This classic phrase of Jesus calls us to consider what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. Caesar represents the secular, temporal world which is fading away. God is the world that lasts forever. We do have a responsibility towards the temporal world, to shape it according to God’s kingdom. This is done, however, with one foot in heaven so to speak.
I suppose I had heard it said before, that when getting on or off a boat, one should have at least one good handhold on the boat or the dock, and never be caught in between. I learned the hard way when fishing with a friend. He was pulling into a dock and I was preparing to jump to it. As we approached a boat in front of us, he shifted the engine into reverse rather than neutral. The abrupt change of direction threw me straight off the bow into the boat and water in front of us. So much for pride!
We have a secure place from which we can hang on to God. It’s called a ‘state of grace’. Through prayer, the sacraments, and a life of charity, we are assured of the grace from God to lead a life that arrives at heaven. What a great gift, but not to be taken for granted. Especially as our secular world chooses values contrary to the Gospel, we must ‘swim upstream’ like our northwest salmon, making real decisions in favor of the ways of God. This takes grace. It takes daily prayer and a conscious effort to grow in our relationship of love with God and neighbor. This life of grace is in fact what sanctifies the world. Let us continue on this path of holiness with Christ at our head, leading us home to the Father.
Every year in Washington, D.C., before another session of the Supreme Court, a ‘Red’ Mass is offered, invoking the Holy Spirit. This year the guest homilist was none other than our own Archbishop Sartain. I include Part I of his homily as a sample of one way we can sanctify our world:
When I bought my first pair of Asics running shoes many years ago, I noticed a familiar Latin maxim on the box – “Anima sana in corpore sano” – and soon realized much to my amazement that the name “Asics” is in fact an acronym for that very maxim. It is a variation on “Mens sana in corpore sano,” usually translated, “A sound mind in a sound body.”
The Roman poet and satirist Juvenalis (55-127 A.D.) is usually credited with the saying, and his point is a good one. People of every age have championed the value of a healthy body, even if notions of health and beauty have varied greatly through the centuries. The body/mind connection is a reminder that we are whole persons, that one aspect of living directly affects the others. Physical, intellectual, and psychological health go hand-in-hand. We live more serenely, think more clearly and work more energetically when we take care of our bodies – when we literally put our Asics to use.
It is interesting that Asics chose “anima” over “mens” for its corporate slogan, because while “mens” usually referred to the mind in its intellectual aspects, “anima” referred to the more encompassing “vital principal” of life, the “breath of life,” one’s “heart,” and one’s overall sense of well-being. In fact, “anima” is the word used for “soul” in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, in Church writings and in the liturgy.
Juvenalis was not a Christian, but his famous maxim certainly lends itself to an essential Christian application: “A sound soul in a sound body.” We do well to remember that there is something deep within, something all-encompassing and literally life-giving, the very life-principle that makes the body human, which begs for attention, discipline and nourishment: our soul.
Juvenalis was just a kid as St. Paul was drawing near his martyr’s death, but Paul was keenly aware of the influence of comparable writers and thinkers in Greco-Roman culture. They shaped in part the environment into which the Lord sent him to preach the gospel, and it was critical to his mission to be familiar with them. Paul was a master of observation when it came to culture, law, language, philosophy – and yes, athletics – and put to work his highly-honed skills when framing the proclamation of the Christian message.
He borrowed from Stoic thought to exhort the Christian community in the Roman colony of Philippi to live a life of integrity:
“...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philppians 4:8).
A sound, healthy soul will be truly nourished only by the good and the beautiful, the noble and the pure. A Christian cannot live a life of integrity or peace when wittingly or unwittingly stuffing oneself with or indifferently absorbing the superficial and the fleeting. Moreover, one cannot hope to be healthy or to do well in one area of life when the rest of life is malnourished. The Desert Father Poemen said, “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.”