Meditations by Msgr. Liptak


Msgr. Liptakweekly gospel meditations



Church and State
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; First Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21



.Aim: to explain the relationship between Church and State, and to accent our responsibilities to our nation.


In the age in which today's Gospel was written, the axiom, "Render to God what is God's, and to Caesar what is Caesar's," was probably a reminder that one's loyalty to civil authority need not contradict his obedience to God. This principle must have been embraced fervently by the Roman Christians during the persecution under Nero, in 64 B.C.

This is one way the text has been read through Christian history. Today's Gospel has made for, if not actually made, many a martyr: Becket, for example, St. Thomas of Canterbury, who refused to compromise religious truth under challenge by Henry 11; and Thomas More, that Man of All Seasons, whose clear and steadfast commitment to it drew the wrath-and the death sentence-of Henry VIII. It is a Gospel that stirs anew memories of Bohemia's great St. Wenceslaus (after whom the popular Christmas carol is based), Poland's St. Stanislaus, the Martyrs of Uganda (whose shrine Pope Paul VI visited during his trip to Africa), and the French Carmelite Nuns during the Revolution.

No; a man's loyalty to the state need not contradict his obedience to God. All authority derives from God. Yet what if Caesar begins to play God'? Historically, we know, this happens, and not infrequently.

Sometimes, however, perhaps more often, the "Caesar or God" dilemma is posed in a context of priorities. Here is where contemporary man living in the free world is most likely to experience it.

As Christians we affirm in faith that man Is a son of God before he is a citizen of the State. Hence he has certain innate rights-"inalienable" rights, said America's founding Fathers -which take precedence over the State's jurisdiction: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness in one's chosen vocation. None of these rights can be preempted by the State.

Even if one lives in a graced society such as ours, where the benediction bestowed on rulers in today's First Reading almost seems renewed, right priorities can occasionally be challenged. And here it is important to keep in mind that our form of government imposes upon us, the People ----from the national to the local level ---the task of observing correct priorities. We are Caesar; it is we who must render to God what is his. We are the ones who, in providing for the common welfare in terms of the State, must strive always to defer to God's law respecting man's dignity, equality, and the general good (e.g., God's law regarding discrimination, abortion, euthanasia, dishonesty).

As Vatican Council II stated: "Human institutions ... must labor to minister to the dignity and purpose of man. At the same time let them put up a stubborn fight against any kind of slavery, whether social or political, and safeguard the basic rights of man under every political system. Indeed human institutions themselves must be accommodated by degrees to the highest of all realities, spiritual ones. . ." (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, No. 29).

(Here, if election day is near, the homilist can encourage use of the voting franchise.)

Remember, again, that though we are members of a great nation, we primarily belong-as today's Second Reading declares---to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is our King.

Cathedral of St. Joseph  140 Farmington Avenue  Hartford, Connecticut 06105  860-249-8431