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Monday, December 7, 2009

Saint Ambrose On the Need to Imitate the Saints


Is not he unjust who gives the reward before the end of the contest? Therefore the Lord says in the Gospel: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). He said not: Blessed are the rich, but the poor. By the divine judgment blessedness begins there whence human misery is supposed to spring. "Blessed are they that hunger, for they shall be filled; Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted; Blessed are the merciful, for God will have mercy on them; Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God; Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; Blessed are you when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you for righteousness' sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for plentiful is your reward in heaven." A reward in the future and not in the present — in heaven, not on earth — has He promised shall be given. What further do you expect? What further is due? Why do you demand the crown with so much haste, before thou dost conquer? Why do you desire to shake off the dust and to rest? Why do you long to sit at the feast before the course is finished? As yet the people are looking on, the athletes are in the arena, and thou— do you already look for ease?

Perhaps you say, Why are the wicked joyous? Why do they live in luxury? Why do they not toil with me? It is because they who have not put down their names to strive for the crown are not bound to undergo the labours of the contest. They who have not gone down into the race-course do not anoint themselves with oil nor get covered with dust. For those whom glory awaits trouble is at hand. The perfumed spectators are wont to look on, not to join in the struggle, nor to endure the sun, the heat, the dust, and the showers. Let the athletes say to them: Come, strive with us. The spectators will but answer: We sit here now to decide about you, but you, if you conquer, will gain the glory of the crown and we shall not.

They, then, who have devoted themselves to pleasures, luxury, robbery, gain, or honours are spectators rather than combatants. They have the profit of labour, but not the fruits of virtue. They love their ease; by cunning and wickedness they heap up riches; but they will pay the penalty of their iniquity, though it be late. Their rest will be in hell, yours in heaven; their home in the grave, yours in paradise. Whence Job said beautifully that they watch in the tomb, (Job 21:32) for they cannot have the calm of quiet rest which he enjoys who shall rise again.

Do not, therefore, understand, or speak, or think as a child; nor as a child claim those things now which belong to a future time. The crown belongs to the perfect. Wait till that which is perfect has come, when you may know — "not through a glass as in a riddle, but face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12) — the very form of truth made clear. Then will be made known why that person was rich who was wicked and a robber of other men's goods, why another was powerful, why a third had many children, and yet a fourth was loaded with honours.

On the Duties of the Clergy, Book 1
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