St Augustine: the youth that never grew old

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On Wednesday, 28 August, the Church celebrates the feast of St. Augustine. Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, the great Augustinian, said of him during his weekly general audience of Wednesday 9 January 2008: “It could be said, on the one hand, that all the roads of Latin Christian literature led to Hippo (today, Annaba, on the coast of Algeria), the place where he was Bishop from 395 to his death in 430, and, on the other, that from this city of Roman Africa, many other roads of later Christianity and of Western culture itself branched out.”

The vitality of St. Augustine’s life and thought can be tangibly felt in this great quote by the German Pope. Augustine was, in fact, restless. He was not content with mediocrity in life. He wanted more. Augustine understood that the true meaning of his life resides in charity in truth, caritas in veritate. As a committed pilgrim of the truth he was adamant not to quite his inner restless calling of find the truth and let it fascinate and shape him through its unending love.

The ever-young man Augustine is beautifully depicted by Pope Francis when he delivered his homily at the Basilica of St. Augustine in Campo Marzio, Rome, on Wednesday 28 August 2013:

“‘You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you’ (Confessions, 1, 1, 1). With these famous words St. Augustine addresses God in his Confessions, and these words sum up his whole life. ‘Restlessness’ this word makes an impression on me and sets me thinking. I would like to start with a question: what fundamental restlessness did Augustine live in his life? Or perhaps I should say: what kinds of restlessness does this great and holy man ask us to awaken and to keep alive in our own existence? I am proposing three kinds: the restlessness of spiritual seeking, the restlessness of the encounter with God, the restlessness of love”.

For Pope Francis, St. Augustine was the restless seeker of the spirit. “Augustine lived an experience that is fairly common today: common enough among today’s young people… Augustine was a man who had ‘made it’, he had everything. Nevertheless, his heart still yearned for life’s deep meaning; his heart had not been overcome by sleep. … He continued to seek God’s face. Of course he made mistakes, he took wrong turns, he sinned, he was a sinner. Yet he retained the restlessness of spiritual seeking. In this way he discovered that God was waiting for him, indeed, that he had never ceased to be the first to seek him”.

Moreover, Augustine’s restlessness opened his heart for Christ. “In Augustine it was this very restlessness in his heart which brought him to a personal encounter with Christ, brought him to understand that the remote God he was seeking was the God who is close to every human being, the God close to our heart, who was ‘more inward than my innermost self’ (cf. ibid. III, 6, 11).” After meeting Christ Augustine kept searching for Him all the more. As the Holy Father rightly observed: “However even in the discovery of and encounter with God, Augustine did not stop, he did not give up, he did not withdraw into himself like those who have already arrived, but continued his search. The restlessness of seeking the truth, of seeking God, became the restlessness to know him ever better and of coming out of himself to make others know him. It was precisely the restlessness of love”.

Finally, in Augustine’s experience love becomes restless too thanks to the great determination of his mother, Saint Monica. Her persistent example really formed Augustine in his resolve of being a valid pastor for Christ’s flock. Commenting on this kind of restlessness as “anxiety of love”, Pope Francis said of Monica: “Here I cannot but look at the mother: this Monica! How many tears did that holy woman shed for her son’s conversion! And today too how many mothers shed tears so that their children will return to Christ! Do not lose hope in God’s grace! In the Confessions we read this sentence that a bishop said to St Monica who was asking him to help her son find the road to faith: ‘it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish’ (III, 12, 21)… A restless woman, this woman who at the end of her life said these beautiful words: ‘cumulatius hoc mihi Deus praestitit!’ (ibid., IX, 10, 26). God lavishly rewarded her tearful request! And Augustine was Monica’s heir, from her he received the seed of restlessness. This, then, is the restlessness of love: ceaselessly seeking the good of the other, of the beloved, without ever stopping and with the intensity that leads even to tears.”

This year 2019, at the Shrine of the Holy House in Loreto, precisely on 25 March, Solemnity of the Annunciation, Pope Francis signed the post-synodal apostolic exhortation addressed to the young people and to the entire People of God, Christus Vivit. In it, St. Augustine, the man that remained a young man ever, is mentioned three times. First, in Christus Vivit, Augustine teaches us that loving God from an early age is a great blessing. That is why he lamented: ‘Late have I loved you, beauty ever ancient, ever new! Late have I loved you!’ (no. 17). Second, Augustine the youth encourages us that true inner peace perfectly lives with that restlessness that wants that God’s perfect will be done. “As Saint Augustine said: ‘You have created us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’” (no. 138). Third, Augustine singing, a strong characteristic of young people, has to be coupled with a life of virtue. The great bishop of Hippo said: “Sing, but continue on your journey. Do not grow lazy, but sing to make the way more enjoyable. Sing, but keep going… If you make progress, you will continue your journey, but be sure that your progress is in virtue, true faith and right living. Sing then, and keep walking” (no. 226).

St Augustine is alive in his Order (Ordo Sancti Augustini, Order of St. Augustine) as well as in the Augustinian Institute at Tal Pietà. In fact, in the Academic Year 2019-2020, a series of 15 lectures on The Confessions of Saint Augustine of Hippo will be delivered at the Augustinian Institute of Pieta’. The lectures are held every other Friday from 6 to 7pm, commencing on Friday 11 th October 2019, to Friday 28 th February 2020. For further info please contact Prof Salvino Caruana OSA PO BOX 61 MSIDA PO MSD 1000, or call on 2124 9407 or 7929 4177.

The 22nd edition of the Annual Saint Augustine Lecture 2019 will also take place. Dr Martijn Boven, lecturer in Philosophy and Theory of Arts, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Groningen, the Netherlands, has been invited by Prof. Salvino Caruana OSA, Director of the Augustinian Institute, to deliver the two lectures of the Annual Saint Augustine Lecture 2019. The Annual Saint Augustine lecture is held jointly by the Maltese Augustinian Province, the Faculty of Theology of the University of Malta, and the Archdiocesan Foundation for Theological Studies, Malta. Boven graduated PhD in 2016, with a thesis on Metaphor and Metamorphosis: Paul Ricoeur amd Gilles Deleuze on the Emergence of Novelty. Dr Boven will be delivering the main lecture at the University of Malta on Wednesday, 27 th November 2019, at 19.00hrs. on the theme: The threefold present: how Augustine re-invented time. The lecture at the Augustinian Institute will be held on Friday, 29 th November 2019, at 18.15hrs, on: The splintered mind; Augustine’s ingenious response to the problem of time. Entrance free and a reception will follow.

I greatly encourage the general public to snatch these golden opportunities to let our spirit, mind and heart be rejuvenated by the Holy Spirit at the school of St Augustine of Hippo, that youth that never grew old!

Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap

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