Pastoral Visit to St. Anthony Parish, Lloydminster
[Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96; 1Thessalonians 1:1-5ab; Matthew 22:15-21]
Yesterday morning I was with members of the Saskatchewan Catholic School Board Association for their AGM. At break time, they served us donuts produced and sold as a fund-raiser involving students from grades one and two. We were introduced to five of those students, and invited to discuss this project with them over the break, and perhaps ask them questions. We all took a donut and spoke with the children, congratulating them on their good work. At one point, one very serious little eight-year-old boy decided he had to remind us of our responsibilities, and said, “You’re supposed to ask me questions!” So, when I, donut in hand, met him, I asked, “Did you make this donut?” “No!” he said. “Sobeys did.” “Well, did you help them?” “We showed them the ingredients, because if they didn’t know the ingredients, they wouldn’t get it right!”
The message of the Gospel today is that if we do not know the ingredients, we won’t get it right. The little boy was referring to donuts. Sacred Scripture is speaking of life itself. If we don’t know the ingredients, specifically one all-important ingredient, we won’t get life right.
This one necessary ingredient to a rightly-lived life emerges from the dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees, who are trying to trap him with a question about taxes. He gives his famous reply: “Give to Caesar … the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” That is the key ingredient: giving to God what belongs to God. To God belongs everything! The entirety of my life belongs to him. To give God what belongs to God means surrendering to His love and mercy the whole of my life, obeying His every command, allowing Him to arrange my life and give it direction, living trustingly from His providence, and listening humbly to His wisdom.
Our society and world, however, seem far more intent on paying homage to “Caesar”. Here I mean more than offering due deference to secular authority, which is incumbent upon us as citizens. There are many other “Caesar’s” claiming illegitimate authority over our lives, and to which we too often pledge our allegiance. Primary among these is the Self, which operates as “Caesar” when I allow my self-centered desires to reign over me. Think, too, of the so-called “influencers” operating in the world of communications, particularly in social media. Very often we allow them to shape our mindsets and thus our behaviour, often without consideration of the trustworthiness or goodness of the message. Particularly powerful in our day is the “Caesar” of technology, which is ruling our lives now almost entirely, with new and sometimes frightening developments moving us in directions we do not understand. And on a world scale, we are witnessing the horrible consequences when governments and peoples are ruled by the Caesars of power, hatred, rage, and revenge.
When we see the widespread anxiety in our dear, the proliferation of substance abuse, the polarization in society, and global unrest, it is clear we are not getting it right. And our little friend in grade two is helping us to see the reason: we are unaware of the right and necessary ingredient – the giving over of all things to God and surrendering to his rule. Sobeys got the ingredients for donuts from the grades one and two students. The essential ingredient for a peaceful and well-ordered life has been given to us by Jesus Christ himself. When will our society and world begin to listen?
I must say that I am greatly encouraged and edified to find that listening here in the parish of Saint Anthony. I encountered it yesterday among the school trustees, who are striving to give to God what belongs to God by the permeation of our Catholic faith throughout the school system. I discovered it as I met with pastoral council, the finance committee, the CWL, and Knights of Columbus, who give to God what belongs to God by placing their gifts at the service of the parish. When I visited the senior centres, I met people who had dedicated their entire lives to listening to the voice of Jesus and have given to God what belongs to God by living from faith and handing it on to their children and grandchildren. In the hospital, I met staff giving to God what belongs to God by caring for patients in whom is stamped not the image of Caesar but the image of God, as well as patients themselves preparing for death, the ultimate act of rendering to God what belongs to Him. Finally, I see it here, in the celebration of the liturgy, where you, the parishioners, are gathering to listen to Jesus as he speaks in Scripture, and then offering your lives to the Father, through Christ, in the celebration of the Eucharist. Thank you for your witness.
As we turn now to the altar of the Lord, let us pray for the grace to live always from the one necessary ingredient, which is the total surrender of our lives to the sovereignty of Almighty God. In fact, the mass makes that possible, because here we are given the gift of communion with Jesus, who was at all times perfectly obedient to the will of his Father. In the Eucharist, he joins our lives to his and thus enables us, in him, to give to God what belongs to God. May that grace carry us forward, and protect us from giving our allegiance elsewhere.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Anthony Parish, Lloydminster
October 22, 2023