Thoughts from the Early Church
Commentary by Caesarius of Arles
“You are the Messiah.” (Mk: 8:29)
When the Lord tells us in the Gospel that anyone who wants to be his follower must renounce himself, the injunction seems harsh; we think he is imposing a burden on us. But an order is no burden when it is given by one who helps in carrying it out.
To what place are we to follow Christ if not where he has already gone? We know that he has risen and ascended into heaven: there, then, we must follow him.
There is no cause for despair—by ourselves we can do nothing, but we have Christ’s promise.
Heaven was beyond our reach before our Head ascended there, but now, if we are his members, why should we despair of arriving there ourselves? Is there any reason?
True, many fears and afflictions confront us in this world; but if we follow Christ, we shall reach a place of perfect happiness, perfect peace, and everlasting freedom from fear.
Yet let me warn anyone bent on following Christ to listen to Saint Paul: “One who claims to abide in Christ ought to walk as he walked.”
Would you follow Christ? Then be humble as he was humble; do not scorn his lowliness if you want to reach his exaltation.
Human sin made the road rough but Christ’s resurrection leveled it; by passing over it himself he transformed the narrowest of tracks into a royal highway.
Two feet are needed to run along this highway; they are humility and charity. Everyone wants to get to the top—well, the first step to take is humility. Why take strides that are too big for you—do you want to fall instead of going up? Begin with the first step, humility, and you will already be climbing.
As well as telling us to renounce ourselves, our Lord and Savior said that we must take up our cross and follow him. What does it mean to take up one’s cross? Bearing every annoyance patiently. That is following Christ.
When someone begins to follow his way of life and his commandments, that person will meet resistance on every side. He or she will be opposed, mocked, even persecuted, and this not only by unbelievers but also by people who to all appearances belong to the body of Christ, though they are really excluded from it by their wickedness; people who, being Christians only in name, never stop persecuting true Christians.
If you want to follow Christ, then, take up his cross without delay. Endure injuries, do not be overcome by them. If we would fulfill the Lord’s command: “If anyone wants to be my disciple, let him take up his cross and follow me,” we must strive with God’s help to do as the Apostle says: “As long as we have food and clothing, let this content us.”
Otherwise, if we seek more material goods than we need and desire to become rich, we may fall prey to temptation. The devil may trick us into wanting the many useless and harmful things that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
May we be free from this temptation through the protection of our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
Sermon 159,1.4-6: CCL 104, 650.652-54
Caesarius of Arles (c. 470-543) was born in Chalon on the Saône. In 489 he entered as a monk at Lerins. He was so outstanding in the perfection of his life and in his sense of justice that he was eventually made archbishop of Arles. 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