|A sermon of St Augustine on the anniversary of his ordination|
|For you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian|
From the moment this burden, about which such a difficult account has to be rendered, was placed on my shoulders, anxiety about the honour shown to me has always haunted me. What is to be dreaded about the office I hold, if not that I may take more pleasure (which is so dangerous) in the honour shown to me than in what bears fruit in your salvation? Whenever I am terrified by what I am for you, I am given comfort by what I am with you. For you I am a bishop, but with you I am, after all, a Christian. The former signifies an office undertaken, the latter, grace; the former is a name for danger, the latter a name for salvation.
Finally, as if on the open sea, I am being tossed about by the stormy activity involved in being a bishop; but as I recall by whose blood I have been redeemed, I enter a safe harbour in the tranquil recollection of being a Christian. Thus, while toiling away at my own proper office, I take my rest in the marvellous benefit conferred on us all in common. So I hope that the fact that I have been bought, together with you, gives me more pleasure than my having been placed at your head; then, as the Lord has commanded, I will be more effectively your servant, and be preserved from ingratitude for the price for which I was bought to be, not too unworthily, your fellow-servant. I am certainly obliged to love the Redeemer, and I know what he said to Peter: Peter, do you love me? Feed my sheep. Once he said it, twice, a third time. Love was being questioned and toil demanded, because where the love is greater, the work is less of a burden.
What shall I pay back to the Lord for all that he has paid back to me? If I say that I am paying back by herding his sheep, even then it is not I who am doing it, but the grace of God within me. So when can I be found to be paying back to him, if he is always there before me? And yet, because we give our love freely, because we are herding his sheep, we look for a reward. How can this be? How can it be consistent to say “I give my love freely, which is why I am herding sheep” and at the same time “I request a reward because I am herding sheep”? This could not possibly happen: in no way at all could a reward be sought from one who is loved freely, unless the reward actually were the very one who is being loved. I mean, if what we are paying back for his having redeemed us is our herding his sheep, being his shepherds, what are we paying back for the fact of his having made us shepherds? Being bad shepherds, you see (may God preserve us from it) is something that we are through our own badness, whereas being good shepherds (God grant it may be so!) is something that can come only through his grace. So it is, my brethren, that we command and implore you not to receive the grace of God in vain. Make my ministry fruitful. You are God’s agriculture. From the outside, receive the work of the planter and the waterer; but from the inside, receive the work of the One who makes you grow. Please, give me your help by both your prayers and your obedience, so that I may find my delight not in being in charge of you but in being of use to you.