Sunday Homily by Rev. Fr. William Eronimoose MI (Camillians)
We all are worried about many systems of the Government because they go against the foundation of peace and fraternity, i.e., that go against the foundation of the inalienable human dignity. Humans themselves go against other humans in the name of these systems by violating the value of human life and the principles of dignity, justice and universal solidarity and fraternity. Many humans are out of track because they follow these systems.
We are also worried about some violations taking place within the Church: within dioceses, congregations and lay associations because some inhuman systems are at play within, which are contrary to the very foundation of priestly, religious and Christian life in Jesus. In the name of power and power politics within the Christian institutions, many weaker sections are trampled down underfoot or many join in these systems and thus they lose sight of their commitment to Jesus. The dignity of our Christian life is violated; justice is washed away; solidarity is narrow-minded; and fraternity is isolated.
Whether it is the system of the State or the system of the Church, this system becomes more and more powerful because the power is only in the hands of some who manipulate and decide for the weaker sections in the name of false notion of common good. In this decision of the powerful, everything is tolerated: corruption is tolerated; discrimination is tolerated; even violence within these systems is tolerated; negative things are tolerated and supported.
Something is seriously wrong in the systems. Even these wrongs systems are knowingly and willingly supported by the majority so as to preserve for themselves power and prestige, favours and financial gain.
Unethical, illegal, inhuman and degrading systems grow more and more because there is something very much lacking, that is, objection of conscience or conscientious objection.
The recent document „Samaritanus bonus‟ of Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith speaks very sternly about this Objection of Conscience. I modify it as follows:
Priests, religious, Christians and people of „good will‟ are called, with a grave obligation of conscience, not to lend their formal collaboration to any system which is in contrast with the Law of God. In fact, from the moral point of view and from the point of view of a life free and faithful in Christ, it is never licit to formally cooperate in evil systems. This cooperation can never be justified neither by invoking respect for the freedom of others, nor by relying on the fact that some decide for it. It is therefore never morally lawful to collaborate with systems which induce immoral actions or imply collusion in word, action or omission.
Governments or the Church must acknowledge the right to conscientious objection. All institutions, whether civil or Christian, private or public, diocesan or religious or lay, must be helped to support the vulnerable people. Catholic institutions should create various structures for an integral service to the weaker sections. Institutional collaboration with systems to support unethical, illegal and inhuman practices should be opposed. The right to conscientious objection does not mean that we reject these systems in virtue of private religious conviction, but by reason of an inalienable right essential to the common good and to the good of every human person.
Taking into consideration the right to objection of conscience, the Readings of this Sunday invite us to support any system that promotes and fulfils God‟s designs and to consciously object to any other system that violates God‟s law and human dignity.
Today‟s 1st Reading from the later Isaiah is an upside-down of Israel‟s regime when Cyrus a political ruler – who does not know the God of Israel – is called by the prophet “God‟s anointed.” It is because in the context of many chosen and anointed rulers of Israel who did not or could not fulfil the designs of God, Cyrus fulfilled God‟s designs in sending Jewish exiles back from captivity after his defeat of the Babylonians. God objected consciously bad systems of the rulers of Israel and accepted Cyrus for his good system.
In the 2 nd Reading, St. Paul and his companions support the system of the Thessalonian Christians because that they have seen some positive things in them: first they are good at the work of faith or faithful service; secondly they are good at work of love that seeks the welfare of the others; and thirdly they have patience of hope in the face of difficult circumstances. Because of these good things, God loves them and chooses them to be his people, to do his work, and to enjoy the blessings of salvation. As a whole, the Thessalonians are happy people for the fact of being loved and chosen by God because they were faithful to worship the One True God. Had they not lived these positive things, God would have consciously objected to their bad systems and they would not have become God‟s beloved and chosen people.
St. Matthew‟s brief account tells us a great deal about the situation that was developing in the last days of Jesus‟ life. The Jewish people bitterly resented the Roman occupation of their country; now, those who have turned against Jesus exploit this explosive situation to discredit him. The dilemma that Jesus is placed in by the question put to him about the paying of the Roman tax is brought out here by the composition of the group putting the question – Pharisees and Herodians.
The Pharisees represent Jews who have a real problem of conscience in paying the tax. Strict Pharisees would have considered the inscription on the denarius handed to Jesus – which almost certainly read, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, great high priest” – to be blasphemous.
This influential group, dedicated to upholding the traditions of God‟s people, would have asked themselves whether they were compromising their principles by paying their tax with this coin. Were they really compromising the principles and designs set by God, they would have objected consciously to the systems which proclaimed Caesar to be a god.
If Jesus encouraged the paying of the tax, he would not only offend the Pharisees, but also antagonise the common people who so resented the Roman rule.
The Herodians, the followers of Herod – the puppet ruler in league with the Romans – those who lost their own conscience – those did not want to consciously object to evil systems – had no scruples concerning the tax. If Jesus condemned the paying of the tax, he could be denounced for subversion.
In this context of the compromise of the right to objection of conscience of both the Pharisees and the Herodians, the famous reply of Jesus, “To Caesar what belongs to Caesar; and to God what belongs to God” is a prudent and truthful response by turning the question back on his interrogators and by taking into consideration their own evil intentions to put Him into problem, he tells them that they are faced by a decision of conscience; they have to obey their conscience; they have to consciously object to any system contrary to the system of God.
We should note that Jesus invites the people to make their judgement of conscience: To Caesar what belongs to Caesar; and to God what belongs to God. Whatever belongs to Caesar, that is, whatever is good in the system of Caesar, Jesus asks us to accept it as a good system; if not, He tells us to consciously object it. Whatever promotes God‟s design, that is, whatever promotes human dignity, Jesus asks us to accept it and whatever violates human dignity, He commands us to object it with a conscious decision.
The reply of Jesus concerns not the order of politics, but the order of moral responsibility – the individual‟s ethical and human duty is to participate in the systems of the nation or the Church which in a way that best promote the common good of justice and peace, solidarity and fraternity. 17
May our God who is a faithful and mighty God strengthen us all to object consciously whatever evil system that is at play in our society, in our Church, within and outside each one of us.