St. Patrick’s Church, Ballybay
16 October 2011
A chairde uile,
The Gospel reading of today’s Mass is very familiar to most Christians. It touches on something which is precious to most people – what they own, their wealth and how this is taxed. There was a rich man who had read a bit about the Pharaohs of Egypt, and how they built great pyramids to house their wealth so that they could take it with them into the afterlife. When he was dying, he told his wife to stuff two pillowcases with cash and put them in the attic. “As I go to heaven, I will grab the pillowcases on my way up,” he said. Two weeks after the burial, she went to check and found the pillowcases and cash still in the attic. “I knew it,” she said, “I should have put them in the basement.”
Louis XIV was king of Franceduring the second half of the 17th century. When he went hunting, apparently he never wore gloves, even in the coldest weather. One day two French peasants paused from their work in the fields to watch the king ride past in the hunt. “His hands must be freezing,” said one. The other replied, “Why should they be freezing? Doen’t he always have his hands in our pockets?”
Jean-Baptiste Colbert served as Minister of Finance during the kingship of Louis XIV, and had a big reputation for his management of the country’s resources. He expressed the view that “the art of taxation consists in plucking the goose so as to get the most feathers with the least hissing.” Evidently, theRoman Empiredid not mind the “hissing” as it heavily taxed all who lived under its control and strictly enforced the collection of a wide variety of taxes.
In the Gospel story of today’s Mass we find a coalition of strange and opposing bedfellows coming together to trap Jesus whom they would both have seen as a common enemy and formidable competition in the battle for minds and hearts. Coated with a layer of sugar and flattery, this test question should force Jesus either to declare himself on the side of those who oppose paying tax to the Romans (like the Pharisees) or on the side of those who collaborated with the Romans (like the Herodians). If he said yes, he would lose the esteem of the people and would be regarded as a traitor to the Jewish cause and the Jewish religion. If he said no, he could be denounced as fomenting rebellion against Rome.
In his answer, Jesus implied that there need not be conflict between the demands of the State and those of God. Christians are citizens of the country in which they live or in which they were born. The legitimate state has rights and Christians will respect these rights. They will respect its laws and rulers. They will be responsible citizens and play their part in making the country a good place for all its citizens.
Christians are also and primarily citizens of thekingdomofGod, to which they also have obligations. What Jesus gave us in his reply was a guiding principle which respects our dual citizenship without giving Caesar a blank cheque. To God alone we give worship. Gandhi was deeply religious but he declared, “Because I believe in God, I have to enter politics. Politics is my service of God.” And Dag Hammerskjold, once Secretary General of the United Nations, said “No life is more satisfactory than that of selfless service to your country or humanity.”
“Who can separate his faith from his actions,
or his belief from his occupations?
Your daily life is your temple and your religion.
Whenever you enter into it take with you your all.
Take the plough and the forge and the mallet and the lute,
the things you have fashioned in necessity or for delight.
And take with you all men.
And if you would know God – look about you
and you will see him playing with your children.
(Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet)
Members of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association, you have come together here to celebrate your annual Mass and to be nourished at the table of the God who guides your way of living. In doing this, you have come to renew your commitment to a pledge you have undertaken. You have voluntarily made a promise of self-denial as an expression of your love for God and for the good of others. You are happy to do this without seeking notice, to support one another and to leave it to God to reward in his own time and way.
I congratulate and I compliment you all on the gift you are offering to your families and to society. Your generosity is inspired by the self-sacrifice of Christ himself. You have taken your plough, your mallet and your lute into your daily life and created the opportunity for God to dance with your children. May his face shine warmly on you and on them, may he give you strength and perseverance in your loyalty and may he lead you to eternal happiness.
+Liam S. MacDaid