THE SOUL OF MAN THE IMAGE OF GOD
"Whose image and inscription is this?" St. Matt. xxii. 20.
SYNOPSIS.Christ's words should remind us that our soul bears the image of God, and therefore give unto God that which is God's, that is your soul.
I. The soul is God's image in nature by its faculties of reason and will.
II. And God's supernatural image by sanctifying grace.
I. Man is a creature, but a creature after God's likeness. The difference between man and animal, by reason and will. How the likeness of God is often disfigured and destroyed. Where such distorted images of God may be found.
II. The supernatural image of God also often destroyed in men. They are frequently not the image of God, but the image of the devil. Give to God the things that are God's. Man is God's creation and property. Therefore give yourselves entirely to God and you will be saved.
In order to make the meaning of today's Gospel easier of comprehension, it will be useful to mention some particulars referring to the customs of those times. The time of prophecy (Gen. xlix. 10) had been fulfilled, the sceptre was taken away from Judea, the Romans ruled over Judea and Herod had been placed there as a representative of the Roman government. For this reason the followers of the Romans were called Herodians, from whom the Pharisees, as their political opponents, were scheming to wrest the government of the Jews. As parties they hated one another. But as we read in the history of the passion of Jesus that Pilate and Herod were friends, so in today's Gospel are the Herodians and Pharisees acting in harmony. The reason is that Christ was obnoxious and a continuous reproach to both of them; to the Pharisees because He put their pride and hypocrisy to shame, and to the Herodians because He fearlessly censured their immorality.
Therefore, they put to Jesus the cunning question, whether the Jews, the chosen people of God, ought to pay tribute to the heathen. The enemies of Jesus thought thus: if He says yes, He will affront the Jews: if He says no, the Romans will get him into trouble. Jesus, the Eternal Wisdom, asked for the coin, and, pointing to the image of the emperor, He said: "Give unto Caesar, that which is Caesar's, and to God, that which is God's."
May these words be taken to heart, particularly by those in our days, who hold public office. Our people are likely to forget the first part of this sentence, and those in public positions the second; hence so much misery in the world. But let us today apply, the question of our Lord: "Whose image and inscription is this?" to our souls; for the soul of man is the image of God, and more particularly:
"Let us make man to our own image and likeness!" (Gen. i, 26.) Man is not a God, he is a creature, but a creature after God's likeness. The animal is a creature, too, but not an image of God. An animal has instinct, even some powers of memory, but no reason; it makes no resolutions, it does not reflect, it cannot invent anything, it only follows its impulses, called instinct, it always remains on the same intellectual level. Such is the difference between man and animal in reason. The difference is even more marked in the will. The animal obeys its impulses, and cannot otherwise, but man is guided in his actions by his own free will, and no one can check him. Therefore man, gifted with reason and a free will, is in his nature the image of God. Endowed with reason we must perceive the truth, investigate and distinguish lies from truth. And endowed with will power, we must choose, love and perform the good. This natural likeness to God is unfortunately often disfigured or even destroyed by man. Reason, created to seek truth, is misused; for instance, if we do not employ it for the knowledge of the truths of faith; if it is immaterial to man whether he lives in error or not; if we lie; conceal the truth from others. Why is truth hated by so many? Because truth is severe and demands of men that they conquer themselves and curb their passions. Therefore Jesus says: "For everyone that doeth evil, hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved." (John iii, 20.) Furthermore, we sin against reason which makes us the image of God, if we do not endeavor to attain that knowledge which is necessary for every Christian in his calling. For this reason those parents sin who deprive their children of instruction, and young people sin, who do not attend school properly. A Christian also sins against reason who destroys it, and limits its activity. To these belong in the first place drunkards, who in their cups no longer know what they are doing. It is the same with those living impure lives, because one of the consequences of impurity is dulness of reason, of which the Apostle warns us with the words: "The sensual man perceiveth not the things that are of the spirit of God.(i Cor. ii, 14.)
The powers of the will, the second feature of our likeness to God, are also misused and destroyed by sin. No one can compel us to do anything against our will, not all the kings of the earth, nor the devils in hell. But this will power is weakened if we give way to our passions. With every fresh sin the power of evil inclinations increases, and so does increase the weakness of the will. Sin gains command over man little by little, until he is its slave, and then the unfortunate man excuses himself with the words: "I cannot help it, it is my nature," but this excuse is not true. Man can do all things he wills with the help of Godwith God's assistance, I say, and this is obtained through prayer. And because such sinful men do not pray, they therefore have no determination of will, and live on in their sins. Their hearts are hardened and in such men a hatred forms itself against everything good and godly. They carry on by word and writing an unremitting war against the truth. No weapon is too sharp for them, but their principal weapons are lies and calumny, with which they besmear everything good and pious.
If you wish to see such distorted images of God, you can find them in all ranks of life; among the world's authorities, many of which are opposed to the Church, the proclaimer of the truth; in commercial and laboring classes, where they, like Judas, sell their faith and their conscience for some pieces of silver; among those who are too lazy to employ their reason and will and who find begging easier than working to earn their own living; among the rich, to whom their money is their god and who think of nothing but business and amusement. You see, my dear friends, in all such people the will is diseased and corrupted; they crave for sin; they love sin and they die in sin. As a consequence of this perversity of reason and will.
The supernatural image of God in man, the sanctifying grace, becomes also destroyed. What does it matter to such people, whether they retain the grace of God or not? They have lost their innocence. Whether they live in mortal sin or not they do not care; they live in this terrible state year after year, heap sin upon sin, never think of confession, or, if they do, make it in a superficial manner, so that they are an illustration of the words of Jesus: "Then he goeth and taketh with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is made worse than the first." (St. Matt. xii, 45.) Such people avoid scrupulously the word of God, so as not to be disturbed in their life of sin. They appease their conscience with the words: there are others no better than we are. They never pray, or, when they do, it is easy to see that they pray with their lips and not with their hearts. How can such a soul be the image of God? No, it is the image of another one, and, shall I tell you of whom? "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you will do." (St. John viii, 44.) And as Christ calls him: "Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goeth about, seeking whom he may devour." (1 St. Peter v, 8.) Thus we find in our days a great part of mankind filled with hatred towards God, Christ and the Church; and the consequences of this hatred are rebellion against lawful authority; they are lawlessness and disorder. All that is right is despised and stamped under foot, while might gains the upper hand over right. And not satisfied with their own estrangement from God, they in their devilish wickedness try to ruin many others and destroy their happiness for time and eternity.
You see, my dear friends, this is the distorted image of God. There is salvation only in one thing: that is, "Give to God the things that are God's." (St. Matt. 22, 21. ) Man is God's creation and property. Give then to God your reason, your heart and your will. Use them only for God and you will be saved; you will be for all eternity God's property, as children of His grace and charity. Amen.