Lent and the Poor: Some Reflections from St Augustine

An earlier post quoted Fr Robert Taft, SJ on “the deep human value of asceticism: openness to others is the beginning of growth, and death to self is the condition of that openness.” Fasting and our other spiritual disciplines are closely related to charity and justice. As I have said, it is worth reading Cardinal Mahony’s Lenten Message for this year, which ends by asking his flock to join him in “committing our Lenten practices to making room for the stranger in our midst, praying for the courage and strength to offer our spiritual and pastoral ministry to all who come to us, offering our prayer and support for the ones in our midst who, like Jesus, have no place to rest their heads (Matthew 8:20).”

The Augustinians of the Midwest have posted some reflections for Lent from St Augustine on fasting, hunger and the poor. They remind us, “Lent is a liturgical season dedicated to encouraging a renewal of our baptismal commitment. It is a time of conversion. Christian conversion is necessarily a conversion to God and to one another.”

Here are some excerpts from St Augustine:

From the Sermons of Saint Augustine

Sermon 389

This is my recommendation to you, my brothers and sisters; give earthly bread, and knock at the door of the heavenly bread; the Lord is bread. I, he said, am the bread of life (Jn 6:35). How will he give to you, if you don’t give to the person in need? Someone else needs something urgently from you; you need something urgently from someone else.

So while he is the Lord, and the real Lord, and has no need of our goods, all the same, in order that we might do something for him, he was ready to be hungry in his poor. In a word, therefore, let us all listen, and seriously reflect what great merit there is in having fed Christ when he was hungry, and what sort of a crime it is to have ignored Christ when he was hungry. Repentance for our sins does indeed change us for the better; but not even that will appear to be of much use to us, if it is barren of the works of mercy.

Sermon 390

Your Lord Christ has entered into such a transaction, being rich up above, poor here below. He is hungry here; he asks you for a mercantile loan, he will pay you back on the nail.

So why do you hesitate, why do you put off giving? Or isn’t he a reliable partner, to be trusted to pay back? Give to the poor, you won’t lose it, don’t be afraid; you’re giving to him, when you give to one of the least of his own.

Listen to the gospel; when those placed on the right hand side were amazed, as he recounted a number of needy situations he had been in, they said, When did we see you in any of these situations? The Lord replies, When you did it for one of the least of mine, you did it for me (Mt 25:37-40). I it was, I’m telling you, who received it whenever poor people received it; it was in them that I was hungry, in them that I was satisfied.

Give without a qualm; it’s the Lord who receives, the Lord who is asking. You wouldn’t have anything to give him, unless you had first received it from him. There is no other remedy to deliver us from death but acts of charity. It is difficult for any human being to lead this life without sins. So be generous in giving, my brothers and sisters, distribute your possessions. Make yourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure that abides in heaven.

Sermon 210

First and foremost, clearly, please remember the poor, so that what you withhold from yourselves by living more sparingly, you may deposit in the treasury of heaven. Let the hungry Christ receive what the fasting Christian receives less of. Let the self-denial of one who undertakes it willingly become the support of the one who has nothing. Let the voluntary want of the person who has plenty become the needed plenty of the person in want.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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