We considered the conversion of St. Augustine yesterday while we were honoring St. Monica, his mother. Today we leave his biography aside, considering instead four of his great contributions to Christian understandings. They are: 1. What our hearts are made for 2. What makes the Mass a sacrifice; 3. The essence of a Sacrament; 4. Our inability to save ourselves.
1. In his Confessions Augustine spoke of how God made us, for the purpose of being with him. “Our hearts are made for you, O Lord, and they cannot rest until they rest in you.” To seek fulfillment elsewhere would be out of tune with our inner nature.
When I was young everyone seemed to know a poem called “The Hound of Heaven.” In it a soul fleeing from Christ sought happiness in wealth, pleasure, drugs; but all those things turned sour for him. Blaming Christ for robbing him of joy, he finally gave into the Hound of Heaven who told him:
“All which I took from you, I did but take, nor for thy harm
But that you might seek it in my arms.”
2. All First Century writings about the Mass described it as a sacrifice; and before Augustine many odd explanations arose as to how it was a sacrifice. Augustine made it simple and right, saying that the sacrificial aspect of the Mass consists in Christ’s and our complete submission to God.
3. He wrote that each of the Sacraments is an encounter with God who is the minister of all the Sacraments. So, people baptized or married before a priest need not worry if he is sinful or saintly, because Christ is the true minister.
4. In the middle of the Twentieth Century Norman Vincent Peale sold millions of copies of “The Power of Positive Thinking;” and on his radio show he advised, “Believe in miracles, make miracles happen.” In St. Augustine’s time there was a priest with a similar self-confident message. He was Pelagius, and Augustine straightened him and us out, saying that all of us are so flawed by original Sin that we cannot save ourselves. We need Christ’s Grace.