Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Today’s readings
(Mass for the school children.)

“You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

This is one of the most famous lines from Saint Augustine’s writings. We celebrate his feast day today, and it is somewhat of a miracle that we celebrate his feast at all. He was the son of a Christian woman and a man who was a pagan, and a crabby pagan at that! His mother, Saint Monica, was persistent in prayer, and eventually her husband was converted to Christianity.

But Augustine, a young man now, had not converted. He lived a rather immoral life, and had come to follow a particular heresy known as Manicheanism, which took ideas from all kinds of different religions and put them all together. He was a very smart man, and became a professor in Milan, Italy. His mother followed him there from where they lived in Africa, and continued to pray for him.

Eventually Augustine came to know the man who would become known as Saint Ambrose, who was the bishop of Milan at the time. He learned a lot from Saint Ambrose, and was very taken by the way that he preached. Eventually through his preaching and Saint Monica’s prayers, Augustine was converted and was baptized at the Easter Vigil.

After that, Augustine and his mother returned to Africa, where he lived a quiet life for about three years. Then he heard the bishop of that area, Valerian, talk about the priest shortage, and the people of the area said “Let Augustine be our priest!” So he became a priest, and eventually became the bishop when Valerian died.

So when Augustine wrote that “our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” he knew what he was talking about. His life was a crazy mess until Saint Monica’s prayers were answered and he was baptized. Then the true purpose of Saint Augustine’s life was revealed, and he followed God’s call. God will call all of us to do something at some point in our life. It might take a while to figure out what that call is, but once we know, we absolutely will never be happy until we follow it.

Today, Jesus tells the story about the wise virgins who were ready for the wedding feast, and the unwise virgins who didn’t come prepared. This is a story that is really about looking to God for our happiness. If we are ready and we wait for the Lord to lead us in our lives, we will be able to come in and feast with him in the life to come. Just like Saint Augustine, if we calm ourselves down and hear the voice of the Lord calling us, we can know a peace and happiness that nothing else in life can ever give us.

“You made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

When God made the human person, he put into him and her a hunger and a thirst that could only be filled up with God.  God made us for himself, because he is Love itself and Love must always have an object of that love.  As Saint Augustine said well, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”  The Psalmist also says that today in his words:

As the hind longs for the running waters,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
Athirst is my soul for God, the living God.
When shall I go and behold the face of God?

Given that all people are created with this spiritual hunger, it should not have come as a huge shock to the circumcised believers that many Gentiles were turning to follow Christ.  Christ showed us the most perfect way to the Father, the only One who can fill up all the longings of the human heart.  Every conversion story is a return of the soul to our God; a filling up of the heart with what it really lacks.

We try to fill up our lives with all kinds of things.  We turn on the television to drown out the silence.  We seek refuge in food and drink and career and even darker things.  But all of this is nothing more than a misguided attempt to fill up our lives with things that do not matter.  We can only fill ourselves up with what we truly long for: God himself.

 

St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Today’s readings

Life’s lessons are most often clearer in hindsight. Toward that end, St. Paul begins his letter to the Corinthians today with almost a litany of thanks. He thanks God for all of the members of the Church who have responded to his tireless preaching of the Gospel. For Paul, thankfulness was the only response possible to God’s grace, and he sees it at work everywhere.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Augustine. Augustine was a man who thought he had everything figured out at a young age. He was prideful, caught up in the world’s pleasures and focused solely on what could be learned from his own reasoning. He had no room for the religion of his mother, St. Monica, whose feast we celebrated yesterday. But through her tireless prayers, Augustine began to come to know the God she worshipped, and began to respond to grace. He was baptized at 33 years of age, became a priest at 36, and a bishop at 41. Grace can work fast in a person’s life.

St. Augustine’s Confessions are among the best works on the spiritual life. In that work, he reflects, among other things, on his conversion, and how he felt called to repentance, but did not want to give up the world’s pleasures just yet. But throughout the work, he praises God for God’s work in his life. One of the best-known sections speaks of how the beauty of God was near, yet seemed beyond him:

Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking there for you,
and upon the shapely things you have made
I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being,
were they not in you.
You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and I burned for your peace.

St. Paul and St. Augustine were always grateful for the grace they saw at work in the world. Today, may we all be mindful and grateful for those gifts in our lives.

Thursday of the Eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

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One of the voices that can never be silenced in us is the voice that cries out seeking to see.  We spend our whole lives crying out as Bartimaeus in today’s Gospel: “Master, I want to see.”  And just as the crowd and even the disciples could not silence his desires, so nothing will silence that desire in our own hearts and souls.  We want to see the truth, we want to see Jesus, we want to see the world as it really is, we want to see our way out of our current messed-up situation, we want to see the end of suffering, we want to see peace, we want to see wholeness, and maybe most of all we want to see ourselves.  As we really are.  As God sees us.  This is our lifelong task.St. Augustine spoke of that very same task in his Confession.  He said, speaking to God: “I will confess, therefore, what I know of myself, and also what I do not know.  The knowledge that I have of myself, I possess because you have enlightened me; while the knowledge of myself that I do not yet possess will not be mine until my darkness shall be made as the noonday sun before your face.”  He goes on to say that he can try to hide from God if he wanted to, but it would never work.  Hiding from God would only result in hiding God from himself.  God sees the depths of our being, so if we try to hide all we really end up doing is running away from God who knows us at our very core.The writer of our first reading had this idea in mind when he said:
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood,
a holy nation, a people of his own,
so that you may announce the praises of him
who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

God is calling us all out of darkness today.  He wants us to see him, and ourselves, as we were created to be.  He wants us to be a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own.  He created us from glory.  And we won’t experience that glory until we go through the rather painful experience of bringing all of our darkness out into the light.  Maybe we’re not ready for that yet.  But we can pray to become ready, and to be open.  We can pray in the words of Bartimaeus: “Master, I want to see!”