Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The example of St. Paul



~by St. Augustine

Once upon a time, when Paul was in great poverty and shut up in prison for proclaiming the truth, the brethren sent him what was necessary to relieve his poverty and meet his needs. He wrote to thank them: It was kind of you to share in my troubles. I have learnt to manage on whatever I have. I know how to live in plenty and how to live in want. There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the One who gives me strength. All the same, it was good of you to share with me in my hardships.

He rejoices, not so much at having his wants relieved as at the generosity of his friends. Thus he shows them what is truly good about their action; for he does not want there to be shepherds among them who feed themselves rather than their sheep.

What, then, was he asking for? It is not that I wish for your gifts, but that I demand that you should be fruitful. Not, in other words, that I should be filled, but that you should be not empty but abundant.

If you cannot, like Paul, earn your living by the work of your own hands, then by all means relieve your wants by accepting the milk that your sheep provide; but never neglect the weaknesses and needs of your flock. Do not seek to do well out of it, so that you appear to be proclaiming the Gospel only because you need the money. Give the light of the Word to the people who need illumination. For you are like lamps, as Scripture says: Let your loins be girded and your lamps lit, and No one lights a lamp to put it under a tub; they put it on the lamp-stand where it shines for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven.

Now then, if a lamp is lit for you in your house, you add oil to make sure it doesn’t go out. On the other hand, if a lamp full of oil fails to shine then it does not deserve to be put on the lamp-stand: it may as well be smashed at once. So the means of living must be offered only as an act of charity and accepted only out of necessity. The Gospel must not be like something that is bought and sold, the price being the preachers’ livelihood. If you do sell it like that then you are cheapening a thing of great value. Accept the relief of your wants from the people, but receive the reward of your preaching from the Lord; for it is not right for the people to reward their pastors for serving them in the gospel of love. Let the pastors look for reward from the same source that the people look to for salvation.

Why are these pastors being rebuked? What is the charge against them? It is that they take the milk and clothe themselves with the wool but neglect the sheep from which these things come. They care not about Christ’s interests, but their own.

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