The Way, the Truth, the Life

Lenten Reflections 2015: Readings from Augustine

Latin permitted Augustine wordplay that isn’t reproducible in English. In this text he plays with the words “spes” and “res” (“hope” and “reality”. Here and now we live in hope (in spe); with God we will live in the reality (in re). The quotation from St. Paul in 2 Cor 5:5-6 also gives him the often used metaphor of our “sojourning,” our living in a foreign land, away from the Lord.

What are the people in this Psalm singing? What are Christ’s members singing? For they love, and they sing by loving, they sing by desiring. Sometimes they sing while in troubles, sometimes they are singing exultingly, that is, when they sing in hope. Troubles are ours in this age, hope is ours in the future age, and unless our hope for the future age comforts us in the troubles of this age, we are lost.  Our hope, brothers and sisters, is not yet a reality [in re], but it already exists in hope [in spe]. This hope of ours is sure, as if the reality were already accomplished, for we have nothing to fear when it is Truth who promises it. Truth can neither be deceived nor deceive... Truth frees us if we remain in his word. Now we believe; then we shall see. When we believe, it’s hope in this age; when we shall see, it will be reality in the age to come: we shall see face-to-face (1 Cor 13:12). We shall see face-to-face when our hearts will have been cleansed. “Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8)

And how are hearts cleansed except by faith, just as Peter said in the Acts of the Apostles: “Cleansing their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9). Our hearts are cleansed by faith so that they will be capable of sight. We walk now by faith, not yet by sight, as the Apostle says: “As long as we are in the body, we sojourn away from the Lord.” What does that mean? “For we are walking by faith,” Paul says, “and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:6-7). Anyone wandering in a foreign land and walking by faith, is not yet in his homeland, is still on the way. Anyone who does not believe is neither in his homeland nor on the way.

Let us walk, then, as if we were on the way, because the King of our homeland has become the way. The King of our homeland is the Lord Jesus Christ, and there he is truth, but here he is the way. Where are we going? To the truth? How are we going? By faith. Where are we going? To Christ. How are we going? By Christ. For he himself said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life( Jn 15:6). He had once said to those who believe in him: “If you remain in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you shall know the truth, and the truth will free you” (Jn 8:31-32). First comes the word of faith, and if we remain in that word of faith, we shall know the truth and the truth will free us. Truth is immortal; truth is unchanging. Truth is that Word of which it is said: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Who can see this except with a cleansed heart? And how are hearts cleansed? “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:1, 14). What the Word remains in himself is the truth toward which we go, the truth that frees us. What is preached to us as the word of faith, in which the Lord wishes us to remain so that we can know the truth, is this: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” You believe in Christ born in the flesh, and you will reach the Christ born of God, God with God.” (EnPs 123[124], 2; PL 37, 1641-1642)

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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