Who: Leo the Great, also known as Pope St. Leo I (the Great), was Pope from 440-61 AD. Place and date of birth unknown; died 10 November, 461. Leo's pontificate, next to that of St. Gregory I, is the most significant and important in Christian antiquity, as he tried to combat the heresies which seriously threatened church unity even in the West, such as Pelagianism.
What: A sermon on the season of Lent as the Easter festival approached.
Why: To encourage the Church to fast during this season in order than they may put away temptations and overcome their vices, to be guided by God in all things.
When: Between 440 and 461 AD
You can find today’s reading on page 191 here: lentfatherscomplete.pdf
Today's reading is a Lenten sermon from Pope Leo I that he preached in the run up to the Easter festival, in which “the greatest and most binding of fasts is kept, and its observance is imposed on all the faithful without exception; because no one is so holy that he ought not to be holier, nor so devout that he might not be devouter.”
Lent is a time of self-reflection and discipline, a time where we look at the life of Jesus and mourn his death as the disciples did, before we realise the reality of the resurrection which comes in a few short days.
“Who is there who would not wish for additions to his virtue, or removal of his vice?” Leo asks rhetorically, referring to the benefits of the Lenten fast and discipline.
“Blessed, therefore, is the mind that passes the time of its pilgrimage in chaste sobriety, and loiters not in the things through which it has to walk”. Leo refers this back to what Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 as a way of living in such a way that we don't get too caught up in this life and this world that we forget about the divine promise and the life we are called to live.
For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
“...although that which [the flesh] desires is short-lived and uncertain, yet men endure toil more willingly for the lust of pleasure than for love of virtue”, which leads to the why the wide road is filled with unnumbered people who chase after the visible. But the narrow path, for those who prefer the eternal, unseen things, is few and far between, but by hope we will be saved (2 Cor 4:18; Rom 8:24).
It is during this season, Leo goes on to say, that Satan is “consumed with the strongest jealousy and now tortured with the greatest vexation” due to the great number of people fasting to renew their faith and discipline in following Christ. Even those who had slipped into worldly cares, become lukewarm or were just weak in faith, “furnished [themselves] with spiritual armour” and renewed their enthusiasm!
Through Jesus's victory on the cross, many people turned to faith, and so Satan was “driven from the hearts of those he once possessed” and was stripped of his power over such people. But as James wrote, “all of us make many mistakes” (James 3:2), so we must all be willing to forgive one another, in order that we don't violate the holy command in the Lord's prayer which we bind ourselves to, where it says, “forgive those who sin against us” (Luke 11:4); if during this time, Satan brings temptations or divisions amongst the Church.
Leo goes on to say that we must strive to be peacemakers because they will be blessed and “called children of God” (Matt 5:9), so especially now, any discord or enmity between other believers should be rectified and reconciled; otherwise, “let no one think to have a share in the Paschal feast that has neglected to restore brotherly peace”!
Aside from forgiveness and reconciliation amongst ourselves, Leo also says that our fast-times should be “fat and abound” with regards to almsgiving and care of the poor.
“Let each bestow on the weak and destitute those dainties which he denies himself”, Leo says, which is reminiscent of other ancient sources which say similar things with regards to fasting, and to giving to the poor whatever you didn't use for yourself that day.
Leo ends this sermon with an interesting view on forgiveness of sins being tied to baptism, repentance and almsgiving, and also quotes Sirach 3:30 as Scripture to back up his point. Regardless of that, it is right to focus on helping the poor and destitute during our times of fasting, which is the true fast which the Lord wants from us, as he said through the prophet Isaiah:
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Let us bear this in mind always, not only during this season of Lent. Amen.
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