Members of the Catholic Center community
on a day hike on Roan Mountain. 

Thanks to the Christmas generosity of some friends I was able to purchase the six volume set of St. Augustine’s “Expositions of the Psalms” (published by New City Press).  I am already enjoying delving into the collection which took about thirty years (scholars suggest) for Augustine to compile.  More than any other of his considerable works the “Expositions” covers and presents the development of Augustine’s thought over the span of his ministry.  I know that I will be using the set as a continual resource in many ways for the rest of my life but one way that I have already begun to make us of the collection is as a means to study and reflect on the responsorial psalm for the coming Sunday readings.

It was this reflection that brought me to the following quote from Augustine’s exposition on Psalm 39(40). 

“Well now, those who want to hope in the Lord, those who see and are afraid, must beware of walking in bad ways.  Let them prefer the narrow path, where the steps of some people have already been guided onto the rock; and let them listen now to how they must conduct themselves, ‘Blessed is the one whose hope is the Lord, who has had no regard for empty things and lying foolishness.’  These are the ways you were tempted to take.  Look at the crowds on the broad road; it is a sure path to the amphitheatre and a sure path to death.  The broad road is lethal; its spaciousness is pleasant for a time, but its end is narrow constraint for eternity.  Yet the crowds bawl and the crowds hurry along and the crowds make merry and the crowds all run in the same direction.  Do not imitate them, do not turn aside; these are empty things and lying foolishness.  Let the Lord your God be your hope; do not hope to get anything else from the Lord your God, but let the Lord your God himself be your hope.  Many people hope to get money from God, many hope to get from him honors that are transitory and perishable, or they want some other thing from God, something other than God himself.  But you, you must simply ask for God.  Hold all these other things cheap and make your way to him; forget all the rest and remember him; leave them all behind and stretch out toward him.  He has brought back to the right way any of us who have erred, he leads the right-minded along, and he himself lead them to the very end.  Let him be your hope, then, for he leads us and leads us all the way…”

There are some beautiful thoughts in these words offered by the Bishop of Hippo.  My experience has led me to hold that the call to discipleship is indeed a continuing process of choosing a narrower and narrower path but not in a way that isolates, in fact, the opposite is true.  The more we discern our own call, the more we grow in discipleship, the more we are brought into relationship with others (and often in surprising and unexpected ways).  The “narrowing” of the path that Augustine refers to can be understood by considering the statement that Augustine adds later, “But you, you must simply ask for God.”

“…simply ask for God.”  

The “narrowing” is in part a purifying of motives.  Augustine alludes to this is his mentioning of those who seek a relationship with God in the hopes of acquiring wealth, or honor, or because it looks good.  God, in this case, becomes more of a means to an end rather than the true end itself.  “Let go of those temptations and considerations,” he is telling us, “go a step further onto the narrower path.”  “…simply ask for God.”  

The “narrowing” is also a focusing on what really matters.  When all is said and done God alone and relationship with God is what matters.  Everything else passes away.  But again, here is the rub, authentic relationship with God does not deny the value of other relationships in fact it creates them and fulfills them.  I have friendships throughout the world that I know are not of my doing and that, left to my own devices, I would never have acquired.  Love of neighbor is fulfilled through love of God and love of God finds expression through our love of neighbor.  “…simply ask for God” and everything else will be fine.

I recently heard it said that when we truly acquire fear of God then nothing else can frighten us. 

“…simply ask for God.”