It today’s Gospel, Jesus utters the famous words, render under Caesar what is Caesar’s. WE also celebrate the feast day of St. Pope John Paul II. The Holy Father was one of the participants of Vatican II which produced the document Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope). This was the Vatican II document on the “Church in the Modern World.”
Why was it written?
The Council Fathers “… were men who had experienced two world wars, the horror of the Holocaust, the onset of the nuclear weaponry, the hostility of communism, the awesome and only partially understood impact of science and technology. And so the purpose of this document was laid out in the Introduction which stated that “… the Church always has the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel.
In other words, Gaudium et Spes deals with the Church in the midst of the Kingdom off Caesar. What does that “look like” in terms of Christ, the Church, our parish and you? According to Gaudium et Spes:
The Lord is the final end of human history. It is the point toward which the aspirations of history and civilization are moving. And so, the focus of the human race, the joy of all hearts and the fulfillment of their desires is Jesus Christ.
The Church is the universal sacrament of salvation, revealing – and at the same time bringing into operation – the mystery of God’s love for man.
The Parish (St. Monica) is the local sacrament of salvation, revealing – and at the same time bringing into operation – the mystery of God’s love for men and women in the areas of Berwyn, Tredyffrin and Eastown. She does this especially through her work of restoring and enhancing the dignity of the human person, of strengthening the fabric of the local society, and of enriching the daily activity of people in the neighborhood with a deeper meaning and importance.
And concerning you, Isaiah says in today’s First Reading, Do that! .. I have called you by your name, I have given you a title …so that from the rising and the setting of the sun, people in this neighborhood may know, that I AM …a great friend, a loving, faithful guard and guide, someone who really does want to be with you and within you, a companion who truly and actually accepts you and forgives you completely whenever you need it.
In other words, as Jesuit scripture scholar Father John Foley, S.J. writes, “You are the connection between heaven and earth.” God says, “I put you into the world to sanctify it, to befriend the things of Caesar, to work my love and miracles in this world of sin – with God – in spite of your own sins.
Let’s put that into a local context. Over the past few years, we have had to work through some very difficult funerals – Dominic Coyle, Larry Schwartz, Stephanie Walsh. If you speak to the families of these wonderful people, they will say that what got the families through was their faith as well as the prayers and outreach of individual parish members. It echoed what we read in today’s Second Reading of St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians: that the people of St. Monica, “called to mind their work of faith and labor of love” which offered those who were hurting, “an endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Parishioners of St. Monica, “knowing that they were brothers and sisters loved by God… also knew that they “were chosen” and knew that the “gospel did not come to them in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction. It was that conviction that moved them to “get outside the walls” of the parish and bring that encouraging Gospel love to people who needed to hear it the most.
This situation is not unique to St. Monica. Looking at the bigger picture, in the last 10 years, opioid abuse has increased among teens. Drug overdose deaths, once rare, are now the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., surpassing peak annual deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents, guns and HIV infection. On another front, the US Center for Disease Control recently reported that, between 2007 and 2015, there was a 31% increase in suicide rates for teen-aged males. As seen in both CNN and Time Magazine, the suicide rate for teen-age females doubled to the highest rate in 40 years.
Human approaches will certainly help, but these are really spiritual issues! In his book, Render Unto Caesar, Philadelphia Archbishop Chaput writes that:
Religion only works its influence of people who really believe what it teaches. Christianity is worthless as a leaven in society unless people actually believe in Jesus Christ, follow the Gospel, love the Church, and act like real disciples. If they don’t, then religion is just another form of self-medication. Unfortunately, the biggest failure of so many people of my (baby boomer) generation: parents, teachers, leaders in the Church, has been our failure to pass along our faith in a compelling way to the generation now taking our place. The reason the Christian faith doesn’t matter to so many of our young people is that—too often—it didn’t really matter to us. Not enough to shape our lives. Not enough for us to suffer for it.
This might sound depressing, but Chaput says that, “Believers don’t have the luxury of despair. We can’t retire to the safety of some modern version of a cave in the hills. Giving to Caesar means that our task as Christians is to be living, healthy cells in society. We need to work in whatever way we can to nourish the good in our country, to encourage the seeds of a renewal to enliven the lives of our young people in our own neighborhood.”
Then we will be relevant not only to our young people – but to all people.
Audio version of the homily is here: