Sunday, February 6th, 2022

‘Est vinculum perfectionis’: a Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

“But above all these things, have charity, which is the bond of perfection . . . wherein also you are called in one body: and be ye thankful” (Colossians 3). 

How is it that the saints could take any interest in us? After all, what do we have in common with the apostles, we whose faith is so weak? How could we attract the attention of those great princes, those men who saw the Incarnation face-to-face? Yesterday was the feast of St Agatha: in what meaningful way could we have fellowship with her?—We whose courage and chastity have been subjected to a thousand compromises! Or what about St Scholastica, whose festival is on the tenth? Her prayer and confidence summoned a storm; yet we pray so weakly because, unlike her, we are enthralled with the things of the earth. The day after that we will celebrate St Bernadette: what possible delight could she take in our company, she who spoke with the Immaculate Conception? How could the saints take any interest in you and in me? I suspect that question haunts more than one of us in the hidden places of our prayer. 

But happily, dearly beloved, today’s epistle suggests a twofold answer. 

First, the saints take interest in us precisely because of our great need. It is what St Paul commands: 

Brethren, clothe yourselves, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, with a profound mercy, with benignity, . . . bearing with one another, . . . but above all these things, have charity. 

And in a somewhat obscure phrase, he calls this charity “the bond of perfection;” vinculum perfectionis. A bond is something that makes two things to be inseparable; and certainly we ought to think of the Church as the tying together of all the redeemed. And the saints know this better than we do. 

St Paul’s epistles are a goldmine of theology, and about which it is difficult to generalize. But if one had to hazard some broad strokes about what St Paul is always talking about, that is the Church. And therein lies the heart of the first answer to our question: what St Paul writes about the nature of the Church does not change when it comes to the saints who are with God now. St Paul commands you and I to show profound mercy: are the saints dispensed from this? St Paul commands us to show benevolent goodness: do the saints escape this injunction? You and I have to bear one another’s burdens: may the saints now ignore them? And of course, charity—that highest virtue and gift—is the thing to be had by us super omnia: yet the saints may give it up? Finally, it is as St Paul says: “[W]herein also you are called in one body.” Are the saints members of some other body? Impossible. Therefore, the saints befriend and love us. 

This second point is simpler, perhaps less theologically demonstrable, but well within the reach of us sinners. A moment ago we heard St Paul say, “wherein also you are called in one body,” and immediately concludes the sentence by saying, “and be thankful.” Et grati estote. That we can do—even in our stupidity and weakness, we can do that. And yet, it is also the very thing that the saints cannot stop doing, while they sing their thanksgiving to God—“in psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles.”  

In the end, we may not share much likeness to the saints right now; we are hidden even from ourselves, we see in a mirror darkly, and what we do perceive most clearly is our frailty. In the end, that will probably save us. But the Church is the family of the thankful; when we thank, we are in perfect harmony and friendship with the saints.

How can the saints take any interest in us? Because they are so good; like their Master, whose Heart is a shelter for all the burdened. The saints are simply so good.   


Homilies & Sermons