Thursday, August 28, 2014

St. Augustine

Statue of St. Augustine, Pavia, Italy
I have grown so much in love for this great Doctor of the Church, whose memory the Church commemorates today.

At the beginning of this year, on the very first day of 2014, in fact, I was privileged to visit his tomb in Pavia, just south of Milan, with my close friend, Fr. Marc.

It is a quiet church, with a stunningly beautiful medieval marble "arc" built over the tomb.

I read a few of Pope Benedict's catecheses on this saint (a must read really), in this church. He devoted five Wednesday audiences to preach about his beloved Augustine. I felt a real warmth, as well as sadness (oh I miss him!), on reading the Pope Emeritus' teachings in this very spot, which he himself had visited as Supreme Pontiff in 2007.

This paragraph from his fourth catechesis was especially powerful. One can see here the Holy Father's love for St. Augustine shining forth, a love that I too share.
A fresco in the Lateran that dates back to the fourth century shows that the iconographical tradition already depicted St Augustine with a book in his hand, suggesting, of course, his literary opus which had such a strong influence on the Christian mentality and Christian thought, but it also suggests his love for books and reading as well as his knowledge of the great culture of the past. At his death he left nothing, Possidius recounts, but "recommended that the library of the church with all the codes be kept carefully for future generations", especially those of his own works. In these, Possidius stresses, Augustine is "ever alive" and benefits his readers, although "I believe that those who were able to see and listen to him were able to draw greater benefit from being in touch with him when he himself was speaking in church, and especially those who experienced his daily life among the people" (Vita Augustini, 31). Yes, for us too it would have been beautiful to be able to hear him speaking. Nonetheless, he is truly alive in his writings and present in us, and so we too see the enduring vitality of the faith to which he devoted his entire life.
And here, in the fifth, and last, catechesis:
Augustine converted to Christ who is truth and love, followed him throughout his life and became a model for every human being, for all of us in search of God. This is why I wanted to ideally conclude my Pilgrimage to Pavia by consigning to the Church and to the world, before the tomb of this great lover of God, my first Encyclical entitled Deus Caritas Est. I owe much, in fact, especially in the first part, to Augustine's thought. Even today, as in his time, humanity needs to know and above all to live this fundamental reality: God is love, and the encounter with him is the only response to the restlessness of the human heart; a heart inhabited by hope, still perhaps obscure and unconscious in many of our contemporaries but which already today opens us Christians to the future, so much so that St Paul wrote that "in this hope we were saved" (Rom 8: 24). I wished to devote my second Encyclical to hope, Spe Salvi, and it is also largely indebted to Augustine and his encounter with God. 
Pope St. John Paul II also devoted a Wednesday Audience to St. Augustine, back on August 28, 1986. My homily at Mass earlier today was on the three errors of the young Augustine that Pope John Paul alluded to:
... first, a mistaken, account of the relationship between reason and faith, so that he would have to choose between them; second, in the supposed contrast between Christ and the Church, with the consequent conviction that it was necessary to abandon the Church in order to belong more fully to Christ; and third, the desire to free himself from the consciousness of sin, not by means of the remission of sin through the working of grace, but by means of the denial of the involvement of human responsibility in the sin itself ...

Photos from the Church of St. Augustine in Pavia follow:

Plaque commemorating Pope Benedict's visit in 2007.

Sancte Augustine, ora pro nobis! 

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