Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pope: Augustine Is Model of Humility

Says His Conversion Lasted Until He Died

VATICAN CITY, FEB. 26, 2008 ( In his final reflection on St. Augustine, Benedict XVI spoke of the saint's interior conversion, calling it "one of the greatest" in Christian history.

The Pope affirmed this today during the general audience given in Paul VI Hall. He recalled how his trip last year to pay homage to the mortal remains of Augustine was meant to "demonstrate the admiration and reverence of the entire Catholic Church toward St. Augustine, and my own personal devotion and recognition of a figure with whom I feel I have close ties to due to the part he has played in my theological life, in my life as a priest and a pastor."

Recalling Augustine's own retelling of his conversion in the "Confessions," the Holy Father said that the process is best "described as a journey that remains a true example for each one of us." It was a journey that "continued with humility until the end of his life."

"We can state that all the stages of his life -- and we can easily distinguish three phases -- together make up a single long conversion," the Pontiff explained.

Truth seeking

Benedict XVI characterized the first phase as a "gradual approach to Christianity," since Augustine was a "passionate seeker of the truth."

He explained: "Philosophy, and especially Platonic philosophy, led him closer to Christ by revealing to him the existence of the Logos, or creative reason. The books of the philosophers showed him the existence of 'reason' from which the whole world is derived, but did not tell him how to reach this Logos, which seemed so inaccessible.

"It was only through reading the letters of St. Paul, in the faith of the Catholic Church, that he came to a fuller understanding. […] His eyes fell on the passage of the Letter to the Romans, in which the apostle urges the abandonment of the pleasures of the flesh in favor of Christ. He understood that those words were specifically meant for him. They came from God, through the Apostle, and showed him what he had to do in that moment."

Augustine thus began to seek God, the Pope explained, "the great and inaccessible."

"His faith in Christ made him understand that God, seemingly so distant, was in truth not distant at all. In fact he has come near us, becoming one of us," the Holy Father said. "In this sense his faith in Christ allowed Augustine to accomplish his long search for truth. Only a God who made himself 'touchable,' one of us, was a God to whom one could pray, for whom and with whom one could live."


Benedict XVI said a last step, or "third conversion" in the journey, "led [Augustine] to ask God for forgiveness every day of his life."

The Pope explained: "At first he thought that once christened, in a life in communion with Christ, in the sacraments, and in the celebration of the Eucharist, he would attain a life as proposed in the Sermon on the Mount, which is one of perfection given through baptism and confirmed in the Eucharist.

"In the latter period of his life he understood that what he had said in his first homilies on the Sermon on the Mount -- that we as Christians permanently live this ideal life -- was a mistake. Only Christ himself realizes truly and completely the Sermon on the Mount. We always need to be cleansed by Christ, who washes our feet, and be renewed by him.

"We need a permanent conversion. Up to the end we need to demonstrate a humility that acknowledges that we are sinners on a journey, until the Lord gives us his hand and leads us to eternal life. It is with this attitude of humility that Augustine lived out his final days until his death."

A model

The Holy Father said that Augustine, once "converted to Christ, who is truth and love," became a model for every human being, "for all of us in search of God."

"Today, as then," the Pontiff said, "mankind needs to know and to live this fundamental reality: God is love and meeting him is the only answer to the fears of the human heart.

"In a beautiful text St. Augustine defines prayer as an expression of desire, and affirms that God answers by moving our hearts closer to him. For our part we should purify our desires and our hopes in order to receive God's gentleness."

"In fact," the Holy Father concluded, "this alone -- opening ourselves up to others -- can save us."

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