July 29, 2016

July 30th: Optional Memorial of St. Peter Chrysologus

Saint Peter Chrysologus (whose name means "the man of golden speech" in Greek) was named a Doctor of the Church for his prolific work in homiletics. He is called the "Doctor of Homilies" for the concise, but theologically profound insights he made during his tenure as Ravenna’s bishop. Over the course of his ministry, he authored hundreds of homilies, of which, 176 survive. They eloquently testify to the Church's teachings about Mary's perpetual virginity, the penitential value of Lent, Christ's Eucharistic presence, and the primacy of St. Peter and the papacy.

He was born in the Italian town of Imola around 406 AD. He was ordained to the diaconate by Imola's bishop, Cornelius. From him Peter learned the importance of humility and self-denial. He aspired to live as a monastic, and did so for a time until the death of Archbishop John of Ravenna in 430. A successor was chosen and Cornelius was asked to obtain papal approval for the selection from Pope Sixtus III. Cornelius brought Peter, still a deacon, along with him on the visit to Rome.

The night before the meeting, Pope Sixtus III experienced a vision from God commanding him to name Peter bishop instead. Peter's episcopacy was eventful. He evangelized the pagan inhabitants of the see of Ravenna, rooting out abuses and carrying on a campaign of preaching and care for the poor. Monophysitism, the major hearesy of Chrysologus' time held that Christ did not possess a distinct human nature in union with his divine nature. Peter fought the spread of this error, promulgated by the monk Eutyches. Peter Chrysologus died in 450. One year later, the Universal Church formally condemned Monophysitism.

St. Peter Chrysologus' Homily on Prayer, Fasting and Mercy

There are three things, my brethren, by which faith stands firm, devotion remains constant, and virtue endures. They are prayer, fasting and mercy. Prayer knocks at the door, fasting obtains, mercy receives. Prayer, mercy and fasting: these three are one, and they give life to each other.

Fasting is the soul of prayer, mercy is the lifeblood of fasting. Let no one try to separate them; they cannot be separated. If you have only one of them or not all together, you have nothing. So if you pray, fast; if you fast, show mercy; if you want your petition to be heard, hear the petition of others. If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself.

When you fast, see the fasting of others. If you want God to know that you are hungry, know that another is hungry. If you hope for mercy, show mercy. If you look for kindness, show kindness. If you want to receive, give. If you ask for yourself what you deny to others, your asking is a mockery.

Let this be the pattern for all men when they practice mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you. Therefore, let prayer, mercy and fasting be one single plea to God on our behalf, one speech in our defense, a threefold united prayer in our favor.

Let us use fasting to make up for what we have lost by despising others. Let us offer our souls in sacrifice by means of fasting. There is nothing more pleasing that we can offer to God, as the psalmist said in prophecy: A sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; God does not despise a bruised and humbled heart.

Offer your soul to God, make him an oblation of your fasting, so that your soul may be a pure offering, a holy sacrifice, a living victim, remaining your own and at the same time made over to God. Whoever fails to give this to God will not be excused, for if you are to give him yourself you are never without the means of giving.

To make these acceptable, mercy must be added. Fasting bears no fruit unless it is watered by mercy. Fasting dries up when mercy dries up. Mercy is to fasting as rain is to earth. However much you may cultivate your heart, clear the soil of your nature, root out vices, sow virtues, if you do not release the springs of mercy, your fasting will bear no fruit.

When you fast, if your mercy is thin your harvest will be thin; when you fast, what you pour out in mercy overflows into your barn. Therefore, do not lose by saving, but gather in by scattering. Give to the poor, and you give to yourself. You will not be allowed to keep what you have refused to give to others.

This Lenten reading on prayer, fasting, and mercy by St. Peter Chrysologus is used by the Roman Catholic Church for the Office of Readings for Tuesday of the 3rd week of Lent and is excerpted from his Sermo. Via Crossroads Initiative.

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