Living Six Months with St. Augustine
213.7) The Church is the heavenly Jerusalem, Mount Zion, the "holy city of God," the "church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth." (Sermon 214.11)
Fourth, St. Augustine--for all his dedication to the ministry of the Word--does not in anyway minimize the importance of liturgical worship or of the Sacramental life. The Sacraments are everything to him because they put us in contact with God's salvific grace. Particularly the Sacraments of Baptism, the Eucharist, Confession, Marriage, and the Priesthood are often themes of life in Christ as St. Augustine portrays it. However, all of these must be practiced within the life of the Church, and, again, never outside of it.
Baptisms outside the Church, though they may be valid, result in spiritual stillbirth (Sermon 269.2) As to the Eucharist, St. Augustine obviously understands it in the manner of the Catholic Church: "The bread which you see on the altar and which has been sanctified by the word of God is the body of Christ. The cup, or rather what the cup contains, has also been sanctified by the word of God and is the blood of Christ . . . the blood he shed for the forgiveness of sins." (Sermon 234.2)
Fifth, and I suppose what most surprised me, is that St. Augustine is always concerned with the interior life of his flock. Not only must the preacher listen to the Word of God within himself and interiorize it, he expects also his congregation to interiorize it as it is read in Church and exposited in his sermons. Indeed, this custody of the soul, this custodia animi, is an imperative of fundamental importance, for there is no such thing as a Christian who is a Christian only externally, ritually. Pharisees we ought never to be.
Christianity is more than skin-deep repair. It is not makeup. It cleanses man from the inside out, as it were. It is therefore something that must enter and live in one's center core.
The moment one centers on something outside of the soul, one becomes imbalanced in the spiritual life. "You see now that you are outside yourself. You have begun to love yourself; remain within yourself, if you would succeed. . . . When the love of human being shifts from themselves to things outside of them, they begin to empty themselves out in empty things." (Sermon 94.2)
So the focus of one's life must not be upon external goods, but the good of the soul, and the grace of the love of God which is to be found there. This is done by taking custody of the interior life. The interior life was not gained all at once. It was more akin to a journey, and it required constant introspection, constant self-scrutiny, constant growth to advance. "We are on a journey," St. Augustine tell his flock. "To put it very briefly: to 'journey' means to advance." "If you say, 'Enough!' you are lost." The only means to towards salvation is to advance, and this requires Christians to "examine yourselves constantly without self-deception, without self-flattery, without self-blandishment. . . . There is indeed someone there," namely God, "but he is one who is pleased by humility. Seek his approval." (Sermon 169.18)
Time must be set apart for this interior life. "Let us leave a little room for reflection too; and let us allot some time to silence. Enter into yourself again and try to separate yourself from all the noise. Look within you and see if you can find a sweet, secret cell within your consciousness, where you need make no sound . . . . Perhaps you will come to the point of saying: 'You will grant me to hear the sounds of joy and gladness, and my bones shall rejoice,' but only if they are bones which have been 'humbled' rather than exalted." (Sermon 52.22)
Which brings us to another important Augustinian theme: humility. Humility was required both to have faith and to learn love. Faith, of course, was for St. Augustine always the beginning of any adventure in understanding. One of his favorite citations is Isaiah 7:9: "If you do not believe, you will not understand." This reference is peppered through numerous of his sermons. Believe that you may understand is at the heart of the Augustinian program.
Faith requires humility. Humility is the virtue which, tied to faith, obtains access to God. "He is exalted indeed. Are you looking for a ladder? Look for the wood of humility, and you will attain your goal." (Sermon 70A.2) "Do you want to reach God in his sublime heights? Begin by practicing the humility of God . . . Practice the humility of Christ, learn to be humble and not proud." (Sermon 117.7)
Humility is but the beginning of the Christian life and not the end-all, for the road in which the Christian travels is the royal road of love. This, is the golden thread in Scripture, for "at whatever page the scriptures are opened, the echo of love is heard." (Sermon 350A.1) What is absolutely central is to look at what we love, for what we love is what we become. "Love God; regard nothing else as better than he. . . . Love Christ! Long for the light that is Christ!" (Sermon 349.2) This love of God does not rest happy in God alone, as it also spills over into love of neighbor which is inseparable from it, and it includes even one's enemies.
It's perhaps not common to take a bishop to bed with you in the evening, to share a cup of coffee with him in the morning, to write a few words about him in your journal, to sit on a couch with him in the evenings with a glass of wine or perhaps two, to lie down with him on a hammock on a sultry Saturday while smoking a cigar, or to introduce your new ancient friend to all your old new friends on Facebook through a daily posting of quotes. But one thing I learned--from many other things--during my six month venture with St. Augustine: wherever and whenever you read his sermons, St. Augustine is there. The Communion of Saints . . . it's something for real.
Pray for us, my dear and noble friend. Pray for us, St. Augustine. Or in words you would have understood while on earth: Sancte Pater Augustine, ora pro nobis.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: St. Augustine, sermons, interior life, prayer, City of God, Augustine of Hippo, Faith and works, Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.
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