Friday, August 28, 2015

A Saint for Today

August 28 is the feast day of a most unlikely Saint, Augustine of Hippo North Africa. Today that section of North Africa includes Tunisia and its neighbor to the East, Algiers. Augustine was the son of Monica, a daughter of a Christian Berber clan. Berbers still live in North Africa in a variety of countries. At the time of Augustine (354--430)the city of Hippo now modern day Annaba, Algiers, was a Roman colony granting Roman status to its citizens. Patricius, Augustine's non-Catholic father had an overbearing hot temper. Monica lovingly put up with Patricius' outbursts. Eventually her husband and his mother embraced Christianity. Of her three children, records tell us that Augustine was her heart breaker. He had tasted and enjoyed the classical Latin education, Augustine soaked up philosophies, the current "intellectual 'buzz' A devout Catholic Mom, Monica urged her son to embrace Baptism, the Catholic Faith, and the sacrament of matrimony. Augustine dismissed his mother's urging to marry his live-in girl friend who had borne him a son. Ever the orator and intellectual, Augustine had fallen into the trap of the Manicheans. So very similar to the religious relativity common today, Manicheans were infatuated by a fake spirituality. Manicheans considered the soul and spiritual matters all important. What one did with his or her body didn't matter. They considered the body evil, therefore what one did with his or her body was considered of little or no importance. Amoral and promiscuous activity did not matter, since followers of Mani, the Persian, considered themselves above reproach. Augustine did not feel inclined to leave his girl friend, or even to bother to marry her. Partly to escape his mother's insistence on converting and leaving the double standards of the Minacheans behind him, Augustine snuck away to Italy. He ended up in Milan. A model of persistance, Monica had searched out and found her wandering son. Soon she and Bishop Ambrose of Milan were great friends. Worried about the eternal outcome of her son, Monica begged Ambrose for help. His homilies provided Monica with fuel to try to convince Augustine to give his life over to God. Someone had told him to read the gospels. He was bogged down by his distain of what he considered a boring presentation. A friend handed him the Letters of St. Paul. Augustine tells of that moment when Paul's words about putting aside sinful ways, and putting on Christ. The grace of God had finally penetrated like an arrow to the heart. As Paul said elsewhere suddenly for Augustine "grace abounded where sin had abounded." Before Augustine returned to Hippo, his mother died in Italy. Certainly she died happy to see her son be baptized and fully accepted into the Church. Augustine in his "Confessions" tells how God wore him down with his mother's unfailing concern and her continual non-stop prayers for his total conversion. Augustine absorbed the teachings of the faith so well that he preached beautiful sermons and volumes of books on virtues, and on the Faith. There is a religious order of men, the Augustinians, who trace their founding to a rule written by the man from Algieria. May we convert from whatever habit keeps us from Christ. If you have never read the Confessions of St. Augustine, put that book on your list. Have a blessed weekend!