“SO what did you talk about?” I asked a Catholic school teacher who came from a whole day of Religious Education conference. “We talked about unity,” she answered. “Unity? What’s that got to do with teaching religion,” I responded, intrigued by her answer. “Well, we learned that it is important to work together with parents, the parish, and other institutions if we want to teach Christian values.” That makes sense, I mused; and then I didn’t ask any more questions.
This little anecdote sheds meaning to the Gospel this Sunday. Plotting to entrap Jesus in speech, the Pharisees sent their disciples to ask him, “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” An affirmative answer would offend the Pharisees for they did not want to be involved with anything political, while a negative answer would make Jesus an insurrectionist. So Jesus told them to hand him a Roman coin and asked them, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they responded. Then the Lord remarked, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
We can interpret Jesus’ remarks by saying that he wants us to respect government and civic authorities and to participate in nation building by paying our tax dues. As citizens of a nation, we have to be united with political leaders in their intentions to give decent lives to all people by providing them with jobs, affordable housing, healthcare, and good education for their children. Religion has a lot to do with pricking the conscience of a society or a government to be just, caring, and responsive to the needs of people, especially the poor.
On the other hand, the government has to respect the rights of any religious group or institution. Political leaders have to acknowledge the vital role of religious leaders and teachers in shaping a better world and in forming hearts and minds of adults, children, and youth. In others words, religious and government leaders need to work together and to listen to one other in order to build a just, progressive, and peaceful world.
I have seen the importance the benefits of the Church in working with media, entertainment business, technology, medicine, city, and education, and business. A respectful and creative dialogue with these institutions allows the Church to resolve issues in families, youth, children, and the elderly people. An exchange of views with creators of technology, for example, would help us protect children, youth, and families from harmful influence of media and technology.
Church and society, religion and politics must work for a “perfect union” to bring order and progress into God’s reign!
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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1999-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.