Summary: In St. Augustine we see the paradigm of the sinner become saint.
Feast of St. Augustine 2014
As we begin our reflections on Pope Francis’s exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, we happily find the cosmic convergence of these greetings from St. Paul to the Corinthians and the words of St. Matthew’s Gospel with the annual commemoration of St. Augustine. The Church has long looked at Augustine of Hippo as the paradigm of the great sinner becoming a great saint. Moreover, he is a saint for our times. He was a master hedonist, seeking fulfillment in wine, women and song. One of our relatives reports that the orientation at his university advised them to break up with their boyfriends or girlfriends because the campus is a sexual buffet. That sounds like the opposite of a true learning environment, a true community of growth. At least he has a copy of my friend J. Budziszewski’s How to Stay Christian in College–a gift from us. We need to pray for these new college students’ spiritual, moral and physical well-being.
Augustine realized in his early thirties that he was seeking with pleasure to fill up a hole in his heart that only God could fill. The Corinthians of Paul’s day were making the same mistake. Corinth was a port city, so it was a town of twenty-four hour carousing, with temptations that the early Christians were constantly drawn toward. After all, temperance, chastity, and selflessness were counter-cultural there, just as they are in much of our society. So Christ poured on that young community an abundance of spiritual gifts–healing, tongues, prophecy, wisdom–that were designed to help those Christians build up their church. He was enabling them to help each other, not prey on each other. Christ will do the same today, particularly in those places of greatest need. He is, for instance, raising up on college campuses small communities of Catholic apostles who are witnessing temperance, chastity, and unselfish service to the students. I think of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students, now on ninety-nine campuses.
Hear Saint Augustine’s famous line, “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.” All humankind yearns for union with God, to share the divine spark, to be like the Son of God who emptied Himself of glory and power to become human and share our mortality, so that we could share His divinity.
The Holy Father writes in this vein: “How good it feels to come back to him whenever we are lost! Let me say this once more: God never tires of forgiving us; we are the ones who tire of seeking his mercy. Christ, who told us to forgive one another ‘seventy times seven’ (Mt 18:22) has given us his example: he has forgiven us seventy times seven. Time and time again he bears us on his shoulders. No one can strip us of the dignity bestowed upon us by this boundless and unfailing love. With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!” (EG, Par 3)
I can see this mystery working out in the wicked servant of Matthew’s Gospel, who, in the absence of his Master, overate and got drunk with his hedonist friends, and in his drunken state beat on the help. Our Lord does not always give us seventy or eighty or ninety years to be pursued by the divine Love. The wicked servant looked up from his glass and plate and the Master was standing right there, grieving over his unfaithfulness.
Let’s pray for ourselves, our relatives and friends, that every one of them come to know the truth. As Augustine, sinner, convert, penitent, bishop, and Doctor of the Church, wrote in his confessions, “Our hearts were made for You, O Lord, and they are restless until they rest in you.” Amen. Alleluia.