Memorial of Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
The connection between holiness and morality was not always as clear as it is to us today. We assume that a necessary feature of a holy man or woman is moral uprightness. Non-Christians do not necessarily share this assumption. Pagan gods might be marked by trickery or deceit or lust or vengeance or bloodlust or by many other such vices. Devotees of such gods, then, might enjoy high levels of holiness, knowledge of sacred rites and arcane mysteries, without fearing the consequences of sharing some of the same vices as their gods. Many pagan gods chose not to concern themselves with moral quibbling.
Not so the God of Abraham, of Moses, of David, of Isaiah, of all the prophets, of Jesus Christ, of the Jews and of the Christians. This is not a god who ignores misbehavior. God does not ignore sin. He atones for it. Many Jewish prophets laboared hard over a period of several centuries before this message could to sink in among the Jewish people. Poor St. Paul! He had to get the same message across to the gentiles in only a few decades!
In 1 Thessalonians 4, for example, we read Paul explain how sexual morality is tied up with holiness. “God does not call us to impurity,” he says, “but to holiness” (1 Thess 4:7). It is good to hear this message repeated, because we live in an era that is trying to ignroe the connection between morality and holiness. Alternative spiritualties with lax or flexible moral components are flourishing all around us. I am referring to certain varieties of Protestantism, to Yoga, to Zen, to Wicca and others. As we see this tide rise all around us, let us hold fast to the rock of divine revelation, which will not be moved by popular revolutions: “This is the will of God, your holiness: that you refrain from immorality” (1 Thess 4:3).
Grace: An intimate knowledge of the many blessings received, that filled with gratitude for all, I may in all things love and serve the Divine Majesty.
Reflection: In the meditation upon sin, we made reference to Dante’s vision of hell, a cold, desolate place where the fire of love has been extinguished and all lies in a spiritual torpor. This is the perfect image of the heart grown cold to the stirrings of love which God places within it. At the opposite end of Dante’s journey lies a vision that perfectly encapsulates the final meditation of the Spiritual Exercises, the Contemplation to Attain Divine Love. From the lowest reaches of the spiritual universe, Dante ascends to the heights of heaven, where he views “the love that moves the sun and the other stars.” At the heart of the universe lives the Trinitarian God, whose perfect love draws all being into an ordered symphony of praise. Dante feels himself drawn into this harmonic vision through the enflaming of his passions and desires. No one with eyes to see can sit impassively at the vision of God’s love. From the disordered state in which Dante had fallen at the beginning of the poem, he becomes progressively cleansed of his disordered affections through the grace of God and the intercession of Beatrice until finally he is able to pass through the heavens and stand in the presence of God. But notice that Dante only sees God’s depths after he has been interiorly transformed.