In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Dearly beloved, we have a very interesting story in today's Gospel... When the Pharisees questioned Our Lord as to whether or not it were lawful to pay the Roman taxes, He requested them to show Him the coin of the tribute. “Whose image is on this coin?”, He asked. It was, of course, that of Caesar. Then follows that well-known maxim of our Divine Lord which so confounded the proud Pharisees: “Give to God the things that are God’s, and to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”
Images, we know, are often used in society to designate certain things, especially ownership. Ranchers will burn their particular mark, or brand, into the hides of their cattle to distinguish them from animals belonging to other ranchers. Before the time of Christ, even human slaves were branded, having the seals of their owners burned into their foreheads so that if they ran away they could be easily recognized and returned to their masters. As repulsive as was that custom, nevertheless, it is somewhat symbolic of what is actually the case with ourselves.
We read in Genesis that when God created man, He said, “Let Us...” — meaning the Blessed Trinity — “Let Us make man to Our image and likeness.” When Almighty God created us, then, He stamped us with His own image. This similarity exists primarily in our soul, although we can say that our body, too, is in a lesser way created in His image and likeness because of the beautiful harmony of its various parts. In a particular way, however, the image and likeness of God is seen in the human soul, which, like Him, is a spirit, immortal and exceedingly beautiful, although invisible to our eyes.
Being immortal, the soul will live forever and can never be destroyed. No one, however powerful he may be, can destroy another person’s soul. The soul of man has God Himself for its Author and Maker. He Himself, directly, immediately created our soul. When God created the first man, Adam, from the slime of the earth, He used pre-existing matter to form his body, but, to use Scriptural terminology, He breathed into him a living soul. God then formed Eve from a rib taken from the side of Adam, and into her also He breathed a living soul. Adam and Eve were then told to multiply, to bring forth other human beings. But while they were responsible for the material generation of other bodies, God reserved to Himself the work of creating each human soul.
One might say that this is the only area in which God continues to this day to create. Scripture tells us that He created the world in six days and that after the sixth day — on which He created man — He rested from all the work He had done. Although God ceased then to create, in one sense the work of the sixth day continues even to this day. For every human being that has ever come into existence, God has directly created a living soul. Moreover, St. Ambrose points out that God rested after He created Adam and Eve in order to show us that man was His most perfect creation, especially because of his immortal soul.
The value of an object is often determined by the end for which it was made. If the soul of man was made to possess its Creator in heaven, it must be of tremendous value. Furthermore, even in this world, it is the temple of God, Who lives within it through the gift of sanctifying grace. We readily acknowledge the priceless worth of the tabernacle, the chalice, and the ciborium in which are placed the sacred Hosts. And yet we, too, hold the Blessed Sacrament when we receive Holy Communion, and moreover, we can possess Almighty God all the time through the life of sanctifying grace in our soul.
When God created Adam, He had in His mind that human soul which He would create specifically for His own Divine Son. The model after which we were created, then, was no other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God Himself.
The precious value of our soul is also seen in the price at which it was ransomed, which included not only the Passion and Death of Our Divine Lord — which would certainly be enough — but all thirty- three years of His life. His birth in the stable, the tears He shed at Bethlehem and during His infancy, His sufferings at being taken into Egypt to flee those who sought to kill Him, His hidden life of thirty years, His fasting in the desert, His three years of preaching, His miracles, and finally, His bitter Passion and Death — all of this Christ offered to His Father to ransom, even for one immortal soul. Can we even begin to fathom the priceless worth of our soul?
Another sign which should convince us of the value of our soul is the efforts of the devil to bring about its loss. Theologians tell us that for every soul that is damned, the sufferings of the devil are increased. And still, Satan does all he can to drag them down to hell to share his fate. In the Gospel that is read on the first Sunday of Lent, we read how Our Lord, after having fasted forty days and forty nights in the desert, was tempted by the devil. First he tried to tempt Christ to turn stones into bread in order to satisfy His hunger. Then, taking Our Lord up to the pinnacle of the Temple, he tempted Him to presumption, telling Him to throw Himself down and have His Father save Him by a miracle. Keep in mind that the devil did not know that Christ was God — he believed that he was just a great prophet. Finally, Satan took Our Lord up to a high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their riches, saying, “All this will I give you if you fall down and worship me.” For one serious sin, he was willing to give up everything over which he had power. It seems that the devil will leave no stone unturned to bring about the loss of a soul.
Finally, we can see the value of the soul by looking at the tremendous labors of all the zealous missionaries down through the ages of the Church. Many left their native lands to travel into distant countries, sacrificing everything — very often their lives — to bring the Faith, if it were but to one soul.
But after all we have considered, can it be said that human beings value souls as they should? Among Christians, among Catholics who have the true Faith, is the immortal soul valued as it should be? Sad to say, many people value their souls but too little. There is a story told of an ancient philosopher, a very wealthy man, but nevertheless of slovenly appearance, who one day invited another philosopher to his home, of which he was very proud. It was a magnificent building, with beautiful paintings, tapestries, and precious works of gold and silver adorning its walls. After the owner had taken his guest through the house, he asked him what he thought of it. The man replied that he found it utterly amazing that the owner of such a magnificent home, who took such pride in its beauty, should care so little for his own cleanliness and personal appearance.
Many Christians act in a similar manner. How many people there are who will give every care in the world to their body, which is the home in which the soul dwells, and utterly neglect their soul. They can pass a whole week with hardly a thought of their immortal soul. Let us listen to the words of Father Hunolt as he speaks about this sad contradiction:
“All the serious thoughts of the day, from morning til night, are given to the body, which is only a mass of uncleanness and a whitened sepulchre, that will soon be food for worms, while hardly one thought in a week is bestowed on the soul, the immortal image of God.
“The best years of youth are spent in the service of the body. How few the hours that are given to the eternal welfare of the soul. The body is fed and nourished to repletion every day, and is allowed to want for nothing. The soul must often suffer hunger for a month at a time, receiving no refreshment either from the word of God or from the holy sacraments.
“The body is washed, clothed, adorned, beautified and decked out in every way, and art is often made use of to supply the defects of nature that the body may be pleasing to others and perhaps even betray others into sin. But the soul is left without merits and good works. It is neglected like a poor beggar child.
“A spot on the face or the hands is washed off immediately; the stain of sin is allowed to remain on the soul and is not cleansed perhaps even for a month at a time.
“No expense is spared to procure pleasures for the body. A night's rest is even sacrificed, a whole day is occupied, and no end of trouble is taken for that purpose. But to give the soul an hour's devotion in the morning, to part with even the smallest part of one’s superfluous wealth for the poor, or to take any trouble at all for the soul’s welfare, would be an intolerable burden to many.
“To preserve the health of the body, we avoid even a cold wind, while the soul is risked in all kinds of ways for a mere trifle. If the body is ill, the best physicians are called for; if the soul is ill, we are often afraid of going to a confessor.
“In order to cure bodily illness thoroughly, we seek a change of air. Sometimes people leave their home and country to do so, in order to bring about the cure of the body, and yet they cannot resolve to fly the poisoned air of the world in order to restore their sick souls to health. That is to say, they are unwilling to give up the unlawful vanities of the world or to avoid dangerous occasions of sin, all of which we should renounce were our repentence sincere.
“To preserve the health of their mortal bodies, men abstain from even favorite food and drink. They refuse not the most bitter medicines to restore health. But to preserve the eternal life of the soul, and to atone to the divine justice for the sins they have committed, the same individuals refuse to mortify or deny themselves or to fast or do penance as a good Christian should.”
Some people are willing to risk their immortal soul for so little. Does this not remind us of Judas, who went to the Pharisees saying, “What will you give me, and I will betray Him to you.” They could have answered anything — a hundred dollars, or five cents — Judas was so greedy that it didn’t matter. It is as if they bargain with the devil, “Let me have a little — it doesn’t matter how much — and I’ll surrender my soul to you.” Of course, they don’t say so in words, but their actions convey the reality of the tragic state of their soul.
Just before the Protestant Revolt in England, King Henry VIII requested an annulment of his marriage from the Pope, who, of course, refused it because there were no grounds for such. Angered at this refusal, Henry VIII threatened the Pope that if the annulment were not granted, he would wreak havoc in England, confiscate Church property, force the clergy to accept him as their superior, and in effect, bring about the departure of England from the Faith. Despite all this, the Pope’s reply to the King's messenger was simply: “If I had two souls, I might damn one of them for King Henry and save the other for myself — but as I have only one, I will not lose it for him.” We have only one soul, and indeed, it is very precious. Let us not lose it for anything.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.