Day 34 – Experience and Freedom

034 - experience.pngDay 34 – Experience and Freedom

Augustine knew the emptiness of a libertine’s life. His escapades both in boyhood and young adulthood gave him much to lament on in his maturity about that slavery which paraded itself as freedom. Augustine saw his possibilities as a young man and made his choices, choices that he regretted afterwards realizing how a false notion of human life and God and has led him from one dead end to another. His experience of his own sexuality made him despair of ever possessing himself to a degree that would allow him to make a commitment to marriage. He wanted so much to excel as a rhetoric. But even that was a form of slavery; for in wanting that, he was in fact chained to the expectations of a society that applauded achievements while not minding “the state of one’s soul.”

It should be noted:

  • One grows into freedom. The freedom that is given in Christ must be appropriated in union with love. Growth to Christian maturity is growth in freedom.
  • For the Christian, to be free is to be committed.
  • Egoistic freedom, closed in on itself results in loneliness and the loss of a sense of values. The subject who is free is a person who can grow only within a community. The social aspect of personal freedom cannot be neglected.
  • Freedom is a gift from God.
  • Freedom is authentic when its divine origin is recognized. Since it is from God, one’s freedom should not lead one away from God.
  • Freedom is completed by love. Augustine would say: “Love and do what you will. If you are silent, be silent for love. If you cry out, cry out for love. If you correct, correct for love. If you pardon, pardon for love. Let the root of love be ever there within you. Out of this root, only good can come.”
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Day 33 – The Role of Scriptures

033 - scriptures.pngDay 33 – The Role of Scriptures

The descriptions of prayer that we find in Augustine’s works should not distract us from the idea that prayer is “your speaking with God: when you read (the Scriptures), God speaks to you, when you pray, you speak to God”(In Ps. 86). Christian prayer is a dialogue with God; it is a “speaking with” Him who is revealed in the Sacred Scriptures. In fact, the reading of Scriptures educates the Christian on how to relate with God: forming in him the right concept of God, teaching him His ways among His people, and instructing him in the proper way to speak to Him.

 

Father Agostino Trape describes the Augustinian way of reading the Scriptures in the following way: (I)t is not only reading which could be called a superficial activity, it is not only that study which is only an intellectual activity, not only that meditation which can be reduced to simple internal introspection…but also and above all, it is a combination of listening and dialogue. It involves listening in faith and docile obedience to Him who is present in man and speaks to him, and reveals his love to him and invites him to respond in love…In this listening-dialogue, which is the most beautiful and fruitful form of meditation, prayer takes on, equally spontaneously, the highest forms of contemplation which are, … wonder, admiration, gratitude, adoration, praise, expectation that faith will be replaced by vision and that the divine word of the Scripture, which sounds in time, will give way to the Word which sounds in eternity; which sounds, not through the mediation of signs and creatures, but by itself, immediately “Worded” prayers have their proper place in Augustine’s understanding of prayer as “speaking with God.”

 

The prayers of thanksgiving, adoration, praise, supplication and petition that we use in liturgical, para-liturgical rites and in our devotional practices have value only when the words used are in harmony with the desire of the heart. Augustine gives us this rule in prayer: “When you pray to God in psalms and songs, the words spoken by your lips should also be alive in your hearts.” In this way, our speaking with God becomes an expression of our desire for Him who alone is to be enjoyed and loved.

Day 32 – Prayer

032 - prayer.pngDay 32 – Prayer

It is not possible to synthesize all that Augustine thinks of prayer in just a few paragraphs. Augustine’s concept of prayer does not substantially differ from the one which Catholic doctrine teaches us. However, Augustine does say certain things about prayer which need to be pointed out. For Augustine, prayer is not an imposed ritual “to be carried out daily from a sense of obligation. Rather, it is the breath of the soul, the spontaneous expression of his faith, hope and love in which he shakes off the limits placed on him by time and duties to enjoy the liberating embrace of the God who dwells in the most intimate core of his being.” Prayer, therefore, is not some kind of extra duty imposed upon a person; rather, it is as natural and necessary as breathing. Its necessity derives from the fact that man is indigens Deo, a being-in-need-of-God. Or to put it bluntly: to be human is to pray. Hence, the Apostle himself urges the disciples to pray “without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

 

Augustine explains it this way: Your desire is your prayer; if your desire is continuous, so too is your prayer. For the Apostle did not speak in vain when he said: Pray without interruption. Is it that we should always be genuflecting, always prostrating, always raising up our hands to fulfill the command to pray without interruption? If this is what we understand praying to be, I do not believe that we can pray without interruption. There is however another prayer, an interior prayer that knows no interruption, and that prayer is your desire. Whatever you are doing, if you desire that Sabbath, you never cease to pray. If you do not wish ever to interrupt your prayer, never cease to desire. Your continuous desire will be your continuous voice. It will grow silent if you cease to love.

 

“Your prayer is your desire.” Desire, of course, is that rightly ordered love. Augustine is deeply convinced of what the Apostle teaches: We do not know what we ought to pray for but the Spirit Himself pleads on our behalf with groans that are inexpressible in words. Indeed, when we truly pray, it is the Spirit who moves us in prayer: “The Holy Spirit, then” Augustine writes, “urges the saints to pray with sighs too deep for words inspiring in them the desire for a good so great that it is as yet unknown but for which we wait on in hope. It is the same Spirit whom God has poured into our hearts, empowering us to love rightly and to delight in God: He has given us Himself as the object to be loved, and He has given us the resources for loving Him. Hear from the Apostle Paul in a more explicit way what God has given us so as to empower us to love Him: The love of God is poured into our hearts. How does this happen? Relying perhaps on our own resources? No! How then? Through the action of the Holy Spirit whom He has given us.37 Prayer then is like breathing, a groaning from the depths of one’s being; Augustine also describes it as a cry: “Prayer is a cry that one raises to the Lord.” (Sermon 29, 1)

Day 31 – Friendship

031 - friendship.pngDay 31 – Friendship

Our Augustinian life of fraternity and community leads us to the careful cultivation of the values of friendship. Friendship begets and nourishes loyalty, trust, sincerity and mutual understanding. It joins us together in Christ, for God fastens us in friendship by means of the love poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The idea of friendship evolved in the mind of Augustine. It is in the Confessions where he gives us a formulation that is mature and elevated: “No friends are true friends unless you, my God, bind them fast to one another through that love which is sown in our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom you give.” (Conf. IV,4) Here, Augustine christianizes the idea of friendship.

 

When he calls it ‘true’ he meant that any other type of friendship is criminal, frivolous or remains in the natural order and therefore is empty and false. For him, that friendship alone which is true is that friendship which God grants to those who love each other in Him. He considers it as a gift from God. This is the heart of the Augustinian concept of friendship and its grand novelty: God alone unites two persons. In other words, friendship is not under the control of man; it is a gift of grace.

Day 30 – Intellectual

030 - intellectual.pngDay 30 – Intellectual

Augustinian spirituality is by nature intellectual. Augustine deeply thought about, widely borrowed from, and fundamentally transformed the pagan intellectual heritage in its most comprehensive result. His is not spirituality as opposed to critical thought, but living in that very element. This is so much specifically the character of his thought that from it emerges Modern western enlightenment and secularity

Day 29 – Augustinian idea of leadership

029 - aug leadership.pngDay 29 – Augustinian idea of leadership

There are three ideas in elaborating the Augustinian idea of leadership:

(a) The Leader is a Companion;

(b) The Leader is an Animator;

(c) Leadership is a Burden of Love.

 

The Leader is a Companion.

Augustine insists on this idea when he refers to his office of bishop. The one who presides must stay at the side. He is not one who stands at the front, separated from the rest; rather, he is at the side as a companion in the journey in Deum. The Leader is an Animator. The Leader is not like the General of an army who merely gives orders. After all, in Augustine’s mind, the only General is Christ Himself whose command should be taken seriously.

 

The Leader is more of an “animator” – one who “livens things up.”

Augustine describes the duties of the leader as follows: (a) To be an example to all in good works; (b) To reprimand those who neglect their work; (c) To give courage to those who are disheartened, to support the weak and to be patient with everyone ; (d) To lead the others to respect the norms of the community. The Leader then is one who, by his life of service, encourages the rest of the community towards their goals and objectives “with one heart and one mind intent upon God.

 

Leadership is a Burden of Love.

In an Augustinian community, Leadership is more of a burden rather than an honour. It is not an added dignity conferred on someone, but a trust that comes from the esteem of one’s companions. It is a burden of love precisely because the office should be an assurance that the community becomes the place where the commandments of love are fulfilled and realized by each of the members. And it is a burden precisely because the Leader will be accountable to God who has created the community which he is called to serve.

Day 28 – Leadership

028 - leadership.pngDay 28 – Leadership

The idea of “leadership” is derived from the social sciences. Leadership is one of the elements that shape the life of a society. Jesus gave it a new meaning; to the disciples, he said: “You know that among the pagans the rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave, just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:25-28/ Mk. 10:42-45 ; Lk. 22:25-27)

 

Augustine conceived of leadership in his community in much the same way. In his Rule, the leader is described in the following words: The one in-charge of you must not think himself fortunate in having power to lord it over you (Luke 22:25-26), but in the love with which he shall serve you (Gal. 5:13). Because of your esteem for him he shall preside over you; because of his responsibility to God he shall realize that he is the very least of all the brothers. Let him show himself an example to all in good works (Tit. 2:7); he is to reprimand those who neglect their work, to give courage to those who are disheartened, to support the weak and to be patient with everyone (1 Thess. 5:14). He should himself observe the norms of the community and so lead others to respect them too. And let him strive to be loved by you rather than to be feared, although both love and respect are necessary. He should always remember that he is responsible to God for you. (Heb. 13:17)

Day 27 – Work

027 - work.pngDay 27 – Work

Within the context of service, human work assumes a different meaning. The Augustinians explain their perception of work in the following way: In harmony with Augustine’s thinking, we look upon work as important, as something that is an expression of one’s human nature and person. We do not view it as a burden or simply a means of sustenance, but as cooperation with the Creator in shaping the world and serving the human community. We strive to be competent in our particular skill or profession, and to deal fairly and kindly with both employers and employees. We are conscious of our civic duty and we try to live according to the social virtues of honesty, sense of justice, sincerity, integrity, courtesy and so on, because these things pertain to an authentic Christian life (cf. AA 4).

 

We want every action of our public life to be consistent with our faith. Our commitment to the human and ecclesial communities ought to be visible in our generous service to both, as we carry out our duties and pursue our efforts “with greater care and cheerfulness than if each one were working for himself…”

Day 26 – Service is love in action

026 - service.pngDay 26 – Service is love in action

It is not the “service” offered in gas stations for the customers. This latter refers to the added attention given to those who patronizes one’s products. This kind of “service” is offered in the hope that customers keep coming and sales do not diminish. Augustinian service is explained by T. van Bavel thus:

As far as material provisions are concerned, a person ought not in the first place to be concerned about himself, but about the other… If a person looks after himself only, he utterly disregards the basic law of life in community, that is, love. Augustine supports this position with several references to Paul’s hymn in praise of love. “Love is not self-seeking” (1 Cor. 13:5), in other words, it is not love’s aim to serve only its own interests… Moreover, “the way of love is exalted above all other ways.” (1 Cor. 12:31) Thus our temporal care for others is given an eternal value, for love is the enduring element in the alleviation of human needs on earth. The needs of human beings are transitory; either they will be alleviated in this life or they will come to an end with death.

To serve others, therefore, is to live life in the dimension of gift, a project that one lives out in utter gratuity because conscious that life itself has been gratuitously received. “Service” is the dynamic and temporal manifestation of “community.” It is, as the old preachers would say, “the horizontal dimension of charity.”

Day 25 – Common Good

025 - common good.png

Day 25 – Common Good

“Sharing of goods” is the same as “working for the common good.” By working for the common good, the Augustinian performs his/her duties as service to the Church and to humanity. Rule 7, 2 of the Augustinian rule states: “The degree to which you are concerned for the common good (rem communem) rather than for your own, is the criterion by which you can judge how much progress you have made.” This passage synthesizes Augustine’s conviction regarding personal growth in Christian love.

It appears in a context wherein Augustine gives the guidelines for day-to-day life in community, a life characterized by mutual service. Thus, there is the importance of the social dimension in Augustine’s thought. Since human life is social by nature, the development of a person cannot be separated from its social context. The same applies to the new life of the believer in Christ. The new man that is born from the waters of baptism lives the commandment of love. This life of love is verified in one’s service to the brothers and sisters in the community. Within this context, one’s progress in love is directly proportional to the intensity of one’s concern for the common good. The common good is “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals to reach their fulfilment more fully and more easily.”

It possesses three essential elements: (a) the respect for the person as such; (b) the social well-being and development of the group to which the person belongs; and (c) peace which is the stability and security of the just order. The common good is graphically illustrated in the Lucan description of the Jerusalem community: The community of believers was of one heart and one mind and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common… There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale and put them at the feet of the apostles and they were distributed to each according to need.

This ideal was first lived by Augustine as a lay man with his friends in Tagaste, before he made it the ideal for the monasteries he founded. The memory of Augustine the layman living with his friends according to the “rule of the apostles” have led Augustinian lay seculars to declare: Augustinian community consciousness urges us to do whatever we can to make the ideal of the primitive community of Jerusalem an inspirational force in both the ecclesial and the human communities, so that sharing of goods may be the sign and sacrament of unity of hearts and everyone may have what he requires, thus leaving no one in need. Augustinian spirituality requires us to promote a fraternal distribution of goods which will show that we all believe ourselves to be friends and brothers in Jesus Christ under the fatherhood of God.