‘I die His Majesty’s good servant – but God’s first.’ Sunday Reflections, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

‘I die His Majesty’s good servant – but God’s first.’ St Thomas More

A Man for all Seasons

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Matthew 22:15-21 (New Revised  Standard Version, Anglicised CatholicEdition) 

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

A denarius from 44 BC showing the head of Julius Caesar and the goddess Venus [Wikipedia]

In the time of Jesus a denarius was a day’s wage for an ordinary working man.

I spent three months in the latter part of 1982 working in a hospital in Minneapolis as a chaplain. I was one of seven doing a ‘quarter’ of Clinical Pastoral Education. One day I had to go to a bank and got chatting with an employee at the information desk. When he heard I was based in the Philippines he told me that in the previous elections in the USA he had considered, among other things, what impact his vote would have on the lives of Filipinos and others outside the USA.

I was very struck by his attitude. We never got into partisan politics nor did we discuss religion. The man was almost certainly a Christian, probably a Lutheran if he was from Minneapolis or a Catholic if from St Paul, the other ‘Twin City’. I saw in him a person reflecting the teaching of Vatican II.

One of the major documents of that Council, Gaudium et Spes, addresses the political life of society. No 75 says: All citizens, therefore, should be mindful of the right and also the duty to use their free vote to further the common good. The Church praises and esteems the work of those who for the good of men devote themselves to the service of the state and take on the burdens of this office . . . 

All Christians must be aware of their own specific vocation within the political community. It is for them to give an example by their sense of responsibility and their service of the common good. In this way they are to demonstrate concretely how authority can be compatible with freedom, personal initiative with the solidarity of the whole social organism, and the advantages of unity with fruitful diversity. They must recognize the legitimacy of different opinions with regard to temporal solutions, and respect citizens, who, even as a group, defend their points of view by honest methods. Political parties, for their part, must promote those things which in their judgement are required for the common good; it is never allowable to give their interests priority over the common good.

Robert Schuman [Wikipedia]

A politician of the last century who may be beatified one day is the Servant of God Robert Schuman, one of the founders of what is now the European Union. His politics of reconciliation in post-World War II Europe flowed from his deep Catholic Christian faith. Yet he was never an ‘agent’ of the Catholic Church. He was an embodiment of the vision of Gaudium et Spes, promulgated by Pope Paul VI in December 1965.

Incidentally, Robert Schuman, when Foreign Minister of France – he had been Prime Minister in 1947-48 despite having been born a German citizen in Luxembourg – said at a congress in 1950 to mark the 1,400th anniversary of the birth of Ireland’s greatest missionary saint: St Columban, this illustrious Irishman who left his own country for voluntary exile, willed and achieved a spiritual union between the principal European countries of his time. He is the patron saint of all those who now seek to build a United Europe.

Robert Schuman’s deepest identity was as a Christian. It was as such that he became a patriotic Frenchman and a visionary European. St Thomas More was one of the greatest Englishmen in the history of his country. However, he was His Majesty’s good servant – but God’s first. In 2000 St John Paul II proclaimed him patron saint of politicians and statesmen.

Jesus doesn’t give us any detailed way of being involved in the political life of whatever country we belong to. But he gives us the values to live by. We cannot leave those values at the entrance to the polling booth or at the entrance to the legislative chamber if we happen to be elected to public office. Nor can we leave them at the door of the church after Mass on Sunday.

As voters and politicians Catholic Christians may have very different views on most matters of policy. But there are certain issues on which we must all take a Gospel stand. We may never advocate abortion or support the very new idea of ‘marriage’ between two persons of the same sex. 

In 2013 a member of the Irish parliament who voted in favour of legalising abortion in certain circumstances was aggrieved when his parish priest told him that he could no longer be an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion. It is far more important to try to live as Gaudium et Spes teaches – All Christians must be aware of their own specific vocation within the political community – than to be an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion or a lector, important though these roles may sometimes be. But they are simply roles. No one has a ‘vocation’ to be either of these or to take on similar roles. But the Council tells us that each of us has a specific vocation within the political community.

Robert Schuman lived that vocation to the full. St Thomas More was martyred because he lived that vocation to the full.

St Thomas More, Hans Holbein the Younger [Web Gallery of Art]

The words of today’s alternative Communion Antiphon were sung as the Alleluia verse at the canonisation of St Pedro Calungsod and others, 21 October 2012.

Antiphona ad communionem  Communion Antiphon Mt10:45

Ritus hominis venit,

ut daret animan suam redemptionem pro multis.

The Son of Man has come

to give his life as a ransom for many.

World Mission Day

This Sunday is World Mission Day. You may wish to read the Message of Pope Francis for World Mission Day 2017. The Pope quotes his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI: 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.

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