Our Patron Saint, Saint Augustine
Our patron saint was on his death bed. But outside the city walls the Vandals were camped, the countryside was ravaged, horror and desolation were everywhere, and the Roman empire of which he had been such a prominent presence was rapidly tumbling into the dark ages. St. Augustine in the statue as we enter church is attired with the bishop's miter and crozier, and as a bishop he had dreamed of moving his people to becoming the "City of God". But the cities of North Africa were in ruins and the churches burned, the inhabitants either slain or exiled. When Mass was offered it was in private homes or not at all for in so many parts of the diocese there were none left to seek the sacraments. The clergy was reduced to beggary. Dying he recollected a story told by Cyprian of a vision that a certain bishop had in which Christ chided him: "You're afraid to suffer here; you are afraid to move there (meaning heaven). What can I do with you?" He was 77 years old and knowing that he was dying had the penitential psalms written large on posters hung so that he could recite them. A sick man was brought to his bedside, and simply reaching out to put his hand on the poor wretch's head cured him. And thus Augustine passed to his Maker. He had made his mark but other forces took him away on that 28th day of August, 430.
Augustine entered the world in a different era. Transportation was still difficult and although his birth place of Tagaste was not far from the metropolis of Hippo on the sea, he never saw the ocean until he was an adult. By today's standards, he was born into a dysfunctional family. His parents were in a mixed marriage. Patricius had a violent disposition and was not a believer. Monica was devout but seems to be somewhat of a nagger. Augustine had a brother and a sister. The children were enrolled in the catechumenate but according to the custom of the time baptism was deferred until an adult decision could be made. St. Augustine writes of his childhood and youth in his hook, Confessions, and his career in sin began by stealing pears. He was a bright but lazy student and would pray just to avoid punishment. As a lad he was taken sick and his life was in jeopardy and he promised St. Monica that he would be baptized, but upon his recovery he conveniently forgot about the promise.
He began his equivalency of college in the African town of Carthage, He was influenced by a heresy of his day termed Manicheism which postulated that material being was the source of evil so strong that it was tantamount to being an alien god. It became an excuse for his unbridled sexuality. and during his '7th year he began living with a woman. This turned out to be a long term relationship. Two years later he had a son named Adeodatus. His mother worried about the lifestyle he was in and by prayer and persuasion tried to bring him to reform. As a young professor Augustine set up his own school in his home town, then in Carthage. He was getting deeper and deeper into Manicheism, but when he arranged a meeting with its leading teacher, Faustus, he became disillusioned. Secretly he left for Rome so that he could escape the pressure of Monica. There he opened a school but found that the students failed to pay their tuition, so got hired in Milan. Augustine began to frequent the basilica where the town's bishop Ambrose preached, not for religious reasons but because of the eloquence and mastery of language. Soon he was impressed by the careful line of reasoning and sincerity which was in sharp contrast to that of Faustus. Soon Monica arrived to try to get him to marry the mother of his son, but only succeeded in getting the mother to move to Africa, leaving Adeodatus in the care of his father.
On one level of his life Augustine was converted -- on the intellectual level.. The lessons of his mother, the preaching of Ambrose, and his extensive reading convinced him of the truth of Catholicism. But he was held back by his own strong will and his sexual addiction. "Make me pure, 0 Lord," he prayed, "but not quite yet." He was leading a conflicted life. A friend one day visited him and was talking about St. Anthony of the Desert, and through that conversation Augustine saw the depravity into which he had sunk. When his visitor had left and he was alone with a companion Alipius he got up and went into the garden. Augustine was going through a violent conflict of conscience and paced around very distraught, then in desperation threw himself on the ground, praying aloud, "How long will it take 0 Lord? Will you always be angry with me? Will it always be tomorrow, tomorrow?" Through his sobs, he heard a neighbor boy calling out in play, "Pick it up, and read it Pick it up and read it." He picked himself up off the ground and returned to Alipius who had alongside him the epistles of St. Paul. He flipped the bible open and read the following from St. Paul's epistle to the Romans (13:13) "Live honorably as in daylight, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual excess and lust, not in quarreling and jealousy. Rather, put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provisions for the flesh." His hesitation was gone! With amazing serenity he explained to Alipius his conversion. Alipius picked up the Bible to read this passage so directed towards his friend's crisis. But he read on to the next line, which was: "Extend a kind welcome to those who are weak in the faith." He applied this to himself, and determined he would join Augustine in his resolution. They went in the house and told Monica who rejoiced that after 32 years of prayer for her son, he finally came to this moment.
St. Augustine gave up his school work and immediately joined his mother, son, brother Navigius, friend Alipius and others in a small faith-sharing community. He attempted to live as thoroughly as possible the gospel of our Savior. As a great Latin stylist, he began his spiritual writing. "Too late, too little, have I loved Thee," he wrote in one much quoted line. He was baptized by St. Ambrose at Easter Vigil 387 AD along with his friend Alipius and his teen-age son. He moved back to Africa intending to live a simple life in community, but the bishop of Hippo had a speech impediment so asked that Augustine be ordained a priest so this rhetorician could be his spokesman. St. Augustine has written more than 400 sermons.
Eventually, he succeeded the bishop in the see of Hippo. He tried to live a Christ-like life. Once he told his people, "For you I am a bishop, but with you I am a Christian." His advice to his people even today seems balanced and of good sense: he avoided matchmaking lest his judgment be wrong. He would not try to convince a young man to enter the army. He told a parishioner who preferred dressing in black that she should select attire that would please her husband. He agonized over a fallout he had with the cantankerous St. Jerome. Consistently, but mildly, he defended the Catholic faith against the heresies of that day and age.
He was a kind, wise, prudent bishop, lived on the cusp of a tumultuous time, and earnestly tried to put the church he was in charge of in a secure position. In the short term he failed but in the long term he gave those of us living in another unsettled time the courage to face our problems. How proud we are that he is our patron.