This Sunday is the anniversary of the assassination of Julius Caesar on the Ides, or middle, of March. Caesar was one of the most influential people who have ever lived. His death prepared the way for his nephew and heir, Octavius, better known as Caesar Augustus, to completely dominate Roman politics and become the defacto emperor, although the word emperor didn’t mean what it means today. The Imperator was the commander of the Roman Legions, not the head of the government. The heirs of Julius Caesar simply took the name “Caesar” as a title. The name “Caesar” became a title that meant the same thing the word emperor means. Many kings and emperors would take titles derived from Caesar’s name, like the Kaisers in Germany and the Czars, or Tsars, in Bulgaria, Serbia, and Russia.
During his life Julius Caesar proved to be an adept politician and was loved by almost everyone. The people loved him because of the social programs he started and the lavish games and festivals he put on. The soldiers loved him because he brought them victory in battle and wealth. The aristocrats and senators, on the other hand, didn’t like him. As he gathered more and more power they became more and more afraid that he would try to make himself a king. Their concerns seemed to be confirmed as he began to wear a purple cloak, a color usually reserved to kings, and had a statue of himself paraded around in procession with the statues of the gods. So on March 15, 44 B.C., 60 senators lured Julius Caesar to the senate and stabbed him 23 times. Far from freeing Rome to return to a republican government, the death of Caesar lead to 13 years of devastating civil war and the end of the Roman Republic for good. After his death, Julius Caesar would be declared, by the Senate of all people, to be a god. If you go to Rome today, you can visit the remains of an altar where the Romans used to offer sacrifices to Julius Caesar, and people still leave flowers there to this day.
About 75 years later, around 30 A.D., the Romans would kill another man claiming to be a God-king, Jesus of Nazareth. He didn’t try to ingratiate Himself to the people with flattering words and a showy spectacle; He told them the truth and challenged them to live it out. He didn’t seize power by gaining the support of the army; He allowed Himself to be lead to the foot of the Cross and crucified, and He told His disciple, St. Peter, to put down his sword. He didn’t try to seize power for Himself. Instead, “though He was in the form of God, (He) did not consider equality with God something to be seized. Instead, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and accepting the state of a man. He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even unto death, even the death of the Cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).
One of these sought, and achieved, worldly power and fame on a level few have ever matched, and the other was truly the center of the universe and yet came to be among us and to die for our salvation. May we follow the example of the true Lord and King, Jesus Christ, who teaches us, “Do not choose to store up for yourselves treasures on earth: where rust and moth consume, and where thieves break in and steal. Instead, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven; where neither rust nor moth consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also is your heart” (Mt. 6:19-21).
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.