October 19, 2014
We are now at the fourth homily in my series: “Trust in God-No Matter What.” Last week we heard about St. John Paul II. This week and next we will hear about two other saints from the Twentieth Century: one murdered by the Communists, and the other, a woman, murdered by the Nazis.
Homily Series Part 4:Trust in God-No Matter What
October 19, 2014
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I’ll start with the man killed by the Communists. Like St. John Paul II, this man was from Poland and was, in fact, a priest. His name is Jerzy Popieluszko.
Fr. Jerzy was born in 1947, right after the communist takeover of Poland. His parents did not accept communism, and, like most Polish families, were very devout Catholics. After graduating from high school in 1965, Fr. Jerzy entered the seminary. Unlike his American counterparts whom, upon being accepted at a college or university, would have been exempted from military service, Fr. Jerzy, after only one year in his studies, had to begin his required military service.
Military service did not squelch young Jerzy’s dependence on God. In fact, officers often found him reading from his prayer book. The officers ordered Jerzy to stop, and when he protested, the punished him by making him stand attention in the rain, sometimes for an entire night. After his service was completed, Jerzy suffered health problems for the rest of his life.
In 1972, Fr. Jerzy was ordained, and he served as chaplain for medical students and a parish priest. In fact, Fr. Jerzy was responsible for the medical core that was set up for St. John Paul’s visit in 1979. Like many young people at the time, Fr. Jerzy was deeply touched by the saintly pope’s words, and energized by his message of nonviolent resistance. In turn, Fr. Jerzy resisted simply by being a good priest and serving his congregation.
A turning point came in August of 1980. A group of striking steel workers asked the Cardinal to send a priest to say Mass for them. When the priest who had originally committed to that Mass had to drop out, Fr. Jerzy volunteered to help out. Not only did he say Mass for them, he performed marriages, baptized their children, and heard the men’s confessions. As the numbers attending the outdoor Masses grew, so did governmental fear. Many documentaries and movies have been made that accurately describe the next part of Fr. Jerzy’s life, and I encourage you to watch one of them to learn more. I will now move to the end of his life.
On October 19, 1984, Fr. Jerzy went off to say a Mass for the seminarians of his diocese. As he and his driver were returning home, they were overtaken by another car that forced them off the road. The people in the other car got out, and Father’s driver was handcuffed and shoved into the other car. Fr. Jerzy was struck with bats until he fainted, and was then thrown in the trunk. As they drove away, Father’s driver was able to open the door and roll out of the car. He immediately ran for help, alerting people of Father’s kidnapping. People held vigils and had Masses said for his return. Ten days, later, his body did return to them, having surfaced in a reservoir. In 2010, Fr. Jerzy was made a blessed.
What can we learn from the life of Blessed Jerzy? His martyrdom was heroic, but he did not seek it. On the day he set out for the mass with the seminarians, Fr. Jerzy was very tired and had a cold. He could have stayed home, but he did not. He thought it was more important to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for those men preparing for the priesthood. His dedication to the priesthood, his love for the Lord, and his dedication to his people made him a target. Blessed Jerzy shows us what Jesus tells us today: Give to God what belongs to Him. And what belongs to Him? Everything!
If everything belongs to God why would Jesus talk about giving to Caesar what belongs to Caesar? Probably because “giving to Caesar” is part of the “everything.” For example, as Catholics in the United States, we pay taxes, vote, obey just laws, and pray for our leaders-even when we don’t like or disagree with them. Sometimes, however, Caesar (the state) asks things that we simply cannot give. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is shown the Roman coin. It has a picture of the emperor on it with the inscription saying that he is the son of the divine Augustus. But no faithful Jew or Christian can say that the Emperor is God.
There is indeed a tension between Christians and the state. We strive to be good citizens, but we, at times, must resist any effort on the part of the state to take the place of God. The life and death of Blessed Jerzy illustrates the kind of resistance we are called to.
Next Sunday, we will hear about a woman who resisted Nazi oppression in a very powerful way. This will conclude my homily series, and I believe that I am saving the best for last. Like Fr. Jerzy, she died for the faith. Her story is an inspiring one, so stay tuned. And remember, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but give God what belongs to God.