Tag Archives: Pope Benedict XVI

3 conversions of St Augustine

Today’s Doctor and Father of the Church St Augustine has been an object of study of the emeritus Pope, Benedict XVI. In a teaching on the saint, Benedict notes 3 conversions in Augustine’s life that are relevant to us today, especially on his feast day. In fact, I would say that what the Pope says is rather critical for Christians to consider with a certain degree of seriousness. Early in his papacy Benedict made a pilgrimage to Pavia, Italy to honor the relics of Augustine.

St Augustine was a passionate seeker of truth: he was from the beginning and then throughout his life. The first step of his conversion journey was accomplished exactly in his progressive nearing to Christianity. Actually, he had received from his mother Monica, to whom he would always remain very closely bound, a Christian education, and even though he lived an errant life during the years of his youth, he always felt a deep attraction to Christ, having drunk in with his mother’s milk the love for the Lord’s Name, as he himself emphasizes (cf. Confessions, III, 4, 8). But also philosophy, especially that of a Platonic stamp, led him even closer to Christ, revealing to him the existence of the Logos or creative reason. Philosophy books showed him the existence of reason, from which the whole world came, but they could not tell him how to reach this Logos, which seemed so distant. Only by reading St Paul’s Epistles within the faith of the Catholic Church was the truth fully revealed to him. This experience was summarized by Augustine in one of the most famous passages of the Confessions: he recounts that, in the torment of his reflections, withdrawing to a garden, he suddenly heard a child’s voice chanting a rhyme never heard before: tolle, lege, tolle, lege, “pick up and read, pick up and read” (VIII, 12, 29). He then remembered the conversion of Anthony, the Father of Monasticism, and carefully returned to the Pauline codex that he had recently read, opened it, and his glance fell on the passage of the Epistle to the Romans where the Apostle exhorts to abandon the works of the flesh and to be clothed with Christ (cf. 13: 13-14). He understood that those words in that moment were addressed personally to him; they came from God through the Apostle and indicated to him what he had to do at that time. Thus, he felt the darkness of doubt clearing and he finally found himself free to give himself entirely to Christ: he described it as “your converting me to yourself” (Confessions, VIII, 12, 30). This was the first and decisive conversion.

The African rhetorician reached this fundamental step in his long journey thanks to his passion for man and for the truth, a passion that led him to seek God, the great and inaccessible One. Faith in Christ made him understand that God, apparently so distant, in reality was not that at all. He in fact made himself near to us, becoming one of us. In this sense, faith in Christ brought Augustine’s long search on the journey to truth to completion. Only a God who made himself “tangible”, one of us, was finally a God to whom he could pray, for whom and with whom he could live. This is the way to take with courage and at the same time with humility, open to a permanent purification which each of us always needs. But with the Easter Vigil of 387, as we have said, Augustine’s journey was not finished.

He returned to Africa and founded a small monastery where he retreated with a few friends to dedicate himself to the contemplative life and study. This was his life’s dream. Now he was called to live totally for the truth, with the truth, in friendship with Christ who is truth: a beautiful dream that lasted three years, until he was, against his will, ordained a priest at Hippo and destined to serve the faithful, continuing, yes, to live with Christ and for Christ, but at the service of all. This was very difficult for him, but he understood from the beginning that only by living for others, and not simply for his private contemplation, could he really live with Christ and for Christ.

Thus, renouncing a life solely of meditation, Augustine learned, often with difficulty, to make the fruit of his intelligence available to others. He learned to communicate his faith to simple people and thus learned to live for them in what became his hometown, tirelessly carrying out a generous and onerous activity which he describes in one of his most beautiful sermons: “To preach continuously, discuss, reiterate, edify, be at the disposal of everyone – it is an enormous responsibility, a great weight, an immense effort” (Sermon, 339, 4). But he took this weight upon himself, understanding that it was exactly in this way that he could be closer to Christ. To understand that one reaches others with simplicity and humility was his true second conversion.

But there is a last step to Augustine’s journey, a third conversion, that brought him every day of his life to ask God for pardon. Initially, he thought that once he was baptized, in the life of communion with Christ, in the sacraments, in the Eucharistic celebration, he would attain the life proposed in the Sermon on the Mount: the perfection bestowed by Baptism and reconfirmed in the Eucharist. During the last part of his life he understood that what he had concluded at the beginning about the Sermon on the Mount – that is, now that we are Christians, we live this ideal permanently – was mistaken. Only Christ himself truly and completely accomplishes the Sermon on the Mount. We always need to be washed by Christ, who washes our feet, and be renewed by him. We need permanent conversion. Until the end we need this humility that recognizes that we are sinners journeying along, until the Lord gives us his hand definitively and introduces us into eternal life. It was in this final attitude of humility, lived day after day, that Augustine died.

Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience
27 February 2008

May is the Month of the Blessed Mother

We begin the month of May and therefore the month of Mary.

“The correct Marian devotion guarantees to faith the coexistence of indispensable ‘reason’ with the equally indispensable ‘reasons of the heart,’ as Pascal would say. For the Church, man is neither mere reason nor mere feeling, he is the unity of these two dimensions. The head must reflect with lucidity, but the heart must be able to feel warmth: devotion to Mary (which ‘avoids every false exaggeration on the one hand, and excessive narrow-mindedness in the contemplation of the surpassing dignity of the Mother of God on the other,’ as the Council urges) thus assures the faith its full human dimension.” (Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report, Ignatius Press, 1985)

What Marian devotions will you take part in this month?

St Andrew

A later tradition … tells of Andrew’s death at Patras, where he too suffered the torture of crucifixion. At that supreme moment, however, like his brother Peter, he asked to be nailed to a cross different from the Cross of Jesus. In his case it was a diagonal or X-shaped cross, which has thus come to be known as “St Andrew’s cross”.

This is what the Apostle is claimed to have said on that occasion, according to an ancient story (which dates back to the beginning of the sixth century), entitled The Passion of Andrew:

“Hail, O Cross, inaugurated by the Body of Christ and adorned with his limbs as though they were precious pearls. Before the Lord mounted you, you inspired an earthly fear. Now, instead, endowed with heavenly love, you are accepted as a gift.

“Believers know of the great joy that you possess, and of the multitude of gifts you have prepared. I come to you, therefore, confident and joyful, so that you too may receive me exultant as a disciple of the One who was hung upon you…. O blessed Cross, clothed in the majesty and beauty of the Lord’s limbs!… Take me, carry me far from men, and restore me to my Teacher, so that, through you, the one who redeemed me by you, may receive me. Hail, O Cross; yes, hail indeed!”.

Here, as can be seen, is a very profound Christian spirituality. It does not view the Cross as an instrument of torture but rather as the incomparable means for perfect configuration to the Redeemer, to the grain of wheat that fell into the earth.

Here we have a very important lesson to learn:  our own crosses acquire value if we consider them and accept them as a part of the Cross of Christ, if a reflection of his light illuminates them.

It is by that Cross alone that our sufferings too are ennobled and acquire their true meaning.

The Apostle Andrew, therefore, teaches us to follow Jesus with promptness (cf. Mt 4: 20; Mk 1: 18), to speak enthusiastically about him to those we meet, and especially, to cultivate a relationship of true familiarity with him, acutely aware that in him alone can we find the ultimate meaning of our life and death.

Benedict XVI
Audience, June 14, 2006

Image: Fr. Kevin Kim’s

Pastors need to face humanity

In life I wonder desire to know what is going on in reality. By what authority do pastors admit when they are in front of other people? The person in the hospital bed, the husband about to be without a job, the student about to be dismissed from university studies because she committed an act of plagiarism, the senior person facing dementia and cancer? What is the occasion for pastoral leadership and by what light is reality judged (evaluated) and addressed? Is it ideology or reality? Too often the clergy are without a method, or a reasonable measure of leadership or a substantial spiritual life.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his message to the Presidents of Europe’s 34 Episcopal Conferences, exhorted them “not to be afraid of facing up to the present-day pastoral challenges, being in position to listen to the concrete conditions of man’s personal and social life, ready to proclaim the Gospel of hope to all. The Gospel is a light entrusted to Christians of the third millennium so that, through a courageous and credible witness it may give light to the whole house (cf. Mt 5,15)“.

Mercy is central

Indeed, mercy is the central nucleus of the Gospel message; it is the very name of God, the Face with which he revealed himself in the Old Covenant and fully in Jesus Christ, the incarnation of creative and redemptive Love. May this merciful love also shine on the face of the Church and show itself through the sacraments, in particular that of Reconciliation, and in works of charity, both communitarian and individual. May all that the Church says and does manifest the mercy God feels for man, and therefore for us. When the Church has to recall an unrecognized truth or a betrayed good, she always does so impelled by merciful love, so that men and women may have life and have it abundantly (cf. Jn 10:10). From Divine Mercy, which brings peace to hearts, genuine peace flows into the world, peace between different peoples, cultures and religions.

Pope Benedict XVI
Regina Caeli message,
Divine Mercy Sunday, March 30, 2008

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT, follows the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, and is an Oblate of Saint Benedict, works as a monastery farmer and a keeper of honey bees. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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