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Saint Jerome, Doctor of the Church, in old age, by Lionello Spada (1610)

In his commentary on old King Solomon's need to sleep with a maiden hot enough to keep him warm and holy enough not to arouse his lust, Saint Jerome has this to say:

Who is this Shunammite, both wife and virgin, so hot that she could heat the frozen, so holy that she did not rouse to lust him whom she had warmed?

He goes on to explain that wisdom is the maiden who comes to embrace us in old age:

In the aged, nearly all the bodily powers wear out,
and wisdom alone increases;
all the others decrease:
such as fasting, watching, sleeping on the floor,
travelling from place to place,
entertaining travellers,
defending the poor,
being instant and persevering in prayer,
visiting the sick,
manual labour for the providing of alms.
And without prolonging my discourse,
all those things that are done through the body diminish
as the body breaks down.

I do not mean to say that wisdom,
which in many of the aged declines into senility
is lacking in the young or in those of maturer age;
that is, in those who by toil or earnest zeal,
by holiness of life,
and by frequent prayer to the Lord Jesus,
so seek after knowledge:
but I mean that many who are young in body
have a battle to fight,
and amidst the incentives to sin
and the temptations of the flesh,
wisdom is smothered as fire is in green wood,
so that its flame cannot leap forth.

But when old age comes upon those
who have spent their youth in acquiring knowledge
and have exercised themselves in the law of the Lord day and night,
then they become more learned with age,
more skilled through experience,
wiser as time goes by,
and they reap the most sweet fruit from their diligence.

Saint Jerome, Letter to Nepotian


How I love to read the homilies of Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, at the Office of Matins, in the silent hours before daybreak. Today, Pope Benedict XVI is in Milan. This morning he spoke of Saint Ambrose of the other holy shepherds who have illustrated the Church of Milan through the ages. Here is part of the lesson from Saint Ambrose that was read yesterday morning at Matins. It is a commentary on Luke 5:17-26. The comments in italics are my own.

First of all, as I have said before,
every sick man ought to ask for prayers to be offered
for his recovery,
so that, by means of these prayers,
the weakened frame of our mortal life
and the limping steps of our bodily movements
may be made whole again
by the healing power of the celestial Word.

Weakened frame and limping steps: is there anyone who, at least at certain hours and in certain seasons of life, does not recognize himself in this description? Saint Ambrose says that the sick man ought to ask for prayers to be offered for his recovery. This simple statement confesses the Church's age-old belief that in answer to prayer it pleases God to restore wholeness to the shattered.

Therefore, there should be men who are able to help the sick in mind,
so that when the soul is depressed
by the torpor of bodily weakness
these men can rouse it again to higher things.

Here, Saint Ambrose recognizes that, within the Church, there is, in fact, a vocation to help the sick in mind.

By their aid the sick man can easily be brought and laid before Jesus,
and be found worthy of the Lord's glance.
For the Lord does look upon those that are lowly;
for He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden.
And when He saw their faith, He said unto them,
Man thy sins are forgiven thee.

It is a great and powerful thing to bring the sick before the gaze of the Lord Jesus, either in person or by representing them before His Eucharistic Face.

Great is the Lord, who for the merits of some, forgives others,
who tries some, and forgives the trespasses of others.
Why should not your fellow-Christian, O man,
have influence with you,
if he has the right to intercede and obtain mercy from God?

Through prayer, mere men can have influence on God. The humble man, then, will allow himself to be influenced for the good by those whom God Himself deigns to hear.

O thou who condemnest,
learn to forgive;
thou who art sick, to pray!
If the gravity of thy sins makes thee afraid
lest they should not be forgiven thee,
betake thyself to the Church.
She will pray on thy behalf,
and God will pardon, as He looks on her,
what He might deny thee.

The condemning man must learn to forgive. The sick man must learn to pray. All must entrust themselves to the efficacious prayer of the Church, for she is a merciful mother pleading for us, through Christ, in the presence of the Father of mercies and God of all consolation.

Saint Ambrose, Book Five, Commentary on the Gospel of Saint Luke

Saint Chrysostom on Saint Paul

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At Matins during Epiphanytide it is customary to read the Epistles of Saint Paul. Yesterday our monastic lectionary gave us a magnificent sermon of Saint John Chrysostom in which he proclaims his own devotion to the Apostle. I mentioned this sermon to our Oblate Charles Michie (who bears the Oblate name of Paul), and promised that I would post it. Here it is:

Paul, the Spiritual Trumpet

As I keep hearing the Epistles of blessed Paul read, and that twice every week, and often three or four times, whenever we are celebrating the memorials of the holy martyrs, gladly do I enjoy the spiritual trumpet, and get roused and warmed with desire at recognising the voice so dear to me, and seem to fancy him all but present to my sight, and behold him conversing with me.

affresco Crisostomo.jpg

Ignorance of Paul

But I grieve and am pained, that all people do not know this man as much as they ought to know him: but some are so far ignorant of him as not even to know for certain the number of his Epistles. And this comes not of incapacity, but of their not having the wish to be continually conversing with this blessed man.

A Continual Cleaving to the Man

For it is not through any natural readiness and sharpness of wit that even I am acquainted with as much as I do know, if I do know anything, but owing to a continual cleaving to the man, an earnest affection towards him. For what belongs to men beloved, they who love them know above all others; because they are interested in them. And this also this blessed Apostle shews, in what he said to the Philippians: "Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the Gospel."

Read Saint Paul With a Ready Mind

And so ye also, if ye be willing to apply to the reading of him with a ready mind, will need no other aid. For the word of Christ is true which saith, "Seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you."

Pay Attention When Saint Paul Is Read in Church

But since the more part of those who here gather themselves to us, have taken upon themselves the bringing up of children, and the care of a wife, and the charge of a family, and for this cause cannot afford to give themselves wholly to this labour, be ye at all events roused to receiving those things which have been brought together by others, and bestow as much attention to the hearing of what is said as ye give the gathering of goods.

Saint Gregory Nazianzen

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Gregory Nazianzen.jpg

In the traditional calendar, today's feast of Saint Gregory Nazianzen, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. Some years ago, when my father and mother were visiting me in Rome, we met in Saint Peter's Basilica so that I could offer Holy Mass for them there. The altars for "private Masses" are assigned according to availability; to my delight, the sacristan sent me to offer Holy Mass at the altar of Saint Gregory Nazianzen. The body of the saint lies beneath the altar. Concerning today's saint, Dom Guéranger writes in his Liturgical Year:

Side by side with Athanasius, a second Doctor of the Church comes forward, at this glad Season, offering to the Risen Jesus the tribute of his learning and eloquence. It is Gregory of Nazianzum, the friend of Basil; the great Orator; the admirable Poet, whose style combines energy of thought with a remarkable richness and ease of expression; the one among all the Gregories who has merited and received the glorious name of Theologian, on account of the soundness of his teachings, the sublimity of his ideas, and the magnificence of his diction.

And, here, for your meditation, is an excerpt of a catechetical sermon of Saint Gregory Nazianzen on the Most Holy Trinity:

Hold Fast to the Confession of the Trinity

Before all else, I beg you, keep the good deposit of the faith, by which I live and work; with which I endure all that is so distressful and despise all delights; that is, hold fast to the confession of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Three Infinite Ones in Unity

This I commit unto you today; with this I will baptize you and make you grow. This I give you to share, and to defend all your life, the one Godhead and power, found in the Three in unity, and comprising the Three separately, not unequal in substance or nature, neither increased nor diminished by superiorities or inferiorities; in every respect equal, in every respect the same; just as the beauty and the greatness of the heavens is one. This is the infinite conjunction of three infinite Ones, each is God when considered in Himself; as the Father, so the Son; as the Son, so the Holy Spirit.

Illumined by the Splendour of the Three

No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the One. When I think of any One of the Three I think of him as the Whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking of escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that One so as to attribute a greater greatness to the Rest. When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the Undivided Light.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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