Sunday, March 9, 2008

Wisdom from… [7–9 Mar]

AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO (354–430): The fragrance of the Son

Every Christian is aware that this passage is usually understood of Christ our head. As evening drew near, the Lord yielded up his soul upon the cross in the certainty of receiving it back again; it was not wrested from him against his will. But we too were represented there. Christ had nothing to hang upon the cross except the body he had received from us. And it was surely not possible for God the Father to abandon his only Son, who shared with him the one Godhead. Nevertheless, when Christ nailed our human weakness to the cross—that cross to which, as the apostle says, our unregenerate nature has been fastened along with him—it was with the voice of our humanity that he exclaimed: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

That, then, is the evening sacrifice: the Lord's own passion, his cross, the offering on it of the saving victim, of that holocaust which is acceptable to God. And by his rising, Christ turned that evening sacrifice into a morning oblation.

Similarly, the pure prayer which ascends from a faithful heart will be like incense rising from a hallowed altar. No fragrance can be more pleasing to God than that of his own Son. May all the faithful breathe out the same perfume.
(Expositions of the Psalms 140, 4-6: CCL 40, 2025-2029.)

POPE LEO THE GREAT (400–461): Deprive yourself and help the poor

As we prepare to celebrate that greatest of all mysteries, by which the blood of Jesus Christ did away with our sins, let us first of all make ready the sacrificial offerings of works of mercy. In this way we shall give to those who have sinned against us what God in his goodness has already given to us.

Let us now extend to the poor and those afflicted in different ways a more openhanded generosity, so that God may be thanked through many voices and the relief of the needy supported by our fasting. No act of devotion on the part of the faithful gives God more pleasure than that which is lavished on his poor. Where he finds charity with its loving concern, there he recognizes the reflection of his own fatherly care.

In these acts of giving do not fear a lack of means. A generous spirit is itself great wealth. There can be no shortage of material for generosity where it is Christ who feeds and Christ who is fed. In all this activity there is present the hand of him who multiplies the bread by breaking it, and increases it by giving it away.
(Leo the Great, Sermo 10 in Quadragesima 4-5: PL 54, 300-301.)

FULGENTIUS OF RUSPE (468–533): The sacrifice of bread and wine

In the time of the Old Testament, patriarchs, prophets, and priests sacrificed animals in honor of the Son as well as the Father and the Holy Spirit. Now in the time of the New Testament the holy Catholic Church throughout the world never ceases to offer the sacrifice of bread and wine, in faith and love, to him and to the Father and the Holy Spirit, with whom he shared one Godhead.

In those ancient victims the body and blood of Christ were prefigured: the body which the sinless one would offer as propitiation for our sins, and the blood which he would pour out for our forgiveness. The Church's sacrifice, on the other hand, is an act of thanksgiving and a memorial of the body Christ has offered for us and the blood he has shed for us. With this in mind, blessed Paul says in the Acts of the Apostles: Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as bishops to rule the Church of God, which he won for himself by his blood.

Those sacrifices of old pointed in sign to what was to be given to us. In this sacrifice we see plainly what has already been given to us.
(Fulgentius of Ruspe, Ad Petrum 62: CCL 91A, 750-751.)


We Pray to Him, through Him, and in Him

We pray to Christ as God, and he prays for us as a servant. In the first case he is the Creator, in the second a creature. Himself unchanged, he took to himself our created nature in order to change it, and he made us one man with himself, Head and Body. We pray then to him, through him, and in him. We speak along with him, and he speaks along with us.
-- Commentary on Psalm 85, 1

Daily Progress toward God

As Christians, our task is to make daily progress toward God. Our pilgrimage on earth is a school in which God is the only teacher, and it demands good students, not ones who play truant. In this school we learn something every day. We learn something from commandments, something from examples, and something from Sacraments. These things are remedies for our wounds and materials for our studies.
-- Sermon 16A, 1

Prayer. Lord, you help those who turn to you. You redeem us so that we may come to you.
-- Commentary on Psalm 17, 15

God Calls Us to Conversion

God calls us to correct ourselves and invites us to do penance. He calls us through the wonderful gifts of his creation, and he calls us by granting time for life. He calls us through the reader and through the preacher. He calls us with the innermost force of our thoughts. He calls us with the scourge of punishment, and he calls us with the mercy of his consolation.
-- Commentary on Psalm 102, 16

Prayer. Lord, see your work in me, not my own. For if you see my own work, you condemn me; but if you see yours, you crown me.
-- Commentary on Psalm 137, 18


How dangerous sin is, be it ever so small and slight! See that you do not loiter by the wayside, but always keep on walking straight ahead. During this mortal life it is impossible to remain long in one state, and the person who does not go ahead tends to slip back. Keep on the watch against venial sin, since, neglecting the help of grace even once, we leave ourselves open to commit the same sin again; and with the multiplication of venial sins we dispose ourselves to commit mortal sins.
(Sermons 58; O. X, p. 259)

There is no need to get upset if we find that we are not on equally friendly terms with everyone, provided we love our neighbor cordially, with real affection, as the Lord has commanded us, preferring the other person always and in everything above ourselves, according to the order of holy charity, and never refusing to do anything we can for him or her. We must be prepared to do everything for our neighbor except damn ourselves!
(Spiritual Treatises IV; O. VI, pp. 60-61)

Do not pay any attention to the kind of work you do, but rather to the honor that it brings to God, even though it may seem quite trivial. Desire only to do the Divine Will, following Divine Providence, which is the disposition of Divine Wisdom. In a word, if your works are pleasing to God and recognized as such, that is all that matters. Work hard every day at increasing your purity of heart, which consists in appraising things and weighing them in the balance of God's will.
(Letters 280; O. XIII, p. 53)


THUS because we are not in a civilization which believes strongly in oracles or sacred places, we see the full frenzy of those who killed themselves to find the sepulchre of Christ. But being in a civilization which does believe in this dogma of fact for fact's sake, we do not see the full frenzy of those who kill themselves to find the North Pole. I am not speaking of a tenable ultimate utility, which is true both of the Crusades and the polar explorations. I mean merely that we do see the superficial and aesthetic singularity, the startling quality, about the idea of men crossing a continent with armies to conquer the place where a man died. But we do not see the aesthetic singularity and the startling quality of men dying in agonies to find a place where no man can live––a place only interesting because it is supposed to be the meeting-place of some lines that do not exist.

IN one of his least convincing phrases, Nietzsche had said that just as the ape ultimately produced the man, so should we ultimately produce something higher than the man. The immediate answer, of course, is sufficiently obvious: the ape did not worry about the man, so why should we worry about the superman? If the superman will come by natural selection, may we not leave it to natural selection? If the superman will come by human selection, what sort of superman are we to select? If he is simply to be more just, more brave, or more merciful, then Zarathustra sinks into a Sunday-school teacher; the only way we can work for it is to be more just, more brave, and more merciful––sensible advice, but hardly startling. If he is to be anything else than this, why should we desire him, or what else are we to desire? These questions have been many times asked of the Nietzscheites, and none of the Nietzscheites have even attempted to answer them.
('George Bernard Shaw.')

A MAN can be a Christian to the end of the world, for the simple reason that a man could have been an Atheist from the beginning of it. The materialism of things is on the face of things: it does not require any science to find it out. A man who has lived and loved falls down dead and the worms eat him. That is Materialism, if you like. That is Atheism, if you like. If mankind has believed in spite of that, it can believe in spite of anything. But why our human lot is made any more hopeless because we know the names of the worms who eat him, or the names of all the parts of him that they eat, is to a thoughtful mind somewhat difficult to discover.
('All Things Considered.')

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