Wednesday, October 12, 2011

New Archbishop for Gatineau - "Render to Caesar...and to God!"

On a annoncé à Rome aujourd’hui que Sa Sainteté le Pape Benoît XVI  a accepté la démission de Monseigneur Roger Ébacher, comme archevêque de Gatineau, conformément au canon 401 §1; et a nommé archevêque de Gatineau, Monseigneur Paul-André Durocher, présentement évêque d’Alexandria-Cornwall.

Félicitations, Mgr Paul-André!

Today in Rome it was announced that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of the Most Reverend Roger Ébacher as Archbishop of Gatineau, according to canon 401 § 1; and has appointed as Archbishop of Gatineau the Most Reverend Paul-André Durocher, currently Bishop of Alexandria-Cornwall.

Welcome to the Capital Region, Archbishop Durocher!

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Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year "A") - October 16, 2011

“I AM THE LORD, AND THERE IS NO OTHER  [Texts: Isaiah 45.1, 4-6 [Psalm 96]; 1 Thessalonians 1.1-5; Matthew 22.15-21]

When he died in 530 BC, Cyrus the Great's Persian empire extended from Greece in the west to India in the east.  For 200 years his achievement would remain unrivalled, until the death of another extraordinary leader, Alexander the Great in 323.

Cyrus established the base of his Persian kingdom in 559, gradually extending his hegemony by successive victories over Media, Lydia and, in 539, Babylon, one of whose provinces included Syria, Lebanon and Israel.

Cyrus's rule has been called a “great turning point in ancient history” (R.N. Frye).  For he was an enlightened ruler, showing tolerance for and understanding of various cultures and religious customs.

Cyrus authorized the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple by Judeans returning from exile in Babylon.  A successor, Darius I (522-486), discovered the decree in the royal archives and reaffirmed its permission to restore Jewish worship (cf. Ezra 5.1-6.15).

For the Israelites it was hard to accept the message Deutero-Isaiah proclaimed in God's name—namely that Cyrus, while not worshipping God (“though you do not know me”)—was God's anointed, God's “messiah”.

The chosen people continually resisted this startling revelation, but God's contention with them was that creatures have no right to argue against the decisions taken by their Creator (45.7-13).

Traditionally, the ruler of Babylon took the hand of the god Bel at the New Year's festival, a sign of his divinely-conferred authority.  In beginning the address to Cyrus, however, God says that, in his case, the initiative has been reversed.  It is God who has grasped Cyrus's right hand, so that he may “subdue nations..., strip kings..., open doors before him”.

God's purpose in arming Cyrus was ultimately to make it known in the whole world, that “besides me there is no god” and that “from the rising of the sun and from the west...I am the Lord, and there is no other”.

What a powerful believer's vision undergirds this passage from Isaiah!  That, unknown even to himself, the ultimate life purpose of a ruler who worshipped a pagan god, was to glorify the God of Israel, the lord of history!  That, in the end, “to me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear” (45.23).

God's sovereignty over world history, despite subjective judgments by rulers that they are in control, is a constant theme in the Bible and figures prominently in the teachings of Jesus.  The issue underlying the Pharisees' controversy with Jesus—over whether tribute (taxes) should be paid to the emperor or not—is whether and how allegiance to the demands of God and the state may be related.

The Pharisees and Herodians, though they took different stances regarding paying taxes to the emperor, conspired against Jesus in asking, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” The Herodians were overt supporters of the Roman regime and supported paying the tax, while the Pharisees, in principle, resented the tax, but did not go so far as to publicly resist its payment.

Had Jesus answered “yes” to the trick question, he would have alienated the nationalists.  However, if he had answered “no”, he could have been denounced to the Romans for inciting rebellion. 

Jesus, not having money on his person, asked for a coin, which was inscribed “Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest”.  Ironically, those theoretically opposed to Roman rule showed themselves participants in it by producing a coin with an idolatrous inscription.

Asking whose image was on the coin, Jesus was able to declare that what was already the emperor's should be given back to him (so “give” really means “pay back”).  By avoiding a direct yes or no answer, Jesus was, in fact, giving an indirect “yes”: it is not against Torah to pay taxes to the emperor.

Jesus did not pronounce on the best form of government.  His words about taxes are equally valid in a monarchy, democracy or mixed system of government.  What is often left unexplored in trying to grasp Jesus' reply is the implication of the second half of His statement, “and [give] to God the things that are God's”.  For it is on the human person that the image of God is stamped, and each person must, in some sense, give himself or herself totally to God.

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