St Augustine of Hippo: Have You Fashioned for Yourself a Cross of the Bodily Pleasures?

Feast of the Holy Great Martyr Photine, the Samaritan Woman

Augustine_Square_2.jpgAN APPROPRIATELY solemn sermon is your due [this Lenten season] so that the word of God, brought to you through my ministry, may sustain you in spirit while you fast in body and so that the inner man, thus refreshed by suitable food, may be able to accomplish and to preserve courageously in the disciplining of the outer man. For, to my spirit of devotion, it seems fitting that we, who are about to honor the Passion of our crucified Lord in the very near future, should fashion for ourselves a cross of the bodily pleasures in need of restraint, as the Apostle says: “And they who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh, with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5.24). In fact, the Christian ought to be suspended constantly on this cross through his entire life, passed as it is in the midst of temptation. For there is no time in this life when we can tear out the nails of which the Psalmist speaks in the words: “Pierce thou my flesh with thy fear” (cf. Ps. 118.120, LXX). Bodily desires constitute the flesh, and the precepts of justice, the nails with which the fear of the Lord pierces our flesh and crucifies us as victims acceptable to the Lord. Whence the same Apostle says: “I exhort you therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice, living, holy, pleasing to God” (Rom. 12.1).

Hence, there is a cross in regard to which the servant of God, far from being confounded, rejoices, saying: “But as for me, God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6.14). That is a cross, I say, not of forty days’ duration, but of one’s whole life, which is symbolized by the mystical number of forty days, whether because man, about to lead this life, is formed in the womb for forty days, as some say, or because the four Gospels agree with the tenfold Law and four tens equal that number, showing that both the Old and New Testaments are indispensable for us in this life, or it may be for some other and more likely reason which a keener and superior intellect can fathom. Hence, Moses and Elijah and our Lord Himself fasted for forty days so that it might be suggested to us that in Moses and in Elijah and in Christ Himself, that is in the Law and the Prophets and the Gospel, this penance was performed just as it is by us, and so that, instead of being won over to and clinging to this world, we might rather put to death the old man, “living not in revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy. But let us put on the Lord Jesus, and as for the flesh, take no thought for its lusts” (cf. Rom. 13.13-14). Live always in this fashion, O Christian; if you do not wish to sink into the mire of this earth, do not come down from the cross. Moreover, if this ought to be done throughout one’s entire life, with how much greater reason should it be done during these forty days in which this life is not only passed but is also symbolized?

—St Augustine of Hippo, Sermon for the Lenten Season

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