Cradle Catholics haven’t done enough to show people that God exists and can bring true fulfillment to everyone, Pope Benedict XVI told a group of his former students. “We, who have been able to know (Christ) since our youth, may we ask forgiveness because we bring so little of the light of his face to people; so little certainty comes from us that he exists, he’s present and he is the greatness that everyone is waiting for,” the pope said. The pope presided at a Mass Aug. 28 in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome, during his annual meeting with students who did their doctorates with him when he was a professor in Germany. Austrian Card. Christoph Schonborn of Vienna, a regular participant in the Ratzinger Schulerkreis (Ratzinger student circle), gave the homily at the Mass, but the pope made remarks at the beginning of the liturgy. The Vatican released the text of the pope’s remarks Aug. 29. Pope Benedict highlighted the day’s reading in Psalm 63 in which the soul thirsts for God “in a land parched, lifeless and without water. He asked God to show himself to today’s world, which is marked by God’s absence and where “the land of souls is arid and dry, and people still don’t know where the living water comes from.” ©CNS
Just four days after arriving in Rome, the new seminarians at the Pontifical North American College had their first glimpse of Pope Benedict XVI. The 76 new men from 52 different dioceses–four Australian dioceses, one Canadian and 47 US dioceses–joined 2,000 other pilgrims in the courtyard of the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo for the recitation of the Angelus Aug. 28. The North American College is sponsored by the US bishops. Students live at the college and receive spiritual and pastoral training there while attending one of the pontifical universities in Rome. After reciting the Marian prayer, the pope singled out the students for a special greeting. “Dear seminarians, do not be afraid to take up the challenge in today’s Gospel to give your lives completely to Christ. Indeed, may all of us be generous in our commitment to him, carrying our cross with faith and courage,” he said. In his main audience talk, the pope spoke about the Gospel story of Peter insisting that Jesus should not have to suffer and die, and Jesus rebuking him, “Get behind me, Satan.” Jesus told Peter, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do,” and he told him that being a disciple means taking up the cross and following him. ©CNS
On Aug. 28, the Catholic Church celebrated the life of St. Augustine of Hippo, the North African educator who became one of history’s greatest teachers of the faith after his dramatic conversion.
The story of Augustine’s upbringing and conversion is well-known to many through his autobiographical “Confessions.” In that work, Augustine recounts his birth in 354 to his pagan father, Patricius, and Catholic mother, Monica–later St. Monica–in the city of Tagaste. His parents’ difficult marriage included a dispute over whether to baptize their children.
Augustine was nearly baptized during a childhood illness, but his father withdrew permission when he recovered. During his adolescence, Monica’s Christian influence over her son’s life began to wane, giving way to the self-interested pursuit of a secular education and career as well as social acceptance and romantic love.
At age 16, Augustine traveled to Carthage to continue his education in rhetoric. There, the young student indulged the desires of his heart and flesh, though he later admitted that this way of life brought him pain and torment along with its pleasure and satisfaction. He was, as he later wrote, “scourged with the burning iron rods of jealousy, suspicion, fear, anger, and strife.”
In 371, Augustine’s father became a Catholic and received baptism. In his search for stability and meaning, however, Augustine became an adherent of the Manichaean religion. His entry into this sect, which regarded matter as evil and promoted “liberation” from the physical world, caused his mother intense grief. So, too, did Augustine’s fathering of an illegitimate child.
Haunted by questions about the nature of good and evil, Augustine became disillusioned with Manichaeism. He turned to the later followers of Plato, whose concept of God agreed in some areas with Catholic doctrine. Augustine also turned his ear to the preaching of St. Ambrose of Milan, whose sermons removed some of his difficulties in believing the Bible.
As a professor of the liberal arts, Augustine appreciated these intellectual arguments for God’s existence and Church teaching. Ultimately, however, his decision to be baptized would require a deeper conversion of his heart and will. This occurred in 386 when, at age 33, he tearfully agreed to abandon his personal vices and enter the Church.
Bishop of Hippo
The intellectually restless convert received baptism from St. Ambrose on Easter of 387, shortly before the death of his holy and beloved mother Monica. Having abandoned his academic career and sold his possessions, Augustine soon began his work as a Catholic apologist and theologian. Not long after, a group of local believers persuaded him to enter the priesthood, which he did in 391.
From 396 until his death, Augustine served as the Bishop of Hippo in North Africa. He led a religious order of men who lived in apostolic poverty without personal possessions. He also led the local Church through challenging times that included the breakdown of Roman imperial authority and widespread confusion about basic Catholic beliefs.
As a bishop, Augustine presented the faith in a compelling and intelligent manner, while warning his flock–both verbally and in writing–about the danger of different heresies. These errors included Arianism, the denial that Jesus is God; Donatism, the belief that corrupt clergy have no authority; and Pelagianism, which denied original sin and taught that humans could achieve their own salvation.
In the last years of his life, Augustine saw the old Roman imperial order undergo a violent and chaotic transition with an uncertain outcome. The Church, too, continued to struggle despite his and other bishops’ efforts. In the Vandal-besieged city of Hippo, St. Augustine died on Aug. 28, 430.
After his death, through the legacy of his writings, St. Augustine became the most influential theologian in the history of Western Christianity. Pope Benedict XVI, who once described the saint as his “traveling companion” in life and ministry, has devoted six general audiences to St. Augustine’s life and thought since his election.
In August 2010, the pope spoke of “an important aspect of [Augustine’s] human and Christian experience, which is also timely in our day.”
“All too often,” Pope Benedict said, “people prefer to live only the fleeting moment, deceiving themselves that it will bring lasting happiness; they prefer to live superficially, without thinking, because it seems easier; they are afraid to seek the truth or perhaps afraid that the truth will find us, will take hold of us, and change our life, as happened to St Augustine.”
St. Augustine’s life, the pope observed, teaches all people–even those weak or challenged in their faith–“not to be afraid of the truth, never to interrupt the journey toward it and never to stop searching for the profound truth about yourselves and other things with the inner eye of the heart. God will not fail to provide light to see by, and warmth to make the heart feel that he loves us and wants to be loved.”
Copyright © 2011 Catholic News Agency
Pope Benedict XVI told over a million young pilgrims to World Youth Day that the best way to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is through the Catholic Church.
“Following Jesus in faith means walking at his side in the communion of the Church. We cannot follow Jesus on our own,” he said in his homily at the event’s closing Mass at Cuarto Vientos airbase on the outskirts of Madrid.
“Anyone who would be tempted to do so ‘on his own,’ or to approach the life of faith with the kind of individualism so prevalent today, will risk never truly encountering Jesus, or will end up following a counterfeit Jesus.”
The pope delivered his sermon in the searing heat of the morning, a contrast to the thunderstorm he’d endured during a prayer vigil at the same venue the night before.
“I hope you were able to sleep a bit,” said the Pope to the young people just before Mass. He encouraged them to leave Madrid “firm in the faith,” in keeping with the event’s theme of becoming strongly rooted in Christ.
Remarkably, the young pilgrims seemed unfazed by both extremes of weather, greeting the Pope’s arrival with a sea of world flags and cheers of “El Papa! Viva!”
The pope drew his message from the day’s Gospel reading, in which St. Peter responds to Jesus’s question “Who do you say that I am?” with the answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ, in turn, proclaims: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”
“The Church, then, is not simply a human institution, like any other. Rather, she is closely joined to God,” said the Pope.
“Christ himself speaks of her as ‘his’ Church. Christ cannot be separated from the Church any more than the head can be separated from the body. The Church does not draw her life from herself, but from the Lord.”
In the presence of King Juan Carlos and Queen Sophia of Spain, the pope said the Catholic Church is the answer to a question that often arises today.
“There are many people today who feel attracted by the figure of Christ and want to know him better,” realizing that “he is the answer to so many of our deepest concerns. But who is he really? How can someone who lived on this earth so long ago have anything in common with me today?”
The answer, said the pope, was Christ’s presence continuing through history in the Catholic Church.
The universality of that Church showed throughout the Mass, with readings and prayers delivered in an array of languages including Spanish, Italian, Polish, Arabic, Chinese, and the Church’s traditional Latin. In fact, like many World Youth Day events, the Papal liturgy combined traditional and more modern Catholic elements.
The pope told young people that they, like Peter, “have been given the extraordinary task of being disciples and missionaries of Christ”–in their case, missionaries to their peers who “are looking for something greater and, because their heart tells them that more authentic values do exist, they do not let themselves be seduced by the empty promises of a lifestyle which has no room for God.”
“The world needs the witness of your faith, it surely needs God,” said the pope, “I think that the presence here of so many young people, coming from all over the world, is a wonderful proof of the fruitfulness of Christ’s command to the Church: ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation.’”
The only disappointment for many pilgrims was that most were unable to receive Communion during Mass. This was due to the fact that many of the 17 Eucharistic chapels around the venue had blown down in last night’s storm while others had to be dismantled due to safety fears.
Pope Benedict ended by telling the young people that he prayed for them “with heartfelt affection,” that they would “grow in holiness of life” and “be effective witnesses to the truth that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God, the savior of all mankind and the living source of our hope. Amen.”
Copyright © 2011 Catholic News Agency