Tag Archives: Confessions

Monica

Monica augustine

We remember a mother and her son this week, St. Monica and her son St. Augustine. A song I heard long ago said: “A Mother’s Love’s a Blessing.” Augustine could have sung that song.

In his “Confessions,” he praised God for bringing him “late” to a faith he found beautiful, but he also acknowledges a mother’s tears and prayers helped bring him to Jesus Christ. She was like the woman in the gospel who, as she brought her dead son to be buried, met Jesus who saw her tears and stopped the funeral procession and raised her son to life.

“ I was like that son,” Augustine says. ‘I was dead. My mother’s tears won me God’s life.”

Like many women of her time, we don’t know much about Monica. She married a man named Patricius, a tough husband who put her down and went out with other women. They had three kids, but Augustine was special; she followed him, hoping be would be the person she knew he could be. Above all, she wanted him to have faith.

He was a hard son to deal with, smart, well educated, hooked on the “lovely things” about him, deaf to her advice, blind to the path she wanted him to take, but she followed him anyway, convinced God had something big for him to do, and she finally got her wish

Doesn’t she sound like many today? How many today love their kids, or their husbands or their wives or their friends, but worry they’ll get mixed up in the wrong things–not going to church, deaf to the gospel? But they stick by them anyway.

That’s not easy to do and so it’s good to remember Monica and the moving words to God Augustine wrote in his Confessions. Did he ever show them to her, I wonder?

“O beauty every ancient, O beauty ever new. Late have I have loved thee. You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

Fittingly, the church celebrates Monica’s feast on August 27th,  the day before her son’s.

22nd Sunday B: Keeping Up Appearances

You may have seen the British comedy on PBS Keeping Up Appearances, about Hyacinth Bucket (she insists pronouncing it “Bouquet”} Hyacinth believes in keeping up appearances. She’s intent on impressing people with who she is, what and who she knows and what she owns. She’s superior to others, she thinks. Some of her “low-brow” family members embarrass her terribly. She tries to bring her long-suffering husband, Richard, up to her standards, but never succeeds.

The comedy pokes fun at what Jesus warns his disciples and the Pharisees about in our gospel today–appearances. Putting your trust in appearances. It’s not things outside, like the house you live in, the car you drive, the job you have, the clothes you wear, the health regime you follow that count most. Appearances inevitably disappear. It’s what’s within you, what’s in your heart, that remains.

Certainly Jesus wasn’t against external things, like washing your hands before you eat or cleaning the pots and pans afterwards. He knew the value of customs and external practices in society and religion and he kept them himself. He knew outside things influence us. He wasn’t against a good home, a good job, a good life. It’s extravagance he’s warns against, an excessive dependence on appearances that don’t last. It’s failing to pay attention to what’s in the human heart he warns against.

The world within is more important; what’s in our hearts makes the difference. Our search for God ends there, nowhere else.

Notice in today’s gospel Jesus seems to describe the world within as a battleground. What comes out of your heart can defile you and the world around you.

“Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile.
From within people, from their hearts,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
All these evils come from within and they defile.” Mark 7

Now, we’re not used to hearing that that kind of negative description of ourselves these days. We like to see ourselves in a more positive light. We’re beautiful people, with gifts and talents. But take a look at the shootings, the murders, the rapes, the greed, the anger that we see all around us. Where do they begin? In the human heart. Are those things absent from our own hearts? The greatest saints call themselves the greatest sinners. They’re right.

Yet, God comes to dwell in our hearts.

A few days ago we celebrated the feast of St. Augustine. He certainly understood the battleground of the human heart very well. In his Confessions he describes frankly his own unlikeness to God and then God’s grace brings him to see and hear and love. It wasn’t his brilliant mind or human gifts that brought him the recognize God in his heart. It was the grace of God, which we all look for and are given.

Listen to him describe his conversion, when the Light that filled the universe came to rest in him. “Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so.”

“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking you there,
and upon the shapely things you made
I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.

You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being,
were they not in you.
You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;

I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and I burned for your peace.” Augustine, Confessions

What’s Evangelization?

The Year of Evangelization in the Catholic church is coming to a close this November. It’s a year dedicated to bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to others through words and actions. We’re trying to get someone who has never been to church to come, and to get others who have left our church to come back.

That’s not easy to do. It’s more than knowing how to say the right things to someone else. Evangelization needs a lot of time and a lot of hard patience.

I was thinking about that as we remembered two saints last week in our church calendar ¬–St. Monica and St. Augustine. He’s one of the greatest intellects the world has every known; he has strongly influenced the way we think in our western world. Monica was his mother.

Most of us have heard these moving words to God from Augustine’s Confession:

“O beauty every ancient, O beauty ever new. Late have I have loved thee. You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

In his Confessions Augustine tells God that God’s grace brought him to believe–so late, he admits. But in the Confessions, Augustine also acknowledges it was a mother’s tears and prayers that brought him to Jesus Christ. She was like the woman in the gospel who was bringing her dead son through the gates of the town of Naim to bury him when Jesus came upon them. Seeing her tears, he stopped the funeral procession and raised her son to life.

“ I was like that son,” Augustine says. ‘I was dead. My mother’s tears won me God’s life.”

You can see why the church celebrates her feast on August 27th, the day before her son’s, and why we read that story of the widow of Naim as the gospel for Mass that day.

Like many women from that time, we don’t know much about Monica. She was married to a man named Patricius, a tough husband who put her down and went out with other women. They had three kids. She had a feeling that Augustine was someone special, and she followed him, trying in her own way to get him to be the person she knew he could be. She wanted him to have faith.

It was a hard thing to do. He was so smart, so well educated, so hooked on the “lovely things” about him. He was deaf to her advice, blind to the path she wanted him to take, but she kept following him anyway. She was convinced God had something big for him to do, and she finally got her wish.

She sounds like so many people today, loving their kids, or the husbands or their wives or their friends, but worried about them getting mixed up in the wrong things. They’re not going to church, they not listening to the gospel. But they stick by them anyway.

Is that evangelization too?

Moving On

Tomorrow we’re moving from Union City, NJ to Jamaica, NY. Not a big move in distance, but a big move in other ways. I wonder about the place where I’m going and hold on to the place where I’ve been.

It happens that today’s reading is St. Augustine’s famous reflection about finding God. “Place” isn’t the main issue, he says, moving on means more than that:

“Where did I find you first? You could not have been in my memory before I learned to know you. Where then could I have found you in order to learn of you, if not in yourself, far above me?

“Place” has here no meaning: further away from you or toward you we may travel, but place there is none. O Truth, you hold sovereign sway over all who turn to you for counsel, and to all of them you respond at the same time, however diverse their pleas.

“Clear is your response, but not all hear it clearly. They all appeal to you about what they want, but do not always hear what they want to hear. Your best servant is the one who is less intent on hearing from you what accords with his own will, and more on embracing with his will what he has heard from you.

“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!

Lo, you were within,

but I outside, seeking there for you,

and upon the shapely things you have made

I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.

You were with me, but I was not with you.

They held me back far from you,

those things which would have no being,

were they not in you.

You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;

you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;

you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;

I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;

you touched me, and I burned for your peace.

“When at last I cling to you with my whole being there will be no more anguish or labor for me, and my life will be alive indeed, alive because filled with you. But now it is very different. Anyone whom you fill you also uplift; but I am not full of you, and so I am a burden to myself. Joys over which I ought to weep do battle with sorrows that should be matter for joy, and I do not know which will be victorious. But I also see griefs that are evil at war in me with joys that are good, and I do not know which will win the day. This is agony, Lord, have pity on me! It is agony! See, I do not hide my wounds; you are the physician and I am sick; you are merciful, I need mercy.”