All that we have belongs to God

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Oc. 16 (Isaiah 45:1, 4-6; Psalm 96; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5; Matthew 22:15-221)

Absolutely anyone on the face of the Earth can be called by God to be God’s instrument. We would like to think that the call would always go to one who is like us — one who believes, speaks and worships as we do. But this is definitely not the case, for God has His own purposes and a few surprises for us.

Take the case of Cyrus the Persian. He is not an Israelite nor does he know the God of Israel. Not only that, he is the king of the Persian nation. But he is called the Lord’s anointed — mosiach or messiah — a status usually reserved for King David and his successors. The people of Israel had been led away into exile in Babylon in 586 BC. Now some 50 years later, the Babylonians got a taste of their own medicine when they were conquered by the Persians. But the Jewish prophets looked upon this upstart king as the instrument of God. Cyrus of course would have been oblivious to all of that — he was definitely not in the loop. But events would bear out the prediction. Following an enlightened policy he allowed the Jews who so wished to return to the land of Israel and he gave them a fair amount of autonomy and support.

We are all instruments in one way or another for God’s kind purposes but often God uses us without consulting us. We cannot pass judgment on the worth of our own life for we may have played an important but anonymous role in God’s plan. Likewise, we cannot judge the life of another for they too have served God’s purposes. And we cannot reject the good that others say and do simply because they do not fit into our understanding of things or because they don’t bear the correct label. Amidst the dreadful messiness of our world God’s Spirit never sleeps but is always silently at work. 

The correct response on our part is what Paul praises the community at Thessalonica for — to labour on in faith, hope and love. Paul is moved to constant thanksgiving for them even though their lives were probably not noteworthy in the eyes of others. They have been chosen to receive God’s power and Spirit. But to be chosen does not mean that others are rejected — just that the chosen one is singled out for particular mission and service.

Jesus would be a hard man to trap on the witness stand or in front of a camera for the evening news. He never allows Himself to be backed into a corner or forced into an “either/or” response but manages to turn the tables on His interrogators. After a bit of insincere (and wasted) flattery, they ask Jesus whether it is permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not. It is a no-win question: if He says yes, then He is a traitor to His nation; if He says no, then a rebel against Rome. Either way, He loses and they win. Instead He asks them for a coin — a denarius — and then asks them whose image is on it. When they reply “Caesar,” He gives His famous answer: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God the things that belong to God.

This passage has little to do with church-state relations although centuries later it would be enlisted for that purpose. On one level, Jesus dodged a lethal question. But He is also as wise as the serpent He advised us to be. Those who clearly understood the Kingdom of God that Jesus had been preaching would have smiled quietly to themselves. The Kingdom describes God’s direct, immediate and total rule over all the Earth and its peoples with justice and compassion. Everything belongs to God so by all means give to God what belongs to Him. And what is left over for Caesar and all the other earthly powers that claim divine rights intended only for God? Absolutely nothing.

When we give back to God what rightfully belongs to God there is no room for possessiveness, exploitation, ruthless competition or inequality. All that we have — including our very lives — belong solely to God.

Give to God what rightfully belongs to God and the world will be made whole again.

Supporting missions improves people's lives

VATICAN CITY - Supporting the Church’s work in missionary lands with their prayers and their financial contributions, Catholics also improve the lives of the poor and promote dialogue, said the new prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

“Evangelization always promotes the development of peoples,” Archbishop Fernando Filoni told L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Oct. 2.

Healing of US man key to Italian priest's canonization

VATICAN CITY - Thanks to the healing of a young man from the United States, who was severely injured in a rollerblading accident, Italian Blessed Louis Guanella will be among three new saints proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI in late October.

William Glisson, now 30 and married, was 21 years old when he and a friend were rollerblading down the Baltimore Pike in Springfield, Pa., near Philadelphia. Glisson was skating backward, without a helmet, hit a hole and fell, hitting his head.

Alberta government recognizes sisters’ contributions to province

EDMONTON - Alberta’s Catholic sisters are being honoured for their pioneering contributions in education, health care and social welfare.

The Catholic Sisters Legacy Recognition Project honours the legacy of 74 founding congregations who have served in Alberta.

Women religious built hospitals, schools, orphanages, soup kitchens, immigrant services and boarding schools for unwed mothers across the province as early as 1859.

From birth to death, everyone has guardian angel, pope says

VATICAN CITY - Guardian angels exist to protect every human life from its beginning to end, Pope Benedict XVI said.

"The Lord is always near and active in human history, and he also accompanies us with the unique presence of his angels, which the church today venerates" on feast of the Guardian Angels Oct. 2, he said before reciting the Angelus.

Guardian angels are "ministers of divine care for every person," he said.

Shhh: Pope asks communicators to reflect on value of silence

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI is asking media professionals and viewers, listeners and readers to set aside a bit of time for silence.

Announcing that the pope had chosen "Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization" as the theme for World Communications Day 2012, the Vatican acknowledged it initially might appear strange to ask professional wordsmiths to focus on silence, but it said silence is essential for really processing the words people hear or read.

The Catholic celebration of World Communications Day is marked in most dioceses on the Sunday before Pentecost, which in 2012 will be May 20. A papal message for the occasion usually is released on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of writers, Jan. 24.

Pope reviews trip to Germany, says it was 'festival of faith'

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict XVI said he was happy to see that "the faith in my German homeland has a young face, is alive and has a future."

At his weekly general audience Sept. 28 in St. Peter's Square, the pope told an estimated 10,000 pilgrims and visitors about his trip Sept. 22-25 to Germany.

While the pilgrims were awaiting the pope's arrival by helicopter from Castel Gandolfo and again at the end of the audience when he was greeting cardinals and bishops, the crowds were entertained by the Angelus Domini children's choir and nine little dancers from Cheongju, South Korea. Even while the children were singing, a violinist met the pope and played a quick tune for him, standing right in front of him.

When the call came, the Callaghans answered

TORONTO - When Molly and Bill Callaghan went north to maintain a Chistian presence in small native communities they had years behind them of working in Toronto-area parishes as a deacon couple. Bill had the background in Scripture and theology that comes with the diaconate program while Molly had experience that goes with a lifetime of volunteering in the Church.

But none of that mattered very much, said Molly.

“We took an egg crate-sized box of stuff we had used in different days of recollection, training sessions, all of that,” Molly recently recalled of their 1991 trip to Sandy Lake, Ont. “We got up there and thought before we do anything about that we need to just be present to the people, keeping their trust and doing what we feel called to do. We came back (in 1998) with that box unopened.”

A working vacation changed 16-year-old’s view of Africa

Celeah Gagnon spent her summer vacation abroad. But she didn’t spend it tanning in Cuba or backpacking across Europe. For five weeks, she was in Africa helping her grandmother.

Her grandmother is Barbara Michie, a Scarboro Missions lay missioner who is working as a teacher in Malawi at an all-boys Catholic boarding school.

During this time, Gagnon, a Grade 11 student at F.J. Brennan Catholic High School in Windsor, Ont., mended about 300 books in the school library, which her grandmother runs.

Military chaplain finds there’s no life like it

TORONTO - For  Major Gillian Federico the call to serve as a military chaplain came at a time in her life when few seriously consider joining the Canadian Forces.

It was 19 years ago when the then 41-year-old religious education and family life consultant with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board and pastoral associate decided to enrol in the army reserves as a military chaplain.

Now at age 60 she recently retired from the Chaplain Branch of the Canadian Forces with the rank of Major, having served in a variety of full- and part-time assignments, including regimental and brigade chaplain in Toronto, instructor at the Canadian Forces Chaplain School, Deputy Senior Garrison Chaplain at Canadian Forces Base Petawawa and Deputy Area Chaplain for the regular army command in Ontario.

Spiritan makes his way back to Malawi in a roundabout way

Spiritan Father Locky Flanagan tries to lead by example as spiritual director at the Inter-Congregational Seminary, a philosophy seminary in Malawi, Africa.

“I try to look at the seminarians and what they seem to be seeking is to know the Lord and to follow Him and I have to live it out myself,” Flanagan told The Catholic Register from Ireland, where he was attending a niece’s wedding.

Flanagan’s most recent stint in Malawi began in early 2009. But prior to this, he served in the southern African country for 10 years — in the 1980s and then again in 2000.