Pastoral Sharings: "29th Sunday in Ordinary Time"

WeeklyMessage Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 19, 2014

‘Master, we know you are an honest man and teach the
way of God in an honest way, and that you are not afraid
of anyone, because a man’s rank means nothing to you.’ If
ever there was a line that deserved the response, ‘flattery
will get you nowhere,’ then this certainly is it!

In reading the text, however, we should never forget Matthew’s heavy use of irony. Yes, they are plainly flattering Jesus in order to get his attention and they don’t actually believe a word they are saying. Yet to the believer all of these things they say are quite evidently true.

Matthew tells us clearly that the Pharisees were out to trap Jesus and there is one big clue in the text that proves that this must be so and it is the presence of the Herodians. They are members of the pro-Herod party and since Herod is only kept in power by the Romans they are going to be pro-Rome and therefore pro-taxes!

They are surely brought in to witness Jesus fall into the trap the Pharisees have set. They reckon that if Jesus says that there is no need to pay taxes to Caesar then the Herodians will report him to the Romans as defying their authority. This they think will be the easiest way to get rid of Jesus. Defying the tax was the cause of a whole series of small rebellions that the Romans had already put down swiftly with a few executions; Jesus would just be another victim.

On the other hand, if Jesus says that one should pay taxes to Caesar then he becomes suspect to the more ardent Jews. So they are quite pleased with themselves thinking that they have got him in a spiritual Catch 22!

The coin most in circulation at that time bore the head of the Emperor Tiberius and the words Tiberius Caesar, August Son of the Divine Augustus, High Priest. Whether by saying that taxes should be paid with this coin one was admitting to the truth of the inscription is an open question. But clearly these coins were tainted; they were the currency of an oppressor and clearly proclaimed the Emperor’s divinity.

The tax in question was a poll tax; the equivalent of one day’s wage and it had to be paid in Roman currency. This was a clever tactic by the Romans because it meant that their subject peoples had to trade with them to acquire the coins to pay the tax thus locking them into the Roman economy.

An interesting little point is that Jesus doesn’t have a Roman coin and so he has to ask for one. He has distanced himself from the currency and therefore also the tax. He asks, ‘Let me see the coin you pay the tax with.’ Immediately the Pharisees are wrong footed, by presenting him with the coin they acknowledge that rightly or wrongly they actually do pay the tax!

Each time the Pharisees try to box in Jesus he sidesteps the issue and turns the question back on them. In this way Jesus avoids controversy and gets to the far more important questions of life.

According to Jesus it is far less important whether you pay or don’t pay taxes to Caesar than whether you give to God what is his due. The taxes are a side issue, a pretext to the more important business of the Pharisees bid to get rid of Jesus, to assert their pre-eminence in matters of religion. They are concerned not with God’s plans but their own plans.

They live in a competitive world and are preoccupied with staying on top; religion and the scriptures are merely the means they use to hold on to their position. This reveals them to be oriented towards the things of this world rather than the things of heaven.

Jesus understands that there is a clear and important question here. And his approach is to go right to the heart of the matter and ask whether our eyes are set on the Kingdom. He understands that it is only if we get this most essential question right that we can begin to deal with any particular moral issue.

Every now and again a politician brings forward a bill in parliament which would legitimise euthanasia in this country. There is one in the House of Lords right now. So this is a current moral problem and one which we should think about deeply and form a clear and rational view in the light of the Gospel of Christ.

There is something beguiling about the arguments for euthanasia especially as it is so often presented to us as the avoidance of unnecessary suffering and exploiting our desire not to become a burden on others.

But there are some serious issues at stake here and we should be very clear about them. First, though, we ought to be aware where this pressure for euthanasia comes from and it is from those with a largely secular agenda. It is rare that anyone promoting euthanasia invokes God or any religious argument in justification. The utilitarian principle of ‘the greatest good for the greatest number’ which guides most of those with a secular agenda has little resemblance to Christianity.

The media presents euthanasia to us as being compassionate and merciful. They characterise the laws preventing assisted suicide as cruel and unjust. We need to be aware just how secular and cynically manipulative the media is in this country.

One of the most fundamental beliefs of Christianity is that life comes from God and is therefore sacred. It is God who gives life in the first place and it is he who in his wisdom decides when it is opportune to take us to himself. Our task is to value life and to see the spark of the divine in all that is human.

We Christians value the life of each and every human being no matter how handicapped or disabled. If the Gospel means anything at all it means that the poor and the lowly are brought to the top of the table in the Kingdom of God. And to this we ought to add the frail, the elderly and the dying.

One of the assumptions made by those who promote euthanasia is that suffering has no value. This again is not a Christian belief. We regard suffering as redemptive and indeed almost a necessary part of our life here on earth. In illness and pain we unite our sufferings with that of Christ and see it as our small offering for the salvation of the world.

This does not mean that we relish suffering or fail to do what we can to relieve it; neither do we do everything we can to prolong life unnecessarily. We try to follow the laws of nature caring for our elderly and ensuring that those coming to the end of their life are fed and nourished and kept as free as possible from pain.

But we do not believe that any one has the right to bring life to an end whether it be the patient or the doctor or some other well meaning individual. The message of Christ is that God is sovereign, that he is the Lord of Life and it is him to whom all are accountable. That is what the phrase from the Gospel today means ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s but to God the things that are God’s.’

Our life is God’s and therefore we are not free to end it whenever we like. The idea that we might become a burden to our children is another cynical ploy put forward by those with a secular agenda. We surely would be a burden if our children did not love us and if they believed that there was no God nor an afterlife.

But the very opposite is true! Any child worth their salt desires to do everything they can to assist their parents in illness and frailty. We love our parents and we value them and we want to care for them and express our appreciation in their old age. If we think about our parents like this then why would our children think the very opposite?

This issue is going to continue to be the subject of a lot of discussion as time goes on. Let us be clear where we stand and what our reasons are.

I was talking to a priest a few days ago. He was called out to a hospital to give the last rites to an Italian who was on the point of dying. The family were extremely emotional and kept grabbing his hand and calling out to him loudly, ‘Giovanni! Don’t leave us alone! Giovanni! We need you! Stay with us!’ It turned out that he was 97 years old!

Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
October 19, 2014

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A–October 19, 2014
Jesus’ enemies try to set a trap for Him. A coin buys Him freedom from it.

Gospel (Read Mt 22:15-21)

For the last several weeks, our Gospel readings have shown us that Jesus used parables to help the religious elites of Jerusalem hear a call to believe in Him as their Messiah. They fell on deaf ears. We find today that “the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech.” They were unable to recognize themselves in the many stories Jesus told them. Instead, they sent “their disciples” to put a question to Him that they were sure would force Him into trouble.

29th Sunday: Forming Citizens
God often uses people with earthly power for His ends even though they may not realize it.  Cyrus had earthly power.  He was the king of Persia who invaded Babylon and brought an end to the Babylonian Empire in a matter of months. The ancient Hebrews had nothing but fond memories of Cyrus because it was Cyrus who ended their exile and sent them back to Judea.   Cyrus may have been just solving the need to rebuild Palestine without having to do it himself while at the same time setting up a friendly buffer state.  He did a similar thing with people from other lands who had been held captive in Babylon.  He saw all these people as draining the resources of his new capital.  Perhaps someday they would unite and cause a rebellion.  It made political sense to release them back to their lands in the most friendly way, molding them into allies. Still, Cyrus did the will of God, even through he may not have realized it.

Your Spirit Finds Joy in Communion
God desired to nourish our spirit, so He gave it His Bread, the Eucharist, announced by Holy Scripture: “He will feed them with the Bread of life and understanding.”

Now, there are no greater joys on earth than the joys of the spirit. Contentment of heart is less lasting because it is based on feeling, and feeling is apt to be inconstant. True joy is of the spirit and consists in the quiet knowledge of the truth.

Let it Go
I grew up in a home where both my parents worked to make ends meet. There were years that my dad worked two jobs to help support our family. We had few extras, but we had what we needed. If I wanted spending money I worked a number of jobs to earn it. What our family did have in abundance was love, encouragement, and a focus on the importance of values. My parents always made time for my sister and me, and family dinner time was sacred. They were genuinely interested in what we were doing at school. As tired as my father was after work, he would play catch with me every evening and on weekends. My mother was our emotional bedrock and I always admired what a great team she and my father formed.

Humility in Prayer
I, perhaps like you, have to see folks I love and care about through some difficult periods in their lives. One neighbor and parishioner just lost her eight-year-old daughter to cancer. A number of parishioners are seeking work and praying daily for it, but no work offers seem to be forthcoming. Still others cry out for relief from any number of different crosses. I, too, have lots of things for which I pray and sometimes I get discouraged or even angry when God seems to say, “No,” or “Wait.”

Do Catholics Really Pray To Mary and the Saints in Heaven?
I overheard a conversation after a morning bible study at my parish about praying to Mary and the Saints.  It went something like this (names changed)

“Thanks so much for inviting me, Beth. You have a wonderful group here. I have a question, though. I hope it doesn’t offend you, but being non-Catholic, I just don’t understand this praying to Mary. Do Catholics really do that?”

Beth smiled at Sarah and explained, “No, of course Catholics don’t pray TO Mary, we pray WITH Mary; asking her to intercede—or pray—for us.”

7 Simple Ways to Grow in Holiness Before Noon
It’s easy to look at great saints and be intimidated. Whether it’s the stories of their personal holiness, their martyrdom, or just that their greatness is so revered, we tend to think it’s out of reach. We think that a deeply intimate, personal relationship with God is something reserved for someone that’s not us. But it should be encouraging to know that a “saint” is just a person who ends up in Heaven once God calls them home.

Seven Reasons to believe in the Marian Apparitions at Fatima
The Church has never required the faithful to believe in any apparitions, except those described in Scripture. Belief in credible apparitions such as Fatima in 1917, is not necessary for salvation. However, these apparitions are valuable because they lead us to greater devotion, increase our awareness of our beliefs, and promote growth in holiness. Why should we believe in the apparitions at Fatima?

We need to Pray the Prayers of Fatima
On October 13, 2014, we celebrate the 97th anniversary of the final apparition of Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary, to the three young seers at the Cova da Iria in Fatima, Portugal during 1917. It was on this day that the Miracle of the Sun was witnessed by up to 100,000 people.

Evidence for God’s Existence
Over at Brandon Vogt’s website Strange Notions here and here I have a set of arguments for God’s existence which are not philosophical arguments based on Design, Prime Movers, etc, but on physical, historical evidence.

Does the Shroud of Turin Prove God?
I’ve written here at Strange Notions in the past about miracles and skepticism, and about the greatest miracle claim of all, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Such miracles serve as arguments for God’s existence, but not philosophical arguments based on design, prime movers, etc. They are based on physical, historical evidence.

The arguments go like this: If atheistic materialism is true, then the natural world must be a closed system. Everything must be explained within that closed system. There is no room for angels or aliens, demons, devils, goblins, or gods. If atheistic materialism is right, there are not intelligent, reasonable, personal exterior forces superior to the natural world who might interfere or interact with the natural world.

How to Find God (in Six Not-So-Easy Steps)
I regularly get emails from people who say that they’ve been seeking God, but haven’t found him. They often express disappointment and frustration at the fact that once-promising spiritual journeys have now led to a dead end, and they want to know: “Is there anything else I can do?”

Daily Examination of Conscience Keeps the Devil at Bay, Pope Francis Says
Satan, he cautioned, ‘never leaves that which he wants for himself’

— our souls.

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis encouraged the faithful on Friday to guard their hearts by doing a daily examination of conscience, saying that, we if we don’t, we risk letting the devil in rather than the Lord.

“Guard the heart, as a house is guarded, with a key. And then watch the heart, like a sentinel: How often do wicked thoughts, wicked intentions, jealousy, envy enter in?” the Pope asked his Oct. 10 Mass attendees.

Back to Basics: A Summary of the Teaching of the Catechism on Holy Matrimony
There’s an old story told about the legendary football coach, Vince Lombardi. At one point he was so concerned that the players on his team had lost any sense of the basics of the game that he summoned them all into a classroom and had them all sit down at desks. Most of them expected a detailed review of the playbook, with diagrams on the board of X’s, O’s, and arrows. But to their surprise, the blackboard was empty and no playbooks were in sight. Lombardi walked in and stood in front of the quiet room. In short order he reached behind the desk and held up a familiar object, saying, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

The Slough of Despond
In John Bunyan’s famous allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress the hero stumbles into the Slough of Despond, otherwise known as the Swamp of Despair. Bunyan describes it as, “This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond.”

Let me state this plainly: Simply being divorced does not bar you from receiving Holy Communion…
With all the talk lately about divorce and communion, I’ve been reminded of how much we Catholics don’t know what we don’t know.

A few months ago, I met with a woman from my parish to help her begin the annulment process. We chatted a bit before we started going over what was involved.

“So,” I began, “you’re already divorced?”

Forever and Ever, Amen — Part III
In my previous articles on marriage (part1 and part2), I offered some thoughts courtesy of Archbishop Sheen on the male and female relationship, and our unique perspectives regarding marriage. St. John Paul II also has some remarkable things to say that may add greater depth.

In his great work on The Dignity and Vocation of Women, he writes, “In the ‘unity of the two,’ man and woman are called from the beginning not only to exist ‘side by side’ or ‘together,’ but they are also called to exist mutually ‘one for the other.’” (7)

Church called to keep hope alive, live in joyful expectation, pope says
VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The church of Christ is called to keep the light of hope alive in the world, showing all humanity the path leading to “the merciful face of God” and salvation in Christ, Pope Francis said.

Focusing his general audience talk Oct. 15 on the ultimate destiny of the church and all its members, Pope Francis asked the estimated 30,000 people in St. Peter’s Square to repeat with him three times: “We will be with God forever.”

Don’t Bubble-Wrap Your Kids
This year, I’m not seeing a lot of hand-wringing over the dangers of the occult during Halloween. Most of the Hallowangst of 2014 seems to be focused on how much cancer we are willing to give our kids via the delicious, delicious GMO toxins in the candy they get. My policy on that score is: I love my children so much, and am willing to sacrifice for them; so rather than exposing them to danger, I think they should give me all their candy.

Suffer The Little Children
And they brought to him young children, that he might touch them. And the disciples rebuked them that brought them. Whom when Jesus saw, he was much displeased, and saith to them: Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God. Amen I say to you, whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall not enter into it. And embracing them, and laying his hands upon them, he blessed them.

This incident of Jesus and the children is recounted in Matthew, Luke and Mark and has certainly helped me through many trials of motherhood.

Breaking Body
Who is The Church? Who is the Body of Christ? Who belongs? A temptation exists to spend so much time answering these questions correctly and identifying who is with us and who is against us that we miss out on membership ourselves. Some of us are so busy counting heads, checking purses, and securing a good seat that we are missing the work, the meal, and the party–the main elements of the gathering to which we are invited.

The Difference Faith Makes
hat difference does faith make in the lives of believers? What do believers have that non-believers lack?

Some surveys suggest that believers are happier than non-believers, while others claim the opposite. Yet simple experience tells us that not all believers are happy (in the sense of general well being), or even pleasant to be around. And there are more than a few non-believers whose cheerful dispositions make them pleasant company.

Faith, then, must be good for something aside from individual happiness, though the two are certainly not mutually exclusive. If faith is truly worthwhile, it must transcend the limits of the persons who possess it.

Satan Speaks!
Author’s Note: The following letter is correspondence from a tempter demon on earth to the father of lies, Satan. Everything that Satan says in reply may or may not be truthful, for sure.

Dear Satan:

My human is too humble. What can I do to instill a sense of pride into his psyche?

Very Respectfully,


Impotent and Irrational Rage
I will always remember a conversation with an exorcist in which he stated that the devil is full of impotent and irrational rage. His fury against God and all that is good is impotent because he has no power against God. It is irrational because Satan is the Father of Lies, and where there is no truth there is no reason or rationality. When this impotent and irrational rage surges up in our own lives it shows the face of the deadly sin of wrath.

Temptation as a Form of Martyrdom – A Meditation on a Writing of St. Ambrose
Temptation is a universal human experience. And because it’s so directly associated with sin, many too easily equate being tempted with sinning. But temptation is not the same as sin. If it were, how could the Scriptures say to us that Jesus was tempted in every way we are and yet was without sin? (Heb 4:15) Hence, the simple experience of temptation is not sin. It is true, however, that our past indulgence in sin can make us more susceptible to temptation.

Ten Ways to Fall In Love With the Bible
At the end of September, the very last day, the Church always celebrates the memory of Saint Jerome. Born a saint, he was not: he had a fiery and explosive temper that brought him many enemies, fierce and long temptations against chastity that he battled with prayer and prolonged fasting, and long prayer vigils—this was Saint Jerome.

Despite his temperamental defects and frequent assaults from the enemy, Jerome had a keen intellect, a love for study, but especially a love for the Bible, the Word of God.

A Catholic Response to Suffering and Euthanasia
I was born into a pro-life family.  My maternal grandmother was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the age of three in the late 1920′s – a time in which medical advancements and technology were not prevalent, and so her prognosis was grim.  Upon marrying my grandfather, she was told that childbirth would significantly reduce her lifespan.

She chose to give life to my mother, and in turn, my grandmother died at the age of thirty five.  (Thus my personal legacy began decades later.)

Sinners and Saints, Immigrants and Gladiators
This past weekend in Newark, N.J., a Bayonne-born woman was beatified. Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich a Sister of Charity, was recognized for having lived a life of heroic virtue. She’s just the beginning of a story of holy ones who have walked among us, and Catholics in United States history. Knowing that, Image Catholic has published The American Catholic Almanac: A Daily Reader of Patriots, Saints, Rogues, and Ordinary People Who Changed the United States.

There is a Catholic Way to Parent
Is there a Catholic way to parent?

It really depends upon what you mean by the question.  If you mean, “Is there an approved list of preferred parenting methods the Church requires that we use for child rearing?”  Well then, of course the answer is “certainly not!”

But if you mean, “Does our Catholic faith ask parents to have a mindset about parenting that reflects the Church’s unique vision of family life and make choices that are mindful of that vision?”  Then the answer is, “unquestionably, yes!”

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