Aventuras: Regresando a los Estados Unidos (Returning to the United States)

Es cierto que el tiempo mueve muy rápido! En estos días últimos en México, estoy reflejando en los tres meses pasados. Este es un país maravilloso! Voy a extrañar especialmente la gente y mis muchos amigos nuevos! Pero, necesito regresar a mi hogar, California, para que pueda continuar mi camino durante mi año pastoral. (And continue learning how to use the subjunctive case.)

OurLadyofGuadalupeaspaintedbyGodthe

One of my favorite paintings in Mexico – God the Father painting the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe

I have had so many rewarding experiences here in this wonderful country! I cannot begin to express the gratitude that I feel for my hosts, my new friends, for their hospitality, for their patience… While I am certainly looking forward to returning home, I will also miss everyone here very much!

I have learned three main lessons here in Mexico, besides learning Spanish of course:

Expect the unexpected: From scorpions to thuribles, my time in Mexico has presented many new and unexpected experiences, many of which I have not begun to realize the impact that they will have on my life. But this is how God works, no? Many times we have small moments, unexpected encounters, that at the time may seem insignificant, but down the road we realize that they define who we are. Mexico has become a part of who I am, and I look forward to using what I have learned here in my ministry and life.

Being patient with myself: When I arrived here, I thought that by August 29th I would be speaking near-fluent Spanish. It’s not like we spend years learning our native languages, right? Of course, I’ve found that my journey with Spanish will extend over much more than three months, and I am at peace with that. In any new endeavour, we need to have patience with ourselves. Normally, we do not change or learn something new overnight. We see this in how God works in our lives: for the vast majority of us, there is no St. Paul-like conversion, or Augustinian revelation. No, the Lord slowly works with us, walking with us, molding us to be more humble servants. Our job is to be open to this process, whether the process involves learning a new language or learning how to be with the Lord.

A priest is a priest for all people: This is a lesson I already knew I suppose, but it was brought into a new focus for me here in Mexico. I think that it is very easy for us to take this maxim, whether you are a priest or not, and give lip service to it, but to not realize the true depths of what it means. Many of us who work in ministry know this maxim to be true, but do we know it in our hearts and really put it into practice? Here in the center of Mexico I have encountered many different people: cardinals, bishops, politicians, businessmen, homeless, former prostitutes, the terminally ill, students, teachers, craftsmen, unemployed, ministers, lay people, and everyone in between. For those of us studying to be priests, and for all ministers in the Church, we are called to reach out to all people, even when it makes us uncomfortable. In fact, especially when it makes us uncomfortable, for it is in those moments that we encounter Jesus Christ. When we find ourselves paying only lip service to these words, then we need to take a moment to reflect, wake up, and realize the depth and beauty of all of God’s people. Mexico has helped me to refocus on this as it presented me with many wonderful, challenging, and blessed experiences!

As I find myself saying goodbye to so many people, I also find that they all now hold a special place in my heart. As I mentioned above, Mexico has become part of who I am, a very cherished part. I fully intend on returning one day, and while I do now know when that will be (very likely some time after my, Lord willing, ordination), until then I will continue to keep these people and this country in my heart and prayers. Espero verte pronto!

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, ruega por nosotros!


This will be my final post in the Aventuras series. I hope that you have enjoyed seeing some of the snapshots of my time here in Mexico, during which I learned not only the culture and language, but also experienced things and encountered people that will remain with me for all my days. From here, the blog will return to astronomy, reflections, the Journey series, and sharing a moment here and there from my upcoming pastoral year.

The other posts in this series can be found by viewing this category.

+AMDG+

On the Journey: Prayer, Work, and Cookies

Augustine’s Confessions Book II, Chapters 6-10

“I long instead for innocence and justice, graceful and splendid in eyes whose sight is undefiled. My longing fills me and yet it cannot cloy. With them is certain peace and life that cannot be disturbed. The man who enters their domain goes to share the joy of the Lord. He shall know no fear and shall lack no good. In him that is goodness itself he shall find his own best way of life. But I deserted you, my God. In my youth I wandered away, too far from your sustaining hand, and created of myself a barren waste.” –Confessions II.10

Rocket01

CC BY-SA 3.0 by TimmyTruck via WikiCommons

What is the first time you remember you felt guilt from knowing you did something wrong? If you are anything like me, it was probably pretty early on in life. At my great-grandmother’s house up in the mountains, she used to have this wonderful cookie jar sitting on the counter. She always kept it filled with fresh cookies, and if for some reason it was empty, you could be sure that a fresh batch was soon to be ready, the sweet smell of chocolate chips wafting through the house. After all, what’s Grandma’s house without cookies?!

When I was 5 or 6, I remember thinking that I could get to that cookie jar. I had asked earlier if I could have one, but for some reason (probably due to an upcoming meal), I was told no. So, as many a small child will do, I took matters into my own hands. When no one was in the kitchen, I quickly pulled a chair over to the counter. If you know me, you know how short I am; well, I was short for my age then as well, so you can imagine the sight!

In any case, there I was with the chair at the counter, my objective in view. I climbed up, and reached as far as I could, just barely grasping the jar. I pulled it over, and opened the lid, seeing the forbidden objects of my desire: those precious chocolate chip cookies. I quickly took one out, replaced the lid, climbed down, put the chair back, and took the first bite into that delicious morsel.

It was probably the worst cookie I’ve had in my life.

Don’t get me wrong, the taste was absolutely wonderful! But I knew that I had done something wrong. As I finished the cookie, I realized that I had taken the cookie without asking, betraying my grandmother’s trust. Even though no one ever found out (or at least no one ever told me they found out), I felt absolutely horrible. In the words of Saint Augustine, “it brought me no happiness, for what harvest did I reap from acts that make me now blush?” (II.8)

And so it is with sin in our life. In these last chapters of Book II in Augustine’s Confessions, we find him reflecting on the mistakes of his youth, something which I think is common to almost every person. One of the constants of human existence in our fallen life is that of sin: we fall constantly, “for the soul defiles itself with unchaste love when it turns away from you and looks elsewhere for things which it cannot find pure and unsullied except by returning to you” (II.6). Often in life we seek fulfillment and pleasure in things that are not of God. Pick any of the seven deadly sins, and you find that they are all about replacing God for something of this world. Sometimes, this longing can even twist good things into bad, whether it is a good hobby, work in the Church, or love for another person. When we take our focus from God, everything starts to fall apart.

So what is the answer? To turn back to Him of course! We can do this through the sacraments, most especially through Confession and the Eucharist. We find through the Sacraments that “no caress is sweeter than your charity and no love is more rewarding than the love of your truth, which shines in beauty above all else” (II.6). In His love, beauty, and truth, we find true fulfillment, rather than in those things of the world, no matter how good they may seem. We must realize that everything we do, no matter how mundane, needs to be directed back toward God.

Mt._Angel_Abbey_(Marion_County,_Oregon_scenic_images)_(marDA0213)

Mount Angel Abbey Church, by Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives

I find this especially present in the maxim of Saint Benedict, “Ora et Labora,” or Prayer and Work. Everything we do can be turned toward God and sanctified. In the Benedictine sense, this takes the form of the daily prayers as “ora” and each monastery’s particular work, such as teaching in the case of my seminary, as “labora.” But from what I have seen in the various monks I’ve met over the years, it also means making the work itself a prayer. Why not offer up your daily trials and triumphs to the Lord, sanctifying every moment of every day? Of course we must set aside some time specifically dedicated to prayer, but all those other times can be directed to the Lord as well.

As we strive to direct our lives towards God, we begin to realize the limitless grace and mercy that is the Lord’s. Despite our past mistakes and current failings, we see that He is boundless, and so can repeat the words of Saint Augustine, “I avow that you have forgiven me all.” For God’s mercy is infinite; all we need to do is to turn back to Him.

These past few chapters have focused on the adolescence of Saint Augustine and the mistakes he made in his life. Next we head into Book III, where he will take us through his time of learning rhetoric and the beginning of his quest for truth, even if at first he was not looking in the right places…

UPDATE: 31 July 2016, 2215

Having just read Pope Francis’ final homily from World Youth Day, I think these words are especially appropriate:

That is our real “stature”, our spiritual identity: we are God’s beloved children, always. So you can see that not to accept ourselves, to live glumly, to be negative, means not to recognize our deepest identity. It is like walking away when God wants to look at me, trying to spoil his dream for me. God loves us the way we are, and no sin, fault or mistake of ours makes him change his mind. As far as Jesus is concerned – as the Gospel shows – no one is unworthy of, or far from, his thoughts. No one is insignificant. He loves all of us with a special love; for him all of us are important: you are important! God counts on you for what you are, not for what you possess. In his eyes the clothes you wear or the kind of cell phone you use are of absolutely no concern. He doesn’t care whether you are stylish or not; he cares about you!  In his eyes, you are precious, and your value is inestimable.

At times in our lives, we aim lower rather than higher. At those times, it is good to realize that God remains faithful, even obstinate, in his love for us. The fact is, he loves us even more than we love ourselves. He believes in us even more than we believe in ourselves. He is always “cheering us on”; he is our biggest fan. He is there for us, waiting with patience and hope, even when we turn in on ourselves and brood over our troubles and past injuries. But such brooding is unworthy of our spiritual stature! It is a kind of virus infecting and blocking everything; it closes doors and prevents us from getting up and starting over.  God, on the other hand, is hopelessly hopeful!  He believes that we can always get up, and he hates to see us glum and gloomy. Because we are always his beloved sons and daughters. Let us be mindful of this at the dawn of each new day.  It will do us good to pray every morning: “Lord, I thank you for loving me; help me to be in love with my own life!” Not with my faults, that need to be corrected, but with life itself, which is a great gift, for it is a time to love and to be loved.

You can read the rest here.


Up next time: the beginning of Book III

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

 

On the Journey: Cast Off Your Old Self

Augustine’s Confessions Book II, Chapters 2-3

I strayed still farther from you and you did not restrain me…For your almighty power is not far from us, even when we are far from you.Confessions II.2

To be Christian is to be in conversion, but that also means that we must recognize our past and God’s presence even in our darkest moments. Here in these two chapters, we find a stark picture of Augustine prior to his conversion to Christianity, seen now through the eyes of Augustine the believer. He recognizes the depths of his depravity and his continued descent into sin and lust, and at the same time recognizes that even though it seemed that God was not present, He was, in fact, always there: “How presumptuous it was for me to say that you were silent, my God, when I drifted farther and farther away from you!” (II.3). Even in the depths of sin, lust, and fornication, Augustine recognizes that God was still present, all at once never impinging on Augustine’s free will, but always waiting for the future bishop to return to His loving embrace.

800px-Hans_Speckaert_-_Conversion_of_St_Paul_on_the_Road_to_Damascus_-_WGA21655

Hans Speckaert (circa 1540–circa 1577) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Before I was baptized, I lived a life typical of many young people bound up in the world. I was also in school part time, but didn’t really apply myself. My existence consisted of living day-to-day, not really caring about those outside of my immediate reality, and sometimes even less.

Despite my continued spiritual quest through the New Age movement, God was essentially not part of my life, but he was certainly still present. I searched for fulfillment in all the wrong places, and like Augustine, “I should have awaited your [God’s] embrace with all the greater joy” (II.2). I found that while He was not a part of my life, I was certainly a part of His; in other words, He was always present, a fact that I can see so clearly now that I can hardly believe that I didn’t see it before.

I never saw him working through my parents. Through my mom’s and dad’s encouragement, or my sister’s willingness to be with her little brother (even when he was annoying). I didn’t see Him in the presence of my grandparents, who did so much to support my sister and myself, particularly my grandmothers, who constantly showered love on both of us and prayed for us every day. I never saw his presence in that of my teachers, who tried to push me beyond my own self-imposed procrastination-laden limits. In short, I was blind to His love present in the actions of others, and I wouldn’t begin to discover it until I was nearly 20 years old.

When we are mired in selfishness and sin, we are blind to God, our neighbors, and ourselves. Sin and vice cut us off from the divine life, and leave us empty, thrown askew into the world, to the point to where sin itself becomes the goal, in order to meet the expectations of the world, rather than seeking the goal that is heaven:

Nothing deserves to be despised more than vice; yet I gave in more and more to vice simply in order not to be despised. If I had not sinned enough to rival other sinners, I used to pretend that I had done things I had not done at all, because I was afraid that innocence would be taken for cowardice and chastity for weakness. (II.3)

But of course, we have hope, so much hope! Following Jesus Christ, we find that God is in fact always present in our lives, no matter what the mistake, misstep, or sin. We may find it difficult to approach His love, especially amidst a world that has, in many cases, confused sin for virtue, vice for love.

Like Augustine, let us begin to move toward God and heed the words of Saint Paul:

Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph. 4.22-24)

Questions for reflection:

  1. Where has sin and vice made me blind to God’s presence in my life?
  2. How has God worked through other people in my life in order to draw me closer to Him?

Up next time: Confessions II.4-5

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

+JMJ+

On the Journey: The Importance of Reflection

Augustine’s Confessions Book II, Chapter 1

For love of your love I shall retrieve myself from the havoc of disruption which tore me to pieces when I turned away from you, whom alone I should have sought, and lost myself instead on many a different quest.Confessions II.1

Mirror

By Cgs (GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Self-reflection is, I think, largely a lost art in today’s world. So often we hear about people going about their daily lives, merely allowing the unrelenting pull of existence to carry them where it will, living without intentionality. We often fail to look at where we have been, and so miss where we might go, where the Lord is leading us, where the Spirit speaks to the still quiet recesses of our hearts. Our lives are filled with noise, and so we fail to hear not only the Lord, but our own inner voices as well, and simply allow ourselves to be swept away.

When I fist entered seminary, I received a it of advice from my mom: from the beginning, keep a journal. She recognized the importance of self-reflection, and encouraged me to develop this skill which, I eventually found, became indispensable in my daily life. The journal has ebbed and waned over the years: sometimes there are consecutive daily entries, and sometimes I may go several weeks without writing anything down. I have tried, however, to keep my mom’s advice, advice that has helped to shape not only my experience in seminary, but to shape so many other aspects of my life as well. Self-reflection, if we hope to grow closer to God and embrace our humanity to its fullest potential, is indispensable.

In his first chapter of book II, Augustine endeavors to show just how indispensable reflection can be. He realized that in order to move forward in his spiritual journey, he needed to look back as well: “I must now carry my thoughts back to the abominable things I did in those days, the sins of the flesh which defiled my soul. I do this, my God, not because I love those sins, but so that I may love you. For love of your love I shall retrace my wicked ways” (Confessions II.1) Here we see two main points regarding self-reflection which must not be forgotten:

  1. While we do indeed turn inward, at its core, reflection isn’t merely something to look back and see how good or bad we are, but it should in fact help us to turn outward toward God, giving Him thanks and asking for His grace and mercy.
  2. Sometimes self-reflection is not a pleasant process; in order to grow, we must accept both the good in our lives as well as those areas in which we have fallen in order to gain a true self-understanding of where we stand before God.

In the end, Saint Augustine did not take on this task because he loved his sinful past, or even to put on a show to display how great a sinner he was, and so how holy he had become after his conversion, but rather he took on the task of self-reflection to grow closer to God. He knew that in order to more fully unite himself to the Holy Trinity, he needed to reflect on the “different quests” of his life, seeing in those moments where God had been the entire time. So, too, can we look at those different quests in our lives, discovering the presence of the Lord in both the smallest moments and biggest breakthroughs, in times of failure, and in times of triumph.

This is the key: in everything we do, we must set as our goal to grow closer to Him, whether it is self-reflection, or daily work, or taking on some new adventure. In this way, we begin to truly “seek the things that are above” (Col. 3.1).

Questions for reflection:

  1. Do I undertake a daily examen, or even journaling,  in order that I may more fully reflect on my life?
  2. How can I live to be more intentional, rather than letting the tides of the daily grind sweep me away?

Up next time: Confessions II.2-3

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

+JMJ+

On the Journey: The Folly of Children

Alas, it’s been about three weeks since my last post. Studying graduate-level theology will do that to ya. Let’s move on in Augustine shall we?

Augustine’s Confessions: Book 1, Chapters 19-21

I was blind to the whirlpool of debasement in which I had been plunged away from the sight of your eyes. For in your eyes, nothing could be more debased than I was then, since I was even troublesome to the people whom I set out to please. –Confessions I.19

When I was a young boy, my mom would often call my sister and me in from playing by a loud whistle. You know the type: forefinger and thumb in the mouth, piercing blow, and heard through the entire neighborhood. When we heard that whistle, we knew it was time to come home.

Dunce

By Unknown engraver [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

But like all children, I didn’t always obey that whistle. In fact, one evening my mom gave the signal and I left my friend’s house but I didn’t go home. I’m not sure why; there certainly wasn’t any reason that I shouldn’t. I simply did not want to go home, and thought that I would stay out a little longer. I was already late, and I saw my mom outside our house down the street looking for me. I immediately hid behind a bush; like all children, I was real sneaky and not at all obvious. Well, what seemed like an eternity passed, and then I saw my mom ride by on her bike with a look of worry across her face. It was in that moment that I knew I was in big trouble. I’m not sure how long I had stayed out, but I knew it had been far too long.

Well, that was the first time I had ever been grounded. It wouldn’t be the last.

My point here is that as kids, we often think we know best, and so it was with Augustine: like many typical children, he wasn’t the bastion of innocence that many people see kids to be: he lied, he cheated, he got away with things, and when he didn’t, he threw temper tantrums (I.19). Augustine did not fully understand the gifts which he had been given in life.

So it is, except in rare and blessed circumstances, with us. We’ve all experienced selfishness. If there is one thing that we have learned reading Augustine thus far, it is that the saints are all human. They made mistakes, they sinned, they at times turned from God. While this may seem like a depressing reality, it should be one that gives us hope.

We have hope because while we draw breath, we can always turn back towards Him. Even when we carry some of these childish behaviors into adult life, when “commanders and kings may take the place of tutors and schoolmasters, nuts and balls and pet birds may give way to money and estates and servants” (I.19), there is always a hope, and a call, to respond to God’s grace and to embrace love. For if there is one defining characteristic of the saints, it is this: when they fell, when they committed sin, when they were turned in towards themselves, they got back up and turned back towards God, and they never stopped striving to live in His love, no matter how difficult it became. Let us too strive for sainthood and follow in Augustine’s footsteps:

“I looked for pleasure, beauty, and truth not in Him but in myself and in His other creatures, and the search led me instead to pain, confusion, and error. My God, in whom is my delight, my glory and my trust, I thank you for your gifts and beg you to preserve and keep them for me. Keep me, too, and so your gifts will grow and reach perfection and I shall be with you myself, for I should not even exist if it were not by your gift.” (I.20)

Questions for reflection:

  1. In what area of my life have I remained selfish, turned inward toward self, rather than outward toward God?
  2. What do I need to do in order to get rid of childish habits (cf. 1 Cor. 13.8-11) and grow more fully in love, both towards God and toward others?

Up next time: we will begin Book II, which goes into more detail regarding Augustine’s younger and teen years. We will go through the next several chapters at a faster pace so as not to get too repetitive, and some of them may be skipped, although the main ideas will still be expressed. That said, even if I don’t post about every chapter, I will be reading them (as should you). Pax.

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

+JMJ+

On the Journey: How have you used your gifts?

Augustine’s Confessions: Book 1, Chapters 17-18

This very day you are ready to rescue from this fearsome abyss any soul that searches for you, any man who says from the depths of his heart, I have eyes only for you; I long Lord, for your presence. -Confessions I.18

We all have gifts. Some of us are writers. Others are singers. Still others are skilled at working with people, while others have an innate ability to solve complex mathematical problems. Some peoples’ gifts reside in the area of interpersonal relations, others are gifted academics, and still others have gifts in their spiritual life and practice. We have all met people with an abundance of gifts, and yet we often overlook our own. We all, however, have our own special unique gifts, given to us by God. How do we use those gifts though?

If I was pressed to give an answer, I would probably consider one of my own gifts being

writing

One of my favorite pastimes – writing. I just wish I had more time to do it (and more opportunities to do it by hand). Own work, copyright 2014.

that of writing. I don’t have any great talent in it, but I enjoy it and it brings contentment, whether I am writing in my own journal, working on an academic paper, or crafting a letter to a close friend. But like most of us who are struggling on this path of holiness, seeking to grow closer to Him, there have certainly been times when I haven’t cherished this gift as I should.

One example comes from my pre-conversion days in high school. I was in the library at lunch with my then-girlfriend and we weren’t doing anything in particular, just hanging out. I then remembered that I had a paper due in English the very next period. I immediately went over to the computer and started typing away. My girlfriend was a bit incredulous I suppose, thinking that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. I then continued on, finishing up the paper just as the bell was ringing. I looked it over once, corrected a couple of things, and prepared to turn it in.

I got an A on the assignment. In fact, it was one of the few I actually turned in – I wasn’t the best student in high school.

My girlfriend was upset and gave me a bad time about the assignment – I basically just popped the paper out right there without really spending time on it.. What’s worse is that I knew I would get an A on it. I don’t even remember what the topic of the paper was, but boy was I arrogant and prideful!

Saint Augustine experiences the same sort of pride in his childhood too: “Let me tell you, my God, how I squandered the brains you gave me on foolish delusions” (I.17). Now granted, the great saint was a much better student than I was, but he still experienced the same issue, an issue that I experienced and that we all experience at one time or another: he was “so much smoke without the fire” (I.17), squandering his gifts, rather than using them to give glory to the Lord.

So what are we to do with these gifts? How do we keep from letting them fall to the wayside, or worse yet, how do we keep from using them for unworthy purposes? After all, too often in our world, we are taught to “get ahead” and “be successful.” This is usually done when we utilize one or another of the gifts God has given us. Why not turn the focus from ourselves and towards God? This doesn’t necessarily mean that every other word out of your mouth has to be religious; it just means that everything we say and do can be oriented toward His glory, whether implicitly or explicitly, so that we do not “waste in dissipation all the wealth” which the Father has given us. This orientation toward the Lord can be as simple as saying a short prayer before undertaking a task,  or as involved as explicitly reflecting on how our actions serve the Lord and serve others. Remember the words of C.S. Lewis: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” So whether your are a singer or a teacher, an administrator or a writer, an astronomer or a florist, a business executive or a stay at home parent, seek out how you can use your gifts to glorify Him.

As Augustine notes in this week’s reading, the Father, the one who gave us these gifts, is there waiting for us, just as the father of the prodigal son waited. All we have to do is turn around and return to Him.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What gifts has God given me whether material, intellectual, relational, or spiritual?
  2. How can I better utilize those gifts to serve Him and those people around me?

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

+JMJ+

On The Journey: Christmas with Augustine

Rather than continue with Augustine’s Confessions this week, I thought I would reflect rather on one of his Christmas sermons.Then I read the selection in this morning Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours and remembered that today’s reading comes from Augustine himself, incidentally from one of his Christmas sermons. I read it, reflected upon it, and once again found it eye-opening and inspiring. Then I thought to myself, rather than post my own ramblings, why not let Augustine speak for himself this week?

And so I leave you with Saint Augustine and his words on the mystery and reality of Christmas. God bless you all, and I hope you have a joyous Christmas!

Awake, mankind! For your sake God has become man. Awake, you who sleep, rise up from the dead, and Christ will enlighten you. I tell you again: for your sake, God became man.

Nativity,_Follower_of_Vasco_Fernandes

Nativity, Vasco Fernandes [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

You would have suffered eternal death, had he not been born in time. Never would you have been freed from sinful flesh, had he not taken on himself the likeness of sinful flesh. You would have suffered everlasting unhappiness, had it not been for this mercy. You would never have returned to life, had he not shared your death. You would have been lost if he had not hastened to your aid. You would have perished, had he not come.

Let us then joyfully celebrate the coming of our salvation and redemption. Let us celebrate the festive day on which he who is the great and eternal day came from the great and endless day of eternity into our own short day of time.

He has become our justice, our sanctification, our redemption, so that, as it is written: Let him who glories glory in the Lord.

Truth, then, has arisen from the earth: Christ who said, I am the Truth, was born of a virgin. And justice looked down from heaven: because believing in this new-born child, man is justified not by himself but by God.

Truth has arisen from the earth: because the Word was made flesh. And justice looked down from heaven: because every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.

Truth has arisen from the earth: flesh from Mary. And justice looked down from heaven: for man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.

Justified by faith, let us be at peace with God: for justice and peace have embraced one another. Through our Lord Jesus Christ: for Truth has arisen from the earth. Through whom we have access to that grace in which we stand, and our boast is in our hope of God’s glory. He does not say: “of our glory,” but of God’s glory: for justice has not proceeded from us but has looked down from heaven. Therefore he who glories, let him glory, not in himself, but in the Lord.

For this reason, when our Lord was born of the Virgin, the message of the angelic voices was: Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.

For how could there be peace on earth unless Truth has arisen from the earth, that is, unless Christ, were born of our flesh? And he is our peace who made the two into one: that we might be men of good will, sweetly linked by the bond of unity.

Let us then rejoice in this grace, so that our glorying may bear witness to our good conscience by which we glory, not in ourselves, but in the Lord. That is why Scripture says: He is my glory, the one who lifts up my head. For what greater grace could God have made to dawn on us than to make his only Son become the son of man, so that a son of man might in his turn become the son of God?

Ask if this were merited; ask for its reason, for its justification, and see whether you will find any other answer but sheer grace

Questions for reflection:

  • Have you been asleep, and if so, how?
  • What do you need to do in order to wake up, to bear witness to the Lord?

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

On the Journey: Bad Grades and Prideful Students

Augustine’s Confessions: Book I, Chapters 13-15

(I will provide a link to an online translation next week; my usual source seems to be down at the moment. Although for my personal use and for these reflections, I am using this translation.)

“O God, You are the Light of my heart, the Bread of my inmost soul, and the Power that weds my mind and the thoughts of my inmost heart.” (I.13)

I've always had my head buried in a book. Especially these books...

I’ve always had my head buried in a book. Especially these books…

When I was in high school, I was a horrible student. OK, in elementary and middle school too… But I just was not interested in the subjects being taught! Instead of learning my multiplication tables, I wanted to study the stars. Instead of learning how to tell the difference between passive and active sentences, I wanted to read Sherlock Holmes. Instead of studying the rise and fall of the Roman Empire from a textbook, I wanted to read first-hand accounts of the people who were there.

How prideful of me!

But as one who used to teach in a classroom, it prepared me for encountering the same difficulties in my own students, and I can certainly identify with the struggles that St. Augustine expresses in this week’s reading: he preferred the great stories over learning the basics of reading, writing, and math. He thought he knew what was best for his education, rather than defer to the wisdom of those who had gone before him.

How often do we think we know what is best without deferring to the such wisdom? I wonder how often that happens when we struggle against God, trying to make manifest our own will instead of his?! Again, there’s that ugly pride popping up again…

This picture says it all. We must get back to basics! Painting by Caravaggio - "Saint Jerome" Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

This picture says it all. We must get back to basics!
Painting by Caravaggio – “Saint Jerome” Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

We are sometimes given tasks that we don’t want to do, especially when we are young. We want to venture out into the world, and yet we forget that we have barely left our front yard. In all things, however, we need to start of with the basics. Whether mathematics, English, science, or history, we have to build upon a firm foundation. This reality is no less true for the spiritual life. We must build a firm foundation first. Even though we may “prefer more empty romances to more valuable studies” (Confessions I.13), that does not mean we can eschew these studies, for even though we may prefer quantum mechanics to 1+1, 1+1 has in itself its own mysteries, and is vital for us in the pursuit of knowledge.

I think, however, that there is a deeper truth that Augustine is trying to express here, namely that we must begin with God first, for He must be our foundation. Whether we are budding astronomers, intrepid historians, or the next great American novelist, all that we do is naught without Him, for it is through Him that we receive our foundation, our bearing, and our purpose. Before all else, we need to focus on our relationship with Him, then everything will fall into place.

In other words, we need to focus on our multiplication facts before moving on to differential calculus.

I think it is best to end with this prayer from the conclusion of Confessions I.15:

“Grant my prayer, O Lord, and do not allow my soul to wilt under the discipline which you prescribe. Let me not tire of thanking you for your mercy in rescuing me from all my wicked ways, so that you may be sweeter to me than all the joys which used to tempt me; so that I may love you most intensely and clasp your hand with all the power of my devotion; so that you may save me from all temptation until the end of my days.”

Amen.

Questions for reflection:

  • Who or what is the foundation in my life? Is it God or is it someone/something else?
  • What can I do to better learn about the Lord and His action in my life?

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey, which travels along with a particular companion in the spiritual life, one of the great saints, in order discover how some of their writings might be applicable to our everyday lives. Currently, we are traveling with Augustine of Hippo through his work, Confessions. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

On the Journey: Childhood

Augustine’s Confessions I.7-12

“You are the one and only mold in which all things are cast and the perfect form which shapes all things and everything takes its place according to your law.” -Confessions I. 7

One of the most profound experiences that one can have, in my opinion, is holding a newborn child in their arms. The beauty and innocence in the eyes of an infant can reach a person to the very soul, putting him or her in touch with the God who created us all, who at one time formed us in the womb so that we might be held by our own fathers and mothers.

The parent of a toddler running around the house may not be so keen on seeing that innocence, and the parent of a teenager may outright deny it!

We are all born in this wonderful state, but then again, we are also human. We are not born perfect, and we will grow to make mistakes, fall, both proverbially and actually, and by God’s grace, we will get up again.

I remember when I was a young child, probably middle elementary school and I was out playing with some friends. I did not want to come home, only because I wanted to play longer, and ignored the calls of my mother. (And when I say calls, I mean verbally, from the front porch. Well, whistles actually. Cell phones weren’t so common then. Man, I feel old all of a sudden…)

This obviously didn’t end well.

From Wikimedia Commons - Unlimited License

From Wikimedia Commons – Unlimited License

She kept calling, and I kept ignoring, and finally it came time that I had to leave my friend’s house so he could eat dinner. I proceeded out his front door, said goodbye, and waited. And hid behind a rather large bush. And waited some more. I mean, I knew I was in for it, so why not, right? I saw my mom ride by on her bicycle, looking frantically for me. I’m not sure how long it had been; it seemed like hours, but it was probably only 15 or 20 minutes. Eventually, I knew I had to make my presence known, and so I stepped out so she could see me.

That was the first time I experienced what it was like to be grounded.

Lord knows it wouldn’t be the last, and that I have probably given my mother and father a fright or two or ten since then!

But my point is this: even at that young age, we struggle with the right thing to do, what choices we make, and this is where we find Augustine in this week’s reading. He recounts what he must have been like as an infant (whiny) and what he was like during his early school years (a brat who didn’t want to concentrate on school work):

“I was disobedient, not because  I had chosen something better than they [my parents] proposed to me, but simply from the love of games…My eyes shone more and more [with curiosity]…[and I] wanted to see the shows and sport which grown-ups enjoyed.” –Confessions I.10

The Carpenter's Shop, by Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Somehow, I don’t think our Lord ever got in trouble… Painting entitled “The Carpenter’s Shop”, by Everett Millais [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Augustine sought to follow his own desires, seeking what he considered the “wealth of this age” (I.9). But even at this point in life, even though he  had a lot of growing up to do, and many more mistakes to make, he still had an inclination of the presence of God, taught  to him by his mother Monica.  At one point, he even pleads with his mom, appealing to her own devotion, “Give me the baptism of Christ your son, who is my God and my master” (I.11).

I wish I was as eloquent as Augustine at that age!

There is a two fold lesson that we can learn from our own lives and from Augustine in all of this. First, we must grow up. Second, we must remain children. Scripture even supports this: in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ tells his followers, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (18.2-4). In one of the Apostle Paul’s letters, he speaks of “put[ting] away childish things” (1 Cor. 13.11).

Of course there is no contradiction here. In one sense, we must strive to return to the humility of childhood, seeing ourselves how God sees us, trying to better ourselves, get aways from the distractions of the “wealth of this world.” We must seek refuge in Him as the Father that He is, accepting the mercy of His Son, allowing the Spirit to penetrate our hearts. At the same time, this movement of child-like faith and humility will cause us to grow up, to see the world how it truly is, to see the emptiness of worldly wealth and to see how His truth and beauty permeates all things. We discover that we can either allow ourselves to be swept away by that beauty, or turn our backs on it as we would a cold wind.

The Father has cast us in His image; let’s rediscover the mold from which He made us as little children.

For reflection:

How can you become more like a child to grow closer to God?

What things do you need to put away in order to grow closer to God?

Up in two weeks: Confessions I.13-15. Normally I try to post weekly, but I am taking this short hiatus to focus on enjoying vacation and studying for finals. There will be other posts on the blog before then, I am sure, but the next one in this series will be on Dec. 9.

This is part of a continuing series, Companions on the Journey. You can take a look at previous posts in the series or read the introduction.

There is One King

As today’s Feast of Christ the King draws to a close, let us remember that in the end, there is only one true King, one Victor. We cannot serve two masters. We must serve the King, our Savior, He who desires to reign in our hearts:

Salvator Mundi

Photo by Toby Hudson CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons

“He is our king. He desires ardently to rule our hearts, because we are children of God. But we should not try to imagine a human sort of rule — Christ does not dominate or seek to impose himself, because he “has not come to be served but to serve.”

His kingdom is one of peace, of joy, of justice. Christ our king does not expect us to spend our time in abstract reasoning; he expects deeds, because “not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord!, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father in heaven shall enter the kingdom of heaven.” -St. Josemaria Escriva

Let us then invite the King into our hearts, preparing the way for Advent, for His coming in the manger, and go out into the world to spread His message of love and truth in word and action. Pax.