) when I’m not working with the Michigan State Police, I see people routinely driving 10 or more mph above the speed limit, or passing in the center turn lane, or even running red lights, or rolling through a stop sign.  And as someone who values obedience, it drives me nuts!
    But beyond traffic laws, the idea of obeying another bristles most Americans.  We find excuses why we shouldn’t have to obey this or that person: she’s a Republican; he’s a Democrat; she doesn’t follow through on her commitments; did you see what he did when he didn’t think anyone was looking?  The list goes on.  It’s not a bad thing to want integrity of life in someone who has authority over us.  But sometimes I think that we only would listen to Jesus or the Blessed Mother, because they’re sinless.
    And let’s be honest, we wouldn’t even listen to them.  We’d find some reason to write even Jesus or the Blessed Mother off when they tell us to do difficult things.  And we’d probably use their sinlessness against them: “Yeah, they tell us to do X, but that’s easy for them to say, they’re sinless!” 
    Jesus was no stranger to the discontinuity between instruction and example.  But He doesn’t tell the people to stop obeying the Pharisees and scribes in what they teach about they faith.  Instead, Jesus tells them not to follow their example, even while they follow what they teach.  And, He tells them to center their lives around the one master, the Christ (and that’s Jesus). 
    But to follow what someone teaches, even if their life doesn’t measure up to that standard, takes real humility.  Because humility admits that I don’t know everything, and that sometimes other people are going to legitimately ask me to do something that I don’t want to do, but that I should still do it anyway.  Humility says that I don’t have to be in charge of every aspect of my life, that I can actually find happiness in submitting to another’s will, as long as it’s not against what God has revealed. 
    And part of Jesus’ message today is that the important thing is to follow God’s will for our lives, even when those who are telling us to follow it don’t do so perfectly, or maybe don’t even try.  The most important thing is not the vehicle by which the message is conveyed; it’s the message.  When the truth presents itself to us, our only good option is to follow it, even if the message of truth is not spread by someone fully living that truth him or herself.
    Take last weekend’s Gospel: Jesus told us that the two great commandments are to love God with all of who we are, and love our neighbor as ourselves.  And I preached on what that looks like.  But, and this will come as no shock to at least some of you, I don’t always love God with all of who I am, and I don’t always love my neighbor.  I do my best to live out the great commandments, but I often fail.  Does that mean that you shouldn’t love God or your neighbor because I’m not doing it perfectly?  If that were the case, no one would ever hear the Gospel, because everyone who has preached the Gospel, outside of Jesus and Mary, have struggled to keep it, including our first pope, St. Peter.
    St. Paul reminds us that we hold the treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels.  And he says that the reason for this is, “that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.”  There is a method to knowing that everyone who preaches the Gospel does not fully live up to us, so that people aren’t convinced that it’s simply some special power that only an elite few have.  No, the power of the Gospel comes not from the messenger, but from God, the author of the Gospel. 
    Does that mean that we don’t worry about living the Gospel to our fullest ability because God will show the power of the Gospel even if we are not living it?  Certainly not.  There is a greater witness when someone has the integrity of living what they preach.  When someone lives contrary to that message, it lessens our desire to live according to the message, which is part of the definition of scandal.  Imagine a marriage counselor telling a couple to work out their differences through dialogue, and then you find out that he beats his wife whenever she does something he doesn’t like.  You’d be less likely to listen to him in the future.  So we should do our best to live out the message that we preach to others about following Christ.
    Still, we need not be overly worried when we do not live according to God’s will perfectly, and then decide not to preach what God teaches because we don’t always live up to it.  Yes, we should try our best to cooperate with God’s grace each day to do His will, but we shouldn’t cease our witness to the Gospel because we ourselves are not perfect.  The importance is that the truth is preached and that people have a chance to make it their own in their life, no matter who is preaching it.  May we be humble enough to do our best to live obediently to God’s will each day, making God’s will the most important thing in our life, rather than our own will.

30 October 2023

Not Safe, But Good

Feast of Christ the King
    In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  In his wonderful work, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis has a dialogue between the three children and Mr. Beaver, where Mr. Beaver introduces the character of Aslan.  Mr. Beaver says that Aslan is:

“the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea.  […]Aslan is a lion–the Lion, the great Lion.”
“Ooh!” said Susan, “…Is he–quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mr. Beaver.  “If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver.  “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe?  ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King, I tell you.”

As we celebrate Christ the King, we celebrate the King to whom Aslan points, not safe, but good; the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, whom we, the sons of Adam and Eve, can embrace as our brother, but a Lion, nonetheless.

    Christ as a King is both a strong warrior who defeats the enemy at the gates, but also our brother, by our adoption by His Divine Father.  Words limp at such an apparent paradox.  Christ Himself tells parable about killing the enemies of the king, and says on the night before His Passion that the prince of this world is being cast out.  And at the same time He asks the woman caught in adultery, “‘Has no one condemned you?  Neither then do I condemn you.  Go, and from now on, sin no more.’”  He is the Good Samaritan who binds up our wounds, puts us on His beast, and takes us to the inn where He pays for our recovery; but at the same time He is the one who “will put those wicked men to a wicked end” for not taking care of His vineyard and harming and killing the messengers of the vineyard owner.  He is, in the Apocalypse, the Lamb who was slain, and yet who has a sword which comes from His mouth to strike down the nations that oppose Him. 
    Perhaps that is why we are presented with two distinct images of His Kingship in our readings: St. Paul’s description of the Lord as the firstborn of all creation, the head of the body, the Church, who has primacy over everything; and the innocent victim, standing before the merely temporal Roman governor, yet submitting to Pilate’s decision that would mean the sacrifice of Christ’s life.  Christ, like Aslan, is both approachable and terrifying; Lover and Lord. 
    Perhaps that is why our relationship with Christ the King is also so hard to explain and put into words.  The Lord says in John, chapter 15, “‘You are my friends if you do what I command you.  I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing.  I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.’”  But then St. Paul, who met the same Christ on the road to Damascus, refers to himself as “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus,” in his epistle to the Romans.  St. Ignatius of Loyola would “baptize” his former life as a mercenary, and talk about himself as a knight serving the King of Kings.  While St. Catherine of Siena would describe the Lord as “sweet Jesus, Jesus, Love.”  The responsory from the post-Conciliar Divine Office for the Second Reading on the Memorial of Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian says, “We are warriors now, fighting on the battlefield of faith, and God sees all we do; the angels watch and so does Christ.  What honor and glory and joy, to do battle in the presence of God and to have Christ approve our victory.”  While St. Theresa of Calcutta saw Christ hanging on the cross, telling her, “I thirst” and asking her to quench that thirst by serving the poorest of the poor.  All of those images are true, as contradictory as they may seem at first glance.
    His Eminence, Cardinal Pizzaballa, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, recently issued a pastoral letter to the Patriarchate which also expresses this tension.  He meditates on words from the Gospel of John, “‘I have told you this so that you might have peace in me.  In the world you will have tribulations, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”  The Cardinal writes:

[Christ] addresses these words to His disciples, who will shortly be tossed about, as if in a storm, before His death.  They will panic, scatter and flee, like sheep without a shepherd.
    Yet, this last word of Jesus is an encouragement.  He does not say that He shall win, but that He has already won.  Even in the turmoil to come, the disciples will be able to have peace.  This is not a matter of theoretical irenic peace, nor of resignation to the fact that the world is evil, and we can do nothing to change it.  Instead it is about having the assurance that precisely within all this evil, Jesus has already won.  Despite the evil ravaging the world, Jesus has achieved a victory, and established a new reality, a new order, which after the resurrection will be issued by the disciples who were reborn in the Spirit. 
    It was on the cross that Jesus won: not with weapons, not with political power, not by great means, nor by imposing himself.  The peace He speaks of has nothing to do with victory over others.  He won the world by loving it.

This letter was written for the Feast of Our Lady of Palestine, celebrated on 25 October, in the midst of yet another war in the Holy Land, the Land of the King of Kings and Prince of Peace.
    What can we do as we celebrate Christ the King, which is also the anniversary our our own Traditional Latin Mass Community in Flint?  We do our best to live in imitation of our King, Conqueror and Victim, Conqueror because He is Victim.  We do our best to put to death the works of evil, starting with ourselves and the planks that are in our own eyes, but also working to promote life by opposing the evils without and the splinters in the eyes of our neighbors.  We seek the victory and the triumph which so often are made manifest through the rituals of this beautiful Mass, doing so by the reality to which this Mass points, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, lived out in our own lives daily.  We do not shun the cross, but realize that Christ reigns from a the throne of a tree, and so we seek to reign with Him through our own daily crucifixions. 

    Christ is a King, and He is our brother.  We kneel before Him in fealty, and we run to embrace Him in love.  We acknowledge that He is not a domesticated animal, that He is not safe, but that He is good, in fact, Goodness Incarnate.  Christus vincitChristus regnatChristus imperat!  Christ conquers!  Christ reigns!  Christ commands!  He who is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever.  Amen.   

Rules or Relationship?

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
    Some people view Catholicism as a set of rules, or maybe even a particular type of morality or ethics.  They hear the Church rightly say that one ought to do this, or ought not to do that.  They sense, whether from reality or from caricatures in popular culture, that being Catholic is all about going to Mass each Sunday, going to confession, saying the rosary, listening to the pope, not eating meat on Fridays, getting married in a church, not having sex outside of marriage, not contracepting, etc.  And those are all aspects of the way that a Catholic, every Catholic, should be living his or her life. 

    But, as Pope Benedict XVI said, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”  And the encounter that Pope Benedict mentions is not just a meeting, but really a falling in love.  That is why Jesus teaches us today in the Gospel that the greatest commandment is the two-fold love of God and love of neighbor.
    When we love someone, we love not only that person, but the things that he or she loves.  When we truly love someone, our affections change to better match that person’s.  Our life becomes not about us, but about the other.  We see this start to bloom even in adolescence when a boy starts to care more about the things that his crush likes.  I think I have mentioned this before, but that’s how I started listening to country music: a girl I liked listened to country, and I wanted to have something to talk to her about.  But the love of the other fully blossoms in marriage, where one’s life is not one’s own, but is inseparably joined to the other, intertwined at the deepest levels, and the importance of the other eclipses the importance of the self and one’s own desires. 
    God desires that we each have an encounter of love with Him.  God desires not that we simply know about Him (even the demons can do that), but that we love Him, that we give our heart to Him, that He becomes more important to us than we are to ourselves, and that the things He loves become the things we love, which are really what will make us happy, since God, as our Creator, knows exactly what will fulfill our human nature. 
    “‘The whole law and the prophets,’” says Jesus, “‘depend on these two commandments.’”  The phrase, “the whole law and the prophets” means the entirety of Scripture.  All of what God has revealed depend on love of Him and love of neighbor.  Every genuinely Catholic practice–every law, every precept, every commandment–needs to find its base in this two-fold commandment of love, or else it is built on sand.
    This may not always seem obvious.  What, we might ask, does giving up fish on Fridays have to do with love of God or love of neighbor?  Is it because I’m supporting the fish industry, and those who work in it are my neighbor?  Not entirely, though I suppose it is love of neighbor in that sense.  But much more deeply, God has revealed to us that our desires are not always in accord with His will or with the truth.  We want things we shouldn’t.  And in order to help train our wills and our bodies not to go astray, God tells us that we should give up good things to focus on that which is even better: not fish in se, but on growing closer to God through restraining our human desires, even the good ones, so that we can more easily say no to the desires that take us away from God. 
    Or consider going to Mass every Sunday and Holyday.  Can’t I love go through a screen on the TV or the computer?  Can’t I offer worship to God from my couch?  In a word, no; not in the same way.  Is FaceTiming your spouse the same as sitting with her at the table, holding her hand, smelling her perfume, seeing the radiance of her smile in person?  And God not only gives us His presence.  He enters into us through the Eucharist so that we are even physically united to Him.  You cannot have that watching the Mass on TV or via Live Stream.  Each time we stand, or sit, or kneel it is like we are dancing with God, our bodies moving this way and that based upon how the sacred liturgy is progressing.  And our encounter with God culminates in Christ giving Himself to us, giving us today the same sacrifice of some 2,000 years ago on the cross, though doing it not in an unbloody way.  True love of God wouldn’t want to miss out on that for the world.
    Love of neighbor follows from our love of God, because when we love someone we love the ones they love, and God loves all of His children, even the difficult ones.  As we grow in our love with God, we cannot help but love our neighbor.  And if we are not growing in love of neighbor, then it’s a good chance that we’re not really growing in our love of God.  It is as St. John says in his first epistle: “whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.”  Any authentic growth in holiness means that we are growing in love of our neighbor.
    Yes, Catholicism has a lot of things that we do or don’t do.  Yes, it has its own morality.  But it’s not just dos and don’ts.  It’s not just a moral system.  Catholicism is a love story between the individual and God, and therefore also between the individual and God and those whom God loves.  If you name a teaching or a moral precept of Catholicism, it will find its way back to love of God and love of neighbor.  “‘The whole law and the prophets,’” and the whole exercise of our faith, “‘depend on these two commandments.’” 

23 October 2023

Same Words, Different Results

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

St. Thomas Aquinas
   In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  When I served at St. Thomas Aquinas parish in East Lansing as a parochial vicar, I spent a fair amount of time in our parish school.  One day I was asked by a teacher to come over at the end of the school day to talk to a few students who had been picking on another kid, such that the other kid had locked himself in a bathroom stall and brought to tears.  I pulled the two students aside into a classroom and asked them what had happened.  They explained that they had continuously stolen and hidden the other student’s folder, seeing how upset it made him.  I asked them why they would do such a thing.  The responded that they didn’t think it would affect him so much.  I said, “That’s right; you didn’t think.”  After that point, things become a bit hazy in my memory, but I remember thinking to myself after those words came out of my mouth, ‘I have become my father,’ because my dad would say the same thing to me if I had done something wrong and had responded that I didn’t think such and such would happen.
    I was struck in today’s Gospel by the words that the servant uses to the master when his freedom is threatened: “‘“Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.”’”  Later that same day he hears those same words from another servant who owed the first servant much smaller amounts than the first servant owed the master: “‘“Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.”’”  But apparently the light didn’t come on in the first servant’s head, and rather than recognizing that he was now in the position of the master to be generous and patient, the first servant took immediate and decisive action to put the other servant in debtor’s jail until he could pay back what he owed.  Where the master was patient and lenient, the servant was intolerant and rigorous.  

    One of the great blessings God has given us is the Sacrament of Penance, what we often call confession.  And I try to offer generous times for the celebration of God’s mercy in this sacrament.  I am also pleased that so many people, from both our parish and from other parishes, take advantage of these opportunities.  I myself try to go to confession every two or three weeks.  Besides the primary effect of forgiveness of sins (especially if we are in a state of mortal sin), as well as giving us grace to avoid temptation in the future, one of the graces that God desires to give us is to make us more like Him, our Master, in His Mercy.  
    People can often confuse mercy with license.  Especially in today’s culture, where no one takes responsibility for anything, mercy tends to mean letting me get away with something I have done.  But a priest I recently heard at convocation said that, in order to receive mercy, we have to acknowledge what is just.  And this priest used the example of the prodigal son to back up his point.  We are very quick to jump to the part of the parable where the father runs out to meet his son and puts a ring on his finger, a robe around him, and sandals on his feet, and throws a big party.  But right before that, the son acknowledges that he has sinned against heaven and against his father, and he no longer deserves to be called a son.  This priest made the point that it was because the prodigal son made that admission in justice that the father granted mercy and restored him to his previous place in family life.  Imagine if the son would have come back and simply said, “Could I have a job?”  
    Now, these two points may seem contradictory.  The parable from today’s Gospel highlights mercy, while the parable of the Prodigal Son seems to highlight justice.  But both are truly operative, and both guide how we show mercy.  In the Gospel parable the servant says that he will pay the master back.  He admits the justice.  And that admission of justice opens up mercy, a mercy which does not have a timeline.  It restores the relationship immediately, and even cancels.  And we are invited to have that same level of mercy.  When someone admits that they have wronged us, we should be ready to grant them mercy, just as God grants us mercy as soon as we confess our faults in the Sacrament of Penance.  As long as we will try not to commit that sin again, even if we think it would take a miracle to avoid those temptations, then God will forgive us.  If someone admits to us that he or she is wrong, then Christ calls us to be like the merciful Father and immediately grant mercy.
    To drive home this point even more, the Lord says elsewhere that the measure we measure out to others will in turn be measured out to us.  If we come before God, admitting our faults, and expect God to forgive us, then we should also forgive those who come to us and admit their faults.  If we do not, then how can God grant mercy to a heart that is hardened?  If we have no mercy for others in our life, then we have no room for the mercy of God, either.  If we are not willing to receive another’s act of contrition, then how could God receive ours?
    Probably many of us of a certain age have had those moments where we think: ‘I have become my parents.’  And maybe sometimes that idea scares us.  But it should be the goal of each one of us to become like our heavenly Father, who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign for ever and ever.  Amen.

What Doesn't Belong to God?

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
    At some point in elementary school I came across a word that looked similar, but was also different.  I couldn’t quite make out if it meant the same thing as the word to which it looked similar, or if it might be a different word altogether.  I asked my teacher how I was supposed to pronounce the word c-o-l-o-u-r, and what its meaning was.  I was sure it was supposed to be pronounced cah-LUHR, but was surprised that both the pronunciation and the meaning was the same as our word color, c-o-l-o-r, and that this was simply a British spelling.  I have always preferred our American spelling as much more obvious and logical.
    When we hear the Gospel, we likely are colored, however you might spell it, by our American experience.  Though the words “separation of Church and State” never appear in Constitution, it has been so ingrained in our minds that we probably hear this Gospel and figure that Jesus was advocating the same some 2,000 years ago.  I will admit that I have probably preached a homily or two on the same point.


    But look at our first reading today.  God speaks through the prophet Isaiah about the Lord’s anointed, Cyrus.  Cyrus was not a king of Israel.  He was not a Jew at all.  He was the king of the Persians, who had recently defeated the Babylonian Empire, which had exiled the two southern tribes of Jews.  But God calls Cyrus his anointed, though he was altogether pagan.  Still, Cyrus would start to provide for the return of the Jews to their homeland, and even for the building up of the temple, which had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem.  God is clearly demonstrating, through Isaiah, that even this pagan ruler was in God’s hands.  There was no separation between God an any reality.
    This idea, that what I do in politics and what I do in religion have no bearing on each other, is an intriguing idea.  But it cannot be called Catholic.  Because for the Catholic (as for the Jew before him), God is God of everything, not just some parts of the world.  Though others may not recognize it, God holds sway over everything in the created world, and we cannot compartmentalize aspects of our life into Church and State, or said differently, religion and politics.  If we really claim to follow God, then God has a say over everything I do, not just what I do within these four walls.  If we owe God everything, then every act of our life belongs to God, even that which belongs to Caesar.
    To be clear, I’m not advocating theocracy.  I’m not advocating that we rush to rebellion to overthrow the government in order to set up our bishops as rulers.  But if what the Church teaches is true, and truth applies to everyone, not just those who profess it in church, then our goal would be that all our laws would reflect the truth of what God has revealed, not just for Catholics, but for everyone.  
    Instead, we are used to the tired trope, “I personally believe X is wrong, but I’m not going to force that belief on others.”  We usually hear it from baptized Catholics who advocate the heretical view that abortion should be legal.  And people get very defensive about the abortion issue and how we seem to be forcing the Catholic Church’s teaching on others.  So let’s apply this logic to other moral teachings, which the Church holds dearly, and if a Catholic supported it, he or she would be in heresy.  Imagine a politician saying, “I personally believe that slavery is wrong, but I’m not going to force that belief on others.”  Would you vote for that politician?  How about, “I personally believe that human trafficking is wrong, but whom I am to judge another person?”  Or, also consistent, “If a person’s conscience tells him that he should break into a house to get more money, that person should follow his conscience.”  I would hope that no one would support such ridiculous propositions.   But it’s precisely the same argument that people use for advocating that abortion should be legal so that those who think it’s ok can get one.  
    We do live in a pluralistic society, with many different religions.  And there is some good in not having a particular religion being forced down our throats.  Imagine that baptists were in charge, and they created a law that said that Bibles cannot be printed with the books we Catholics include but they tore out.  That wouldn’t be right.  But many of the laws that we should have do not have to be particular to one religion.  You can know abortion is wrong without being Catholic, just like you can know stealing is wrong without being Catholic.  We don’t eliminate all our laws against stealing just because we, as Catholics, hold theft to be immoral.  
    And further, the same Jesus who said, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” also said that if we are value family more than Him, then we are not truly following Him as He desires.  Certainly if father and mother, brothers and sisters come in second place to Christ, so should the Republican or Democratic parties.  
    We view things with our American understanding because that has been our culture that has pervaded much of what we do and how we think.  But Christ is not American, and His teachings don’t always square up with our Constitution.  We may pay taxes because they belong to Caesar, but when it comes to how we live our lives, including our politics, it is all subject to God and His will, because to God belongs all that is.