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The second annual Napa Institute has concluded, and my Washington Examiner column Monday is about the buzz in the halls outside the four days of meetings of more than 300 Catholic prelates, public intellectuals and committed supporters of the Church in America.
We should give Caesar nothing of ourselves. Obviously we’re in the world. That means we have obligations of charity and justice to the people with whom we share it. Patriotism is a virtue. Love of country is an honorable thing. As Chesterton once said, if we build a wall between ourselves and the world, it makes little difference whether we describe ourselves as locked in or locked out.
But God made us for more than the world. Our real home isn’t here. The point of today’s Gospel passage is not how we might calculate a fair division of goods between Caesar and God. In reality, it all belongs to God and nothing – at least nothing permanent and important – belongs to Caesar. Why? Because just as the coin bears the stamp of Caesar’s image, we bear the stamp of God’s image in baptism. We belong to God, and only to God.
Archbishop Chaput’s body of work, including his 2008 book Render Unto Caesar and his recent A Heart on Fire: Catholic Witness and the Next America, is helping to define a robust “rules of engagement” for the Roman Catholic Church in America, rules which will greatly impact the outcome of November’s if the Archbishop’s brother priests take the time to read and reflect on them. Chaput is not a partisan, and many of his positions on issues such as immigration reform will challenge Republicans even as his commentary on abortion and the HHS regulations rebuke President Obama’s supporters.
The key point is that he and many other senior prelates are fully engaged in the life of the nation –as they should be. I spoke last night about “Achilles in his tent,” sulking as the Illiad opens, the Greeks divided among themselves, dispirited and leaderless. It seems to me that the Church in America has been very much “in its tent” for the most of the past 40 years, but that is rapidly changing under the leadership of men like New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the new Archbishop-designate of San Francisco Salvatore Cordileone (also at the Napa Institute) and many others. Long time public intellectuals like Peter Kreeft, Robert George and Father Jospeh Fessio are being joined by relatively new voices like Father Robert Spitzer and Father Robert Barron of Word on Fire and an extraordinary array of Catholics in the public square using old and new media alike to support an energized American episcopate. The years of an invisible Church, or worse, a deeply divided and misguided Church, are behind us.
Many people are despairing about American politics and American culture. The bishops and the Church they lead are not allowed to despair, and are in fact giving many reasons not to.