My Dear Sisters and Brothers! Do you know how to identify what belongs to God? Let me read to you a sentence taken from Genesis: ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves.’ These words of God, our Father and Creator, together with the answer his only begotten Son gave to the leaders of the Jews reveal the dignity of a human person. A saint of our Church from the early centuries, St John Chrysostom, wrote: ‘Man is more precious in God’s eyes than all other creatures. For him the heavens and the earth exist. God did not spare his own Son for the sake of man. Nor does he ever cease to work until he has made him sit at his right hand.’
The early Christians lived in the society where slavery was widespread. However within 400 years, when Christianity was rather well established in the Roman Empire, slavery was virtually disappearing from the society. I find it very profound that those Christians, most of whom were poor and thus didn’t have slaves, were able to transform the mentality of the society. They did this by sharing with their contemporaries their Christian beliefs about the dignity of every human person. The beliefs were articulated by St Gregory of Nyssa who condemned the whole institution of slavery. St Augustine in the West and St John Chrysostom in the East preached that slavery was a sin. When the problem appeared again in the fifteenth century, with the expansion of colonialism, Pope Eugene IV in 1435 excommunicated Europeans enslaving the people from the Canary Islands. In 1462 Pope Pius II declared that slavery was a mortal sin. A century later, in 1537, Pope Paul II condemned those who turned first Americans into slaves and he demanded that they be freed. If you have watched the 1986 movie The Mission you get a picture how the missionaries tried to stand up to their governments by establishing an independent republic for the Guarani Indians to protect them from slavery. Eventually the missionaries were killed with the people they tried to protect. Historians established that without Christianity slavery would last longer. For example American influential leaders like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had slaves. In fact Jefferson never freed his slaves. Many of influential thinkers of the Enlightenment like Voltaire, Montesquieu, Mirabeau and Burke, who are given as heroes of the modern world, didn’t mind slavery.
‘Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God’ said Jesus in today’s Gospel. My dear fellow believers! Give to God your whole life, not just a fraction of it, so that you can give to your fellow women and men the Good News about how precious they are in the eyes of God. Josemaria Escrivá, our contemporary saint, meditating on this mystery wrote: ‘Human life is holy, because it comes from God. Human lives, therefore, cannot be treated as mere things, or as statistics.’ In our society, as we witness the polemics which attempt to redefine the dignity of a human person, let us treasure the history of our Christians who because of their love for Jesus Christ opposed the leaders of the world who did not see the image of God in some people. That’s why our Church meditating on the passage from the Gospel we have for this Sunday expressed in the Catechism that: ‘The citizen is obliged in conscience not to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds its justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." "We must obey God rather than men." (CCC 2242)
‘Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’