30th Sunday in Ordinary Time


St John Catholic Church, McLean, VA (12:30 p.m.)

(Year A)
27 October 2002
1R Ex 22:20-26; Ps 18:2-4,47,51; 2R 1 Thes 15c-10; G Mt 22:34-40

On the Duty to Vote

1. "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this CONSTITUTION for the United States of America."

2. My dear friends in Christ, the children sitting in these pews, walking on our streets, and sleeping in their mothers' wombs, in all their innocence, their purity of heart, and their childlike faith, are the "Posterity" of which this Preamble to the Constitution speaks. And we are called not just by this Constitution, but, also, by our Church to "secure the Blessings of Liberty" to this Posterity. It is an awesome responsibility to have the power that we, as citizens, possess in this country, the power of self-governance.

3. Now, I am fully aware that there are many people in this country who believe that the pulpit is no place to talk about politics; but, luckily, we are Catholics, and that is not a Catholic mentality. Our new Catechism teaches us that "submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one's country" (CCC 2240).

4. I hope we all heard that. It is morally obligatory to exercise the right to vote. What happens when we do not do something that we are morally obliged to do? We are committing a sin, which means that it is at least objectively sinful not to vote when we have that right. That is how strongly our Church makes this connection between religion and politics, between our beliefs and how we exercise those beliefs in the public square.

5. Now, if we are morally obliged to vote, then every priest is morally obliged to preach about it. Because our vocation, our duty, our whole purpose for preaching is to help people form their moral consciences.

6. If we are obliged to vote, then we are also obliged to vote our conscience, to vote in a way that is consistent with our faith, to vote into office those representatives who truly represent our beliefs. For, as we just heard, our obligation to vote comes from our "co-responsibility for the common good." For the common good of our ourselves and our posterity.

7. One would have a difficult time convincing me that what is going on in our culture today is good for our children. Not with all the things that we read in the newspapers and see on television about what is happening in our schools. Our children are growing up in a world in which they feel helpless and hopeless, which is the logical conclusion of a world without God. And since our government is a representation of the people, then a godless government comes from and leads to a godless people. Well, without God, there is no hope; and without hope, there is no true freedom, no "Blessing of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity".

8. This is why the Catholic vote is so important. Catholics have always believed that the supreme Ruler of the world, the Lord of lords, and the King of kings, is Jesus Christ, which means that all temporal rulers, all worldly governments, and all civil leaders derive their authority from God, and, therefore, are limited in their exercise of that authority by Him and His divine laws. We saw this very clearly in last Sunday's Gospel reading. Many people like to use that pericope about repaying to Caesar what belongs Caesar and to God what belongs God to support a false notion of separation of Church and State. However, recall for a second why that coin belonged to Caesar. It was because the coin bore the image of Caesar that it belonged to him.

9. Well, Caesar bears the image of God. We are all created in the image and likeness of God, including Caesar, which means that Caesar belongs to God. Hence, that pericope, far from affirming the false notion -- not the legitimate notion, but the false notion of separation of Church and State that does not allow one to bring his religious convictions into the public square -- of separation of Church and State, teaches us the importance and necessity of bringing our faith into the public square. For this pericope reminds our present day Caesars that they belong to God, that they, too, are bound by His laws.

10. When our government officials deny that truth, when they have become so schizophrenic that they believe they can divorce their public actions from their private beliefs, when they deny that their authority and our dignity comes from the Creator, then they have no business representing us or this country. For our liberties and our rights are given to us by God, and not by men. Our founding fathers keenly understood this principle and formulated it in those most eloquent words so familiar to all Americans: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these, are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

11. The Creator gives us our rights, not men. This is the principle that ended slavery; and it is the principle that will end abortion, an issue that overshadows every other issue, as our bishops reminded us in their 1998 statement, Living the Gospel of Life. "But being 'right' in such matters [as racism, poverty, hunger, employment, education, housing, and health care] can never excuse a wrong choice regarding direct attacks on innocent human life. Indeed, the failure to protect and defend life in its most vulnerable stages renders suspect any claims to the 'rightness' of positions in other matters affecting the poorest and least powerful of the human community" (Living the Gospel of Life 23). This is simply a more elegant way of saying that without the right to life -- the most fundamental right given to us by our Creator -- there can be no right to liberty or the pursuit of happiness.

12. This is the American world-view and it is most definitely the Catholic world-view, that a government of the people, by the people, for the people requires that the people, including their Caesars, be governed by a higher power, by a higher authority, by the Supreme Judge and Ruler of the world.

13. This is why popes used to crown kings, to remind them that they, too, have a heavenly King to which they must submit. Once they forgot that, the pope had the authority to excommunicate them, in essence, kicking them off their thrones and relieving them of their temporal authority.

14. We have that same power today with our vote, to kick out of office those who do not uphold these Catholic, and, as we have seen, American principles. For in the end, our children's happiness does not depend upon their wealth or their material possessions, but upon their liberty, which comes from their faith and their hope in God.

15. But with all that I have just said, please do not get me wrong. Being American and being Catholic does not make us American Catholics. Do not let the media fool you. There is no such thing as an American Catholic. To call oneself an American Catholic is to beg the question: "What type of Catholic are you?" To which the only response is, "a loyal Catholic, a faithful Catholic, an orthodox Catholic," for our Church is a divine institution founded by Christ and guided throughout the ages by the third person of the Holy Trinity. Hence, we do not qualify our Catholicism, because to do that is to qualify our faith, to qualify our allegiance to our Creator, the supreme Author of life. It is to qualify our love for our heavenly Father. What we qualify is not our Catholicism, but our Americanism.

16. We are not American Catholics. We are Catholic Americans. To call oneself a Catholic American is to beg the question: "What type of American are you?" To which we respond that our patriotism is tempered by our faith, that our love of country is subordinated to our love of God, that our decisions in the body politic, and our actions in the public square are all determined by a conscience informed by faith. That is what kind of American we are. We are Catholic Americans.

17. Of course, this is what makes this country great. All these ideas and ideals are built into our founding principles, because the First Amendment to the Constitution prevents the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion. But let us ask ourselves, are we still free to exercise our religion -- not just in our homes and our churches, but in the public square, in the classroom and the courtroom and in front of an abortion mill? I dare say that we are not.

18. In just nine short days we are going to be asked to exercise our civic duties, duties which our Church teaches us to take very seriously, very seriously, because they are duties that will either secure or forfeit "the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." Through the intercession of our Blessed Mother, may God help us in our decision.

Rev'd Fr Augustine H.T. Tran
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