Homily for Mass, Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica, Ottawa

Saturday 15 October 2011, 4.15pm

[Readings: Is 45:1, 4-6;  Ps 96;  1 Thess 1:1-5;  Mt 22:15-21]

The Word of God today invites us to ponder a very practical issue: what is the place of the Christian person in the midst of the world?  You will hear all sorts of answers to that question – and it can often produce lively debate!

The Pharisees were attempting to trap Jesus with their question.  They wanted him to take a side, because they could denounce him whichever side he picked.  Jesus sees through their malice, though,and gives an answer which must have left them dumbfounded.  It’s not a choice between either Caesar or God – but rather rendering both to Caesar and to God what belongs to each.

The Christian person does not live apart from the world.  We are in the world, but with the realization that our true and lasting citizenship is in the kingdom of heaven.  That heavenly homeland will have no end, but this earthly homeland certainly will have an end for every single one of us.

Christians have a duty, in the first instance, to be good citizens of this earthly homeland.  At Jesus’ command, we are to render to Caesar – the earthly power – what belongs to Caesar.  We could say that Christians are called to be the best citizens of all.  We should be actively involved in the world – and this is particularly part of the vocation of the laity.  We should work to create an earthly society that is just;  infusing the relations of people in the world with values;  defending and promoting the dignity of all people, fighting those things that attack human dignity and that prevent people from achieving freedom and happiness.

This demands of Christians that we be aware of the issues of our times.  We shouldn’t just be passive observers.  We should take an interest in who our politicians are – we should make informed decisions when we vote.  We should speak up when we’re called to.

I think it’s fairly obvious that if we’re to do all of that, we can only do so if we are always giving to God what belongs to God.  In the Gospel, Jesus says that the coin that has the image of Caesar on it is to be given back to Caesar.  And so we consider: we as people are made in the image and likeness of God.  If you like, just as a coin is imprinted with an image, our souls – by baptism – are indelibly marked with God’s image.  We belong to God – just as the coin belonged to Caesar.

We give what belongs to God by offering our very selves to him – offering our lives to him.  Rendering to God what belongs to him is achieved through our worship and prayer;  by obeying his commandments especially as revealed in Scripture;  by following the teachings of Christ that he reveals through his church; and by following the way of life that Jesus himself lived.  We render to God what belongs to God by giving Him our best efforts to use the things he has given us to give glory to Him and to assist those around us.

For the Christian, it’s not a choice between the world or God, it’s “both – and.”  Our fundamental and most important citizenship is in God’s kingdom.  But in light of that, we are called to be active in the world, to build the earthly city so that the kingdom of God may become more visible.

I conclude with words from a homily of Blessed John Paul II.  He said:

“It is clear that what counts most is the kingdom of God.  Christ’s words illuminate the lines of conduct for Christians in the world. Faith does not require of them detachment from temporal realities;  indeed, it becomes a greater incentive for them to be committed with lively generosity to transforming themselves from within, thus contributing to establishing the kingdom of heaven.

“The first reading, from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, also clearly accentuates this truth.  For believers there is only one God, who with his Providence guides humanity’s journey through history (cf. Is 45: 5-6).  For this very reason they undertake to build the earthly city, in order to make it more just and human.  They are upheld in this effort by the hope that they will one day participate in the communion of the heavenly city where God will be everything to everyone.


In this eucharist we celebrate, we once again offer ourselves to God the Father through, with and in the great offering of Jesus to his Father.  The eucharist is a wonderful reminder to us to make that offering to God – to render to God what belongs to God – every day of our lives and in every thing that we do.  It also reminds us that one day we shall enjoy the fullness of life in the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, where God will be all in all.

May this eucharist also give us the graces we need to actively fulfill our responsibilities in the earthly city – to be good citizens who bring the light and splendor of truth, and the love of God, to all the situations that we encounter.