Translated by Fray Dunstan Hubert 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.
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not ass God does, but as human beings do.”
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.
Let us now meditate with the commentary of St. Augustine on these words of the Gospel according to St. Matthew.
“Actually, to the Lord, who had come to die so that they may not die, they wanted to advise him not to die. Similarly, in another place, St. Peter, who loved the Lord but as yet did not fully understand why he had come, feared that he would die, and displeased Life, i.e., the Lord himself. Thus, when he indicated to the disciples that he was going to suffer in Jerusalem in the hands of the Jews, Peter replied and affirmed among the others: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” And immediately the Lord said: Get behind me, Satan, because, you do not think as God does, but as human beings do. But a little earlier, because he confessed him as Son of God, he merited praise; actually he heard: Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, because flesh and blood have not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. He to whom he had said: “Blessed are you,” now he says: “Get behind me, Satan.” He was blessed not for his own sake but, for what reason? Because flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. This is why you are blessed: not for what is yours but for what is mine; not because I am the Father, but because everything the Father has is mine. If blessed because of the Lord, then why Satan? He says it there; in his own words he gave the reason: “Flesh and blood has not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven; this is the reason for your being blessed. On the other hand, as regards to what I said: “Get behind me Satan,” hear also the reason for this act: because “you do not think as God does, but as human beings do.” Therefore, let no one flatter himself: by yourself you are Satan, by God you are blessed. Therefore, what does “by yourself” mean if not by your sin? Remove the sin, what is yours? “Justice, he affirms, proceeds from me,” since what do you have that you have not received?
Why, then, did the men want to give advice to God? the disciples to the Master? the servants to the Lord? the sick to the doctor? He corrects and affirms: “Are there not perhaps twelve hours in a day? If one were to walk during the day, he would not stumble. Follow me if you do not want to stumble; you do not give me advice, it is you who should receive advice from me.” To what then does this refer: “Are there not perhaps twelve hours in a day?” To him who, in order to indicate that he is the Day, he chose twelve disciples. If I am the Day, he says, and you are the hours, do the hours, perhaps, give advice to the day? The hours follow the day, not the day that follows the hours. In summary, this is what he affirms: Follow me if you do not want to stumble” (Io. eu. tr. 49, 8).
St. Augustine also comments: “You have listened to God, and he told you interiorly: What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the ruin of his life?” I am not moved by the prize. The incentive of the prize does not move me to lose my life just to gain money. Behold now how he makes you feel fear. He who cannot corrupt you with recompense, begins to threaten you with harm: rejection, torture, and perhaps death. If in this case the passion does not conquer you, maybe fear can make you sin. If you recall the passage in Scripture against avarice: What does it profit a man to gain the whole world if he ruins his life? Recall also against fear this other passage: Do not fear those who kill the body, but who cannot kill the soul. All who want to kill you, can do it as regards the body, but not as regards the soul. Your soul does not die unless you yourself want to kill it. A neighbor’s evil act may harm your body, but the truth preserves your soul. If you withdraw from the truth, what evil can your enemy do to you greater than the evil your do to yourself? The enemy, furious, can kill your body, but you by a false testimony, kill your soul. Listen to Scripture: “The mouth that lies kills the soul.” Therefore, my brothers, love and fear bring you to all good work and to all sin. To do good, love God and fear God; to do evil, love the world and fear the world. You direct these two things towards good” (en. Ps. 79:13).
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.
a. “You think as men do, not as God does” (Mt. 16:23).
- What does it mean to you, to think “as men do”?
- How can you adjust your way of thinking to the way God thinks?
b. “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, if it ruins his life?” (Mt. 16:26).
- How can you ruin your life following the world?
- Why is it better to save one’s life than gain the whole world?
c. Pray with this phrase: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt. 16:25).
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.
a. Contemplate how Christ tells you: “You think as men do, not as God does.” Allow Christ to put his thoughts and his own way of perceiving things in your heart. Ask him to give you new eyes to see things, not according to human criteria but according to God. Contemplate how Christ listens to your prayer and grants what you beg for. Contemplate and be grateful.
b. Contemplate how Christ invites you to follow him, that you deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him. Contemplate how you follow him and walk behind him. Contemplate what following Christ implies for you, and ask him for grace and strength. Contemplate and carry your cross.
Think of everything that you can share with those around you about the experience you had with God, especially about thinking like God and taking up your cross following Christ. The following points can help you 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?
Final Prayer of St. Augustine.
Turning towards the Lord: Lord God, Father Almighty, with pure heart, as far as our littleness permit, 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 your increase our faith, govern our mind and 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).
“The cross that we carry as we follow the Lord is that about which the Apostle says: ‘Those who belong to Christ have crucified their flesh with all its passions and appetites’” (c. Adim. 21).