The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What do you seek?

Yesterday I wrote a few inadequate words about one of the great saints of the Church, St. Jerome. Today I'd like to turn to one of his contemporaries, St. Augustine of Hippo. Like Jerome, Augustine is both an Early Church Father and a Doctor of the Church -- another of the great ones. And also like Jerome, St. Augustine was a prolific writer, and thankfully many of his works were preserved and are available today.

I've always had an affinity for St. Augustine, probably because he was one of the first saints I encountered as a child. When I was just four years old, my family moved from rural Connecticut to Larchmont, a New York suburb, where we became members of St. Augustine Parish. Later I attended St. Augustine School and was naturally curious about this man whose name was taken by my parish church and school.

Rather than tell you about St. Augustine -- after all, you can read any number of brief online biographical sketches of the saint -- I'd rather quote him. Yesterday, while reading his work, De Catechizandis Rudibus (On the Catechizing of the Uninstructed), I came across the following paragraph which I thought was equally relevant to our times:

"Two cities, one of sinners and one of saints, are to be found throughout history from the creation of mankind until the end of the world: at the present day they are mingled together in body, but separate and distinct in will; in the day of judgment, they will be separated bodily. All men who take pleasure in the lust of power and the spirit of domination, in the pomps and vanities of the world, and all spiritual substances who approve these things and take pride in subjecting men to themselves, all these are united in one city: even when they fight among themselves over such advantages, they are none the less borne down together in the same direction by one and the same burden of cupidity, and bound together by common behavior and merits. On the other hand, all such as humbly seek the glory of God...belong together in one city...And, notwithstanding this, God is most merciful and patient with ungodly men, and offers them a place for penitence and amendment."

As Augustine reminds us, both "cities" consist of men and angels, the difference being who (or what) they worship. The men and angels of one city worship idols. It is an idolatry of self, the worship of the creature and his works rather than the Creator Himself. Those of the other city are worshippers of the One, True God. The important point is that there is no middle way. For Augustine anything apart from the sovereign jurisdiction of God belongs to the city of Satan, to the world and the flesh. And as Augustine reminds us, while in the world the lines between these two cities is not so apparent. A person can be a member of the visible Church and yet belong to the city of Satan.

The only end that humanity should seek is that which God plans for us. Too often today political and other human forms of organization are made ends in themselves. When this happens they can only serve the city of Satan. This is true whether those human political ends are Marxism, nationalism, democracy...whatever. Hard words for many today to accept.

Augustine's writings are filled with these kinds of remarkable and timeless insights. If you have never read him, I suggest you begin with his Confessions and then go on from there.

God's peace...

1 comment:

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