Translated by Fray Hubert Dunstan Decena, OAR
A. Invoking the Holy Spirit.
We invoke the Holy Spirit using the words of St. Augustine.
Come, Holy Spirit, by whom every devout soul, who believes in Christ, is sanctified to become a citizen of the City of God! (en. Ps. 45:8) Come, Holy Spirit, grant that we receive the motions of God, put in us your flame, enlighten us and raise us up to God (s. 128,4). Amen.
With heart well disposed, with serenity, read slowly the following words, savoring them and allowing yourself to be touched by them.
At that time Jesus said to his disciples:
17 Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. 18 Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the Law, until all things have taken place.19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 20 I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.
21 You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, 24 leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift. 25 Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.
27 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. 31 It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
33 Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.’ 34 But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black. 37 Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.
Let us now meditate with the commentary of St. Augustine on these words of the Gospel according to St. Matthew.
“Let your justice, he affirms, surpass that of the Scribes and Pharisees, if it does not surpass it, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Then he who violates those small precepts and teaches others to do so, shall be called the smallest; but he who obeys those small commandments and teaches others to observe them, is not yet held as great and fit for the kingdom of heaven, but is not as small as he who breaks them. To be great and fit for the kingdom of heaven, he must work and teach as Christ teaches now; that is, his justice must surpass the justice of the Scribes and Pharisees.
The justice of the Pharisees is ‘do not kill’, the justice of those who will enter into the kingdom of heaven will be ‘do not get angry without motive.’ The command ‘do not kill’ is the smallest observance and he who breaks it will be considered the smallest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever obeys the command ‘do not kill’ will not be the greatest nor fit for the kingdom of heaven; nevertheless, he has ascended some steps. He will be perfected, nevertheless, when he does not become angry without reason, and if he has achieved this perfection, he will be much farther from murder. Consequently, he who teaches ‘do not be angry’ is in no way considered to have forgotten the command ‘do not kill,’ but that he observes it better, even though only exteriorly, while we do not kill and we maintain innocence in the heart, if we do not get angry.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. We are commanded, therefore, when we bring our offering before the altar, if we recall that our brother has something against us, leave the offering before the altar and go to reconcile with the brother, and afterwards come and do the offering. But if this were taken literally, someone may say that it is convenient to do it as it is said, if the brother is present or near; because it is not convenient to delay it some more, since it is commanded to leave the offering before the altar. But if the brother is absent and, possibly, lives across the sea, and something of this nature comes to mind, it is absurd to believe that he should leave the offering before the altar to offer it to God after having travelled through land and sea. We are obliged to take it in a spiritual sense, so that what is said can be understood without being absurd. Thus, we can understand the altar in a spiritual sense, in the interior temple of God, faith itself whose exterior sign is the visible altar. Therefore, whatever gift we offer to God, it may be prophecy, or teaching, or prayer, a hymn, a psalm or whatever other spiritual gift we may have, cannot be accepted by God if it is not founded on the sincerity of faith and firmly established on it, such that what we say be whole and without error. Thus, many heretics who do not have an altar, that is, the true faith, instead of praises they said blasphemies, because loaded with earthly opinions, they cast down to the ground, one may say, the true act of devotion. Furthermore, the intention of the offeror must also be holy. It so happens that sometimes when we are to offer some of these gifts in our heart, that is, in the interior of God’s temple, as the Apostle says: the temple of God is holy and you are this temple, and Christ lives in the interior man by the faith in your hearts, if we recall that our brother has something against us, that is, we hurt him in something, then it is he who has something against us; but if we have something against him, if he hurt us, then we do not have to go to him to reconcile with him, because you do not ask forgiveness from him who hurt you but rather you will simply forgive him as you want God to forgive you all your sins. One must go to reconcile when we recall that by chance we offended our brother, and we must go not with the feet of the body, but with the attitude of our conscience, so that you prostrate with good will before your brother, whom you approach with affectionate thoughts, while you are in the presence of him to whom you are presenting your gift. Thus, if he is also present, you can sincerely appease him with sincerity and return the good will by asking forgiveness, if you have first done it in the presence of God, approaching him, not with slow movements of the body, but with the swiftest feelings of friendship. And again returning, that is, renewing the intention to that which you had begun to do, you shall offer your gift (s. dom. m. 1,21. 26-27).
With the text, let us now pray from the depths of our heart. I suggest the following phrases and questions that can awaken in you dialogue with God, and at the same time can give rise to affections and sentiments in your dialogue with God. Do not move to the next phrase or question if you can still continue dialoguing with God in one of them. It is not a matter of exhausting the list, but of helping you to pray with some points that better fit your personal experience.
- “When you go to put your offering on the altar, you recall right there that your brother has something against you, leave your offering before the altar and go first to reconcile with your brother” (Mt. 5:2-4).
- How do you live reconciliation with your brothers?
- In your life, have you put a dividing wall between your worship of God and your daily life?
- “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut if off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna” (Mt. 5:30).
- What elements in your life are impediments for God’s action?
- How is your interior disposition to renounce everything that alienates you from God and the kingdom of heaven?
- Pray with the phrase: “Help me to forgive that I may receive the grace of your forgiveness.”
I propose to you some points for affective interior contemplation. Once again, you need not follow all of it, rather you can choose what fits your personal experience.
- Contemplate those elements that are in your heart impeding the action of God. Ask God for the grace and the strength, and contemplate how Christ himself purifies and frees your heart of these elements. Praise and be thankful.
- Contemplate your own heart as an altar on which to offer to God your sacrifice of praise, and ask God to live reconciled with all who surround you, and with God himself. Say in your heart: “I want to forgive, because I want to be forgiven.” Experience the peace of reconciliation and forgiveness.
Think of everything that you can share with those around you about the experience you had with God, especially about forgiveness that you may be able to offer an authentic sacrifice to God, and about the capacity to remove all that impedes God’s action in you. The following points can help you as guide to share with your community the experience of the lectio divina on this text.
- What have I discovered about God and about myself in this moment of prayer?
- How can I apply this text of Scripture at this moment of my life? What light does it give me? What challenges does it put before me?
- What concrete commitment does this text of Scripture ask of me in my spiritual life, in my community life?
- What has been my dominant sentiment during this moment of prayer?
G. Final Prayer of St. Augustine.
Turning towards the Lord: Lord God, Father Almighty, with pure heart, as far as our littleness permits, allow us to give you our most devoted and sincere thanks, begging with all our strength from your particular goodness, that you deign to hear our petitions according to your goodwill, that by your power you may drive away the enemy from all our thoughts and actions; that you may increase our faith, govern our mind, give us spiritual thoughts, and bring us to your happiness, through your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, who with you lives and reigns, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen (en. Ps. 150:8).
“We mutually need the prayers of one for the other, because the very same prayers for one another are enkindled with charity and are a sacrifice of the most fragrant odor that is offered to the Lord from the altar of piety” (s. 305A, 10).