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Ordinary of the Mass
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“And God created man to His own image: to the
image of God He created him:
male and female He created them.”
Today’s Gospel has the
Herodians and the Pharisees trying to entrap Jesus.
That is an unusual team, for King Herod and the Herodians tended to believe
it expedient to accept the authority of the Romans, while the Pharisees
viewed the Romans as hated invaders. They are trying to get Jesus to make a
statement about the morality of paying tribute to Cæsar, the Roman Emperor.
If Jesus declares it licit, He will draw the anger of the Pharisees and all
who reject the Roman occupation. If He declares against it they will be able
to denounce Him to the Roman authorities as a traitor.
The Jews made “no
graven images,” so the coins used in Israel had only images of plants and
flowers. But the Romans demanded that the tax be paid in Roman coins—the
denarius, bearing the image of Tiberius Cæsar. Our Lord slips through the
trap of the Herodians and Pharisees by emphasizing that the image already
belongs to Tiberius, so it okay to give it to him. Tiberius’ government
actually did provide some useful services, so a moderate tax was not
completely out of line. Roman coins were generally of honest value, and
only a crazy person would dare to counterfeit Tiberius’ image. Tiberius was
held in awe or held in fear by much of the ancient world—so his image
received a certain degree of veneration.
Some of the Roman
Emperors claimed to be “gods”—Tiberius’s coin boasted that he was “Tiberius
Caesar, Worshipful Son of the God, Augustus" and "High Priest”—he was not a
very modest man! But Catholics know that the True God actually did
impart His image to created beings—the beings that we call “men” and
“women.” “God created man to His own
image: to the image of God He created him: male and female He created them.”
Catechism tells us that:
48. Man is a creature composed of body and soul, and made to the image and
likeness of God.
49. This likeness to God is chiefly in the soul.
50. The soul is like God because it is a spirit having understanding and
free will, and is destined to live forever.
If the Romans were
proud to have the image of Tiberius Cæsar—who in reality was nothing more
than a mere mortal—we should feel honor beyond measure to possess the image
of the true God. We can be sure that only the angels are greater or more
beautiful than the human soul in the state of sanctifying grace!
Note that I said “In
the state of sanctifying grace.” Metaphorically, sin is like a stain on the
soul that taints it and takes away the image of God. Now, most people avoid
staining their clothing if they possibly can. If they have a picture of a
loved one, it goes in a glass frame and is hung away from thing, on a wall.
It makes sense, then that we will want to preserve the image and likeness of
God—the God who loves us more than any friend or relative—that we will
strive above all to preserve His image from any and every form of
corruption—at all cost, we must try to avoid sin.
A man I used to work
with had a fountain pen leak ink into the pocket of his dress shirt. It was
mildly surprising to see him run into the bathroom, strip off his shirt, and
wash it in the sink. He remained on the job the rest of the day wearing a
tee‑shirt under his suit jacket. Would that we all had that same enthusiasm
for the cleanliness of our souls! But somehow, many of us are in no hurry
to cleanse our souls of sin, and to restore sanctifying grace through
sacramental Confession. Most of the ink came out of the man’s shirt—but it
could have been replaced, even if it had been completely ruined. You only
get one soul—there is no replacement!
told us that “The likeness to God is chiefly in the soul.” But the word
“chiefly” implies that there is some likeness to God in our physical
form—what is not in the human soul must be in the body. Immediately after
God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and
subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air,
and all living creatures that move upon the earth.
Man is like God insofar
as husband and wife join in God’s creative ability to bring forth children
and form families to steward God’s other living creatures which inhabit the
earth. Being co-creators and rulers with God is a source of glory—but that
glory can also be spoiled if we fail to observe God’s revealed morality in
our marital and family lives and with others around us who share in God’s
There should be a
similar urgency to seek forgiveness and spiritual cleanliness, whether the
stain is to the soul or to the body. The two cannot really be separated.
We believe that the body will be resurrected—but having God’s image and
likeness with us in Hell would be the source of ultimate punishment.
And we have the means
to insure, instead, that it will be in Heaven—and be the source of infinite