Saturday, October 17, 2009

St. Caesarius of Arles - Sermon 15

The Fathers of the Church

St. Caesarius of Arles

Sermon 15


(1) There are many people, dearly beloved, who think that this alone is sufficient for eternal life, that they do no evil. Therefore, all who, perchance, deceive themselves with this false assurance should clearly understand that the mere avoidance of evil is not enough for any Christian unless he does as much good as he can. He who said ‘Turn away from evil,’ also said ‘and do good’1 The Gospel gives us the same advice in terrible words: ‘Every tree that is not bringing forth good fruit is to be cut down and thrown into the fire.’2 It does not say the tree that brings forth evil fruit, but ‘that is not bringing forth good fruit.’ From this you can realize what hope the man who does evil will have, since the one who does no good will be cut down and cast into the fire. Therefore, the Lord says: ‘He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me’; and: ‘What does it avail that you call me, “Lord, Lord” and do not practice the things that I say?’3

(2) Someone may say: Although I have given nothing of my possessions, I have not taken the goods of another; I will be secure on the day of judgment. Listen carefully, and do not deceive yourself with false assurance. What did the Lord say? ‘When the Son of Man shall come in his majesty, before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Then he will say to those on his right hand, "Come, blessed, take possession of the kingdom; for I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink." But to those on his left hand he will say, "Depart from me, accursed ones, into everlasting fire; for I was hungry and you did not give me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink." ‘4 Carefully heed what He said. He does not say: Come, ye blessed, take possession of the kingdom because you did not take the goods of another, but because you gave alms of your possessions. Likewise, He will not say to those on His left: Depart from me, accursed ones, into everlasting fire because you cheated another, but because you did not give of your earthly substance to the poor. I beseech you, brethren, carefully note that sentence and, as I have advised, retain it in your memory. If one who has not given his wealth to the poor is cast into the fire, where do you think the man who attacks the property of another by fraud will be cast? If the man who has not clothed the naked is thrown into the fire, imagine the fate of one who has robbed clothing. Therefore, I would like the man who believes it is sufficient not to have done evil, even if he has done no good, to tell me whether he would like to be treated by his servant the way he treats his Lord? Is he willing to have his servant do no good at all, as well as no wrong? We all desire our servants not only to avoid the evil we forbid, but also to fulfill the good we command. Now, although your servant will be seriously guilty if he steals your animals, he will not be without fault if he wills to care for them but negligently. It is not right that we do to our Lord what we are unwilling to suffer from our servant. We have not created our slaves nor do we feed them as with our substance, but God both created and feeds us; nevertheless, we want the servants we have not created to obey us with great diligence. Therefore, it is just that we who exercise dominion over our subjects should recognize our legitimate Lord. We have mentioned all this, brethren, in order that we may realize from the example of our servants that it is not enough for us to avoid evil if we are unwilling to do good.

(3) Those who think it sufficient for them to avoid evil usually say: If only I would merit to be found at the day of my death the same as I was when I went forth from the sacrament of baptism! Indeed, it is a fine thing for a man to be found cleansed from all evil on the day of judgment, but it is a grave wrong if he has not progressed in good works. To be as he was when he went from the sacrament of baptism is sufficient only for the man who departs from this life immediately after receiving the sacrament, for he has not had time to perform good works. However, for the man who has had a lifetime, and a long one, to be able to do good, it is not enough to be without evil if he also wills to be without good works. I would like to question the man who wants to be found at his death the same as he was the time he merited to receive the sacrament of baptism (although it is good to be always cleansed from evil, still it is a grave wrong not to advance in virtue). If he has planted a vine in his field, would he want it to be the same after ten years as it was the day he planted it? If he has planted an olive tree, let us see whether it would please him if after several years it is the same as when he planted it. If a son is born to him, let him consider whether he wants him after five years to continue in the smallness and age of infancy. Since no one is pleased with such things, just as a man grieves over a vineyard or olive tree or son that shows no growth, so he should grieve if he recognizes that he has made no progress since the time he was reborn in Christ. We ought to know most surely that just as we want our possessions, whether in flocks or fruits of the field, to increase and grow in good qualities, so our God doubtless desires and expects of us that as His own special vine the Christian people should bear grapes rather than thorns. Then there will not be said of it what you often sing in the canticle: ‘I planted a vineyard, and I looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.’5 Since, as the Apostle says, although we were wild olives we were grafted into the good olive tree, we should with God’s help persist in good works, so that we may say with the Prophet: ‘But I, as a fruitful olive tree in the house of the Lord, have hoped in the mercy of my God.’6

(4) Therefore, I implore what we mentioned above, brethren, that none of you think it sufficient for him to avoid evil. With all the strength he has, each one should turn aside from evil in order that he may do good, and hear the Lord say in the Gospel: ‘What does it avail that you call me, "Lord, Lord," and do not practice the things that I say?’ and: ‘If you love me, keep my commandments.’7 Through the goodness of God you know very well what Christ commanded in the Gospel: ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, so that you may be children of your Father’;8 moreover: ‘nevertheless give alms; and behold, all things are clean to you.’9 Let us also hear blessed James freely proclaim on this subject: Tor just as the body without the soul is dead, so faith also without works is dead.’10 Therefore, with all our strength, dearly beloved, let us do what is good; let us not be satisfied to be as we were at the time we received the sacrament of baptism. By baptism we were freed from all evils, but with God’s grace we ought to be filled with all virtues by a good life. If we rely on the sacrament of baptism alone, without good works, the unclean spirit who was driven out of us by the grace of Christ may return. Then, when he finds us without good works, he may bring with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and our last state will become worse than our first. Therefore, dearly beloved, in conformity with your usual pious custom willingly accept these words and reflect upon them rather carefully. If you do not trust in faith alone but also in good works, you will be able to refrain from evil deeds in such a way that with Christ’s help you may continually exercise yourself in good works. Then you will happily merit to hear with joy and exultation that blessed, desirable word: ‘Come, blessed, take possession of the kingdom which was prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’11 May He deign to grant this, who lives and reigns world without end. Amen.

1 Ps. 33.15.

2 Matt. 3.10.

3 John 14.21; Luke 6.46.

4 Matt. 25.31,32,34,35,41,42.

5 Isa. 5.2.

6 Ps. 51.10.

7 Luke 6.46; John 14.15.

8 Matt. 5.44,45.

9 Luke 11.41.

10 James 2.26.

11 Matt. 25.34.

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