Caesar vs. God

“Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

Separation of Church and state, right? Easy. God wants us to be good citizens, and good Christians. Everyone knows this, right?

Everyone is wrong

This isn’t about the entirely modern idea of the separation of Church and state, or the need to be good citizens. It’s about false gods.

“Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.”

The image is of Tiberius Caesar, and the inscription reads, “Ti[berivs] Caesar Divi Avg[vsti] F[ilivs] Avgvstvs”, i.e. “Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus”. Now that Jesus has drawn attention to the claim that Caesar is the son of a god, is He really going to be immediately encouraging secularism and citizenship?

Or, is He saying to give back what is false to the false god? Let Caesar have his riches, not because he deserves them, but because they are no good any way. St Augustine said we must give Caesar money, that bears his image, and give God ourselves, because we bear His image. The Christian doesn’t live by wealth or power, but by love and lowliness.

I have been told that in Jesus’ day, the question of tax was extremely controversial: If Jesus accepted paying tax, the people would stone him, but if He opposed it, the state would kill Him. Jesus managed to not only avoid being killed, but also to accuse the emperor as a false god, in such a way that no religious leader could rat Him out to the authorities without being forced to agree with Him.

When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

God bless you!

P.S. here’s some more background, if you’re interested

Don’t be the best version of yourself

‘Just try to be the best version of yourself.’

No thank you. I’d rather try to just be me.

I don’t want to be any “version” of myself. They’re fake, every last one of them. I’d know – I created them. They’re just different masks I wear for different people.

And what on earth does it mean by “best”? Whose standard am I using? Who am I supposed to please? Others? Myself? God???

The simple truth is, God doesn’t love “the best version of me” – the “me” that acts “best”, and no one else does either. No one ever could. You can’t love a dead thing.

He loves me. Not this or that version of me. He loves me, with all my wounds and all my weaknesses. I have nothing to hide, even if I could.

Not that I shouldn’t improve and grow. But I can’t do that by pretending. The only way to truly grow, is to live in God’s love, being stripped of my illusions and defenses, and made more truly me. And this, this death to my selves, is to be made into Christ. ‘It is no longer I that live, but Christ that lives in me.’

God bless you!

[P.S. One more issue with this phrase, is that it suggests there is one best version, and you can’t possibly better it. If there is a “best version”, there is a limit. And it doesn’t imply that the “best version” is all that great. God bless!]

The boldness of St. Francis

I read today about how, after searching out whether God called to him to preach or pray, when given the answer, St Francis ran out and preached the gospel first of all to a large flock of birds of various kinds, who listened with reverence and perhaps even true piety. 4bc7872c090c71da62a65f182c7c3ff1“My brother birds,” he said, “you should greatly praise your Creator, who clothed you with feathers, gave you wings for flight, confided to you purity of the air, and governs you without your least care.” As he spoke, they listened actively, fluttering about in a wonderful way, stretching their necks, spreading their wings, opening their beaks and looking at him. ‘He passed through their midst with amazing fervour of spirit, touching them with his tunic.’ And at the end of it all, he reproached himself for not preaching to the birds sooner!

What really strikes me here, is his incredible boldness. Francis walks in a different world to me, a world where the most extraordinary things can be taken for granted, simply because God is with him. He doesn’t doubt or hesitate: God is with him.

This story isn’t even the best demonstration of this bold confidence. There is the time he was faced with a man-eating wolf. Where I would quickly rack my brains and try say my “best prayer”, Francis simply makes the sign of the cross, and immediately makes peace. Or when Francis was offered chicken on a Friday (he couldn’t eat chicken on a Friday, but also must “accept whatever you are given” [Lk 10:8]). I can’t imagine what sophistry I would use, but Francis simply makes the sign of the cross over it, and it comes back to life and flies away!

In fact, this boldness characterises his whole life. As soon as he receives God’s call, he jumps to action, no questions asked (meaning he didn’t fully understand a couple of times). He is defiantly “unrealistic” in his way of life, and that of his followers too. They live firmly in the knowledge that they can never trust him too much, and never love him too much.

St. Francis is the most exciting saint I’m aware of, because he’s a madman running head first into God.

 

I pray that I may live with bold confidence in God, just like St Francis.

God bless you!

 

P.S. I was reading from the Major Life of Saint Francis by St. Bonaventure, in Such is the Power of Love

The root of all sin is fear

‘The root of all sin is fear: the very deep fear that we are nothing; the compulsion, therefore, to make something of ourselves, to construct a self-flattering image of ourselves we can worship, to believe in ourselves — our fantasy selves. I think that all sins are failures in being realistic; even the simple everyday sins of the flesh, that seem to come from mere childish greed for pleasure, have their deepest origin in anxiety about whether we really matter, the anxiety that makes us desperate for self-reassurance. To sin is always to construct an illusory self that we can admire, instead of the real self that we can only love.’

– Herbert McCabe, OP, quoted in ‘Why Go To Church?’ by Timothy Radcliffe, OP (a very good book so far)

God bless!

Am I not just adding to the noise?

Why do I bother writing, or even thinking, about matters so high above me, that already have so much said about them, by so many truly extraordinary minds? Am I not just adding to the noise?

No. I’m entering into, and adding to, the harmony of the whole. The things we speak about- the true, the good, and the beautiful- impart themselves to the mediums that bear them, and make prose into poetry and speech into song.

My voice might not be extraordinary, but it was made to sing. And it will not detract from the other, stronger, more beautiful voices, because we were always meant to rejoice in singing different parts of the same song. And not only is the whole made more beautiful with each voice added, but each one, in the mystery that is music, adds to the beauty of each other.

I began writing this thinking only about why it’s worth me bothering to write, when so many people more holy and more learned than me have already spoken on almost everything. By the end I realised I was actually writing about the communion of the Saints. I love it when a post doesn’t do what I planned for it!

God bless you all!

Revolt, Renew, Reform

I just read an article on habits, which basically noted that as we gain expertise and more advanced skills and practices, we will often end up actually regressing, because we’ve lost the “fundamentals”. The advanced stuff becomes easy, but the basic (and far more important) stuff is quietly withering.

This is something I have noticed in my prayer life. I tend to develop a set of relatively fixed prayers for regular activities, such as exercising, eating meals, reading the Bible, and going to bed. I like it this way, because I want to make sure that I always say everything that needs saying. As it goes on, these prayers naturally develop, being expanded and refined, and reworked again and again, aiming for a sense of completeness and symmetry, so that my prayer may be “perfect”. I also develop rules for what prayers to say each day, and when, and these too grow nuanced over time, including various technicalities. [I’m the kind of person who actually sort of loves rules, routines, and waking up early, and though Past-Me might have disdained that, I don’t care. The difficult thing is marrying this to my love for chaos and late nights… I oscillate in life.]

But after a while, these prayers grow old. I can say them easily, even in my head, while I’m actually thinking about God-knows-what. My prescribed and required prayers can become a duty and a burden, and get in the way of practices that might do me more good. I grow “pious”.

For this reason, every so often, I revolt against my system, seriously simplifying my prayer life. I return to the basics –just me and my God– and let everything reform from there. Many elements of the previous system are gradually reintroduced, and new ones too, and the complexity, beauty, and rigidity return, step by step, but with their centre restored to them.

 

vaticanii-image

I think this may be a near perfect analogy for what the Church was doing at Vatican II. The Church wanted to rediscover Herself, and return to Her first love. Her practices had grown elaborate and majestic and beautiful, but perhaps also comfortable and stifling. On the one hand, the religion was thoroughly encapsulated, but on the other, it was somewhat captured and contained. At least that’s the impression I’ve been given…

The Council set in motion a process of renewal, rediscovery, and reformation that’s ongoing. As Pope Francis stresses, ‘Time is greater than space.’ I think we can see this process at work both in the emergence of new practices and the re-emergence of old. The new wave of traditionalism should be seen as a fruit of the Council, to be celebrated with all the others.

On that note, I feel the need to briefly defend V2 against those who would claim it has borne bad fruit. There are those who have misinterpreted it, as being essentially a liberalising or dilution of the faith. But that would be as shallow as interpreting my personal cycles of reform and simplification, to my faith weakening, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. Externally, many things were temporarily shed, but only so that we could reconnect with what is truly essential.

 

But these are just my thoughts. What do you think? God bless!