.- Speaking in Ireland on Saturday, Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput discussed the importance of truth in the public square and exhorted his listeners to bring Jesus to the world by being âvigorous and unembarrassed about our Catholic presence in society.â
Addressing the John Paul II Society in Ireland, the archbishop began his talk titled, âRender Unto Caesar: Personal Faith and Public Duty,â by noting that while there are differences between his usual audience of American Catholics and the current crowd of Irish Catholics, âbeing a âCatholicâ â and I mean genuinely Catholic -- makes us much more similar than we are different.â Yes, the mission of a Christian âchanges it its details from country to country and age to age,â but the âbasic mission is always the same â to bring the world to Jesus Christ; and Jesus Christ to the world,â he said.
The archbishop explained that his talk would address the âheart of the problemsâ Catholics âface in living our Christian vocation in the modern world.â We are being told two things: The Scriptures remind us to âmake disciples of all nations,â and the mass media and political leaders tell us to âbe âtolerant,â to fit in, to âgrow upâ and to stop making a lot of religious noise.â
âObviously we canât follow both voices at the same time.â
The archbishop then recalled the words âRender unto Caesarâ from Matthew 22, when the Sadducees and Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus by asking if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar.
If he says yes, theyâll accuse him of being in collaboration with Rome, if he answers no, Rome âwill see him as a rebel and troublemaker,â the Denver prelate explained. Jesus asks for a coin âwith the image of the Emperor Tiberiusâ and says:
âWhose likeness and inscription is this?â They said, âCaesarâs.â Then he said to them, âRender therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesarâs, and to God the things that are Godâs.â
Through his actions and words in the passage, the archbishop noted, Jesus âacknowledges that Caesar does have rights,â but his rights are not over things that belong to God. It is our job, to determine what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar, he summarized.
Acknowledging that this can be difficult, the archbishop pointed Christians toward the Scriptures, where we learn that âwe owe secular leaders our respect and prayers; respect for the law; obedience to proper authority; and service to the common good,â not to be confused with âsubservience, or silence, or inaction, or excuse-making or acquiescence to grave evil in the public life we all share.â
He went on to say that the âmore we reflect on this biblical text,â the more obvious it is that everything about our life âbelongs not to Caesar but to God: our intellect, our talents, our free will, the people we love, the beauty and goodness in the world, our soul, our moral integrity, our hope for eternal life. These are the things worth struggling to ennoble and defend, and none of them came from Tiberius or anyone who succeeded him.â
Archbishop Chaput, always seeking to make the faith applicable, then asked, âSo what does that imply for our actions right now, today, in public life?â
He explained that Catholics must speak and act in truth, they must live out the true description of a âCatholic,â they must be faithful to the Church, form their conscience properly, remember that the Church is non-partisan, defend life, treat others with charity and remember that being a more faithful Catholic leads to becoming a better citizen of oneâs country.
He also emphasized that we cannot âcall ourselves Catholic, and then simply stand by while immigrants get mistreated, or the poor get robbed, or unborn children get killed. The Catholic faith is always personal, but itâs never private. If our faith is real, then it will bear fruit in our public decisions and behaviors, including our political choices,â he stressed.
After listing the ways to be a more faithful Catholic in the public life, the archbishop reminded his audience that even if they havenât adhered to the Churchâs teachings in the past, âevery breath we take is an opportunity for conversion and a new beginning.â
âOur task today, as fellow Catholics â here in Ireland, in the United States and everywhere the Church preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ â is to make ourselves helpers of God as He builds a culture of justice, mercy and life.â
Lest some balk at the seeming impossibility of building a culture of life in todayâs society, Archbishop Chaput employed an example:
âLetâs imagine a society, with a complex economy and a strong military. It also includes many different religions, although religion tends to be a private affair or a matter of civic ceremony.â
âWithin this society,â he continued, ânot enough children are born to replenish the adult population or do the work to keep the society going.â Promiscuity, bisexuality, birth control and abortion are not only âwidely practicedâ but also âjustified by leading intellectuals.â
âWhat society am I talking about? he asked. âMost of the Western world would broadly fit this description,â but âI just outlined the state of the Mediterranean world at the time of Jesus Christ.â
The archbishop then linked our current âpost-Christianâ society with the âpre-Christianâ world. âThe truth is, the challenges we face as European and American Catholics today are very much like those facing the first Christians.â
With these similarities, the prelate continued, âit might help to have a little perspective on how they went about evangelizing their culture. They did such a good job that within 400 years Christianity was the worldâs dominant religion and the foundation of Western civilization...â
Early Christianity spread because âthe Apostles and their successors, preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. People believed in that Gospel,â which âmeant changing their whole way of thinking and living. It was a radical transformation -- so radical they couldnât go on living like the people around them anymore.â
âThe early Christians understood that they were members of a new worldwide family of God more important than any language or national borders.â âThey saw the culture around them, despite all of its greatness and power, as a culture of despair, a society that was slowly killing itself,â Archbishop Chaput said.
âHereâs the point I want to leave you with,â the archbishop said as he brought his address with a close. âIf the world of pagan Rome and its Caesars could be won for Jesus Christ, we can do the same in our own day. But what it takes is the zeal and courage to live what we claim to believe.â
âEach of us has the vocation to be a missionary of Jesus Christ where we live and work and vote. Each of us is called to bring Christian truth to the public debate, to be vigorous and unembarrassed about our Catholic presence in society, and to be a leaven in our nationâs public life,â he charged.âAll of us here today already have that hunger to make a difference in our hearts. Now we need to act on it. Now we need to live it. So letâs pray for each other, and encourage each other, and get down to the Lordâs work.â