VATICAN CITY – On Sunday Pope Francis spoke on the importance of both fulfilling our earthly duties and making God a priority, stressing that the two are never in opposition, but are complementary, with the primacy of God giving direction to our daily activities.
“The Christian is called to commit themselves concretely in human and social realities without putting God and Cesar into opposition, but by illuminating the earthly reality with the light that comes from God,” the Pope said.
Giving priority to God and having hope in him “do not lead to an escape from reality,” he said, but rather, “they make industrious that which belongs to him.”
Francis spoke to pilgrims present in St. Peter’s Square for his Oct. 22 Sunday Angelus address, which coincided with both World Mission Sunday and the feast of St. John Paul II.
In his speech, the pope centered his reflection on the day’s Gospel reading from Matthew, in which the Pharisees question Jesus about whether or not it is just to pay taxes to Caesar.
This meeting constitutes yet another “face-to-face encounter” between Jesus and his opponents, the pope said, noting that the “thorny” issue of taxes is supposed to be a trap.
However, rather than falling into it, Jesus offers a calm response and “takes advantage of the malicious question in order to give an important teaching, rising above the polemics and opposing sides.”
By looking at the image and inscription of Caesar carved onto the Roman coins and telling the Pharisees to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” Jesus, on one hand, says that paying taxes to the Roman emperor “is not an act of idolatry, but an act of duty to the earthly authority.”
On the other hand, in his reference to God, Jesus “recalls the primacy of God, asking to give him what is owed to him as the Lord of life, of man and of history.”
While the image of Caesar recalls our rights and duties as citizens of the state, the reference to God symbolically points to the image that is imprinted on every person, which is “the image of God,” the pope said.
“He is the Lord of all, and we, who were created in his image, belong above all to him,” Francis said, asking pilgrims the question posed by the Pharisees: “to whom do I belong?”
“To our family, our city, our friends, school, work, politics, or the state? Yes, certainly. But above all, Jesus reminds us, you belong to God,” he said, adding that the Lord is the one who has given us all that we have and are.
And therefore, in our daily lives “we can and must live them in renewed knowledge of this fundamental belonging and in the recognition of our heart to the Father, who created each one of us unique and unrepeatable, but always in the image of his beloved Son, Jesus,” he said. “It is a marvelous mystery.”
Francis then led pilgrims in praying the traditional Angelus prayer. Afterward, he noted how yesterday Spanish martyrs Matteo Casals, Teofilo Casajús, Fernando Saperas and their 106 companions were beatified in Barcelona, and prayed that their “heroic example” and intercession would support Christians all over the world who today endure persecution and discrimination.
He also noted how Oct. 22 marks World Missionary Day, which was launched in 1926 by the Congregation for Divine Worship and is now promoted by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples and the Pontifical Mission Societies.
Francis invited everyone to “live the joy of missionary witness to the Gospel” in their various states of life and urged faithful to support missionaries around the world either financially or through prayer.
To this end, the pope announced that an “Extraordinary Missionary Month” will take place in October 2019 in order to “nourish the ardor of the evangelizing activity of the Church “ad gentes,” or “to the nations.”
In an Oct. 22 letter marking the centenary anniversary of the publication of Pope Benedict XV’s 1919 apostolic letter Maximum Illud on Catholic missions after the first world war, Francis said the main aim for the missionary month is to foster “an increased awareness of the ‘missio ad gentes’ and to take up again with renewed fervor the missionary transformation of the Church’s life and pastoral activity.”
Addressed to Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the letter noted that Maximum Illud had called on the Church to transcend national boundaries and bear witness, “with prophetic spirit and evangelical boldness, to God’s saving will through the Church’s universal mission.”
The pope voiced his hope that the 100th anniversary of Benedict XV’s letter would be an incentive to “combat the recurring temptation lurking beneath every form of ecclesial introversion, self-referential retreat into comfort zones, pastoral pessimism and sterile nostalgia for the past.
“Instead, may we be open to the joyful newness of the Gospel,” he said, and prayed that in “our troubled times” of war and conflict, the good news that “forgiveness triumphs over sin, life defeats death and love conquers fear,” would be proclaimed to the world “with renewed fervor, and instill trust and hope in everyone.”
He also prayed that the 2019 missionary month would “prove an intense and fruitful occasion of grace, and promote initiatives and above all prayer, the soul of all missionary activity.
“May it likewise advance the preaching of the Gospel, biblical and theological reflection on the Church’s mission, works of Christian charity, and practical works of cooperation and solidarity between churches, so that missionary zeal may revive and never be wanting among us.”
In his comments after the Angelus, Francis also offered prayers for peace throughout the world, specifically in Kenya, where there is ongoing debate over their recent presidential elections.
General elections took place in Kenya Aug. 8, and initial results showed that President Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected with the majority vote. However, his main rival, Raila Odinga, refused to accept the result and fought it in the country’s supreme court.
As a result, the vote was annulled and fresh elections scheduled to take place Oct. 17. However, the date of the new election was later changed to Oct. 26.
In his remarks, Francis prayed that Kenya would “know how to face the current difficulties in a climate of constructive dialogue, having at heart the pursuit of the common good.”