Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was a great student of St. Augustine, and devoted several General Audience talks to him. As in….five.
From the last GA:
The African rhetorician reached this fundamental step in his long journey thanks to his passion for man and for the truth, a passion that led him to seek God, the great and inaccessible One. Faith in Christ made him understand that God, apparently so distant, in reality was not that at all. He in fact made himself near to us, becoming one of us. In this sense, faith in Christ brought Augustine’s long search on the journey to truth to completion. Only a God who made himself “tangible”, one of us, was finally a God to whom he could pray, for whom and with whom he could live. This is the way to take with courage and at the same time with humility, open to a permanent purification which each of us always needs. But with the Easter Vigil of 387, as we have said, Augustine’s journey was not finished. He returned to Africa and founded a small monastery where he retreated with a few friends to dedicate himself to the contemplative life and study. This was his life’s dream. Now he was called to live totally for the truth, with the truth, in friendship with Christ who is truth: a beautiful dream that lasted three years, until he was, against his will, ordained a priest at Hippo and destined to serve the faithful, continuing, yes, to live with Christ and for Christ, but at the service of all. This was very difficult for him, but he understood from the beginning that only by living for others, and not simply for his private contemplation, could he really live with Christ and for Christ.
Thus, renouncing a life solely of meditation, Augustine learned, often with difficulty, to make the fruit of his intelligence available to others. He learned to communicate his faith to simple people and thus learned to live for them in what became his hometown, tirelessly carrying out a generous and onerous activity which he describes in one of his most beautiful sermons: “To preach continuously, discuss, reiterate, edify, be at the disposal of everyone – it is an enormous responsibility, a great weight, an immense effort” (Sermon, 339, 4). But he took this weight upon himself, understanding that it was exactly in this way that he could be closer to Christ. To understand that one reaches others with simplicity and humility was his true second conversion.
But there is a last step to Augustine’s journey, a third conversion, that brought him every day of his life to ask God for pardon. Initially, he thought that once he was baptized, in the life of communion with Christ, in the sacraments, in the Eucharistic celebration, he would attain the life proposed in the Sermon on the Mount: the perfection bestowed by Baptism and reconfirmed in the Eucharist. During the last part of his life he understood that what he had concluded at the beginning about the Sermon on the Mount – that is, now that we are Christians, we live this ideal permanently – was mistaken. Only Christ himself truly and completely accomplishes the Sermon on the Mount. We always need to be washed by Christ, who washes our feet, and be renewed by him. We need permanent conversion. Until the end we need this humility that recognizes that we are sinners journeying along, until the Lord gives us his hand definitively and introduces us into eternal life. It was in this final attitude of humility, lived day after day, that Augustine died.
This attitude of profound humility before the only Lord Jesus led him also to experience an intellectual humility. Augustine, in fact, who is one of the great figures in the history of thought, in the last years of his life wanted to submit all his numerous works to a clear, critical examination. This was the origin of the Retractationum (“Revision”), which placed his truly great theological thought within the humble and holy faith that he simply refers to by the name Catholic, that is, of the Church. He wrote in this truly original book: “I understood that only One is truly perfect, and that the words of the Sermon on the Mount are completely realized in only One – in Jesus Christ himself. The whole Church, instead – all of us, including the Apostles -, must pray everyday: Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” (De Sermone Domini in Monte, I, 19, 1-3).
Augustine converted to Christ who is truth and love, followed him throughout his life and became a model for every human being, for all of us in search of God. This is why I wanted to ideally conclude my Pilgrimage to Pavia by consigning to the Church and to the world, before the tomb of this great lover of God, my first Encyclical entitled Deus Caritas Est. I owe much, in fact, especially in the first part, to Augustine’s thought. Even today, as in his time, humanity needs to know and above all to live this fundamental reality: God is love, and the encounter with him is the only response to the restlessness of the human heart; a heart inhabited by hope, still perhaps obscure and unconscious in many of our contemporaries but which already today opens us Christians to the future, so much so that St Paul wrote that “in this hope we were saved” (Rom 8: 24). I wished to devote my second Encyclical to hope, Spe Salvi, and it is also largely indebted to Augustine and his encounter with God.
In a beautiful passage, St Augustine defines prayer as the expression of desire and affirms that God responds by moving our hearts toward him. On our part we must purify our desires and our hopes to welcome the sweetness of God (cf. In I Ioannis 4, 6). Indeed, only this opening of ourselves to others saves us. Let us pray, therefore, that we can follow the example of this great convert every day of our lives, and in every moment of our life encounter the Lord Jesus, the only One who saves us, purifies us and gives us true joy, true life.
If you read the excerpt above, you will not a reference to a “pilgrimage to Pavia.” Pavia is the small city in northern Italy where you will find the tomb of St. Augustine. Benedict made his pilgrimage in April of 2007, and the shrine has a full – very full account at this page, which includes links to information about the saint’s impact on Ratzinger and his importance in the latter’s work.
(And on a truly more minor note – St. Augustine is in the Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints under “Saints are People Who Help us Understand God”)
We have been to both Milan and Pavia, and I’ll be talking about those trips with…….
As I’ve mentioned before, Diana tries to structure her daily shows around the saint and feasts of that particular week. So this week, I had a lot to say about our family travel to Milan (where St. Augustine was baptized)
The church where Augustine’s tomb is located. How his remains arrived here from North Africa and then Sardinia is related here.
…and…St. Augustine, Florida! St. Augustine is so named because the Spanish landed on August 28, 1565. St. Augustine, like most of Florida, is fun for families, but my main piece of advice was…if you can swing it…avoid it during the summer. I have a high tolerance for heat -in fact, I prefer it and would be fine moving to the tropics today (I think) but there is something about the town of St. Augustine that produces a rather intense, reduce-you-to-a-puddle effect. Every photo I have of any of us in St. Augustine is marked by burning hot red cheeks and sweaty hair sticking up all over the place.
By the way…I loved Pavia. One of those great mid-sized European cities, full of life and authentic, deep culture, not affected and strained. It was a thirty-minute train ride from Milan and a delightful Sunday afternoon. With chocolate.
Earlier this week, our Cathedral hosted a beginning-of-the-school-year Mass for Catholic homeschoolers. I knew they had done this before, years ago, but had seen nothing recently. Back in the spring, a bunch of moms were talking while kids were racing around a local Catholic school gym, donated for our use for the afternoon, and the expressed need and desire for just a few more opportunities for fellowship and connecting sparked the idea for the Mass, and since I seem to have the fewest kids and the most free time, I offered to get it going…and it went…a spectacular success. It was so great to see a couple hundred (or more, perhaps) parents, grandparents and kids present. Four priests concelebrating, homeschoolers serving as servers, lectors and cantor. It’s great to be in a place where people are supportive of homeschooling, and don’t feel threatened by it.
Speaking of homeschooling…well, schooling, formation and education in general…here’s a resource you might be interested in: a website for Fr. Junipero Serra, to be canonized by Pope Francis in DC in a month!
For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!