03 March 2023

Lenten Wisdom from the Saints

St John Chrysostom (excepts from Lenten Homily)

At length the season is verging towards the end of the Fast, and therefore we ought the more earnestly to devote ourselves to holiness. For as in the case of those who run a race, all their circuits will be of no avail if they miss the prize; so neither will any advantage result from these manifold labours and toils with regard to the fast, if we are not able to enjoy the sacred Table with a good conscience. For this end are fasting and Lent appointed, and so many days of solemn assemblies, prayers, and teachings, in order that by this earnestness being cleansed in every possible way from the sins which we had contracted during the whole year, we may with spiritual boldness religiously partake of that unbloody Sacrifice; so that should this not be the result, we shall have sustained so much labour entirely in vain, and without any profit.

Let every one, therefore, consider with himself what defect he has corrected, what good work he has attained to; what sin he has cast off, what stain he has purged away; in what respect he has become better. And should he discover that in this good traffic he has made any gain by the fast, and be conscious in himself of much care taken of his wounds, let him draw near! But if he has remained negligent, having nothing to show but mere fasting, and has done nothing which is right besides, let him remain outside; and then let him enter, when he has purged out all these offenses. Let no one rest on the fast merely; while continuing unreformed in evil practices. For it is probable, that he who omits fasting may obtain pardon, having infirmity of body to plead; but it is impossible that he can have an excuse who has not amended his faults. You have not fasted, it may be, on account of bodily weakness. Tell me for what reason you are not reconciled to your enemies? Have you, indeed, here to allege bodily infirmity? Again; if you retain envy and hatred, what apology have you then I ask? For no one in offenses of this kind is able to take refuge in the plea of bodily infirmity. And this was a work of Christ’s love toward man, namely, that the chief of the precepts, and those which maintain our life, should not be impaired in any degree through the weakness of the body.

Being mindful then of all these things, be urgent with all, for the speedy fulfilment of this precept. And tell me not, that you will do this little by little; nor put it off till the morrow, for this tomorrow never finds an end. Forty days have already passed away. Should the Holy Easter pass away, I will thenceforward pardon no one, nor employ further admonition, but a commanding authority, and severity not to be despised. For this apology drawn from custom is of no force. Why may not the thief as well plead custom, and get free from punishment? Why may not the murderer and adulterer? Therefore I protest, and give warning to all, that if, when I have met you in private, and put the matter to the proof (and I will certainly put it to the proof), I detect any who have not corrected this vice, I will inflict punishment upon them, by ordering them to be excluded from the Holy Mysteries; not that they may remain always shut out, but that having reformed themselves, they may thus enter in, and with a pure conscience enjoy the Holy Table; for this is to be a partaker of the Communion! God grant that through the prayers of those who preside over us, as well as of all the saints, having corrected these and all other deficiencies, we may obtain the kingdom of heaven through the grace and loving kindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, with Whom to the Father, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, honour, and adoration, now and ever, world without end. Amen.

Source. Translated by W.R.W. Stephens. From Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 9. Edited by Philip Schaff. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight.