The Springs of Mercy

From “Sermon 43” (ca. 450)

These are three things 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, then hear the petitions of others. If you do not close your ears to others, you open God’s ears to yourself.

When you eat, 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 yourself. If you look for kindness, show kindness yourself. 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 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 find 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, “The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”

Offer your soul to God, make him an oblation of your fasting, 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 going 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 the 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 not given to others.

St. Peter Chrysologus (ca. 380-450) was Bishop of Ravenna, and most famous preacher of his age, famed for his concise and eloquent homilies, and for his orthodoxy in an age of doctrinal conflict. His epithet, “of the golden word” marks him as the Western counterpart of St. John Chrysostom (‘of the golden mouth”). He is commemorated on July 30.

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