As we celebrate the 21st Sunday in the season of the Ordinary Time of the Year, we hear again a challenging and difficult message from the Lord Jesus. We are reminded that we have the power to turn down the Lord’s invitation to experience life at its fullest. We have the power to say “no” or “not yet” to the God of life. Being a disciple of the Lord Jesus challenges us to make choices that lead to the kingdom. And at times, these choices may require a great effort and come with a price. The good news is that we already know what God desires for us and that God will do everything possible to help us make the right and appropriate choices. As difficult as things may appear, God is clearly on our side.
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.
Next Saturday, August 27th, we will celebrate the feast of a great saint in our church, St. Monica. Since her non-Christian husband had no interest in a life of faith, Monica struggled to raise and educate her son, Augustine, 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 Augustine’s 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. St. Augustine’s feast is normally celebrated on the day following St. Monica, August 28th.
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.” That thought has echoed within many of our hearts as we struggled with the search for a true direction in our lives. 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, Monica. 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 wanting a better life for their children than they experienced and 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.
I have personally seen this year after year in our Confirmation program. We are just now beginning the Confirmation interviews with the candidates for our November celebration of Confirmation. When I meet individually with a candidate and sponsor, I speak of the importance of community prayer in the life of Jesus, and the importance of Sunday Mass in our lives as disciples of Jesus. Candidate after candidate assures me during their interview of their intention to continue the practice of Sunday Mass after they are Confirmed. Yet experience proves otherwise. Those who are not regularly coming to Sunday Mass before Confirmation continue that habit after Confirmation. They disappear. But those who are regularly here with us every Sunday with their families before Confirmation continue to regularly pray with us every Sunday after Confirmation. They have the steady and faithful example of their parents in the importance of Sunday Mass in their lives. And like Monica, they “walk the walk” in living the values and principles of Jesus in their lives. Monica, and her son Augustine, continue to inspire us by their lives and support us with their prayers.
Many of our college students have already returned to their campuses. Most of our area high schools have already begun classes for the year. Our parish Grade School welcomes our students 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