October 22, 2023
Is 45:1, 4-6; Ps 96:1, 3-5, 7-10; 1 Thes 1:1-5b; Mt 22:15-21
Today: Annual Collection for World Mission Sunday after Communion.
Ceasar and God Are Not Mutually Exclusive
Of course, our primary allegiance always goes to God and the Church that Jesus established. JESUS is the Way, the Truth and the Life, but we live in a country that is governed by civil, not religious authority. We want it that way. Theocracies (nations governed by religious authority) do not have a particularly good track record. Religions usually spawn as many sects and special interest groups as civil authority and the inevitable chaos is even more destructive and hateful. Take a moment right now and see if you can think of any religious groups that just never seem to stop fighting. Hmmm…
The American systems of democracy and capitalism seem to be working as well or better than other governing systems. People from all over the world still want to move here and live here. We live in relative peace even with a very diverse population with many competing interests. Of course, any ongoing stability depends on the population having a common sense of morality. What are the basic principles of justice and decency that all people can agree on? How do we temper ourselves and check our appetites for wealth, power and pleasure? This is the role of the Church; to guide the civil authorities through with God’s wisdom, understanding, knowledge and strength. We need to teach each other with our daily lives lived in prudence, temperance, generosity, kindness and all the other fruits of the Holy Spirit. We must continue to renew and review our core beliefs and understand them in the changing times. The Eucharistic prayer today reminds us to ‘read the signs of our times by the light of faith.’
However, the demands of true discipleship are formidable. To ‘read the signs of our times through the light of faith’ requires us to develop a strong familiarity with the Bible and the history of salvation. We need to actually cultivate the gifts of the Holy Spirit which will eventually produce the fruits of the Holy Spirit which are the hallmark of faithful discipleship. We need to be active members of a community of believers who keep each other focused on the mission that Jesus has given us. In our prosperous and relatively safe country it’s very easy to get distracted with any number of activities and priorities that tend to dilute our sense of God’s mission. This is the work of the devil; to keep us distracted by doing seemingly good things but avoiding the real work of kingdom-building and nation-teaching. The Gospel acclamation today from Philippians reminds us to, “Shine like lights in the world as you hold on to the word of life.” Hold on to the word of life. We need to actually get a grip on the word of life and then hold on.
Ultimately, whether we realize it our not, God is in charge of everything going on in the world. He is aware of everything that is going on and knows all the major players. We are reminded in today’s first reading from the Book of the Isaiah that God used the King of Persia, Cyrus, to accomplish His work among the Israelites. When Israel was so unfaithful that God allowed the Babylonians to conquer them and hold them captive in the desert for 70 years, He later used the Persians to conquer the Babylonians. Then the Israelites could return to Jerusalem for the rebuilding. God also allowed the Assyrians to conquer the northern tribes of Israel when they were unfaithful. We humans seem to learn mostly from our failures and catastrophes.
We are living in a time when we are sharply reminded that we need to do a serious check of our faithfulness to God’s plan. What countries and worldly powers might God be using in our times to show us the futility of our human ideas and methods. What moral principles are ‘non-negotiable’ in our country that everyone or most people agree on?
We are rightly horrified by the killing of children and other innocents in the various conflicts and wars going on in the world, but we kill hundreds of thousands of our own children in the womb every year and call it reproductive health care. Even though a growing percentage of American families are a paycheck away from insolvency, we continue to foster an economic system that dangles more and more glitzy consumer goods in front of them that they will probably never be able to afford. AND probably don’t need anyway. I seriously doubt that this use of democracy and capitalism is God’s plan. We know it isn’t. God has given us all the power and authority of heaven to guide the course of our lives and history. We are NOT paying attention and our subsequent generations will pay the price for our negligence.
Our religious formation process should prepare us to be the moral guides and models for our civil authority and diverse populations. To help guide our ongoing process of pastoral planning and faith formation Bishop Solis has given us these three questions to consider. Please take some time in the next couple of weeks and write out some answers to these questions and pass them along to me. How do we use our faith to help guide and shape the world our grandchildren inherit?
- What do you understand by “comprehensive faith formation” in your parish(es) and mission(s)?
- What reasons can you affirm or add that make comprehensive faith formation important in the contemporary U.S. context and particularly in the Utah context?
- What are keys to success in establishing and maintaining comprehensive faith formation in your parish/mission setting(s)? What next step can you take? What assistance do you need from the Diocese?