St Augustine

St. Augustine

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Homily by Rev. James Keating, O.S.A. August 23, 2013
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Photo of Augustine of Hippo

Augustine, named Aurelius Augustinus, was born in 354 A.D. of middle-class parents in the North African town of Thagaste. A brilliant and passionate scholar, he taught rhetoric in Carthage and later Rome and Milan until his early 30s and—as he acknowledged with extreme candor in his Confessions—developed an obsessive taste for pleasures of the flesh. A dramatic conversion to Christianity at the age of 32 set his life on a new course: He returned to North Africa and was ordained bishop of Hippo, where he was to spend the remaining 44 years of his life.

The scope of Augustine's intellectual and apostolic achievement is staggering. He wrote 113 books, among them two classics of world literature: Confessions and The City of God. Over 800 of his sermons have been preserved. As priest and bishop, he traveled thousands of miles in the Church's service and fought tirelessly against the people who were dividing Catholics to the point of physical violence. But in the midst of these demanding activities, Augustine's life had a very different side: He was, at heart, a monk.

After his conversion, Augustine had established a monastic community for himself and his friends in his parents' home, in Thagaste, and he had devoted a joyful three years to study, dialogue, and prayer. It is at this time that Augustine wrote his famous Rule for the monks who lived with him. Out of this tradition stems the emphasis on the part of the early Augustinians of the thirteenth century and us today on fraternal life in community.

When he became a bishop, he was determined not to abandon a way of life that he had found so fulfilling. He set up a monastery for priests in his bishop's residence and lived the Rule he wrote as a guide for living in a religious community.

Augustine's monastery took monasticism in a new direction. Monks had pastoral duties, and they could not abandon those duties for a life of contemplation. But Augustine had come to believe that a monk could, and should, lead both a contemplative life and a life of action, as he expressed it in his work The City of God. A monk's first responsibility, he felt, was serving the Church—but study and contemplation would make that service all the more meaningful.

Since its beginnings in the thirteenth century, the Augustinian Order has been characterized by a style of life that is, like Augustine's, both active and contemplative. For Augustinians, it is perhaps the most distinctive feature of our community and the challenge for us Augustinians and society at large.

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"Every time we hear Saint Augustine spoken of, we experience something like a tremor of joy, of great devotion, of great communion. He seems to us to be such a universal and dynamic being, so much the interpreter of the two worlds we must bring together: the world of human beings and the world of God… He is an encyclopedia of the Christian life and the spiritual life."

- Pope Paul VI

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