Lenten Wisdom From Irenaeus

One of my Lenten season disciplines this year is to read the daily texts from the Office of Readings. I bought the 4-volume Liturgy of the Hours set last year, yet have been sporadic in my readings. I have enjoyed the readings, and found them very helpful. This excerpt from Irenaeus made a strong impact on me, particularly the bolded phrase:

…Nor did the Lord need our service. He commanded us to follow him, but his was the gift of salvation. To follow the Saviour is to share in salvation; to follow the light is to enjoy the light. Those who are in the light do not illuminate the light but are themselves illuminated and enlightened by the light. They add nothing to the light; rather, they are beneficiaries, for they are enlightened by the light.

The same is true of service to God: it adds nothing to God, nor does God need the service of man. Rather, he gives life and immortality and eternal glory to those who follow and serve him. He confers a benefit on his servants in return for their service and on his followers in return for their loyalty, but he receives no benefit from them. He is rich, perfect and in need of nothing.

The reason why God requires service from man is this: because he is good and merciful he desires to confer benefits on those who persevere in his service. In proportion to God’s need of nothing is man’s need for communion with God.

Saint Augustine on Love

Because yesterday was Saint Augustine’s feast day, I decided to read some of Augustine’s works. It also just happened to coincide with some thoughts I was having about “love.” When we show love (agape) to others, we have to do what is right, and best for them, in line with the mind of Christ, and not necessarily what is the most fun or exciting. This applies as parents, teachers, friends, etc. And whatever we do, as Augustine points out below, we are to do in love.

I am obviously not suggesting being mean or cruel to others in the name of love. Most people aren’t really going to come to believe in Jesus when a street preacher screams at them and in the next breath says “it’s because I love you.” We Christians are able to be lovingly firm without being overbearing. I feel like I have to add this caveat because many people have known Christians (perhaps parents) who used this sort of thinking as justification for doing bad things to others, in the name of Christ.

Augustine’s quote below certainly gives us some food for thought:

Such is the force of love, that it alone separates; it alone distinguishes the actions of men. This we have said in the case where the actions are similar. In the case where they are diverse, we find a man by love made fierce;  and by iniquity made gentle. A father strictly disciplines a boy, and a seducer of boys caresses. If you name the two things, strict discipline and caresses, who would not choose the caresses, and decline the punishment? Yet, if you take note of the persons, it is love that strictly disciplines, iniquity that caresses. See what we are insisting upon; that the deeds of men are only discerned by the root of love. For many things may be done that have a good appearance, and yet proceed not from the root of love…Once for all, then, a short precept is given you: Love, and do what you will: whether you hold your peace, through love hold your peace; whether you cry out, through love cry out; whether you correct, through love correct; whether you spare, through love do you spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good. – Augustine, Homily Seven on First John

Saint Hilary on God’s Majesty

Then, while the devout soul was baffled and astray through its own feebleness, it caught from the prophet’s voice this scale of comparison for God, admirably expressed, “By the greatness of His works and the beauty of the things that He has made the Creator of worlds is rightly discerned.” The Creator of great things is supreme in greatness, of beautiful things, in beauty. Since his work transcends our thoughts, all thought must be transcended by the Maker. Thus heaven and air and earth and seas are beautiful: beautiful also is the whole universe, as the Greeks agree, who from its beautiful ordering call it cosmos, that is, order. Our mind can estimate this beauty of the universe by a natural instinct— an instinct we see in certain birds and animals whose voices we cannot understand, yet whose language is clear to each other. Since all speech expresses thought, a meaning apparent to them lies in these voices. Must not the Lord of this universal beauty be recognised as Himself most beautiful amid all the beauty that surrounds Him? For though the splendour of His eternal glory overtax our mind’s best powers, it cannot fail to see that He is beautiful. We must in truth confess that God is most beautiful, and that with a beauty which, though it transcend our comprehension, forces itself upon our perception (Saint Hilary of Poitiers, Doctor of the Church, On the Trinity I:7).

Image of deep red autumn leaves, taken by me. I think they are beautiful, but as St. Hilary mentions, only a reflection of the supreme beauty of the Creator.

Pope Leo the Great: Lent is More Than Just a Diet

Pope Leo the Great on Lent:

Relying, therefore, dearly-beloved, on these arms, let us enter actively and fearlessly on the contest set before us: so that in this fasting struggle we may not rest satisfied with only this end, that we should think abstinence from food alone desirable. For it is not enough that the substance of our flesh should be reduced, if the strength of the soul be not also developed. When the outer man is somewhat subdued, let the inner man be somewhat refreshed; and when bodily excess is denied to our flesh, let our mind be invigorated by spiritual delights. Let every Christian scrutinise himself, and earth severely into his inmost heart: let him see that no discord cling there, no wrong desire be harboured. Let chasteness drive incontinence far away; let the light of truth dispel the shades of deception; let the swellings of pride subside; let wrath yield to reason; let the darts of ill-treatment be shattered, and the chidings of the tongue be bridled; let thoughts of revenge fall through, and injuries be given over to oblivion. In fine, let “every plant which the heavenly Father hath not planted be removed by the roots.” For then only are the seeds of virtue well nourished in us, when every foreign germ is uprooted from the field of wheat. If any one, therefore, has been fired by the desire for vengeance against another, so that he has given him up to prison or bound him with chains, let him make haste to forgive not only the innocent, but also one who seems worthy of punishment, that he may with confidence make use of the clause in the Lord’s prayer and say, “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” Which petition the Lord marks with peculiar emphasis, as if the efficacy of the whole rested on this condition, by saying, “For if ye forgive men their sins, your Father which is in heaven also will forgive you: but if ye forgive not men, neither will your Father forgive you your Sins.”

Pope St. Leo the Great, Sermon XXXIX: On Lent I

Pope Leo the Great on Advent Observance

And while all seasons are opportune for this duty, beloved, yet this present season is specially suitable and appropriate, at which our holy fathers, being Divinely inspired, sanctioned the Fast of [December], that when all the ingathering of the crops was complete, we might dedicate to God our reasonable service of abstinence, and each might remember so to use his abundance as to be more abstinent in himself and more open-handed towards the poor. For forgiveness of sins is most efficaciously prayed for with almsgiving and fasting, and supplications that are winged by such aids mount swiftly to God’s ears…

Pope Leo the Great, From Sermon XVI: On the Fast of the Tenth Month