Old or Beautiful?

Lenten Reflections 2016

As I’ve noted before, Augustine’s sermons were taken down by stenographers as he preached, and they did not omit his asides or his responses to the reactions of his congregation. Today, of course, we have only the transcription of those notes, and it can be hard to know how seriously he meant some of the things he said. We’d love to know, for example, whether he was smiling when he made a remark. Perhaps his remarks below on the incompatibility of old age and beauty, which look to me like a spontaneous aside, were said and received with smiles.

The Spirit’s greatest blessings are in us because through him “love of God has been poured out into our hearts” (Rom 5:5). Why, then, did Christ promise to give the Spirit only after his resurrection? What does that mean? It means that at our resurrection our love will blaze and, abandoning love of the world, will rush wholly toward God. We are born and die here, but let us not love the world. Let us migrate by love; by love let us dwell above, by that love with which we love God. In this wandering life of ours, let us keep in mind that we will not always be here and that by living well we will be preparing a place for us in that place from which we will never migrate. Our Lord Jesus Christ, after he rose, “dies no longer,” as the Apostle says, “death will have no more power over him” (Rom 6:9). This is what we are to hope for.

If we live and believe in him who has arisen, what he will give us is not what people love who don’t love God, what they love the more the less they love God and love the less the more they love him. But let us see what he has promised us. Not earthly and temporal riches, not honors and power in this world: you see all these things given to wicked people so they won’t be highly prized by good people. And not bodily health: not that he doesn’t give that, but because, as we see, he gives it also to beasts. Not long life: what is long that someday ends? He did not promise longevity to us believers, a very old age, as if that were a great thing. Everyone wishes for old age before it comes and complains about it when it does come. Not beauty of body which either disease or that longed-for old age destroys. One wishes to be beautiful and also to live to be old, but the two desires can’t go together: if you’ll become old, you won’t be beautiful; when old age comes, beauty flees; the vigor of beauty and the groans of old age can’t dwell in the same person.

All these things, then, are not what he promised us when he said, “He who believes in me, let him come and drink, and out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water” (Jn 7:38). He has promised us eternal life, there where we shall have no fear, where we shall not be troubled, from which we shall not migrate, where we shall not die; where we shall not mourn anyone’s departure us nor hope for someone to take his place. And so, because such is what He has promised to those who love him, who glow with the love of the Holy Spirit, he chose not to give the Spirit until he had been glorified, so that in his body he might show the life which we do not have now but which we hope for at the resurrection. (In Ioannem Tr. 32, 9: PL 35, 1646-1647)

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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