Friday, February 15, 2008

Wisdom from… [14, 15, 16 Feb]

ST LEO THE GREAT (400–461): Almsgiving

There is no more profitable practice as a companion to holy and spiritual fasting than that of almsgiving. This embraces under the single name of mercy many excellent works of devotion, so that the good intentions of all believers may be of equal value even when their means are not. Nothing can ever so obstruct the love we owe both God and other people as to prevent our having a good intention. The angels sang: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. The person who shows love and compassion to those in any kind of affliction is blessed not only with the virtue of charity but also with the gift of peace.

The works of mercy are innumerable. Their very variety brings this advantage to those who are true Christians, that in the matter of almsgiving not only the rich and affluent but also those of average means and the poor are able to play their part. Those who are unequal in their capacity to give can be equal in the love within their hearts.
(Sermo 6 de Quadragesima 2: PL 54, 287.)

As bishop of Rome, Leo left many letters and sermons to attest to his teaching and preaching.

CLEMENT OF ROME (~101): Repentance

We have only to recall past generations to see that the Lord has always offered the opportunity of repentance to those willing to return to him. This was the burden of Noah's preaching, and all who listened to him were saved. Jonah told the Ninevites they were going to be destroyed; they repented and their pleas for mercy placated God's anger and saved them, even though they were not of his chosen people.

The ministers of God's grace have all been inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak of repentance. The Lord of the universe himself has spoken of it with an oath. Thus, by his own almighty will, God has ratified his desire to give all his loved ones the chance to return to him. Let us bow then to that sublime and glorious will, throw ourselves on his mercy, and humbly beseech his goodness and compassion. No more energy must be wasted in the wrangling and jealousy that can only lead to death.
(First Letter to the Corinthians 7-9.12.19: Funk I, 71-73.)

Clement was bishop of Rome from 92 to 101. His letter to the Corinthians is the earliest Christian writing apart from the New Testament.

SIMON FIDATI DI CASCIA, OSA (1285–1348): Centering

While Jesus was surrounded by a large crowd because of the many miracles he performed and because of his gentle doctrine, he, the lover of solitude, again withdrew to a secluded place where, after being useful to his neighbor, he could freely return to prayer and contemplation.

It is a good, indeed necessary, thing for people who are much embattled to take refuge from the fray within themselves, to cultivate themselves, and in their innermost, care-filled hearts to fix their gaze on the divine realities and ask God for what is essential for the guidance and progress of all people. In this way they help with silent prayer those whom they have instructed in the faith, to give them the power to understand, so that the word of God may not fall on the empty air.
(De gestis Domini Salvatoris IV, 7.)

An Augustinian friar, Simon Fidati was one of the greatest preachers during his era, wrote a commentary on the gospel. His writings are steeped in scripture and rich in feeling.


The Inner Teacher

There is a Master within who teaches us. Christ is our Master, and his inspiration teaches us. Where his inspiration and his unction are lacking, it is in vain that words resound in our ears. As Paul the Apostle said: "I planted the seed and Apollos watered it, but God made it grow." Therefore, whether we plant or whether we water by our words, we are nothing. It is God who gives the increase; his unction teaches you all things.
-- Sermon on 1 John 3, 13

Prayer. You, Lord, are the unfailing light, and from you I sought to know the existence, nature, and worth of all things, as I listened to your teaching and commandments.
-- Confessions 10, 40

The Lesson of Ashes

Will these ashes one day take on the form of beauty, be restored to life, restored to light? The bodies of all of us will in a few years be ashes. Yet a few years ago we were not even ashes! If God was able to create what did not exist, will He not be able to remake what once existed?
-- Sermon 361, 12

Prayer. Lord, you are never new and never old. Yet you give new life to all things.
-- Confessions 1, 4

God's Mercy Is Our Hope

Driven out of paradise by you and exiled in a distant land, I cannot return by myself unless you, O Lord, come to meet me in my wandering. My return is based on hope in your mercy during all of my earthly life. My only hope, the only source of confidence, and the only solid promise is your mercy.
-- Commentary on Psalm 24, 5

Prayer. My God, let me remember you with thanksgiving and proclaim your mercies to me.
-- Confessions 8, 1


Devotion is simply that spiritual agility and vivacity by which charity works in us or by aid of which we work quietly and lovingly. Just as it is the function of charity to enable us to observe all God's commandments in general and without exception, so it is the part of devotion to enable us to observe them more quickly and diligently. Hence a person who does not observe all God's commandments cannot be held to be either good or devout. To be good one must have charity, and to be devout, in addition to charity one must have great ardor and readiness in performing charitable actions.
(INT. Part I, Ch. 1; O. III, p. 15)

Our miseries and weaknesses must not scare us, because the Lord has seen much greater ones. His mercy does not reject the miserable but gives them His grace and raises them from the depths of baseness and abjection to His throne of glory. I would like to have a good hammer to blunt the keen desire of your spirit to progress in its virtue. So often have I told you that, in the spiritual life, we must walk in a very simple way. If you do well, thank and praise God; if you do something wrong, make an act of humility! I know quite well that you do not want to do the wrong thing on purpose, so consider the wrong things you do as the means to keep you humble.
(Letters 912; O. VI, p. 68)

Let us try sincerely, humbly and devoutly to acquire those little virtues our Savior has proposed as the goal of our care and labor. These are meekness, patience, mortification, humility, obedience, poverty, chastity, tenderness towards our neighbor, bearing with others' imperfections, diligence and holy fervor. Let us gladly leave the lofty virtues to lofty souls; we do not desire so high a rank in God's service, and we should be more than happy to serve Him in His kitchen or to be His lackeys, porters or chamberlains. While blessing God for the eminence of others, let us keep to our lower but simpler way. It is less distinguished but better suited to our littleness. If we conduct ourselves with humility and good faith, God will raise us up to heights that are surely great.
(INT. Part III, Ch. 2; O. III, p. 132)


THE revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a joke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being as it is a yoke consistently imposed on all lovers by themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black v. white contradiction in two words -- 'free love' -- as if a lover ever had been or ever could be free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. Modern sages offer to the lover with an ill-favoured grin the largest liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the old Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the heavens as the record of his highest moment. They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants.
('The Defendant')

LONDON is the largest of the bloated modern cities; London is the smokiest; London is the dirtiest; London is, if you will, the most sombre; London is, if you will, the most miserable. But London is certainly the most amusing and the most amused. You may prove that we have the most tragedy; the fact remains that we have the most comedy, that we have the most farce.
('All Things Considered')

OUR fathers had a plain sort of pity: if you will, a gross and coarse pity. They had their own sort of sentimentalism. They were quite willing to weep over Smike. But it certainly never occurred to them to weep over Squeers. No doubt they were often narrow and often visionary. No doubt they often looked at a political formula when they should have looked at an elemental fact. No doubt they were pedantic in some of their principles and clumsy in some of their solutions. No doubt, in short, they were all very wrong, and no doubt we are the people and wisdom shall die with us. But when they saw something that in their eyes, such as they were, really violated their morality, such as it was, then they did not cry 'Investigate!' They did not cry 'Educate!' They did not cry 'Improve!' They did not cry 'Evolve!' Like Nicholas Nickleby, they cried 'Stop!' And it did stop.
(Introduction to 'Nicholas Nickleby')

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