Father Steven Clark is Pastor of Saint Francis of Assisi Church, Mount Kisco, New York. He is a 1976 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, Annopolis MD, a former Marine Corps Major, helicopter pilot and naval flight instructor, as well as master of Sacred Scripture. He’s also a priest’s priest, best friend whom I met in the seminary and Joseph’s Godfather. His homilies are usually something to write home about, but today’s was especially poignat in light of today’s Gospel and the upcoming elections. I reprint it here with Father Clark’s permission.
Zacchaeus Was an Evangelist
by Reverend Steven E. Clark
Zacchaeus found a new job. The day he met Jesus he became an evangelist. He met Jesus and received Him into his house with joy. Even in the face of criticism from pillars of the community Zacchaeus stood his ground and proved his faith through repentance and restitution of all wealth taken through the unjust means often employed by Roman-Jewish tax collectors.
Conversion, or a return, to God is a mystery of God’s grace. How and/or when a person experiences the presence of God and a need to be close to Him is almost as varied as there are people on the planet. However, a true conversion and embracing of one’s faith is made visible for all to see. It’s demonstrated in the way a converted person lives their life in all its aspects. In the case of Zacchaeus after meeting Jesus and dining with him he was completely changed. Through such a personal experience with the Lord, not only did Zacchaeus see his wealth as a tool to help those in need, he also knew he had to return any wealth gained by unjust means. He preached the Gospel with deeds of true Christian charity and righteousness. Such deeds surpassed all eloquence of all words ever spoken. Like all true evangelists Zaccheaus lived his newly found faith in Jesus.
We Catholics are called to live our faith and accept ALL its obligations from the moment of our Baptisms. Every Holy Communion we make is a personal encounter with the Lord Jesus and calls us to a deeper relationship with the Son of God. We do this by an honest concern for the wellbeing of others (our neighbor) grounded in the bedrock principle of Christian love.
Therefore, as Christians how we live our lives and how we fulfill our responsibilities, both private and civic, are founded on our relationship with Jesus Christ. Jesus, himself, said by their fruits (meaning actions) you shall know them (“them” meaning those you live their faith and those who do not). [Mat 7: 16]
There has been much discussion on a Catholic person’s responsibility to vote. In an age where politicians claim to be Catholic, or at least Christian, and who make numerous church visits during the election season, a concerned citizen must discern the truth of their words. Is such a person stating their belief because it is not only heart-felt, but fully embraced and active in all aspects of life or is he (or she) stating such for mere political gain?
Let’s look at a general example. Using biblical principles and applying them properly to certain life situations, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we see that voting for candidates who support the common good and dignity of all people is most appropriate. Such a candidate would be one who upholds the natural moral law in all its integrity.
The great difficulty in our age is that many candidates for public office do not uphold the natural moral law in all its integrity especially in the area of the protection of human life, marriage and support of the basic building block of society, the human family. Some even oppose aspects of the natural moral law. Such is discernment and not condemnation. Discernment is always necessary to determine good and proper morality. Condemnation is neither appropriate nor to be done by anyone professing their faith in Jesus Christ. So what does a faithful Catholic do?
Well, depending on the seriousness of the part of the natural moral law the candidate opposes will help determine the way (or for whom) one ought to vote. The natural moral law is written on the heart of every person (Rom. 2: 15). Therefore, we know by nature that human society cannot endure when the integrity of the human person is no longer sacrosanct, when the marriage covenant is not respected and lawfully supported, when property rights of the individual are not respected and when one cannot rely on the veracity of another person’s word.
Certainly, we should never vote for a candidate who promotes or endorses immoral practices. According to Catholic moral teaching assisting another to achieve evil in this fashion is called formal cooperation in evil and is wrong – gravely wrong if the immoral practice is gravely immoral.
Sometimes it is difficult to choose a candidate for office because of all of the candidates’ stances on a number of issues. Therefore, we must determine the seriousness of the issues and determine if one takes precedence over all others.
A number of bishops of the United States have determined, with good Catholic moral teaching in mind, moral issues that take precedence. The former archbishop of Saint Louis, Cardinal designate Raymond Burke, who is now the head of the Roman High Court, called the Roman Rota, put it this way in his letter to the faithful in their “Civic Responsibility for the Common Good” dated October 1, 2004:
39. But, there is no element of the common good, no morally good practice, that a candidate may promote and to which a voter may be dedicated, which could justify voting for a candidate who also endorses and supports the deliberate killing of the innocent, abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, human cloning or the recognition of a same-sex relationship as legal marriage. These elements are so fundamental to the common good that they cannot be subordinated to any other cause, no matter how good.
Cardinal designate Burke then focused on abortion and the protection of human life as an issue of prime importance.
So, what does a faithful Catholic Christian do? We must do what is right and just to uphold the moral principles we have espoused at our Baptism and every time we receive the Holy Eucharist – moral principles for the common good and wellbeing of all people, the very young and vulnerable, the elderly, the infirmed and the not-so-perfect of society. Therefore, if a candidate proclaims his/her Catholic faith, but fails or, worse, openly chooses not to live their faith, then I hold such a person seriously suspect – I can’t trust them to do what they say. We have to ask ourselves, what kind of leaders do we want directing our country and promulgating laws and judging our courts?
How has your encounter with the Lord changed you? That is a question that is most important not only today, but for all the days of your life. Zachaeus met Christ and it changed his life in all aspects. Those who profess their faith in Christ Jesus must live their faith in all aspects of their lives, public and private, using Zachaeus as an example of conversion and true faith-filled practice. Are you an evangelist? Zachaeus chose to follow the Lord without reservation. It’s time for all faithful Catholics to make such a choice.
(see Archbishop Burke,s letter dated October 1, 2004; http://ewtn.com/library/bishops/burkecom.htm)