"Big Four" Highlights


Death and Taxes

Our Catholic faith exhorts us to pay

By Brian Caulfield

To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, “April is the cruelest month … mixing the new life of spring with the weight of taxes.”

Tax Time 

To quote my sixth-grade teacher, when asked if we had to do our homework: “The only things you have to do are die and pay taxes.”

April 15 mercifully falls on a Sunday this year, so “Income Tax Day” becomes sort of a movable feast, coming on April 16. Everybody (except presidential candidates) gets to moan and groan about paying taxes, yet most of us take a certain pride in contributing to what we perceive as the common good.

We recoil, of course, when we hear about some classic example of government waste, and we as citizens are starting to feel that no amount of taxation will ever be able to dent the national debt. Who can even imagine such a sum of trillions of dollars, or how it will ever be paid down?

We may also object to our tax money going toward immoral purposes, such as embryonic stem cell research.

So this day when “the taxman cometh” is a good time to reflect on what our faith tells us about taxes and providing for the commonweal. Certainly, the Church has exhorted Christians from the words of Jesus to “render unto Caesar” the taxes that are due to legitimate authority. Early Christianity was a witness against false gods and injustice, not a refuge for social nonconformists or political dissidents. As we just heard on Good Friday, Barabbas was “an insurrectionist,” not Jesus. If followers of Christ were to be persecuted, as they were in the early centuries, then they wanted it to be for refusing to worship the Roman emperor, not for refusing his tax.

Christians are called to be good and active citizens, taking part in social and political life as long as doing so does not involve too close a cooperation in evil. This tradition of faithful citizenship is so engrained in the Christian spirit that the Vatican’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church cites St. Paul on numerous occasions as the primary authority for paying taxes.

Section 380, states: “Submission, not passive but ‘for the sake of conscience’ (Rom 13:5), to legitimate authority responds to the order established by God. St. Paul defines the relationships and duties that a Christian is to have towards the authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7). He insists on the civic duty to pay taxes: ‘Pay all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, fear to whom fear is due, respect to who respect is due’ (Rom 13:7). The Apostle certainly does not intend to legitimize every authority so much as to help Christians to ‘take thought for what is noble in the sight of all’ (Rom 12:17), including their relations with the authorities, insofar as the authorities are at the service of God for the good of the person (cf. Rom 13:4; 1 Tim 2:1-2; Tit 3:1) and ‘to execute [God's] wrath on the wrongdoer’ (Rom 13:4).”

While there is an acceptable range of opinion for Catholics on many social issues – excluding advocating for direct evils such as abortion – our unbroken tradition tells us that tax day is actually not so bad. As good Christian citizens, we must pay our taxes, at least until we die.