There is a remarkable sermon of St. Augustine on Ps 99 (100). It begins with his explanation of what jubilation (whooping) means, a topic that can be left for another occasion. Toward the end of this discussion, he says the whooping is possible even here on earth, as the Psalmist insists, but that this is also the time for groaning as we await the full reality for which we here can only hope. This leads him, for reasons one can only speculate about, to an extended discussion of the groan-inducing condition of the Church of this age, when the Church in general, and every group within it, has to deal with the presence of evil members. There seems to me to be a great deal of acuteness in his observations and of wisdom in his judgements. His lengthy discussion follows: Serve the Lord with gladness (Ps 99(100):2). Gladness will be full and perfect when this corruptible body has put on incorruption and this mortal body immortality (1 Cor 15:54); then there will be perfect gladness, then perfect whooping, then unfailing praise, then love without scandal, then a harvest without fear, then life without death. What about here? Is there no joy here? If no joy, no whooping; how then does the Psalm say, Whoop to the Lord, all the earth? Clearly even here there is joy; in our hope for the future life we taste here what will fill us there. But the grain has to bear much in the midst of the weeds; the wheat is in the midst of the chaff (Mt 3:12; 13:30); the lily in the midst of thorns. For what does the Church hear? As the lily in the midst of thorns, so is my love in the midst of the daughters (Song 2:2).
It does not say, in the midst of foreign women, but in the midst of the daughters. O Lord, how do you console, how do you comfort, how do you frighten? What are you saying? Like a lilyin the midst of what thorns? So is my love in the midst of which daughters? Are the ones you call thorns the daughters themselves? He replies: Thorns because of their habits, daughters because of my sacraments." Would that he were groaning in the midst of foreign women; he would groan less. This is the greater groaning: If an enemy had reviled me, I would indeed have borne with it. And if he who hated me had spoken great things against me, I would indeed have hidden myself from him. ... But you, a man of one mind, my guide and my familiar, who took sweet foods with me (Ps 54(55):13-15). What sweet foods did they take with us who are not always going to be with us? What sweet foods but: Taste and see how sweet is the Lord (Ps 33:8). They are the ones among whom we have to groan.Where will a Christian separate himself so not to groan among false brothers? Where will he go? What will he do? Will he go off into the desert? Scandals follow him. Is the one making good progress to separate himself so that he wont have to put up with anyone? What if, before he made his progress, no one had put up with him? Well, then, because he has made progress, he doesnt want to put up with anyone, the very fact that he doesnt want to put up with anyone else proves that he hasnt progressed. Listen, beloved: Bearing with another in love, taking care to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:2-3). Bearing with one another: do you have nothing that someone else must bear with in you? Id be surprised if there isnt something, but even if there werent anything, the less you have that others have to bear with in you, the stronger you are for bearing with others. If youre not being borne, bear others. I cant, you say. Well, then, you have something that others must bear with in you. Bearing with one another in love. Youre abandoning society, separating yourself, so that no one can see you. Whom are you benefitting? Would you have reached this point if no one had done good to you? Because your feet were swift enough for you to cross, are you going to destroy the bridge? I exhort you all. Gods voice exhorts you: Bear with one another in love."Im going to separate myself," someone says, "with a few good people; why should I have to deal with the crowds." OK, and those few good people, from what crowds were they refined out? Yes, if those few people are all good, it is a good and praiseworthy idea to be with people who have chosen a quiet life, far from the bustle of the people, from the noisy crowds, from the great waves of the world: its as if they are in harbor. Is that joy there now, that promised whooping already there? Not yetthere still are groans, still anxiety over temptations. For even a harbor has an entrance somewhere; if it didnt have an entrance anywhere, no ship could enter it. So it has to be open somewhere, and sometimes the wind rushes in through that open part, and even where there are no rocks, ships dash and shatter against one another.Where is there any security, then, if there is none even in a harbor? Yes, its true, it has to be admitted, that people in a harbor are better off than those on the open sea. Let them love one another; like ships in a harbor, let them be fastened together; let them not dash against each other. Let equality and impartiality be kept among them, and the constancy of love, and when the wind perhaps rushes in from the open part, let the piloting be careful.And what might someone say who presides over such places (monasteries, as theyre called), and serves the brethren? I will be careful; I wont admit any bad person. And how will you not admit an evil one? I wont admit anyone evil, any evil brother. Things will be fine for me with a few good people. How do you recognize the one you may want to exclude? For an evil person to be recognized, he has to be examined inwardly. How then can you exclude someone about to enter, who must be examined later, and cannot be examined unless he enters? Will you reject all the bad ones? For you say you know how to examine them. Do they all come to you with naked hearts? Those about to enter do not know themselves; how much less can you know them? Many promised that they would fulfill that holy life which has all things in common, where no one calls anything his own, who have one soul and one heart for God (Acts 4:32, 35); but once put into the furnace, they cracked.How, then, will you come to know one who is still unknown to himself? Are you going to exclude evil brothers from the gathering of the good? You who say this, exclude, if you can, all evil thoughts from your own heart; dont let even an evil suggestion enter your heart. I dont consent to it, you say. But the suggestion still enters. All of us want to have fortified hearts so that nothing can enter that would suggest evil. And who knows how it enters? And we fight every day in our single heart; a single man struggles with a crowd in his heart. Greed has its suggestion, lust has its, gluttony has its, popular pleasure has its. They all have their suggestions. He keeps himself from them all; he responds to them all, and he is opposed by them all. Its difficult not to be struck by at least one of them.Where, then, is security? Here nowhere; in this life nowhere except only in the hope of Gods promises. There, however, when we get there, there will be perfect security when the gates are closed and the bars of the gates of Jerusalem are made fast (Ps 147:13); there will be full whooping and great joy there. But for now you do not safely praise any life. Praise no man before his death (Eccl 11:30).This is how people make mistakes when they either dont take up a better life or rashly attempt it. When they want to praise it, they do it in such a way that they dont mention the evils that are mixed up in it, and when they want to disparage it, they do it with such an envious and perverse mind that they close their eyes to the good things and exaggerate the bad things that are either there or thought to be there. Thus it happens that when some profession is badly, that is, incautiously, praised and this praise attracts people, the people who come find some who they didnt think would be there, and, offended by the wicked ones, they recoil from the good ones. Brothers and sisters, apply this lesson to your lives, and listen that you may live.Ill speak first in general: the Catholic Church is praised: Christians, and only Christians, are great; the Catholic Church is great; they all love one another; they all do whatever they can for one another; all over the world they devote themselves to prayer, fasting, and hymns, and God is praised with peaceful unanimity. Someone hears all this, not knowing that nothing has been said about the wicked people mixed in; attracted by the praise, he finds wicked people there, too, who had not been mentioned to him before he came, and put off by the false Christians, he shuns the good ones. On the other hand, there are hateful, slanderous people who rush to blame them: What kind of people are Christians? Who are Christians? Theyre greedy; theyre usurers. Who fill the churches on feast days but the ones who fill the theatres and amphitheatres for the games and other shows? Theyre drunkards, gluttonous, envious, slanderers. Yes, there are such people, but not just such people. The blamer blindly passes over the good ones, and the praiser carelessly says nothing about the bad people.But if the Church of God in this time is praised as the Scriptures praise it, here is what I say: Like a lily in the midst of thorns, so is my love in the midst of the daughters. Someone hears this, thinks it over, likes the lily, enters, keeps close to the lily, and puts up with the thorns. He will deserve the praise and the kisses of the Bridegroom who says: Like a lily among thorns, so is my beloved in the midst of the daughters.Thats the way it is with the clergy, too. Those who praise the clergy are thinking of the good ministers, the faithful stewards, the ones who bear with all, who devote their inmost selves to those they wish to see make progress, who dont seek their own advantage, but Christs. They praise all that, but they forget that the good ones are mixed in with the bad ones. On the other hand, the critics bring up the greed of clerics, the depravity of clerics, the quarrels of clerics, the ones who are seeking other peoples property, the drunks, the gluttons. You there, you disparage them out of hostility, while you, over there, you naively praise them. You who praise them, talk about the bad ones, too, and you who disparage them, see the good ones there, too.Its the same way in the common life of the brethren in monasteries. Great men, saints, daily at their hymns, their prayers, their praise of God, living thereby; reading is their occupation; they support themselves by the work of their own hands; theyre not greedy, and whatever is brought to them by pious brethren they use with contentment and charity; no one appropriates what another one does not have; they all love one another and bear with one another.OK, youve praised them, youve praised them. Someone who does not know what goes on inside--who doesnt know that when a wind enters, ships dash against each other in a harbor--, enters hoping for security that he wont have to put up with anyone; and he finds evil brothers there, who could not have been found there unless they had been admitted, ... and he himself becomes unbearably impatient. Who asked me here? I thought there was love here. Irritated by disgust at a few, he does not persevere in what he vowed and becomes a deserter from that holy plan and guilty of not fulfilling a vow. And then when he has gone out from there, he becomes himself a critic and slanderer and talks only about the thingssometimes truethat he claims he could not have endured. But the real troubles the bad ones cause ought to be endured for the sake of fellowship with the good ones. Scripture says to him: Woe to those who have lost patience (Eccl 2:16).And what is more, he belches out the bad smell of his indignation in order to deter those about to enter, because he himself was unable to persevere. What are they like? Theyre envious, quarrelsome, unsupportive, greedy. That one did this, and this one did that. Wicked one, why are you silent about the good ones? You bring up the ones you couldnt bear, say nothing about the ones who put up with your wicked self.Beloved, there is a magnificent statement in the Lords Gospel, from the Lords mouth: Two are in a field: one will be taken and one left behind; two women are at a mill: one will be taken and one left behind; two are in a bed: one will be taken and one left behind (Mt 24:40, 41; Lk 17:34-35). Who are the two in a field? What the Apostle says, I planted, Apollo watered, but God gave the increase. You are Gods cultivation (1 Cor 3:6, 9). We are working in a field. The two in a field are clerics: one will be taken and one left behind. The good one will be taken, the bad one left behind.The two women at a mill refer to the people. Why at a mill? Because people attached to the world, to the go-round of earthly affairs, are being held down as if by a millstone. And one of them will be taken and one left behind. Which will be taken from there? The one who does good works, who sees to the needs of Gods servants, the needs of the poor, who is faithful in confessing the faith, settled in the joy of hope, alert to God, cursing no one, loving as much as possible not only friends but enemies too, not knowing any woman except his wife, not knowing any man except her husband. This one will be taken from the mill, but the one who does otherwise will be left behind.But others say, We want quiet, we dont want to put up with anyone. Lets get away from the crowds, and well do well in some security. If youre looking for quiet, its as if youre looking for a bed so you can rest without any care. And from that bed one will be taken and one left behind." Dont let anyone deceive you, brothers and sisters: if you dont want to go wrong and want to love the brethren, know that every profession in the Church has frauds. I didnt say that everyone is a fraud, but that every profession has frauds. There are bad Christians, but there are good ones, too....You find undisciplined nuns: is that a reason for criticizing their state? Many dont stay in their homes, and go around to others houses; they're meddlesome, saying things they shouldnt, proud, gossipers (see 1 Tim 5:13), drunks. Even if theyre virgins, what good is an intact body if the mind has been corrupted? Humble marriage is better than proud virginity. If she married, she wouldnt have a name to extol herself and would have a bridle for guiding her. But are we, because of bad virgins, to condemn the ones holy in body and in spirit (1 Cor 7:34)? Or are we forced, because of the praiseworthy ones, to praise the blameworthy ones? Its true everywhere: one will be taken, and one left behind.