Tag Archives: Saint Augustine

16 May: World Communications Day.

The reader, Zakopane, Poland.

From a homily of Saint Oscar Romero, 1978, as relevant now as then.

Today the universal church celebrates World Communications Day. Let me say a few words to make all Catholics mindful of the importance of using the media of social communication in a critical and conscientious way. Through these marvellous means of communication—such as newspapers, radio, television, cinema—many ideas are communicated to large numbers of people, but often the media serve as tools of confusion. These instruments, as creators of public opinion, are often manipulated by materialist interests and are used to maintain an unjust state of affairs through falsehood and confusion. There is a lack of respect for one of the most sacred rights of the human person, the right to be well informed, the right to the truth. Each person must defend this right for himself or herself by using the media critically. Not everything in the newspapers, not everything in the movies or on television, not everything that is heard on the radio is true. Often it is just the opposite, a lie.


That is why critical people must know how to filter the media to avoid being poisoned with whatever falls into their hands. This is the type of awareness that the church wants to awaken today as we celebrate World Communications Day. We want people to read the newspapers critically and be able to say, «This is a lie! This is not the same thing that was said yesterday! This is a distortion because I have seen the opposite stated!» Being critical is a vital characteristic in our day, and because the church attempts to implant this critical awareness, she is facing some very serious conflicts. The reason is that the dominant interests want to keep people half-asleep. They do not want people who are critical and know how to discern between truth and falsehood. I believe that never before has there existed in the world, especially in a setting like ours, such a struggle—a struggle unto death—between the truth and the lie. The conflict at this time can be reduced to this: either truth or lies. Let us not forget that great saying of Christ: «The truth will set you free» (John 8:32). Let us always seek the truth!

There is a saying of Saint Augustine that I believe is very appropriate for these times: Libenter credimus quod credere volumus, which means, «We gladly believe what we want to believe». That is why it is so difficult to believe the truth: often we don’t want to believe the truth because it disturbs our conscience. But even though the truth may disturb us, we must accept it, and we must want to believe in it so that the Lord will always bless us with the freedom of those who love the truth. We should not be among those who sell the truth or their pens or their voices or their media to the highest bidder or to materialist interests. How sad it is to see so many pens being sold, so many tongues being fed through the slanderous words broadcast on the radio. Often the truth produces not money but only bitterness, yet it is better to be free in the truth than to have great wealth in mendacity.

St Oscar Romero, Ascension of the Lord. 7 May 1978
Read or listen to the homilies of St Oscar Romero at romerotrust.org.uk

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9 December: Saint Ambrose

This is the ancient baptistry of Milan Cathedral; here it was that Saint Ambrose baptised Augustine, back in the fourth century. This area, adjacent to today’s Cathedral, was rediscovered when the Metro was being excavated after World War II. Ambrose was a good pastoral bishop, working to reconcile different bodies of Christians and to present the faith as a reasonable life choice in an age of scepticism. We just skipped his feast to accommodate Sister Johanna’s One Good Deed posts, which tied in nicely with Mary’s feast yesterday. Ambrose was great, but not that great!

Ambrose was also a poet, who wrote this evening hymn, still very much used today; this is J.M. Neale’s translation.

Before the ending of the day,
Creator the world, we pray,
that with thy wonted favour thou
wouldst be our guard and keeper now.

From all ill dreams defend our eyes,
from nightly fears and fantasies;
tread under foot our ghostly foe,
that no pollution we may know.

O Father, that we ask be done,
through Jesus Christ thine only Son,
who, with the Holy Ghost and thee,
doth live and reign eternally. Amen.

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27 October: Dylan’s birthday

A Tale of Two Singers

Saint Augustine opens his Confessions with these words:

‘To praise you is the desire of man, a little piece of your creation. You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.’+

Some 1500 years later the prologue of Dylan Thomas’s Collected Poems tells how, through his poetic imagination, he would overcome his fears to:

'... build my bellowing ark 
To the best of my love 
As the flood begins, 
Out of the fountainhead 
Of fear, rage, red, manalive. +

Dylan’s work is religious, laid out ‘with as much love and care as the lock of hair of a first love’.* It is confessional, in the meaning Augustine intended: a recounting of his experiences and a praise of God.

Under Milk Wood portrays Llaggerub, Dylan’s imaginary Welsh town with its roots in Laugharne where he and his family were based in the last years of his life. Is it the Chosen Land? Reading the play as a parable, Llaggerub intertwines Dylan’s earthly and heavenly towns. Dylan drank at the same source as Augustine; if philosophy opened the wells for the bishop, poetry served the ‘spinning man’ with a flood to float his cockleshell ark, and, indeed, Dylan’s work gives hope that ‘the flood flowers now’, for him, beyond the ‘breakneck of rocks’ that was his life.

+ Augustine: ‘Confessions’, Tr. Henry Chadwick, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1998, p3.

+ All Dylan Thomas quotations from: ‘Prologue’ to Collected Poems, p1–3.

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28 August: A Bishop’s lot

The_Saint_Augustin_Church (1)

I went to the Bishop’s office because she needed to change an appointment: an unexpected engagement out of town that she was very much expected to attend. Her secretary apologised: ‘when we make an appointment, we keep it, no matter what comes up. As well I had set aside the day before yours, in case it was needed, so let’s fill it in.’

I could not help seeing the blocks of colour on the computer screen, showing engagement after engagement. Clearly the bishop does not work only on Sundays, as the unfair jibe would have it. ‘And it’s like that every week’, said the secretary, scrolling through screen after screen. ‘Being with people is her strength.’ As Pope Francis would say, she will smell of her sheep.

Augustine of Hippo seems to have been as busy; he was pastor and writer, producing far more than Will Turnstone ever will, and more cogently argued and more poetically expressed. So on his feast, let’s pray for all bishops, that they may be given the wisdom to do their work, capable, caring secretaries to make sure their lives are ordered without strain and stress, and friends who will make sure they know when to stop!

Of course, that meeting took place before the corona virus put a stop to any idea of pilgrimage in May, and Bishop Rose found herself in a new job where she had to put out into deep water. Hanging about the shoreline leads to rocks through the hull. But that’s a tale for another day.

The basilica of St Augustine, Annabar, Algeria: today is his feast day.

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29 August: Augustine on Love II.

Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica

Continuing Saint Augustine’s sermon on 1John 4:4-12. The image of the ass running away from the safety offered by its rider bears further reflection.

May that virtue which ought never to depart from the heart, never depart from the tongue.

Jesus had no need to come except charity: and the charity we are commending is that which the Lord Himself commends in the Gospel: Greater love than this can no man have, that a man lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13. How was it possible for the Son of God to lay down His life for us without putting on flesh in which He might die? Whosoever therefore violates charity, let him say what he will with his tongue, his life denies that Christ has come in the flesh; and this is an antichrist, wherever he may be, wherever he have come in. But the Apostle says, you have overcome him. And whereby have they overcome? Because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in this world.

Every man now, at hearing this saying, You have overcome, lifts up the head, lifts up the neck, wishes himself to be praised. Do not extol yourself; see who it is that in you has overcome. Why have you overcome? Because greater is He that is in you, than he that is in the world. Be humble, bear your Lord; be the beast for Him to sit on. Good is it for you that He should rule, and He guide. For if you have not Him to sit on you, you may lift up the neck, may strike out the heels: but woe to you without a ruler, for this liberty sends you among the wild beasts to be devoured!

For more reflections on a donkey, not directly relevant to this post, see here:  and see tomorrow’s post.

 

 

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28 August: Saint Augustine on Love I.

Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica

Yesterday we celebrated the mother; today the son, Saint Augustine of Hippo. Here is the opening of his sermon on love, his text being 1John 4:4-12.

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome [the false spirits]: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.

To all the faithful seeking their own country, this world is as the desert was to the people of Israel. They wandered, seeking their own country: but with God for their guide they could not wander astray. Their way was God’s bidding. For where they went about during forty years, the journey itself is made up of a very few stations, and is known to all. They were delayed because they were in training, not because they were forsaken. By temporal work we are exercised, and by the temptations of this present life we are trained.

And so, if you would not die of thirst in this wilderness, drink charity. It is the fountain which God has been pleased to place here lest we faint on the way: and we shall more abundantly drink thereof, when we have come to our own land.

Now to speak of the words of the lesson, what other thing heard ye but concerning charity? For we have made an agreement with our God in prayer that if we would that He should forgive us our sins, we also should forgive the sins which may have been committed against us. [Matthew 6:12.] Now that which forgives is none other than charity. Take away charity from the heart and hatred possesses it, it knows not how to forgive. Let charity be there, and she fearlessly forgives, not being hindered.

As for this whole epistle of Saint John: see whether it commends anything else than this one thing, charity. Nor need we fear lest by much speaking thereof it might come to be hateful. For what is there to love, if charity becomes hateful? It is by charity that other things come to be rightly loved; then how must itself be loved!

 

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27 August: Saint Monica by Francis Thompson

 

Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica

At the Cross thy station keeping

With the mournful mother weeping,

Thou, unto the sinless Son,

Weepest for thy sinful one.

Blood and water from His side

Gush; in thee the streams divide:

From thine eyes the one doth start,

But the other from thy heart.

Mary, for thy sinner, see,

To her Sinless mourns with thee:

Could that Son the son not heed,

For whom two such mothers plead?

So thy child had baptism twice,

And the whitest from thine eyes.

The floods lift up, lift up their voice,

With a many-watered noise!

Down the centuries fall those sweet

Sobbing waters to our feet,

And our laden air still keeps

Murmur of a Saint that weeps.

Teach us but, to grace our prayers,

Such divinity of tears,—

Earth should be lustrate again

With contrition of that rain:

Till celestial floods o’er rise

The high tops of Paradise.

  • Lustrate – to cleanse ritually.

Selected Poems of Francis Thompson, Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1908; p127.

FT invite us to savour the likenesses and contrasts between Mary and Monica, the mother of Augustine, whose feast is tomorrow. Each woman mourns her son: Mary for Jesus dead, Monica for Augustine in the death of sin. Monica’s tears were like a second baptism for her son, Augustine, and since they led to his conversion, FT calls them the whitest baptism – a white garment is given to a newly baptised Christian to signify new life.

Monica’s tears should inspire our own – tears for our own sins, tears of contrition that may float our own ark since they are tears of grace, divine tears indeed that will cleanse our hearts and our world of sin.

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November 27. What is Theology saying, XLII: the Ten Commandments – there are only two commandments

We have Gospel accounts of what Jesus gave. Everything is summed up by loving God with all your heart and mind, and your neighbour as God loves you. Christian morality consists of the love of God and the recognition of each other as children of the same Father. Augustine said teach the Ten Commandments, and then added – there are only two commandments! He evidently could not just teach the last piece of advice on its own, without first giving instruction on the Ten Commandments. So, is there any difference between Jewish and Christian moral teaching? Some have said the Jews follow the letter, Christians follow the spirit. Nothing could be more false; there is no difference of this kind between the two. Jesus did not teach a moral theology. He accepted the Jewish Law – he obeyed everything, including ritual laws, unless there was conflict with what the Father was asking of him in his vocation.

He tried to offer the insight by which living according to God’s law is simple – to be worried about regulations rather than whole-hearted service was far from the will of God. Jesus’ basic moral demands: repentance, faith and discipleship. There is no New Testament code of morality; Christian ethic is open to the future, to new demands in new situations.

We need codes of behaviour as support and guidelines, but we also need to be alert to the invitation of God hidden in everyday circumstances. No code can predict the possibility of Grace and salvation, the opportunities for loving response to anyone at any time. There is only one occasion when Jesus says there is a New Commandment – that we love one another as he loves us.

AMcC

Veronica Geurin lived and died for the truth, not to obey regulations.

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August 28: Cultural Centre bears witness to the “universality” of the Church

Here to mark the feast of Saint Augustine is a story from his native land of Algeria, where the Missionaries of Africa have been present for more than 100 years. Their society is 150 years old this year. 

Precious volumes and photographs testifying to the history of the Christian presence, but also courses in English and French and IT: all this is found at the Cultural Centre of the White Fathers (Missionaries of Africa) in Ouargla, a city in eastern Algeria,  at the service of the local, mainly Muslim, community, in this city of the desert.

The Cultural Centre is rooted in history. In 1875 the first White Father missionaries were sent here to find only a French military garrison and a handful of Berber hovels. Besides providing religious assistance for the soldiers, the White Fathers started to learn the local languages. At the same time they collected ancient books, scrolls and took photographs.

Over the years the missionaries catalogued the growing heritage which becomes a memory for the region and for the whole of Algeria. The photographs in particular bear witness to the different stages of a Christian presence which is ever more closely linked with the local population. “From the early years of colonisation down to our day – says Fr. Aldo Giannasi, a White Father missionary who lived and served in Ouargla – the Algerians viewed the Church as a continuation of the French political and cultural invasion. Today a change is taking place: the majority of priests and other church workers are from Black Africa, which clearly shows that the Church is not connected with France or with the West, or the powerful people of the world. She is Catholic, that is universal, and at the service of all”.

Ouargla too has changed. The military base is now an important Oil hub. The small village has become a city. The Cultural Centre still stands in the qasbah. As the years passed the structure deteriorated. The windows and doors were old and the desert sand was beginning to penetrate the rooms. Shelves, tables, chairs were old and needed to be replaced. The White Fathers thought of moving to the outskirts, but decided to stay in the original place and embark on its refurbishing.

Today the Centre hosts boys and girls, mostly Muslims, who study and use the library. Here they find a patrimony of books: history, geography, sociology, ethnology, religion and Christian spirituality. However the Centre has also become a focal point for the rest of the city because students find help with research and local people take courses in French, English, IT. “Our structure – concludes Fr Giannasi – bears witness to an active presence of Catholics at the service of Algeria, committed to a cultural mission which is a fruit-bearing seed of the Gospel” (Fides 4/4/2018).

The Algerian stamps show St Augustine and a Christian inscription from his time.

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20 July, What is Theology Saying? XX: The Eucharist 7; Presence for our presence

The Paschal Mystery is the New Covenant – not that the Old has gone [there is only one covenant]. New means greater depth of intimacy with universal outreach. Jesus takes the Law and the Prophets – Israel’s heritage – and through this loves his people into existence. By the end of his short life they were still in receiving mode, not yet deepening into giving what was received and so, as Scripture says, he loved them to the end; handing over his Spirit which has lived and a human existence to the Father to give to all willing to receive – Pentecost.

To sustain and feed them along this new way he gives himself as the bread of life; not like the feeding of the 5,000. Being with him at the Last Supper, eating the bread he broke, accepting his death is to continue his way; to come together to break bread and become sustaining food for others. The Covenant Community was set up at that supper table. This is why there is much more involved in celebrating the Eucharist than a memorial experience; it is to accept his presence through his death, to become body given and blood poured out for others – service.

The Eucharist is the mystery of God’s graciousness and our salvation. Transubstantiation is a word for something we cannot understand, something beyond the competence of human language; to claim to capture it is to nullify the challenge to attune the way we live so as to address the cry of the poor. Augustine [who used the word Transubstantiation] says we are present not to satisfy personal needs [or commandments] but to be attentive and proactive to the cry of the poor. We cannot appreciate Transubstantiation if we by-pass the challenge for personal change.

The Eucharist is the real presence, not just a memorial ritual. It is Presence there for our presence, so that what is in him can be in us. Jesus does not stand-in for us, but invites us to get involved. We cannot receive the Eucharist in passive ways – the fruit of the Eucharist is one community allowing God’s love to be felt in our world.

AMcC

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