Wednesday, April 4, 2012

St. Augustine and King Solomon's Etiquette

St. Augustine is a genius at drawing out from scripture its many meanings. He takes verses that to most of us seem to have nothing more than the bare literal meaning. In today's Office of Readings, he quotes from Proverbs: If you sit down with a ruler, observe carefully what is set before you; then stretch out your hand, knowing that you must provide the same kind of meal yourself. 

Without help from Augustine, I could read this verse a hundred times, and see nothing more than advice from King Solomon's Rules of Etiquette for the Polite Israelite. But Augustine pulls out the allegorical meaning (finding  "types" or metaphors of Christ in the Old Testament) and the moral meaning (what this scripture means to us personally). Check it out:

What is this ruler’s table if not the one at which we receive the body and blood of him who laid down his life for us? What does it mean to sit at this table if not to approach it with humility? What does it mean to observe carefully what is set before you if not to meditate devoutly on so great a gift? What does it mean to stretch out one’s hand, knowing that one must provide the same kind of meal oneself, if not what I have just said: as Christ laid down his life for us, so we in our turn ought to lay down our lives for our brothers? 

Seeking the various meanings of the psalms and scriptures of the Liturgy of the Hours takes practice, but it will enrich our daily prayer immensely. The red letter subtitles and the quotations beneath each psalm number will help you with some of this. After a while you will be able to find other meanings as well, especially those little messages from God to you, calling you to respond in faith, hope, and love.