Sermon – Saint Peter Chrysologus, December 4, 2010 by Fr. Smith
There is a wonderful old saying: Great minds think alike! That sentiment is balanced by the wisdom expressed in the observation: Fools seldom differ! The great minds who are the Doctors of the Church demonstrate how both of those assertions are true by showing the wisdom of being a fool for Christ. My mother used to answer the musical question: What kind of fool am I? by protesting: / didn’t know there was more than one kind of fool. Mom is in agreement with the Doctors of the Church, whose example reveals that the only fool is the fool who is not a fool for Christ. The fool for Christ is no man’s fool. The man who relies on his own wisdom has a fool for a teacher. The foolish scandal of the Cross is the Saint’s Wisdom, the Doctor’s Truth, the Life of God shared with man. Embracing the foolish scandal of the Cross, the Doctors of the Church manifest the Wisdom of God, the Truth of Jesus Christ, and the Love of the Holy Ghost. We would do well to learn the lessons they teach with their lives.
For instance, Saint Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor, extends a compliment to the fools of Christ and his rebuke to the wise of the world by saying: / offer this book not to philosophers, not to the worldly-wise, not to great theologians perplexed with endless questions, but to the simple and ignorant who strive rather to love God than to know much. It is not by disputing, but by activity, that we learn to love. As to those men full of questions, superior in every science, but inferior in the love of Christ, I consider them incapable of understanding the contents of this book; unless putting away all vain show of learning they strive by humble self-renunciation, prayer, and meditation, to kindle within them the divine spark which, inflaming their hearts and dispelling all darkness, will lead them beyond the concerns of time even to the throne of peace. Indeed, by the very fact of their knowing more, they are better disposed to love, or, at least, they would be if they truly despised themselves and could rejoice to be despised by others.
Saint Augustine, the Doctor of Grace, had little patience for (he foolishness of the men who called themselves and their friends wise. When asked the silly question, “What was God doing before He created Heaven and earth?” Saint Augustine resisted the temptation to opine that Our Lord was “preparing hell for those who pry into mysteries”. The friend of Christ, the fool for Christ, does not insult the Divine Majesty by pretending that any answer given by God could be fathomed entirely by a mere creature, be it a Seraph, a man, or a supercomputer.
In a display of delightful contempt for the wisdom of the world, Saint Bede, the Doctor of History, cast aspersions at the thinking of fools who sought truth apart from the Faith by proclaiming: The pagan writers are acorns on which the pigs feed.. .the philosophers are the fathers of heretics! So much for seeking to dialogue with the ideas of the modern world.
Saint Thomas Aquinas was well known for his meekness. It would never have occurred to him to hurl such invective, no matter how apt and true, at a fellow sinner. Instead, the Angelic Doctor assessed his own life’s work with the biting criticism: It is straw, nothing but straw, fit only for burning! If the clearest thinker ever bom from the womb of Holy Mother Church calls his greatest writings kindling for the stove, let us be cautious in offering ourselves compliments on the insights we have in the spiritual life, or congratulating ourselves on our lame efforts to live them out.
It is unfortunately the case that many men believe they are perfectly competent at the skills necessary to come to correct understandings of the Wisdom revealed in the Word of God. Saint Jerome, the Doctor who gave us the definitive translation of the Holy Bible, begged to differ with them, whenever they opined so foolishly, whether fifteen-hundred years or ago, or the day after tomorrow. Condemning the protestant and modernist- Catholic error of being one’s own Magisterium, Saint Jerome observed: The art of interpreting the Holy Scriptures is the only one of which all men everywhere claim to be the masters… The chatty old woman, the doting old man, and the worldly sophist, one and all, take in hand the Scriptures, rend them in pieces, and teach them before they have learned them… They do not deign to notice what prophets and apostles have intended, but they adapt conflicting passages to suit their own meaning, as if it were a grand way of teaching – and not rather the faultiest of all – to misrepresent a writer’s views and to force the Scriptures reluctantly to do their will…
Of course, all of these great minds of the Church are merely taking their cue and echoing the Divine sentiments of their Master, the Doctor of doctors, the Teacher of teachers, the Saint of saints.
Jesus wondered out loud: If I have spoken to you earthly things, and you believe not: how will you believe, if I shall speak to you heavenly things? The men of our time can no more comprehend a thimbleful of dust than explain the first step toward the Wisdom of Kingdom of Heaven – Fear of the Lord is the farthest thing from their minds, their only fear being that the Church might persuade someone that it is far greater to hearken to the wisdom of being a little child in Heaven than to heed the fools who preach salvation in a world brought into being by random events, populated with creatures whose only goal is to evolve into something that they are not, and destined for the destruction of its entire contents by being consumed in the belly of a black hole. Strange but true – many men prefer the “good news” of the big bang, survival of the fittest, and universal oblivion, to the Gospel of reigning as sons and heirs with Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of God for ever and ever. Amen.
Today is the Feast of Saint Peter Chrysologus. Humility is one of the primary marks of the Saint. The fact that Saint Peter is one of the least appreciated Doctors of the Church can not overcome his humble sense that he is nothing and Christ must be all in all. That very little is known of his life history does not offend him, for the humble would rather die than be famous. My use of so many other Doctors as a prelude to speaking of him, and waiting until the last paragraphs of this sermon to quote him, will not be of any concern to Saint Peter, for he, as do all of the Saints, pays no heed to wrongs done him, and instead rejoices always and only in the good and in doing the good commanded by the Love of God.
Saint Peter Chrysologus lived from about 406-450A.D. He was the twenty-first Bishop and the first Archbishop of the See of Ravenna. God Himself intervened to direct the Pope to consecrate Saint Peter Chrysologus as Archbishop, sending Saint Peter and Saint Appolinaris to him in a dream, instructing him that the young Deacon Peter of Imola must be named Archbishop at the tender age of twenty-seven. Saint Peter than reigned as Archbishop for seventeen years, being zealous for souls, solicitous of the needs of the poor, and pasturing the Flock of Christ with a true shepherd’s care. His simple, down-to-earth preaching united to the profundity of the Gospel message won for him the nickname, Chrysologus, which is a Latin rendering of the Greek phrase, “the Golden-worded”. One letter and several score sermons are the remains of his writings, the rest having perished in antiquity by fire or at the hands of invaders. From that scant witness, however, can be seen the testimony of a heart more in love than a mind bent on erudition. Indeed, it is the science of the Saints to discover that the only true knowledge is the Love of God. He who loves God alona shall have all knowledge; all knowledge is meant for nothing other than to experience the Love of God. To know anything at all is to know God – ignorance of God is the only foolishness there is. To know only God is to possess all knowledge – the only wisdom is found in the fact that God loves us and has mercifully bestowed on us grace so as to be able to love Him in return.
Let him who would be wise accept the counsel of Saint Peter Chrysologus: He who believes in God should not rashly try to fathom Him… The sun blacks out an imprudent gazing and…an unpermitied approach to God becomes a blinded one. He who desires to now God should observe moderation in his gazing. This reminds me of something God said through King David in the Psalms: Lord, my heart is not exalted: nor are my eyes lofty. Neither have I walked in great matters above me…(Psalm 130:1) It seems better to know that God loves us rather than trying to figure out why God loves us. It is better to know how to do the good commanded by God rather than wondering why God doesn’t command a different good. We gain far more peace of heart and mind by forgiving our neighbor than involving ourselves in the vain and frustrating task of ensuring that he will never wrong us again. In this vein, in keeping with the Commandment to love neighbor because God is loved, Saint Peter offers a tremendous piece of practical wisdom when he says: Therefore, brethren, he who wants to overcome vices should fight with the arms of love, not of rage. A wise man can readily see why endurance of injuries gives training toward a Christian way of living…not to resist the evildoer, but to overcome evil with good; to bless the one who curses; to refrain from denying one who strikes you a chance to strike again; to give also your cloak to one who has taken your tunic…to do all this that willingness may take precedence over force, and love may overcome impiety, and that very thing which your adversary forces may become the virtue of the patient man. Those examples teach us how a soldier of Christ is trained by injuries to the strength to practice virtues. Let us make of the Crib of Christ our acceptance of the wrongs in which this life so abundantly abounds, let us make of the Cross of Christ our rejection of the pleasures in which this world so foolishly rejoices, and let us make of the Love of Christ the single desire that makes us willing to endure this vale of tears and moves us all the more fervently to come to Eternal Life – and Eternal Life is this: to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent, knowing, serving and loving Him on earth; glorifying Him with Our Lady and the Saints, adoring Him with the Angels, and living with Him in Heaven, for ever and ever. Amen.