Saturday, August 22, 2009

St. Caesarius of Arles - Sermon 14

The Fathers of the Church

St. Caesarius of Arles

Sermon 14


(l) Your faith and devotion have given us great joy, dearly beloved. The more attentively we see you come to church, the more joyfully we exult and give thanks to God because He deigns to take possession of your heart in such a way that we derive great joy from your manner of living. I beseech you to observe in your hearts what you show in the body. You know, brethren, that all men have the habit of wanting to show off their new clothes, if possible, or at least bright ones, when they come to church on the holy feasts. If a man has an old tunic he procures a new one, in order that he may go to church well-dressed; if he has a dirty one he hurries and washes it; if it is torn he tries to mend it. The purpose is that nothing about him may appear torn or dirty to human eyes when he goes among men. What we do with regard to our bodies is good and pleasing, but you know it is wrong if we do not do the same thing in our souls. Therefore, just as you fix your body, fix your soul. Do not let your body wear bright garments in the sight of men while your soul is filthy in the sight of the angels. You fear a spot on your clothing: see to it that whatever is dirty in your soul is washed with the tears of repentance. If anything is black, let it be made white by almsgiving; if anything is defiled by dissipation, let it be washed clean by chastity. If anything in the soul is broken, let it be repaired by good works; and if anything is lost, let it be restored by prayer. It does us no good to adorn ourselves outwardly in various ways if inwardly we soil our soul with many sins. What benefit is derived from adorning the servant and disgracing the mistress, in other words, in fixing the body and robbing the soul of good works? Of course we feed the body, although, whether we will or no, in a few years worms are going to devour it in the grave. The soul, however, which we look down upon and despise, is to appear before God and the angels in heaven. Then it will be really in disgrace, if it has defiled itself by dissipation or avarice. Therefore I beseech you, brethren, let us think of the salvation of our soul as much as we can. For our body in this world let us keep only what is sufficient, namely, simple fare and proper clothing. Let us entrust whatever will be better and more useful for our soul to heaven, ‘where neither moth nor rust consumes, nor thieves break in and steal.’1 Indeed, what we keep for our bodies in dissipation in this life we lose either during our lifetime, or at least immediately after our death.

(2) When you assemble in church, let each one give in offering to the poor whatever he can. Moreover, entertain strangers in your dwellings with great kindness; do what you can for them, and wash their feet. Above all, visit the sick, and, if any people are in disagreement, with all your might recall them to peace and harmony. Thus, at the day of judgment that desirable word may be addressed to you: ‘I was hungry, and you gave me to eat,’2 and all the rest. Let no one keep in his heart hatred for his neighbor, but love, instead, for if a man feels hatred toward even one person he cannot be at peace with God. A man’s prayer is not heard by God as long as anger is stored up in his soul. Let that be enough for you, whatever God gives you as the result of your just labors. Let no one commit theft, or bear false witness, for it is written: CA false witness shall not be unpunished.’3 Let no one commit adultery, because the Apostle exclaims: ‘Adulterers will not possess the kingdom of God.’4 And further on : ‘Every sin that a man commits is outside the body, but fornicators sin against their body.’5 No one should do to another what he does not want done to himself, and he should do to others as he wants done to himself. One who has vowed virginity to God should, with His help, keep that promise. Moreover, he should live cautiously and carefully, lest he perish through some unbecoming familiarity or cause others to do so. Virginity is destroyed in a moment’s time, and it cannot be restored in a hundred years. A man or woman who wants to marry should observe virginity until united in marriage. If they are first corrupted, they come to marriage dead, because as soon as adultery is committed the soul is strangled and dies. Any men before they take wives, or girls before they take husbands, whom the Devil has incited to corrupt themselves before marriage, afterwards are so held down by the Devil himself that they can only with difficulty, or not at all, preserve untainted their chastity.

(3) Above all, give tithes of all your profits to the church for the clergy and the poor; from the nine-tenths which remains in your possession, give alms. By this means redeem your sins and prepare for yourself eternal rewards. Accustom yourself neither to commit perjury nor to swear, because Scripture says: A man that sweareth much shall be filled with iniquity: and a scourge shall not depart from his house’;6 while the Lord says: ‘Do not swear at all. But let your speech be, “Yes, yes; No, no.”’7 Do not curse, because the Apostle says: ‘Nor will the evil-tongued possess the kingdom of God.’8 Do not slander, for it is written: ‘Whoever speaketh ill to his brother will be destroyed.’9 Do not lie to one another, because The mouth that belieth killeth the soul.’10 Likewise, be not arrogant toward your parents or neighbors, because ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’11 When you come to church, present the offering which is to be consecrated on the altar. Indeed, there are many devout poor people who frequently present offerings in church; although they scarcely have the means to live, still they do not come without some gift. On the other hand, there are some rich men who give nothing to the poor, make no offering to the church, and do not blush to share in the offering presented by the poor. These men receive judgment rather than a remedy. Therefore, while there is still time, such people ought to correct and amend their lives.

(4) I also advise you to destroy all the temples which you find. Do not make vows to trees or pray to fountains. Avoid enchanters as poison of the Devil. Do not hang on yourself and your family diabolical phylacteries, magic letters, amber charms, and herbs. Whoever does this evil should not doubt that he has committed a sacrilege. If anyone knows that near his home there are altars or a temple or profane trees where religious promises are made, he should be eager to destroy them by pulling or cutting them down. If anyone fails to do this, on judgment day he will have to render the whole account for the souls of however many come there and commit dreadful crimes. Notice, brethren, that we proclaim in the hearing of God and His angels: Do not despise your herald, if you want to escape your Judge. We give you the advice we have, and may the powerful Lord deign to instill it into your hearts, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.

1 Matt. 6.20.

2 Matt. 25.35.

3 Prov. 19.5.

4 1 Cor. 6.9,10.

5 Cf. 1 Cor. 6.18.

6 Eccii. 23.12.

7 Matt. 5.34,37.

8 I Cor. 6.10.

9 According to the editor, Dom Morin, a free translation of Prov. 20.13.

10 Wisd. 1.11.

11 James 4.6.

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