“Do you want to honor Christ’s body?”: St. John Chrysostom on liturgy and care for the poor

I’m busy wrapping up my work translating Goffredo Boselli’s The Spiritual Meaning of the Liturgy, set for publication by Liturgical Press in the fall. It’s an exciting and beautiful book in many ways, one of them being Boselli’s rich appreciation of the theology of the early Church. The book draws from many of the greatest thinkers and pastoral leaders of that era in fruitful ways.

Here’s a great passage from St. John Chrysostom that Boselli quotes at some length in chapter nine, which is on “Liturgy and Love for the Poor”:

Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Do not neglect him when he is naked; do not, while you honor him here with silken garments, neglect Him perishing outside of cold and nakedness. For He that said “This is my body,” and by His word confirmed the fact, also said, “You saw me hungry and you did not feed me” and “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” This [the body of Christ on the altar] has no need of coverings, but of a pure soul; but that requires much attention. Let us learn therefore to be strict in life, and to honor Christ as He Himself desires….

For what is the profit, when His table indeed is full of golden cups, but He perishes with hunger? First fill Him, being hungry, and then abundantly deck out His table also. Do you make for Him a cup of gold, while you refuse to give him a cup of cold water? And what is the profit? Do you furnish His table with cloths bespangled with gold, while you refuse Him even the most basic coverings? And what good comes of it?

And these things I say, not forbidding munificence in these matters, but admonishing you to do those other works, together with these, or rather even before these. Because for not having adorned the church no one was ever blamed, but for not having helped the poor, hell is threatened, and unquenchable fire, and the punishment of evil spirits. Do not therefore while adorning His house overlook your brother in distress, for he is more properly a temple than the other.

That’s from a homily that Chrysostom preached on the Gospel of Matthew (not my translation, but one that’s more than a bit outdated; I cleaned up some of the most archaic style). Chrysostom was archbishop of Constantinople at the beginning of the fifth century.

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