Thoughts from the Early Church

Commentary by Caesarius of Arles

Repent, and believe the good news. (Mk 1:15)

In today’s Gospel, beloved, we heard the exhortation to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Now the kingdom of heaven is Christ, who, as we know, is the judge of good and evil and scrutinizes the motives for all our actions.

We should therefore do well to forestall God’s judgement by freely acknowledging our sins and correcting our wrongheaded attitudes; for by failing to seek out the needful remedies and apply them, we place ourselves in danger.

And our knowledge that we shall have to account for the motives behind our shortcomings makes the need for such a change of heart even greater.

No matter how many wounds our human nature has sustained, we are never justified in giving ourselves over to despair.We must recognize the greatness of God’s love for us; so generous is it that he is willing to be appeased by the amends we make for our evil deeds, provided only that we freely admit them before he has himself condemned them. And though his judgments are always just, he gives us a warning before he passes them, so as not to be compelled to apply the full rigor of his justice.

It is not for nothing that our God draws floods of tears from us; he does so to incite us to recover by penance and a change of heart what we had previously let slip through carelessness. God is well aware that human judgment is often at fault, that we are prone to fleshly sins and deceitful speech.

He therefore shows us the way of repentance, by which we can compensate for damage done and atone for our faults. And so to be sure of obtaining forgiveness, we ought to be always bewailing our guilt.

Yet no matter how many wounds our human nature has sustained, we are never justified in giving ourselves over to despair, for the Lord is magnanimous enough to pour out his compassion abundantly on all who need it.

But perhaps one of you will say: “What have I to fear? I have never done anything wrong.” On this point hear what the apostle John says: If we claim to be sinless, we deceive ourselves and are blind to the truth. So let no one lead you astray; the most pernicious kind of sin is the failure to realize one’s own sinfulness.

Once let wrongdoers admit their guilt and repent of it, and this change of heart will bring about their reconciliation with the Lord; but no sinner is more in need of the tears of others than the one who thinks he has nothing to weep for. So I implore you, beloved, to follow the advice given you by holy Scripture and humble yourselves beneath the all-powerful hand of God.

As none of us can be wholly free from sin, so let none of us fail to make amends; here too we do ourselves great harm if we presume our own innocence. It may be that some are less guilty than others, but no one is entirely free from fault; there may be degrees of guilt, but no one can escape it altogether.

Let those then whose offenses are more grievous be more earnest in seeking pardon; and let those who have so far escaped contamination by the more heinous crimes pray that they may never be defiled by them, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.

Sermon 144, 1-4: CCL 104, 593-95

Caesarius of Arles (c. 470-543) was born in Chalon on the Saône. In 489 he entered as a monk at Lérins. He was so outstanding in the perfection of his life and in his sense of justice that he was eventually made archbishop of Aries.

He legislated for both nuns and monks, his Rule for Virgins being written for his sister Saint Caesaria, superior of a community of nuns. Influenced by Saint Augustine’s teaching on grace, he successfully combatted semi-Pelagianism at the Council of Orange in 529.

He was a celebrated preacher; his practical charity was such that he melted down church plate to relieve prisoners, and the quality of his prayer is reflected in his challenging statement: “One worships that on which one’s mind is intent during prayer.”

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson