My own faith journey has been greatly influenced by the Augustinians – a religious order of friars, joined by seculars and friends, who follow the Rule of St. Augustine. Simply put, Augustine’s Rule invites men and women to “be of one mind and heart on the way to God… [to be] travelers on pilgrimage together, wherein Christ is our constant companion, as well as our way and our goal.”
St. Augustine of Hippo is one of the best-known saints in the Catholic Church. Although he was born in the 4th Century, his writings—like Confessions and The City of God—continue to inspire spiritual seekers to this day. For his contributions in theology, Augustine is also considered a Doctor of the Church. Beyond these accolades, Augustine’s personal character and self-proclaimed “restlessness for God” have inspired numerous men and women to take up his search for truth. One of these people is St. Nicholas of Tolentine, whose feast we celebrated on September 10th.
Growing up in an Augustinian parish in Staten Island, NY, I knew there were at least a few saints from the Augustinian family, including: Augustine’s mother, St. Monica; St. Rita of Cascia; St. Thomas of Villanova (there’s a basketball-loving university named after him!); and St. Clare of Montefalco. I also knew of a church in the Bronx named St. Nicholas of Tolentine, but I must admit, I knew very little about him.
A few years after college, and after some time away from my family parish, I found myself in a state of constant restlessness and spiritual doubt. Desiring a change, I reconnected with my past by joining the Augustinian Volunteers, a year-long volunteer program in which I traveled across the country, lived in intentional community, and learned about the greater Augustinian family. This experience confirmed a special place in my heart for the Augustinian saints, and I have been pleased to learn more about this man Nicholas who “sought for God by means of a deep interior life… [and] the practical love of neighbor.”
According to a brief biography, Nicholas “was a simple priest and Augustinian friar who touched the lives of many.” Born to a poor family in Italy in the year 1245, Nicholas became an Augustinian friar at an early age (likely 16 or 18) after being inspired by another Augustinian preacher in his hometown.
The Augustinian history states Nicholas was “full of charity towards his brother Augustinians as well as towards the people to whom he ministered. He visited the sick and cared for the needy. He was a noted preacher of the Gospel. He gave special attention to those who had fallen away from the Church. People considered him a miracle worker.”
Nicholas fasted often and received visions during his lifetime, including that of angels repeating “to Tolentino,” where he moved and worked for the remainder of his life. In the tradition of Augustinian hospitality, Nicholas is said to have been over-generous in his duties feeding the poor at his monastery; so much so that his superiors asked him to hold back a bit.
Nicholas (like many medieval saints) is linked through legend to miraculous incidents involving food. Once after weakening himself through prayer and fasting, he had visions of The Blessed Virgin and St. Augustine imploring him to eat some bread marked with a cross and dipped in water. This bread immediately regenerated his strength, and he went on to give the same bread to the ill while invoking Mary – thus beginning the Augustinian custom of distributing Saint Nicholas Bread. Another legend, perhaps inspired by contemporary Franciscan values and love of animals, tells of Nicholas vowing not to eat meat the rest of his life. When served a roasted fowl, Nicholas prayed and the bird returned to life, flying away from the table.
Nicholas died on Sept. 30, 1305, and was canonized by Pope Eugene IV (also an Augustinian) in 1446. He was the first Augustinian to be canonized. At this ceremony, Nicholas was credited with about three hundred miracles.
St. Nicholas is typically depicted in the black Augustinian habit, often with embroidered stars or a sun emblazoned on his chest, which seems to point to the great quote from his inspiration, St. Augustine: “Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”
In these days in which so many of us are searching for answers, let us pause to remember a kind saint who encouraged patience and prayer as ways of knowing and being.
To learn more about faith-based service, please click here.
Mike McCormick serves as the Outreach Coordinator at the Catholic Volunteer Network in Washington, DC.
After the Post-Synodal Forum in Rome, I had a few days to spend in the Eternal City visiting friends and taking in some of my favorite sights During my time there, I also saw a fair amount of my new friend and co-delegate to the Forum, Brenda Noriega from the Diocese of San Bernardino in California. I had been to Rome before, but Brenda hadn’t, so my time in Rome was a new experience in many ways. As we made our way into St. Peter’s Square during Brenda’s first time in the Vatican, she mentioned how it seemed as though most of the people there were tourists as opposed to pilgrims. She wasn’t wrong. As we made our way into St. Peter’s Basilica, we experienced deep prayerful encounters at the tomb of Pope St. John Paul II and in the Adoration Chapel of St. Peter’s, but we couldn’t help noticing the constant click of cameras around us and the onslaught of tour groups. Brenda was, understandably, taken aback by the reality that the city that is at the heart of our faith seemed to be more of a museum than a place of pilgrimage
I have a love-hate relationship with the Eternal City, but what I love is the art, the history, and the architecture. Sharing that experience of Rome with Brenda made me think, “How often do we treat our faith and our experience of it as a museum and not an experience of miracle?” It’s so easy to do in Rome. I love walking around and seeing historic places like St. Peter’s or the Chiesa del Gesù, which is the mother church of the Jesuit order and the first baroque church ever built. The Gesù is known best for its trademark baroque façade, its ceiling painting (the Triumph of the Name of Jesus by Baccicio), the beautiful gold gilding, and the tomb of St. Ignatius Loyola as well as the arm of St. Francis Xavier. This time I made a special trip to the relic of St. Francis Xavier to pray for a friend who heads on mission soon, but this prayerful experience wasn’t always my norm. How many times have I walked into that church and treated it like a museum? The arm of St. Francis Xavier is there because of his immense holiness, but for many (including myself at times) it is nothing but a photo opportunity. The Triumph of the Name of Jesus is painted to display Philippians 2:10 which reads, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” But how often did I look at it as if it were the Mona Lisa or just another piece of art in a museum?
We might think to ourselves, “I don’t live in Rome, so this can’t happen to me!” How often, though, do we shuffle into Mass expecting to hear stories of a man named Jesus who lived two thousand years ago? When we see our faith as a museum, we miss the miracle. We miss the truth that, as Pope Francis reminds us in Christus Vivit, Christ is alive. The Scriptures aren’t just antiquated books like those that we can find in a library or hall of records, but they are the Word of God truly alive. The Eucharist that we receive is not just bread and wine, but the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ, truly alive. Our faith has history and tradition, that is for sure, but it is not a museum. Our faith is not just a collection of gold chalices, stained glass, historic cathedrals, and antiquated practices, but is truly alive. Our faith, when seen as a miracle, allows us to enter deeper into the depths of the Church, into the depths of Christ and his life, into the depths of the mysteries of the Trinity, and into the depths of our relationship with Christ who is alive and who has come to save us. May our faith always be a lived miracle, never just a museum.
For more resources on the Synod on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment, please click here.
Brian Rhude is Project Coordinator with the Catholic Apostolate Center. He is a student at The Catholic University of America in the School of Theology and Religious Studies.
“The Advocate, the Holy Spirit…will teach you everything.” -John 14:26
After two years of dedicated study of theology, I received my Master’s degree. This has always seemed a bit odd to me, because I often feel I still have so much to learn.
This seems like the case for Jesus’ followers as well. After 3 years of discipleship, they didn’t know “everything.” Though they could be considered the “masters” of Christian life–having spent three years walking alongside Jesus—Christ tells them they still need the Holy Spirit in order to learn “everything.” He was explaining to them a fundamental reality of the Christian life: it is a life-long process of learning.
This reality is sometimes daunting, but more often it is comforting. The men that spent three years at the feet of Christ, who witnessed His miracles, heard His parables, and encountered Him after His resurrection, didn’t have it all together. They were not perfect at discipleship and they still needed God, who would now be revealed to them in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Rather than spending physical time with Christ, they would experience something even greater: God dwelling within them.
This intimate and powerful presence of God is something we can experience today. We receive the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit on the day of our baptism and physically receive Christ Himself every time we partake of the Eucharist. Furthermore, Christ tells us in this Sunday’s Gospel that He and the Father will dwell within those who keep His word. This comforts me because I have never heard Christ’s voice, seen His face, or shared His food. Though I am generations and millennia removed from Him, He has sent the Holy Spirit to teach me “everything”—what it means to follow Christ and live the Gospel today.
Much like the disciples, I still have much to learn. Though I have grown up knowing about Christ and His teachings, though I have figuratively sat at His feet for more than three years, I still need the Holy Spirit to teach and remind me what it means to be a follower of Christ each day. And in order to cultivate the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, I must continue to keep Christ’s word.
This is so much more than the study of theology.
As Pope Francis said in a 2015 homily, "We can study the whole history of salvation, we can study the whole of Theology, but without the Spirit we cannot understand. It is the Spirit that makes us realize the truth or – in the words of Our Lord – it is the Spirit that makes us know the voice of Jesus."
Learning everything, therefore, means knowing and discerning the voice of Jesus. A life of keeping Christ’s word looks different according to your vocation or status in life, but overall, some things that help us recognize Christ’s voice include an active sacramental life, daily prayer, acts of charity, reading Scripture, and living according to Church teaching.
In the nitty gritty of every day, this could mean keeping your cool while driving in rush hour traffic, taking a meal to a family with a newborn, participating in the Sacrament of Reconciliation regularly, giving your spouse the benefit of the doubt, going to Mass each Sunday, or taking a deep breath when your child throws his food on the ground for the third time that day.
It could mean reading the daily readings at the breakfast table, praying evening prayer with your roommates, starting a rosary on your commute, participating in a weekly Bible study. In short, keeping Christ’s word is a lifelong, daily decision to do things that bring you closer to Him and encourage you to hear His voice.
As we prepare to celebrate Pentecost in a few weeks, let us call upon the Holy Spirit to be our Advocate and Teacher. May we have the humility to call upon Him daily as we pursue this lifelong life of discipleship in order to truly hear the voice of Jesus that says, “Come, follow me.”
Kate Fowler is the Blog Editor for the Catholic Apostolate Center. She received her Master's in Leadership for the New Evangelization from the Augustine Institute.