Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, 2013
Saint Anne’s Church, Fall River, Mass.
“Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
✠ My friends, the world has seen many Caesars since our Blessed Lord uttered these words, and indeed has chased after many and varying gods during those centuries—as it does, and as we do, today. And throughout those centuries, year in, year out, Holy Church has repeated those words to her children: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
These words provide us much upon which to reflect. They remind us of our duty as citizens to obey the just laws of our country. Our Lord’s words also teach the clear distinction about the limits of what we would call “secular” or “government” authority. It is a fact that some things fall only under the realm of the one true God and His law, and not that of the State. Governments that do not respect this reality are acting beyond their competence and it is our duty to give clear, and at times prophetic, Christian witness in our society when this happens.
We know only too well the need for this concerning respect for human life from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death, in relation to the true nature of marriage and human sexuality, and with regard to safeguarding religious freedom in a secular society. Let our Lord’s words, which are spoken directly to each one of us this evening in this Holy Mass, strengthen us in this vital work. Let us ask, at this altar, for the graces necessary to accomplish our part in this work, each according to our particular state in life and vocation.
There is another aspect of rendering unto God the things that are God’s upon which I would like to reflect: that is, our duty—indeed our first duty—to give Almighty God the worship that is His due. Because unless we do that, unless we respect the fact of the primacy of grace, the fact that we are creatures who need ever more to open ourselves to His power, our Christian lives and witness in the world will be weakened—malnourished as it were.
Our Holy Mother the Church teaches us that this duty to worship God is fulfilled by participation at Holy Mass every Sunday (that is, 52 Sundays out of 52 each year) and on every Holy Day of Obligation. That is the bare minimum—the basic diet to avoid “spiritual starvation,” as it were. Daily Mass, other liturgical celebrations and different spiritual practices nourish us and strengthen us further.
We need this spiritual nourishment. We need grace, the injection of the life and love of God, to sustain us, to give us courage and perseverance amidst the difficulties and challenges this life presents. That is why our Holy Mother the Church has, in centuries of her tradition, allowed her sacred rites, her liturgy, to develop into a complex of sights and sounds and gestures that bespeak our dependence on God’s grace and his rich and free bestowal of it upon any who open themselves to it.
It is possible that this evening you may have “stumbled in upon” this solemn celebration of Mass in the usus antiquior, in the more ancient form of the Roman Rite. Or you may not be that familiar with it. The language and chant may be a bit of a surprise. The use of the beautiful high altar of this church, the “extra” sacred ministers, etc., may seem unusual.
Don’t let the difference distract you. Rather, let the beauty of the rites wash over you. The chants and other texts are given in translation on the specially prepared leaflet, and they give each of us much to think and pray about. But this is not the time to make a study of the Latin-English translations: the leaflets can be taken home and their riches savoured during the week. We could do well to go over part of them each day.
This evening, however, is a time to allow the beauty of these ancient rites and prayers to raise our hearts and minds to Almighty God, to connect us with Jesus Christ whose offering of Himself is renewed here on this altar and from which altar we shall receive all that we need for our Christian lives, and more.
When the priest goes up to the altar this evening, go with him. Place all your hopes and fears on the paten together with the host he offers. Lay your sins and burdens at the foot of the cross and beg His mercy. Allow your prayers to rise with the incense as a sweet offering in the sight of God. And then, at Holy Communion, be it even necessarily a spiritual communion, welcome the resurrected Christ, in whose triumph over sin we share, who shows us that the darkest shadows of the cross, our deepest anxieties and sufferings, are but nothing in the glorious light of the resurrection. And let the grace He gives us sustain us for the days and weeks ahead.
Saint Thomas Aquinas urges us in his Sequence for the feast of Corpus Christi to “dare to do as much as we can” in worship of Almighty God. That we are doing this evening, as fully and as well as we possibly can. We can do no better. My brothers and sisters, in thus rendering unto Almighty God the worship that is His due as well as we are able, in opening ourselves to all that His Divine Son gained for us on the cross, let us be confident that we shall indeed receive all the graces we need truly to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s. ✠
Dom Alcuin Reid
20 October 2013