Bulletin – August 2017

August 2017
“So the faith was planted: so must it be restored”
Eight Pond Place – Oyster Bay, NY 11771

St. Augustine and the Merciful Savior
Taken from a sermon by The Most Rev. Clarence Kelly
Copyright © 2002 The Most Rev. Clarence Kelly

Naim was a village in Galilee about six miles south of Nazareth. It was about thirty miles from Capharnaum, a city where Our Lord spent a good deal of time during His early public ministry. Our Lord later condemned Capharnaum because so many in the city turned their hearts from God and refused to accept Him.

One day Our Lord left Capharnaum and went to the village of Naim. As He approached the village with His disciples, they came upon a funeral procession. It was the funeral of a young man, the only son of a widow. When Our Lord saw the poor woman, He was moved to compassion and had great pity on her. Indeed, so moved was He at the sight of the widow that He said, “Weep not.” He then went up to the funeral bier upon which lay the dead body of the young man. He touched it, and as He did, the bearers stood still. “And He said: Young man, I say to thee, arise. And he that was dead, sat up, and began to speak. And He gave him to his mother.” (Luke 7:14-15)

Over three hundred years later there was another mother, a widow, who was weeping over the loss of her son. In this case, however, it was not the physical death of her son that caused this mother’s tears. It was rather his spiritual death brought on by heresy and sin. The mother’s name was Monica. The son’s name was Augustine. Monica was a saint. Augustine was a sinner and the son of many tears. So true was this that an old bishop had prophesied to Monica, “Go, and God will bless your son. It cannot be that the child of such tears should perish.” He was right. St. Monica’s rebellious son was to become St. Augustine, one of the greatest saints in the history of the Church.

Augustine was born in a small town called Tagaste, located in Numidia, Africa on the thirteenth of November in the year 354. Numidia occupied what is now the eastern portion of Algeria. Augustine’s father was Patricius or Patrick. He was a pagan and the cause of much suffering for his devout and holy wife. He was a husband of many tears, for he was the slave of vices both nameless and countless and a man of hasty and violent temper. But Monica eventually won him to the Faith by her prayer and good example and especially by her kindness, which could not fail to inspire his love, respect, and esteem. He eventually died a holy death.

Augustine was a born genius, and his father was quick to see it. He spared nothing to make his son a scholar. Augustine did, in fact, become one, but in the process he fell in with bad company. It was his first step down the slippery path of sin, the highway to perdition. As one poet said:

He that once sins, like him that slides on ice,
Goes swiftly down the slippery ways of vice;
Though conscience checks him, yet, those rubs gone o’er,
He slides as smoothly and looks back no more.

As all good parents know, it is truly a curse to have wicked companions. Such bad example seduces the young, the thoughtless, the weak-willed. Augustine went down the slippery ways of vice, until at last he was enslaved in a cesspool of impurity.

He began to read immodest plays. He did not pray. He did not avoid the occasions of sin, so his fall was great. His father didn’t care, but his mother’s heart was broken. Yet, she never gave up. She prayed and she admonished. Augustine later wrote of this. Reflecting on the words of his mother, he said that they were “the admonitions of a woman, which I was ashamed to obey; but, O God! they were Thy admonitions, and I knew it not. By her Thou didst speak to me, and in her I despised Thee. Yet I knew it not, and with such blindness did I rush on [in the ways of sin] that among my equals I was ashamed of being less guilty than others when I heard them bragging of their atrocious actions. I had a mind to do the same.”

At the age of seventeen, his father sent him to Carthage which was one of the great cities of the ancient world. At one time it was twenty-three miles in circumference and had 700,000 inhabitants. He plunged into his studies with the same vigor that he pursued sin. He even began to read the Holy Scriptures, but to no avail.

At the age of nineteen, he fell into the heresy of the Manichees. For nine years, from the age of nineteen to twenty-eight, he was a partisan of this wicked sect. There is hardly a way to express the grief his mother felt at his fall into heresy. It was even greater than that she felt at his fall into vice, for heresy is a sin of the mind which parades itself as virtue. Sins of the flesh are more difficult to disguise as virtue, although the modern age has certainly tried to do so. “She prayed, and wept, and admonished. She regarded him as worse than a heathen, . . . and when he returned to his native town she forbade him to eat at her table, or even to enter her door. The noble mother used this severity and pointed indignation in order to make Augustine enter into himself. He was mentally intoxicated. He was bloated with conceit.” (Little Lives of the Great Saints, p. 218.)

He opened a school at Carthage but later decided to go to Rome. When he arrived, he fell deathly ill. Of this he was later to write, “Where would I have gone, if I had then died, but into those flames and torments which I deserved.” When he recovered, he opened another school in Rome, and students flocked to be instructed by the young man regarded as one of the greatest geniuses of his time. He then moved to Milan where the Emperor Valentinian the Younger kept his court. It was there that he met St. Ambrose who was the Archbishop of Milan. He began to attend the sermons of St. Ambrose, and little by little his pride and prejudice fell before the grace of God. His eyes were opened gradually to the beauty of virtue and the sublimity of the Catholic Faith.

He was then converted in belief, but he was still drawn to vice. He was not like Mary Magdalen whose glorious rise in the virtue of holy purity was virtually instantaneous. Rather, Augustine felt enslaved. Referring to this, he wrote: “I sighed and longed to be delivered [from impurity] but was kept fast bound, not with chains of irons, but with my own iron will. The enemy held my will and made a chain of it that fettered me fast.” Two men were striving within his soul. In the words of an old hymn, “My God! what war I wage, Two men within me strive.” It was the spirit of sensuality that paralyzed him. In his mind, having received the Faith, he loved chastity, but the power of past sins tormented him. Yet, he kept his eyes on the good and merciful Savior. More and more he trusted in Our Lord.

He persevered and eventually triumphed. In the year 386 at the age of thirty-two, he was converted, to the unspeakable joy of his mother, St. Monica. The following year he was baptized by St. Ambrose on Easter Eve. Soon thereafter his mother died. He returned to Carthage in 388 and for three years lived a life of deep prayer and penance. He established a religious community, having given all his worldly possessions to the church. In 390 he was ordained a priest at the insistence of the Bishop of Hippo. Five years later he was consecrated a bishop. He was a priest for over forty years and died on August 28, 430.

St. Augustine is called the Prince of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Popes, councils, and Holy Mother Church have honored his memory and his immortal writings. But his true greatness is to be found in his extraordinary holiness. That holiness was rooted and grounded in his complete distrust of self and his unbounded confidence in Christ. Like St. Peter before him, he kept his focus on the gentle and loving Heart of Christ, and thus the victory of Christ in him was great.

If we should ever be discouraged because of our temptations or sins, let us look to St. Augustine and through him to the Sacred Heart of our most blessed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. If we do, like the once great sinner Augustine, we, too, shall be sanctified and saved.

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