Saturday, January 30, 2010

St. Caesarius of Arles - Sermon 17

St. Caesarius of Arles
468/470–27 August 542
Sermon 17

(1) We bless our God, dearly beloved, and render abundant thanks to Him because in accordance with our desires we have merited to find you safe and sound. Indeed, He is a kind Lord who knows the secrets of the heart and realizes that we experience no greater joy in this world than when we know that both in heart and in body you are healthy and perfect in the fear and love of Christ. Thus, to be sure, the Apostle spoke: ‘This is our joy and our crown, if you stand fast in the Lord.’1 Moreover, because we ought to rejoice more over the salvation of a soul than over bodily health, let us talk about eternal happiness so far as the Lord permits.

(2) When the Gospel was read a little while ago, our conscience trembled violently and our whole heart was shaken with excessive fear. Although the reward of the just afforded us consolation, still, because we know our negligences, the punishment of sinners instilled a great fear in us. For we heard the Lord say concerning Himself: ‘When the Son of Man shall come in his majesty, he will sit on the throne of his glory; and 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; and he will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then he will say to those who will stand on his right hand, “Come, blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom which was prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink.” But to those who will be on his left hand he will say, “Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you did not give me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.”’‘ 2 And later He says: ‘These will go into everlasting punishment, but the just into everlasting life.’ 3

(3) Who would not tremble violently at these words, dearly beloved? Whose conscience does not feel an intolerable jolt? I say truly, brethren, that anyone who does not awaken at such thunder is evidently not asleep, but dead. Indeed, we have heard the irrevocable sentences: the one which the just will hear, never to depart from heaven; and the other which sinners will hear, never to leave hell. However, the kind and merciful Lord did not utter these sentences to lead us to despair, but to make us watchful and careful. Since He willed to warn us before the lapse of so many years, He wants to find us ready when He comes. See, indeed, how He wants to move you as He exclaims: Look out! Anyone who wants to aim an arrow at another does not shout to him: Look out! A man wants to shoot an arrow in such a way that the one who is to be struck may not know it except when he is unable to avoid death. An ordinarily wicked, hostile man does this, but God, who is good and kind, is not like that. Since the beginning of the world He has stretched out the bow of His power, and still He has never aimed an arrow.

(4) However, we should not be without anxiety, dearly beloved, because we know that He is keeping His patience for such a long time. The fact that such great things happen in the world and He still does not avenge them indicates patience, not carelessness. God has not lost His power, but is preserving us for repentance. Yet, the longer He awaits your amendment, the harsher will be your punishment if you refuse to amend. God indeed holds the sword, and He wishes to strike sin; we, on the contrary, defend our sins because we love them. Thus, we who should be the accusers of our sins become their defenders. Truly, dearly beloved, God does not want to kill the sinner, but his sin. Like a good doctor He wants to strike the disease, not the person who is ill. But, what is worse, we often despise the doctor and love our sickness: we love our sin and despise God. Sin, indeed, is like this, a dragon, a viper; but concerning the Lord it is written: Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk: and thou shalt trample under foot the lion and the dragon.’ 4 We, on the other hand, embrace our sins like lions and dragons. But our God, who wants to punish sin and save the sinner, daily exclaims to man: Cast off your sin from you and without you it will die. If you refuse to throw aside your sin you will perish with it, for sin cannot go unpunished. God wants to kill sin, not to strike the sinner.

(5) God exclaims to you: Cast off your sin from you. For I made you, but you yourself made your sin. Indeed, I do not want to kill you whom I made, but the sin which you made yourself. I am willing to free you from your captivity and to kill your enemy; I want to drive away your sickness, to rescue you who are ill. You, however, love and embrace your sin: that which might have perished without you is going to perish with you. Because you might have received heaven if your sin had perished, by keeping it you will suffer eternal punishment. What greater kindness could be conceived or described, dearly beloved, than that of our Lord God? Before the lapse of so many years He deigns to warn us what we should seek after, what avoid. The Lord has willed to reveal to the whole world the sentence which will be imposed on judgment day.

1 Phil. 4.1.
2 Matt. 25.31-35, 41-42.
3 Matt. 25.46.
4 Ps. 90.13.

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