We love binary relations in spirituality. God and me; Jesus and me; me and my self-enlightenment; me and my well being. That is where religion begins, not where it ends.
Christian spirituality is not binary but Trinitarian. It has always been about God, me and the rest of us. We have reduced it to God and me and done immense damage in return to ourselves, our neighbour and the earth.
Jesus addresses this in today’s gospel when he says: “Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.” Therein lies the devilish binary thinking: tell me to go to Mass every Sunday and receive Holy Communion; don’t tell me how to run my business. Let me make my haj to Mecca in peace but don’t tell me anything about violence in the name of God. Let me fast and do my pujas but my treatment of the environment is my business; I already give to charity.
We almost always miss the irony in today’s gospel: nothing belongs to Caesar; everything belongs to God. We divide things up for practical reasons e.g. the “separation of powers”; or we separate religious life from domestic life, from recreational life, from professional life.
The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin’s words are a timely reminder – it’s all “one seamless garment”. Hence the Church must speak on matters of secular importance when the need arises – nuclear deterrence, global warming, corruption, cultural decline, divisive politics etc. It is not her primary mission, but an integral part of her mission.
One area in which the Church has recently begun speaking more insistently is care for the earth. In fact, Pope Francis’ Laudato Si (On Care For Our Common Home) addresses specifically that concern. In this regard we praise some of the concerns of those who call themselves ‘vegans’ – those totally opposed to the use of any kind of animal product.
The Church does not agree that the term “inalienable rights” can be applied to animals but that does not mean we should disregard the concerns of vegans, particularly in the area of meat production.
Vegans have been able to amass harrowing documentaries on the treatment of animals. The rearing of animals to satisfy our consumptive way of life and greed for meat has now become a grave moral concern. Animals are not there to satisfy our physical needs at any cost – “the end justifies the means”.
Animals must be properly reared, with sufficient space for moving about, well ventilated and with adequate time for growth and maturing. For instance, the manner in which chickens are transported on vans in our sweltering heat is totally unacceptable.
The Jewish restrictions on food at certain times and our own laws on abstinence/fasting ought to turn our minds to other parts of creation that God declared “good” and to consider in our intricately knit world an ethic of responsibility towards them. Food is not ours to exploit and waste. It is given as gift. It is to be managed compassionately and responsibly.
Matthew 25 tells us we are going to be judged first according to food concerns. To disregard how we produce food is to imperil our lives and all of creation.