The sum and substance of our lives are made up of a variety of choices that you and I make will make in the course of our lives. At regular intervals in our Country, we have the great opportunity and privilege of making critical choices at the ballot box that will impact the course of our Country in the years to come. Whether those choices deal with persons for public office, or choices that can impact State and National policies - these choices are important because of the potential impact they can have on who we are as a Nation.
God’s word today, particularly in the Gospel of Matthew, sets before us the familiar scene of Jesus being challenged to make a choice in his life. A choice that his antagonists, the Pharisees and Herodians, were hoping would not only create a dilemma for Jesus but more importantly would potentially pit him against either the State or his co-religionists, his Jewish brothers and sisters.
With the insight and skill that our modern day presidential debaters perhaps wished they themselves had, Jesus uses the image of the denarius - the common coin of that time - to point out that the “either/or” question that he was presented with, could very realistically be answered “both/and”. In other words, it was not a matter of either paying taxes to Caesar and compromising one’s religious commitments. Rather, as children of the light - men and women of the Kingdom of God, we are called to be a leaven of righteousness in the world in which we live - influencing the political structures that are part of our lives with the values that come from God.
In the not too distant past, we Catholics were sometimes questioned as to whether we could play a role in the political life of our Country. The first Roman Catholic to run for the office of the President in our Land, Alfred E. Smith of New York, was bitterly opposed primarily because of his Catholic faith and suspicions among many that he would be more loyal to the Pope than to his Country. That same argument raised its ugly head when John F. Kennedy ran for the office of the President in the early 60's. For Kennedy, the turning point, however, occurred in a famous pre-election speech at a Baptist Convocation in Texas when he basically reiterated the substance of what Jesus stated centuries before to his detractors - pointing out the proper areas of responsibility for the State and for the Church.
In recent years, however, the separation clause in our Constitution between Church and State has sadly been interpreted as almost an adversarial relationship between the two. Hopefully as Catholics we approach and shape the political choices that we make based upon the values and convictions that flow from our Gospel beliefs regarding the importance of justice and equity; a consistent life ethic that sees the intrinsic value of all life from womb to tomb. The decisions that we make as we mark our ballots are ones that balance the rights of the individual with our responsibility to be “our brother or sisters” keeper - insuring the basic dignity of all people especially the poor and the powerless.
As Catholics, we cannot abdicate our responsibility to be part of a civil and public discourse that challenges others to see the great issues that confront us in our Country in the light of the Gospel of Christ.
As faithful citizens let us pray for the wisdom and insight to be good citizens of this land of freedom. Good citizens who are willing to let the convictions and values we hold shape the choices we make in our daily life and in the life and destiny of our Country.