Today is the feast day of Saint Peter Chrysologus (406 – 450), whose name means ‘Peter the golden-worded’ (a title believed to have been given to him by the Empress Galla Placidia, upon hearing his first homily), was Bishop of Ravenna from the year 433 until his death, and, as his name suggests, was well known for his homilies, which were brief but filled with zeal and with which he exhorted his audiences to greater devotion, (including daily reception of the Eucharist) and explained clearly the mysteries of the Faith. He was made a Doctor of the Church in 1729.
In the following extract from one of his homilies, Saint Peter focuses on the opening verses of the twelfth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, where Saint Paul urges his brethren to offer up their whole lives as a perpetual sacrifice to God. Saint Peter Chrysologus sees this as Paul’s urging the people to participate more deeply in the priestly aspect of their Christian vocation, which is itself a participation in the life of Christ Himself, whose Body we have become a part of through our baptism, and whose roles of Priest, Prophet and King we are called to live out.
Saint Peter’s feast day was originally celebrated on the 4th of December, but in 1969 was moved to the 30th of July to be as close as possible to the day of his death, which was on July 31st – the feast day of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. This fact is an appropriate one to mention in relation to Peter’s homily below, as his exhortation to the faithful to participate in Christ’s priestly and sacrificial office is a powerful reminder to both them and us that this partaking in the life of Our Lord means being willing to offer our up whole lives in service to God, even unto death.
We are called to keep God foremost in our affections, and to be fervent in living out His call to service, mercy, truth, purity, and justice. This means thinking less of our own lives than of God and those things He holds dear, and to constantly remind ourselves of how our priorities should be so ordered. In light of the brave witness shown by Christians across the Middle East recently, who have undergone intense persecution and yet remained faithful to Christ, these words of Saint Peter’s are particularly telling, and are a timely reminder to us of who we are called to be:
‘“I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rm 12,1). With this plea the apostle Paul raises all men to participation in the priesthood… We do not look outside ourselves for something to offer God but bring with us and within us something to sacrifice to God for our own advantage… “I urge you by the mercies of God.” Brothers, this sacrifice is in Christ’s image, he who laid down his life here below and offered it for the life of the world. Indeed he made a living sacrifice of his body who yet lives after being killed. In so great a sacrifice death was destroyed, removed by the sacrifice… Hence martyrs are born at the time of their death and begin to live as their life ends; they live when they are killed and shine in heaven when people on earth think they have been snuffed out…
The prophet sang: “You did not ask for sacrifice or oblation but a body you have prepared for me” (Ps 39,7). Become both the sacrifice that is offered and the one who offers it to God. Do not lose what God’s power has granted you. Put on the cloak of holiness. Take up the belt of chastity. May Christ be the veil over your head; the cross the breastplate that gives you perseverance. Keep in your heart the sacrament of Holy Scripture. May your prayer burn constantly like a sweet-smelling fragrance to God. Take up “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph 6,17); may your heart be the altar where, without fear, you may offer your whole self, your whole life…
Offer your faith to make reparation for unbelief; offer your fasting to put an end to voraciousness; offer your chastity that sensuality may die; be fervent that wrongdoing may cease; exercise mercy to end avarice; and to suppress foolishness, offer your holiness. Thus will your life become your offering if it has not been wounded by sin. Your body lives, yes, it lives, each time that, putting evil to death within you, you offer living virtues to God.’
from Sermon 108 (PL 52, 499), Courtesy of Daily Gospel.