This past Monday we marked the 528th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World. He reached an island in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492. He named the island for the holy Savior, San Salvador. [Spanish]
Up in New York City, they marked the anniversary by unveiling a new statue of St. Francis Xavier Cabrini—also Italian, like Columbus. The new statue of Mother Cabrini looks out over New York harbor, towards the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Mother Cabrini helped a lot of the immigrants who came into our country through that little island.
Sunday we mark the 374th anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Isaac Jogues. He came to the New World to evangelize, and he gave his life for the Gospel, along with the many other missionary martyrs of the Americas. Eight other Jesuits died as martyrs here in what is now Virginia.
No co-incidence then that this Sunday is “World Mission Sunday.” At Holy Mass, we will hear these words of Christ in the gospel reading: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Give to God what belongs to God.”
Now, if our First Parents had never disobeyed God; if life on earth were just like eternal life in heaven, then the Lord would never have had to make that distinction, the distinction between the secular and the sacred. If we still lived in the Garden of Eden, God would be our Caesar. Politics and religion would not be different things. But the malice of the devil entered human history when Adam and Eve fell. This has had many terrible consequences, as we know. One of them is: We American voters have to cast our ballots in a presidential election in which Jesus Christ is not one of the candidates.
Some of us older folks remember the year 1992, when our Church celebrated the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World. Pope St. John Paul II visited the Caribbean to mark the occasion. We Catholics rejoiced together that the Gospel had reached the western hemisphere, and we Knights of Columbus took pride in our namesake. Our Christianity is the jewel of our lives; we should never take it for granted.
We weren’t born knowing about Jesus, after all. Someone had to teach us. Someone had to give us the sacraments of grace. Jesus gave the Apostles their mission; others have followed in their footsteps. Because of their sacrifices, we have become part of the history of salvation. To imagine what it would be like to face life—and to face our inevitable death—without knowing Jesus Christ? Too horrible to imagine fully.
But there are other horrors that we also must contemplate. This coming year, the nation of Mexico will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire. The president of Mexico has written to the pope, asking for an official Church apology to the native tribes for this act of violence. One bishop in Mexico asked the president if he intended to make an official government apology for all the anti-Catholic violence done by the Mexican state in the 20th century. It all makes us Washingtonians losing the name of our football team seem like pretty small potatoes, by comparison.
How to deal with all these controversies that cut so deeply into our identity? Let’s stay focused on Jesus Himself. That’s what the martyrs did. We honor the martyred missionaries of our land not because they had success as political or military strategists, but because they lived as saints of God. We honor them because they walked in the footsteps of Christ crucified.
Plenty of the Lord Jesus’ followers tried to give to Him what belonged to Caesar. They wanted to march, with swords drawn, behind Him. But He would not take for Himself what belonged to Caesar.
The Christ conquered Jerusalem, to be sure, but not in the same way that Cortes conquered Mexico City. Christ made His conquest without committing any atrocities. Rather, He conquered the world for God by suffering a monumental atrocity. He suffered it fearlessly and with love.
Our Christian mission comes from Him, the gentle king. All the anger and acrimony of this world; all the lust for power; all the injustice and dishonesty—it all came crashing down upon His bloody brow. He absorbed it all. He did not return the blow. He had the armies of terrifying angels at His disposal. He could have torn the universe in two. Instead, He bowed His head humbly and died, with blessings on His lips. ‘Forgive them, Father. They know not what they do.’
Here’s our apology. We are sorry we did it to you, Lord. We are sorry. Forgive us, and make us Yours.