Monday, 28 August 2017 : 21st Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day we listened to God speaking to the people, condemning the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law for their hypocrisy in their faith, in how they have not been truly faithful to God, and how they have not obeyed God in His laws and commandments, through their mistaken interpretation and application of the Law entrusted to them as the teachers and the leaders of the people of God.

That is because the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had not been faithful in keeping the commandments, and their duty was to ensure that the people of God obeyed those laws and through those laws learn to love the Lord as He had commanded, and then show the same love towards their fellow men and women. That is the essence of the Law which the Lord Jesus had spoken to His people and revealed to them, as the real intention of the Law God gave to them.

Yet, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law misused their authority and teachings to suit their own desires and to seek their own personal and worldly glory. They used the Law to suit their own needs and wants, and allowing certain practices that were not in line with the Law, but which brought about convenience to them, as well as benefits. They turned around a blind eye to unlawful practices and wickedness, including those of their own, and yet punished those who genuinely and sincerely desiring to love God.

Yes, they closed the gates of salvation to those who needed it most, by turning away prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners, whom they despised, looked down upon, and sneered on. They themselves did not practice the Law of God and did not have the love of God in themselves, but they wanted to look down on others just because they thought that those people did not deserve to be saved because of their sins.

How is this relevant to all of us, brothers and sisters in Christ? The message of the Scripture passages today is that each and every one of us as Christians must not follow what the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had done. We must not think that all of us are better than others and that certain people are beyond God’s grace and salvation, for it is God’s prerogative to judge the soul of a person and not us.

And these readings we heard today perfectly match the holy saint whose feast we celebrate today, as we remember together the memory of St. Augustine of Hippo, a holy bishop and a well-known saint, known for his many works and writings in various matters of the faith, so much so that he was considered among the four original Doctors of the Church, whose contributions to the Church was indeed immense.

Yet, how many of us know that St. Augustine of Hippo was also a sinner, especially in his involvement with the Manichaean heresy and how he spent his early life in debauchery and wickedness, seeking the glory and the pleasures of the world, and certainly no one would have thought that St. Augustine, then a pagan philosopher whose life was filled with sin and wickedness, would be a Christian one day, less still a saint.

It was by the ceaseless prayers and efforts of his mother, St. Monica, a devout Christian, who prayed daily for his sake, and for the conversion of his soul, that God called St. Augustine to his service. St. Augustine of Hippo yearned in his heart to seek for fulfilment which he was unable to attain through all of his worldly pursuits for knowledge, for worldly glory and power, for the pleasures of the body and others.

Thus, eventually St. Augustine made a complete turnaround in his life, repenting from his past sins, and under the tutelage of another great saint, St. Ambrose of Milan, who would also be counted together with St. Augustine as one of the four original Doctors of the Church, St. Augustine was baptised as a Christian, and henceforth walked on the path that God had set for him.

From what we have heard in the Scripture passages today, and what we have heard in the story of St. Augustine of Hippo, a great sinner turned a great saint, much as St. Paul the Apostle himself was a great enemy of the Church and the faithful before his conversion, we see how God through His Church transformed men and women who were once sinners into saints and holy people, through the transformation of those who were willing to repent wholeheartedly from their sins, and opening themselves to God’s love and grace.

It means that as Christians all of us must not be like the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who despised those they deemed to be sinners and unworthy, but instead, we must love them and embrace them, and most importantly, we must call them to repentance and forgiveness for their sins through that sincere repentance.

All of us are also sinners, all in need of repentance and then God’s mercy. Therefore, let us all open our hearts and minds, allowing God to do His work in us, and through us as well, that by our work and effort, we may call ever more souls towards God and His light, delivering them from the darkness of sin and thus saving them from the fires of hell.

May the Lord bless us all His Church, that all of us who are sinners may come ever closer to Him, and have that strong desire in us to sin no more and to repent, wholeheartedly turning ourselves to His way. Let us all also help one another in our journey towards God, that in the end, no one will be lost from God, and all of us will receive from Him, the gift of eternal life. St. Augustine of Hippo, pray for us sinners. Amen.

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