Neither Proud nor Ungrateful

Lent 2014: Readings from Augustine

Preserve my soul because I am holy” (Ps 85: 2). I’m not sure anyone else can say those words, “I am holy,” except him who was without sin in the world.... We recognize the voice of the one who is saying, “I am holy; preserve my soul,” speaking in the form of the slave that he assumed.... When I hear, “Because I am holy,” I recognize his voice, and shall I separate my voice here? Surely he does not speak separately from his body when he speaks in that way. And do I dare to say, “Because I am holy”? If I were to say it as if I were holy because I make myself holy and do not need another to sanctify me, I would be proud and lying; but if I say I am holy because I’ve been made holy, that would be in accord with the text, “Be holy because I am holy” (Lev 19:2). And the body of Christ would dare, that single person crying out from the ends of the earth (see Ps 60:3) would dare, with its head and under its head, to say, “Because I am holy.” For it has received the grace of holiness, the grace of baptism and of the forgiveness of sins.

And these things you once were,” said the Apostle, listing many sins both slight and serious, common and horrendous: “And these things you once were; but you were washed and have been made holy” (1 Cor 6:11). If he says that they were made holy, then every believer should say, “I am holy.” That is not the pride of someone haughty; it’s the confession of someone who is not ungrateful. If you say that you are holy of yourself, you are proud; but if you who are a believer in Christ and a member of Christ say you are not holy, you are ungrateful. When the Apostle was criticizing pride, he didn’t say, “You do not have,” but, “What do you have that you have not received” (1 Cor 4:7). You weren’t being criticized because you were saying you have something that you don’t have, but because you were claiming that it’s from yourself that you have what you have. Recognize that you have it and that you have nothing from yourself and you’ll be neither proud nor ungrateful. Say to your God, “I am holy because you have made me holy, because I have received it and not because I possess it, because you have given it and not because I have earned it.”

If you don’t say this, you begin to insult our Lord Jesus Christ himself. For if all Christian believers when baptized in him have put on Christ, as the Apostle says (“As many as were baptized in Christ have put on Christ” [Gal 3:27]), if they have been made members of his body and then say that they are not holy, they insult him, by saying that his members are not holy. So see where you are, and draw your dignity from your head. For you were once in the dark, but “now are light in the Lord.” The Apostle says, “You once were darkness” (Eph 5:8), but you haven’t remained darkness, have you? Did the Enlightener come so that you could remain darkness or so that you could become light in him? So let every Christian, indeed let the entire body of Christ say it–let it cry it out everywhere it suffers trials, various temptations, and countless scandals: “Preserve my soul because I am holy. Save your servant, my God, who hopes in you.” Such a holy person is not proud: he hopes in the Lord. (EnPs 85, 4; PL 37, 1084-1085)

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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