Memorial of Saint Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church
(I Corinthians 1:17-25; Matthew 25:1-13)
It is said that after Jesus the most important persons in Christianity are St. Paul and St. Augustine. Paul evangelized western Asia and the Greek peninsula (Europe). As much as he was an apostle, however, he was equally a theologian. His presentation of Christianity was the earliest and one of the most insightful ever made. Augustine is the preeminent theologian of the western church, at least until Aquinas. Yet his story has evangelized many. Who is not impressed by the way Augustine asked for chastity “but not now”?
In today’s first reading Paul expresses the centrality of the cross to Christian faith. To the wise -- that is, the successful -- the cross scandalizes. It reveals Jesus as a criminal, not as a saint. But to believers, Paul intimates, the cross signifies the power of love to conquer death. After all, Paul encountered the risen Christ.
Augustine appears at a critical time in western history. Christianity had emerged from persecution to enjoy a favored-religion status. But free thinkers were propagating new ideas which corrupted the faith. Augustine successfully refuted a number of these ideas. Also, the Roman empire in the West was crumbling. Augustine endeavored to explain this momentous change by contrasting Rome with the City of God. The former, constructed by fallible humans, was bound to fall. The latter, epitomized by the Church and animated by grace, can only thrive.