'If There Is Faith in Us, Christ Is in Us'

Lent 2014: Readings from Augustine

We’ve read in the Gospel that three dead persons were raised by the Lord, and this perhaps for a purpose. For the Lord’s deeds are not only deeds but also signs. If they are signs, then besides their being wonders, they truly mean something, and to discover their meaning is somewhat more difficult than simply reading or hearing them. ...

If, then, by his great grace and his great mercy the Lord raises up our souls lest we die forever, we rightly understand that those three persons whom he raised in body mean something, symbolize something, with regard to the resurrections of souls that occur by faith. He raised the daughter of the synagogue’s ruler while she still lay in the house (Mk 5:41-42); he raised the widow’s young son while he was being carried outside the gates of the city (Lk 7:14-15); and he raised Lazarus after he had been buried for four days.

Let each of us examine his own soul. If he sins, he dies: sin is the soul’s death. Sometimes he sins in thought. He delights in what is evil: if you’ve consented, you’ve sinned–that consent has killed you. But it’s an inward death because the evil considered has not yet become a deed. To signify that he raises such a soul the Lord raised that girl before she was brought outside, while she lay dead inside the house, as if the sin still lay hidden.

But if you have not only consented to the evil delight, but have also done the evil deed, you have as it were carried the dead outside the gate; you are already outside and being carried out dead. But the Lord raised this one, too, and restored him to his widowed mother. If you have sin, repent, and the Lord will restore you to the Church, your mother.

The third dead person was Lazarus. It is a monstrous kind of death and is called an evil habit. It’s one thing to sin, it’s another to make sinning a habit. If someone sins and immediately is set right, he quickly comes back to life because he is not yet entangled in a habit, he is not yet buried. But someone who is in the habit of sinning, has been buried, and it is rightly said of him, “He stinks,” because he begins to earn the worst kind of reputation, like the most repulsive of odors. Such are all those accustomed to evil deeds, lost in their behavior. You say to him, “Don’t do that,” but how can he hear you when the earth is pressing so upon him, when he is decaying, when he is being held down by the weight of his habit?

But Christ’s power was no less strong, capable of raising even him. We know, we’ve seen every day people changing the very worst of habits and living better than those who used to criticize them.... We see, we know, many such people. Let no one despair, let no one presume about himself. Despairing is wrong, but so is presuming. So don’t despair so that you can choose the One on whom one may presume. ...

Jesus tells Martha: “I am resurrection and life.” Listen, brothers and sisters, listen to what he is saying. Certainly all those present were expecting that Lazarus, thought dead for four days, would come back to life. Let us listen and rise! How many there are in this people whom the mass of habit is weighing down. Perhaps there are some listening to me to whom it is said, “Do not be drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery” (Eph 5:18). They say, “We can’t.” Perhaps there are some listening to me who are unclean, stained by lusts and crimes, to whom it is said, “Don’t do that lest you perish”, and they reply, “We cannot be freed from our habit.” O Lord, raise them! “I am,” he says, “resurrection and life”–resurrection because life.

That burial of a man four days dead signifies how great was the guilt. What does it mean, then, that Christ was troubled if not to signify to you how you ought to be troubled when burdened and pressed down by so great a weight of sin? You’ve considered yourself; you’ve seen you are guilty; you’ve made a reckoning of yourself. “I did that,” you say, “and God has spared me. I committed that act, and he has granted me a delay. I’ve heard the Gospel and despised it. I’ve been baptized and I’ve returned again to the same deeds. What am I doing? Where am I going? How can I escape?” When you say these things, Christ is already groaning because your faith is groaning. In the voice of someone groaning in this way appears the hope of his rising again. If there is such faith within, Christ is there, groaning. If there is faith in us, Christ is in us. What else did the Apostle say, “That Christ may dwell through faith in your hearts” (Eph 3:17). And so your faith in Christ is Christ in your heart. ... Why did Christ groan, why was he troubled, if not because the faith of a person rightly displeased with himself ought in a way to groan by accusing himself of his evil deeds so that the habit of sinning might yield to the violence of the repentance. ...

“Jesus, again groaning in himself, comes to the tomb.” May his groaning also be towards you, if you wish to come back to life. This is said to every person who is weighed down by wretched habit: “He comes to the tomb.” ...

“He cried with a loud voice.” He groaned; he wept; he cried out with a loud voice. How difficult does one rise whom the weight of bad habit weighs down? But still he does rise: by hidden grace within he is given life; he rises after that loud voice. (In Ioannem Tr. 49, 2-3, 14, 19, 22, 24; PL 35, 1747-1756)

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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"For the Lord’s deeds are not only deeds but also signs. If they are signs, then besides their being wonders, they truly mean something, and to discover their meaning is somewhat more difficult than simply reading or hearing them. ..."

St. Augustine here is analyzing a sort of symbolic event that is the reverse of what the linguistic analysts call a "performative utterance".  A performative utterance is one which not only *says* something but also by the very saying *does* something.  For instance, when you sign a contract that says that you will do something and also it binds you to the doing of it.  St. Augustine, on the other hand, is pointing out a doings which are thereby sayings of something.  (No wonder Wittgenstein found him so interesting.)

So how do we find the meanings of wonderful deeds?  Are there different sorts of meanings to be found in them?    And how do we tell the difference between the intended meanings and what we want to hear?  I wonder if Augustine has anything to say about that.  I'm thinking of Medjugorje (sp?). Were there purported apparitions even as early as Augustine's time? 

 

 

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