Category Archives: St Augustine

Aug 28 – St Augustine & the heretics


-St Augustine icon, by Joseph Brown, Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY, ~2009

Rev Dwight Longenecker, Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England.
Fr Longenecker was brought up in an Evangelical Protestant home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the Fundamentalist Protestant Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson on the Isle of Wight. Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. In December 2006 he was ordained as a Catholic priest under the special pastoral provision for married former Anglican clergy. He now serves as parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, SC.

“A heresy is never totally wrong. Its just that it is never totally right. A heresy is a half truth or a truth twisted. The reason a heresy is attractive is that it always seems to make perfect sense. A heresy is a religious truth you would make up if you were making up a religion. However, Catholic truth is stranger and subtler than that, and it takes sound teaching to expose and battle the heresy.

Heresies are persistent because they are attractive, and they are persistent because they usually console the heretic in some way. In other words, it is easier to believe the heresy than the fullness of the Catholic truth. The fullness of the Catholic truth is either difficult to believe or difficult to obey or both. The heresy always offers an easy way out–either an easier way of believing or an easier way of behaving.

The first heresy Augustine battled was Donatism. The Donatists were a schism in the North African Church that were sort of like Puritanical Protestant or Jansenists. They thought the church should be pure, and should be a church of saints, not sinners. They were unwilling to accept back those Christians who, out of weakness, compromised their faith during the persecutions and they insisted that for sacraments to be valid the priest had to be faultless.

While this sort of rigorism is understandable, it doesn’t take much to see where it leads. It leads to unbearable self righteousness. “We few, we holy few. We are the remnant, the true church, the only real Christians…” Nonsense. If you think the core error of Donatism does not exist today, look a little harder. Although the name “Donatism” is now a footnote of church history there are plenty of rigorist schisms and sects and plenty of the attitude within individuals and groups in many different churches.

The fact is, most heresies, while seeming attractive, can be countered very easily with a passage from the gospel. Donatists should read the parable of the wheat and tares. The sinners and the saints grow together and God will sort it out.

The second heresy Augustine battled was Manicheanism. This false religion was started by a Persian prophet named Mani (274 AD). He blended elements of occult Judaism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity and came up with a complicated New Age kind of religion. His core heresy was dualism. He taught that the physical world was evil and the spiritual world was good. Manicheanism had a huge influence in the 3-4 centuries. We can see it in the harsh asceticism of the early monks for example.

Augustine’s teachings on the nature of evil countered this. He taught that the created world is good because God does not make evil. Instead evil is good twisted, distorted or destroyed.

While Manicheanism is also a footnote in church history, the idea that the physical world is bad and the spiritual world is good continues today. It is present in some New Age teachings and in Eastern religions and philosophies. It also lingers like an echo in elements of Christianity. It is tempting to look down on physical pleasures, and the right embrace of holy poverty can be twisted into a hatred or disgust or guilt about the goodness of the physical world.

The third heresy is Pelagianism. This is named for the British monk Pelagius (d. 420) His teaching was probably misunderstood, but if so, the misunderstanding was that he taught that the human will was not so tainted by original sin that it lost its power to do good. In other words, you can do good without God’s help. This led to the conclusion that you can get into heaven through good works.

Augustine corrected this heresy with his teachings on grace. It is God’s grace, continually working in and through creation and in and through our own lives that empowers our faith, empowers our good works and empowers the supernatural transformation of our lives.

These three heresies do us the service of bringing to light the true Catholic teaching. The created world is beautiful, good and true. If this is true, then we also, created in God’s image are good. However, that goodness is wounded by original sin. While we don’t have to be perfect at once, that is our destiny, our calling and the hard adventure on which we must embark. God’s good grace gives us the power to do this. Without his grace we are paralyzed by sin and locked in darkness. With his grace we can be free.”

Love, & His grace,
Matthew

Aug 28 – “To praise You is the desire of man…”, Augustine’s ‘Confessions’


-Joos van Wassenhove, 1474, St Augustine, oil on wood, 119 x 62 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris

For my ‘Wisdom of the Saints, Part I of II” class through the Avila Institute, I had to read Augustine’s Confessions; and in a previous life, write an autobiography for the Dominicans and Jesuits. You’ll see.


-by Br Philip Nolan, OP

““Know thyself,” proclaimed the oracle at Delphi.

St Catherine of Siena echoed this teaching with her emphasis on the importance of the “cell of self-knowledge” to the spiritual life. But how can I know myself? This question became especially pertinent when I sat down to write the autobiography required for my application to the Dominican Order. “Know thyself” became “write an accurate autobiography of your life”—a daunting task.

Autobiography as a spiritual exercise takes its highest form in the writings of the saint we celebrate today, St. Augustine. His Confessions reveals an extremely self-reflective person attempting to wrestle with and understand his past decisions and current disposition. But before recounting tales from his own infancy, early education, and on and on until the moment of writing, St. Augustine first begins by declaring that his aim is to praise God—“To praise you is the desire of man.” It seems counterintuitive. In an attempt to praise God, he writes his own life story.

But this approach makes a certain sense. Because lives overlap, we can talk about others and ourselves in the same breath. A best man will tell of experiences he has shared with the groom in order to explain what is admirable and praiseworthy about his friend. And we can tell the story of God’s work in our lives in a similar way. We can recount moments in which we became particularly aware of God’s goodness and providential care. We can name the gifts and talents God has given us and the crosses he has allowed us in order that we may draw closer to him. This is part of what St. Augustine does in the Confessions. Praying, “What are you to me?” he seeks to remember and recount those times when he grew in knowledge of God.

But St. Augustine does not stop there. He continues, “What am I to You that You command me to love You?” He realizes that while we can tell our side of the story—how we became aware of God—the fullest explanation of our lives is God’s side of the story. He acknowledges to God, “I would have no being if I were not in You,” and asks Him, “Lord God, judge of my conscience, is my memory correct?” He asks God, “Have mercy so that I can find words.”

Autobiography for St. Augustine is thus neither self-definition nor simply a timeline. He only undertakes to tell the story of his life because it is a story that he has been given to tell—as St. John puts it, “what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you now” (1 Jn 1:3). God is the author of his life. God first thought of him, brought him to life, fleshed him out and developed his character, and then, in a step beyond the abilities of even the best human author, invited him to share in the understanding and freedom of the divine. With this new knowledge of his place in the world, St. Augustine writes his autobiography as an act of praise to the One Who gave him this life to live.

For Christians, the path to self-knowledge and the path to knowledge of God blur together. Sitting down to write a journal entry or a short autobiography can train our eyes to see more as God sees and to know more as God knows. With St. Augustine we pray, “May I know You, Who know me. May I know as I also am known.”

Love,
Matthew

Why faith AND reason? Faith is reasonable? St Augustine says, “Yes!”

Faith-Reason-Sign

Olson_Carl
-by Carl Olson, Carl grew up in a Fundamentalist Protestant home and attended Briercrest Bible College, an Evangelical school in Saskatchewan, Canada. He and his wife, Heather, were married in 1994 and entered the Catholic Church together in 1997. Their conversion story appears in the book, Surprised By Truth 3 (Sophia Institute Press, 2002).

“Pope Benedict XVI dramatically underscored the importance of St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) recently. In a series of general audiences dedicated to the Church fathers, Benedict devoted one or two audiences to luminaries such as St. Justin Martyr, St. Basil, and St. Jerome, while dedicating five to Augustine.

One of the greatest theologians and Doctors of the Church, Augustine’s influence on Pope Benedict is manifest. “When I read Saint Augustine’s writings,” the Holy Father stated in the second of those five audiences (January 16, 2008), “I do not get the impression that he is a man who died more or less 1,600 years ago; I feel he is like a man of today: a friend, a contemporary who speaks to me, who speaks to us with his fresh and timely faith.”

The relationship between faith and reason has a significant place in Augustine’s vast corpus. It has been discussed often by Benedict, who identifies it as a central concern for our time and presents Augustine as a guide to apprehending and appreciating more deeply the nature of the relationship. Augustine’s “entire intellectual and spiritual development,” Benedict stated in his third audience on the African Doctor (January 30, 2008), “is also a valid model today in the relationship between faith and reason, a subject not only for believers but for every person who seeks the truth, a central theme for the balance and destiny of all men.”

This is a key issue and theme in Augustine’s Confessions, his profound and influential account of his search for meaning and conversion to Christianity. Augustine testifies to how reason puts man on the road toward God and how it is faith that informs and elevates reason, taking it beyond its natural limitations while never being tyrannical or confining in any way. He summarized this seemingly paradoxical fact in the famous dictum, “I believe, in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe” (Sermo 43:9).

st__augustine_of_hippo_icon_by_theophilia-d9h9b29 (1)

Falsehoods about Faith

There are, as we all know, many distorted and shallow concepts of faith, reason, and the differences between the two. For self-described “brights” and other skeptics, reason is objective, scientific, and verifiable, while faith is subjective, personal, and irrational, even bordering on mania or madness. But if we believe that reason is indeed reasonable, it should be admitted this is a belief in itself, and thus requires some sort of faith. There is a certain step of faith required in putting all of one’s intellectual weight on the pedestal of reason. “Secularism,” posits philosopher Edward Feser in The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism,

“…can never truly rest on reason, but only “faith,” as secularists themselves understand that term (or rather misunderstand it, as we shall see): an unshakeable commitment grounded not in reason but rather in sheer willfulness, a deeply ingrained desire to want things to be a certain way regardless of whether the evidence shows they are that way.” (6)

For many people today the source of reason and object of faith is their own intellectual power. To look outside, or beyond, themselves for a greater source and object of faith is often dismissed as “irrational” or “superstitious.” As the Confessions readily document, Augustine had walked with sheer willfulness (to borrow Feser’s excellent descriptive) down this dark intellectual alleyway in his own life and found it to be a dead end. He discovered that belief is only as worthwhile as its object and as strong as its source. For Augustine—a man who had pursued philosophical arguments with intense fervor—both the object and source of faith is God.

“Belief, in fact” the Thomistic philosopher Etienne Gilson remarked inThe Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine, “is simply thought accompanied by assent” (27). There is not and cannot be tension or conflict between reason and faith; they both flow from the same divine source. Reason should and must, therefore, play a central role in a man’s beliefs about ultimate things. In fact, it is by reason that we come to know and understand what faith and belief are. Reason is the vehicle, which, if driven correctly, takes us to the door of faith. As Augustine observed:

“My greatest certainty was that “the invisible things of Thine from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even Thy eternal power and Godhead.” For when I inquired how it was that I could appreciate the beauty of bodies, both celestial and terrestrial; and what it was that supported me in making correct judgments about things mutable; and when I concluded, “This ought to be thus; this ought not”—then when I inquired how it was that I could make such judgments (since I did, in fact, make them), I realized that I had found the unchangeable and true eternity of Truth above my changeable mind.” (Confessions 7:17)

Getting through the door/portal of faith, porta fidei

However, while reason brings us to the threshold of faith, it seems, at least, implausible that ALL of Creation is a random incident/accident, and the fact that we are ignorant of how it comes to be is insufficient and irrational reasoning to deny the existence of the Divine, whereas accepting the proposal of the existence of the Divine seems rational, and refusal to do so due to ignorance, or what “fits” under a microscope, or can be understood by finite human reason —and even informs us that faith is a coherent and logical option—it cannot take us through the door. Part of the problem is that reason has been wounded by the Fall and dimmed by the effects of sin – human limitation, if you prefer. Reason is, to some degree or another, distorted, limited, and hindered; it is often pulled off the road by our whims, emotions, and passions.

But this is not why natural reason, ultimately, cannot open the door to faith. It is because faith is a gift from the Creator, Who is Himself inscrutable. In Augustine’s intense quest for God he asked: Can God be understood and known by reason alone? The answer is a clear, “No.” “If you understood Him,” Augustine declares, “it would not be God” (Sermo52:6, Sermo 117:3). The insufficiency of reason in the face of God and true doctrine is also addressed in the Confessions. Writing of an immature Christian who was ill-informed about doctrine, the bishop of Hippo noted:

“When I hear of a Christian brother, ignorant of these things, or in error concerning them, I can tolerate his uninformed opinion; and I do not see that any lack of knowledge as to the form or nature of this material creation can do him much harm, as long as he does not hold a belief in anything which is unworthy of Thee, O Lord, the Creator of all. But if he thinks that his secular knowledge pertains to the essence of the doctrine of piety, or ventures to assert dogmatic opinions in matters in which he is ignorant—there lies the injury.” (Confessions 5:5)

Augustine’s high view of reason rested on his belief that God is the author of all truth and reason. The Incarnate God-man, the second Person of the Trinity, appeals to man’s reason and invites him to seek more deeply, to reflect more thoroughly, and to thirst more intensely for the “eternal Truth”:

“Why is this, I ask of thee, O Lord my God? I see it after a fashion, but I do not know how to express it, unless I say that everything that begins to be and then ceases to be begins and ceases when it is known in Thy eternal reason that it ought to begin or cease—in Thy eternal reason where nothing begins or ceases. And this is Thy Word, which is also “the Beginning,” because it also speaks to us. Thus, in the Gospel, He spoke through the flesh; and this sounded in the outward ears of men so that it might be believed and sought for within, and so that it might be found in the eternal Truth, in which the good and only Master teacheth all his disciples. There, O Lord, I hear Thy voice, the voice of One speaking to me, since He Who teacheth us speaketh to us. (Confessions11:8)

Another example of Augustine’s high regard for reason and for its central place in his theological convictions is found in his experience with the teachings of Mani. As Augustine learned about the Manichaean view of the physical world, he became increasingly exasperated with its lack of logic and irrational nature. The breaking point came when he was ordered to believe teachings about the heavenly bodies that were in clear contradiction to logic and mathematics: “But still I was ordered to believe, even where the ideas did not correspond with—even when they contradicted—the rational theories established by mathematics and my own eyes, but were very different” (Confessions 5:3). And so Augustine left Manichaeanism in search of a reasonable, intellectually cogent faith.

Know the Limits

Reason, based in man’s finitude, cannot comprehend the infinite mysteries of faith, even while pointing towards them, however indistinctly. For Augustine this was especially true when it came to understanding Scripture. Early in his life, reading the Bible had frustrated and irritated him; later, graced with the eyes of faith, he was able to comprehend and embrace its riches:

“Thus, since we are too weak by unaided reason to find out truth, and since, because of this, we need the authority of the holy writings, I had now begun to believe that thou wouldst not, under any circumstances, have given such eminent authority to those Scriptures throughout all lands if it had not been that through them thy will may be believed in and that thou might be sought. For, as to those passages in the Scripture which had heretofore appeared incongruous and offensive to me, now that I had heard several of them expounded reasonably, I could see that they were to be resolved by the mysteries of spiritual interpretation. The authority of Scripture seemed to me all the more revered and worthy of devout belief because, although it was visible for all to read, it reserved the full majesty of its secret wisdom within its spiritual profundity.” (Confessions 6:5)

The contrast between reading Scripture before and after faith is one Augustine returned to often, for it demonstrated how reason, for all of its goodness and worth, can only comprehend a certain circumscribed amount. While reason is a wonderful and even powerful tool, it is a natural tool providing limited results.

Man, the rational animal, is meant for divine communion, and therefore requires an infusion of divine life and aptitude. Grace, the divine life of God, fills man and gifts him with faith, hope, and love. Faith, then, is first and foremost a gift from God. It is not a natural virtue, but a theological virtue. Its goal is theosis —that is, participation in the divine nature (see CCC 460; 2 Pt 1:4). The Christian, reborn as a divinized being, lives by faith and not by sight, a phrase from St. Paul that Augustine repeated: “But even so, we still live by faith and not by sight, for we are saved by hope; but hope that is seen is not hope” (Confessions 13:13).

Recognize Rightful Authority

Humble receptivity to faith requires recognizing true and rightful authority. “For, just as among the authorities in human society, the greater authority is obeyed before the lesser, so also must God be above all” (Confessions 3:8). What Augustine could not find in Mani, he discovered in the person of Jesus Christ, His Church, and the Church’s teachings. All three are in evidence in the opening chords of theConfessions:

But “how shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? Or how shall they believe without a preacher?” Now, “they shall praise the Lord who seek Him,” for “those who seek shall find Him,” and, finding Him, shall praise Him. I will seek Thee, O Lord, and call upon Thee. I call upon Thee, O Lord, in my faith which Thou hast given me, which Thou hast inspired in me through the humanity of Thy Son, and through the ministry of Thy preacher. (1:1)

For Augustine, there is no conflict between Christ, His Body, and His Word. Christ, through His Body, demonstrates the truthfulness of His Word, as Augustine readily admitted: “But I would not believe in the Gospel, had not the authority of the Catholic Church already moved me” (Contra epistolam Manichaei 5:6; see also Confessions 7:7). Holy Scripture, the Word of God put to paper by men inspired by the Holy Spirit, possesses a certitude and authority coming directly from its divine Author and protected by the Church:

Now whom but Thee, our God, didst make for us that firmament of the authority of Thy divine Scripture to be over us? For “the heaven shall be folded up like a scroll”; but now it is stretched over us like a skin. Thy divine Scripture is of more sublime authority now that those mortal men through whom Thou didst dispense it to us have departed this life. (Confessions13:15)

Humility and Harmony

“The harmony between faith and reason,” wrote Benedict XVI in his third audience on Augustine, “means above all that God is not remote; He is not far from our reason and life; He is close to every human being, close to our hearts and to our reason, if we truly set out on the journey.” Augustine’s life is a dramatic and inspiring witness to this tremendous truth, and it is why his Confessions continue to challenge and move readers today, 16 centuries after being written.

The young Augustine pursued reason, prestige, and pleasure with tremendous energy and refined focus, but could not find peace or satisfaction. It was when he followed reason to the door of faith, humbled himself before God, and gave himself over to Christ that he found Whom he was made by and for. “In its essence,” Gilson wrote, “Augustinian faith is both an adherence of the mind to supernatural truth and a humble surrender of the whole man to the grace of Christ” (The Christian Philosophy 31).

The Church Teaches

“Believing is possible only by grace and the interior helps of the Holy Spirit. But it is no less true that believing is an authentically human act. Trusting in God and cleaving to the truths He has revealed is contrary neither to human freedom nor to human reason.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church 154

faith&reason

Love, Faith, and Hope,
Matthew

“Confessions” -St Augustine

restless_heart

Sinner, never despair.  Saint, never despair of the sinner.  His mercy is AWESOME!!!!  Is 55:8.  Just ask Augustine.

I am in my third course towards my Masters in Unitive (Spiritual) Theology through the Avila Institute.  Beyond the general phylum of Theology, the discipline bifurcates into Speculative and Unitive.  Speculative covers the WWJD? type of questions, the “what-ifs” of theology.  Unitive covers the more intimate, mystical aspects of theology of the soul aspiring and coming into union with the Divine.  Unitive has the reputation of being, by far, the more interesting of the couple, if you’re into that kind of thing.  I am.  Studying the great souls of the Catholic tradition and their writings, the written word abides, rocks.  Nobody ever said it would be easy, though.

maxresdefault

“Confessions” written by St Augustine in the very late 4th century (397-400 AD) is a classic of Catholic spiritual writing.  It is a slog, though.  Depending on the translation you choose, Thees and Thous abound!  My most tedious and time consuming reading assignment, so far.  Augustine was a professional in and teacher of rhetoric, a big deal in the ancient world.  So, to say he was long-winded would be kind.  His complex sentence structure and detailed recounting tax the reader, they do.  Not all truth is contained in easy reads.  The majority of texts from the ancient world still in existence remain untranslated.  Deo gratias for audio books, particularly in one’s “mature” years, when the powers of concentration, thought, comprehension and eyesight wane, especially for amateur catechists and hagiographers, like me.  🙂

Augustine_Confessiones

Augustine recounts his life and the progression of thinking and grace therein.  I won’t boor you with the narrative.  There are plenty of resources for that.  However, his maturation in sexual matters is especially poignant and terribly, terribly, tragically relevant, I believe, for younger people, burning in the freshness and vitality of life with desire, AND camera phones, the work of the devil, if there ever was any!!!  I thank God every day there was no such thing in the eighties, and for photo processing, and photo technicians who would/do call the cops, sure deterrents.  Not so today.   Not so.  Mara, listen to daddy!!!!  Dear God, please!!!!  Custodia occulorum!!!!

“Oh! how many are lost by indulging their sight!St. Alphonsus de Liguori

Mk 9:47-48, Lk 11:34-36

Also a student of JPII’s theology of the body, which is beautiful, I have struggled in how to translate this non-sound bite wisdom into 21st century sound bites.  Here is my best attempt.  It makes sense.  It is logical, and beautiful, if we would have ears to hear, hearts to listen. The poison of sin fights violently against us and this thinking.  On the internet, everything is forever, eternal virtual life or living hell, depending on content of our choosing.

  • We did not create ourselves.
  • We were created.
  • We owe our Creator the debt of our being.
  • Part of the debt of our being is proper use of creation, including our bodies.
  • The proper use of our bodies is love for one other who truly loves us in return. A union which is faithful, fruitful, and free, i.e. marriage.
  • The Natural Law in philosophy indicates that by nature, by inspection, by reason, our love must be devoted to our complement, i.e. male & female.
  • To ignore the Natural Law is to ignore God and Him communicating through His creation.  It is sin, and an offense against God Who created us, to Whom we owe our debt of gratitude.  To Whom we must account for our use of His gift of life, and will.
  • The lover always wills the good of the beloved. This can never be manifested in the abuse of self or use/abuse of others.  This is the definition of love.  Use is the exact opposite, the negative, of love.  We use things.  We love people.  We must never turn people into things, even with their ignorant, willful permission.  We are all children of God; everyone, everyone.  Especially when that is most difficult to see in each of us.

Rapidly we prepare this year for Ash Wednesday, and to be told once more, “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.  Repent, and believe in the Gospel!”

“Christian, remember your dignity, and the price which was paid to purchase your salvation!” -cf Pope St Leo the GreatSermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.

“Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember Who is your head and of Whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.” -CCC 1691, St. Leo the Great, Sermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.

Some of my favorites, though…

“…but I was intent on material things, but there found I no resting-place, nor did they so receive me, that I could say, “It is enough,” “it is well”:…”1

“…through my own swelling was I separated from Thee; yea, my pride-swollen face closed up mine eyes…by inward goads didst Thou rouse me, that I should be ill at ease, until Thou wert manifested to my inward sight. Thus, by the secret hand of Thy medicining was my swelling abated, and the troubled and bedimmed eyesight of my mind, by the smarting annointings of healthful sorrows, was from day to day healed.”2

“…as if I heard this Thy voice from on high: “I am the food of grown men and women…”,3

Love, His joy and mercy,
Matthew

1 Augustine, Saint (2014-09-20). Confessions (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 1732-1733). . Kindle Edition.

2 Augustine, Saint (2014-09-20). Confessions (Illustrated) (Kindle Locations 1739, 1742-1744). . Kindle Edition.

3 Augustine, Saint (2014-09-20). Confessions (Illustrated) (Kindle Location 1788). . Kindle Edition.

“His Mercy anticipates us.” -St Augustine

mercy-grace

theresa_noble_fsp
an excerpt from an article by Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, (Daughters of St Paul) a former atheist who, thanks to the grace of God, has returned to the faith she was raised in and now tries to help others bring their loved ones back to the faith. A few years after returning to the Church, she heard God calling her, so she left her job in Silicon Valley to join the Daughters of St. Paul. She now lives in Miami, where she prays, evangelizes, bakes bread, and blogs.

“Mercy is dependent on justice and the concept of sin because when God shows us mercy, it is so He can forgive our sins.

So what meaning does mercy have in a world that does not believe in sin?

I used to not believe in sin. I was an atheist who had a moment of instantaneous conversion back to belief in God. However, my journey back to the Church was not so immediate. It was a slow and gradual process (Ed. gradualism, anyone?). It was a process in which God and other Christians showed me love, patience and acceptance as I stumbled along. Finally, I began to intellectually assent to the teaching authority of the Church, including sin as defined by the Church.

But in the early months of my conversion, my repentance and my sins were not God’s focus. The focus was how much God loved me. I’ll never forget the feeling of those first months. I walked around as if cradled in the hand of the Creator, simply basking in His loving gaze.

And I continued sinning. Seriously.

But I now knew a God Who loved me. And His merciful love anticipated my repentance. He did not draw back in disgust at seeing my lack of repentance. He did not smite me as I stood for continuing in my former way of life. He entered my soul and embraced me precisely where it was darkest. In the areas where I was dead, Jesus died with me.

Eventually, through my relationship with God, I felt an invitation to return to the Church. I was baffled and disgusted. I loved God, but I was not interested in returning to the Church. I wanted to love God on my own terms. But I knew God would only lead me to a place where he could love me more fully.

So, in obedience to the God I loved, I began to attend Mass more regularly.

One day I will never forget, I was getting ready for work and felt a sudden illumination of my conscience. It was as if I could finally see all my sins as God sees them, all I had done, all I was doing and all I would continue to do as a sinful human being. I collapsed, sobbing on the floor (Ed. the gift of tears).

This was a moment of mercy.

But God’s mercy did not begin in that moment. God began showing me mercy much earlier on; his mercy anticipated my repentance. It was the anticipatory, non-contingent nature of this mercy that led me to repent. God loved me in the midst of my darkness because he knew that it was only his blazing love that could save me.

This is how God loves us. He extends his mercy to us throughout our lives, up until the last breath we take. His mercy anticipates our cooperation. His mercy anticipates our repentance. His mercy anticipates our return to Him.

God is outside of time so His mercy on human beings with free will is not contingent on what we do. He pours it out on us always because it is part of His nature to be merciful.

Every day. Every hour. Every minute.

If our hearts are unrepentant, we cannot receive the fullness of God’s salvific graces, but that does not mean His merciful love goes to waste. Rather, if we are even slightly cooperative, it can slowly soften our hearts and help us see truth.

God bears with our sins in order that we may repent: “But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance” (Wisdom 11: 23).

What does this reality mean in this Year of Mercy?

It means we are called to show others God’s mercy in this same way. We are called to show others a mercy that does not begin with pointing out another person’s sin. (This is particularly true if another person does not even believe in the concept of sin.)

Mercy begins with the person, where he or she is, and leads that person back to God. Mercy puts the other person’s spiritual well-being first and creates space for the gradual nature of conversion. Mercy respects that slamming the Ten Commandments or the Catechism in someone’s face is often going to be useless if the other person does not first accept God’s love, or the basic fact of His existence.

Mercy anticipates judgment and pointing out sin with love.

A merciful anticipatory love does not dismiss sin as unimportant. Mercy does not skip over sin and pretend that all is well.

As St. Augustine wrote: “His mercy anticipates us. He anticipates us, however, that we may be healed.”

But mercy does not prioritize sin.

Mercy prioritizes God’s healing love, so that we may come to understand our sin, repent of it and be healed.

Thomas Aquinas refers to God’s mercy as that which “dispels misery.” We are called to accompany others on this journey in which God wants to dispel misery. It is a journey that sometimes requires our patience as we walk with others who do not even recognize their sin as misery.

But this is the same journey we walk with our patient, merciful God who surrounds us with his mercy now, before we are perfect, so that we can be perfected in his merciful love.”

Love, and rejoicing His mercy anticipates me!!!
Matthew

Aug 28 – St Augustine, (354-430 AD), Bishop, Doctor of the Church, Doctor Gratiae, Doctor of Grace, “Tolle, Lege!”

Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica
– Sts Augustine & Monica, 1846

“This very moment I may, if I desire, become the friend of God.” -St Augustine

Bishops have had a tough decade, as have all the ordained.  Some would say, of the guilty, deservedly so, by their or their predecessors own action/inaction.  We are ALL sinners, most especially, yours truly!  Sins of commission and omission.  The Catholic understanding of sin is that it is never a private affair.  All sin, even unknown sin, is a social offense.

The first tragedy, the victims of clergy sexual abuse, and, a second, I dare suggest, are the innocent ordained, who have dedicated their lives in service and love, try as they may with the aid of grace, in service to the Lord and His People.  God bless them!  Their reward will surely be great in Heaven for having lived, and served, and loved in this time.  Bless them!  And, thank you!  How much harder it must be to live out the life of service and love in these days!  Rejoice!  I say again, rejoice!  You shine as examples of Christian fortitude, fidelity, the power of grace and commitment!  True servants of the Lord!  I know I am inspired by your example!  Thank you!  God bless you!  Thank you for your service and your love, for your fidelity and example which inspires us all in, of, and for Love!

St. Augustine of Hippo is the patron of brewers because of his conversion from a former life of loose living, which included parties, entertainment, and worldly ambitions. His complete turnaround and conversion has been an inspiration to many who struggle with a particular vice or habit they long to break.

st__augustine_of_hippo_icon_by_theophilia-d9h9b29

Accepted by most scholars to be the most important figure in the ancient Western church, St. Augustine was born in Tagaste, Numidia in North Africa. His mother, St Monica, was a Christian, but his father remained a pagan until late in life. After a rather unremarkable childhood, marred only by a case of stealing pears, Augustine drifted through several philosophical systems before converting to Christianity at the age of thirty-one. At the age of nineteen, Augustine read Cicero’s Hortensius (now lost), an experience that led him into the fascination with philosophical questions and methods that would remain with him throughout his life. After a few years as a Manichean, he became attracted to the more skeptical positions of the Academic philosophers. Although tempted in the direction of Christianity upon his arrival at Milan in 383, he turned first to neoplatonism. During this time, Augustine fathered a child by a mistress. This period of exploration, including its youthful excesses (perhaps somewhat exaggerated) are recorded in Augustine’s most widely read work, the Confessions.

This famous son of St. Monica was born in Africa and spent many years of his life in wicked living and in false beliefs. At age 17, through the generosity of fellow citizen Romanianus, Augustine went to Carthage to continue his education in rhetoric. Although raised as a Christian, Augustine left the church to follow the Manichaean religion, much to the despair of his mother, Monica.  As a youth Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle for a time, associating with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits with women and urged the inexperienced boys, like Augustine, to seek out experiences or to make up stories about experiences in order to gain acceptance and avoid ridicule.  It was during this period that he uttered his famous prayer, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet!” – “da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo.” At a young age, he began an affair with a young woman in Carthage. She was his lover for over thirteen years and gave birth to his son Adeodatus, who was said to have been extremely intelligent.

Though he was one of the most intelligent men who ever lived and though he had been brought up a Christian, his sins of impurity and his pride darkened his mind so much, that he could not see or understand the Divine Truth anymore. Through the prayers of his holy mother and the marvelous preaching of St. Ambrose, Augustine finally became convinced that Christianity was the one true religion. Yet he did not become a Christian then, because he thought he could never live a pure life. One day, however, he heard about two men who had suddenly been converted on reading the life of St. Antony, and he felt terrible, ashamed of himself. “What are we doing?” he cried to his friend Alipius. “Unlearned people are taking Heaven by force, while we, with all our knowledge, are so cowardly that we keep rolling around in the mud of our sins!”

Full of bitter sorrow, Augustine flung himself out into the garden and cried out to God, “How long more, O Lord? Why does not this hour put an end to my sins?” Just then he heard a child singing, “Tolle, lege! = Take up and read!” Thinking that God intended him to hear those words, he picked up the book of the Letters of St. Paul, and read the first passage his gaze fell on. “Not in riots and drunken parties, not in eroticism and indecencies, not in strife and rivalry, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts'”[Rom 13:13-15]. “I neither wished nor needed to read further. At once, with the last words of this sentence, it was as if a light of relief from all anxiety flooded into my heart. All the shadows of doubt were dispelled.” — The Confessions of Saint Augustine, Book VIII, Paragraph 29.

During his youth, Augustine had studied rhetoric at Carthage, a discipline that he used to gain employment teaching in Carthage and then in Rome and Milan, where he met Ambrose who is credited with effecting Augustine’s conversion and who baptized Augustine in 387. Returning to his homeland soon after his conversion, he was ordained a presbyter in 391, taking the position as bishop of Hippo in 396, a position which he held until his death.

Besides the Confessions, Augustine’s most celebrated work is his De Civitate Dei (On the City of God), a study of the relationship between Christianity and secular society, which was inspired by the fall of Rome to the Visigoths in 410. Among his other works, many are polemical attacks on various heresies: Against Faustus, the Manichean; On Baptism; Against the Donatists;and many attacks on Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Other works include treatises On the Trinity; On Faith, Hope, and Love; On Christian Doctrine; and some early dialogues.

St. Augustine stands as a powerful advocate for orthodoxy and of the episcopacy as the sole means for the dispensing of saving grace. In the light of later scholarship, Augustine can be seen to serve as a bridge between the ancient and medieval worlds. A review of his life and work, however, shows him as an active mind engaging the practical concerns of the churches he served.

st-augustine-of-hippo-icon-703

“The honors of this world, what are they but puff, and emptiness and peril of falling?” – Saint Augustine

“In my deepest wound I saw Your glory and it astounded me.”-St. Augustine 

“One loving heart sets another on fire.” -St. Augustine

“What is more fragrant, more delightful, than the gentle breath of truth?” -St. Augustine

“Daily advance, then, in this love, both by praying and by well doing, that through the help of Him who enjoined it on you, and whose gift it is, it may be nourished and increased, until, being perfected, it render you perfect.”– Saint Augustine

“What do you possess if you possess not God?” – Saint Augustine

“The Holy Spirit has come to abide in you; do not make Him withdraw; do not exclude Him from your heart in any way.” -St. Augustine

“Unhappy is the soul enslaved by the love of anything that is mortal.” -Saint Augustine

“Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” -St. Augustine

“The world is a book and he who does not travel reads only one page.” -St Augustine

“Love, and He will draw near; love, and He will dwell within you. The Lord is at hand; have no anxiety. Are you puzzled to know how it is that He will be with you if you love? God is love.” -St. Augustine

“You aspire to great things? Begin with little ones.” -St. Augustine

“If a vessel is to be filled, it must first be empty. So cast all evil away from you, that you may be filled to the brim.” -St. Augustine

“He willed not that any one should glory in the exalted position of any city of earth. He, too, Whose are all things and by Whom all things were created, was made poor, in order that no one, while believing in Him, might venture to boast himself in earthly riches. He refused to be made by men a king, because He displayed the pathway of humility to those unhappy ones whom pride had separated from Him; and yet universal creation attests the fact of His everlasting kingdom.” -St Augustine

“I will suggest a means whereby you can praise God all day long, if you wish. Whatever you do, do it well, and you have praised God.” – Saint Augustine

“Love has hands to help others. It has feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. This is what love looks like.” -St. Augustine 

“This is the business of our life. By labor and prayer to advance in the grace of God, till we come to that height of perfection in which, with clean hearts, we may behold God.” -Saint Augustine

“God in his omnipotence could not give more, in His wisdom He knew not how to give more, in His riches He had not more to give, than the Eucharist.” – Saint Augustine

“God does not command impossibilities, but by commanding admonishes you do what you can and to pray for what you cannot, and aids you that you may be able.” – Saint Augustine

“Conquer yourself and the world lies at your feet.” – Saint Augustine

“God himself will be the goal of our desires; we shall contemplate him without end, love him without surfeit, praise him without weariness.”-St Augustine (on St Paul writing: “So that God may be all in all.”)

“O eternal truth, true love and beloved eternity. You are my God. To you do I sigh day and night. When I first came to know you, you drew me to yourself so that I might see that there were things for me to see, but that I myself was not yet ready to see them. Meanwhile you overcame the weakness of my vision, sending forth most strongly the beams of your light, and I trembled at once with love and dread. I sought a way to gain the strength which I needed to enjoy you. But I did not find it until I embraced “the mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, Who is above all, God blessed for ever.” He was calling me and saying: “I am the way of truth, I am the life.” Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with You. Created things kept me from You; yet if they had not been in You they would have not been at all. You called, You shouted, and You broke through my deafness. You flashed, You shone, and You dispelled my blindness. You breathed Your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for You. I have tasted You, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.” – from the Confessions of Saint Augustine

Neither are the souls of the pious dead separated from the Church which even now is the kingdom of Christ. Otherwise there would be no remembrance of them at the altar of God in the communication of the Body of Christ. – from The City of God by Saint Augustine

A Christian people celebrates together in religious solemnity the memorials of the martyrs, both to encourage their being imitated and so that it can share in their merits and be aided by their prayers. – from Against Faustus the Manichean, by Saint Augustine

There is an ecclesiastical discipline, as the faithful know, when the names of the martyrs are read aloud in that place at the altar of God, where prayer is not offered for them. Prayer, however, is offered for the dead who are remembered. For it is wrong to pray for a martyr, to whose prayers we ought ourselves be commended. – from Sermons by Saint Augustine

“At the Lord’s table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps.” – from Homilies on John by Saint Augustine

“Let us understand that God is a physician, and that suffering is a medicine for salvation, not a punishment for damnation.” – Saint Augustine

“O Sacrament of Love! O sign of Unity! O bond of Charity! He who would have Life finds here indeed a Life to live in and a Life to live by. – Saint Augustine

“And He departed from our sight that we might return to our heart, and there find Him. For He departed, and behold, He is here.” -St. Augustine

If you see that you have not yet suffered tribulations, consider it certain that you have not begun to be a true servant of God; for Saint Paul says plainly that all who chose to live piously in Christ, shall suffer persecutions – Saint Augustine

I speak to you who have just been reborn in baptism, my little children in Christ, you who are the new offspring of the Church, gift of the Father, proof of Mother Church’s fruitfulness. All of you who stand fast in the Lord are a holy seed, a new colony of bees, the very flower of our ministry and fruit of our toil, my joy and my crown. It is the words of the Apostle that I address to you: Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh and its desires, so that you may be clothed with the life of Him whom you have put on in this sacrament. You have all been clothed with Christ by your baptism in Him. There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor freeman; there is neither male nor female; you are all one in Christ Jesus. Such is the power of this sacrament: it is a sacrament of new life which begins here and now with the forgiveness of all past sins, and will be brought to completion in the resurrection of the dead. You have been buried with Christ by baptism into death in order that, as Christ has risen from the dead, you also may walk in newness of life. You are walking now by faith, still on pilgrimage in a mortal body away from the Lord; but He to Whom your steps are directed is Himself the sure and certain way for you: Jesus Christ, who for our sake became man. For all who fear Him He has stored up abundant happiness, which He will reveal to those who hope in Him, bringing it to completion when we have attained the reality which even now we possess in hope. This is the octave day of your new birth. Today is fulfilled in you the sign of faith that was prefigured in the Old Testament by the circumcision of the flesh on the eighth day after birth. When the Lord rose from the dead, He put off the mortality of the flesh; His risen body was still the same body, but it was no longer subject to death. By His resurrection He consecrated Sunday, or the Lord’s day. Though the third after his passion, this day is the eighth after the Sabbath, and thus also the first day of the week. And so your own hope of resurrection, though not yet realized, is sure and certain, because you have received the sacrament or sign of this reality, and have been given the pledge of the Spirit. If, then, you have risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your hearts on heavenly things, not the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, appears, then you too will appear with him in glory. – from a sermon by Saint Augustine

Saint_Augustine_by_Philippe_de_Champaigne-Saint Augustin, by Phillippe de Champaigne, (1602-1674), completed 1645-1650, oil on canvas, 78.7 × 62.2 cm (31 × 24.5 in), Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Jaume_Huguet_-_Consecration_of_Saint_Augustine_-_Google_Art_Project-The Consecration of St Augustine, by Jaume Huguet, (1412-1492), completed 1466~1475, tempera on panel, H: 272 cm (107.1 in). W: 200 cm (78.7 in), Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy.
Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy.
Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
that I love but what is holy.
Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
to defend all that is holy.
Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
that I always may be holy. Amen.
-St Augustine’s prayer to the Holy Spirit

Give me yourself, O my God, give yourself to me.
Behold I love you, and if my love is too weak a thing,
grant me to love you more strongly.
I cannot measure my love
to know how much it falls short of being sufficient,
but let my soul hasten to your embrace
and never be turned away until it is hidden
in the secret shelter of your presence.
This only do I know,
that it is not good for me when you are not with me,
when you are only outside me.
I want you in my very self.
the plenty in the world
which is not my God is utter want. Amen.
– St Augustine

Holy Spirit, powerful Consoler,
sacred Bond of the Father and the Son,
Hope of the afflicted,
descend into my heart
and establish in it
your loving dominion.
Enkindle in my tepid soul
the fire of your Love
so that I may be wholly subject to you.
We believe that when you dwell in us,
you also prepare a dwelling for the Father and the Son.
Deign, therefore, to come to me,
Consoler of abandoned souls,
and Protector of the needy.
Help the afflicted,
strengthen the weak,
and support the wavering.
Come and purify me.
Let no evil desire take possession of me.
You love the humble and resist the proud.
Come to me, glory of the living, and hope of the dying.
Lead me by your grace
that I may always be pleasing to you. Amen.
-St Augustine

Love,
Matthew