Taxes and the Incarnation of God

There is a peculiar nest for religion in the west that will hopefully not develop with the emergence of the east. This is the concept that religion must be somehow financially sequestered from the people in order to function, a protected shelter by government mandate.   In the United States, despite having no mention in it’s founding documents, this takes the form of tax shelter, where the religious institution is exempt from taxes, and the people pay less taxes when they donate to their institution.

There are a number of ways one can make the counter-argument to such a scheme. There is the alarming variety of tax shelters, ranging from those that redefine science and nature, those that use the status to accumulate wealth in stealth, the endless fantasy religions, the corruption of the apostolic churches even to the point of the endorsement of breaking laws, the politicization of doctrine, and many others. How else can the apostolic churches become havens for homosexuals who rarely work and get retirements benefits. Welcome to the land of government-protected cults.

The politicization of doctrine may be the most important feature of the current western frameworks. There are many examples of faithful religious who have resisted the temptation, but how can a tax shelter scheme like this not be viewed as a perpetual bribe by government or others to contain the evangelization initiated by Christ? Does the Holy Spirit really need this kind of help? The spoilers of the gospel most certainly do. Is this not a masonic financial system? A sandbox for contradicting beliefs, without any way out.  No need to join a masonic lodge. Religions are all equal, forged in time and history endlessly.  God’s Mercy becomes irrelevant. Political correctness rules indefinitely.  The only winners, are those with the most power and money.  A philosophy or teaching, a guilt or historical division, become convenient means to an end, pulled out like a book from the large library of history.

Would a religion with accumulated wealth in such a legal scheme have the courage to speak up against a bad law or bad policy?  The Church is effectively excluded from contributing to discussions on taxes and even reforms of current financial orders using Christ’s teachings so greatly needed.  Our taxes pay interest on restructured loans. How can the Church be bothered with such a state of affairs while sequestered in their exempt haven?

Emperor Constantine the Great granted freedom of worship to the Roman Empire to end the Christian persecutions. He also gave the Church tax exemption. Without this, would the Arian heresy that followed have become so dominant, protected by financial governmental sequestration?

Would someone or some institution still give money to the Church Jesus Christ founded for political gain or worse if there was no tax deduction? Would you want an OUTSIDER TO SUPPORT YOUR SPOUSE, THE BRIDE OF CHRIST ?

Creating a tax shelter to combat such a system is obviously not going to work.  If this scheme to make religion operate in a tax shelter is fundamentally flawed as proposed, one would think that our Lord has something to say about it. Might He propose a remedy or at least a protection from such an adverse constitution?

He does. He pays it.

Matthew 17, 21 And when they abode together in Galilee, Jesus said to them: The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: 22 And they shall kill him, and the third day he shall rise again. And they were troubled exceedingly. 23 And when they were come to Capharnaum, they that received the didrachmas, came to Peter and said to him: Doth not your master pay the didrachmas? 24 He said: Yes. And when he was come into the house, Jesus prevented him, saying: What is thy opinion, Simon? The kings of the earth, of whom do they receive tribute or custom? of their own children, or of strangers? 25 And he said: Of strangers. Jesus said to him: Then the children are free.
26 But that we may not scandalize them, go to the sea, and cast in a hook: and that fish which shall first come up, take: and when thou hast opened its mouth, thou shalt find a stater: take that, and give it to them for me and thee.

Comment: Notice that this discourse by Matthew (the tax collector) occurs immediately after The Son of Man announces that He will subject Himself to death. While He admits that the case could be made that God’s people should be exempt from the tax, the Head of the Church, the Alpha and Omega of history, King of kings and Conqueror of all evil, nonetheless subjects Himself to it. How else could He take on what we live through?

Matthew 22, 16 And they sent to him their disciples with the Herodians, saying: Master, we know that thou art a true speaker, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou dost not regard the person of men. 17 Tell us therefore what dost thou think, is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not? 18 But Jesus knowing their wickedness, said: Why do you tempt me, ye hypocrites? 19 Shew me the coin of the tribute. And they offered him a penny. 20 And Jesus saith to them: Whose image and inscription is this? 21 They say to him: Caesar’s. Then he saith to them: Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God, the things that are God’s.

A true leader leads by humility, carrying the same cross as those led.  Death and taxes is the contemporary expression of the fate of western man. God Incarnate, the Son of Man, subjected Himself to all things, except sin. Including death. And taxes. But in the west, not so for the Body of Christ in the apostles. Only death here.

The easiest way for the west to allow the apostolic Church to be subjected to the same tax as the citizens may be to institute a universal consumption tax, while eliminating the income tax. The most brilliant theologians of our times can present their counter-argument. But let them exhibit the day in the last 100 years when the apostolic Church shone most brilliantly, and they will still be showing a day when the taxpayer could say “But you are still not one of us.”

“Prince, be advised that we shall obey you in worldly matters and we shall pay taxes to you, but in religious affairs we shall only listen to our pastors.”

Saint John of Damascus, advising the Moslem Caliph.

SEPTEMBER 11… MY SPIRITUAL RESPONSE

In Fr. Groeschel’s video, SEPTEMBER 11… A SPIRITUAL RESPONSE, formerly available on EWTN, he talks about the way the buildings came down as some kind of a miracle. There are two possibilities here. That it was. Or it was not. In either case, it was NOT natural. So lets either remember it as a miracle or admit the alternative.

Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son in atonement of the sins of rogue elements in government, executing the murders of 9/11 in order to start of a cycle of violence that we now daily witness.

 

Eastern Prayer for Civil Authorities.

Be mindful O Lord, of our elected leaders, (Name), of all civil authorities, of our armed forces, of the city in which we dwell, and of every city and country place; grant us peaceful times, that we may lead a calm and tranquil life in all holiness and peace; for You are holy, our God, and we render glory to You, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and always and forever and ever. Amen.

Lebanon’s “Clash of Civilizations”. A Message for Our Time?

There is a another angle one can view what many are calling the present or pending “clash of civilizations”. One that a faithful Catholic should consider, or any Christian for that matter. Considering the historical record, Lebanon has been there and done that. Pope John Paul II is quoted as saying that Lebanon is “more than a country; it is a message.” But why and how? From antiquity to her civil war in the last part of the 20th Century, Lebanon can resonate in the hearts and minds of present-day Christians facing an uncertain future. To gauge, and even alter our course in history. For in Lebanon, the Holy Spirit of God is at work.

Many in the west have a limited view of this region, associating Lebanon with her drawn out civil war of over 25 years. To orient the reader, Lebanon is located just to the north of Israel, and is situated between the geographic east and west. Lebanon is know in history as the crossroad of civilizations. Lebanon was visited by Jesus Himself , preaching and healing in Sidon and Tyre (Mathew 11, 15). Since the time of the apostles, Lebanon has been predominantly Christian.

 

Some of us may be familiar with a recent Saint in the Catholic Church. St. Charbel Makleuf, of the Maronite rite. The Maronites were founded in the 5th Century by the Syrian monk and hermit St. Maron, a contemporary and correspondent of St John Chrysostom. The Maronites established themselves in the mountains of Northern Lebanon. From here they resisted attempts by the invading Islamic Caliphs to absorb them, eventually earning their tribute. The Maronites fought along with the Crusaders in the 11th through 13 Centuries. In this period the Maronites sought union with the Latin Patriarch in Antioch, but formal union with Rome did not occur until the 16th Century, enabled by Jesuit missionaries. Maronite monasteries and convents were instrumental in preserving Arabic and Syriac manuscripts, even helping to oppose the Turkish empire’s attempt to obliterate the arabic language. The first printing press in the middle east was imported by the Maronites in 1610. Maronite scholars played a leading role in a renaisance of middle east literature, even on Islamic history, in the 19th and 20th century. After the dissolution of the Ottoman empire, the Maronites were the primary force in forging the republic that is now Lebanon.

In antiquity, the region that includes present day Lebanon was under the governance of the first Christian Church, the Church of Antioch. Antioch sits just above Lebanon geographically. This Church was founded by Sts. Paul and Barnabas, and their first bishop was none other the the Apostle Peter, before he left to Rome. The Church of Antioch produced St. Ephrem the Syrian (4th Century), Doctor of the Catholic Church, and St. John Chrysostom (5th Century), Father and Doctor of the Catholic Church. Together with the sister Churches of Alexandria in Egypt and Jerusalem, these Byzantine Churches preserved the sacraments for 2000 years. Nearly annihilated by the first Moslem invasion, the Byzantine Church in Lebanon survived subsequent invasions through a spirit of cooperation. Not so during the Crusades, as politics won over theology, and the victors replaced the Byzantine with the Latin, driving out the Byzantine faithful. The Byzantine churches were rebuilt after the Crusades were driven out by the Islamic Mamelukes. In this era and during the subsequent four centuries of Ottoman rule (1516-1920), politics favored the east over the west, and the autonomous Christian Churches were encouraged to ground themselves to Constantinople. Lebanon was different. By the 1700’s, a movement had begun to unite with the Church with Rome, while preserving the eastern liturgy. In John 17:23 Jesus prays: I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. In 1723 the Byzantine Bishop of Sidon requested communion with Rome. The Melkite Greek Catholic Church became official and the Church of Antioch divided. While the remaining Orthodox continued to form three autonomous churches, the Melkite Catholics were unique in being scattered in the regions of Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria while under one Patriarch (Antioch). The ensuing Melkite era is known for missionary and educational works through out the middle east, but not without resistance and even persecution, and even from the Orthodox. In Lebanon this was rare; here the seeds were being sown for the republic of the 20th Century.

 

In the 1950’s Lebanon became a shining star in the middle east, with peaceful coexistence between Moslems and Christians. A republic with democratic principles. The emergence of prosperity attracted powerful financial interests however. The culture began lending itself to materialism and unbridled commercialism. The moral culture suffered; a culture of corruption and even secularism incubated. Nationhood and patriotism lost their true meaning. Lebanon’s civil war lasted over 25 years, a war that the majority of the population did not want and that was largely manipulated, on both sides, by outside forces with their own agendas. Eventually this lead to a seduction of both Christian and Muslim sides, leading in events that neither side can look back at without shame. As a result of the civil war, the Christian census nearly halved from 60% to 35% (mostly from exodus). A strong movement promoting unity between Melkites and Orthodox was also halted by Lebanon’s “clash of civilizations”.

This history may so far resonate with readers, that Lebanon is a message for our time. But there is more.

There was a light that emerged from the period of civil war, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Part Four of the Catechism, “Christian Prayer” was written by a Melkite priest living in Lebanon during the civil war. Here is what then Cardinal Ratzinger said about how Fr. Corbon, who lived amidst the terror, was chosen to be associated with the Catechism:

“After having resolved to add a distinct fourth part on prayer to the first three, we looked for a representative of Eastern theology. Since it was not possible to secure a bishop as author, we settled upon Jean Corbon, who wrote the beautiful concluding text on prayer while in beleaguered Beirut, frequently in the midst of dramatic situations, taking shelter in his basement in order to continue working during the bombardments.”

 

So we can say that in a time of anguish, during a clash of civilizations, a priest of an eastern Catholic rite composed the part on prayer in the Catechism. One of the most inspired texts of our time and a fixture of our faith. According to Reverend Cassian Folsom 0.S.B, a teacher at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Saint Anselmo in Rome, from an original publication in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, April 1996, Fr. Corbon’s hand also appears in another part of the Cathechism:

“However, the sub-section entitled The Liturgy: Work of the Holy Trinity (CCC 1077-1112) bears the unmistakable mark of Fr. Corbon, and reflects the single most important insight of his book, The Wellspring of Worship, namely, that the liturgy is essentially Trinitarian in nature.”

Here comes another message for us from the clash. Fr. Folsom goes on:

“The action of the Father as the source and goal of the liturgy (CCC 1077-1083) is commonly understood, and the work of the Son in the liturgy (CCC 1084-1090) is even more familiar … The action of the Holy Spirit, however, is more hidden, more mysterious, and for that reason less known, and less frequently the object of theological reflection.

For that reason the section on the work of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy (CCC 1091-1109) is remarkable for bringing to light an aspect of the Church’s pneumatological [of the Holy Spirit] tradition, formerly hidden from a large majority of Catholics. Even from the very practical point of view of length, this section is longer and more fully developed than the sections on the Father and the Son, precisely because this element of the liturgy has been largely overlooked by the Western Church in the past. Here the hand of Fr. Corbon is clearly in evidence.”

 

In Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Orientale Lumen, Section 6, we read: “Certain features of the spiritual and theological tradition, common to the various Churches of the East mark their sensitivity to the forms taken by the transmission of the Gospel in Western lands. The Second Vatican Council summarized them as follows: “Everyone knows with what love the Eastern Christians celebrate the sacred liturgy, especially the Eucharistic mystery, source of the Church’s life and pledge of future glory. In this mystery the faithful, united with their Bishops, have access to God the Father through the Son, the Word made flesh who suffered and was glorified, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And so made ‘sharers of the divine nature’ (2 Pt 1:4) they enter into communion with the most holy Trinity”.

Indeed, as descibed in Fr. Corbon’s book, the liturgical expressions in the eastern churches (and increasingly in the english version of the Latin Rite) emphasize the epilcesis or “calling down” of the Holy Spirit. According to the eastern traditions, the epiclesis is the vehicle of a mighty synergy between God and man. Centered in the liturgy, man then lives out this synergy by consenting to it in prayer.

In these sections of the Catechism, we read:

CCC 1091: The desire and work of the Spirit in the heart of the Church is that we may live from the life of the risen Christ. When the Spirit encounters in us the response of faith which he has aroused in us, he brings about genuine cooperation. Through it, the liturgy becomes the common work of the Holy Spirit and the Church.

Later we read (CCC 1099) that “the Holy Spirit is the Church’s living memory”.

With a possible world war between east and west looming, or a clash of civilizations, western Catholics may want to pause and take a deep breath in considering their role in forming history. Pope John Paul II would often describe the Catholic Church as needing to ‘breath with both lungs’. With this reminder and elaboration on prayer, and this mystical understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit, we can become more fruitful for God.

In a recent Zenit article (March 22,2006), Michel Aoun, interim Lebanese leader, talks about the role of apostolic Christianity in the resolution of the clash.

“For us, the expression “Maronite” is no longer the exact term; there is much more talk of “Christians” in general. We regard the rites as secondary traditions, because we are all Christians for Christ,whether Maronite, Greek-Catholic, Melkite, etc.”

He then goes on to say:

“Christians have brought about the unity of Lebanon; they were the only ones who cohabited with the different Muslim groups, when coexistence among the different Muslim groups did not exist.

They have a historic role, which is to live their mission, to be an element of understanding, a federalizing element of the people of Lebanon in its different components. Playing this role, they can, I believe, recover their function in the republic and participate in politics and in the socioeconomic construction of the country.”

Lebanon is presently being taunted again. The threat of a world wide clash is knocking on her doors. Perhaps as a sign of an age to come in the world, Christian religious fervor in Lebanon this time is flourishing, as are monasteries and seminaries. They cannot keep up with the demand from new candidates. A whole generation has been let down by their parent’s culture and are seeking answers in the Truth of the Ages.

A Joppa Story

This small story unfolded during our trip to the Holy Land in 2004. It was in the town of Joppa, the town of Jaffa in present day Israel. It is the town of the readings from Acts of the Apostles. It had the port through which the cedars from Lebanon were were brought in to build Solomon’s temple.

 

Here also is the Vatican’s embassy to Israel. There is a beautiful Franciscan church there near the house of Simon the Tanner (from Acts 10:6-15). It is called the Church of St. Peter.

 

When on pilgrimage there in 2004, there was a beautiful tall Jewish girl outside the church waiting to get in with us. She had just rode over on her bike from nearby Tel Aviv. It seemed to me that she came there regularly by the way she acted. While waiting she struck up a conversation with our handsome young driver, an Orthodox Christian Palestinian. I could not hear the conversation very well. She was talking about a personal decision she was trying to discern. They also talked about the prospects of peace. We went in and they stayed outside talking. The church was beautiful inside too and had a painting of Peter’s ecstasy and vision of the linen sheet with “all manner of fourfooted beasts” over the altar. When we came out the two were still talking. She sounded sad but hopeful. They then exchanged numbers, she went in, and we left.