Caesar, God, and St. John Paul II

There's so much that we can take from today's Gospel. But let's focus on a small, but powerful, piece of it - a piece that is often overlooked.

When asked if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, Jesus asks for a coin.

"Whose likeness and inscription is this?"

He asks the Pharisees and Herodians whose image and likeness is the coin made in. They responded by noting that it's Caesar's image on the coin. Jesus follows up by telling them that they should "[r]ender therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

Seems simple enough. But let's go deeper than that.

We already know that the coin bears Caesar's image (another translation says "likeness"). But what are we supposed to give to God? To answer this, we have to go back to the beginning.

In Genesis 1:26, we read that God said:

"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness."

If you go a little further (Gn 1:27), we read that:

"God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them."

If we are called to give God that which is His, that is to say, that which bears His image and His likeness, then we must give ourselves. Because we are made in His image and likeness, we are called to give God the very gift of our being.


Many times, however, we forget the fact that we are made in God's image and likeness. This happens when we try to build up our identity on things that will fade - money, relationships, power, sex, partying. The list goes on. Because of this, we end up finding ourselves wounded and broken. But the beauty of the Gospel is that it reminds us that no matter how far we stray, or how many times we forget our identity, God is always there to bring us back home.

Now, today happens to also be the feast day of a pretty cool dude: Saint John Paul II (my patron and my saint BFF, just saying).

Saint John Paul II is a man who dedicated his life to reminding people of their identity. He devoted his time and energy to speaking truth into the hearts of the men and women of the world in an effort to remind them who they truly are and of their call to greatness. In fact, much of his pontificate was dedicated to the teachings known as the Theology of the Body - his teachings on the human person, love, sexuality, etc. These teachings call us to "go back to the beginning" to remember who we are, how we are designed, and what we are made for (spoiler: we're made for eternal communion with the Holy Trinity).

I could seriously go on a tangent on just the TOB, so I'll save you from the essay. Instead, I'll echo Saint John Paul II's words to you:

It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is He who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is He who reads in your heart your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle.

It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.

Have no fear in seeking Him. He will lead you to happiness.” 

Friends, it is Jesus you seek.

He is the source of true, unending joy. It is He who turns sinners into saints. It is He who can make the blind see and the mute speak. It is He who stirs the desire for greatness in your heart. Even now, He is working.

I don't know what you're going through. I don't know what's going on in your heart. I don't know the brokenness that you carry. I don't know if you were ever taught whose image and likeness you were made in. I don't know if you had forgotten this beautiful truth because of your wanderings. But I do know one thing: God is present with you in all of it. The same God that called Abraham, Issac, and Jacob calls you. The same God who walked on this earth and performed miracles seeks to walk with you and to work "signs and wonders" in your own heart. He is calling you to remember one thing, and this one thing, will completely change your life.

Jesus is calling you to remember whose image and likeness you were made in.

Once you understand your identity as a son/daughter of God, you will understand that it comes with a certain responsibility: to tell others the Good News! Just as Saint John Paul II sought to remind people - especially young people - of their worth, may we have the same conviction to proclaim this beautiful truth to all those we encounter.

Saint John Paul II, friend of youth, pray for us!

The Conversion of the Woman at the Well

This woman, once Christ had instructed her, became an apostle...

The entirety of her surrender to our Lord is shown from the fact that she left lying there, almost as if forgotten, that for which she had come to the well the water and the water-pot. So great was her absorption. Hence it is said, The woman left her water-pot and went away into the city, went away to announce the wonderful works of Christ. She cared no longer for the bodily comforts in view of the usefulness of the better thing, following in this example of the Apostles of whom it is said that leaving their nets they followed the Lord (Mk 1:18). 

The water-pot stands for fashionable desire, by means of which people draw up pleasures from those depths of darkness signified by the well, that is, from practices which are of the earth, earthly. Those who abandon such desires for the sake of God are like the woman who left her water-pot. 

She invites them to look upon Christ: Come, and see a man- she did not straight away say that they should give themselves to Christ, for that might have been an occasion for blasphemy, but, to begin with, she told them things about Christ which were believable and open to observation. She told them he was a man. Nor did she say Believe, but come and see, for she knew that if they, too, tasted of that well, looking that is upon our Lord, they, too, would feel all she had felt. And she follows the example of a true preacher in that she attracts people not to herself but to Christ. 

She gives them a hint that Christ is God when she says, A man who has told me all things whatsoever I have done, that is to say, how many husbands she has had. She is not ashamed to bring up things that make for her own confusion, because the soul, once it is lighted up with the divine fire, in no way looks to earthly values and standards, cares neither for its own glory nor its shame, but only for that flame which holds and consumes it.

- St. Thomas Aquinas



“Help! It’s Ash Wednesday, and I still don’t know what I am giving up for Lent!

For many of us, Lent creeps up as a surprise. New year, new semester, and then BAM! Right in the middle of Midterms, the church encounters Christ in a deeper way, entering the desert with Him and being led by the Spirit.

So if you have not decided what to “give up,” do not fret - I have an idea. I invite you to let go of who you are and turn to Christ to BECOME who you were made to be. Give the old “you” up. Enter into the desert with your Beloved. In my contemplation, this is done in a threefold manner: fasting, growing, and almsgiving.

First, regarding fasting, “What should I give up for Lent?,” is a question that has been expressed among many of my friends during these past few weeks. But the real questions are, “What’s keeping you from Christ? What prevents you from prayer? What things, or people, in your life guide you into sin?” Praying about these questions will give you the answer as to what you should give up for Lent. Sure, it is great to give up sweets to give up something sacrificial. But how about giving up gossip? Giving up lies? Giving up being rude? Giving up indifference? Transform yourself this Lenten season to become a little more like Christ: a little more loving, a little more honest, a little more gentle, a little more kind. That is the true sacrifice: changing your heart to turn to Christ.

Second, Lent is not only about fasting or “giving up” - think about “adding.” It is about growing - growing deeper in love with Christ. In order to do that, we add prayer to our routine. If you already have a daily prayer life, add a little more. Perhaps you should add five minutes of prayer to your daily schedule in the morning. Or perhaps you should dedicate an hour to a holy hour, once a week. Reflect upon, “How is God calling you to encounter Him deeper this Lent?”

Lastly, Lent’s about almsgiving. Don’t just “give up” - “Give back!” Many times when we think of almsgiving, we assume it has to do with money - and indeed, it can. However, there is so much more that you can give: you can give your true self; you can give your time; you can give your joy; you can share your talents. Perhaps one way you can give back starts right here: at Newman Catholic, we have an “Extra Mile Service” that runs every Friday night, from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. We pack small lunches, which we then give to our needy brothers and sisters in Penn Station.

Another way to give alms (that particularly resonates with students) is to give more of yourself: be fully present and engaged where you are, with those in front of you. Have you ever gone to dinner with friends and family, and noticed that, although physically present, they were not “there” with you at all; rather, they were using the phone the entire time, or even randomly checking social media and texting others. Perhaps that is you. Instead, give yourself: give your time to your friends and family, and be present where you are. Let those you’re with know how much you love them, and how much they mean to you, by simply giving yourself fully to each moment with others. You’d be surprised how much more Christ is present in such moments.

Lent is not just about giving up pizza or soda, but about giving up what’s prohibiting you from loving God to the fullest. So I invite you to turn to Christ with new resolutions this Lenten season, all based on the resolution to love Him deeper.

Fasting, Prayer, and Almsgiving. God Bless you and your resolutions - and make sure whatever you do, you do with love.

Praying for you,

Joselina Castillo