Oct 13, 2011

29th Sunday: The common good

"Whose image is this . . .?"

The brilliant Chancellor of England under King Henry VIII, Sir Thomas Moore, now Saint Thomas Moore the patron saint of lawyers, was a man of deep faith and conviction.  It was a faith that motivated his every action and formed his Christian conscience.
When Thomas Moore found himself confronted with the decision of King Henry to, of his own free will, claim the nullity of his first marriage to Catherine of Aragon in 1533 and seek marriage to Anne Boleyn, he refused to sign the Oath which Henry demanded of him and all both civil and Church leaders in England. That oath made everyone complicit with the King’s personal decision.

Thomas Moore, as a matter of conscience and faith, refused to sign the Oath for he felt the King’s claim violated the law of God and the supremacy of the Pope.  For Thomas it was not a matter of disobedience to the King but rather a matter of obedience to the law of God. Thomas recognized his obligation for good citizenship but also knew that we have an allegiance to God himself as his creation.

At his execution, St. Thomas Moore famously said, “I die the King’s loyal servant but God’s first.”  There is no doubt that when it came to the question which Jesus posed to those trying to entrap him in the Gospel this Sunday, that Thomas gave to God what is God’s. 
While our everyday lives would likely never find us in such a dilemma as Thomas Moore, the tension we live day after day, week after week as citizens of a civil government but also as citizens of God’s Kingdom because of our baptism, challenges us to decide which way we must live. To whom do we offer allegiance? Well, to both.

It seems it isn’t a matter of the rejection of civil authority or our rightful place in society but rather the question posed to Jesus was one of which power do we acknowledge as supreme?  What is the right relationship between the human community and that of God?
Our faith life calls us to live an ideal life of high moral values and the spiritual life of faith.  But, our earthly citizenship is the world of reality in the here and now. As it did in the case of Thomas Moore, when push comes to shove, we must choose between the two.  He would not compromise because the choice the King had made violated the law which God had established. It created an irregular relationship between society and the law of God. Thomas Moore recognized this and chose to follow his properly formed conscience.

In the case of Jesus he was given the Roman coin which contained an image of the Emperor.  To that image and to the person it represented all citizens were required to pay a certain tax.  As citizens who receive certain services offered by the government we have an obligation to support that government for the common good of all. Many feel the government is wasteful with the monies they collect but beyond that is the obligation to be good citizens – as Christians always have.

Yet, we ourselves have a certain image impressed upon every one of us – that of God himself as we are made in his image and that of the cross of Christ marked upon us at our baptism. We owe an allegiance to our creator and to the Christian-Catholic faith we were born into. Every time we profess our faith during the liturgy we reaffirm that loyalty to God that we must live by.

In the new English translation of the Mass, the Creed is notably different in its tone from the very beginning. It is the same Nicene Creed we have professed for the last 40 plus years but the words are now a more literal translation from the original Latin text, which was the original intent of the Creed.

So, rather than beginning, “We believe in one God . . .” we will now profess, “I believe in one God . . .”  As the Creed was always a reaffirmation of our baptism, this new translation makes that all the more clear. 

Before one is baptized, they have received the image of the cross upon their forehead.  We are marked for Christ and called to be loyal to him. Then we move to the profession of faith.  We are asked, “Do you believe in God, the Father almighty . . . Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord . . . Do you believe in the Holy Spirit . . .?  To all three questions, we answer, I do. I believe in the Holy Trinity and all it implies in my life as a member of the Holy Catholic Church.  We do this at the moment of baptism, we renew that faith during the Easter season and every Sunday when we profess the Creed as we say, “I believe . . .” We say it with conviction because it means something about how we are to live.

St. Thomas Aquinas, in his great work the Summa Theologiae, says, “The Church proclaims the Creed as a single person, made one by faith.” So, while we each profess that ”I” believe and embrace this faith as personal to me, I also recognize that “We” are in this together, as one Body of Christ. That faith both personal and corporate unites us as one.

The same image is significant as holy Communion is distributed.  From the one “loaf” of bread, many are fed.  Jesus, now present beyond space and time, no longer limited by that dimension, is able to be present to us more fully – to one and to many. 
When you really think about this, it is most beautiful and most challenging. Citizenship in our country is won by our birth here or by our taking an oath of allegiance to the government of the United States.  With that promise go both benefits and responsibilities.

In the same way, but with more far reaching implications beyond this life, we are born into this faith through the waters of baptism and called to be loyal to Christ and his Church through the faith we profess.  In the end, we as Christ’s disciples living in this world contribute to the common good of all.  If that common good is disturbed or out of synch with the higher law of God, then we must take a stand.  We can work to bring things back into right relationship such as in the case of the sacredness of human life or any of the hot button social issues which have created a society which values individual choice over the common good of all.

Caesar is long gone but God’s reign continues.