St. Augustine began one of his homilies with the following prayer which, with proper adjustments, could be said by both preacher and congregation as the preacher begins to speak:
“May the Lord help us by your prayers so that I say what I should say and you should hear, so that the Word of God may be useful to us all.”
[EnPs 139, 1: PL 37: 1803]
The Lord our God spread the faith in and by which we live in many and varied ways through the holy Books, the Scriptures. While varying the mysteries of the words [sacramenta verborum], he nonetheless commended the one faith. Because the same thing is told in many ways, the variety prevents boredom while the agreement preserves the unity. And so in the Psalm we have just heard sung, to which we have responded with our own singing, we are about to say things that you already know, and yet, with God’s help and grace, perhaps we shall bring you some pleasure when things you’ve heard over and over you now chew over when reminded of them. By calling animals clean that chew their cud God wished to suggest that everyone ought to place what he hears into his heart so that he will not be slow to think about it later. When he hears, he’s like an eater; but when he recalls what he heard and reflects on it, he’s like a ruminant. When the same things are said in a new way, they enable us pleasantly to think about things we already know and even gladly to listen to them again. The ancient becomes new because differently expressed. (EnPs 46, 1; PL 36, 524-25)
Augustine is commenting on Psalm 121[122, which is one of the “songs of ascents,” or “songs of steps.”
This Psalm, which we have taken up to treat today for you, is of desire for Jerusalem itself; that is, the one who is going up in this Psalm, because it is a “song of steps.” And these steps, as we have often told you, are the steps, not of those who are going down, but of those who are going up. So the Psalmist wishes to go up. And where does he wish to go up if not to heaven? What does that mean? Does it mean he wants to go up to be with the sun and the moon and the stars? Of course not! But in heaven there is the eternal Jerusalem where our fellow citizens, the angels are, from whom we are wanderers here on earth. We sigh while wandering; we shall rejoice in the city. But we also find companions while we wander here, those who have already seen this city itself, and they are inviting us to run towards it. The Psalmist also rejoices with them and says: “I rejoiced at those who said to me, ‘We shall go into the house of the Lord’” (Ps 1211).
Brothers and sisters, think of some feast of the martyrs and of some shrine where crowds flock on certain days for a celebration. (more…)
St. Augustine interprets Psalm 123 as if it is the song of martyrs who have escaped their torments.
The exultant members of Christ are singing this Psalm. But here below who sings exultantly except in hope? But because that hope of ours is certain, we too sing exultingly. Those who are singing are not strangers to us, and it’s not as if we do not find our voice in this Psalm. Listen to it as if you were hearing yourselves. Listen to it as if you were seeing yourselves in the mirror of the Scriptures. When you look at the Scriptures as if in a mirror, your face rejoices when you find yourself in your exultant hope like those members of Christ who are singing this song. You, too, will be among those members, and you will sing this song. [In Ps 123,3; PL 37:1641]
“May peace be in your strength” (Ps 121:7). O Jerusalem! O city who are being built as a city, … may peace be in your strength! May peace be in your love, because your strength is your love. Listen to the Song of Songs: “Love is strong as death” (Song 8:6). A great saying, brothers and sisters: “Love is strong as death”! The strength of love could not be expressed more magnificently than this: “Love is strong as death”! For who can resist death, sisters and brothers? Think about it. You may resist fire, waves, the sword; you may resist powers; you may resist kings; but death alone comes, and who resists it? Nothing is stronger than it. That is why charity is compared to the strength of death: “Love is strong as death.” And because death kills what we were so that we can be what we were not, love creates a sort of death in us. This death Paul had died when he said, “The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14); that death they had died to whom he said: “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3). Love is strong as death. (Augustine, EnPs 121, 12; PL 37, 1628)
“In this are manifested the children of God and the children of the devil: Whoever is not righteous is not from God, and whoever does not love his brother.” Now it is clear what he is saying: “And whoever does not love his brother.” Only love distinguishes God’s children from the devil’s. Let them all sign themselves with the sign of Christ’s cross. Let them all answer, “Amen.” Let them all sing, “Alleluia!” Let them all be baptized. Let them all enter the Church. Let them all build the walls of churches. God’s children are distinguished from the devil’s only by charity. Those who have charity are born of God; those who don’t have it are not born of God. The great proof, the great dividing line! Have whatever you wish: if you don’t have this one thing, it does you no good; have it, and you’ve fulfilled the Law. “For whoever loves another has fulfilled the Law,” the Apostle says; and “Love is the fulfilling of the Law” (Rm 13:8, 10).
I think charity is the pearl which the Gospel says that merchant was seeking, the one who found a pearl and sold all that he had and bought it (Mt 13:46). This, charity, is the pearl of great price without which whatever you possess does you no good, while if you have it alone, it is enough for you. You now see with faith; then you will see with sight. If we love even though we don’t see, how shall we embrace when we do see! How are we to exercise ourselves? In love of our brothers and sisters. You can say to me, “I haven’t seen God”; but can you say to me, “I haven’t seen a human being”? Love your brother or sister. If you love the sister or brother that you see, you will at the same time see God, too; because you will see love itself, and God dwells within. (Augustine on I John, Hom 5, 7; PL 35, 2016)
See, brothers and sisters, how many things we pass through, things in which there is no end. We use them as if we were on the road, as if we were resting overnight in an inn, and then moving on. Where, then, is the end? “Beloved, we are children of God and it has not yet appeared what we shall be”: this is what is said in this Epistle. So then, we’re on the road; whatever place we come to, we have to move on until we reach some end. “We know that when it does appear, we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is” (I Jn 3:2). That’s the end, there the perpetual praising, there the never-failing Alleluia. The Psalmist speaks of this end: “I have seen the end of all perfection,” and as if someone asked him, “What is the end that you see,” he adds: “Your exceedingly broad commandment ” (Ps 118:96). That’s the end: the breadth of God’s commandment. The breadth of the commandment is love, because where there is love, there is no narrowness. The Apostle was in that broad place when he said, “Our mouth is open to you, O Corinthians, our heart is stretched; you are not narrowed in us” (2 Cor 6:11-12). That’s “your exceedingly broad commandment.” What is the broad commandment? “A new commandment I give you: that you love one another.” Love is not narrowed. Do you wish not to be narrowed on earth? Then dwell in the broad place. Whatever someone may do to you does not narrow you because you love what no one can harm. You love God, you love the fellowship, you love God’s law; you love God’s Church; and all of that will be eternal. You labor on earth, but you’ll attain the promised fruit. (Augustine on I John, Hom. 10, 6; PL 35:2058)
Fifth Sunday of Lent – April 2, 2006 – Blessed Sacrament
Easter is two weeks from today, and we are blessed with readings today that urge reflection on the mystery that will be celebrated that day and the on the life to which it gave rise, the life we are supposed to be living.
The two NT readings prepare us for the commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ. In what some scholars think was an early Christian hymn, the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of the faithful obedience because of which he was rescued from his death and became by his resurrection our high priest, “the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”
The passage from John’s Gospel reflects the growing tension as the great trial of Jesus–which is also the great trial of the world–approaches. (more…)
FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT – APRIL 6, 2003 – OUR LADY OF VICTORY
In today’s first reading we have one of the most important and most beautiful of the prophecies that Christians believe were fulfilled in Jesus Christ. It is the announcement of a new covenant, unlike the old one struck with ancestors at the foot of Mt. Sinai. This covenant, like that ancient one, will have a law, but his one will be written not on stone tablets but on hearts: this is how in this new covenant the Lord will be their God and they will be his people.
St. Paul first, and then the great theologians of the Christian tradition, Augustine and Aquinas, expanded on the fulfilment of this prophecy in the new covenant; Christians will be taught within, by the Holy Spirit; the primary law that will inspire and guide their lives will be within them, in a love for God that becomes the inner law that directs their instincts, their spontaneities, as love guides the instinctive, spontaneous love of a mother or father for a child. God writes his law on our hearts by the gift of love for him.
This reading is another invitation to us to be sure that we have an inner Christianity, that it is not all externals, laws and regulations, commandments understood as external impositions. (more…)
FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT – APRIL 9, 2000 – BLESSED SACRAMENT
Already in the New Testament, and throughout Christian history, the reading we have heard from the prophet Jeremiah has served as one of the primary descriptions of the new covenant, the new relationship initiated by God between himself and humanity. This new covenant will not be like the former one. Like the old covenant, the new one will have a law, but it will be a law written on hearts; because it is written there, it will not be something that will need to be taught by others. “All, from the least to the greatest, shall know me, says the Lord…. I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (more…)