OPINION: ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s’

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By FATHER GERRY KLEBA
Pastor
St. Cronan’s Catholic Church

“Mom, we better be goin’ to bed now because I’m sure these boys want to go home.”

At 9:30 p.m. on a Friday night that was Hubert Creason’s not so subtle way of telling his son, Rich, to close up the card game and show his classmates out the front door. The time to leave was much earlier than was customary for card parties, but Rich’s dad was a teamster who got up at 4 a.m. to deliver Quality Daily milk to restaurants preparing for weekend crowds. Hubert, a proud, longtime employee advertised, “You can whip our cream, but you can’t beat our milk.”

Understandably, his son, Father Rich Creason, would be known as the Labor priest of St. Louis during his 50 years of ministry, most notably as pastor of Most Holy Trinity in Old North St. Louis.

THE LABOR POPE
Rich never decorated the rectory with pictures of recent St. Louis archbishops or even Pope John Paul II, Benedict, or Francis; but the framed woodcut, black ink print of austere pontiff, Pope Leo XIII, the Labor Pope, was prominently displayed.

Once in Rome, Rich and I conducted a fruitless search for Leo’s tomb at St. Peter’s, where 100 of the 264 popes are buried, and then finally discovered that Leo XIII was buried in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, Rome’s cathedral.  His marble sarcophagus, engraved with a gold tiara and crossed keys, is perched high over the doorway leading into the vesting sacristy to the left of the altar.

We sat in the church for an hour pondering how Leo’s earth-shaking encyclical, Rerum Novarum, on the dignity of Labor and the workers’ right to unionize, had been the breakthrough document that opened the door to an entire new category of social justice. It was the focal point of the ministry of struggling for, and with, the worker that both of us had practiced for much of our priesthood.

TURBULENT TIMES
Today we are facing turbulent times when the chasm between the rich and the poor is growing at a staggering rate and in the face of a pandemic affecting workers, who may be called essential but are paid so little, and without healthcare, know they are really expendable.

Add to that the greater danger that the Affordable Care Act, with its coverage of pre-existing conditions, and Medicaid too could be rolled back.

As we wait for Tuesday’s election results to be finalized, it’s unfortunate that Trump had not released his income taxes or revealed his long overdue, better health care plan, because average people are severely stressed.

Both Pope Leo and Father Rich must be rolling over in their graves. If they were to rise up, they would poke their index finger into our sternums and prod us with the admonition, “Did you vote?”

Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” That means, “Did you cast your ballot?”

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