By Blessed Augustine of Hippo (+430)
A Spiritual Father's Exhortation
Come, Brethren, be reformed in your life! You dread lest an enemy should bring you before a court; and you have no fear that God will judge you? Where is your faith? Fear while you have time to fear. The Day of Judgment is indeed far off; but the last day of every individual man cannot be far away, for life is short. And since even this brief span is uncertain, you know not when your last day will be.
Because of tomorrow correct your life today. Let the reproof in secret profit you now. I speak openly, but I am rebuking you in secret. I knock at the ears of all; but I address myself to the conscience of some in particular. Were I to say, You, adulterer, mend your ways, I would in the first place say what I did not know, or maybe only suspect from something chance heard. But I do not say, You, adulterer, mend your ways, but what I do say is this: Let each one of you in this congregation who is an adulterer mend his ways. The rebuke is public; amendment is in secret. He who fears God will, I know, amend his life.
I have come to know, and with me so will any man who has reflected even a little, that there is no man who fears God who will not amend his life at His word, unless it is the man who thinks he has a longer time to live. It is this brings death to so many, as they keep saying, 'tomorrow, tomorrow' (cras, cras): and of a sudden the door is closed. He remains without, with his raven's croak, because his voice was not the grieving voice of the dove. Tomorrow, tomorrow (Cras, cras): the voice of the raven. Mourn like the dove, and beat your breast; but as you beat your breast, let what you beat amend itself, lest you seem not so much to be beating your conscience as ramming it hard with blows; making a bad conscience more unyielding instead of more obedient. Mourn, but not in fruitless grieving.
It may be that you say to yourself: God has prommised me forgiveness, whenever I reform; so I am safe. I read in the Holy Scripture: If the wicked do penance for his sins which he hath committed, and shall do justice, I will not remember all his iniquities (Ezek. 18: 21, 22). I am safe; tomorrow, when I amend my life, God will pardon me my sins. And what am I to say? Am I to cry out against God? Am I to say to God: Do not give him pardon? Am I to say that this is not written in the Scripture, that God has not made this promise? If I were to say that, I would say what is false. You are right; what you say is true.
That God has promised you pardon when you amend your life, I cannot deny., But tell me, pray: I agree and I grant you and I know that God has promised you forgiveness. But who has promised you tomorrow? Where you read that you will receive forgiveness, when you do penance, read for me also how much longer you have to live. It is not there, you say. Therefore you do not know how long more you have to live. Then reform your life, and be always prepared.
Do not live in fear of the last day, as though it were a thief coming to wreck your house while you sleep; but keep watch, and amend your life this day. Why put it off tilt tomorrow? If your life is to be long, let it be happy as well as long. No one puts off a good long dinner; and you would like a long evil life! If it is to be long, it will be all the better for being good. If it is to be short, it is as well that its fruits should last. Men so neglect their own life that, in it, they will have nothing bad except the life itself. You buy a house, you look for a good one. You marry a wife, you choose a good one. You desire children, and you hope they will be good. You buy shoes, and you will not have bad ones. But you love a bad life! What has life done to you that you will only have it bad; that among all the good things that are yours, your life alone is bad?
And so, Brethren, should I wish to correct one among you in private, it may be that he will listen to me. In public I correct many among you. All approve; would that some might do as I say! I do not care for the man who approves of me with his voice, and scorns me in his heart. For when you approve of what I say, and yet do not amend your life, you are a witness against yourself. If your life is bad, and what I say pleases you, then be displeased with yourself; because if your life is bad, and you are displeased with it, once you amend it you will be pleased with yourself; as, if I mistake not, I said the day before yesterday.
In all that I am saying to you now, I am but placing a mirror before you. These are not my words. I speak to you only at the command of the Lord; for fear of whom I dare not be silent. Who would not rather be silent, and not have to render an account because of you? But we have already assumed a burden which we cannot, and ought not, throw off our shoulders. When the Epistle to the Hebrews was being read, my brethren, you heard these words: Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you (13:17).
When do we do this with joy? When we see men draw fruit from Godís words. When does the laborer work with joy in his field? When he looks at the tree, and sees the fruit: when he looks at his crop, and looks forward to an abundant yield on the threshing floor; when he has not labored in vain, nor bent his back in vain, nor worn his hands in fruitless toil, nor borne in vain both heat and cold. It is for this he says, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. Did he say, Not profitable for them? No; he said, unprofitable for you. For when those placed over you are saddened by your wickedness it is profitable to them; their sadness is profitable to them; but it is not profitable for you. It is our desire that nothing shall profit us that does not profit you. Let us then, brethren, labor together in doing good in Godís field, that together we may enjoy His reward.
then to the Lord our God, the Father Almighty, let us, as best we can, give
thanks with all our hearts, beseeching Him that in His goodness He will in mercy
hear our prayers, and by His grace drive evil from our thoughts and actions,
increase our faith, guide our thoughts and actions, increase our faith, guide
our minds, grant us His holy inspirations, and bring us to joy without end,
through His Son our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
An excerpt from ďOn Correcting One Another,Ē Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Vol. III:100; Preservation Press, Swedesboro, NJ, 1996.
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