Citizens of Earth and Heaven


 “There’s an acute tension in the life of a Catholic that comes into focus this time of year.”


In some ways, the Gospel reading this Sunday couldn’t come at a better time. Here in the United States, some pastors probably cringed when they opened up the lectionary, realizing it would be hard to duck at that pitch. In a sense, getting the “Render Unto Caesar” Gospel a few weeks before election day is an easy under-hand toss to the question “how can my homily this week relate the real life…” while at the same time probably seem like a fastball to the head…

There’s an acute tension in the life of an American Catholic that comes into focus this time of year. On one hand, Jesus calls us to be salt and light in the world in which we live. As laity, we have the responsibility to “seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God” (Lumen Gentium, 31). By our good example, our outspoken defense of truth, and our charity towards our neighbor, we are salt and light and leaven.

As lay faithful, we have the obligation to shape the moral character of society and to work to build up a civilization of justice, truth, and freedom. “Responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation” (Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, 13). God calls us to bring His kingdom into the world.

At the same time, we know that the kingdom of God will never be perfectly realized on this earth. We are not created for this world, but the next. That is what Peter speaks of so beautifully in his first epistle. If you feel lost, frustrated, or strange in this world, it is because it is not your home. You are a citizen of heaven.

We do not eschew the world completely – after all, it was created by God and it is our way to heaven! It is good and we are called to work in and with it. We are a responsibility to bring Christ into the world.

But it will never be enough. There will never be a perfect society, a perfect government, or a perfect candidate.

And we must be careful to not act as if there is.

So as we approach the elections in the United States next month, it would be wise for us to keep this tension in mind. Ultimately, we are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20). But until it is time to go there, we must work here on earth for a more just society. We must build a civilization of love.

Go vote.  But first, educate yourself on the issues and on the teachings of the Church.  We have a responsibility to be the salt and light that this society needs.

And lastly, remember – salvation doesn’t come from the government, it comes from Jesus Christ. This earth is not the kingdom of God in its fullness, and never will be. As St. Peter reminds us, we are sojourners in a foreign land – we are ultimately citizens of heaven. (1 Pt 2:11) We work and vote, but the most important thing we can do is pray.


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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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