A Light In The Pagan World 

Well, it’s been more than a week since the SCOTUS decision on same-sex “marriage” and the world hasn’t ended. The sun is still coming up every morning and the doors of my parish church are still open for Mass. America even took time to celebrate Independence Day. Sure, we’re still talking about the Confederate Flag and remembering the victims of the Charleston shooting while we argue about gun control, but America is pretty resilient. As a country we’ve endured many trials and have come through each one a stronger union. We fought and won our independence from a great empire. We survived a bloody and divisive Civil War. Over the years we’ve joined our allies to defeat evil and aggressive regimes all over the world. American blood purchased freedom for millions. And we’re still here, 239 years later. 

It’s been an especially trying time lately for Christians who worry that churches and ministries are going to encounter increasing government interference into their activity. This may well be true. We’ve already seen the government intrude into Catholic hospitals and healthcare agencies after the introduction of Obamacare. Even nuns providing healthcare to the poor and dying have faced legal challenges. We’re learning every day just how far our government proposes to limit the free practice of our faith. But we also need to realize just how long and how easy we Christians have had things in America. 

True, we Catholics have certainly survived prejudice in America. We endured anti-Catholic laws in the early years of our country which prevented us from owning property or voting, or even raising our children as Catholics. But that didn’t stop the Church from growing and flourishing in American. In fact, I’d say we’ve grown pretty fat and lazy and we might just have forgotten that to follow Christ means carrying a cross. We should always be in conflict with the world. And if the world embraces us with too much acceptance, then we must be doing things wrong.  

These unsettling days in which we find ourselves may just be very thing that the Catholic Church in America needs. Perhaps we need to re-examine our cozy relationship with our government. Specifically, we need to look at our tax-exempt status. Many folks fear losing this and it’s understandable. The ability to function in a community free from the burden of taxation has long been dear to churches and non-profits of all kinds. But it comes with a great price—and we find ourselves looking at that price right now. Will the government attempt to force churches to practice our faith according to what “they” say is the “right” way? In the end, if we paid taxes it would mean a smaller and leaner Catholic Church. Donations would surely go down if there was no tax break associated with giving. We’d be facing tax bills that we’ve never faced before. But it would also mean that we could be free of what we fear most: a government faith.  

What if the Catholic Church in America—the largest of all denominations with 70 million members—simply agreed to be taxed? Is it time for Catholics to “render unto Caesar” in order to worship and minister as we are called by God to do? Or do we dig in and fight to maintain our tax-exempt status? How best do we live the Gospel in this pagan country?  

“…every abominable act which the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.”

       —-Deuteronomy 12:21 


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