Monday, August 28, 2006

St. Augustine

Pope Bids Mothers to Persevere in Prayer - Presents St. Monica as Hope for Families
CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 27, 2006 ( Benedict XVI proposed Sts. Monica and Augustine as two signs of hope for today's struggling families. Benedict XVI said that St. Augustine made his mother "suffer with his rather rebellious temperament." "As Augustine himself would say later," the Pope continued, "his mother gave him birth twice; the second time required a long spiritual labor, made up of prayer and tears, but crowned in the end by the joy of seeing him not only embrace the faith and receive baptism, but also dedicate himself entirely to the service of Christ." The Pontiff added: "How many difficulties there are also today in family relationships and how many mothers are anguished because their children choose mistaken ways!" St. Monica invites all these mothers "not to be discouraged, but to persevere in their mission of wives and mothers, maintaining firm their confidence in God and clinging with perseverance to prayer," the Holy Father said.
Truth Seeker
The Holy Father highlighted Augustine's "impassioned search for truth." The saint, "attracted by earthly beauty ... 'fell upon' it," said the Pope. "Through a toilsome journey," the Holy Father continued, and with the help of his mother's prayers, Augustine "discovered in Christ the ultimate and full meaning of his life and of the whole of human history." That is why Augustine, whose feast is on Monday, is a "model of the way to God, supreme truth and good," added the Pontiff. Benedict XVI expressed the hope that St. Augustine may "obtain for us also the gift of a sincere and profound encounter with Christ," especially "for all those young people who, thirsty for happiness, seek it in mistaken ways and get lost in dead ends." The Bishop of Rome entrusted to the Virgin Mary "Christian parents so that, like Monica, they will support their children on their way with their example and prayer, and young people so that, as Augustine, they will always tend to the fullness of truth and love, which is Christ." The Pope added that Christ "alone can satisfy the profound needs of the human heart."
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St. Augustine

Augustine was a Christian from birth. However, in his youth and adolescence, he lived a life of sensual immorality as well as a high level of rationality. He sought the truth, but within himself. “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 keep me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.”[1]

He had always been loved and affirmed by his mother Monica. This grace of God – which is the extension of the divine Love of God to this person – plus the love and affirmation of this woman was the foundation of the personal identity of Augustine, who is immense in the history of biographical literature as perhaps the first to express the experiences of the inner self in narrative form. Benedict XVI expressed the startling fact of the absolute need of affirmation and love for the establishment of the human person as “I.” He said: “The root of man’s joy is the harmony he enjoys with himself. He lives in this affirmation. And only one who can accept himself can also accept the thou, can accept the world. The reason why an individual cannot accept the thou, cannot come to terms with him, is that he does not like his own I and, for that reason, cannot accept a thou.

“Something strange happens here. We have seen that the inability to accept one’s I leads to the inability to accept a thou. But how does one go about affirming, assenting to, one’s I? The answer may perhaps be unexpected: We cannot do so by our own efforts alone. Of ourselves, we cannot come to terms with ourselves. Our I becomes acceptable to us only if it has first become acceptable to another I. We can love ourselves only if we have first been loved by someone else. The life a mother gives to her child is not just physical life; she gives total life when she takes the child’s tears and turns them into smiles. It is only when life has been accepted and is perceived as accepted that it becomes also acceptable. Man is that strange creature that needs not just physical birth but also appreciation if he is to subsist… When the initial harmony of our existence has been rejected, when that psycho-physical oneness has been ruptured by which the `Yes, it is good that you are alive’ sinks, with life itself, deep into the core of the unconscious – then birth itself is interrupted; existence itself is not completely established.”[2]

He awoke at the age of nineteen to the love of wisdom, when he read the Hortensius of Cicero - `That book altered my way of thinking… and I desired wisdom’s immortality with an incredible ardor in my heart.’ He loved the truth deeply, and sought it always with all the strength of his soul: `O Truth, Truth, how deep even then was the yearning for you in the inmost depths of my mind!’”[3]

Having not broken with the dissolute life, his intellect was not able to see the Truth of the Person of the Logos because that can only be done by the pure of heart who experience Him from within. Only he who self-transcends and becomes “alter Christus” can experience and cognize Christ within himself and therefore re-cognize Him outside of himself. As a result, Augustine fell into serious intellectual errors: “First, a mistaken account of the relationship between reason and faith, so that he would have to choose between them; second, in the supposed contrast between Christ and the Church, with the consequent conviction that it was necessary to abandon the Church in order to belong more fully to Christ; and third, the desire to free himself from the consciousness of sin, not by means of the remission of sin through the working of grace, but by means of the denial of the involvement of human responsibility in the sin itself.” His mind remained wrapped up in Manichaean propaganda.

But the conversion begins. John Paul II says: “Taught by his own experience of life, he made the decisive discovery that sin has its origin in the will of the human person, a will that is free and weak: `It was I who willed and refused; it was I, I.”[4] However, even though he saw the truth, he hesitated. “Now he could no longer make excuses: the truth so long desired was now certain. Nevertheless, he hesitated, seeking reasons to put off the decision to do this. The bonds that tied him to the earthly hopes were strong: honors, money, marriage, especially the last, in view of the way of life that that had become customary for him.

“Augustine knew well that he was not forbidden to marry; but he did not want to be a Catholic Christian in any other way except by renouncing the excellent ideal of the family in order to dedicate himself with `all’ his soul to the love and possession of wisdom. In taking this decision which corresponded to his deepest aspirations but was in contrast to his most deeply-rooted habits, Augustine was prompted by the example of Anthony and of the monks who were beginning to spread in the West also and whom he came to know by chance. He accused himself with great shame, `you could not do what these men and women do.’ A deep and painful struggle ensued, which was brought to its close by divine grace once again.

“Augustine related to his mother his serene and strong decision: `Then we went to my mother and related the matter to her: she rejoiced. We related how it had come about: she exulted in triumph and she blessed You, who are able to do more than we ask or think, (Eph. 3, 20), because she saw that You had given her so much more, as regarded me, than she had been accustomed to ask with her unhappy and tearful groanings. For You converted me to yourself, so that I might seek neither wife nor hope of this world.’” [5]

This entrance into, and experience of, the real self became the theological and philosophic method of Augustine that has once again surfaced in the Second Vatican Council. The “I” here is not the Cartesian “I” of a “thinking thing” that is nothing but consciousness. It is an ontological “I” that is entered, plumbed and experienced, and as experienced, “ known.” And in knowing the self experientially, one “knows” God experientially insofar as the self is image and likeness of the Godhead. Augustine says:

“Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance into the inmost depth of my soul. I was able to do so because you were my helper. On entering into myself I saw, as it were with the eye of the soul, what was beyond the eye of the soul, beyond my spirit: your immutable light. It as not the ordinary light perceptible to all flesh, nor was it merely something of greater magnitude but still essentially akin, shining more clearly and diffusing itself everywhere by its intensity. No, it was something entirely distinct, something altogether different from all these things; and it did not rest above my mind as oil on the surface of water, nor was it above me as heaven is above earth. This light was above me because it had made me; I was below it because I was created by it. He who has come to know the truth knows this light.”

And then:

“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 not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled by 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.”[6]

[1] Augustine, “Confessions,” Bk. 7, 10, 18; 10, 27.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1984) 79-80.
[3] John Paul II, “Augustinum Hipponensem,” Apostolic Letter to the bishops, priest, religious families and faithful of the whole Catholic Church on the occasion of the 16th centenary of the conversion of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor, 28 August 1986.
[4] Confessions, 8, 10,22.
[5] John Paul II, op. cit. Chapter I.
[6] Confessions, from the Office of Readings of the August 28.


Cacciaguida said...

Thank you, Fr. Bob. Keep posting!

Tim said...

Fr. Bob,
I think you have the most fascinating website. I've read JPII quite a bit but after reading this blog you've really sparked my interest in reading Pope Benedict the 16th and St. Escriva. My favorite quote for years has been Gaudium 24. Please keep preaching on "Gift of Self" and the relations in the Trinity and how prayer has us experience Jesus. I love it and need to understand it better. God bless, Tim