Wednesday, January 16, 2008

St. Augustine - Part 2

Continuing the catechesis he began last week on the subject of St. Augustine, in today's general audience, held in the Paul VI Hall, the Pope considered the final years in the life of that Doctor of the Church.

The Holy Father highlighted how, four years before his death, St. Augustine had appointed a successor, Heraclius, as bishop of Hippo, because he "wished to dedicate the years that remained to him to a more profound study of Holy Scripture".

"What followed were four years of extraordinary intellectual activity" during which time the saint also "intervened to promote peace in the African provinces which were being assailed by barbarian tribes from the south", said the Pope. He then quoted St. Augustine's own words - "it is a higher glory to stay war itself with a word, than to slay men with the sword, and to procure or maintain peace by peace, not by war" - and highlighted how the siege of Hippo by the Vandals in 429 brought great suffering to the saint.

"Though he was old and tired, Augustine remained at the breach, comforting himself and others with prayer and meditation on the mysterious designs of Providence. ... If, indeed, the world grows old, Christ is ever young, and so I invite you: 'Do not refuse to be rejuvenated with Christ, Who tells you not to fear as 'your youth will be renewed like that of the eagle'," said Pope Benedict quoting from the sermons of Augustine. "Hence Christians must not be dejected but make every effort to help those in need", he added.

After recalling how "Augustine's house-monastery used to open its doors to welcome his colleagues in the episcopate who came asking for hospitality", the Holy Father noted that the Doctor of the Church, finally free of commitments, took advantage of his time "to dedicate himself with greater intensity to prayer. He used to say that no-one, bishop, religious or lay person, however irreproachable their behaviour, could face death without adequate penance, and it was for this reason that he continually and tearfully repeated the penitential psalms which he had so often recited with his people".

The bishop of Hippo died on 28 August 430, said the Pope, "at some uncertain date his body was transferred to Sardinia and thence, around 725, to the basilica of San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro in Pavia, where it rests today".

"We discover him 'living' in his writings", said Pope Benedict. "When I read the works of St. Augustine, I do not get the impression that here is a man who died more or less 1600 years ago, rather that he is man of today, a friend, a contemporary who speaks to me, to us, with his fresh and topical faith".

In the saint's works, "we see the permanent relevance of his faith, of the faith that comes from Christ, the eternal Word incarnate, Son of God and Son of man. And we see", the Holy Father concluded, "that this is not yesterday's faith, even though it was preached yesterday, it is today's because Christ really is - yesterday, today and forever - the Way, the Truth and the Life. Thus St. Augustine encourages us to entrust ourselves to this ever-living Christ and so find the path of life".

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