Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011, is the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A, Cycle I).
See “Our Take” below for more saints, but keep in mind the memorial of one “blessed” this week: Blessed John Paul II on Oct. 22. Normally, a thanksgiving memorial Mass for a blessed can only be said in the congregation or country from which the blessed came. That is one chief difference between beatification and canonization: Beatification recognizes a saint for particular localities; canonization is for the whole Church. But given the extraordinary nature of this blessed, the whole Church is welcome to celebrate him today.
At Benedictine College, our theme this year is “Be Not Afraid” in honor of his beatification — so you can expect a huge to-do on Oct. 22, the anniversary of his inauguration day, when he first uttered the words “Be not afraid!” as Pope.
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96:1, 3-5, 7-10; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21
Today’s Gospel is the famous “Render unto Ceasar what is Ceaser’s and unto God what is God’s” reading.
It is easy to misread the meaning of this passage and to make it draw too sharp a distinction between the political and the religious — as if the two spheres were sealed off from another.
But it would be a mistake not to realize that the reading does indeed draw a line.
In the reading, Jesus brilliantly turns a trap set for him into a trap for his opponents. The Herodians and Pharisees — who were not friends, by a long shot — decide to approach him with a conundrum: Is it lawful for him to pay taxes to the Roman Empire? After all, they are subjugating the Jewish people.
Jesus answers by referring to the Roman coin.
“Whose image is this and whose inscription?” he asks.
They say, “Caesar’s.”
“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar,” he tells them.
The Pharisees appreciated the answer because the coin’s image of Ceasar, as a quasi-divine ruler, is wrong on a number of levels for them. The Herodians like the answer because they consider it pro-tax.
What a Christian should hear from it, however, is something totally different.
If Caesar owns what is made in his image and bears his name, and we should give that back to him — then God owns what is made in his image and bears his name, and he needs that back, too.
In fact, it could be said that the defining behavior of a saint is that he “renders unto God what belongs to God.”
This week in the Church’s calendar, we have a number of examples of what that has looked like in Church history.
St. Mary Alocoque, whose memorial is normally celebrated Oct. 16, gave herself to God as her vocation. She was a 17th-century nun who popularized the Sacred Heart devotion. The great revelation of the Sacred Heart was that when we give ourselves entirely to God, he gives himself to us. As Blessed John Paul put it: In the Sacred Heart, “God loves humanly, suffers humanly, rejoices humanly. And vice versa: In Jesus, human love, human suffering, human glory acquire divine intensity and power.”
St. Ignatius of Antioch, whose memorial is Oct. 17, gave himself to God in martyrdom. His great teaching was that in dying for God we are merely doing what he does for us in the Eucharist.
St. Luke the Evangelist, whose memorial is Oct. 18, gave himself to God in his career. The tradition is that he was a physician and painter. Popularly, he was an early disciple — one of the 72 that Christ sent out — and one of the disillusioned travelers to Emmaus. He turned over his talents — both his scientific and artistic background — over to God’s purposes: to become a historian and evangelist.
St. Isaach Jogues and the North American Martyrs, whose memorial is Oct. 19, gave themselves to God through missionary work. They gave their lives to the Mohawk people, gaining converts such as Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha — literally in the end.
Each of us needs to discover how we can give ourselves to God, whether through a religious vocation, suffering for his truth, the talents that we have or a mission of the Church.
After all, we are in his image and likeness. He owns us.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas, where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.