What crime did our patron saint, Ignatius of Antioch commit to anger the Roman Emperor who lived 800 miles away in the year circa 100?
He talked about Jesus as the Son of God that implied that the Emperor was not God. St. Ignatius was guilty of sedition — of trying to undermine and unseat all that the Empire had built itself upon.
The local head of the local Roman province in Antioch, what is today Turkey, did not know what to do about or with Ignatius: “Send him to Rome and let the animals of the Roman Amphitheater take care of him,” was the Emperor’s reply.
It took about 10 years for Ignatius to walk the 800 miles because he stopped at various communities of faith — and there were weather and sea-faring issues as well.
Ignatius of Antioch understood the last line of today’s gospel. “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
The reality and the problem today for us is that we are more ready to pay attention to Caesar than to God. Because Caesar makes economic promises and many times our leaders, from whichever party say one thing and do another, project a portrait of themselves, but we wonder if it’s true and real.
St. Ignatius saw the world of his day from a different point of view: What belongs to God? How am I like God? The question challenges us to be and to think more like God than Caesar.
And here is something very interesting. St. Ignatius had a Greek nickname: Theophoros: The God Bearer, “the one who absorbs God”. How would you like to add that to your list of nicknames?
How do we absorb or bear the presence of God in our lives? At home? At work? At school or wherever we are?
The prophet Isaiah could see the Presence of God in the pagan King Cyrus because he was genuinely kind to the Jewish people exiled in Babylon and when he conquered the Assyrian Empire, he encouraged the Jewish exiles to return to their lands and rebuild their temple.
As the national and local elections approach, as we listen and watch advertising which overstates, which lies sometimes, which expands the truth like it is elastic, we need to step back into our Catholic principles of social justice. Do the candidates look more like Caesar rather than the children of God they are supposed to be?
Critics would say, as they always do, to keep Caesar and God separated, but that is not what Jesus says. Caesar lives in the world that God created. And in the end, Caesar must play by God’s rules, and not vice versa.
The Herodians in today’s gospel were not interested in Jesus’ opinion on taxes because they used the coin with the image of Caesar. They were corrupted by their allegiance with Rome whom they considered pagans. Jesus accuses them of worshipping their status, not caring for the poor and the widows, cheating with their money and with their taxes. Jesus embarrassed them as they tried to trap Jesus in arguments over priorities.
So we need to apply Jesus’ criterion in going about selecting for whom and for what to vote. Does the person have any resemblance to God or hold clearly any of God’s priorities?
One question that we need to ask of those who want to represent us is do they know what is the common good? Do they have the interests of everyone in their mind and hearts. Jesus would have nothing to do with the gross kind of populism that we see espoused today — people who think that they have an absolute right to think and to act independently of others, and who separate themselves from the Common good for all. This applies certainly for the pandemic, for climate control and for the lives of children, born and unborn. The common good includes everyone who lives in the United States, and in every country of the world.
How do we create a common good? Return to a common good rather than pick and choose what is often good for one group and not for another, “Make America great” is really only good if we are dedicated to encouraging and helping each country to be great. As Catholics, we do not separate ourselves from everyone else. Catholics do live in a bubble. We are for the common good of everyone. We prosper when everyone prospers.
That idea did not fly in Rome 2000 years ago. The giving to Caesar was exaggerated and always struggled with giving to God. St. Ignatius lost his life and so have many others. Today, we are more subtle; we may just not give everyone an equal opportunity — the common good.
Over these last four weeks, I have found the second reading of the scriptures most thoughtful and stirring up a most authentic Christian response to today’s times and circumstances.
Listen to St. Paul, his wisdom calling us to move forward today:
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers, unceasingly calling to mind your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope…. Knowing, brothers and sisters loved by God, how you were chosen.
Do we know how we were chosen and how we were called to live and to act?
St. Ignatius of Antioch lived up to his nickname: Telephorus: God bearer. Today, we need to absorb more of God and less of Caesar. In our Catholic faith tradition, the common good means:
- To be attentive
- To be intelligent
- To be reasonable
- To be responsible