29th Sunday of Ordinary Time, year A
Today in the gospel Jesus refuses to get caught up in a political squabble. The Pharisees are trying to trick him into getting involved in the controversy between Church and state, between the temple and the Roman authorities. But, as he often is able to do, Jesus cuts right through to the heart of the issue, Issues still important for us today.
First of all, we all rely upon secular authority. Just as in the time of Jesus, we have a dependency upon the world around us. We use American currency, drive on public roads, depend upon secular police and armies for security, many of you are employed by the State. Therefore, we have a responsibility to participate in the world around us: we have to pay taxes and obey the laws. Even more, as members of this society we have a responsibility to reshape it, to guide and form the world around us. This is why we must vote responsibly and demand accountability from our civic leaders. We render to Caesar what is Caesar's when we act as responsible citizens, never ashamed of our faith, but rather bringing our faith into the public square.
But, I think Jesus is making another, more subtle point. How do we know that the coin in the gospel belongs to Caesar? It is engraved with Caesar's image. Render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar is pretty straight forward, but then Jesus includes the next line: render to God what belongs to God. What is it then that belongs to God? If we know that the coin belongs to Caesar because it is made in his image, what is it that belongs to God, what is made in his image? The answer, of course, is all of us.
We read in the book of Genesis that God made us in his image and likeness. This is an important belief. Our belief in the dignity and goodness of every human person is based upon the central teaching: we are made in God's image and likeness. Render to God what belongs to God, means that we belong to God, and our lives must be given to him in service.
Today we remember a great apostle of this message. In all the parishes of our diocese this weekend we are celebrating the beatification of John Paul II. John Paul tirelessly defended the inherent dignity of the human person. Having lived through both Nazi and Communist occupations of Poland, he knew that the dignity of the human person was under attack. The person is not simply a cog in the machine, not simply a statistic, the person is made in God's image and likeness, it is to be respected and defended.
Another of John Paul's contributions was his teaching about human fulfillment. The human person, he used to say, will only be happy by giving his/her life away. The key to happiness is self-donation. This is precisely what Jesus is telling us in the gospel: give to God what belongs to God means that we must give our lives to Christ in order to fulfill our destiny and calling. This is something easy to say, but hard to carry out, because giving our lives means something different for each one of us. For me, it means giving my life in service as a priest. For you, it might mean giving your life in service as a husband and father, a wife and mother, a consecrated religious person, whatever. Each of us has a separate vocation, but none of us are called to selfishness, none of us is called to vainglory, or pride. We are all called to give to God what belongs to God, namely our very selves.
John Paul II was an amazing person, I often wonder how he was able to give so much of himself. I was deeply impressed by reading his biography, of the many things he did, the places he visited, the way he was able to give of himself. I think I can safely say that the source of his strength was the Holy Eucharist. Every morning Blessed John Paul II would arise early, spend time praying before Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and celebrate Mass. Here on this altar, here at St. Matthew's Cathedral in South Bend, we find the same Eucharist, the same Jesus, the same strength that made John Paul into a holy person. The Eucharist, which is the self-donation of Christ, should change us into giving people, ready to give our lives for Christ. Blessed John Paul II: pray for us.