February 27, 2006, 8th Sunday: 1Peter 1: 3-9; Mark 10:17-27.
When St. Augustine was preparing for baptism at the beginning of the year 387, he retired to a country estate with some companions, not far from Milan. It was there that he had heard the sermons of Bishop Ambrose, at the cathedral; there too he was to be baptized later that same year. In the course of his stay he composed several books that have come down to us. He called one of them "Soliloquium", which can be translated from the Latin as "A Soliloquy" that is, a dialogue with my self". For the matters he was to reflect upon, he tells us, require complete solitude ("meram solitudinem" cf Soliloquium I.1, PL: 32:869). He already knows enough about the spiritual life to be aware that if his reflections are to prove fruitful, he needs Godís grace and the light that it bestows. And so he begins with a long, detailed prayer. The prayer is so detailed in fact that it could prove difficult to focus on the basic thrust of his petitions. And so his Reason, the partner of his dialogue, asks: "Just what is it that you are asking for?" Sum it up in a few words."Augustine replies: "Deum et animan cupio scire" ("I desire to know God and my soul.") Reason: "Nothing else?" A. "Absolutely nothing."(Soliloquium II.7)
As astonishing as this claim strikes us when we consider that St. Augustin wrote thousands of pages that are still read today by scholars as well as by devoted believers, this assertion is an invitation to us to reflect on its terms. What is it to know God? How completely can He be known by mortals? Is there any question that merits our serious reflection more than this? At the period Augustine wrote such bishops as Basil the Great, his friend Gregory Nazianzus, Basilís younger brother, Gregory Bishop of Nyssa, were exploring this very question. They wrote in defense of the Catholic faith against the opinion that the human mind could know God in his nature. But, as they demonstrated with forceful argument and careful analysis, no one less than God Himself can comprehend the Divine nature. For God is infinite and transcends all that is created and knowable.
They showed that to know God is to know that He mysteriously surpasses in greatness any perfection anything we can know about him.
Similarly, to know the soul is to know what it is capable of, what it is made for, where it comes from, whither it is going as it passes through this changing world, and how to attain its goal. In other words, to know God and to know the soul is to know what can be known about all that is.
You have the whole universe in some manner, within your intimate self. More: since you are made in the image and likeness of God, you transcend the created universe in your inmost self. You cannot know yourself adequately until you know God as far as He can be known.
In todayís Gospel our Lord gives a lesson in self-knowledge to a would be follower and to his disciples. After telling the rich young man to leave his wealth and his home, to leave everything, this ardent youth discovered, by painful experience, that he was not as dedicated to God and the things of God as he had previously thought. When our Lord insisted on the fact that riches and possession are more of a hindrance than a blessing, the apostles too came to see how limited were their views of the good life. Upon knowing our Lordís mind better they saw themselves as quite overwhelmed by this way of evaluating this worldís goods. The remedy for their perplexity, Jesus goes on to tell them, is to know Godís grace and power. To know God is to experience His goodness, His power, His love; it is to know that He alone is the measure of our soul; anything less than the living, infinite God will leave us sooner or later, dissatisfied not to say miserable.
To accept that knowledge is, as our Lord, ends by saying, "is impossible for humans, but not for God." In the first reading today St. Peter tell us that "God, the Father of Jesus Christ, in his great mercy gave us new birth; a birth unto hope which draws its life from the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is a birth to an imperishable inheritance incapable of fading or defilement which is kept in heaven for you." It is this gift of God, of which we receive a particular increment at this Eucharistic sacrifice, that makes it possible for us to trust that even we, weak and limited as we are and subject to sin, can attain to this inheritance. For what is impossible to us men and women is given us by the God who has revealed himself to us in His Son, Jesus, who is our hope of eternal life.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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