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The warm south wind

Turn, O Lord, our captivity, like a torrent in a south wind (Ps 125:4). As torrents in a south wind are turned, so turn our captivity. Someone asked, "What does this mean?" ... Somewhere Scripture, commanding and warning us with regard to good deeds, says: Like ice on a bright day, so will your sins be melted (Sirach 3:17). Our sins, therefore, were binding us. How? The way cold binds water so it cannot run. And bound by the cold of our sins, we had turned to ice. A south wind is a warm wind, and when there is a south wind, ice melts, and the torrents are filled. Torrents are winter floods; suddenly filled with water, they run with great force. We had turned to ice, therefore, in our captivity; our sins were holding us fast. A south wind, the Holy Spirit, blew over us, and our sins were forgiven us; we were freed from the cold of wickedness; like ice on a bright day, our sins are melted away. Let us rush toward our homeland, like torrents in a south wind. [Augustine, Enarr. in Ps 125,10; PL 37:1663-64]... flavit auster Spiritus sanctus.

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This passage recalls Dante, with his insight that the Hell is ice, not fire: the deepest part of Hell being Satan frozen to his chest in ice, weeping bitter tears of rage and grief, impotently beating his wings but locked in his own resentment and betrayal. Sin, as Augustine said, turns us in on ourselves, locking us up in prisons of our making. We refuse--too often deliberately--the warmth of love and grace.

We in the NY area lived this last night --- as cold air which had been over us the last two days ended with a snow storm. The snow fell into the night; then the wind came up from the south, turning the snow to rain and filling the streets and gutters with torrents. As I prayed and worked in the church with our elect, the silence of falling snow changed into the sound of rain blowing against the windows in the cupola. This morning we may be wading through slush in our winter boots, but we are relieved from the bitter cold. With the RCIA candidates, we look toward Easter!

The trees in DC will be iced tonight, waiting for the south wind.This passage reminds me of an old favorite, Chapter 39 of Julian of Norwich's Revelations.Sin is the sharpest scourge that any chosen soul may be smitten with: which scourge thoroughly beateth man and woman, and maketh him hateful in his own sight, so far forth that afterwhile he thinketh himself he is not worthy but as to sink in hell,till when contrition taketh him by touching of the Holy Ghost, and turneth the bitterness into hopes of Gods mercy. Full preciously our Lord keepeth us when it seemeth to us that we are near forsaken and cast away for our sin and because we have deserved it. And because of meekness that we get hereby, we are raised well-high in Gods sight by His grace, with so great contrition, and also compassion, and true longing to God. Then they be suddenly delivered from sin and from pain, and taken up to bliss, and made even high saints. By contrition we are made clean, by compassion we are made ready, and by true longing toward God we are made worthy. These are three means, as I understand, whereby that all souls come to heaven: that is to say, that have been sinners in earth and shall be saved: for by these three medicines it behoveth that every soul be healed. As we be punished here with sorrow and penance, we shall be rewarded in heaven by the courteous love of our Lord God Almighty, who willeth that none that come there lose his travail in any degree. For He holdeth sin as sorrow and pain to His lovers, to whom He assigneth no blame, for love. The meed that we shall receive shall not be little, but it shall be high, glorious, and worshipful. And so shall shame be turned to worship and more joy. Our courteous Lord willeth not that His servants despair, for often nor for grievous falling: for our falling hindereth not Him to love us. Peace and love are ever in us, being and working; but we be not alway in peace and in love. But He willeth that we take heed thus that He is Ground of all our whole life in love; and furthermore that He is our everlasting Keeper and mightily defendeth us against our enemies, that be full fell and fierce upon us;and so much our need is the more for we give them occasion by our falling.

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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.