Thursday, 10 May 2007

The right direction.

St Augustine is one of the greatest bishops of the Church ever to have lived, he is also one of the greatest Chrstian personalities (he shows us an interior life deeply marked by a Christian character) ever to have lived. We tend to think of the conversion of St Augustine as the defining event of his life, but as a priest and a bishop we don't tend to think of his life as a journey of conversion right up to his death on 28th August 430.
Last Sunday the Holy Father, while visiting the Italian city of Pavia, where St Augustine's relics are venerated, spoke of the three decisive conversions of this saint.

His first conversion was "the inner march towards Christianity, towards the "yes" of the faith and of baptism." "He desired to find the life that was right and not merely to live blindly, without meaning or purpose." He accepted the humility of faith "which lays down its self-important pride and bows on entering the community of Christ's Body." This is the conversion we remember him for when he gave up his pagan roots and became a follower of Christ. The Holy Father goes on to speak about further huge conversions in his life after being baptised and ordained to the Priesthood.

As a newly baptised Christian, Augustine had wanted to lead a contemplative life and dedicate himself to meditation in solitude. But the people of Hippo forced him to become a priest in order to serve the city of Hippo. Now he had "to live with Christ for everyone. He had to express his sublime knowledge and thoughts in the thoughts and language of the simple people of the city. The great philosophical work of an entire lifetime, of which he had dreamed, was to remain unwritten." "Instead, we have been given something far more precious: the Gospel translated into the language of everyday life and of his sufferings." As a priest he underwent this second profund conversion: "to be available to everyone, time and again, to lay down his life for Christ so that others might find him, true Life." This second conversion was a particularly telling conversion for a priest to undergo. But this is not all ...
A third conversion happened after twenty years as a priest. At this time Augustine wrote his Retractions "in which he critically reviewed all the works he had thus far written." "Augustine had learned a further degree of humility - not only the humility of integrating his great thought into the humble faith of the Church, not only the humility of translating his great knowledge into the simplicity of announcment, but also the humility of recognising that he himself and the entire pilgrim Church needed and continually need the merciful goodness of a God who forgives everyday."
The way forward is not always clear, whether you are bishop, priest or layperson, but conversion is always the right direction.
St Augustine of Hippo, pray for us today.

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