Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time: By Hope We Are Saved
I spend a lot of time watching TV, probably way too much time. I like sports, so I see a lot of baseball, Rays and Yankees, and I see everything that has to do with the Bucs, even looking at recordings of games I go to. I have certain shows that I like, many of them some form of mysteries, others some relaxing sitcoms. And then there is Netflix.
But I know that when the Emmys come around I’m going to be disappointed, as I usually am when the Oscars or Tony’s are announced. It is not just that the shows I like are usually overlooked, it is that the award programs seem to be intent on promoting an immoral value system, treating all sorts of really sick behavior as normal and mocking all who would disagree. The irreligious and immoral of our society have had great success in convincing many people that there is a new normal, one that accepts what any committed Christian recognizes is unacceptable.
This aspect of the world was not all that different back in the days of St. Augustine, whose feast we celebrated last Monday. I want to spend some time today considering Augustine’s life and his Confessions. His life and his most famous work flow from today’s readings and relate to us. Like us, Augustine was surrounded by a society of so-called intellectuals that told him immorality was normal and acceptable.
St. Augustine was born in 354 AD in Tagaste, then part of the North African territory of the Roman Empire, now Algeria. He was intelligent, very intelligent, perhaps one of the most intelligent people ever. Like some of the intellectuals of our time, he sought justification for immorality within his own life and the lives of his friends. He sought happiness in physical satisfaction. He got a girl pregnant, and then dumped her after the baby was born. She was only the first of many women in his life. He sought happiness in intellectual endeavors, flirting with various forms of paganism. He finally realized that truth could only be found in the Church, but he did not want to sacrifice his pleasures in order to live as a Christian. But like Jeremiah in the first reading, there was fire burning in his heart. He had to listen to the voice of God in his conscience.
Responding to God’s call would not be easy for Augustine. He had to struggle to fight off his selfishness, particularly in the area of sexuality. He had to humble himself to recognize that his intellect was inferior to Divine Knowledge. “You duped me Lord, and I was duped,” Jeremiah complained. Augustine would have said the same thing, “You called me Lord to you. I thought this would be easy. But the path is difficult.” We would agree. We would say, “It is so hard to serve you Lord in a world where we are mocked for standing for the sacredness of marriage, for the dignity of the person, for respecting the body. To Augustine and to us, Jesus says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” “Don’t be conformed to this world,” Paul writes in our second reading. “Instead, be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you might discern what God’s will is.”
St. Augustine wrote a long prayer to God about his life. We call this book his Confessions. The Confessions of St. Augustine is more than his autobiography. It is a guide for us to understand the gifts offered to us by Grace. It is so easy to be a passive audience, reading what Augustine went through. It is challenging for us to understand that his journey was no different than ours.
You know The Confessions, or at least have heard some quotes from it. Perhaps, you know that Augustine’s theme is found in the first pages of his book. “Our hearts are made for you, O God, and shall not rest until they rest in you.” Nothing that we seek in this world can bring us lasting happiness. All pleasure is fleeting. We spend our lives seeking happiness. But like Augustine, we often look for it in the wrong places. Our hearts, our love, comes from God. Our search for happiness, for love, our hearts, will not be satisfied until they are fully united to God.
Towards the end of the Confessions, Augustine wrote something that is often overlooked. He wrote, “In hope we are saved.” Our hope is in God. We long for union with Him; and we trust that this union will be ours. We have a slight taste of this gift when we recognize the joy of His Presence in our lives. We look forward to being completely immersed with His Presence. That is why we cannot let anything deter us from the object of our hope. “He loves you too little who loves along with you anything else that he does not love for your sake,” he wrote. We can’t have it both ways. We cannot be both Christian and pagan. We can’t be moral in some areas and immoral in others. We can’t love God if we love that which is opposed to all that is good, all that is true, all that is beautiful. We do know how to love for the sake of God. You strive to do this in your marriages and families. I strive to do this in my priesthood. Your wives, your husbands, your children, my priesthood, my parish, the poor, the sick, the marginalized, and so on and so forth, all these we love these because others are given to us to draw us closer to God.
Listen now to Augustine’s beautiful poem summing the Confessions of his life and perhaps so much of our lives:
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”
St. Augustine expresses the deep desire within every one of us. We also have tasted the Lord, and now we long for more. And it’s there for us. More is there for us. God is there for us. God is here for us.
But we need courage. We need courage to step away from the allurements of the world. We need courage to divorce ourselves from the immorality that the intellectual fools of our society promote as normal. We need courage to fight against anything that can douse the fire of Love the Lord has kindled within each of us.
And so, we come to Church today, and we pray, “Lord, transform us into your people.”