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Commentary on JP II’s Prayer to St. Augustine

{ Tags: , \ May31 }

The following is part of a homily delivered on the occassion of the feast of St. Augustine.  The prayer that is commented upon here is found at this blog.

"Great Augustine, our father and teacher, knowledgeable in the luminous ways of God and also in the tortuous paths of men; we admire the wonders that divine grace wrought in you, making you a passionate witness of truth and goodness, at the service of brothers."

This opening statement reminds us another document that John Paul II wrote about St. Augustine in 1986 entitled "Augustinum Hipponensem".  In that document he not only repeated the good reviews that Augustine received from the Popes beginning from Celestine I, the Pope when Augustine died in the year 430, until Paul VI.  He also added his own review of Augustine.  He wrote:

"I, too, have added my voice to those of my predecessors, when I expressed my strong desire "that his philosophical, theological and spiritual doctrine be studied and spread, so that he may continue … his teaching in the Church, a humble but at the same time enlightened teaching which speaks above all of Christ and love."] On another occasion, I urged in particular the spiritual sons of this great saint "to keep the fascination of St. Augustine alive and attractive even in modern society." This is an excellent ideal that must fire us with enthusiasm, because "the exact and heartfelt knowledge of his life awakens the thirst for God, the attraction of Christ, the love for wisdom and truth, the need for grace, prayer, virtue, fraternal charity, and the yearning for eternal happiness.."

"It (is also) a very fitting occasion to recall to all that this convert, when he had become a bishop, was a marvelous example to pastors in his intrepid defense of the true faith, or, as he would say, of the "virginity" of the faith. He was likewise the genius who constructed a philosophy that can truly be called Christian, because of its harmony with the faith, and a tireless promoter of spiritual and religious perfection."

He wrote that as an introduction to a document where he retells the story of Augustine’s "pagbabalik loob sa Diyos", the philosophical and theological patrimony that he left us, and his relevance to the present times."At the beginning of the new millennium marked by the cross of Christ, teach us to read history in the light of Divine Providence, which guides events toward the definitive encounter with the Father. Direct us toward peaceful ends, nourishing in our hearts your own longing for those values on which it is possible to build, with the strength that comes from God, the ‘city’ made to the measure of man.

Teach us to read history, direct us to peace, nourish in us the right values…  John Paul II is here recalling how Augustine published the "City of God", a work where Augustine explains how God shares with men and women the project of building up the City of God in human history.  In the different volumes that compose this work, Augustine traces the history of this project beginning from Adam until the time when the new Jerusalem itself will come down to us as a gift from above, a gift that rewards the efforts of those who have been "peace makers".  Peace, Augustine says is the tranquility that flows from order.  When everything is in its rightful place in the Divine Scheme, when reason is above lust, when love is directed properly towards the Good, when men place themselves under the sway of God’s Will, when everyone receives what is his due, then there is peace."May the profound doctrine, that with loving and patient study you drew from the ever living sources of Scripture, enlighten all those tempted today by alienating illusions.

Again John Paul II is here referring to the insights that Augustine has contributed to the growth of Christian doctrine.  Augustine as you know is not only claimed by Catholics.  Thanks to Martin Luther, the Augustinian Friar who occassioned what we now call "The Protestant Reformation", he is also claimed by mainline Protestantism.  Behind this petition of John Paul II is the conviction that in the thought of Augustine one can still find the answers to certain philosophies that alienate modern man today.  These are,

  • the exaltation of having as opposed to being
  • the doctrine of utilitarianism which exalts human usefulness and relevance
  • the doctrine of relativism that makes truth a matter of subjective "taste"

These are the topics of the petitions that follow…

"Give them the courage to undertake the path toward that ‘interior man’ where the one awaits who alone can give peace to our restless hearts."

Augustine consistently reminded his parishioners and those who were able to listen to him preach to "Return to oneself."  This is the principle of Augustinian interiority.  What is important is not so much what a person has or does, but what one IS before God. Our modern culture measures a man by the figures in his bankbook and paycheck and by the work he or she does.  The true worth of a human being however is not in what he has or does — his true worth is that he IS loved by God.  Augustinian Interiority lays stress on the dignity of the human being — a dignity that is given by God and not by any human being or institution.  As such it is inalienable and is not subject to any form of legal pronouncement.

"Many of our contemporaries seem to have lost the hope of being able to reach — amid the numerous opposing ideologies — the truth, of which their innermost being still keeps a burning nostalgia.  Teach them to never cease in their search, in the certainty that, in the end, their effort will be rewarded by the satisfying encounter with the supreme Truth who is source of all created truth.

This petition of the Pope deals with the problem of Truth.  Our age is so full of information, but it is ironic that we still cry about "Truth."  The media tells us two things about the Truth — something that even our politicians are always reminding us:  "Truth is relative" and "Truth cannot be found."  Augustine’s own search for truth was marked by those two lies.  There is Truth, the one who said "I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life", the one who is the Light that enlightens all those who are born.

Finally, St. Augustine, transmit to us also a spark of that ardent love for the Church, the Catholic Mother of the Saints, which sustained and animated the toils of your long ministry.  Have us, walking together under the guidance of legitimate Pastors, reach the glory of the heavenly Homeland, where, with all the Saints, we will be able to join the new canticle of the everlasting alleluia. Amen."

Lastly, here John Paul II refers to the Saint’s love for the Church whom he called "Mother."  Inspired by that love, he served the Churches of North Africa by his preaching and his example.  I would need another hour just to describe what Augustine’s service to the Church looked like.  There is a book entitled "Augustine the Bishop" written by van der Meer describing the things that Augustine did during his time.  To note here in this final petition is the image that is evoked — that of the People of God walking through the meanderings ways of human history to its final destination, the heavenly Jerusalem that Augustine longingly sighed for.  Our parish, the Mother of Good Counsel is like a small flock that is joined to a bigger flock in pilgrimage towards our heavenly homeland.  Pray that those who are in charge of you may be like St. Augustine in the way they care for you.


Originally posted 2005-08-28 21:15:34. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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