By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton


This picture shows one of the panels on the holy door at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. I have always loved it, and it speaks beautifully of the Good Shepherd reaching out to save the lost. That's the reason for hope.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

To Caesar and to God


“Give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”
We heard these famous words of Jesus in yesterday's Gospel. They teach us that the various responsibilities we assume and exercise in life should receive both their shape and motivation from our commitment in faith to live by the grace of God.
Our participation in civil society involves us in a multiplicity of relationships, many of which bring with them the expectation of allegiance to a variety of standards and expectations. We adhere to civil law. We follow the industrial standards of our profession. We are faithful to policies of the institutions to which we belong. In these and in many other ways we "render unto Caesar," and we recognize the need to do so for the sake of our social order.
From the variety of our allegiances God must not be eclipsed. “Give unto God what belongs to God.” The external fidelity that we give to our multiple allegiances must not supplant the interior surrender that we owe to our Lord. In fact, our submission in faith to the God who loves and calls us is foundational to all other life decisions, and informs our choice of the particular allegiances we assume in freedom.

In the Gospel we hear that the people of our Lord’s day were reminded of their civil obligations by looking upon an image, that of Caesar on a coin. The image which, as we gaze upon it, reminds us of our duties to God is the human person, fashioned in the divine image and likeness. When we encounter our family members, colleagues and fellow citizens, we meet people who each possess an inalienable dignity and an eternal destiny, both of which were wondrously affirmed by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We meet people who, in virtue of the divine image, are acting subjects never to be objectified, persons wondrous and beautiful, unceasingly deserving of respect. We honour God, we give back to Him what is His, when we honour the dignity of each other, the people for whom God sent His Son, His children for whom Christ gave His life.

Perhaps it would be helpful to keep this teaching in mind as we reflect upon the current global "occupy" protest. Citizens around the world are gathering to express their frustration and anger. News reports tell us that the protest is lacking in focus, a rather generalized rant. Yet we would do well to listen not only to the words chanted by protesters but also, and more importantly, to the emotions behind them. Personally, I am hearing underneath the words a lot of fear and anxiety. In the midst of serious challenges in our financial markets, people are very worried by the current burdens people are carrying as well as by a future whose contours seem to be anything but hopeful. I noticed on news reports yesterday that parents and grandparents are joining the protesters, so concerned are they for their children's and grandchildren's future. The voices speak of an urgently felt need to be not only heard but also taken into account.

A market system that "gives unto Caesar" without "giving unto God" is one in which the primacy of the human person is discounted, even ignored. It measures market value without consideration of human worth. This, it seems to me, is the underlying cry of the protesters. It is also the lament of Pope Benedict XVI. In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate he calls for a global economy that places at its centre the dignity of the human person and our shared responsibility for the common good. This extraordinary document provides us with some much needed guidance right now.

On the weekend I visited two institutions in the Archdiocese that stand as reminders to the community of a primordial "giving unto God". Newman Theological College held its convocation ceremonies, and degrees in theology and religious education were awarded to some very happy graduates. The president, Fr. Shayne Craig, told us that enrolment at NTC is up 38 percent, and the keynote speaker, Joan Carr, superintendent of Edmonton Catholic Schools, challenged the graduates to live by God's grace as authentic disciples of Jesus Christ. At St. Joseph's College, on the campus of the University of Alberta, I installed its new president, Father Terence Kersch of the Basilian Fathers. This community of priests has looked after St. Joe's since 1963. There, by researching and teaching the truths of academic disciplines lovingly, selflessly and for the sake of the student and society, the College demonstrates a giving to “Caesar” that is informed and shaped by a prior giving to God.

Monday marks the opening of the annual plenary meeting of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops. It takes place in Cornwall, Ontario, and runs until Friday at noon. Please keep us and our deliberations in your prayers. Thanks.