August 28, 2007

Happy Saint Augustine’s Day!

May God fill you with every blessing
today and all days!

The Villanova Chapter of the Augustinian Seculars came together for their monthly meeting the second Saturday of August. We spoke that Saturday a bit more about the things which Augustine found most important in his Christian life.

As you could tell from the last message that came out of the Augustinian Friends Spirituality Office earlier this past month, we would bring joy to Augustine’s heart if we looked not so much at him, but at the things which brought him closer to Jesus Christ.

This would be a favor to ourselves as well, for those same things might indeed help us, too, grow closer to Christ.

Take a look below, if you’d like, where there is a short list and brief summary of what Augustine found important. It’s not an exhaustive list; it’s just, let's say,

A Saturday Morning’s Look at What Augustine Found Most Important

What is important for Augustine in his spirituality?

In the first place, of course, Christ. St. Augustine’s own emphasis was always on Christ. Christ was the center of his teaching, preaching, and spirituality – the center also of Augustine’s conversion.

Of course, Augustine’s thoughts on Christ were the cornerstone of his life as a Christian and as a pastor and teacher. But, for Augustine, we could say even that Christ served as the pattern of his thinking.

It wasn’t just that Christ was Augustine’s favorite subject; Christ and his mission and ministry, his way of being God and his way of being human, his way of teaching and preaching, his way of self-giving – all these shaped Augustine’s own way of thinking, his own method for life, for teaching, ministering, preaching, and leading the people entrusted to his care. Thus Christ, as we said in the last message, was the source and also the method of Augustine’s theology and philosophy, of all his thinking and spirituality.

After Christ and on account of Christ, Augustine placed emphasis on Scripture.

Remember how, for so long, he had found it hard to read and to hear the words of the Bible with appreciation and understanding? God’s grace changed that. Remember it was the words of Scripture that moved him to accept God’s grace of conversion. Recall the scene of his conversion in the garden and the role Scripture played. [Confessions, book 8]

What would be next for Augustine?

Maybe next in importance is humility.

There is a way in which Augustine approaches even Scripture with humility. That is, he grew to accept God’s word that way.

At first, Augustine had been so caught up in the style of impressive rhetoric that the Scriptures seemed too simple, too plain and basic. They seemed to lack much of the beautiful language of what Augustine thought of as good literature.

It can be hard to appreciate the Bible if we are too full of ourselves, too full of pride. We could say, “I can’t see the sense in this – this Biblical story, this miracle of Christ, this way of speaking or acting, this approach to reality – I can’t see the sense in this, therefore it must be wrong.” Sometimes people come at Scripture this way.

We can even feel we’re being magnanimous. For example, when we are really full of ourselves we can even come up with the idea, “Jesus agrees with me here, so he’s right”! People don’t usually say that out loud, but the attitude can be there. Maybe we’ve met people like that. Maybe we’ve even met them in the mirror!

Augustine once again: our focus must not be on ourselves, but on Christ. Jesus himself said, “The Father is greater than I.” Why is it then that we say we have God all sewn up – and all reality with him?

Interiority might be the next value to mention.

It can be necessary for us to reduce the “noise,” the interference that dances around us in life, always seeking an entrée into our minds, our thinking, our serenity. It seems this interference, this noise, wants to determine our response to all the stimuli of life. Augustine found that to be the case. It sometimes seems this is true now even more than it was in Augustine’s times.

Turning the noise off and letting our minds and souls relax in meditation – this was important to Augustine. It’s important now also. Remember how the Bible passage that called to Augustine for conversion ***warned against dissipation, dissipating one’s energy, especially one’s psychic and spiritual energy, on too much of the clamorous but less important side of human existence.

Thinking of the Scriptures and how they can lead us to Christ, we can find something that is pretty much the opposite of this distracted inattention. It's called lectio divina. That’s the term theological and spiritual writers of the Christian Church use for the slow and meditative reading of Scripture that allows God and Christ to speak to us. In such a context Augustine calls Christ “the inner Teacher.”

Not in dissipation, but in the gentle, slow, meditative, and loving approach to Scripture called lectio divina, Christ the inner Teacher can speak to us. We'll have to come back to this idea again sometime soon.

Two more thoughts can’t be left out of a list of Augustine’s important things – thoughts that turn us to our neighbor, our brother and sister human beings. We can maybe speak of these ideas more another time, but we can’t close this list with mentioning them. They are on the one hand, compassion and mercy, and on the other the importance of community.

Augustine would have us show compassion and mercy to all, even to ourselves, letting Christ, “the inner Healer,” heal our pride, our focus on self.

Augustine carries this kindness far beyond oneself, too: Augustine stands out among writers on moral life because of his concern even for the perpetrator of evil – maybe the last one we would ordinarily be moved to care about.

It’s unlikely that many of us interested in Augustine would forget the importance he placed on community. Our friends and those around us can, by their words, but also by their life, speak to us of God and of grace-filled living.

We can profit from the help of others for understanding Scripture and for coming to know Christ, to know God. Those others are our nearest manifestation of the Body of Christ; they are our link to the Church.

Indeed, in many ways community is really in the first position. We could see it as the most important thing, for it is the living out of love toward God and neighbor.

That thought brings us back to the two-fold love. It will also lead us to the answer for another important question: Where does the created world come into all of this? Can the world lead us to God?

We spoke a bit about those ideas, too, on that August Saturday morning. But let’s leave it for another day here.

All the Augustinians – the friars, nuns, Sisters, Seculars, Friends, Volunteers, Defenders, Partners – wish you again

a happy and grace-filled St Augustine’s Day!
August 28, 2007

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