Today we celebrate the 21st Sunday in the season of the Ordinary Time of the Year and we conclude our 5-week Gospel reading of the great Bread of Life discourse in John Chapter 6. We resume our chronological reading of St. Mark’s gospel next week. But for now, we end on a mixed note. We are told that some of Jesus’ disciples are dismayed, even border on unbelief, at his references to eating and drinking his flesh and his blood. They find his words hard and are not able to accept them. So they leave him and return to their former ways of life. We can feel Jesus’ disappointment as he poses the question to the Twelve: “Do you also want to leave?” Peter rises to the occasion. We see him at his best as he responds for the Twelve, and for us: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” Even though Peter would fail again and again before his final profession of faith by his death, he helps us understand that our relationship with Jesus gives us much more than we realize.
I mentioned a few weeks ago that one of the unique traits of our Catholic Christian faith tradition is our belief in the “communion of the saints.” We specifically celebrate this belief on November 1st with the Feast of All Saints. The saints are those heroes of our faith whom we look to for encouragement, those who refused to let their lives or personalities be stunted by the circumstances of the world around them. To neglect the saints is to miss some of the excitement of knowing God.
This week we celebrate the feasts of two great saints in our church – saints who were related to each other. Friday, August 28th is the feast of St. Augustine. Thursday, August 27th is the feast of his mother, St. Monica. Since Monica’s non-Christian husband had no interest in a life of faith, she struggled to raise and educate her son as a Christian. Augustine had a sharp mind and a passion for learning. The secular honors that went with learning attracted him early on and he resisted taking the Christian way of life seriously. While he studied at Carthage, he lived a wild and secular life, living with a woman who bore him a son. His intelligence and thirst for truth eventually led him to Milan and the company of St. Ambrose. It was there that his remarkable conversion took place. Not only was he baptized into the Christian faith, but he was also ordained a priest and later became bishop of Hippo, North Africa. Once the light of faith illuminated his mind and transformed his life, Augustine directed his passion for learning into studying the mysteries of faith and teaching what he had learned. He remains to this day a classical thinker and teacher of Christian truth, and is revered as a Doctor of the Church.
Augustine was both a philosopher and a theologian. He wrote extensively. One of his better known books is his Confessions. There he writes about his own personal restlessness and struggles that led him to a great realization: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Sounds a lot like Peter’s profession of faith in today’s Gospel! Many of us can readily identify with Augustine’s profound statement of faith. Our restless moments are invitations from God and lead us to God!
Behind the conversion of Augustine was the influence of his mother. She followed his intellectual career with genuine pride, unhappy only that he had wandered from God into immoral living. She prayed for him constantly, as a mother would. Initially she had hoped that a good marriage would change his life and settle him down. But God answered her prayers in ways far beyond her hopes and dreams. Today she is the patron saint of troubled parents.
Today many parents are drawn to the life and story of St. Monica. Parents constantly struggle with the issue of passing on their faith to their children. It is very natural for us to desire that our children adopt the values and principles of life that provide direction and meaning in our own lives. Monica gives us a very powerful example of a parent who prayed ceaselessly for her child. But I suspect that it was not only her prayers that helped in Augustine’s conversion, but also her example. It is on thing to “talk the talk” and a totally different matter to “walk the walk.” While our words are important, people notice what we do far more than listen to what we say. The steady and consistent witness of quietly living the values of our faith and regularly joining with the community at Sunday Mass is a much stronger invitation to embrace a life of faith than even the most eloquent words we can come up with.
We are making our final preparations for our St. Isidore Parish Kairos 12. It will be held in just two weeks over the Labor Day holiday at the Carmelite Spiritual Center in Darien. It is open to any of our high school juniors and seniors. Registrations for this retreat are due this week! If anyone is considering this retreat, please call the Faith Formation Office on Monday morning to secure a place on the retreat. If anyone is sitting on the fence, decide to go now and get your reservation in to the parish office. This is an opportunity not to be missed. Our next Kairos retreat will be offered over Presidents’ Day weekend in February.
Many of our college students have already returned to their campuses. Our area high schools began classes last week. Our parish Grade School welcomes our students back this Wednesday. I’ll celebrate the opening School Mass with them in the Church at 10:00am. A new season is upon us!
May God continue to bless us with all that we need, and more.
Father Jim Murphy