The Gospel from St. Matthew today is often considered the scriptural basis for the principle of separation of Church and State: render to Caesar what is his and to God what is God's. That principle is derived from the image stamped on a coin. But we have to keep in mind a couple things as we consider this Gospel story: first, everything is God's, including Caesar and his realm; second, Jesus' words quoted today are a clever response to an attempt by the Pharisees and Herodians to trick Jesus, to trap him in his words and to use his response to rally the people against him.  It didn't work.  You know, the Pharisees and Herodians were never allies.  In fact, they were enemies and their association here is both strange and very telling because it reveals the depth of resentment against Jesus at work in his time ... that resentment was enough to bring enemies together.

Jesus is not offering a political policy here, not at all.  He is demonstrating that there is an answer to questions that arise in life that sometimes puts people, things, situations in conflict with one another.  This Gospel account represents an effort by those not so accepting of Jesus to drag him into a controversy, not to have the controversy answered or resolved but, rather, to use it against Jesus, to cancel out his influence.

Of course, everything belongs to God, we know that.  God is the Creator and source of all that is and because of that we have obligations to him.  But our obligations of faith and religion do not eliminate or cancel out other obligations in life.  We have to attend to both.

In the midst of our recognition of that fact, we hear the words of St. Paul, words of prayerful gratitude for the local Church of Thessalonika: gratitude for their faith and work; gratitude for their hope and endurance; gratitude for the fact that they are loved and chosen by God.  St. Paul observes us that the Word of God that we hear comes to us in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we can have full confidence and trust in it.

This past week, we have been hearing a great deal of discussion about the Synod of Bishops in Rome both in Catholic circles as well as in the secular media.  There has been a clear tension presented as existing within our Catholic Church, not occasioned by Caesar but, rather, by other secular forces.  And, like the experience of Jesus in the Gospel, the Pharisees and Herodians in our contemporary world --- those are not looking for truth or seeking to deepen faith --- use the words and work of the Synod to advance their own issues and agenda... they have “hijacked the Synod” to use it to divide the Church.  But it won't work. Issues confronting us in the present day --- issues like divorce remarriage and the reception of the sacraments; non-traditional marriages and families; acceptance of homosexuality and other approaches to life that have not been accepted by the Church.  We have to keep in mind that the Synod of Bishops was called together in Rome by Pope Francis to consider contemporary family life in the context of evangelization: how we proclaim and preach and witness to the Gospel of Christ.  These issues arise all the time but the Synod Fathers discussed and debated how to reach out to those affected by them in order that they, too, might hear and accept the Gospel.  Contrary to what some in secular and even Catholic circles have been constantly stressing, the Synod of Bishops did not come together to change doctrine but, rather, to change how to invite our Catholic people to understand and grow in what we believe as Catholics.  Expectations have been raised so high that Catholic teaching will be changed, that Catholics with those expectations are bound to be disappointed and further alienated. Truth will prevail. I believe it.  So listen carefully for the truth.  And look to those who believe in that truth to guide you, not newspapers and TV reports from those whose purpose is to sensationalize rather than evangelize.

Apart from all the controversies generated in the media, the Synod of Bishops, more than anything, celebrated the beauty of married life and family life in our human experience, in our Church. It is the truth of Christ’s love, mirrored in sacramental marriage, that the Church lifts up and that we in the Diocese of Trenton come together today to bless in the real lives of married couples and families.  Their commitments for 25, 50 years or more, their joys and sufferings, their sacrifices and their celebrations, these are the truth that we honor and that proclaim Christ’s own love for his Church.

In the end, truth is the coin of the realm in the Kingdom of God and in the Church.  Whose image is stamped upon it? Render to him, then, what is his.

Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Bishop of Trenton