When you hear the name St. Augustine, what do you think of? Probably something about the Confessions, arguably his most famous work. Or perhaps you remember that he is one of the first doctors of the Church. But do you know about his spiritual journey from youthful hedonism to prominent theologian?
St. Augustine was born in the mid 300s in North Africa to a Christian mother and a pagan father. Initially educated in rhetoric, as a teenager, Augustine embraced a life of comfortable vices, which he outlines in his autobiographical and philosophical work the Confessions. Eventually, his intellectual pursuits lead him to Europe, into and out of Manicheism (a dualist religion based on pure reason), and back toward the religion of his childhood. Through the evangelizing work of St. Ambrose, Augustine was finally baptized into the Christian faith in his early 30s. He went on to become one of the early Church’s most important philosophers.
For cradle Catholics like me, our faith journeys are nowhere near as dramatic as St. Augustine’s conversion from corrupt youth to doctor of the Church. Nevertheless, there are always opportunities for daily conversion! The teenage Augustine would pray, “Give me chastity and continency, only not yet.” How often do we catch ourselves praying in a similar vein? “Give me temperance—but not until I’ve eaten three packages of Oreos”; “Give me a stronger desire for prayer—but maybe not until next week, after I’m done binge-watching this TV show.” Like Augustine, we often find ourselves wrestling with our human weaknesses and our desire to do things on our own timeline rather than God’s.
But even as we struggle to overcome our personal vices, God draws us closer to Himself, taking our fractured pasts to create a beautiful whole. St. Augustine’s theological and philosophical treatises would perhaps have not been so fervent or persuasive had he not previously so fully embraced bad philosophy before his conversion. His secular education and his training in rhetoric and Platonic philosophy prepared him for his work defending true Christian theology and refining its philosophy—so much so that he is recognized as one of the original doctors of the Church. Long before Augustine had come to fully accept the Christian faith, God was already preparing him for his future role as bishop and philosopher. Likewise, our past does not restrict our future. Choices that ended up leading us seemingly nowhere, periods of doubt or conflict—God can take these moments of human weakness and use them to bring us closer to Him. Like St. Augustine, even a previous decade of promiscuity could remind us of how empty is a life not lived for Christ.
St. Augustine is living proof that no one—no matter how seemingly corrupt, how spiritually lost, or how morally confused—is beyond the power of God’s grace. On St. Augustine’s feast day, let us consider where we are on our faith journeys. Where is there room for daily conversion? How can we learn from our past failures to more fully embrace a future lived with Christ?
Question for Reflection: What failure can I use from my past to build up my relationship with Christ?
Back in 2002, my 8th grade religion teacher assigned my class the task of choosing a saint for Confirmation and then writing about why we chose the person. After deciding that I would research a patron of lawyers and politicians, I came across a name: St. Thomas More. He seemed like an interesting person whose work and faith were integral in his life. His feast day is on June 22, and his life and personality can offer us something to apply to ourselves today.
After researching his life, seemed even more interesting to me, primarily because of how history and faith intertwine in his life. A brief history on him: St. Thomas More was Chancellor to Henry VIII and a personal friend. He was a devout Catholic and criticized the King about his divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. This was treason, but he was willing to put aside friendship and his life for his convictions, and was not harmed. But, when Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Church of England, separating himself from the papacy, all in the government were to sign signifying their agreement to this act. Thomas More refused. Because of this blatant act of treason, Thomas was imprisoned in the Tower of London and eventually executed along with Bishop John Fisher on July 6, 1535. In both the Anglican and Catholic liturgical calendars, he is celebrated as a saint for his willingness to being martyred for his faith.
Thomas More is considered to be a “Man for all Seasons” because of his ability to be a philosopher, politician, lawyer, devout Catholic, and loving father of 4 children. The man was considered a model civil politician in English Parliament and respected by some of his most hated rivals for his integrity. It was due to his integrity that he was martyred. Can we willingly give our lives due to our personal integrity and unwillingness to move away from what faith teaches us? Are we willing to deal with the ridicule and criticism for our beliefs? Thomas More was a person of such integrity that he was willing to die instead of lie and go against his beliefs.
St. Pope John Paul II considered him such an important and needed saint for the 21st century that he declared him the patron saint for political leaders. Thomas More’s civility and statesmanship should serve as a reminder for those in political office. Despite differences that people may have with each other as politicians, love and respect of those with different viewpoints is imperative. Thomas More was one who disagreed with many, but was always willing to work with others and be a truly welcoming and hospitable person.
It is my hope every time that I ask for the intercession of St. Thomas More that I and all those who care about political life are willing to listen to those we disagree with and still love the person. It is a difficult task, but with the assistance of the saints, such as Thomas More, we can work for the betterment of society together.
Jonathan Sitko is the Program Manager of the Catholic Apostolate Center.
Courage and perseverance are two traits that I admire. The latter is a characteristic that not many people have, is hard to teach, and one that is imperative for success. In my classroom of 2nd graders, I try to remind them to “not give up, but try again and again.” When they become frustrated with challenging work or difficult friendships, they stop wanting to try again. They start to give up - but I tell them, “Keep trying!” and “Don’t be afraid to make a mistake!” Hopefully, one day my students will grow to recognize how courage can help them persevere through anything.
People who do extraordinary things should be recognized for their courage and conviction. Saint Catherine of Siena, whose feast day we celebrated yesterday, is a woman whose contributions to the Church, taking action in times of need and exceptional theological writings, sometimes can be overlooked. Born in Siena, Italy in 1347, Catherine spent her life doing the will of God. She began receiving visions and praying to God from a very early age, even seeing in one in which Christ reassured her with an armor of courage that could overcome anything that tempted or threatened her.
St. Catherine lived her entire life in prayer and was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI on October 4, 1970. She along with St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux are the three women to have been bestowed with such a title. St. Catherine worked to return Pope Gregory XI to Rome, from Avignon France where the Papacy had been residing for 67 years. Her determination to see this mission through was a testament to her unwavering courage to do God’s will.
In her many philosophical letters, prayers, and the Dialogue, St. Catherine reflected on four theological concepts with which she considered while in ecclesiastical mysticism. The first was a Treatise of Divine Providence, the second was a Treatise of Discretion, third was a Treatise of Prayer, and finally a Treatise of Obedience. Throughout her courageous writings, she discusses the goodness of a person’s knowledge of God and his unending love for his children living on earth.
Because of this prayerful life she led, in 1375, St. Catherine was blessed with the Stigmata on her hands, feet, and side. Her wounds reflected those of Christ’s and were only visible to the naked eye upon her death in 1380 at the young age of thirty-three. Found incorrupt in 1430, St. Catherine is now buried under the altar of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in Rome and a sculpture of her body is on display there, too.
Throughout the year, let us strive to be like St. Catherine of Siena and take courage and persevere. Unshaken by those who challenged and doubted her, she remained steadfast in her commitment to Christ, His Church, and His people. You don’t have to be a saint to follow God’s call to courageous witness, but prayer and perseverance can lead you toward holiness in Christ.
Krissy Kirby is a teacher for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.