The Ladder To Heaven

By St Cromacious of Aquileya (340-408)

This is His Homily on the Beatitudes (Sermo de octo beatudinibus) Transcribed from Glimpses of the Church Fathers

This meeting and gathering of people on market-day offers us the possibility of propsing to you, dear brothers, some words of the Gospel. For the realities of this world are a figure of the spiritual, and the things of the earth are an image of those of Heaven. Indeed, our Lord and Saviour frequently taught us about the heavenly realities by referring to the things of the search, as for example: the kingdom of heaven is like a net which was thrown into the sea (Matt 13:7); and also: The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant who goes in search of fine pearls (Matt 14:45).

A Salesman for God

Thus, if the mission of the merchant is to allow each one, according to his interests, to put on sale what he does not need or to buy what he does need, it will not be out of place for me to offer you the merchandise which the Lord has entrusted to me, particularly by preaching. For, although I am most vile and unworthy, he has chosen me from among those servants to whom he has distributed talents for them to use and make a profit. Where there are, by the grace of God, so many and such fine listeners, merchants there certainly will not be lacking. For it is more necessary to seek heavenly gain precisely where material interests are not neglected.

Dearest brothers, I wish to offer you the precious pearls of the beatitudes taken from the Gospel. Open the gates of your heart, purchase and take avid possession, and joyfully become their owners.

The First Rungs

While the multiudes gathered from the various regions, our Lord and our God, only-Begotten Son of the Highest Father, who being God deigned to become Man, took his disciples with him. That is to say, he went up the mountain with his Apostles and began to teach them saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5;3,4)... Our Lord, Our saviour, establishes extremly solid steps of precious stones, by which saintly souls and faithful can climb, can rise to this supreme good, which is the kingdom of heaven. I want then, dearest brothers, to point out briefly what these steps are. Pay attention with all your heart and mind, because God’s things are of no little importance.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:3). My brothers, this is a splendid principle of celestial doctrine. The Lord begins not through fear, but through beatitude. He raises not fear but desires. Like an umpire or a promoter of a contest of gladiators, he offers an important prize to those who fight in the spiritual stadium, so that they do not fear fatigue. And with the prize in view, do not tremble before dangers. Blessed then, are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The Lord has not simply said, withut being more specific, that it is the poor who will be rich. He has been more specific: it is the poor in spirit. We cannot just call any poverty ‘Blessed’; for frequently it is a consequence of disgraceful behaviour, depraved customs, and even divine rage. blessed , then, is spiritual poverty, taht is to say, that of those men who willingly make themselves poor for God, renouncing the goods of this world and spontaneously donating their own riches. It is these who are justly called blessed, because they are poor in spirit, and because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Through voluntary poverty they attain the riches of the kingdom of heaven.

The Next Steps

Our Lord continues: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt 5:5). What can be this salutary weeping for us? Clearly not that which results from losing our goods, or as a result of the death of our loved ones, or the loss of the honours of this world. These things do not sadden those who have come to be poor in spirit. Crying is healthy if the tears are shed for one’s own sins, recalling God’s judgement. In the midst of the innumerable concerns and difficulties of this world, the soul was not able to think about itself. Bu now, free from cares and with serenity, it looks at itself more closely, examining its actions by day and by night. The injuries from past faults then begin to appear. These are then followed by beneficial weeping and tears, and very useful in immediately attracting heavenly consolation. For he who has said, Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted, is truthful.

Let us move on then, bretheren, to the fourth step. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matt 5:6). After repentance, after weeping and shedding tears for sins, what other hunger and what other thirst can be born, but that for justice! How joyful one becomes when light begins to dawn for one who has spent the night in darkness, and how one wishes to eat and drink after swalling bitter bile. So, too, the soul of a Christian - having expiated for one’s own sins, with sorrow and with tears- hungers and thirsts only for the justice of God, and rightly will enjoy being satisfied with what he desires.

The Fifth and sixth Steps

Let us now move to the fifth step. Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy (Matt 5:7). No one can give anything to anyone if he himself has not previously been given it. Thus having obtained mercy and an abundance of justice, the Christian begins to have compassion on those who are unhappy, and he begins to pray for the sins of others. He becomes merciful even towards his enemies. With this goodness, a fine reserve of mercy is prepared for the Lord’s coming. Thus it is said, Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.

And the sixth step. Blessed are the pure in heart, because they shall see God (Matt 5:8). The following are certainly already clean of heart and can see God: the poor of spirit, the meek, those who have wept for their own sins, those who have been nourished by justice, and the merciful who even in adversity maintain the eye of their heart so clear and clean that they can se ethe inaccessible clarity of God without the heat of malice and withut obstacle. Purity of heart, and uprightness of conscience, will not put up with a cloud before the Lord.

I continue my brothers. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matt 5:9). Great is the dignity of those who work for peace, for they are considered to be children of God. It is certainly good to re-establish peace among brothers who look for judgement on matters concerning intrest, vainglory and rivalry. But this does not merit more than a modes reward, because, to give example, our Lord has said: who made me a judge or divider among you? (Luke 12:14). And in another place: How can you believe who seek glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (John 5:44).

We have to realize that there is a kind of work for peace which is of better quality and more noble. I refer to that which, with regular teaching, brings peace to pagans, God’s enemies; that which corrects sinners, and through penance, reconciles them with God; that which brings rebel heretics back to the straight path; that which brings about unity and peace in those who were in disagreement with the Church. Such workers for peace are not only blessed, but are also worthy of being called children of God. Having imitated the Son of God himself, Christ, whome the Apostle calls our peace and our reconciliation (cf Eph 2-14-16; 2 Cor 5:18-19), allows them to participate in his name.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:10). There is no doubt, bretheren, taht the companion of a good deed done is always envy. And that is not to mention the cruelty of persecutors when one begins to practise justice rigorously, to combat arrogance, to advise unbelievers to make peace with the Lord; when, further, one begins to dissent from another who lives in a worldly way and in error, immediately do persecution erupt; it is inevitable that hate is aroused and that rivalry defames. Thus does Christ finally lead his followers to the final rung, to this peak, to those heights, not only so that they may resist in suffering, but that they may find joy in dying.

At the Top of the Ladder

Blessed are you, he says, when men rivile you and persecute you, and utter all kinds of evbil against you falsely on my account . Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the Prophets who were before you (Matt 5:11-12). Bretheren, it is perfect vrtue, having carved out works of great justice, to be reviled for the truth, to be afflicted with torments, and at the end mortally injured but not terrified, following the example of the Prophets, who harassed by injustice, merited being likened to the sufferings and reqrds of Christ.

This is the highest rung, of which Paul, looking to Christ, said: One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:13-14). And even more clearly to Timothy: I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race (2 Tim 4:7). And as one who has climbed every step, he adds: I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness (2 Tim 4:8).

Having completed the race, there was nothing more for Paul to do bu to achieve gloriously, through tribulation and suffering, the highest rung which is martyrdom. The word and the Lord exhorts us then in an opportune way: Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven; and He shows clearly that this reward increases as the persecutions increase.

Jacob’s Ladder

Bretheren before your eyes are the eight rungs of the gospel, construted, as I have said, with precious stones. Behold Jacob’s ladder which starts on earth and whose top touches heaven. He who climbs it finds the gate of heaven, and having entered it, will have endless joy in the presence of the Lord, eternally praising Him with the holy angels.

This is our trade; this is our spiritual merchandise. Blessed by God, we give what we have. We offer pverty of spirit to receive the riches of the kingdom of heaven which has been promised to us. We offer our meekness to possess the earch and paradise. We weep for our own sins and those of others to merit the consolation of the Lord’s goodness. We hunger and thirst for justice, to be satisfied most abundantly. We show mercy to receive true mercy. We live like workers for peace, to be called children of God. We offer a pure heart and a chaste body, to see God with a clear conscience. We do not fear persecution for justice, so as to merit the kingdom of heaven. We welcome cheerfully and joyfully, the insults, torments, death itself- if it comes to that - for God’s truth, to receive in heaven a great reward with the Apostles and Prophets.

And so that the end of my address ties in with the beginning: if commercial travellers are cheered up by temporary and fragile profits, how much more should we be joyful and congratulate one another having today found the Lord’s pearls, with which there is no compare in this world. To merit buying them, obtaining them and possessing them, we have to ask for help, grace and strength from God Himself.

To him be glory forever and ever. Amen

Glimpses of the Church Fathers:

In recent years there has been a growing awareness among lay people of the importance of Tradition within the Catholic Church. A primary source of this Tradition is the collection of what the Fathers of the Church had to say in Her early history. This selection of writings covers a wide range of topics, and is presented in easily readable units.

St Cromacious of Aquileya: Cromacious was born in Aquileya, a town in northern italy. On the death of Bishop Balerianus in 388, Cromacious was elected his successor to the see of Aquileya.

He dedicated himself to the pastoral care of his flock for twenty years of his episcopate, preaching and administering the sacraments. he corresponded with St Ambrose, St Jerome and St John Chrysostom, who appreciated the holiness of this bishop of Aquileya.

Precious little of his homiletic activity survives to the present day.

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