Hands that ought to hold God

The practice of righteousness is to bear with this time and in some way to fast from this world, not from ordinary food, which we do rarely, but from love of the world, which we ought always to be doing. Whoever abstains from this world, therefore, fulfills the law. For one cannot love what is eternal unless one stops loving what is temporal. Consider human love; think of it as the souls hand. If it holds one thing, it cant hold something else. For it to take hold something given to it, it has to let go of what its already holding. This is what Im saying. Ill say it plainly: One who loves the world cannot love God: his hands are full. God says to him: Take what Im giving. He doesnt want to let go of what hes holding; he cant accept whats being offered. Am I saying that he cant possess anything? If he can, if perfection requires it of him, then let him not possess anything. If he cant, if some need prevents it, then let him possess it but not be possessed by it; let him hold it, and not it hold him; let him be the lord, not the servant, of his property. ... What does it mean: Dont love what you possess in this world? That it not fill hands that ought to hold God. (Augustine, Sermon 125, 7; PL 38, 694)

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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