Laity for Moral Reform in the Catholic Church

St. Peter Damian and focusing on God more completely

Posted: 2021-05-18

St. Peter Damian wrote a letter in 1062 or 1063 to his sisters Rodelinda and Sufficia. In what is referred to as letter 94, St. Peter Damian exhorts them to personal holiness.

All quotes from St. Peter Damian's letter are from the Catholic University of America Press' translations. The SPDS is grateful to CUA's work to restore and make accessible the words of the church fathers.

Taking some excerpts from the earlier part of the letter,

It is well-known, of course, that in the normal pattern of higher justice the invisible Judge in this life instructs by inflicting temporal distress on those to whom he is disposed to grant the rights of an everlasting inheritance. With heavy blows he chastises like slaves those whom, already in his carefully hidden decision, he has pledged to receive as legitimate children for the inheritance of his patrimony as their own possession.

This is contrary to the common contemporary belief that those whom God loves most, he blesses with the most gifts in this life.

For if anyone, while leading an upright life, overflows with successes, he would rightly experience fear in his heart lest, while seeing his good deeds rewarded with temporal wealth, they be repaid, perhaps, with something less, or with nothing at all in eternity. But he who performs good works and is worn down by tribulations can now rightly rejoice in the certainty that he will be given, as a reward for his labors, a good measure, pressed down and shaken together.

Interestingly, it seems like St. Peter Damian's point isn't solely that sufferings borne patiently and in charity in this life bear fruit in the next life. They do, but he seems to also be making a point about confidence in God's gifts and graces.

Now you, most beloved sisters, since by professing continence as widows after your marriage bond was dissolved, you have not only entered into union with an immortal spouse, but with application of marvelous fervor have decided to suppress, even to crucify, all incentives to the enticement of the flesh, restrain yourselves from inflicting harm on anyone, and patiently bear injury done to you by others.

Turning now to address his sisters more directly, St. Peter Damian exhorts them to maintain their continence and live a life focused on God rather than seeking to marry again now that their husbands have passed.

And lest long-lasting annoyances perhaps become tedious for you, set Anna in the Gospel before yourself as a model for your widowhood. After she had enjoyed the company of her husband for seven years, as Scripture attests without doubt, she had now as a widow reached the age of eighty-four. [...] For after mentioning her many years of continence, the evangelist at once adds, "Because she never left the temple, but worshipped day and night, fasting and praying."

An example from the Gospel that many have us have probably passed over but not reflected on for any length of time.

Then at the end of the letter,

For as I have no doubt that Lazarus was restored to life at the prayers of his faithful sisters, I have every confidence that htrough your merits if, as I believe, they were deserving, I too will be absolved from my sins and restored to innocence of life. May almighty God, the zealous lover of souls, lead me by your prayers on the way to virtue, and by my exhortations guide you to still greater deeds. Praised be the name of the Lord.

Let us consider St. Peter Damian's advice for our own ourselves, even if we are husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers. The Society prays that the Church as a whole will strive to orient our lives more totally toward God and the emulation of Christ.