“One Thing I Have Asked of the Lord”
The end of all Christian endeavor, and the object of all Christian prayer, is to see God face to face in the kingdom of his glory. This will be the reward of the pilgrim’s love. And in order to attain this never-ending end, we must adhere to Christ so as to be one with him even on this earth.
Augustine observes that, “Our Lord Jesus Christ himself said: No one has come up to heaven except the One who came down from there — the Son of Man [who is in heaven] (John 3:13). And he seems to have spoken of himself only. If, then, he alone ascends who alone descended, have all others been left behind? What must these others do? They must be united with his body, so that there may be but One Christ who descends and ascends. The head descended, and he ascends with his body; he ascends clothed with the Church which he has presented to himself without spot or wrinkle (cf. Ephesians 5:27). In this way he still ascends alone. For when we are so united with him as to be his members, then even with us he is alone, and therefore one — always one.” [On Psalm 122, 1]
Saint Augustine exhorts us, therefore, to stand fast in the faith, and to be loyal to our holy Mother the Church, in all the temptations of life. The history of the Mystical Body was graphically summarized by Saint Matthew when he said: Meanwhile the boat, already several hundred yards out from shore, was being tossed about in the waves raised by strong headwinds (Matthew 14:24). “By the very nature of the journey we are exposed to waves and tempests; so it is necessary that we be at least in the ship.” “If there be danger on board ship, there is instant disaster outside of it … And even though the ship be in difficulty, still it is the ship. . . Keep yourself safely on board, then, and pray to God. For when all counsels fail, when the very helm is unserviceable, and the spreading of sail more hazardous than helpful, when all human help and strength have been exhausted, then, for those on board, there remains only the earnest cry of entreaty, and the pouring forth of prayers to God. And shall he, who grants that sailors reach their haven, so forsake his Church as not to lead it on to rest!” [Sermon 75, 4]
One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, that I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord and contemplate his temple (Psalm 27:4). “In order that we may attain this happy life, he who is himself the true Blessed Life has taught us to pray.” [Letter 130, 15] But what shall we do now, during this our life and pilgrimage? “Let us sigh now; let us pray now. Sighs belong to the miserable; prayers belong to those in need. Prayers shall pass away and praise shall take their place; tears shall pass away to be replaced with joy. Meanwhile, during these evil days let us never cease from making that petition until, by his grace and guidance, we have attained to it.” [On Psalm 26 -- 2nd -- 14]
“In the midst of our wanderings here, we are hurt at times; but our last home shall be a home of joy alone. Hard work, sighs, and prayers shall pass away, to be succeeded by hymns of praise. . . For he shall be with us for whom we sigh, and, We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is (1 John 3:2) … Prepare yourselves for a certain ineffable delight; cleanse your hearts from all earthly and mundane affections. We will see something, the vision of which shall make us happy, something which shall alone suffice us.” [On Psalm 86, 9] “We shall see God. And that shall be so great, so stupendous a reality, that in comparison with it, all else shall be as nothing.” [Sermon 127, 11] “We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” “The tongue has done what it could; it has spoken the words. Let the rest be pondered in the heart.” [Treatise on 1 John, IV, 6]
“It will repay us, then, to inquire after and to discuss in detail what we are going to do in that home, for which we express our hope and desire when we repeat the words, One thing I ask of the Lord. What shall we do in that home in which we hope to dwell all the days of our lives? Listen: that I may gaze on the loveliness of the Lord. That is what I love; and that is why I wish to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. What a glorious vision will be presented to us in the gazing on the loveliness of the Lord!” [On Psalm 26 -- 2nd -- 8] We shall see God. “And so charming is the face of God, that once it is seen, nothing else shall ever give delight.” [Sermon 170, 9] “There we shall rest and we shall see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall praise.” [City of God, XXII, 30] Such will be the activity of the elect: contemplation, love, and praise.
Happy they who dwell in your house! (Psalm 84:5). But why? Continually they praise you (Psalm 84:5). “Such will be our activity, the praise of God. You love and you praise. You would cease to love if you ceased to praise. But you will never cease to love because he whom you shall see will never weary you.” [On Psalm 85, 44] Such is the reward of the pilgrim’s love. He shall rest in the Lord; he shall gaze on the loveliness of the Lord; he shall love and praise the Lord. He shall rejoice in “the everlasting reign of those who perfectly praise him because they see him face to face.” [On Psalm 105, 37] “
There is praise given to God, and here on earth is praise given to God; but here by those full of anxious care, there by those who are free from care; here by those whose lot it is to die, there by those who are to live forever; here in hope, there in hope realized; here on the way, there in our Fatherland. Now, therefore, my brethren, let us sing, not for delight as we rest, but to cheer us in our labor. As pilgrims are wont to sing, sing, but travel on!” [Sermon 256, 3]
Meanwhile, as they walk the pilgrim’s way, men must be careful of what they love and of what they ask in prayer. “Men have many things,” observes Augustine, “and when a man seems to have what he loves, he is called happy. But he is truly happy, not if he has what he loves, but if he loves what he ought to love. Many are more miserable in having what they love than in wanting it. For men who are miserable through loving hurtful things are rendered more miserable still by possessing them ... This is the one petition that ought to be loved — that we may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our life.”[ On Psalm 26 -- 2nd -- 7]
“Whoever desires that one thing of the Lord and seeks after it, asks with certainty and with confidence, and has no fear that when it is obtained it may be harmful to him, seeing that without it anything else he may have acquired through praying as he ought is of no advantage to him. The thing referred to is the one true and only happy life in which, immortal and incorruptible in body and in spirit, we may contemplate the joy of the Lord forever. All other things are desired and are prayed for without impropriety, with a view to this one thing.” [Letter 130, 27]
The whole life of a Christian should be a holy desire for this truly happy life, “for a person lives in those things which he loves, which he greatly desires, and in which he believes himself to be happy.” [Letter 130, 7] This desire, moreover, will enlarge the soul until it is capable of receiving everlasting happiness. “By desiring you open up and expand the soul, by expanding it you make it capable of receiving more. Let us stretch ourselves unto him, so that when he shall come he may fill our souls.“[Treatise on 1 John, IV, 6]
This should be our unceasing desire, our unceasing prayer. “What else is intended by the words of the Apostle: Pray without ceasing, if not, `Desire without ceasing, from him who alone can give it, a happy life, which no life can be but that which is eternal’? This, therefore, let us desire without intermission from the Lord our God, and so let us pray without ceasing.” [Letter 130, 18] “This is the final blessedness, this is the ultimate consummation, this is the unending end.” [City of God, XIX, Ic]
Eternal life will be the last Amen, the final Alleluia, that shall be never-ending. “And it is not with the fleeting echoes of our voices that we shall then be saying, `Amen’ and `Alleluia,’ but with the affectionate feelings of the heart.” [Sermon 255, 5] Alleluia means the praise of God. “To us as we labor,” says Augustine, “it signifies the activity of our eternal rest. For when, after these labors, we come to that rest, the praise of God will be our sole occupation. Our activity there will be `Alleluia’ … our food will be `Alleluia’; our drink will be `Alleluia’; our whole joy will be `Alleluia’ — the praise of God.” [Sermon 252, 9] “Today, hope sings it, and sometimes love. But then love alone shall sing it. The love that sometimes sings it in this life is a love of desire, whereas it will then be sung by a love that rejoices in the everlasting possession of its beloved.” [Sermon 255, 5] Such will be the Sabbath of life everlasting, in which the only ultimate happiness open to man will be forever realized.
“There shall peace be made perfect in the sons of God all loving one another, seeing one another possessed of God, since God shall be all in all. We shall have God as our common vision, God as our common possession, God as our common peace. And whatever there is that he gives us here and now, he himself will be in place of all his gifts. He will be our full and perfect peace … . Our peace, our rest, our joy, the end of all our troubles, is none but God.” [On Psalm 84, 10] The Savior has transformed us into a new race. He has put a new canticle into our mouths — a song to our God. [Cf. Psalm 39, 4] We are pilgrims homeward bound, as we sing praise to the Lord with all our hearts (Ephesians 5:19). “O sons of peace, sons of the one, Catholic Church, walk in your way, and sing as you walk. Travelers do this to keep up their spirits. Do you also sing on the way. I beseech you, by the very way in which you walk, sing on this road, sing the new canticle. Let no one sing old songs, but sing the songs of love of your country; let none sing the old. For the way is new, the traveler is new, and the song is new.” [On Psalm 66, 6]
Turning, then, to the Lord our God, let us as best we can give thanks with all our hearts, beseeching him that in his goodness he would mercifully hear our prayers, and by his grace drive evil from our thoughts and actions, increase our faith, grant us his holy inspirations, and lead us to never-ending joy, through his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amens [With this prayer Saint Augustine concluded almost all his sermons.]