‘Love than Which There Cannot Be a Greater’

Lent 2014: Readings from Augustine

Beloved brothers and sisters, the Lord defined that fullness of love which we ought to bear to one another when He said: “Greater love than this no one has, that a person lay down his life for his friends (Jn 15:13). Earlier he had said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” and then added to these words what you have just heard: “Greater love than this no one has, that a person lay down his life for his friends.” From this there follows what this same Evangelist John says in his epistle, “As Christ laid down His life for us, even so we also ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 Jn 3:16), loving one another in truth as He loved us who laid down His life for us.

Such also is doubtless the meaning of what we read in the Proverbs of Solomon: “If you sit down to supper at the table of a ruler, consider wisely what is set before you; and so put out your hand, knowing that you art bound to prepare similar things” (Prov 23:1-2). For what is the table of the ruler but the one from which we take the body and blood of Him who laid down His life for us? And what is it to sit at that table but to approach it humbly? And what is it to consider intelligently what is set before you but worthily to reflect on the greatness of the favor? And what is it so to put forth your hand knowing that you must prepare similar things but what I have already said: that, as Christ laid down His life for us, so we also must lay down our lives for the brothers and sisters? For as the Apostle Peter also says, “Christ suffered for us, leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps” (1 Pet 2:21). This is to prepare similar things. This is what the blessed martyrs did in their burning love. If we do not celebrate their memories in a merely formal way, if we approach the table of the Lord for the banquet at which they themselves were utterly filled, we must, as they did, be also ourselves preparing similar things. For at this table we do not commemorate them in the same way as we do others who now rest in peace and for whom we pray; rather we remember them so that they may pray for us that we may closely follow in their footsteps, because they have actually achieved that full love than which, our Lord has told us, there cannot be a greater. For they offered to their brothers and sisters things similar to the ones they too had received from the table of the Lord. (In Ioannem Tr. 84, 1; PL 35, 1846-1847)

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.



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What a nice feature for Easter. 

I sometimes wonder what it means to prepare ourselves for martyrdom in the time and place where we live. Is there a less literal form of martyrdom we are called to that we may be ignoring? For instance, our old priest used to call parenthood a kind of martyrdom, a "little death" to the self in order to ensure that our children were properly nurtured and cared for. Some of us are dying that "little death" with elderly parents. 

What would be Augustine's prescription for us? How do we emulate the martyrdom of Christ? Good topic for Lent?

Cardinal Bernardin wrote that when he had cancer, he found that it was very difficult to pray while in pain. It is also difficult to discern clearly what to do while in crisis. I wonder if one way to prepare is to "get ahead" in prayer so that, at future times of acute suffering or crisis, when prayer will no longer be accessible, we can still reap the benefits of past prayers and easily do what is asked of us.


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