Thursday, 9 May 2013

Saint Augustine - a Saint for our time

St Augustine was born in 354 at Thagaste in North Africa. He was baptised by Bishop Ambrose at Easter 386 and ordained priest in 391. Five years later he was consecrated Bishop of Hippo. His writings and sermons have exercised a deep influence on the Church. He died on 28 August 430. He was canonised by Pope Boniface VIII in 1303. He is a 'Doctor of the Church', and his feast- day is 28 August.

The following extracts from the writings of St Augustine are taken from an anthology, ‘The Joy of the Saints’, edited by Robert Llewelyn, published by Darton, Longman and Todd, London. This anthology includes extracts from the writings of several Catholic Saints viz. St Therese of Liseux, St John of the Cross, St Teresa of Avila, and St Francis de Sales; but also includes works by Julian of Norwich, John Wesley, Martin Luther, and others.

(The bibliography indicates the source book for St Augustine’s readings, as ‘The heart at Rest – daily readings with St Augustine', edited by Dame Maura See OSB.)

      Saint Augustine of Hippo - painting by Phillip de Champaigne (French 17th century)

The two deaths

As a man you are destined to die.  Put it off as long as you like, the thing so long delayed will come at last.
There is, however, another death, from which the Lord came to deliver us: eternal death, the death of damnation with the devil and his angels.  That is the real death; the other is only a change, the leaving of the body.
Do not fear this kind, but be frightened of the other, and labour to live in such a way that after death you may live with God.
Remember that Antichrists are not only to be found among those who have gone away from us, but among many who are still in the Church. The perjurer, the adulterer, the drunkard, the trafficker in drugs, all evil-doers.
They will say, ‘But He made us like this’.  Our Creator cries out from Heaven,  ‘I made the man, not the thief, the adulterer, the miser;  all that moves in the sea, flies in the air, or walks on the earth is my work, and sings my praise’.  But does avarice praise the Lord, or drunkenness, or impurity?  Anything that does not praise him was not made by him.

Here today and gone tomorrow 

Wherever the soul of man turns, unless it turns to You, it clasps sorrow to its heart.  Even if it clings to what is lovely, if this loveliness is outside God, it has clung to sorrow, for these beautiful things would not exist without You.  Like the sun, they rise and set: they have their beginning and then they grow old and die.
Let me praise You for these things, my God who made them all, but do not let the love of them be like glue to fix them to my soul.
In these things there is nowhere to rest, because they do not last, they pass away beyond the reach of our senses. Indeed, we cannot lay firm hold on them even when they are with us.
In this world one thing passes away, and another takes its place.  But does the Word of God pass away?  Make your dwelling in Him.  Entrust to Him whatever you have, for all you possess is from Him.  In Him is the peace that cannot be disturbed, and He will not withhold Himself from your love if you do not withhold your love from Him.

                   Vision of Saint Augustine - Fra Filippo Lippi ( c1450)


Let the Lord your God be your hope – seek for nothing else from Him, but let Him Himself be your hope. There are people who hope from Him riches or perishable and transitory honours, in short they hope to get from God things which are not God Himself. Seek for Him alone, and despising everything else, make your way to Him. Forget other things, remember Him; leave other things behind, stretch out to Him.  Let Him be your hope, who is guiding you to your destination.
Where in the end does coveting this world’s goods lead you? You want a farm, then an estate, then you shut your neighbours out and covet their possessions.  You extend your desires till you reach the shore. Having made the earth your own, perhaps you want Heaven, too?
Leave all your desires. He who made heaven and earth is more beautiful than all; He who made all things is better than all; He will be to you everything you love. Learn to love the Creator in the creature, in the work Him who made it. Don’t let what was made take such a hold of you that you lose Him by whom you yourself were made.

The heart at rest

Ask the beauty of the earth, the beauty of the sky. Question the order of the stars, the sun whose brightness lights the day, the moon whose splendour softens the gloom of night. Ask of the living creatures that move in the waves, that roam the earth, that fly in the heavens.
Question all these and they will answer, ‘Yes, we are beautiful’. Their very loveliness is their confession of God: but who made these lovely mutable things, but He who is Himself unchangeable beauty?
Too late have I loved You, O beauty ever ancient, ever new, too late have I loved You.
I sought for You abroad, but You were within me though I was far from You. Then You touched me and I longed for your peace, and now all my hope is in your great mercy.
Give what You command and then command what You will.
You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless till it rests in You. Who will grant me to rest content in You? To whom shall I turn for the gift of your coming into my heart so that I may forget all the wrong I have done, and embrace You alone, my only good?

                   Saint Augustine in his study - Sandro Botticelli (1480)


'Our Lady of Good Counsel, pray for us, and guide and protect our Church and our Holy Father, Pope Francis' - Amen.