Friday, July 30, 2010

St Ignatius of Antioch's letter to Polycarp


Ignatius of Antioch MArtyrdom

For the sake of God we must endure all things, so that he will endure us

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to Polycarp, who is bishop of the Church of the Smyrnaeans, or rather has God the Father as bishop over him, together with the Lord Jesus Christ –

  I was struck by the godliness of your mind — anchored, it seems, on immovable rock — and I rejoice that it that it was granted me to see your blameless face (may God give me joy of it). I exhort you to press forward on your journey in the grace with which you have been clothed; and you should exhort all men to gain salvation. Perform your office with all diligence of body and spirit. Strive for unity, for there is nothing better. Help all men, as the Lord also helps you; suffer all men in love (indeed, you are doing this). Pray unceasingly. Beg for wisdom greater than you already have, be watchful and keep the spirit from slumbering. Speak to each person individually, just like God himself, and like a perfect champion bear the infirmities of all. The greater the toil, the greater the gain.

  It is no credit to you if you simply love the good among your disciples; seek also to tame the more troublesome by your gentleness. Remember that not all wounds are healed in the same way — where the pain is acute, apply soothing poultices. Be prudent as the serpent in all things but always harmless as the dove. This is why you are both body and spirit — so that you can deal tenderly with the things which appear visibly and pray that the invisible things may be revealed to you. Thus you will lack nothing and abound in every gift. These critical times have need of you, as a ship needs a helmsman and the storm-tossed sailor needs a harbour. Be strict with yourself, like a good athlete of God. The prize is immortality and eternal life, as you know. I offer myself up as a sacrifice on your behalf — myself and these chains which you yourself have kissed.

  Do not be caught off balance by those who plausibly teach perverse doctrines. Stand firm as an anvil under the blows. The task of great athletes is to suffer punishment and yet conquer. But especially must we endure all things for the sake of God, that he also may endure us. Increase your efforts and watch for opportunities. Look out for the one who is above time and has no need for opportunities: the Invisible who became visible for us, the Intangible who is above suffering and yet suffered for us, who in every way endured for our sake.

  Make sure that the widows are not neglected. Make yourself their protector, deferring only to the Lord. Let nothing be done without your approval, and continue to do nothing yourself without God. Be steadfast. Hold services more frequently and call everyone to them by name. Do not be haughty to slaves, either men or women but do not let them be proud; rather, let them endure slavery to the glory of God so that God may give them a better freedom than man. Let them not enslave themselves to their own longings and demand to be set free at the Church’s expense.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Memorial of Saint Martha. Today’s Reading is From a sermon by Saint Augustine


Blessed are they who deserved to receive Christ in their homes

Our Lord’s words teach us that though we labour among the many distractions of this world, we should have but one goal.  For we are but travellers on a journey without as yet a fixed abode; we are on our way, not yet in our native land; we are in a state of longing, not yet of enjoyment. But let us continue on our way, and continue without sloth or respite, so that we may ultimately arrive at our destination.saint martha 1

  Martha and Mary were sisters, related not only by blood but also by religious aspirations. They stayed close to our Lord and both served him harmoniously when he was among them. Martha welcomed him as travellers are welcomed. But in her case, the maidservant received her Lord, the invalid her Savior, the creature her Creator, to serve him bodily food while she was to be fed by the Spirit. For the Lord willed to put on the form of a slave, and under this form to be fed by his own servants, out of condescension and not out of need. For this was indeed condescension, to present himself to be fed; since he was in the flesh he would indeed be hungry and thirsty.

  Thus was the Lord received saint martha 2as a  guest who came unto his own and his own received him not; but as many as received him, he gave them the power to become sons of God, adopting those who were servants and making them his brothers, ransoming the captives and making them his co-heirs. No one of you should say: “Blessed are they who have deserved to receive Christ into their homes!” Do not grieve or complain that you were born in a time when you can no longer see God in the flesh. He did not in fact take this privilege from you. As he says: Whatever you have done to the least of my brothers, you did to me.

  But you, Martha, if I may say so, are blessed for your good service, and for your labours you seek the reward of peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland will you find a traveler to welcome, someone hungry to feed, or thirsty to whom you may give drink, someone ill whom you could visit, or quarrelling whom you could reconcile, or dead whom you could bury?

  No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. Thus what Mary chose in this life will be realized there in all its fullness; she was gathering fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik al Kamil (an icon by Barbara Massar)


In the year 1219, Saint Francis of Assisi went on the fifth crusade. When he finally arrived in Damietta, a city on the mouth of the Nile, Saint Francis was horrified at what he saw taking place between the Christians and Muslims. He felt God was calling him to travel on and see the Sultan who was the leader for Islamic military in that area. He and another friar traveling companion were soon overtaken by some Muslim Guards and taken to Sultan Malik al Kamil. Both Francis and the Sultan were impressed with each other and Saint Francis and his brother friar stayed at the Muslim encampment for some time. Francis was impressed by the genuine prayerful attitude of the Muslims and it appears that Malik al Kamil was also impressed with the humility of St. Francis. There are many ‘tales’ of this encounter but they were written many years after the fact and are now considered embellishments of the true meeting. What we can be sure took place is that these two men, met and became friends and when it was time for Francis to move on, he was given safe passage to the Holy Land by Sultan Malik al Kamil. When Saint Francis returned home he added to his Rule of life ( for the friars) that if any brother felt called to go among the Muslims, he should receive permission to do so and the brother must always remember that he is to “live in Peace” with all Muslims and must be “subject to them” when living in their lands. Brothers were not to preach or try and convert Muslims. If asked about the Christian religion, a brother should answer the question in humility but no ‘preaching’. Francis believed that the actions (deeds) of his brothers would be sufficient.

Francis, was writing at a time when the Catholic church was at war with Islam; trying to regain the Holy land from them. Regardless, Francis wrote what he wrote. Later, when His holy rule was revised and put forth for papal approval, the direct rules for living among the “Saracens” were left out and/or watered down. As a follower of the Rule of Saint Francis, I have always felt his original rule should have been left as written; I can see this quite clearly now that I am living among Muslims in a 97% Muslim country. By following the original words of Francis I am able to live in peace with the people of this country and am able to minister to them in total freedom.Mass of blessing of ICON

My dear friend and sister in Christ, Barbara Massar agreed to create an ICON of Saint Francis of Assisi for Nazareth hermitage. We discussed the idea by e-mail and the final result is a magnificent Icon of Saint Francis meeting with Sultan Malik al Kamil. The Icon is so appropriate and several Islamic teachers (Oustas’) have come to the hermitage to look at the icon. They are truly impressed and appreciate St. Francis for his attitude.

The Icon was blessed during Sunday Mass at the Hermitage and hung in a place of honor in the hermitage chapel. Here are some of the pictures from the ceremony of the blessing of the Icon. I hope you enjoy them.Blessing of ICON 1 Icon during mass blessing of ICON 2


God bless you Barbara Massar for writing the Icon Icon 3 of St. Francis and the Sultan for Nazareth Hermitage.

A homily of St Basil the Great


Sow for the sake of your own


O man, be like the earth. Bear fruit like her and do not fall short of what mere inanimate matter can achieve. The earth bears crops not for her own benefit but for yours. You, on the other hand, when you give to the poor, are bearing fruit which you will gather in for yourself, since the reward for good deeds goes to those who perform them. Give to a hungry man, and what you give becomes yours, and indeed it returns to you with interest. Just as the wheat that falls on the ground falls there to the great profit of the one who sowed it, so the bread given to a hungry man will bring you great profit in the world to come. Let your husbandry be aimed at sowing this heavenly seed: as scripture says, Sow integrity for yourselves.

  You are going to leave your money behind you here whether you want to or not. As for whatever share of glory you have received through your good works, that you can take with you to the Lord. All the people will stand round you in the presence of him who judges you all: they will acclaim you as one who feeds the hungry and gives to the poor, they will name you as a merciful benefactor.

  Do you not see how people throw away their wealth for a moment’s glory, for the shouts and praise of the crowds in the theatre, at sporting events, at fights with wild beasts in the arena? Where can you get that sort of glory for yourself if you hold on to your money or spend it meanly? God will give his approbation; the angels will praise you; all people who have existed since the beginning of the world will call you blessed. You will receive eternal glory and the crown of righteousness as a prize for rightly disposing of your wealth – wealth that in any case cannot last and must decay.

  Why do you think nothing of the future hopes that are stored up by those who despise the cares of the present time? Come, spread your wealth around, be generous, give splendidly to those who are in need. Then it will be said of you as it is in the psalms: He gave alms and helped the poor: his righteousness will endure for ever.

  How grateful you should be to your own benefactor; how cheerful you should be at the honour he has conferred on you, that you do not have to make a nuisance of yourself at other people’s doors, but other people come and bother you at your own! But at the moment you are grumpy and no-one can get to you. You avoid meeting people in case you might be obliged to part with even a little of what you have. You can say only one thing: “I have nothing to give you. I am only a poor man.” Indeed you are poor and utterly destitute. Poor in love, poor in humanity, poor in faith in God, and destitute of any hope of eternal happiness.

Monday, July 26, 2010

From a sermon by Saint John Damascene, bishop


By their fruits you will know


Anne was to bejoachim and ann the mother of the Virgin Mother of God, and hence nature did not dare to anticipate the flowering of grace. Thus nature remained sterile, until grace produced its fruit. For she who was to be born had to be a first born daughter, since she would be the mother of the first-born of all creation, in whom all things are held together.

  Joachim and Anne, how blessed a couple! All creation is indebted to you. For at your hands the Creator was offered a gift excelling all other gifts: a chaste mother, who alone was worthy of him.

  And so rejoice, Anne, that you were sterile and have not borne children; break forth into shouts, you who have not given birth. Rejoice, Joachim, because from your daughter a child is born for us, a son is given us, whose name is Messenger of great counsel and universal salvation, mighty God. For this child is God.

  Joachim and Anne, how blessed and spotless a couple! joachim and ann w You will be known by the fruit you have borne, as the Lord says: By their fruits you will know them. The conduct of your life pleased God and was worthy of your daughter. For by the chaste and holy life you led together, you have fashioned a jewel of virginity: she who remained a virgin before, during and after giving birth. She alone for all time would maintain her virginity in mind and soul as well as in body.

  Joachim and Anne, how chaste a couple! While safeguarding the chastity prescribed by the law of nature, you achieved with God’s help something which transcends nature in giving the world the Virgin Mother of God as your daughter. While leading a devout and holy life in your human nature, you gave birth to a daughter nobler than the angels, whose queen she now is. Girl of utter beauty and delight, daughter of Adam and mother of God, blessed the loins and blessed the womb from which you come! Blessed the arms that carried you, and blessed your parents’ lips, which you were allowed to cover with chaste kisses, ever maintaining your virginity. Rejoice in God, all the earth. Sing, exult and sing hymns. Raise your voice, raise it and not be afraid.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

From a homily on the 2nd letter to the Corinthians by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop


I rejoice

exceedingly in all

my tribulations

Again Paul turns to speak of love, softening the harshness of his rebuke. For after convicting and reproaching them for not loving him as he had loved them, breaking away from his love and attaching themselves to troublemakers, he again takes the edge off the reproach by saying: Open your hearts to us, sacred heart that is, love us. He asks for a favour which will be no burden to them but will be more profitable to the giver than to the receiver. And he did not use the word “love” but said, more appealingly: Open your hearts to us.

  Who, he said, has cast us out of your minds, thrust us from your hearts? How is it that you feel constraint with us? For, since he has said earlier: You are restricted in your own affection, he now declares himself more openly and says: Open your heart to us, thus once more drawing them to him. For nothing so much wins love as the knowledge that one’s lover desires most of all to be himself loved.

For I said before, he tells them, that you are in our hearts to die together or live together. This is love at its height, that even though in disfavour, he wishes both to die and to live with them. For you are in our hearts, not just somehow or other, but in the way I have said. It is possible to love and yet to draw back when danger threatens; but my love is not like that.

I am filled with consolation. What consolation? That which comes from you because you, being changed for the better, have consoled me by what you have done. It is natural for a lover both to complain that he is not loved in return and to fear that he may cause distress by complaining too much. Therefore, he says: I am filled with consolation, I rejoice exceedingly.

  It is as if he said, I was much grieved on your account, but you have made it up for me in full measure and given me comfort; for you have not only removed the cause for any grief but filled me with a richer joy.

  Then he shows the greatness of that joy by saying not only I rejoice exceedingly but also the words which follow: in all my tribulations. So great, he says, was the delight that you gave me that it was not even dimmed by so much tribulation, but overcame by its strength and keenness all those sorrows which had invaded my heart, and took away from me all awareness of them.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

From a homily on the 2nd letter to the Corinthians by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop


Our heart is enlarged

Our heart is enlarged. For as heat makes things expand, so it is the work of love to expand the heart, for its power is to heat and make fervent. It is this that opened Paul’s lips and enlarged his heart. For I do not love only in words; he means, but my loving heart too is in unison with my words; and so I speak with confidence, without restraint or reserve. There was nothing more capacious than the heart of Paul, for he loved all the faithful with as intimate a love as any lover could have for a loved one, his love not being divided and lessened but remaining whole and entire for each of them. And what marvel is it that his love for the faithful was such, since his heart embraced the unbelievers, too, throughout the whole world?

  So he did not just say, “I love you,” but with greater emphasis: Our mouth is open, our heart is enlarged; we hold you all in it, and not only that, but with room for you to move freely. For those who are loved enter fearlessly into the heart of their lover. And therefore he says: You are not constrained because of us, but you are constrained in your own affections. See how this reproach is tempered with much forbearance, as is the way with those who love much. For he did not say: You do not love me, but you do not love me in the same measure; for he did not want to charge them more harshly.

  Indeed one may see with what a wonderful love for the faithful he is always inflamed, as one finds proof of it in all his writings. To the Romans he says: I desire to see you, and I have often planned to come to you, and if by any means at last I may succeed in reaching you. To the Galatians he says: My little children, with whom I am again in labour; to the Ephesians: For this reason I bend my knees on your behalf; and to the Thessalonians: What is my hope and my crown of glory? Is it not yourselves? For he used to say that he carried them about in his heart and in his chains.

  Again he writes to the Colossians: I want you to know how greatly I strive for you and for all who have not seen my face; and to the Thessalonians: Like a nurse taking care of her children, being desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the Gospel but also our own selves. So too he says: You are not restricted by us. And so Paul does not merely say that he loves them but also that they love him, so that in this way he may draw them to him. Indeed, to the Corinthians he bears witness of this love when he says: Titus came, telling us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Confessions of St Augustine


Christ died for all

In your unfathomable mercy you first gave the humble certain pointers to the true Mediator, and then sent him, so that by his example they might learn even a humility like his. This Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, appeared to stand between mortal sinners and the God who is immortal and just: like us he was mortal, but like God he was just. Now the wage due to justice is life and peace; and so, through the justice whereby he was one with God, he broke the power of death over malefactors and by that act rendered JesusChristBrideGroomthem just, using that very mortality which he had himself chosen to share with them. How you loved us, O good Father, who spared not even your only Son, but gave him up for us evil-doers! How you loved us, for whose sake he who deemed it no robbery to be your equal was made subservient even to the point of dying on the cross! Alone of all, he was free among the dead, for he had power to lay down his life and power to retrieve it. For our sake he stood to you as both victor and victim,  and victor because victim; for us he stood to you as priest and sacrifice, and priest because sacrifice, making us your children instead of your servants by being born of you in order to serve us.

  There is good reason for my solid hope in him, because you will heal all my infirmities through him who sits at your right hand and intercedes for us. Were it not so, I should despair; for many and grave are those infirmities, many and grave; but wider-reaching is your healing power. We might have despaired of ourselves, thinking your Word remote from any conjunction with mankind, had he not become flesh and made his dwelling among us. Filled with terror by my sins and my load of misery, I had been turning over in my mind a plan to flee into solitude; but you forbade me, and strengthened me by your words: To this end Christ died for all, that they who are alive might live not for themselves but for him who died for them.

  See, then, Lord: I cast my care upon you so that I may live, and I will contemplate the wonders you have revealed. You know how stupid and weak I am: teach me and heal me. Your only Son, in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge, has redeemed me with his blood. Let not the proud disparage me, for I am mindful of my ransom. I eat it, I drink it, I dispense it to others, and as a poor man I long to be filled with it among those who are fed and feasted. And then, let those who seek him praise the Lord.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

From the Journey of the Mind to God by St. Bonaventure


Mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit

Christ is both the way and the door. Christ is the staircase and the vehicle, like the throne of mercy over the Ark of the Covenant, and the mystery hidden frombonaventure enters franciscans the ages. A man should turn his full attention to this throne of mercy, and should gaze at him hanging on the cross, full of faith, hope and charity, devoted, full of wonder and joy, marked by gratitude, and open to praise and jubilation. Then such a man will make with Christ a pasch, that is, a passing-over. Through the branches of the cross he will pass over the Red Sea, leaving Egypt and entering the desert. There he will taste the hidden manna, and rest with Christ in the sepulchre, as if he were dead to things outside. He will experience, as much as is possible for one who is still living, what was promised to the thief who hung beside Christ: Today you will be with me in paradise.

  For this passover to be perfect, we must suspend all the operations of the mind and we must transform the peak of our affections, directing them to God alone. This is a sacred mystical experience. It cannot be comprehended by anyone unless he surrenders himself to it; nor can he surrender himself to it unless he longs for it; nor can he long for it unless the Holy Spirit, whom Christ sent into the world, should come and inflame his innermost soul. Hence the Apostle says that this mystical wisdom is revealed by the Holy Spirit.

  If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervour and glowing love. The fire is God, and the furnace is in Jerusalem, fired by Christ in the ardour of his loving passion. Only he understood this who said: My soul chose hanging and my bones death. Anyone who cherishes this kind of death can see God, for it is certainly true that: No man can look upon me and live.

  Let us die, then, and enter into the darkness, silencing our anxieties, our passions and all the fantasies of our imagination. Let us pass over with the crucified Christ from this world to the Father, so that, when the Father has shown himself to us, we can say with Philip: It is enough. We may hear with Paul: My grace is sufficient for you; and we can rejoice with David, saying: My flesh and my heart fail me, but God is the strength of my heart and my heritage for ever. Blessed be the Lord for ever, and let all the people say: Amen. Amen!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

From the treatise On the Mysteries by Saint Ambrose, bishop

Water does not sanctify without the Holy Spirit

You were told before not to believe only what you saw. This was to prevent you from saying: Is this the great mystery that eye has not seen nor ear heard nor man’s heart conceived? I see the water I used to see every day; does this water in which I have often bathed without being sanctified really have the power to sanctify me? Learn from this that water does not sanctify without the Holy Spirit.

You have read that the three witnesses in baptism – the water, the blood and the Spirit – are one. This means that if you take away one of these the sacrament is not conferred. What is water without the cross of Christ? Only an ordinary element without sacramental effect. Again, without water there is no sacrament of rebirth: Unless a man is born again of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. The catechumen believes in the cross of the Lord with which he too is signed, but unless he is baptised in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit he cannot receive the forgiveness of sins or the gift of spiritual grace.

The Syrian Naaman bathed seven times under the old law, but you were baptised in the name of the Trinity. You proclaimed your faith in the Father – recall what you did – and the Son and the Spirit. Mark the sequence of events. In proclaiming this faith you died to the world, you died to the world, you rose again to God, and, as though buried to sin, you were reborn to eternal life. Believe, then, that the water is not without effect.

The paralytic at the pool was waiting for someone. Who was this if not the Lord Jesus, born of a virgin? At his coming it is not a question of a shadow healing an individual, but Truth himself healing the universe. He is the one whose coming was expected, the one of whom God the Father spoke when he said to John the Baptist: He on whom you see the Spirit coming down from heaven and resting, this is the one who baptises in the Holy Spirit. He is the one witnessed to by John: I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven as a dove and resting on him. Why did the Spirit come down as a dove if not to let you see and understand that the dove sent out by holy Noah from the ark was a figure of this dove? In this way you were to recognise a type of this sacrament.

Is there any room left for doubt? The Father speaks clearly in the Gospel: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; the Son too, above whom the Holy Spirit showed himself in the form of a dove; and also the Holy Spirit, who came down as a dove. David too speaks clearly: The voice of the Lord is above the waters; the God of glory has thundered; the Lord is above the many waters. Again, Scripture bears witness for you that fire came down from heaven in answer to Gideon’s prayers, and that when Elijah prayed, God sent fire which consumed the sacrifice.

Do not consider the merits of individuals but the office of the priests. If you do not look at merits, consider the merits of Peter and also of Paul in the same way you consider the merits of Elijah; they have handed on to us this sacrament which they received from the Lord Jesus. Visible fire was sent upon them to give them faith; in us who believe an invisible fire is at work. That visible fire was a sign, our invisible fire is for our instruction. Believe then that the Lord Jesus is present when he is invoked by the prayers of the priests. He said: Where two or three are gathered, there I am also. How much more does he give his loving presence where the Church is, where the sacraments are!

You went down into the water. Remember what you said: I believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Not: I believe in a greater, a lesser and a least. You are committed by this spoken understanding of yours to believe the same of the Son as of the Father, and the same of the Holy Spirit as of the Son, with this one exception: you proclaim that you must believe in the cross of the Lord Jesus alone.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

From the treatise "On the Mysteries" by St Ambrose, bishop


The many prefigurations of baptism in Scripture

Listen to the Apostle’s teaching: For all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. Moreover, Moses himself sings in triumph You sent your Spirit and the sea covered them. As you see, holy baptism was prefigured even then at the crossing of the sea, where the Egyptians perished but the Hebrews escaped. What else, after all, are we daily taught about baptism? That with the immersion in water, guilt is swallowed up and error done away with, but that virtue and innocence remain unharmed?

  You hear that our fathers were under the cloud, a kindly cloud which cooled the heat of carnal passions. That kindly cloud overshadows those whom the Holy Spirit visits. Finally it came upon the Virgin Mary, and the Power of the Most High overshadowed her, when she conceived Redemption for the race of men. The miracle worked by Moses was a prefiguration of this miracle. But then – if the Spirit was in the figure, how can he not be present in the reality? As Scripture says, The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.

  Marah was a spring of unendurably bitter water: Moses threw wood into it and it became sweet. For you see: water without the preaching of the Cross of the Lord is of no use for future salvation, but, after it has been consecrated by the mystery of the wood of the saving Cross, it is made suitable for the use of the spiritual cleansing and of the cup of salvation. So as Moses (that is, the prophet) threw wood into that fountain, so the priest utters over this font the proclamation of the Lord’s cross, and the water is made sweet for the purpose of grace.

  You must not trust, then, wholly to your bodily eyes. What is not seen is in reality seen more clearly; for what we see with our eyes is temporal whereas what is eternal (and invisible to the eye) is discerned by the mind and spirit.

  There is a final lesson to be learned from the book of the Kings which we have just been reading. Naaman was a Syrian, and suffered from leprosy, and there was no-one who could cleanse him. Then a maiden from among the captives said that there was a prophet in Israel, who could cleanse him from the defilement of the leprosy. And it is said that, having taken silver and gold, Naaman went to the king of Israel. And the king, when he heard why Naaman had come, tore his garments, saying that this was an attempt to put him in the wrong, since healing leprosy was not in the power of kings. Elisha, however, sent word to the king that he should send the Syrian to him, so that he might know there was a God in Israel. And when he had come, he told him to dip himself seven times in the river Jordan.

  Naaman doubted until the time when he was cleansed; but you are cleansed by now, and so you should not have doubts

Monday, July 12, 2010

From the treatise "On the Mysteries" by St Ambrose, bishop


We are born baptismagain  through water and the Holy Spirit

What did you see at the baptism? Water, certainly, but not water alone; you saw the deacons (like the Levites of old) exercising their ministry and the bishop (like the chief priest of old) asking questions and bestowing sanctification.

  The Apostle Paul taught you to look not at what is visible but at what is invisible; for visible things will pass away but the invisible things are eternal. As you read elsewhere: Since the creation of the world, the invisible attributes of God, his eternal power and his divinity are understood through the things that he has done. The Lord himself says: If you do not believe in me, believe in my works. So here, at baptism, believe that the Godhead is present. Can you believe that God is at work and yet deny that he is present? How can any work happen unless the one who performs it is already there?

  Consider how ancient this mystery is; for it is prefigured even in the origin of the world itself. In the very beginning, when God made the heaven and the earth, it is said: The Spirit moved upon the waters. He who was moving over the waters, was he not acting on them as well? You can recognize that he was working in that moment of creation, when you see how the prophet says: By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all their strength by the spirit of his mouth. There is as much support from the prophets for one thing as for the other. Moses says that the spirit of God was moving and David the psalmist testifies that he was working.

  Here is another piece of evidence. By its own iniquities all flesh was corrupted. And God says: My Spirit shall not remain among men, because they are flesh. This goes to show that carnal impurity and the pollution of grave sin turn away the grace of the Spirit. Since that had happened, God sought to repair his disfigured creation. He sent the flood and commanded Noah, the just man, to go up into the ark. As the waters of the flood were receding Noah sent first a raven (which did not return) and then a dove, which came back with an olive branch, as we read in the scriptures. And now you see the water, you see the wood, you see the dove, and you still doubt the mystery?

  The water is the water intothe rock2 which the flesh is dipped, to wash away all the sins of the flesh. And so is all sin buried.

  The wood is the wood cross 3 on which the Lord Jesus was fastened when he suffered for us.

  The dove symbolizes gifts 2 the Holy Spirit’s taking on the form of a dove, as you have learnt from the New Testament: the Sprit who brings peace to your soul and calm to your troubled mind.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

From the beginning of the treatise On the Mysteries by Saint Ambrose, bishop

Catechesis on the

rites preceding 


We gave a daily instructionAmbrose of milan on right conduct when the readings were taken from the history of the patriarchs or the maxims of Proverbs. These readings were intended to instruct and train you, so that you might grow accustomed to the ways of our forefathers, entering into their paths and walking in their footsteps, in obedience to God’s commands.

  Now the season reminds us that we must speak of the mysteries, setting forth the meaning of the sacraments. If we had thought fit to teach these things to those not yet initiated through baptism, we should be considered traitors rather than teachers. Then, too, the light of the mysteries is of itself more effective where people do not know what to expect than where some instruction has been given beforehand.

  Open then your ears. Enjoy the fragrance of eternal life, breathed on you by means of the sacraments. We explained this to you as we celebrated the mystery of “the opening” when we said: Effetha, that is, be opened. Everyone who was to come for the grace of baptism had to understand what he was to be asked, and must remember what he was to answer. This mystery was celebrated by Christ when he healed the man who was deaf and dumb, in the Gospel which we proclaimed to you.

  After this, the holy of holies was opened up for you; you entered into the sacred place of regeneration. Recall what you were asked; remember what you answered. You renounced the devil and his works, the world and its dissipation and sensuality. Your words are recorded, not on a monument to the dead but in the book of the living.

  There you saw the levite, you saw the priest, you saw the high priest. Do not consider their outward form but the grace given by their ministries. You spoke in the presence of angels, as it is written: The lips of a priest guard knowledge, and men seek the law from his mouth, for he is the angel of the Lord almighty. There is no room for deception, no room for denial. He is an angel whose message is the kingdom of Christ and eternal life. You must judge him, not by his appearance but by his office. Remember what he handed on to you, weigh up his value, and so acknowledge his standing.

  You entered to confront your enemy, for you intended to renounce him to his face. You turned toward the east, for one who renounces the devil turns toward Christ and fixes his gaze directly on him.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

From a discourse of St Augustine on the Psalms

The true Solomon is  our Lord Jesus Christ
Because Solomon had built a temple to the Lord – a prototype and an image of the future Church, the Lord’s body, which is why the Gospel says Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up – because the Solomon of history had built that temple, our Lord Jesus Christ, the true Solomon, built a temple for himself. The name ‘Solomon’ means ‘Bringer of  Peace’, and our Lord, the true Solomon, is the true bringer of peace, which is why the Apostle says He is our peace, who has made both into one. He is the true bringer of peace, who has taken two walls coming from different directions and joined them through himself, becoming the cornerstone that unites them: the believers who come from the people of the circumcision and the believers who come from the uncircumcised. He has made one Church from the two peoples, he has become their kingcornerstone and their peacemaker.
  So because the historical Solomon, son of David and Bathsheba, king of Israel, was prefiguring this peacemaker when he built the Temple, Scripture takes care that you should not think that he himself was the peacemaker. Scripture shows you another Solomon, by beginning a psalm with the words, Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. So the Lord builds the house, the Lord Jesus Christ builds a house for himself. Many labour to build it, but if he is not the architect, in vain have its builders laboured.
  Who are they who work at building it? They are everyone in the Church who preaches the word of God or administers the sacraments of God. We all rush around, we all labour, we all build; and before us, others rushed, laboured, built; but unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. For this reason, when they saw some of the people fall, the Apostles, and Paul himself, said: You and your special days and months and seasons and years! You make me feel I have wasted my time with you. Because he knew that he had been built up by the Lord from within, he wept over these others because he had worked among them to no avail.
  We speak in public, but he builds inside. How well do you listen? We can tell. What do you think of it? He alone knows, who sees your thoughts. It is he who builds, he who gives advice, he who instills fear, he who opens the understanding, he who directs your perceptions and leads you to faith; and yet we too work, as labourers in the harvest.

Friday, July 9, 2010

From a letter to the Corinthians by Saint Clement, pope

We are blessed if we fulfil the commands of the Lord in the harmony of love

Beloved, see what a marvellous thing love is; its perfection is beyond our expression. Who can truly love save those to whom God grants it? We ought to beg and beseech him in his mercy that our love may be genuine, unmarred by any too human inclination. From Adam down to the present time all generations have passed away; but those who were perfected in love by God’s grace have a place among the saints who will be revealed when the kingdom of Christ comes to us. As it is written: Enter your chambers for a little while, until my wrath and anger pass away; and I shall remember a good day and raise you from your graves. We are blessed, beloved, if we fulfil the commands of the Lord in harmonious, loving union, so that through love our sins may be forgiven. For it is written: Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord imputes not iniquity, and in whose mouth there is no deceit. This is the blessing that has been given to those who have been chosen by God through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

We should pray then that we may be granted forgiveness for our sins and for whatever we may have done when led astray by our adversary’s servants. And for those who were the leaders of the schism and the sedition, they too should look to the common hope. For those who live in pious fear and in love are willing to endure torment rather than have their neighbour suffer; and they more willingly suffer their own condemnation than the loss of that harmony that has been so nobly and righteously handed down to us. For it is better for a man to confess his sins than to harden his heart.

Who then among you is generous, who is compassionate, who is filled with love? He should speak out as follows: If I have been the cause of sedition, conflict and schisms, then I shall depart; I shall go away wherever you wish, and I shall do what the community wants, if only the flock of Christ live in peace with the presbyters who are set over them. Whoever acts thus would win great glory for himself in Christ, and he would be received everywhere, for the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. Thus have they acted in the past and will continue to act in the future who live without regret as citizens in the city of God.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

An explanation of Psalm 118 by St Ambrose

God's temple is holy, and you are his temple

My father and I will come to him and make our home with him. Open wide your door to the one who comes. Open your soul, throw open the depths of your heart to see the riches of simplicity, the treasures of peace, the sweetness of grace. Open your heart and run to meet the Sun of eternal light that illuminates all men. Indeed that true light shines on all; but if anyone closes his shutters against it then he will defraud himself of the eternal light. To close the doors of your mind is to exclude Christ. Of course he is capable of entering even so, but he does not want to force his way in or seize you against your will.

Born of the Virgin’s womb, he shone on the whole world to give light to all. It is received by those who desire the brightness of perpetual light that no night can obscure. For the sun that we see daily in the sky is followed by darkness and night; but the Sun of righteousness never sets, since evil cannot defeat wisdom.

Blessed is he, therefore, at whose door Christ comes knocking. Faith is the door of the soul, and if it is strong then it fortifies the whole house. Through this door Christ enters. Thus it is that the Church herself says, The voice of my brother is knocking on the door. Listen to him knocking, listen to him asking to be let in: Open to me, my sister, my beloved, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is wet with dew, my hair with the drops of night.

You see that when the Word of God knocks hardest on your door, it is when his hair is wet with the dew of the night. In fact he chooses to visit those who are in tribulation and trial, lest one of them be overwhelmed by distress. So his head is covered with dew, with drops, when his body is labouring hard. It is important to keep watch so that when the Bridegroom comes, he is not shut out. If you are asleep and your heart is not keeping watch, he will go away without knocking; but if your heart is alert for his coming, he knocks and asks for the door to be opened to him.

Thus you see that our soul has a door, but we have gates too, as the psalm says: Gates, raise your heads. Stand up, eternal doors, and let the king of glory enter. If you choose to raise your gates, the King of glory will come to you, celebrating the triumph of his own Passion. For righteousness has gates, as we see it written when the Lord Jesus speaks through his prophets: Open to me the gates of righteousness.

It is the soul that has its door, it is the soul that has its gates. To that door Christ comes and knocks, he knocks at the door. Open to him, therefore: he wishes to come in, the Bridegroom wishes to find you keeping watch.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

From a discourse on the psalms by Saint Augustine, bishop

Whether they like it or not, those who are outside the church are our brothers

We entreat you, brothers, as earnestly as we are able, to have charity, not only for one another, but also for those who are outside the Church. Of these some are still pagans, who have not yet made an act of faith in Christ. Others are separated, insofar as they are joined with us in professing faith in Christ, our head, but are yet divided from the unity of his body. My friends, we must grieve over these as over our brothers; and they will only cease to be so when they no longer say our Father.

The prophet refers to some men saying: When they say to you: You are not our brothers, you are to tell them: You are our brothers. Consider whom he intended by these words. Were they the pagans? Hardly; for nowhere either in Scripture or in our traditional manner of speaking do we find them called our brothers. Nor could it refer to the Jews, who do not believe in Christ. Read Saint Paul and you will see that when he speaks of “brothers,” without any qualification, he refers always to Christians. For example, he says: Why do you judge your brother or why do you despise your brother? And again: You perform iniquity and common fraud, and this against your brothers.

Those then who tell us: You are not our brothers, are saying that we are pagans. That is why they want to baptise us again, claiming that we do not have what they can give. Hence their error of denying that we are their brothers. Why then did the prophet tell us: Say to them: You are our brothers? It is because we acknowledge in them that which we do not repeat. By not recognising our baptism, they deny that we are their brothers; on the other hand, when we do not repeat their baptism but acknowledge it to be our own, we are saying to them: You are our brothers.

If they say, “Why do you seek us? What do you want of us?” we should reply: You are our brothers. They may say, “Leave us alone. We have nothing to do with you.” But we have everything to do with you, for we are one in our belief in Christ; and so we should be in one body, under one head.

And so, dear brothers, we entreat you on their behalf, in the name of the very source of our love, by whose milk we are nourished, and whose bread is our strength, in the name of Christ our Lord and his gentle love. For it is time now for us to show them great love and abundant compassion by praying to God for them. May he one day give them a clear mind to repent and to realise that they have nothing now but the sickness of their hatred, and the stronger they think they are, the weaker they become. We entreat you then to pray for them, for they are weak, given to the wisdom of the flesh, to fleshly and carnal things, but yet they are our brothers. They celebrate the same sacraments as we, not indeed with us, but still the same. They respond with the same Amen, not with us, but still the same. And so pour out your hearts for them in prayer to God.

Monday, July 5, 2010

From a letter to the Corinthians by Saint Clement, pope

Seek the good of all, not personal advantage

The command has been written: Cling to the saints, for those who cling to them will be sanctified. There is a passage in Scripture as well which states: With the innocent man you will be innocent, and with the chosen one you will be chosen also; likewise with the perverse you will deal perversely. Devote yourselves, then, to the innocent and the just; they are God’s chosen ones. Why are there strife and passion, schisms and even war among you? Do we not possess the same Spirit of grace which was given to us and the same calling in Christ? Why do we tear apart and divide the body of Christ? Why do we revolt against our own body? Why do we reach such a degree of insanity that we forget that we are members of one another? Do not forget the words of Jesus our Lord: Woe to that man; it would be better for him if he had not been born rather than scandalise one of my chosen ones. Indeed it would be better for him to have a great millstone round his neck and to be drowned in the sea than that he lead astray one of my chosen ones. Your division has led many astray, has made many doubt, has made many despair, and has brought grief upon us all. And still your rebellion continues.

Pick up the letter of blessed Paul the apostle. What did he write to you at the beginning of his ministry? Even then you had developed factions. So Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote to you concerning himself and Cephas and Apollos. But that division involved you in less sin because you were supporting apostles of high reputation and a person approved by them.

We should put an end to this division immediately. Let us fall down before our master and implore his mercy with our tears. Then he will be reconciled to us and restore us to the practice of brotherly love that befits us. For this is the gate of justice that leads to life, as it is written: Open to me the gates of justice. When I have entered there, I shall praise the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord; the just shall enter through it. There are many gates which stand open, but the gate of justice is the gateway of Christ. All who enter through this gate are blessed, pursuing their way in holiness and justice, performing all their tasks without discord. A person may be faithful; he may have the power to utter hidden mysteries; he may be discriminating in the evaluation of what is said and pure in his actions. But the greater he seems to be, the more humbly he ought to act, and the more zealous he should be for the common good rather than his own interest.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

From a sermon by Saint Augustine

A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit

I acknowledge my transgression, says David. If I admit my fault, then you will pardon it. Let us never assume that if we live good lives we will be without sin; our lives should be praised only when we continue to beg for pardon. But men are hopeless creatures, and the less they concentrate on their own sins, the more interested they become in the sins of others. They seek to criticise, not to correct. Unable to excuse themselves, they are ready to accuse others. This was not the way that David showed us how to pray and make amends to God, when he said: I acknowledge my transgression, and my sin is ever before me. He did not concentrate on others’ sins; he turned his thoughts on himself. He did not merely stroke the surface, but he plunged inside and went deep down within himself. He did not spare himself, and therefore was not impudent in asking to be spared.

Do you want God to be appeased? Learn what you are to do that God may be pleased with you. Consider the psalm again: If you wanted sacrifice, I would indeed have given it; in burnt offerings you will take no delight. Are you then to be without sacrifice? Are you to offer nothing? Will you please God without an offering? Consider what you read in the same psalm: If you wanted sacrifice, I would indeed have given it; in burnt offerings you will take no delight. But continue to listen, and say with David: A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God does not despise a contrite and humble heart. Cast aside your former offerings, for now you have found out what you are to offer. In the days of your fathers you would have made offerings of cattle – these were the sacrifices. If you wanted sacrifice, I would indeed have given it. These then, Lord, you do not want, and yet you do want sacrifice.

You will take no delight in burnt offerings, David says. If you will not take delight in burnt offerings, will you remain without sacrifice? Not at all. A sacrifice to God is a contrite spirit; God does not despise a contrite and humble heart.

You now have the offering you are to make. No need to examine the herd, no need to outfit ships and travel to the most remote provinces in search of incense. Search within your heart for what is pleasing to God. Your heart must be crushed. Are you afraid that it might perish so? You have the reply: Create a clean heart in me, O God. For a clean heart to be created, the unclean one must be crushed.

We should be displeased with ourselves when we commit sin, for sin is displeasing to God. Sinful though we are, let us at least be like God in this, that we are displeased at what displeases him. In some measure then you will be in harmony with God’s will, because you find displeasing in yourself what is abhorrent to your Creator.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

On St. Thomas; From a homily on the Gospels by Saint Gregory the Great, pope

My Lord and my God

Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. He was the only disciple absent; on his return he heard what had happened but refused to believe it. The Lord came a second time; he offered his side for the disbelieving disciple to touch, held out his hands, and showing the scars of his wounds, healed the wound of his disbelief.

Dearly beloved, what do you see in these events? Do you really believe that it was by chance that this chosen disciple was absent, then came and heard, heard and doubted, doubted and touched, touched and believed? It was not by chance but in God’s providence. In a marvellous way God’s mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the wounds of his master’s body, should heal our wounds of disbelief. The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples. As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened. So the disciple who doubted, then felt Christ’s wounds, becomes a witness to the reality of the resurrection.

Touching Christ, he cried out: My Lord and my God. Jesus said to him: Because you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed. Paul said: Faith is the guarantee of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen. It is clear, then, that faith is the proof of what can not be seen. What is seen gives knowledge, not faith. When Thomas saw and touched, why was he told: You have believed because you have seen me? Because what he saw and what he believed were different things. God cannot be seen by mortal man. Thomas saw a human being, whom he acknowledged to be God, and said: My Lord and my God. Seeing, he believed; looking at one who was true man, he cried out that this was God, the God he could not see.

What follows is reason for great joy: Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed. There is here a particular reference to ourselves; we hold in our hearts one we have not seen in the flesh. We are included in these words, but only if we follow up our faith with good works. The true believer practises what he believes. But of those who pay only lip service to faith, Paul has this to say: They profess to know God, but they deny him in their works. Therefore James says: Faith without works is dead.

Friday, July 2, 2010

St Augustine on the Predestination of the Saints

Jesus Christ, son of David according to the flesh

The shining example of predestination and grace is the Saviour himself, the mediator between God and mankind, himself a man, Christ Jesus. What merits, of good deeds or faith, did his human nature have beforehand, to make this happen? Please, let me have an answer: how did that man earn the privilege of being taken up into unity of person by the Word co-eternal with the Father and of being the only-begotten Son of God? What good quality of his can have made him deserve this? What had he done, what had he believed, what had he prayed for, to come to this indescribable excellence? Surely it was no action of his, but the action of the Word lifting him up, that caused this man, at the moment that he was coming into being, to come into being as the only Son of God!

Let us see, in our own bodies, how the head is the source of grace that flows through the members, filling each according to its capacity. The grace by which every man, from the moment when he comes to believe, becomes a Christian is the same grace by which that man, from the moment when he came to be, became Christ. The Spirit through whom we are reborn is the same Spirit through whom he was born. The Spirit that brings us remission of our sins is the same Spirit that gave him freedom from sin.

God certainly knew beforehand that he was going to make these things happen. This is exactly the predestination of the saints and it shines out most clearly in the predestination of the Saint of saints. How can anyone deny this who properly understands the utterances of the Truth? For we see that even the Lord of glory is the subject of God’s predestination, in so far as at his incarnation a man became the Son of God.

So Jesus was predestined, so that he who was to be, according to the flesh, a son of David should nevertheless be the Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness – because he was born of the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary. Thus in a unique and indescribable way a man was taken up into God the Word so that he could be at once a son of man and the Son of God – a son of man according to the nature that was taken up, the Son of God because of the only-begotten God who took him up. If it were not like this, we would have to believe not in a Trinity but in a Quaternity.

This predestined elevation of human nature is so great, so high, so exalted that there is no greater height left to which it could be raised. On the other side, the very godhead could not throw itself down lower than it did, to the taking on of human nature with all its weaknesses and a final death on a cross. As he, the one, was predestined to be our head, so we, the many, were predestined to be his members.

Let any merits that men may have be silent here – they died through Adam. Let God’s grace reign, as it does reign: the grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord, the one Son of God, the one Lord. If anyone can find in that man, our Head, pre-existing merits that led to his unique birth, let him look in us, his members, for pre-existing merits that might lead to the rebirth of us all.