TEXT: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 22, 2023

October 22, 2023 Father De Celles Homily

The 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

October 22, 2023

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

“Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar

and to God what belongs to God.”

This could be a great time to preach about the upcoming elections,

with “Caesar” referring to “the government.”

But let’s take a little wider view of what the term “Caesar” might be applied to.

Think of all the things and people in the world we obey

as if they were our ruler, our emperor–Caesar.


Why do we obey others? Why do we let them tell us what to do?

When I was a little boy, I used to constantly defy authority.

Of course, most little boys and girls often do that.

But with me, this tendency has always remained strong in me.

You may not believe it, but I am somewhat of a contrarian, a rebel.

Some of this is undoubtedly rooted in pride.

On the other hand, some of it is simply an awareness

that there has to be a good reason for one to be obedient to another.

Why should we obey others?

Maybe we believe they are wiser or know something better than we do–

for example, our doctors.

Or maybe we think they are truly looking out for us–

for example, maybe policemen, or priests.

Maybe we accept that we have to follow rules written by legitimate authority

so we can live together peacefully–

We may not like red lights,

but we stop at them so we don’t kill each other in traffic.

And maybe we obey because what the person tells us to do is reasonable–

it makes sense to us.

Let’s call these Fr. De Celles’ “Four Criteria for Obedience.”


One fundamental example of all four of these rolled into one is our parents,

especially when we’re young.

They are wiser and more experienced than us;

they are genuinely looking out for our good because they love us;

they have legitimate authority to make decisions about our common life

(It’s their house, they pay the bills, and they are in charge);

and most of the time, if we think about it, their rules are reasonable–

they make sense.

Even more than them, the one who meets all four criteria in a perfect way,

is God.

He is all-wise, all loving, the creator and ruler of all things,

and He is absolutely and completely reasonable.

In fact, scripture tells us God is wisdom, God is love, God is Lord,

and God is even reason.

As an aside, the Gospel tells us that Jesus is the “Logos.”

Logos, a Greek word, which we usually translate as the Word,

can also mean reason or logic:

Jesus is “the Logic made flesh.”


But many people tend to follow a very different set of criteria.

These are various and many, but let’s consider some:

For example, laziness and ease: People obey because it’s easiest to just go along.

I don’t have to think or decide; I just obey.

Related to this is foolishness.

A lot of people today are just foolish–they just don’t think.

Also, they confuse academic degrees or job titles with real wisdom and learning.

For example, a government “Covid Czar” says something is good for us,

so we obey.

And then there’s the assumption that important or famous people must be right,

reflecting an illogical respect for our so called “betters”—the “elite.”

And then, most popular, “everyone is doing it.”

Even though not “everyone” is doing it, but at least the loudest ones are doing it.

Or the polls say most people are doing it–

or all the news shows and talk shows, or our favorite blog says so–

so we must obey.

And then there’s the good old trusty fear and coercion.

We obey because someone is stronger, louder, meaner than us.

They can hurt us, embarrass us, imprison us, kill us, or cancel us.

So, we obey them.

Let’s call these “The World’s Criteria for Obedience.”

They contradict wisdom, love, genuine authority, and reason itself,

and so they are terrible reasons to obey.

And yet, they are often used to overturn and overrule

the judgment of the One Who is wisdom love, authority, and reason Himself: God.

And even otherwise good Catholics follow these criteria

and obey their friends, teachers, government officials, experts,

public opinion, media, and social media

—rather than God and His Church.

They render to Caesar what belongs to God.


Now, all this has been around since Adam and Eve,

but the last sixty or so years have been dominated

by these false criteria for obedience.

Even in the church.

So, in the 1960’s you saw theologians and priests pushing to change

the doctrine about contraception.

And they called for other changes like the ordination of women;

and changing the Mass into a mundane communal meal of the people

rather than the redemptive sacrifice of the Lamb of God to the Father;

and changing the Eucharist itself into a mere symbol,

not the true body and blood of Christ. 

But all their arguments were swiftly and overwhelmingly rebutted

by faithful and wise theologians

because they were not rooted in what God has taught us

in scripture and tradition,

but rather in the false ideas of the world.

Citing so-called experts or popular opinion, and sometimes just out of mere laziness,

they said Caesar was right and God was wrong.


Thanks be to God, Pope Paul VI tried to resist all their confusion

in the 60’s and 70’s.

Yes, he wasn’t perfect, but he gave us Humanae Vitae and Inter Insigniores,

         defending the Churches unchangeable teachings

on contraception and the ordination of men alone. 

Again, as an aside, he even gave us “Jubilate Deo,”

         promoting the use of Latin at Mass.


And then….praised be Jesus Christ, 45 years ago today,

on October 22, 1978,

         Cardinal Karol Wojtyla,

one of the brightest Catholic theologian-philosophers of Europe,

succeeded Paul VI and ascended to the throne of St. Peter.

And thus began thirty-five years of clear and, dare I say, “modern” papal teaching

that helped not only faithful Catholics, but the whole world understand

why obedience is rightly owed to the ancient and traditional teachings

of the Catholic Church.

John Paul II and his brilliant collaborator, Joseph Ratzinger,

who succeeded him as Pope Benedict XVI,

were able to show us how wise the ancient teachings are.

And how loving the teachings were.

And how they were rooted in the authority of Christ, His apostles,

and 2000 years of the wisest and holiest saints.

And how they helped us live together in peace as one, holy and Apostolic Church

seeking the common good of each and all,

living in communion with the Holy Trinity, Mary and the saints and angels.


For me, this was a time of great growth in understanding of obedience.

I said earlier that obedience was always difficult for me.

But not so much when the four criteria applied.

When John Paul II became pope, I was eighteen

and not going to Mass or being a good Catholic.

There were a lot of reasons for that,

         but I can’t help but recognize that one of the main factors

was that almost all of the priests I knew, and most of the lay Catholics,

         had embraced obedience to Caesar, not God.

They picked and chose what Catholic teachings they wanted to be obedient to.

We called them “Cafeteria Catholics.”

Today let’s call them “Caesarean Catholics.”

But then came John Paul II and Ratzinger.

And for me, they were able to show how Catholicism, genuine Catholicism,

made so much sense,

was truly loving and wise, and came from God himself.

And they reminded millions of other Catholics around the world

how to render to God what was God’s.

I would not be a Catholic today, much less a priest, without John Paul.


But in the last ten years or so, the call for “change”

has come to the forefront again—this time even more powerfully.

Change that does not arise from the Church,

but from the so-called insights of the secular ideologies.

That comes not from God, but from Caesar. 

But unlike the theologian saints and popes who came before them,

the bishops and cardinals and theologians who propose these changes

do not offer logic or point to the authority of Scripture or Tradition.

And they clearly do not show love or concern for those who disagree with them,

When someone shows how they are contradicting the wisdom and authority

of 2000 years of Catholic teaching,

they call you “backward.”

And if you dare to point out that they are almost completely ignoring

all of the beautiful and insightful work of the saintly John Paul II

and the clarity and genius of the brilliant Benedict XVI,

they call you “rigid.”


One prime and frightening example of this is Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich,

         who’s in charge of the current Synod in Rome.

Last year he said that he thinks the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is wrong

and needs to change because the folks who wrote the New Testament

just didn’t understand homosexuality.

You know, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, and Sts. Peter, Paul, Matthew

—you know, God and the Apostles.

They just didn’t understand.

But now he, Hollerich, and his friends, do.

And we should obey him and his like.


Another example: Last month Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernandez,

the new Prefect of the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith,

         the job Ratzinger used to have under John Paul II,

gave an interview about Veritatis Splendor.

Remember, Veritatis Splendor was a masterpiece of John Paul II’s Magisterium,

one full of the rich treasures of Catholic tradition,

citation after citation of scripture and centuries of writings

of Fathers, Doctors, and renowned theologians of the Church,

                  and the clearest and best reasoned papal explanation

of Catholic Moral teaching for people of our time.

And yet, Fernandez had the gall to say of this monumental encyclical,

“It is not the most adequate text

to encourage the development of theology…

Today…a [new] text will be needed…”


Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what is God’s.

St. Peter says it another way elsewhere in scripture:

“We must obey God rather than man.” 

I realize that my “Four Criteria for Obedience” are not perfect.

But I hope I make my point.

We say we love Jesus and follow Him.

We say we are good and obedient Catholics.

But do we obey people who give us merely worldly reasons to obey,

or do we cling to obedience to the things and people

who we know are truly wise, truly loving, truly reasonable

and have genuine authority?

Is our obedience rooted in God or in the world?

“Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what is God’s.”