22 October 2017

St. John of Capistrano. Source: catholicculture.org

“Whose image is this and whose inscription?” They replied, “Caesar’s.” At that He said to them, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22: 20-21).

     This weekend’s Gospel occurs during what we now celebrate as Holy Week. Today, just as in His own day, various enemies amazingly can be united in their hostility toward Jesus and everything that He embodies. Such was the case with the Pharisees (Jewish laymen bitterly opposed to the Roman Empire based on a strict interpretation of the Jewish Law) and the Herodians (Jews who were willing to make political concessions and compromises with the Empire). They were bitter enemies, but as the old adage states, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Recall also in the Gospel texts how Pontius Pilate and Herod were personal enemies, but when Jesus was transported from one palace to the other on Good Friday, they became united in a supposed friendship from that point forward. They were actually only united in their moral cowardice and weakness. In reality, they failed to possess a true friendship, which is always a reflection of God. Instead, Pilate and Herod simply possessed a tenuous familiarity with one another that truly had no deep roots as genuine friends have. So it was also with the temporary political alliance between the Herodians and the Pharisees against Jesus.

     This episode in our Lord’s life is filled with irony. One of the titles that the Caesars arrogated to themselves was “son of god.” This particular coin, in fact, had that exact title inscribed on it: divi filius. Obviously, Jesus would not carry such a coin on His Person because He is the Son of God and would not give any sort of equivalency to a mere man who preposterously claimed to be a son of god. There is only one Son of God. 

     The inscription on the coin is one thing, but as Christians, our concern is something far beyond currency. The value of money fluctuates in highs and lows. However, the mark that we carry is much greater than anything that money could every purchase. Indeed, we have been purchased, but not with coins. We have been purchased with the very Blood of Jesus Himself. Our ownership by God began at the font with our Baptism. We carry on our soul an indelible mark that is more precious than any inscription from an earthly power. Our mark is from the Holy Spirit Himself.

     Directly after our Baptism with water, we were sealed with Sacred Chrism as a sign that our Baptism—our rebirth into God’s very life—is forever ratified by Him. The Chrism that was anointed on the crown of our head symbolized in a real way that we are forever incorporated into the very Body of Jesus Himself as our Priest, Prophet, and King. Now, St. Paul could rightly declare in his letter to the Galatians that because of our Baptism, there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28).

     This means that Baptism makes us all as Christians united into the Body of the Son of God. We truly become, therefore, adopted sons and daughters of God. We become divine by adoption as Jesus is divine by His nature. He shares all of that with us. He does not even keep His divinity to Himself! What the Caesars could only dream of, each of us through Baptism actually enjoys as members of God’s own Body sealed with the Holy Spirit. That seal is then strengthened when we receive the sacrament of Confirmation.

     What is the point of our being sealed with the mark of the Holy Spirit? In the Book of Revelation (chapter 7), the people who belong to God are marked with a seal which cannot be erased. This seal is what distinguishes those who are marked for God and those who carry the seal of the Beast. As we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the purpose of the seal at Baptism is so that we are consecrated and made holy for the true worship of God—found fully and completely in the Catholic Church. The seal “enables and commits Christians to serve God by a vital participation in the holy liturgy [the Mass] of the Church and to exercise their baptismal priesthood by the witness of holy lives and practical charity” (no. 1273). 

     The seal that we received is meant to be lived in union with God here in an active life united to Jesus. Indeed, the “faithful Christian who has ‘kept the seal’ until the end, remaining faithful to the demands of his Baptism, will be able to depart this life ‘marked with the sign of faith,’ with his baptismal faith, in expectation of the blessed vision of God—the consummation of faith—and in the hope of resurrection” (no. 1274). What will happen to those who have given themselves over to the mark of the Beast and the worldly living that he convinced them was the only thing that they had to live for? Unfortunately, they will hear these words from Christ Himself: “Depart from Me, you evildoers. I know you not” (see Matthew 7:23). They will protest that they did many works in His name. However, because they failed to keep His commands, Jesus will not recognize them. As He said at the Last Supper, if we want to be the true friends of God, then we will keep His Father’s Commandments. Otherwise, we follow the desperate father of lies.

     God has been extravagant and most generous in spending His mercy and generosity on each of us at every moment of the day. May we be generous in return to Him by making God the center and source of our life and conforming our mind, heart, and soul to Him every day until, we certainly pray, we will be numbered among the elect forever in the glory of heaven. If Jesus were ever to look directly at us and ask, “Whose image is this and whose inscription?,” may we be blessed to reply to Him, “Yours, Lord.”

    May you have a most blessed and holy week!

    Fr. Shawn William Cutler

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