October 18, 2017

Sts. Isaac Jogues, Jean de Brebeuf and Companions, the North American Martyrs

The North American Martyrs

Memorial - October 19th

It has been said that the Catholic Church in North America sprang from the blood of martyrs, and the story of Saint Isaac Jogues and his companions is certainly proof of that. Jogues was born in France in 1607, and missionary zeal soon led the young priest to the New World in 1636, where he worked with the Huron natives under the direction of Fr. John de Brebeuf his fellow Jesuit and mentor.

The Huron Indians, however, were not the only native peoples he encountered. The Iroquois were traditional enemies of the Huron and sworn enemies of the French. Consequently, when the Iroquois captured and held Father Jogues and his companions for thirteen months, they were imprisoned and tortured cruelly. Their fingers were cut, chewed, and burned off, and they were forced to watch the mutilation and killing of their Christian converts as a violent punishment.

Father Jogues, with the help of the Dutch, was finally able to escape and return to France. He was granted permission by Pope Urban VIII to offer Mass with mutilated hands and almost at once set sail back to North America to continue his missionary work. In 1646, he was captured by a Mohawk war party and was brutally tomahawked before being savagely beheaded by them on October 18th.

John de Brebeuf and five of his companions were martyred after four hours of extreme torture at Sainte Marie, near Georgian Bay, Canada in 1649. After Brebeuf’s demise, his body was stripped, beaten and beheaded. The details of his martyrdom are as follows. The Iroquois began to win their war with the Herons and destroyed a large Huron village. They captured Brebeuf and his companions. who were fastened to stakes and tortured to death by scalping, mock baptism using boiling water, fire, necklaces of red-hot hatchets, and finally, mutilation.

According to tradition Brebeuf did not make a single utterance while he was being tortured. This astounded the Iroquois, who later cut out his heart and ate it in hopes of gaining his courage. In 1984, Saint John Paul II prayed over Brebeuf’s skull before celebrating an outdoor Mass on the grounds of the Martyrs' Shrine.

The Jesuit martyrs of North America were canonized on June 29, 1930 by Pope Pius XI. In 1940, Pope Pius XII officially proclaimed them the secondary patrons of Canada. The first North American martyrs to be officially recognized by the Church, their shrine is located in Auriesville, New York. Loving God, who chose to manifest the blessed hope of your eternal Kingdom by the toil of Saints John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and companions, by the shedding of their blood, graciously grant that through their intercession the faith of Christians may be strengthened.

Saint Peter of Alcantara, Mystic and Reformer

According to the 1962 Missal of Saint John XXIII, October 19th, is the feast of Saint Peter of Alcantara, (1499 -1562) the 16th century priest known for his gifts of contemplation and the virtue of penance. He was one of Saint Teresa of Avila's spiritual directors who perceived in her a soul chosen by God for a great work. He counseled and encouraged St. Teresa in her reformation of the Carmelite Order.

Peter, surnamed Alcantara after the town of his birth, was eminent among the saints of the sixteenth century for an extraordinary spirit of penance and for attaining the heights of contemplation. He was a great mystic. At the age of sixteen he entered the Order of Friars Minor. He was an apostle of spiritual reform in his own community and aided St. Teresa in her reform of the Carmelites. God revealed to her that no one would remain unheard who begged in Peter's name.

Thereafter Teresa was most eager to have his prayers and honored him as a saint while he was still alive. With great humility Peter shunned all favors from eminent personages, even though they esteemed him as the mouthpiece of God or asked his counsel; for instance, he declined the request to act as confessor to Charles V.

Although she was at quite a distance at the time of her esteemed mentor's death, St. Teresa saw his soul entering heaven. Later he would appear to her and say: "O happy penances which won for me such blessedness! Lord Jesus Christ, Who said: "Ask and ye shall receive", and Who revealed to your servant St.Teresa, that whatever should be asked of you in the name of Blessed Peter of Alcantara would be granted, full of confidence in your promises, we humbly ask you, grant by the intercession of St. Peter of Alcantara all that our souls require. Amen.

World Mission Sunday 2017

Pope Francis' coat of arms Since 1926, the third Sunday of October has been set aside for the Catholic Church the world over to renew its commitment to the task of evangelizing all nations, as called to by Christ.

World Mission Sunday, the annual worldwide Eucharistic celebration for the Missions and missionaries of the world, will be on October 22th. The collection on the next-to-last Sunday in October is a unique, global effort for the entire Church to provide for the building up of over one thousand local churches in Asia and Africa, the Pacific Islands, and parts of Latin America, Europe [and the United States].

Through the work of these churches, and their witness to Christ, the poor receive practical help and experience God’s love, mercy, hope and peace. This year, Pope Francis reminds us that mission is at the heart of our Faith. St. Therese of Lisieux. Patroness of Missionaries, pray for us.

October 17, 2017

Mary was a Primary Source for Luke’s Gospel

St. Luke

Father Charles Irvin observes that Luke's Gospel is unique: "Of the four Gospel accounts written by Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, St. Luke’s has been characterized by some scripture scholars as the most beautiful of them all. St. Luke’s Gospel contains accounts of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, for instance. Mary, the mother of Jesus has a special place in his Gospel. Moreover, St. Luke has a special regard for women, for the hurting, the outcasts, and those who were seen to be at the bottom of the social heap in those days. The tender and compassionate heart of Jesus is prominent in St. Luke’s accounts of His life."

Saint Luke’s Gospel is distinctive indeed. It contains information not found in any other account of Jesus’s life, both canonical and non-canonical. Where did Luke get his stories about the conception, birth and infancy of Jesus Christ? Many believe this information came from none other than Mary, the Mother of God.

Who but Mary could have told him the things that she kept in her heart? We know that Luke was with the Apostles at the same time as Mary. In aspiring to write an orderly account of the Savior's life and ministry, it would have been natural to ask Mary what happened from the beginning. It is therefore all but certain that she was a primary source for his portrayal. The Catechism states:

"The Gospel according to St. Luke emphasizes the action of the Holy Spirit and the meaning of prayer in Christ's ministry. Jesus prays before the decisive moments of his mission: before his Father's witness to him during his baptism and Transfiguration, and before his own fulfillment of the Father's plan of love by his Passion. He also prays before the decisive moments involving the mission of his apostles: at his election and call of the Twelve, before Peter's confession of him as "the Christ of God," and again that the faith of the chief of the Apostles may not fail when tempted. Jesus' prayer before the events of salvation that the Father has asked him to fulfill is a humble and trusting commitment of his human will to the loving will of the Father." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2600)

The Persecution of Christians is Worse Now Than at Any Time in History

21 Coptic Christian Martyrs of Libya

Aid to the Church in Need is a papal charity of the Catholic Church, supporting the Catholic faithful and other Christians where they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. The organization recently published its report Persecuted and Forgotten? 2015-2017, detailing how Christians are oppressed for their Faith. The report's findings are chilling. It found that the persecution of Christians is today "worse than at any time in history." Christians in the Middle East are most at risk.

In 2016 alone, some 600,000 Christians were persecuted worldwide. From the report's executive summary: "While firm numbers are hard to come by … there is little doubt that the level of Christian persecution remains extremely high in a great number of places around the world … In many countries the situation was already so severe, it could scarcely get any worse, and yet it did – the obvious exception being Saudi Arabia, where a long-established pattern of some of the world's worst oppression saw no obvious indications of deterioration."

Increasingly, those who believe in Christ are endangered, singled out for hate and systematic genocide. The report explains how "an eradication of Christians, and other minorities, was – and still is – the specific and stated objective of extremist groups at work in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the region, including Egypt." The report claims that the UN failed to offer Christians in countries such as Iraq and Syria the emergency help they desperately needed as genocide got underway.

It also observes, "At a time in the West when there is increasing media focus on the rights of people regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexuality, it is ironic that in much of the secular media there should be such limited coverage of the massive persecution experienced by so many Christians." The Christian communities in India, China, Ethiopia and Sudan have experienced greater persecution as well. Let us pray for all our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to live in true safety.

Prayer For Persecuted Christians

O God of all the nations, the One God who is and was and always will be, in your providence you willed that your Church be united to the suffering of your Son. Look with mercy on your servants who are persecuted for their faith in you. Grant them perseverance and courage to be worthy imitators of Christ. Bring your wisdom upon leaders of nations to work for peace among all peoples. May your Spirit open conversion for those who contradict your will, that we may live in harmony. Give us the grace to be united in truth, and to always seek your will in our lives. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. Our Lady, Queen of Peace, pray for us.

Our persecuted brothers and sisters in faith face intimidation, torture and death for being disciples of Christ. We must assist them, if only in prayer. Our prayers are always efficacious no matter how dire the situation or the fact God does not always grant our petitions. To help visit ChristiansAtRisk.org and Nasarean.org.

Saint Luke, Missionary and Evangelist

Saint Luke
Saint Luke came from Antioch, was a practicing physician and one of the initial converts to Christianity. He accompanied Saint Paul, who converted him, on his missionary journeys and was still with him in Rome when St. Paul was in prison awaiting death. We hear no more of him afterward and nothing is known of his final years. The Church venerates him as a Martyr.

The Gospel he authored is principally concerned with salvation and mercy; in it are preserved some of our Lord's most moving parables, like those of the lost sheep and the prodigal son. Dante calls St. Luke the "historian of the meekness of Christ." It is also St. Luke who tells us the greater part of what we know about our Lord's childhood (as relayed by Our Lady).

The Evangelist considered his Gospel and the Book of Acts to be one account in two parts. In Acts of the Apostles, we follow Luke's journey in Christian ministry. Much of Acts is written in the third person. However, occasionally, Luke conveys events he had witnessed firsthand. This would help to explain the more detailed portrayals of St. Paul's missionary travels. Luke's account in Acts is the only Apostolic record of the founding of Christianity and the spread of the Good News. Beginning with Christ's Ascension, it chronicles the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the efforts of a nascent Church striving to fulfill its divine mission.

According to tradition he was an artist, as well as a man of letters; and with a soul alive to all the most delicate inspirations, he consecrated his pencil to the holiest use, and handed down to us the features of the Mother of God. It was an illustration worthy of the Gospel which relates to the divine Infancy; and it won for the artist a new title to the gratitude of those who never saw Jesus and Mary in the flesh. Hence St. Luke is the patron of painters, sculptors and Christian art.

The exact method of his martyrdom is uncertain. The Coptic Orthodox Church contends that he was beheaded at the behest of Emperor Nero. Others say he preached in Greece, and possibly Gaul, before dying at age 84 in Boeotia. He is also the patron of notaries, physicians, stained glass workers and surgeons, among others. His feast day is October 18th. Lord God, who chose St. Luke to reveal by his preaching and writings the mystery of your love, grant that those who glory in your name may persevere and all may merit to see your salvation.

October 16, 2017

Saint Ignatius of Antioch on Christianity

Saint Ignatius of Antioch

Saint Ignatius of Antioch lived at a time when the Church endured systematic persecution. The Church is persecuted still today. Pope Paul VI’s words are instructive: "It comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a 'sign of contradiction.'" Given the Church’s divine mandate, Saint Ignatius’ stark insight is as profound as it is succinct.

Christianity is greatest when it is hated by the world.

— Saint Ignatius of Antioch

Prayer for St Ignatius of Antioch’s Intercession

Almighty ever-living God, who adorn the sacred body of your Church with the confessions of holy Martyrs, grant, we pray, that, by the intercession of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, we may grow in our love for the things of God and live in imitation of Christ. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, our Divine Savior. Amen.

Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

St. Ignatius of Antioch

Memorial - October 17th

On this day, the Church commemorates one of the most significant Apostolic Fathers of Christian antiquity, who lived less than a century after Christ. Saint Ignatius of Antioch, (c. 35 – 107) a disciple of the Apostle John, was the third Bishop of Antioch (a city in present day Turkey) from 70 to 107, the date of his martyrdom. Tradition holds Ignatius, as a child, was blessed by Our Lord. He is patron of the Catholic Church in the eastern Mediterranean and North Africa.

Ignatius is credited with coining the term 'Catholic' in reference to the universal Church. "Wherever Jesus Christ is", he observed, "there is the Catholic Church" (Smyrnaeans, 8:2). He is best known for the seven letters he wrote to six early Christian communities and to Saint Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, defending orthodoxy, urging unity and warning against heresy as he journeyed to his death from Antioch to Rome — a treasure passed down from the 1st century Church. Offering his impending martyrdom to Christ, Ignatius composed the following:

"From Syria to Rome I must do battle with beasts on land and sea. For day and night I am chained to ten leopards, that is, the soldiers who guard me and grow more ferocious the better they are treated. Their mistreatment is good instruction for me, yet am I still far from justified. Oh, that I may meet the wild beasts now kept in readiness for me. I shall implore them to give me death promptly and to hasten my departure. I shall invite them to devour me so that they will not leave my body unharmed as already has happened to other witnesses. If they refuse to pounce upon me, I shall impel them to eat me. My little children, forgive me these words. Surely I know what is good for me. From things visible I no longer desire anything; I want to find Jesus. Fire and cross, wild beasts, broken bones, lacerated members, a body wholly crushed, and Satan's every torment, let them all overwhelm me, if only I reach Christ" (Romans, 5).

Having experienced a personal encounter with Jesus, Ignatius converted as a young man and became a disciple of the beloved disciple John. His holiness, intellect and zeal came to the attention of Peter, the first Pope, who consecrated him Bishop of Antioch around the year 69. Ignatius proved to be a wise and much beloved prelate. Maintaining the hierarchical structure of the Church, and at the same time, the unity of the faithful in Christ, were among his greatest concerns. Even greater was his willingness to suffer martyrdom rather than deny his Faith.

In 107, during a wave of persecution by the Emperor Trajan, Christians were told to renounce their faith or face death. After refusing to do so, Ignatius was taken under guard to Rome where he was killed by wild beasts in the Amphitheatre. His sacrifice is recorded in the Roman Martyrology: "At Rome, the holy bishop and martyr Ignatius. He was the second successor to the apostle Peter in the see of Antioch. In the persecution of Trajan, he was condemned to the wild beasts and sent in chains to Rome. There, by the emperor's order, he was subjected to most cruel tortures in the presence of the Senate and then thrown to the lions. Torn to pieces by their teeth, he became a victim for Christ." O God, who adorns your Church with the witness of Martyrs, grant, that, just as the glorious passion of St. Ignatius of Antioch, merited him eternal life, may it give to us eternal inspiration.

October 15, 2017

Let There Be Light: The Movie Hollywood Won't Make

In the golden age of Hollywood, movies extolling heroic virtue and Christian values were commonplace. Films were life affirming, their plots derived from saintly figures, or Scripture itself (Ben-Hur and The Greatest Story Ever Told).

Today Hollywood has little to offer Christians beyond mockery and derision. Let There Be Light is the movie Hollywood won’t make. In it an atheist goes through a near-death experience in an auto accident before converting to Christianity.

Deadline has this summary: "After suffering the traumatic loss of his youngest son to cancer, Dr. Sol Harkens (Kevin Sorbo) loses faith and heads down a path of darkness. Distancing himself from his ex-wife Katy (Sam Sorbo) and their two remaining sons, Sol turns to alcohol to numb his pain. Soon his bad habits catch up to him, and Sol is involved in a serious car accident that leaves him dead for four minutes before he is resuscitated. What Sol experiences during this time changes his outlook on life and brings him closer to his family and faith."

Let There Be Light’s release date is October 27th. The production was a family affair. Kevin Sorbo directed the film. Sorbo’s wife Sam Sorbo co-wrote the film, and both star in it alongside their two sons. Here is the the trailer for the movie.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque on the Sacred Heart

Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque
This divine heart is an abyss filled with all blessings, and into the poor should submerge all their needs. It is an abyss of joy in which all of us can immerse our sorrows. It is an abyss of lowliness to counteract our foolishness, an abyss of mercy for the wretched, an abyss of love to meet our every need.
— St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

Prayer for St. Margaret Mary Alacoque’s Intercession

Pour out on us, we pray, almighty God, the spirit with which you so remarkably endowed Saint Margaret Mary, so that we may come to know that love of Christ which surpasses all understanding and by her holy intercession, be utterly filled with your fullness. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you, and in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Marguerite d'Youville, First Native Canadian Saint

Saint Marguerite d'Youville

October 16th, the Church in Canada observes the optional memorial of Saint Marguerite d'Youville, the first native Canadian to be elevated to sainthood. She was born October 15, 1701 at Varennes, Quebec, the eldest child to Christophe Dufrost de Lajemmerais and Marie-Renée Gaultier. Her father died when she was 7 years old leaving her family in tremendous poverty. She studied for two years at the Ursulines in Quebec. Upon her return home, she became an invaluable support to her mother and undertook the education of her brothers and sisters.

She married François d'Youville in 1722, and the young couple made their home with his mother who made life miserable for her daughter-in-law. She soon came to realize that her husband had no interest in making a home life. His frequent absences and illegal liquor trading with the Indians caused her great suffering. She was pregnant with her sixth child when François became seriously ill. She faithfully cared for him until his death in 1730. By age 29, she had experienced poverty and lost her father and husband. Four of her six children died in infancy.

In all these suffering Marguerite grew in her belief of God's presence in her life and his infinite love for every human person. She greatly desired to make his compassionate love for all known throughout the world. She undertook many charitable works with complete trust in God, who she loved as a Father.

She provided for the education of her two sons, who would later became priests, and she welcomed a blind woman into her home. Marguerite was soon joined by three young women who shared her love and concern for the poor. On December 31, 1737, they consecrated themselves to God and promised to serve him in the persons of the poor and sick. Marguerite, without even realizing it, had become the foundress of the Sisters of Charity of Montreal, also called the "Grey Nuns".

In 1747, Sister Marguerite, who was referred to as the "mother of the poor", was asked to become director of the Charon Brothers Hospital in Montreal, which was falling into ruin. She and her sisters rebuilt the hospital and cared for those in most desperate human misery. With the help of her fellow sisters, Marguerite laid the foundation for ministering to the indigent population of Montreal and beyond.

A fire destroyed the hospital in 1765, but nothing could diminish Marguerite's faith and courage. She asked her sisters and the poor who lived at the hospital, to recognize the hand of God in this disaster and to offer him praise. At the age of 64 she undertook the reconstruction of this shelter for those in need. Totally exhausted from a lifetime of self-giving, Marguerite died on December 23, 1771. She is remembered as a loving mother who served Jesus Christ in the destitute.

Saint Hedwig of Silesia, Patroness of Poland

Saint Hedwig of Silesia

Optional Memorial - October 16th

Saint Hedwig, the aunt of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, was married at an early age and raised seven children. When her husband died in 1238, she took the habit of the Cistercian nuns at Trebnitz (where one of her daughters was the abbess), but retained her property so that she could give relief to the suffering.

Hedwig was born in 1174 in Bavaria, the daughter of the Duke of Croatia. She was the maternal aunt of St. Elizabeth of Hungary and married Henry, Duke of Silesia. After their six children were born, they both strove to advance in sanctity and to enrich Silesia and Poland with monasteries, hospitals, and leper asylums. 

She outlived all but one of her children, Gertrude. Hedwig persuaded her husband to use her dowry to found a Cisterian monastery for nuns at Trebnitz, that would be a center of prayer. Their daughter Gertrude became abbess of the monastery.

Hedwig led a life of piety and solicitude for the sick and poor, including their religious education. She lived a life of poverty and humility, despite her prominent position. Every day, even in winter, she would walk barefooted, so her feet were in bad shape. A story tells us her husband sent her a pair of shoes, insisting that she not be without them — so she kept them under her arm. 

After the death of her husband, Hedwig completely renounced the world and entered the monastery of Trebnitz which she had founded. She died on October 15, 1243 and is venerated as patroness of Poland. She is not to be confused with Saint Hedwig, Queen of Poland (1371-1399), canonized by Saint John Paul II. Grant, we pray, almighty God, that the revered intercession of Saint Hedwig may bring us heavenly aid, just as her wonderful life is an example of humility for all. 

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque

Optional Memorial - October 16th

Occasionally, we get so caught up in the holiness of saints — sometimes to the point of thinking that we could never be like them — that we forget that they, like us, often suffered misunderstanding, criticism, and ridicule for the things they said and did. This was true with St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the Visitation nun whose visions of the Sacred Heart were at first largely dismissed as delusions.

Margaret Mary’s childhood was far from idyllic. Born in the village of L'Hautecour, France in 1647, she suffered the death of her father at an early age. That event, coupled with the unscrupulous actions of a relative, resulted in the family being left poverty stricken and humiliated. After her First Communion at the age of nine, Margaret Mary herself became ill and was paralyzed for four years. Her health, along with the desperate situation the family found itself enduring, caused her emotional anguish. “The heaviest of my crosses,” she later said, “was that I could do nothing to lighten the cross my mother was suffering.”

During her illness, Margaret Mary developed an intense devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and made a vow to the Blessed Virgin that, if she recovered, she would enter religious life.  Consequently, when her health returned in 1671, she entered the Order of Visitation nuns at Paray-le-Monial. There she was known primarily for her slowness and clumsiness, although one of her fellow novices also noted that she was kind and patient, even when being harshly corrected. Her patience under persecution would end up serving her well in the years to come.

On December 21, 1674, this humble nun began to receive a series of revelations from Christ, who asked her to become the instrument through which He would convey His great love for all humankind. At first, she was afraid that she might be deceived by these experiences, yet as they continued over a period of a year and a half, she came to believe and live the devotion that Christ had invited her to.

Jesus showed Margaret Mary His heart, the symbol of His love, surrounded by a crown of thorns.  “Behold this heart,” He told her, “that has so loved men that it has spared nothing.”  In return, He said, He has often been treated, not with love, but with ingratitude and coldness; He called upon Margaret Mary to make up for this rejection by “frequent and loving Communion, especially on the first Friday of each month, and by an hour’s vigil of prayer each Thursday night in memory of His agony and isolation in Gethsemane.” He also asked that a special feast of the Sacred Heart be established on the Friday after Corpus Christi.

When the visions stopped, it seemed that Margaret Mary’s troubles had just begun.  Many of the sisters in the convent were hostile to her, and theologians declared her to be “delusional.” Even some of the parents of the children she taught reviled her, calling her unorthodox and an imposter. It wasn’t until a new confessor, a Jesuit by the name of Saint Claude de la Colombiere, came to the convent that her genuineness, holiness and personal veracity was recognized.

Following her death in 1690, there was continued discussion surrounding her devotion to the Sacred Heart.  Everything she said, wrote, and did was examined scrupulously by the Sacred Congregation and, finally, in March of 1824, Pope Leo XII pronounced her venerable. She was beatified in 1864 and canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict XV. Known as the “Apostle of the Sacred Heart,” St. Margaret Mary Alacoque’s feast day is October 16th. Sacred Heart of Jesus, pray for us.

Chosen: A Reflection for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Jesus with the Pharisees

By Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America

(Isaiah 45:1-6; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-21)

Cyrus is a fascinating historical personage. His was the largest empire the world had yet seen. He governed wisely, repatriating deported peoples, and respecting cultures and religions, including Judaism. In the Bible, he is the only pagan to be called ‘Anointed,’ which in Hebrew is the word ‘Messiah.’ God called him by name, i.e., he had a special purpose for him. He was chosen.

St. Paul calls to mind the faith and love of the Thessalonians, and knows how they were chosen, to become disciples of Jesus Christ, whose name means ‘Lord-Savior Anointed.’

The Pharisees had a clear sense of their mission. Among the chosen people of Israel, they were to be faithful to the Law of God, to promote fidelity to it, and to defend it. In the Gospels they were often scandalized by Jesus’ seeming indifference to the Law, and more than once they tried to trap him in his words, as we see today.

One might be tempted to think that the attitude of the Pharisees is reflected in the message of Christ. The Lord’s Day, the Holy Name, Fasting: these laws seem to matter as much to Jesus as to the Pharisees.

There is a great difference, however. First of all, let us recall that, early in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets… Whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:17, 19).

But, two verses later, he added: “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” This was not an indictment of the Pharisees, but a call to be more than keepers of the Law.

The Law was a gift. Its aim was to make it possible to know God’s will and follow it, and thereby find prosperity and security, leading to praise. This is reflected in today’s Responsorial Psalm: “Give to the Lord glory and praise; give to the Lord the glory due his name!”

That is ultimately what we are chosen for, to glorify God in word and deed.

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 22, 2017, Year A

Render to Caesar what is Caesar's

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing

Every three years we are presented with today’s gospel, one that interests many of us because it deals with the question of separation between Church and State.

The first thing we should note is that the question put to Jesus was a lawyer’s trick question. It was not a question that sought enlightenment; it was not put to Jesus in order to learn from Him. No. It was put to Jesus to trap Him. Was He to be seen as an insurrectionist revolutionary and an enemy of the State or was He to be seen as a collaborator with the hated Roman authorities who so brutalized the Jewish people?

The Pharisees, the religious fundamentalists of the day, hated the Roman tax. The Herodians, those Jews who supported the Roman puppet King Herod, supported the tax. Both groups, the Pharisees and the Herodians, hated each other. But here we find them joined together in a combined effort to trap Jesus, to discredit Him, and thus do away with Him, each trying to trap Jesus for their own reasons.

With a canny response Jesus discredits them both. Both the Pharisees and the Herodians were Jews. Both groups, as Jews, rejected graven images as violations of the First Commandment. No Jew of any stripe would countenance the idea that idols were to be worshipped. Statues and images were totally forbidden as false, man-made gods.

Here we find Jesus in His response to their tricky question asking them for a coin, which they gave Him. Note that both they and Jesus were in the Temple area when this incident took place. Note, too, that the Roman coin had carved upon it the image of the infamous Tiberius Caesar, the one who had so desecrated the Jewish Temple. The coin also bore the inscription: “Tiberius Caesar – Son of the Divine Augustus”. On the coin’s other side it designated him as “Pontifex Maximus”, supreme priest. For Jews, this was blasphemous idolatry.

The fact that they had carried that coin with them into the Temple precincts tells us that they thereby discredited themselves. No good Jew would be caught with such a coin on the Temple’s grounds, the holiest site in all of Judaism.

Furthermore, we need to realize that Jesus’ response was directed at the precise issue of whether or not the Roman taxes should be paid. Jesus said nothing about the autonomy of Caesar in his secular role. Nor was Jesus making any statement at all about separating religion from society.

So these questions remain: What is Caesar’s, and what is God’s? Is there anything at all that is not God’s – is there anything at all in human activity that does not stand under God’s judgment? Are we, as modern-day Americans, exempting anything from God’s purview?

Separation of church and state has benefited us here in the United States. We have a democracy, not a theocracy, and that has served us well. We do not have a state religion; we have freedom of religion. We are free to practice our religious beliefs as we choose.

But where is it written that freedom of religion means freedom from religion? Are people of faith obliged not to express their beliefs and put them into practice in the public domain? We must remember that while rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s we must still render to God what is God’s.

Does God have expectations of us with regard to our civic order? Are our public policies to be exercised freed from God’s norms and apart from God’s will? What is to be kept from God’s purview?

Here are some examples of what concerns me.

One is found in the response our U.S. Congress made to the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. As bills for hurricane relief were being drafted in Congress, voices were raised objecting to giving any forms of relief to churches and other faith-based organizations. Such relief measures, intended for all citizens of these United States were, it was argued, to be denied to faith-based organizations. Why? Because giving them money, it was argued, would violate the principle of separation of church and state. In other words, church members were not to be considered among the citizenry of our country entitled to disaster relief!

By now we are all familiar with the Obamacare’s mandate administered by the Department of Health and Human Services requiring religious organizations employing more than fifty persons to provide their employees with insurance coverage for abortion, sterilization, and contraceptive services. We know, too, that this requirement was applied to the Little Sisters of the Poor. The Department of Justice prosecuted them. Their defense was that they objected to this governmental mandate by citing the Constitutions’ First Amendment guarantee of Freedom of Religion. In response to the Little Sisters’ appeal, a Federal judge suggested that the Little Sisters simply sign a form declaring that they are an exempt religious organization. Why don’t they just sign this meaningless little form? By doing so the problem will go away the court said.

Well, these little nuns are smart enough to recognize that signing the government’s form is not meaningless. Why? Because the government retains its claim to interfere with their right to freely practice what they believe. The Sisters are astute enough to recognize that the government can take away what it so graciously granted. The government’s claim in effect defines how one’s belief is exercised. The “meaningless little form” isn’t simply a minor exception.

Freedom of religion isn’t confined to how one worships on Sunday. People of belief should be able to practice in public what they hold to in Sunday worship free of governmental controls and mandates.

Another example occurs to me. Article VI, Clause 3 of our Constitution prescribes that “no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

What disturbs me is that in recent times people running for public office or appointed to hold public office, particularly the judiciary, are being subjected to religious tests. Precisely because they hold certain religious beliefs they are being subjected to political attacks. If they strongly hold to certain religious beliefs they are being told they are fundamentalist fanatics and therefore unqualified to hold public office. We need look no further than to recent debates over nominees for Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thomas Jefferson and many of our founding forbearers clearly held to the position that we must be a moral nation if our republic is to endure. The founders of our nation had strong religious beliefs and they founded our nation on firmly held positions that derived from their faith in the Almighty. Our Creator, they declared, endows unalienable human rights upon us.

Abraham Lincoln, in his monumental effort to preserve our union repeatedly appealed to the Almighty in his famous and powerful speeches. None of these men would subscribe to the notion that freedom of religion means freedom from religion in our civic life and in the fabric of our republic.

What, then, is Caesar’s and what is God’s? That question is being argued out in our times in a great debate over the importance and value of religion in our society. Reasonable people may differ in the application of answers to that question. But however much reasonable people may differ it is unreasonable to assert the notion that our American republic was built on the secularist mantra that freedom of religion in these United States means freedom from religion in our public affairs.

What is Caesar’s and what is God’s? The question is just as important to us now as it was when it was put to Jesus. And so is its answer. Your vote matters.