Let us sing alleluia here on earth, while we still live in anxiety, so that we may sing it one day in heaven in full security. Why do we now live in anxiety? Can you expect me not to feel anxious when I read, is not man’s life on earth a time of trial? Can you expect me not to feel anxious when the words still ring in my ears, Watch and pray that you will not be put to the test?
Can you expect me not to feel anxious when there are so many temptations here below that prayer itself reminds us of them, when we say, forgive us our trespasses…? Every day we make our petitions, every day we sin…
Even here amidst trials and temptations let us, let all men, sing alleluia. God is faithful, says holy Scripture, and he will not allow you to be tried beyond your strength. So let us sing alleluia even here on earth. Man is a debtor, but God is faithful…
You have entered upon a time of trial but you will come to no harm—God’s help will bring you through it safely. You are like a piece of pottery, shaped by instruction, fired by tribulation. When you are put in the oven therefore, keep your thoughts on the time when you will be taken out again, for God is faithful and he will guard your going in and your coming out.
But in the next life, when this body of ours has become immortal and incorruptible, then all trials will be over… O the happiness of the heavenly alleluia, sung in security, in fear of no adversity! We shall have no enemies in heaven, we shall never lose a friend. God’s praises are sung both there and here, but here they are sung in anxiety, there, in security; here they are sung by those destined to die; there, by those destined to live forever; here they are sung in hope, there, in hope’s fulfillment; here they are sung by wayfarers, there, by those living in their own country.
So then, my brothers, let us sing now, not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labours. You should sing as wayfarers do—sing, but continue your journey. Do not be lazy, but sing to make your journey more enjoyable. Sing, but keep going.
What do I mean by keep going? Keep on making progress. This progress, however, must be in virtue; for there are some, the Apostle warns, whose only progress is in vice. If you make progress, you will be continuing your journey, but be sure that your progress is in virtue, true faith and right living. Sing then, but keep going.
St. Augustine, Office of Readings, Saturday of the 34th week of Ordinary Time
Reflection – It is with this reading that the Church chooses to end its liturgical cycle of patristic and hagiographic readings. This year, as it happens, it is superseded by the feast of St. Andrew, but nonetheless I wanted to feature it today.
Pope Francis has called us in his most recent document, the exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, to be vigilant of our Christian joy. In the urgent need of Christian witness and preaching on all of our parts, it is vital that we present a Christianity that actually is Good News in a convincing way. And as the Pope so pithily puts it, if we continually look like we’ve just come from a funeral, we’re not going to convince anyone that Jesus actually came to bring joy and blessing into the world.
I love Augustine’s simple formulation of the call. ‘Sing, but keep going.’ We live in a world racked by tribulations of one sort of another. There is real suffering and turmoil in every human life, and hard labour of one sort of another. Nobody would deny that. We are indeed pots in the kiln from time to time, and the fire can get a wee bit hot. I do love his imagery—and I think he did mean it to be comical—of the pot patiently thinking of when it will be taken out.
Meanwhile, be a singing pot. Sing alleluia, no matter what. Life is peaceful or at least stable, and perhaps the years are rolling out before you with little variety or change in sight? Sing alleluia. You’re in a time of ‘hard labour with no chance of parole’ – the busy, jam packed years of ceaseless toil and striving and fatigue? Sing alleluia. Things have taken a terrible turn for the worse, and great suffering and sorrow has come upon you? Sing alleluia. Or things are just grand and you love your life? Sing alleluia… and keep going. Don’t get complacent.