Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sanctified by a Holy Desire

“Let your duty be in desire.” These wonderful words come to us from Saint Augustine whose Memorial the Church celebrates today. We cannot see what has been promised by our Lord therefore, “Tota vita Christiani boni sanctum desiderium est” – “The whole life of a good Christian is a holy desire.” Saint Augustine continues by telling us that the desire or longing for the promise to come to fruition makes us capable, so that when the promise is fulfilled and we are able to see it, then shall we be satisfied.

Recall the words of Saint Paul: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard; neither has it entered into the heart of man what things God has prepared for them that love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). Thus, as Saint Augustine tells us, our lives as Christians must be driven by a desire to receive our Savior’s promises.

When adoring the Blessed Sacrament, faith tells us that what looks like a piece of bread is not a thing at all, but a Person – the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Coupled with that faith, though, is a desire to be like Him and see Him as He is (cf. 1 John 2). This desire, as Saint John’s First Epistle continues, sanctifies us (ibid. verse 3).

Saint Augustine then teaches that by God’s delay in fulfilling our desire, the soul is expanded and its capacity increased. Of course, this would mean that there must be a complete commitment to serving our Lord; for how dangerous it would be to increase the soul’s capacity if our desire was to fill it with the things of this world. As Saint Augustine puts it: “Tantum autem nos exercet sanctum desiderium, quantum desideria nostra amputaverimus ab amore sæculi” – “But only are we exercised by holy desire, in as much as we cut off our longings for the love of the world.”

And so, the soul’s capacity is expanded by God when we cast out temporal desires and replace them with holy, eternal desires. For example, if we look at the vocation of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, it’s hard to imagine that her very difficult living conditions were driven by a longing for this world’s goods. Of course not! It would be ridiculous to even entertain such thoughts. No, it was as she said: “Jesus is my God, Jesus is my Spouse, Jesus is my Life, Jesus is my only Love, Jesus is my All in all; Jesus is my Everything.”

Saint Augustine teaches us: “Extendamus nos in eum, ut, cum venerit, impleat” – “Let us stretch ourselves towards Him, that when He comes, He may fill us.”

When we pray, we stretch out ourselves towards our Lord in love. Saint Augustine said that a song is a thing of love. For those who pray the Liturgy of the Hours, do you ever sing it? Do you ever consider singing it? Even if one is completely unfamiliar with the various psalm tones, one can still sing it recto tono, that is, everything is sung on one or the same note. It is the Church's simplest form of chanting or singing.

Since our Lord's love has been poured into our hearts, it is not only our voices that we raise to God, but also as the liturgy commands us and hopefully we are compelled to do, "Sorsum corda" – "Lift up your hearts".  
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has been a great teacher on liturgy, and the importance of beauty in the liturgy. The tradition of the Church, as we are reminded by him, is that angels of God chant rather than speak. This is heightened conversation as everything in worship should be heightened. He wrote in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy : "When man comes into contact with God, mere speech is not enough. Areas of his existence are awakened that spontaneously turn into song. The singing of the Church comes ultimately out of love. It is the utter depth of love that produces the singing. The Holy Spirit is Love, and it is He Who produces the singing. He is the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit Who draws us into love for Christ and so leads to the Father. In liturgical music, based as it is on biblical faith, there is, therefore, a clear dominance of the Word; this music is a higher form of proclamation. Ultimately, it rises up out of the love that responds to God's love made flesh in Christ, the love that for us went unto death. After the Resurrection, the Cross is by no means a thing of the past, and so this love is always marked by pain at the hiddenness of God, by the cry that rises up from the depths of anguish, Kyrie eleison, by hope and by supplication. But it also has the privilege, by anticipation, of experiencing the reality of the Resurrection, and so it brings with it the joy of being loved, that gladness of heart that Haydn said came upon him when he set liturgical texts to music. In the West, in the form of Gregorian chant, the inherited tradition of psalm-singing was developed to a new sublimity and purity, which set a permanent standard for sacred music, music for the liturgy of the Church. Polyphony developed in the late Middle Ages, and then instruments came back into divine worship - quite rightly, too, because, as we have seen, the Church not only continues the synagogue, but also takes up, in the light of Christ's Pasch, the reality represented by the Temple."

Saint Augustine reiterated the words of Scripture: "Sing to the Lord a new song; let His praise be in the Church of the Saints." Consider singing the Liturgy of the Hours, even privately; but whether it’s the Mass or the Divine Office, bring your voice, bring your heart, and bring your whole self, body and soul, and lift it up to God in worship and angelic conversation.

Sancte Augustine, ora pro nobis!