dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

Where to find the cross

What does it mean: Let him take up his cross? Let him bear whatever trouble he encounters; thats how to follow me. For when a person begins to follow me in conformity to my life and precepts, he will encounter many to contradict him, many to hinder him, many to dissuade him, and this even from among people who are, as it were, Christ's companions. It was people who were walking with Christ who hindered the blind men from crying out to him. Whether it be threats or caresses, or any kind of hindrances, if you wish to follow Christ, turn them into your cross, bear it, carry it, do not give way beneath it. (Augustine, Sermon 96, 4; PL 38, 586)

This sermon was delivered shortly after one Easter. The point made above is made in several of Augustines Easter sermons when he warns the newly baptized about the sinners they will undoubtedly meet among their fellow Christians. For example:


Let me speak to those who were baptized today and were reborn in Christ Jesus.... Behold, you have become members of Christ. If you think about what you have become, all your bones will say, Lord, who is like you (Ps 24[25]? Its impossible to think worthily of that mercy of God, and all our speech and thought fails, that this gratuitous grace has come to you without any previous merits of yours. Thats why its called grace, because its given gratis. What grace? That you are members of Christ, the Son of God; that you are brothers and sisters of an only Son. If he is an only Son, how can you be his brothers and sisters unless he is the only Son by nature and you have become his brothers and sisters by grace.Now that you have become members of Christ, I tell you I am afraid for you, not so much because of pagans or Jews or heretics as because of bad Catholics. Choose those in the people of God whom you will imitate. If you wish to follow the crowd, you will not be among the few who walk the narrow path. Abstain from fornication, theft, fraud, perjury, illicit things, disputes. Let drunkenness be driven from you, and fear adultery like death, not the death that looses the soul from the body, but the death where the soul burns along with the body.

Then, after a lengthy indictment of adultery, he concludes:

Let people of this sort correct themselves while they still live, lest afterwards they want to and cant. Death comes sudden ly, and instead of correcting oneself, one is cast into hell. When the last hour is going to come is not known, and people say: Ill correct myself. When are you going to correct yourself? When are you going to change? Tomorrow [cras], you say. You say cras, cras so many times youve become a crow! I tell you, while youre cawing like a crow, ruin is coming upon you. That crow whose caw youre imitating left the ark and did not return (Gen 8:7). You, brother, return to the Church which that ark symbolized.And you who have just been baptized, listen to me, you who have been reborn through the blood of Christ: I beg you by the name that has been invoked upon you, by the altar to which you now have access, by the mysteries that you have received, by the future judgment of the living and the deadI beg you, I bind you by the name of Christ, do not imitate the people you know to be like that. May the sacrament remain in you of him who did not will to come down from the cross but willed to rise from the grave. (Augustine, Sermon 224, 1, 4; PL 38m, 1093-1095)

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

" I tell you I am afraid for you, not so much because of pagans or Jews or heretics as because of bad Catholics."I can't tell you how delighted I am to see that this term has such an ancient and eminent lineage :-)

" Tomorrow [cras], you say. You say cras, cras so many times youve become a crow!"I am enjoying Augustine more and more. So much energy! Such vibrancy! He is delightful.

St. Augustine often contrasted the moaning or groaning of the dove to the raucous cawing of the crow. For an example, seehttp://books.google.com/books?id=DAn6876NIZYC&pg=PA122&lpg=PA122&dq=dove...

Crows and ravens get a bad rap in Biblical literary symbolism. Augustine forgets that a Raven fed Elijah (an image that recurs in countless hagiographies). And then there's Luke 12:24: Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them.God loves both the doves who moan for Christ and the ravens, the troublemakers, the selfish, the ones who moan for themselves, no? If not, a lot of us are in deep trouble.

Jean: Augustine didn't forget the crow that fed Elijah; he refers to it in several sermons and works.

Father, good to know that St. Augustine elsewhere remembered the ravens. I have a special fondness for corvids. Extremely intelligent creatures!

The psalmist in Psalm 147 thought to mention ravens, a reference I've always thought curious:fII7Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;with the lyre make music to our God,8Who covers the heavens with clouds,provides rain for the earth,makes grass sprout on the mountains,h9Who gives animals their foodand young ravens what they cry for.

Jim: Augustine allegorizes this to mean that the ravens are heathen idolators and their young are Christian converts who have learned to whom to cry for their food.

Non sequitur.Today I found a strange sentence about redemption in the Vatican document on redemption http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_... "[According to Augustine,] the work of redemption must be worthy of both God and man, and thus God forgives and forgets sin only if the human person repents and atones for it. ""only if" was that really Augustine's view? That God won't forgive sin until after man has repented?

OK, this is a bit off topic, but I don't think St. Augustine would protest. Here's what Pope Francis is planning for the Holy Thursday service next week:http://news.yahoo.com/pope-hold-major-holy-week-youth-jail-102837255.htm... another act of humility and the breaking of barriers!

Claire: I notice that no footnote to a particular Augustinian text accompanies the sentence you cite. It could be taken to refer to the application of the redemption won by Christ to each individual, and I think it would be true that God can't save a person who does not repent. That God desires to save, and has saved in Christ, of course, can be what brings a person to repent and so to be able to appropriate the grace of salvation. Repentance would in fact be the grace of salvation as applied and appropriated. To be "worthy of both God and man," the freedom of both God and man has to be involved. That's my best guess as to what the sentence means.

I see. You replaced "forgives and forgets sin" by "saves", and then it makes sense. Probably, that's what was meant. Thank you!

Claire: You raised an interesting point: Can one forgive and forget the sin of a person who is not repentant for it? If this is possible in the sense that one is ready to forgive and repent, what has this readiness accomplished if the other person is not repentant? I think I would say that it is not because a person has repented that God forgives--God's love has no created cause and his forgiving grace is grace--that is, gratuitous--, but the effect of grace in the heart of the person is repentance and the return of love.

I guess that that was discussed several times already recently. Sometimes it even happens between two persons, that forgiveness causes repentance rather than the other way round.

"I think I would say that it is not because a person has repented that God forgivesGods love has no created cause and his forgiving grace is gracethat is, gratuitous, but the effect of grace in the heart of the person is repentance and the return of love."I think this is a wonderful insight. The person in need of repentance may have built "walls" around himself that prevent any repentance from being communicated - walls consisting of fear, or self-loathing, or stubbornness, or some other attitude or emotion that interferes with full reconciliation. The "creditor's" unilateral outreach of forgiveness and love may cause the "debtor's" walls to be lowered, such that reconciliation can take place.

I think I would say that it is not because a person has repented that God forgivesGods love has no created cause and his forgiving grace is gracethat is, gratuitous, but the effect of grace in the heart of the person is repentance and the return of love.I've been searching the gospels in my mind for examples of gratuitous forgiveness causing repentance. Unfortunately nothing comes to mind so far.

Perhaps I am using too much imagination, but ISTM that the Prodigal Son's repentance was based on the fact that he had failed in his efforts to succeed, i.e. he ended up living in a pig sty. When the Father sees him returning home in deplorable condition, His gratuitous forgiveness causes Him to rush forth to meet the Prodigal. Certainly such a welcome would prompt feelings of love to arise. We have to assume, of course, that the Prodigal had a conscience.

Certainly such a welcome would prompt feelings of love to arise. But we don't know. It's certainly not highlighted and it's possibly not there.You could hypothesize in the same way for the adulterous woman, but we don't know either.

Share

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.