Wednesday, February 15, 2017

St. Augustine On Penitents or Why Merely Giving up Chocolate Might Miss the Point



On the traditional calendar the three Sundays prior to Lent are termed, Septuagesima; Sexagesima and Quinquagesima (this year Feb. 12 Feb. 19 and Feb. 26).  This period of time was intended a preparation for more rigorous time of penance to follow during Lent.

On this theme I offer some quotes from several Sermons by St. Augustine on 'penitents' or why merely giving up chocolate might miss the point of the Lenten season.

Sermon 351

1. Penitents, penitents, penitents-if, that is, you really are penitents, really are sorry for your sins, and not just treating the whole thing as a joke! Change your mode of life, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20). I mean, you are just indulging yourselves, while still in chains. "What chains?" you ask.

“What you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Mt 18:18). You hear how you are bound, and you think you can take God in? You perform the penance, you kneel down-and you laugh, and snap your fingers at God's patience? If you're a penitent, repent; if you don't repent, you're not a penitent. So if you do repent, if you're really sorry, why go on doing the bad things you did? If you're sorry for having done them, don't go on doing them. If you still do go on doing them, you're certainly not a real penitent. (Sermon 351.1) (Trans Edmond Hill, WSA III/10)

Sermon 232

8. Yesterday I warned you, and I'm warning your graces again that the resurrection of Christ is only in us if we live good lives; if our old bad life dies, and the new one makes progress every day. There are a great many penitents here; when hands are laid on them, there is an extremely long line. "Pray, penitents-and the penitents go out to pray." I examine the penitents, and I find people living bad lives. How can you be sorry for what you go on doing? If you're sorry, don't do it. If you go on doing it, though, the name's wrong, the crime remains.' Some people have asked for a place among the penitents themselves; some have been excommunicated by me and reduced to the penitents' place. And those who asked for it themselves want to go on doing what they were doing, and those who have been excommunicated by me and reduced to the penitents' corner don't want to rise from there, as though penitents' corner were a really choice spot. It ought to be a place for humility, and it becomes a place for iniquity.

It's you I'm talking to, you that are called penitents and are not so, it's you I'm talking to. What am I to say to you? Can I praise you? On this point I cannot praise you (1 Cor 11 :22), I can only groan and moan. And what am I to do, having become a cheap song? Change your ways, I beg you, change your ways. The end of life is totally uncertain. Every one of us is riding for a fall. 20 You are all putting off living good lives, thinking that life will be long. You're thinking of a long life, and not afraid of a sudden death? But all right, let it be a long one; and I look for one real penitent, and I can't find one. How much better a long, good life will be, than a long, bad one! Nobody wants to put up with a long, bad dinner, practically everybody wants to have a long, bad life. (Sermon 232.8) --(Trans Edmond Hill, WSA III/7)

Sermon 392

6. A word now to the penitents: what is it that you are doing? You know very well-you are doing nothing! What's the use of your humbling yourselves, [17] if you don't change your behavior? A word to the catechumens: be impatient and on fire in your determination to receive grace.[18] But choose for yourselves the right people in the Church of God to imitate. If you don't find any-woe is me, my God! What am I saying, "If you don't find any"? So is there not a single one among the faithful for you to find? So many years I have been baptizing so many people, and all for nothing, if there are none among them who keep what they have received, and take care of what they have heard. God forbid I should believe that! It would be better for me to stop being your bishop, if that's how it is. But I hope, I believe that there are such people.

All this, however, puts me in the wretched position of being compelled very often to know who the adulterers are, while I cannot know who the chaste people are. What I can rejoice over is hidden and private, what causes me torment is out in the open and public. So then, catechumens, be filled with desire for the grace of God, choose the right people to imitate, to associate with, and to join with in the delightful conversations of charity. Don't listen to malicious gossip. Malicious conversations corrupt good behavior (1 Cor 15:33). Live like ears of corn among the weeds; put up with the distresses of this world, like grain on the threshing-floor. The winnower is going to come. Nobody should set up as a thoroughgoing, all-round separator of the two during this age. [19] (Sermon 392.6)---[(Trans Edmond Hill, WAS III/10, p. 424-425.]
NOTES
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17. By taking their place publicly in the ranks of the paenitentes, in the "sin bin”
18. That is, to receive baptism, for which a common name among African Christians was "grace."
19. A parting shot at the Donatists, who were enthusiastic separators.
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