|"We Live in a Country That Is Facing an Election"
FARGO, North Dakota, 24 OCT. 2008 (ZENIT)
Here is the text of a homily
given Sunday by Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo at the Cathedral of St.
* * *
In our Gospel for this weekend, we hear of how the Pharisees and
Herodians plot together to trap Jesus in his speech. It is an
interesting combination for the Pharisees were the zealous keepers of
the law. They were anti-Roman. They distrusted and disliked the
Herodians. The Herodians were supporters of Herod, who was supported by
the Roman government. They were comfortable with the regime and, in that
comfort, they did not want to make any waves.
The Pharisees and Herodians hated each other, but their hate for Jesus
was far greater. And so they plotted with each other. They want to
entrap Jesus in his speech. Notice how they approach him. They call him
“Teacher” and say “we know that you are a truthful man and that you
teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.” They ask him if it
is lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar. They know full well that if
Jesus responds to their question with a “yes” or “no” answer, they will
have entrapped him. If he said “Yes, you are to pay the taxes to
Caesar,” the people would be up in arms because the people of Israel
mostly sided with the Pharisees. And if he said, “No, you are not to pay
the tax,” then the Romans would go after him and attack him and get rid
of him for causing insurrection.
Jesus’ response is to ask them to show him the coin then to ask them a
question, “Whose image is on this and whose inscription?” They replied,
“Caesar’s.” And Jesus replied, “Then render to Caesar what is Caesar’s
and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:20-21).
It is important to understand that the king’s authority and power over
his people extended as far as his coins with his image on it were used.
That is where his power and authority rested, wherever his money was
used. Jesus granted that Caesar, the secular power, had a true role to
play in society and economics, but Jesus primarily affirmed the
essential principle that God comes first. Why? Because instead of being
simply a king, a human power for the good of society, God is the source
of each society and every life. He is the creator of all.
An even more beautiful truth is brought to mind by the symbol of an
image on a coin. Because every human being is created in the image and
likeness of God, each human person bears the mark of God’s love,
protection and authority in their very person. From the very beginning
that truth has been taught, revealed in Sacred Scripture
that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God as
evidenced in Genesis.
As we reflect upon this encounter, we can ask ourselves, “What does that
say for us today in our own time?” and “How is Jesus today speaking to
We live in a country that is facing an election. It is an election that
is difficult, to say the least. Both parties have abandoned basic
principles concerning human dignity. We live in a country where the
national religion has truly become atheism, whether it is in the actual
denial of belief in God, or in the existence of practical atheism,
living as if God did not exist.
We know that our forefathers, in establishing the Declaration of
Independence, spoke of the law of nature and nature’s God. There was a
basic recognition that all rights come from God, not from a monarch or
the state. Our Declaration of Independence states in no uncertain terms,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable
Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of
Happiness.” They knew within their hearts and within their minds through
reason that there is a Creator who is over all peoples. There is to be
no imposition of a particular religion, but there is to be the freedom
of religion. They knew that God, not man, is the source of life and
society. The Creator is the underlying essential principle behind life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Some two-hundred and fifty years earlier, Thomas More and Bishop John
Fisher both recognized that truth. They were beheaded because they
understood the basic principle that in any society for a Catholic, in
every civil society, God comes first. Thomas More would say before he
died, “I am the king’s loyal servant, but God’s first.”
When we move forward in time, James Madison, the “father of the U.S.
Constitution” recognized the duty of every person to render homage to
the Creator. He makes a statement that many politicians today would
challenge, that one’s duty to God comes first “…both in order of time
and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.”
Today, Catholic politicians and individual voters on both sides of the
aisle have lost the sense of this fundamental principle that underlies
every just and enduring society. Most especially, they have lost the
sense of the inalienable right to life for the unborn child. Even
without considering God in the equation, human life, for every human
being, begins at the moment of conception. That is when human life
begins. That is when your life began. And that is when Rep. Pelosi’s
life began. That is when Sen. Biden’s life began. That is when Sen.
Obama’s life began and Sen. McCain’s life began.
Sadly, the dignity of human life from the moment of conception is lost
today. The truth nonetheless exists. Our forefathers recognized it but
present day politicians and voters do not.
Furthermore, we have lost too this fundamental principle in what it
means to pursue happiness. We see the attempted pursuit of happiness
without God and the collapse of this pursuit in Wall Street and the
economics of today. Greed has guided the hearts of men and women, in
which a 40 million dollar bonus is not enough in one year. When you take
God out of the equation and life is lived as if he did not exist, the
only thing left to pursue is materialism, because there is no life after
death, there is no judgment. And so greed guides the hearts of men and
women when we lose that basic essential understanding of the presence of
We see that abandonment of God’s presence, too, in the area of human
sexuality. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. Women are treated
as sexual toys and objects. People proclaim a “good” in same sex unions,
living promiscuously, and moving from one intimate relationship to the
Once we lose God in the pursuit of happiness, and once we lose the sense
of the dignity of the human person and the God in whose image and
likeness we are truly created, then we lose all sense of any moral
compass or any moral standard. Without God, can there be any morality at
all? Or is it set by the thinking of the day that can change from
generation to generation, rooted in no truths that are valid for every
person in every generation?
We as a nation stand at a crossroads. There is a fork in the road
between the culture of life and the culture of death. The culture of
death made great inroads with activist judges in the 1973 court that
created a so-called right to abortion. They, like the Pharisees and the
Herodians, hid behind lies, they hid behind deceit, they hid behind a
lack of reason and the majority said, “It is okay to destroy human life
in all nine months of pregnancy.”
Judges, politicians and voters who went so far as to state that human
life may be destroyed at the beginning are now attacking human life at
its end by support for assisted suicide. The next step will be to deny
healthcare for the elderly and handicapped because they are no more of
any use to society. Once the right to life is no longer understood as a
gift from God, but attributed to people by the state, the road to
further atrocities against human life is a spiral downward quite
What many Catholic politicians and citizens have done by their actions
and votes today is to sell their souls, because what they have done is
to say, “We will be created in the image and likeness, not of God, but
of a Democratic platform, of a Republican platform
that’s whose image and likeness we will embrace.” There is neither
reason nor logic in their statements, but anything to gain power and
this compromise leads only to blindness and darkness.
My sisters and brothers, you and I are not created in the image and
likeness of Obama or McCain or a political party. We are created in the
image and likeness of God. We must, as our forefathers did, place the
God-given inalienable rights first, beginning with the right to life
from the moment of conception until natural death. As bad as the economy
is, as bad as the war is, the destruction of innocent human life,
especially in the womb, is a greater evil, and correction of this grave
evil must take place. Each of us has a role in making this correction in
our duties as citizens. To say that “the battle is lost” is to condone
an intrinsic evil that will only lead to further evils.
A hundred years from now, this election will just be a moment in
history. A hundred years from now all of us, or certainly most of us,
will be dead. But I assure you, a hundred years from now, if we continue
as a society on the course that we are on, embracing a culture of death,
our society will no longer exist, because tyranny will have its way, as
When there is no recognition of the primacy of God and human beings
decide what is good and what is evil, anything can be justified. All we
have to do is look at history and the atheism of China, the atheism of
Russia, the atheism of Cambodia, and the atheism of Nazi Germany.
Countries that embrace atheism reveal the truth
that is, if we do not embrace, as our forefathers did, the laws of
nature and nature’s God, we will eventually collapse as a society.
As we continue with our celebration of the Eucharist, I encourage us
during the course of this week to reflect upon the teaching of Jesus.
Reflect upon, “How have I been influenced more by the politics of the
secular world than by the truth of the Gospel reflected in the teachings
of the Church? How have secular politics led me to ignore the truths
upon which our country was founded?” Our forefathers recognized clearly
that there are self-evident truths, “that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” All of
that is rooted in the understanding that, yes, we must render to Caesar
what is Caesar’s, but we must render first to God what is God’s. God is
at the heart and the foundation of all inalienable rights. He is the one
who bestows them. A just society supports these rights and makes certain
that they are recognized.
And so, throughout this week, let Jesus speak to your own heart. Where
is he calling you to conversion and to a change of heart? He is calling
all Catholics to be men and women of courage, to stand for the truth. He
is calling for fortitude and, yes, that may mean martyrdom, but it will
also mean faithfulness. For as Thomas More knew in his heart, we too
must know in our hearts, that, yes, we are loyal citizens, but God’s