[Consonant with both Anglicanism’s and monasticism’s love of patristic theology-spirituality, I occasionally post selections from a two-year lectionary for the Divine Office that draws mostly from patristic writings. The lectionary was initially edited by Stephen Mark Holmes (University of Edinburgh School of Divinity) and subsequently re-edited and formatted by Michele Freyhauf (Durham University). Click here for the link to the lectionary. When there are lacunae in the Durham edition, I draw from R. M. Healey’s edition. Click here for the link to his formatting of the lectionary.]
Patristic Lectionary – 25 February 2021 – St. Walburga; Thursday in the First Week of Lent
[The image is a sixth-century mosaic depicting the widow’s offering in the temple (Mark 12:41-44). “If we want to receive, we must give” wrote St. Peter Chrysologus in the sermon quoted in this post. Peter Chrysologus became the bishop of Ravenna in 424. He made inroads against heresy and Roman paganism in his diocese by means of his pastoral care and passionate preaching (hence, his title “Chrysologus,” i.e. “Golden-worded”). In 1729, Pope Benedict XIII declared Peter Chrysologus a doctor of the Church.]
The Lord is to be Worshipped in His One and Only Temple
“These are the statutes and ordinances which you shall be careful to do in the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you to possess, all the days that you live upon the earth. You shall surely destroy all the places where the nations whom you shall dispossess served their gods, upon the high mountains and upon the hills and under every green tree; you shall tear down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and burn their Asherim with fire; you shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy their name out of that place. You shall not do so to the LORD your God. But you shall seek the place which the LORD your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there; thither you shall go, and thither you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the offering that you present, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herd and of your flock; and there you shall eat before the LORD your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your households, in all that you undertake, in which the LORD your God has blessed you. You shall not do according to all that we are doing here this day, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes; for you have not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance which the LORD your God gives you. But when you go over the Jordan, and live in the land which the LORD your God gives you to inherit, and when he gives you rest from all your enemies round about, so that you live in safety, then to the place which the LORD your God will choose, to make his name dwell there, thither you shall bring all that I command you: your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the offering that you present, and all your votive offerings which you vow to the LORD. And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your sons and your daughters, your menservants and your maidservants, and the Levite that is within your towns, since he has no portion or inheritance with you. Take heed that you do not offer your burnt offerings at every place that you see; but at the place which the LORD will choose in one of your tribes, there you shall offer your burnt offerings, and there you shall do all that I am commanding you.”
St. Peter Chrysologus
Sermon 43 (Patrologia Latina 52:320, 322)
Perseverance in faith, devotion, and virtue is assured by three things: prayer, fasting, and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting gains entrance, mercy receives. These three things, prayer, fasting, and mercy are all one and they give life to each other.
Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them, for this is impossible. If we have only one of them, if we have not all three together, we have nothing. Whoever prays, then, must also fast; whoever fasts must also show mercy. If we want our own petitions heard we must hear the petitions of others. God’s ear will be open to us if we do not turn a deaf ear to other people.
When we fast we should understand what it means to be really hungry. If we want God to take account of our hunger we must feel for the hunger of others. If we hope for mercy we must show mercy. If we look for kindness we must show kindness. If we want to receive we must give. Only a shameless person would ask for himself what he refused to give to others. In showing mercy this should be the rule: show it in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness as you would wish it to be shown to you.
Let prayer, mercy, and fasting, then, be one single appeal to God on our behalf, one speech in our defence, one threefold plea in our favour. What we have lost by despising others let us regain by fasting. By fasting let us offer our souls in sacrifice, for we can make no better offering to God, as is proved by the prophet’s words: A sacrifice pleasing to God is a contrite spirit. A contrite and humbled heart, O God, you will not spurn.
Offer your soul to God, make him an oblation of your fasting so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this gift to God will not be excused, for you are never without the means of giving if the gift to be given is yourself.
To make these offerings acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. When mercy dries up, fasting is arid. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to the earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out your vices and sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit. When you fast, a thin sowing of mercy will mean a thin harvest. When you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. So do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.