Monday, August 28, 2017

Memorial of St. Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church

(I Thessalonians 1:1-5.8b-10; Matthew 23:13-22)

The word August comes from the Latin verb ­augere which means to increase.  As an adjective, august means great or magnificent.  The month of August is not necessarily greater than any other.  It derives its name from Caesar Augustus, the “great Caesar” if you will, who rivaled in fame his stepfather Julius.  Augustine is a diminutive meaning little August.  Notwithstanding, St. Augustine was an intellectual and religious giant.

Augustine’s story is well known from his book The Confessions which is said to be the first autobiography ever written.  He was born and educated in North Africa where he followed for a time the teachings of Mani, an Iranian prophet who taught the inherent evil of anything material. Augustine nevertheless had a concubine who gave birth to his son.  Eventually Augustine saw the flaw of Manichaeism and converted to Christianity, the religion of his mother.  He became a monk, a priest, a bishop and the greatest theologian of the Church in the West during the first millennium, at least.  His writings on the Trinity, the Church and sacraments, and especially on grace provide a basic catechesis to this day.

In today’s first reading Paul tells the Thessalonians that the gospel did not come to them in word alone but “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.”  Augustine’s life reflects that phrase.  He was impressed by the Christian message, but it was the Holy Spirit who led him through a number of personal experiences to embrace both the cross and the resurrection of Jesus.  The same Spirit works within us to give up the quest for pleasure and comfort and seek a fuller love for others.