Real Freedom Isn’t Something Caesar Can Give or Take Away

 

 

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Beginning for two weeks, up to Independence Day, the Bishops had a Fortnight For Freedom:

On April 12, the Ad Hoc Committee on Religious Liberty of the U.S.  Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a document, “Our First,  Most Cherished Liberty,” outlining the bishops’ concerns over threats to religious freedom, both at home and abroad. The bishops called for a “Fortnight for Freedom,” a 14-day period of prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom, from June 21-July 4.

 

Bishops in their own dioceses are encouraged to arrange special events to  highlight the importance of defending religious freedom. Catholic  institutions are encouraged to do the same, especially in cooperation  with other Christians, Jews, people of other faiths and all who wish to  defend our most cherished freedom.

 

The fourteen days from June  21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to  July 4, Independence Day, are dedicated to this “fortnight for  freedom”—a great hymn of prayer for our country. Our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face  of persecution by political power—St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More,  St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, and the First Martyrs of the  Church of Rome.  Culminating on Independence Day, this special period of prayer, study, catechesis, and public action would emphasize both our  Christian and American heritage of liberty. Dioceses and parishes around the country could choose a date in that period for special events that  would constitute a great national campaign of teaching and witness for  religious liberty.

At the closing mass for the Fortnight of Freedom on July 4, 2012 at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Archbishop Charles Chaput delivered this homily on freedom:

 

 

Philadelphia is the place where both the Declaration of Independence and the  United States Constitution were written. For more than two centuries, these  documents have inspired people around the globe. So as we begin our reflection  on today’s readings, I have the privilege of greeting everyone here today — and  every person watching or listening from a distance — in the name of the Church  of my home, the Church of Philadelphia, the cradle of our country’s liberty and  the city of our nation’s founding. May God bless and guide all of us as we  settle our hearts on the word of God.

Paul Claudel, the French poet and diplomat of the last century, once  described the Christian as “a man who knows what he is doing and where he is  going in a world [that] no longer [knows] the difference between good and evil,  yes and no. He is like a god standing out in a crowd of invalids. … He alone has  liberty in a world of slaves.”

Like most of the great writers of his time, Claudel was a mix of gold and  clay, flaws and genius. He had a deep and brilliant Catholic faith, and when he  wrote that a man “who no longer believes in God, no longer believes in  anything,” he was simply reporting what he saw all around him. He spoke from a  lifetime that witnessed two world wars and the rise of atheist ideologies that  murdered tens of millions of innocent people using the vocabulary of science. He  knew exactly where forgetting God can lead.

We Americans live in a different country, on a different continent, in a  different century. And yet, in speaking of liberty, Claudel leads us to the  reason we come together in worship this afternoon.

Most of us know today’s passage from the Gospel of Matthew (22:15-21). What  we should, or should not, render unto Caesar shapes much of our daily discourse  as citizens. But I want to focus on the other and more important point Jesus  makes in today’s Gospel reading: the things we should render unto God.

When the Pharisees and Herodians try to trap Jesus, he responds by asking  for a coin. Examining it, he says, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” When his enemies say “Caesar’s,” he tells them to render it to Caesar. In other  words, that which bears the image of Caesar belongs to Caesar.

The key word in Christ’s answer is “image,” or in the Greek, eikon.  Our modern meaning of “image” is weaker than the original Greek meaning. We tend  to think of an image as something symbolic, like a painting or sketch. The Greek  understanding includes that sense but goes further. In the New Testament, the “image” of something shares in the nature of the thing itself.

This has consequences for our own lives because we’re made in the image of  God. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the same word eikon  is used in Genesis when describing creation. “Let us make man in our image,  after our likeness,” says God (Genesis 1:26). The implication is clear: To be  made in the image of God is more than a pious slogan. It’s a statement of fact.  Every one of us shares — in a limited but real way — in the nature of God  himself. When we follow Jesus Christ, we grow in conformity to that image.

Once we understand this, the impact of Christ’s response to his enemies  becomes clear. Jesus isn’t being clever. He’s not offering a political  commentary. He’s making a claim on every human being. He’s saying, “Render unto  Caesar those things that bear Caesar’s image, but, more importantly,  render unto God that which bears God’s image” — in other words, you and me. All  of us.

And that raises some unsettling questions: What do you and I, and all of  us, really render to God in our personal lives? If we claim to be  disciples, then what does that actually mean in the way we speak and  act?

Thinking about the relationship of Caesar and God, religious faith and  secular authority, is important. It helps us sort through our different duties  as Christians and citizens. But on a deeper level, Caesar is a creature of  this world, and Christ’s message is uncompromising: We should give Caesar nothing of ourselves. Obviously, we’re in the world. That means we have  obligations of charity and justice to the people with whom we share it.  Patriotism is a virtue. Love of country is an honorable thing. As Chesterton  once said, if we build a wall between ourselves and the world, it makes little  difference whether we describe ourselves as locked in or locked out.

But God made us for more than the world. Our real home isn’t here.  The point of today’s Gospel passage is not how we might calculate a fair  division of goods between Caesar and God. In reality, it all belongs to  God, and nothing — at least nothing permanent and important — belongs to  Caesar. Why? Because just as the coin bears the stamp of Caesar’s image, we  bear the stamp of God’s image in baptism. We belong to God and only to  God.

In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells us, “Indeed, religion” — the RSV  version says “godliness” — “with contentment is great gain. For we brought  nothing into the world, just as we shall not be able to take anything out of it” (1 Timothy, 6:6-11).

True freedom knows no attachments other than Jesus Christ. It has no love of  riches or the appetites they try to satisfy. True freedom can walk away from  anything — wealth, honor, fame, pleasure. Even power. It fears neither the  state, nor death itself.

Who is the most free person at anything? It’s the person who masters her  art. A pianist is most free who — having mastered her instrument according to  the rules that govern it and the rules of music and having disciplined and honed  her skills — can now play anything she wants.

The same holds true for our lives. We’re free only to the extent that we  unburden ourselves of our own willfulness and practice the art of living  according to God’s plan. When we do this, when we choose to live according to  God’s intention for us, we are then — and only then — truly free.

This is the freedom of the sons and daughters of God. It’s the freedom of  Miguel Pro, Mother Teresa, Maximillian Kolbe, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and all the  other holy women and men who have gone before us to do the right thing, the  heroic thing, in the face of suffering and adversity.

This is the kind of freedom that can transform the world. And it should  animate all of our talk about liberty — religious or otherwise.

I say this for two reasons. Here’s the first reason: Real freedom isn’t  something Caesar can give or take away. He can interfere with it; but when  he does, he steals from his own legitimacy.

Here’s the second reason: The purpose of religious liberty is to create  the context for true freedom. Religious liberty is a foundational right.  It’s necessary for a good society. But it can never be sufficient for human  happiness. It’s not an end in itself. In the end, we defend religious liberty in  order to live the deeper freedom that is discipleship in Jesus Christ. What good  is religious freedom, consecrated in the law, if we don’t then use that freedom  to seek God with our whole mind and soul and strength?

Today, July 4, we celebrate the birth of a novus ordo seclorum (a “new order of the ages”), the American Era. God has blessed our nation with  resources, power, beauty and the rule of law. We have so much to be grateful  for. But these are gifts. They can be misused. They can be lost. In coming  years, we’ll face more and more serious challenges to religious liberty in our  country. This is why the Fortnight for Freedom has been so very important.

And yet, the political and legal effort to defend religious liberty — as  vital as it is — belongs to a much greater struggle to master and convert our  own hearts and to live for God completely, without alibis or self-delusion. The  only question that finally matters is this one: Will we live wholeheartedly  for Jesus Christ? If so, then we can be a source of freedom for the world.  If not, nothing else will do.

 

God’s words in today’s first reading are a caution we ignore at our own  expense. “Son of man,” God says to Ezekiel and to all of us, “I have appointed  you as a sentinel. If I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die’ — and you do  not warn them or speak out to dissuade them … I will hold you  responsible for their blood” (Ezekiel, 3:17-21).

Here’s what that means for each of us: We live in a time that calls for  sentinels and public witness. Every Christian in every era faces the same task.  But you and I are responsible for this moment. Today. Now. We need to “speak out,” not only for religious liberty and the ideals of the nation we  love, but for the sacredness of life and the dignity of the human person — in  other words, for the truth of what it means to be made in the image and likeness  of God.

We need to be witnesses of that truth not only in word, but also in deed. In  the end, we’re missionaries of Jesus Christ, or we’re nothing at all. And we  can’t share with others what we don’t live faithfully and joyfully  ourselves.

When we leave this Mass today, we need to render unto Caesar those things  that bear his image. But we need to render ourselves unto God — generously,  zealously, holding nothing back. To the extent we let God transform us into his  own image, we will — by the example of our lives — fulfill our duty as citizens  of the United States, but much more importantly, as disciples of Jesus  Christ.

3 Responses to Real Freedom Isn’t Something Caesar Can Give or Take Away

  • Mary De Voe says:

    In Henry VIII’s England, persons were persecuted and put to death in body for their adherence to the Catholic Church. In present day America, principles are being eradicated to dumb the souls and minds of the people. Purposely, the principles of freedom and truth are being obliterated. Instead of killing people’s bodies, here in America, people’s principles are being killed. Our Constitution is the only one outside of the Vatican City State that guarantees freedom.

  • Mary De Voe says:

    The Supreme Court for the United States of America and its Justices are the dispensers of Divine Justice, according to the Freedom ENDOWED BY OUR “Creator”. Freedom created and endowed by God belongs to each and every person. Atheists and secular humanists repudiating TRUTH and all of TRUTH’S facets repudiate endowed FREEDOM and impose their non-beliefs, which are rejected by believers, to hide their errors.
    No God-given freedom intents to offend. If offense is taken, those offended are mistaken. Every word spoken or thought about God is intended for the good of every person ever created. For the atheist to say that she is offended by the gift of being remembered before God is untenable. The atheist enjoys the Freedom endowed by God but refuses to acknowledge God as the Creator and giver of the gift of Freedom. If the atheist truly embraced atheism, he would remain silent for the freedom of speech is from God.
    In the 1990 Smith case the Supreme Court said that it “tolerates” God’s gift of freedom, Religious Liberty. Justice requires the Supreme Court to acknowledge the gift of freedom created and endowed by our Creator. What the Supreme Court said in 1990 Smith was that the Supreme Court “tolerates” persons with religious Liberty. I guess that that is a good thing if the people can “tolerate” the Supreme Court’s unequal Justice for all.

  • Mary De Voe says:

    What is there in the HHS mandate to protect the sovereignty of the Vatican City State, the sovereignty of the Vatican’s Catholic Churches and the sovereignty of the parishioners of the Vatican’s Catholic Churches?
    The redefinition of Freedom of Religion to freedom of worship does not redefine sovereignty. Sovereign immunity, like diplomatic immunity, exempts persons from obeying an injunction or participating in a mandate that violates their sovereignty. The sovereignty of the person extends to the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution that cannot force a person to testify against himself. If a sovereign person cannot incriminate himself, how can he be penalized by the HHS mandate for preserving his sovereignty?
    Obama has vowed to seize all private property in Executive Order 13575 Rural Councils and attached the 32 Czars in his cabinet to enforce this order. Order 11004 gives Obama the power to relocate people. EXECUTIVE ORDER 11310 grants authority to the Department of Justice to enforce the plans set out in Executive Orders. Obama does not get to redefine the authority of the Department of Justice.

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