Father Eduardo Tamer

This week, the plot thickens.

In Matthew’s Gospel, as Jesus continues his journey to Jerusalem — and beyond that, to Calvary — the Pharisees begin planning for a way to trap him. It all leads us to the exchange that has Jesus offering this famous piece of wisdom: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

It’s a powerful and provocative lesson. But it’s about more than just paying taxes or giving God his due. In fact, it begs the question: what belongs to God? How much of what we have should we give to him?

And the answer, of course is: everything.

The psalmist understood that. “Give the Lord glory and honor,” we hear this morning. “Tremble before him all the earth.”

The simple fact is: we owe God everything, for he has given us everything.

The earth on which we live. The friendships we enjoy. The love that sustains us and nurtures us.

And, of course: our savior, his son, Jesus Christ — who sacrificed everything he had in this life, so that we could have everything for all eternity in the next.

“Repay to God what belongs to God.”

It’s harder than it sounds. We are challenged — even convicted — as we realize we don’t give enough. Some may think, an hour on Sunday is fine. Being nice to each other is sufficient.

But repaying God means so much more than that.

It means embodying the Gospel with our lives, our choices, our actions.

It means giving back to God time in prayer — prayers of humility, gratitude, praise.

It means giving honor and dignity to those around us who are dishonored or marginalized, neglected or forgotten.

It means caring for “the least of these,” when nobody else cares for them.

It means living lives of quiet, purposeful hope — grounded in the certainty that we are loved.

It means doing all this joyfully, gratefully, patiently, as a gift for the God who has already given us everything.

It means being living witnesses to the Good News, the Gospel.

And in doing that, whether we realize it or not, we are fulfilling our mandate as baptized children of God: our call to spread the Gospel.

This Sunday, we mark World Mission Sunday, when we remember the missionary character of the church and our call, each of us, to be missionaries. The Holy Father’s message for this Sunday this year is “Here I am, send me.”

A few days ago, I read about Father Eduardo Tamer. He was born in a village in northern Lebanon, where his father owned a workshop and made boxes for fruit. But from a young age, Eduardo wanted just one thing: to be a priest. He joined the Franciscans and was ordained in 1965. He spent much of his life teaching throughout the Middle East, in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

Finally, he went to Aleppo, Syria.

He taught there, directed a parish recreation center, and spent hours in the confessional. After the civil war broke out in Syria, his superiors asked him to leave, for his own safety. He chose not to. “I am here for the people,” he said. I will live here and die here, if that is what happens.”

Father Tamer survived the war. But he could not survive COVID-19. He died in August from the coronavirus. He was 83.

“Repay to God what belongs to God.”

Father Tamer repaid with everything he had. His life was his gift. 

This World Mission Sunday, if you want to know where you can find other great missionaries like Father Tamer, look around you. Each of us is a missionary! Each of us heads into the world to live the Good News, to proclaim it, to be examples of it.

And it is more challenging in 2020.

Pope Francis, in his message for this day, wrote about the difficulties we face during this time of pandemic — and they have special resonance for all of us here in Queens this Sunday, worshipping under these circumstances.

“Illness, suffering, fear and isolation challenge us,” he wrote. “The poverty of those who die alone, the abandoned, those who have lost their jobs and income, the homeless and those who lack food challenge us. The impossibility of gathering as a Church to celebrate the Eucharist has led us to share the experience of the many Christian communities that cannot celebrate Mass every Sunday. In all of this, God’s question: ‘Whom shall I send?’ is addressed once more to us and awaits a generous and convincing response: ‘Here am I, send me!’”

Here we are, Lord. Where do you want us to go?

As we leave this sacred space this Sunday, we re-enter a world of uncertainty and hardship. A world under lockdown. A world of masks and distance. It is a world desperately in need of the Gospel, the Good News, however it can be proclaimed.

Here we are, Lord.

Let us look for ways to be missionaries of encouragement, generosity, and hope to a suffering world — repaying the God who loves us, with all the love we can give to others.

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