A Strict Account

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St.Augustine (354-430), one of the greatest theological writers in Church history, was also a superb preacher. Huge crowds came to hear him, and he went on, as he admitted often, at great length in his sermons. Sometimes, after a long discourse, he paused so his hearers could go out to eat; then, right after eating, they would come back for another long discourse. When he sent them out for food, it was not that they looked tired. "Go out and take some refreshment, not for your spirits-for your spirits are, I notice, indefagitable; but go out and give some little refreshment to your bodies, the servants of your souls, so that they may continue to minister to you; and when you are refreshed, then come back to your real food." (Ennar 1,20 on Ps.88, cited in "St. Augustine of Hippo", by Hugh Pope-p162).

In accordance with a permitted custom at the time, people often applauded him enthusiastically in church while he was preaching. This made him afraid. "Do you not realize that I....indeed, all of us,...will have to render a strict account to God for your applause? You surely do not imagine that such praise does any honor to me? It is a burden, not an honor. A very strict account indeed will have to be rendered for it. For I am afraid lest when Christ comes to judge, He may say:'You wicked servants! Gladly did you accept the praises of my people, while holding your tongues about things that meant death to them.' "(PL 46,874-81-St.Augustine of Hippo)

This runs completely contrary to a modern concept. It is often thought that if a clergyman omits all mention of certain sins, he may be facing trouble on Judgment Day, but that the people themselves are excused from those sins on the ground that they were never warned about them, not even by their own religious teachers. But in the case of serious sins against the law of God, written in the heart of every man on Earth, there is no excuse either for the clergyman or for those who hear him.

There is another variation of this idea among modern preachers of false religion; that if they omit these teachings they are saving the souls of their hearers, whom they presume to be in ignorance and in good faith. They say to themselves,"These people who hear me surely will be saved because of these charitable omissions of mine." They are wrong on both counts. The salvation of their hearers, if they violate unmentioned Commandments, is very far from being assured, and the preacher's own charity is only an illusion. Even on a personal level, one to one, this same rule applies to all. If someone were to so come up to you and spontaneously announce that he had just decided to imitate the young Graham Greene by playing Russian roulette five different times (Graham Greene, A Sort of Life-pp128-132), whoever he was, it would be wrong to remain silent or to nod in benevolent agreement. You would have to say something in strong disagreement, still phrased charitably and with a charitable purpose.

Yet, our society expects us to remain benevolently silent when someone comes up to us and, unasked, starts telling us that he never goes to church, is divorced and re-married, or has helped in procuring an abortion. Silence is not the proper answer! Something should be said, and not just that this or that is not such a good idea. Something about the deadliness of the sin must be mentioned in some way. These are more certainly deadly to the soul than playing Russian roulette is to the body. There is in Russian roulette a mathematical chance that, at the end of the experiment, as with Graham Greene, the man playing it could still be alive!

Granted, there are times when we might not have a chance to say something. It may often happen that we do not have the chance. But, if we do have the chance and the time, something must be said....with both charity and emphasis.If we are silent when we have a chance to speak, or if we nod in benevolent agreement, we shall be praised for it in this world....but not in the next!

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