From a sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop
The heart of the just man will rejoice in the Lord
The just man will rejoice in the Lord and put his hope in him; the hearts of all good men will be filled with joy. We must surely have sung these words with our hearts as well as with our voices. Indeed, the tongue of the Christian expresses his deepest feelings when it addresses such words to God. The just man will rejoice, not in the world, but in the Lord. Light has dawned for the just, Scripture says in another place, and joy for the upright of heart. Were you wondering what reason he has for joy? Here you are told: The just man will rejoice in the Lord. Another text runs: Delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.
What are we instructed to do then, and what are we enabled to do? To rejoice in the Lord. But who can rejoice in something he does not see? Am I suggesting that we see the Lord then? No, but we have been promised that we shall see him. Now, as long as we are in the body, we walk by faith, for we are absent from the Lord. We walk by faith, and not by sight. When will it be by sight? Beloved, says John, we are now the sons of God; what we shall be has not yet been revealed, but we know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. When this prophecy is fulfilled, then it will be by sight.
That will be the great joy, the supreme joy, joy in all its fullness. Then we shall no longer drink the milk of hope, but we shall feed on the reality itself. Nevertheless, even now, before that vision comes to us, or before we come to that vision, let us rejoice in the Lord; for it is no small reason for rejoicing to have a hope that will some day be fulfilled.
Therefore, since the hope we now have inspires love, the just man rejoices, Scripture says, in the Lord; but because he does not yet see, it immediately goes on to say, and hopes in him.
Yet already we have the first fruits of the Spirit, and have we not also other reasons for rejoicing? For we are drawing near to the one we love, and not only are we drawing near – we even have some slight feeling and taste of the banquet we shall one day eagerly eat and drink.
But how can we rejoice in the Lord if he is far from us? Pray God he may not be far. If he is, that is your doing. Love, and he will draw near; love, and he will dwell within you. The Lord is at hand; have no anxiety. Are you puzzled to know how it is that he will be with you if you love? God is love.
“What do you mean by love?” you will ask me. It is that which enables us to be loving. What do we love? A good that words cannot describe, a good that is for ever giving, a good that is the Creator of all good. Delight in him from whom you have received everything that delights you. But in that I do not include sin, for sin is the one thing that you do not receive from him. With that one exception, everything you have comes from him.
This beautiful “Marriage Exhortation” was given to every couple, just before pronouncing wedding vows in the United States until 1969.
My dear friends: You are about to enter upon a union which is most sacred and most serious. It is most sacred, because established by God himself. By it, he gave to man a share in the greatest work of creation, the work of the continuation of the human race. And in this way he sanctified human love and enabled man and woman to help each other live as children of God, by sharing a common life under his fatherly care.
Because God himself is thus its author, marriage is of its very nature a holy institution, requiring of those who enter into it a complete and unreserved giving of self. But Christ our Lord added to the holiness of marriage an even deeper meaning and a higher beauty. He referred to the love of marriage to describe his own love for his Church, that is, for the people of God whom he redeemed by his own blood. And so he gave to Christians a new vision of what married life ought to be, a life of self-sacrificing love like his own. It is for this reason that his apostle, St. Paul, clearly states that marriage is now and for all time to be considered a great mystery, intimately bound up with the supernatural union of Christ and the Church, which union is also to be its pattern.
This union, then, is most serious, because it will bind you together for life in a relationship so close and so intimate, that it will profoundly influence your whole future. That future, with its hopes and disappointments, its successes and its failures, its pleasures and its pains, its joys and its sorrows, is hidden from your eyes. You know that these elements are mingled in every life, and are to be expected in your own. And so not knowing what is before you, you take each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death.
Truly, then, these words are most serious. It is a beautiful tribute to your undoubted faith in each other, that recognizing their full import, you are, nevertheless, so willing and ready to pronounce them. And because these words involve such solemn obligations, it is most fitting that you rest the security of your wedded life upon the great principle of self-sacrifice. And so you begin your married life by the voluntary and complete surrender of your individual lives in the interest of that deeper and wider life which you are to have in common. Henceforth you will belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections. And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this mutual life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete. God so loved the world that he gave, his only-begotten Son, and the Son so loved us that he gave himself for our salvation. "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
No greater blessing can come to your married life than pure conjugal love, loyal and true to the end. May, then, this love with which you join your hands and hearts today never fail, but grow deeper and stronger as the years go on. And if true love and the unselfish spirit of perfect sacrifice guide your every action, you can expect the greatest measure of earthly happiness that may be allotted to man in this vale of tears. The rest is in the hands of God.
Nor will God be wanting to your needs; he will pledge you the life-long support of his graces in the Holy Sacrament, which you are now going to receive.
From the Proslogion by Saint Anselm, bishop
Desire for the vision of God
Insignificant man, escape from your everyday business for a short while, hide for a moment from your restless thoughts. Break off from your cares and troubles and be less concerned about your tasks and labors. Make a little time for God and rest a while in him.
Enter into your mind’s inner chamber. Shut out everything but God and whatever helps you to seek him; and when you have shut the door, look for him. Speak now to God and say with your whole heart: I seek your face; your face, Lord, I desire.
Lord, my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you. Lord, if you are not here where shall I look for you in your absence? Yet if you are everywhere, why do I not see you when you are present? But surely you dwell in “light inaccessible.” And where is light inaccessible? How shall I approach light inaccessible? Or who will lead me and bring me into it that I may see you there? And then, by what signs and under what forms shall I seek you? I have never seen you, Lord my God; I do not know your face.
Lord most high, what shall this exile do, so far from you? What shall your servant do, tormented by love of you and cast so far from your face? He yearns to see you, and your face is too far from him. He desires to approach you, and your dwelling is unapproachable. he longs to find you, and does not know your dwelling place. He strives to look for you, and does not know your face.
Lord, you are my God and you are my Lord, and I have never seen you. You have made me and remade me, and you have given me all the good things I possess and still I do not know you. I was made in order to see you, and I have not yet done that for which I was made.
Lord, how long will it be? How long, Lord, will you forget us? How long will you turn your face away from us? When will you look upon us and hear us? When will you enlighten our eyes and show us your face? When will you give yourself back to us?
Look upon us, Lord, hear us and enlighten us, show us your very self. Restore yourself to us that it may go well with us whose life is so evil without you. Take pity on our efforts and our striving toward you, for we have no strength apart form you.
Teach me to seek you, and when I seek you show yourself to me, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor can I find you unless you show yourself to me. Let me seek you in desiring you and desire you in seeking you, find you in loving you.
From a sermon by Saint Leo the Great, pope
The minister of a special calling
Although the universal Church of God is constituted of distinct orders of members, still, in spite of the many parts of its holy body, the Church subsists as an integral whole, just as the Apostle says: We are all one in Christ. No difference in office is so great that anyone can be separated, through lowliness, from the head. In the unity of faith and baptism, therefore, our community is undivided. There is a common dignity, as the apostle Peter says in these words: And you are built up as living stones into spiritual houses, a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices which are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. And again: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of election.
For all, regenerated in Christ, are made kings by the sign of the cross; they are consecrated priests by the oil of the Holy Spirit, so that beyond the special service of our ministry as priests, all spiritual and mature Christians know that they are a royal race and are sharers in the office of the priesthood. For what is more king-like than to find yourself ruler over your body after having surrendered your soul to God? And what is more priestly than to promise the Lord a pure conscience and to offer him in love unblemished victims on the altar of one’s heart?
Because, through the grace of God, it is a deed accomplished universally on behalf of all, it is altogether praiseworthy and in keeping with a religious attitude for you to rejoice in this our day of consecration, to consider it a day when we are especially honored. For indeed one sacramental priesthood is celebrated throughout the entire body of the Church. The oil which consecrates us has richer effects in the higher grades, yet it is not sparingly given in the lower.
Sharing in this office, my dear brethren, we have solid ground for a common rejoicing; yet there will be more genuine and excellent reason for joy if you do not dwell on the thought of our unworthiness. It is more helpful and more suitable to turn your thoughts to study the glory of the blessed apostle Peter. We should celebrate this day above all in honor of him. He overflowed with abundant riches from the very source of all graces, yet though he alone received much, nothing was given over to him without his sharing it. The Word made flesh lived among us, and in redeeming the whole human race, Christ gave himself entirely.
From a homily on the Gospels by Saint Gregory the Great, pope
The performance of our ministry
Let us listen to what the Lord says as he sends the preachers forth: The harvest is great but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest. We can speak only with a heavy heart of so few laborers for such a great harvest, for although there are many to hear the good news there are only a few to preach it. Look about you and see how full the world is of priests, yet in God’s harvest a laborer is rarely to be found; for although we have accepted the priestly office, we do not fulfill its demands.
Beloved brothers, consider what has been said: Pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest. Pray for us so that we may have the strength to work on your behalf, that our tongue may not grow weary of exhortation, and that after we have accepted the office of preaching, our silence may not condemn us before the just judge. For frequently the preacher’s tongue is bound fast on account of his own wickedness; while on the other hand it sometimes happens that because of the people’s sins, the word of preaching is withdrawn from those who preside over the assembly. With reference to the former situation, the psalmist says: But God asks the sinner: Why do you recite my commandments? And with reference to the latter, the Lord tells Ezekiel: I will make your tongue cleave to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be dumb and unable to reprove them, for they are a rebellious house. He clearly means this: the word of preaching will be taken away from you because as long as this people irritates me by their deeds, they are unworthy to hear the exhortation of truth. It is not easy to know for whose sinfulness the preacher’s word is withheld, but it is indisputable that the shepherd’s silence while often injurious to himself will always harm his flock.
There is something else about the life of the shepherds, dearest brothers, which discourages me greatly. But lest what I claim should seem unjust to anyone, I will accuse myself of the very same thing, although I fall into it unwillingly—compelled by the urgency of these barbarous times. I speak of our absorption in external affairs; we accept the duties of office, but by our actions we show that we are attentive to other things. We abandon the ministry of preaching and, in my opinion, are called bishops to our detriment, for we retain the honorable office but fail to practice the virtues proper to it. Those who have been entrusted to us abandon God, and we are silent. They fall into sin, and we do not extend a hand of rebuke.
But how can we who neglect ourselves be able to correct someone else? We are wrapped up in worldly concerns, and the more we devote ourselves to external things, the more insensitive we become in spirit.
For this reason the Church rightfully says about her own feeble members: They made me a keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept. We are set to guard the vineyards but do not guard our own, for we get involved in irrelevant pursuits and neglect the performance of our ministry.
A sermon of the second century
The living church is the body of Christ
My name is constantly blasphemed by unbelievers, says the Lord. Woe to the man who causes my name to be blasphemed. Why is the Lord’s name blasphemed? Because we say one thing and do another. When they hear the words of God on our lips, unbelievers are amazed at their beauty and power, but when they see that those words have no effect in our lives, their admiration turns to scorn, and they dismiss such words as myths and fairy tales.
They listen, for example, when we tell them that God has said: It is no credit to you if you love those who love you, but only if you love your enemies, and those who hate you. They are full of admiration at such extraordinary virtue, but when they observe that we not only fail to love people who hate us, but even those who love us, they laugh us to scorn, and the Name is blasphemed.
Therefore, brothers, if we do the will of God the Father, we shall be members of the first spiritual Church that was created before the sun and the moon; but if we fail to do the will of the Lord, we shall be among those to whom it is said in Scripture: My house has been made into a robbers’ den. We must choose then, if we want to be saved, to be members of the Church of life.
You surely cannot be ignorant of the fact that the living Church is the body of Christ; for Scripture says: God made man male and female. Now the male signifies Christ, and the female signifies the Church, which, according to both the Old and New Testament, is no recent creation, but has existed from the beginning. At first the Church was purely spiritual, even as our Jesus was spiritual, but it appeared in the last days to save us.
For the spiritual Church was made manifest in the body of Christ, in order to show us that if we uphold its honour in the outward, visible form, and do not defile it, we shall, through the Holy Spirit, be made its members in the true, spiritual sense. For the body of the Church is a copy of the Spirit, and no one who defaces the copy can have any part in what the copy represents. In other words, brothers, you must preserve the honour of the body in order to share in the Spirit. For if we say that the body is the Church and the Spirit is Christ, it follows that anyone who dishonours his body, dishonours the Church. Such a man will have no part in the Spirit, which is Christ. But if the Holy Spirit is joined to it, this body can receive an immortal life that is wonderful beyond words, for the blessings that God has made ready for his chosen ones surpass all human powers of description.
From a sermon by Saint Bernard, abbot
We should meditate on the mysteries of salvation
The child to be born of you will be called holy, the Son of God, the fountain of wisdom, the Word of the Father on high. Through you, blessed Virgin, this Word will become flesh, so that even though, as he says: I am in the Father and the Father is in me, it is still true for him to say: “I came forth from God and am here.”
In the beginning was the Word. The spring was gushing forth, yet still within himself. Indeed, the Word was with God, truly dwelling in inaccessible light. And the Lord said from the beginning: I think thoughts of peace and not of affliction. Yet your thought was locked within you, and whatever you thought, we did not know; for who knew the mind of the Lord, or who was his counselor?
And so the idea of peace came down to do the work of peace: The Word was made flesh and even now dwells among us. It is by faith that he dwells in our hearts, in our memory, our intellect and penetrates even into our imagination. What concept could man have of God if he did not first fashion an image of him in his heart? By nature incomprehensible and inaccessible, he was invisible and unthinkable, but now he wished to be understood, to be seen and thought of.
But how, you ask, was this done? He lay in a manger and rested on a virgin’s breast, preached on a mountain, and spent the night in prayer. He hung on a cross, grew pale in death, and roamed free among the dead and ruled over those in hell. He rose again on the third day, and showed the apostles the wounds of the nails, the signs of victory; and finally in their presence he ascended to the sanctuary of heaven.
How can we not contemplate this story in truth, piety and holiness? Whatever of all this I consider, it is God I am considering; in all this he is my God. I have said it is wise to meditate on these truths, and I have thought it right to recall the abundant sweetness, given by the fruits of this priestly root; and Mary, drawing abundantly from heaven, has caused this sweetness to overflow for us.