|(Image courtesy: Jean Marc Arkelian)|
Courage of Holy Martyrs must strengthen us
The 29th Sunday of the year which falls on the 18th October gives us a very challenging message with the feasts of martyr saints falling before and after as a symbol for a different interpretation. Because on the 17th October, the Church celebrates the feast of St Ignatius of Antioch ((-107), one of the earliest Holy Martyrs of the Church. He is remembered greatly for his astonishing but bold words that he spoke at his martyrdom which took place in the Circus Maximus in Rome by the lions: "I am the wheat of the Lord; may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ." On the 19th of October the Church commemorates the memory of the martyrdom of saints John de Brebeuf, Issac Jogues and companions. The boldness of these saints to give life for Christ at such gruesome, cruel death is truly staggering. For example, St Issac Jogues (1607-1646), a French Jesuit, even though on a earlier occasion he was peeled of skin of his body and mutilated his fingers, once again returned to the mission territory of Huron and Iroquois tribes to work and for the second time he was peeled of his skin and killed. Looking at his courage, his killers (Mohawks) seems to have eaten up his heart because it resembled such an amazing courage. Jogues words speak about his impeccable endurance to follow the Crucified Christ: "My heart tells me that if I have the happiness of being employed in this mission, Ibo et non redibo [I shall go never to return]; but I shall be happy if our Lord will complete the sacrifice where he has begun it, and make the little blood I have shed in that land the pledge of what I would give from every vein of my body and my heart." One of the most fascinating hagiographical (holy life) accounts that I have ever read and captivated my imagination of boldness of a missionary priest is that of a martyr saint that is of St Issac Jogues.
We bear God's image, therefore, we belong to God
The readings of this Sunday put us into a difficult question: Whom do you want to follow, God or Caesar? To put it a little more strongly: Whose image you would like to bear? Bearer of God's image or Caesar's image? This is what precisely Pharisees and Herodians, the enemies of Jesus come to him with a question, "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17). And Jesus' answer is simple: “Render therefore to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God” (Matt 22:21). Even though the enemies of Jesus asked him the question in order to trap him, for us the answer of Jesus challenges us to take a stand. The follower of Jesus must bear the image of God and not of Caesar. In the words of St Paul, we owe Him our very lives—all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, offered as a living sacrifice of love (Romans 12:1–2). In other words, we owe to God everything. The coin might bear Caesar’s image however we bear God’s own image (Genesis 1:27). We are reminded that God "created man in the image of himself, in the image of God He created him" (Gen 1:26). In other words, we bear God's image in ourselves. If we bear God’s image, we belong to God and we must give back to God what belongs to God.
God brings forth good out of unexpected corners
Prophet Isaiah (45:1) gives us a surprise by saying that God chose a pagan king Cyrus to rebuild the broken house of Israel, to restore the Israelites from exile, and to rebuild Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1–4). God says to Cyrus, "I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not know me" (Is 45:4). Even though, Cyrus, being a foreign ruler, did not know the history of the God of Israel, yet he listens to Yahweh and does what he was supposed to do to the Israelites. This is the beauty of the works of our God. If He wants us to raise beyond our capacities, limitations then he can do. God can transform us to bring glory to Him in spite of our wretchedness. We are invited to look beyond our limitedness or our weakness. Often we are grappled by the complexities that exist in the world with its messy domestic and international politics, global economic meltdown, Corona health pandemic, personal traumas and dramas of life, and many more such things.Therefore St Paul invites us to remember our God and Father in whom work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope perfectly meet through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thes 1:3). Our Lord Jesus Christ is our king whose kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36) but it begins here in His Church, which tells of His glory among all peoples. In fact, we are citizens of heaven (Philippians 3:20), who are called to be a light to the world (Matthew 5:14), always and with steadfast endurance —working in faith, laboring in love, and enduring in hope, as today’s Epistle counsels.
A call for a right discernment
On this Sunday we are being invited through St Paul to actively seek God's wisdom, and to use the power of the Holy Spirit to be part of the Gospel of our Lord (1 Thes 1:4-5). This does not entail to shun the world and its affairs once and for all. God does not ask us to completely withdraw from the world. He wants us to actively pursue godly living that incorporates all of the human experience: politics, science, technology, economics, art, medicine, music and other aspects which on the surface, may not appear to be spiritual matters. Discernment also means to be attentive and cautious in matters such as fake news and the manipulations of facts and figures. Jesus teaches his disciples how to be careful and discerning when clever questions are asked to trap you, manipulate you and use against you. Jesus takes the coin with face of Caesar, the emperor to emphasize that even though it belongs to the emperor but by virtue of being a human being, Caesar too like any other human being is made in the image of God. Thus Caesar too is subject to the One True God just like king Cyrus was. As Christians we are called to be men and women of truthfulness having deep conviction that truth is revealed in Christ Jesus and we are called to live out in our lives. Therefore, there is no manipulation of truth in actual life instead the conviction in the power of truth itself must free us. Jesus himself says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (John 14:6). This great understanding of Jesus must help us to return ourselves to God, whose image we bear, and to help others to return themselves to God, whose image and inscription they also bear. St Ignatius of Antioch and St Issac Jogues could inspire us through their courage, determination, conviction and life.
Lord, open our hearts and our minds that we may be people of truth; and that in being witnesses to your truth we may trust in the power of the truth that we proclaim. Amen.
- Olvin Veigas, SJ
17 October 2020