In our first reading from the prophet Isaiah we learned that God is indeed Lord and Ruler of All, even secret happenings in the course of human history:
For Jacob My servant's sake, and Israel My elect, I the Lord have named Cyrus, though you have not known Me; I will gird you, though you have not known Me.
And St. Paul in our second reading took up that appreciation of God’s divine authority when he wrote:
Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction, as you know what kind of persons we were among you for your sake.
How Mother Church today needs such ‘persons’ whose faith is for them a fount of holy power and assured commitment to Jesus, the same yesterday, today, and for ever!
However, in modern Western society, effeminacy is widespread; not because women are becoming numerically preponderant in our society, nor, indeed, simply because some are showing themselves to be both self-promoting and confrontational in men’s regard, with repeated and voluble criticism of masculine attitudes as being violent, insensitive, unloving, lacking in communication skills, not to mention other opined faults. But it is also a fact that, in conjunction with such feminist tendencies in individuals and society, too many men are, alas, imitating Adam by allowing themselves to be over-influenced, at times even intimidated, by such widespread humanistic and overly-emotional individuals, and by public appreciations based, not on the Christian trilogy of faith, hope, and charity, but on the (French) revolutionary and iconoclastic ideals of freedom, equality, and fraternity.
Freedom: who can speak better of that than St. Paul:
Brothers and sisters: For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
A yoke defined by Jesus for us Catholics and Christians:
Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin (John 8:34),
but totally ignored by modern humanists, with the result that a crushing yoke weighs down upon innumerable slaves subject to the drugs and sex industries that disfigure and disgrace our society and our world today!
‘Equal’ … what a word, just right for inciting nit-picking and fostering discord and dissension!! What words have we Christians been taught and received? ‘Equal’ indeed in divine dignity as children of God; ‘complimentary’, however, in personal relationships and shared human endeavours for the coming of God’s kingdom:
Now the body is not a single part, but many. If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. (1 Corinthians 12:14–18)
‘Fraternity’ … the Romans of old, at least those in the upper echelons, prided themselves on their ‘fraternity’! If I might, I will quote Peter Brown in his recent book ‘Through the Eye of a Needle’ (p. 101): Whatever their beliefs, Symmachus wished to treat members of his (senatorial) class as peers held together by the old fashioned “religion of friendship.”
And what, originally all-conquering, Christian word have we, in this respect, fecklessly lost by repeatedly allowing our opponents to determine the meanings of words and our use of them? ‘Charity’, divine charity, able to inspire and elevate our human relationships and endeavours over and above all merely human understandings of goodness and love which otherwise so frequently and manifestly show themselves able and prone to accommodate all sorts of infamous distortions and open contradictions.
And so, although the Catholic understanding of Christian marriage rightly emphasizes that man and woman marry for both the divine and social good of giving birth to children as also for their own personal and mutual benefit; nevertheless, in this modern social context, Christian family life is suffering because contention and challenge are eroding the unity and ruining the example of the spouses; with the result, for example, that children are now being seriously damaged due to a lack of authentic discipline and an absence of true love. A Christian husband should teach his children how to love their mother by his own example, and likewise, a mother should insist that her children follow her example and learn to respect and obey their father. Thus the Christian husband and father should use his accepted authority not as a despot to get absolute obedience for himself from his children, but to insist on and exemplify love and honour for his wife; while the Christian wife and mother should use her unique hold on the family’s heartstrings, not to get ever more love for herself from her children -- as some neurotic might -- but to lead and guide them in showing respect and obedience for their father, her husband.
It used to be jokingly (?) said that ‘a lady is a woman who makes it easy for a man to be a gentleman’; and I personally grew up with a secret and deep awareness of, and admiration for, my ‘complementary’ mother, because I never saw her undermining my father, but rather helping him to be and become a man, by supporting him as her man of the house and my father. This mutual helping and oneness of the spouses is, moreover, truly sacred, being meant to exalt and support both of them in all their dealings with their children: no child should be allowed to threaten or break that unity of father and mother; no child should be used in selfish confrontational attitudes by either of their parents.
The present-day fragility of family life is reflected in society as a whole, where criminality is rampant because – among other factors – Christians, having too often supinely surrendered words and their meanings over many years, have thereby allowed emotive enthusiasts, for example, to decry punishment as vengeance, and portray justice as inhuman, and both, therefore, as unchristian words and unacceptable social practices.
There are other passages in today’s Gospel reading relevant to our times in which political violence and racial terrorism seek to cover themselves with a cloak of so-called religious devotion. There we are clearly shown the Pharisees and the Herodians trying to lull Jesus into a sense of false security:
Teacher, we know that You are true and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men.
They were using such flattery to soften up Jesus before the putting to Him the punch question that was ready on their lips:
Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?"
The idea was to get Jesus in trouble. If Jesus were to have said it was right to pay taxes, then those patriotic Jews and the Zealot agitators would have decried Him as some sort of traitor or quisling. On the other hand, had Jesus said it was wrong to pay the taxes, then the Romans would have deemed it necessary to seek Him out as one potentially troublesome, and deal with Him accordingly; which, of course, was just what the Pharisees and the Temple hierarchy wanted.
Jesus was not going to fall into the trap. He answered them:
Show Me the tax money." So they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."
Who can fail to recognize the beauty of God’s wisdom in those wonderful words spoken in such a situation? That beauty, both simple and sublime, is something to contemplate alone before God. But now, gathered here as disciples of Jesus wanting to learn from Him how to worship and serve the Father, let us consider something of the implications of those words and perhaps understand Jesus’ attitude of mind and heart a little better.
Those words of flattery spoken by the Pharisees and Herodians were meant to ensnare Jesus, and the attitudes they sought to promote are a perennial temptation and conceit for Christians of all ages, and today we should -- like our Blessed Lord -- be quick to recognise their poison and strong to reject their subtle infiltration into our lives.
A man of integrity! We, as disciples of Jesus, are called to lead good lives, that is, lives of integrity before God, not conformity with the prevailing modern standards and judgements. We have to try to live up to the role set before us in the Scriptures and called for in the teaching of Mother Church. However, knowing well that our sins are many and our weaknesses manifest to the eyes of God, we try to assimilate this awareness into our own self-consciousness, and so, true Christian integrity should always be accompanied by a corresponding degree of humility. However, the danger is that we can begin to weary of the gradual grind of humility under the training of the God to Whom our sins and weaknesses are so perfectly well-known, and begin to slide into an easy acceptance of the accolades of men who are willing to give immediate rewards for our compliance with their views.
Jesus Himself was not in any way swayed by such flatteries: His personal integrity would always and only be used to glorify His Father and promote the true well-being of all those who heard and listened to His words; and so, His resolute independence of men and their opinions would be -- always and only -- the other face of His constant care to be free and able to serve them, for Jesus was always the Servant, never a braggart. Nevertheless, His requirement of independence made it necessary for Him to be fearless, and so, here, He separated State and Religion for the first time. Until Jesus came the state had been in total charge of religion: the Emperors were worshipped as gods in the all-powerful Roman state. And therefore, those famous and most beautiful words of Jesus:
Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's,
are not only wonderfully wise words, they were also remarkably brave words for those times.
Pius the 12th. is often blamed today for not speaking out against the Nazis on behalf of the Jews. I do not know the details, but I do know that life under Nazi domination was not a time or situation for parading blunt truth, personal pride, and public recklessness. He was in a sort of hostage situation: millions of his Catholic people lived under the Nazis who were men of no conscience. The Church, with her Lord, must needs be independent of the State, but she cannot behave as if the State does not exist; and sometimes -- as we saw in our OT reading -- a pagan state might be used by God for His own good purposes. The Church may not seek to overthrow the State, but she can -- and does have to -- seek to influence the practices of the state through her proclamation of Christian truth. At times, situations can arise which resemble the situation of Jesus in our Gospel passage today, and who can blame a man – even one as great as Pope Pius XII -- or Church authorities, if they are found not to have had the divine wisdom of Jesus? Even St. Paul, who proclaimed all men equal before God, did not challenge the State of that time to free all slaves: he chose to teach that true Christians neither could before God nor ever should in fact abuse their slaves in their persons or in their labours, and in that way he gently yet incontrovertibly prepared the way for their future total freedom.
People of God, only the holy power of the Spirit and the assured commitment to Jesus which our faith affords us can enable us to be independent and free in our proclamation of and witness to our Catholic and Christian truth in the face of the society in which we find ourselves. However, we must never allow such aspirations to become insidiously perverted so as to serve our own personal pride or profit. We are, above all, servants and disciples of Jesus, and, at all times and in all situations, we must seek -- in Him and by His Spirit -- to glorify God our Father. While thus endeavouring to practice true personal integrity before God, we should also never forget that we are, individually, members of His People, of His family, and therefore we can never think of ourselves as independent of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our own personal integrity and independence have to be able to embrace all those for whom Christ died; for just as true glory can only be given to God the Father with, in, and through the whole Body of Christ, Head and members; so also true, personal, praise and profit can only come to us as a sharing in the well-being of the whole Body of all who, in accordance with the Father's will and working of the Holy Spirit, are being led to share in the fullness of salvation to be found in Jesus.