Friday, 28 August 2020 : 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 as we heard the words of the Lord through the Scriptures, we are brought to attention on the matter of ‘wisdom’. What is wisdom to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? What is the significance of wisdom to us? Wisdom is, according to its definition, the ability to discern something with great understanding and grasp of the matter, and to have the ability to make good judgment based on what we know of the situation.

Therefore, once again, what is wisdom to us, brothers and sisters in Christ? The Scriptures placed before us the contrast between divine and human wisdom, between the wisdom of the world, the knowledge and the ways, the understanding and all the combined efforts of people throughout the centuries in trying to figure out more and more about their lives and about the world around them. But, looking at it all, we have never been able to attain true understanding, that is if we keep God out of the equation.

In our first reading today, as St. Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Church and the faithful in the city of Corinth, clearly addressed to both the Jewish and the Greek converts to the Christian faith, he focused on the matter how the Lord confounded the expectations and the wisdom of man through whatever He has revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ, and which His Apostles and disciples then spread throughout the whole world.

To the Jews, whom having been brought up through the centuries fearing God and His punishments and laws, and the supreme authority of God over all things, many of them could not comprehend the fact that He has come down into this world as a Man, to share in their humanity and to live just in the same way that they had lived. They therefore found it hard to believe, and as St. Paul said, demanded miracles again and again to prove to their confounded beliefs and minds that the Lord Jesus is truly the Messiah and Son of God.

To the Greeks, who valued knowledge and learning above many other things, proven by just how many philosophers, thinkers and politicians came out from their ranks at the time, it seemed foolish and nonsense to believe in the Lord Jesus as they thought that they had known all that there was to be known, in their gods and deities, to which they attributed their understanding of the nature and the world around them, and which is why, their pantheon represent closely the world, both in the behaviours of the Greek gods and goddesses that mimic closely human behaviours, and also their actions.

The Greeks could not comprehend how a mere Man, born of a woman like Mary, could be the most powerful, Almighty God, far beyond all of their own gods and goddesses, and how their understanding, learning and knowledge could have been wrong. But this was exactly where St. Paul, throughout his long years of ministry to the various Greek communities and cities throughout the Mediterranean region, helped to dispel the falsehoods and reveal to them the truth about God.

And while many of the earliest Christians were Jews, but many among the Jewish people still then refused to believe in Christ and His teachings. But nonetheless, the efforts of the Apostles and the disciples did bear fruit, as more and more among those who initially refused to believe eventually were willing to listen to the truth and believe in God. Those who refused to believe clung on to their own wisdom and understanding, such as many among the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, who thought that they could not have been wrong and condemned Jesus as a blasphemer and false Messiah.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through all of these we have seen how the Lord wanted us to understand that it is often our stubbornness and pride that prevented us from being able to seek out and approach the Lord with faith, as we clung to our own interpretations, intellect and wisdom, rather than to trust in the wisdom of God we have heard and which have been revealed to us. We must understand, brethren, that our wisdom and intellect are limited, and are nothing compared to God’s wisdom and truth.

Today, all of us also celebrate the feast day of the great St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the four original and greatest of the Doctors of the Church and one of the most influential early Church fathers and leaders of Christendom. St. Monica, his mother was celebrated in her feast day yesterday, as we heard how her persistence, constant prayer and effort to seek her son’s conversion eventually led to St. Augustine’s conversion, and today, we focus our attention on the great saint himself.

St. Augustine of Hippo was born to St. Monica, a Christian woman and a pagan father, and his early life was surrounded by the many wickedness of the world. And as he grew up, he began to be attracted by philosophical pursuits and learning, which was then dominated by pagan philosophers, prominent among the Greeks as mentioned earlier. The young St. Augustine was curious for knowledge, and he was seeking for truth and satisfaction on knowledge and understanding.

However, no matter how much he tried to find solace and satisfaction in human wisdom, and in his adoption of the Manichaean heresy in his youth, in his hedonistic lifestyle and pursuit of worldly pleasures, none of these were able to satisfy him. It was then that the prayers and efforts of his mother, St. Monica, led him to St. Ambrose of Milan, another one of the four great Doctors of the Church and charismatic leader of the faithful, who began to plant the seeds of faith in St. Augustine.

Eventually, St. Augustine discovered God and His truth, and having found the true wisdom and the truth itself, far surpassing all forms of human and worldly knowledge, he converted to the true faith. St. Augustine had been baptised earlier in his life, but lapsed and resisted for many, many years before finally embracing his faith fully, with the constant and never-ending support from his mother, St. Monica.

And later on, as St. Augustine wrote his most renowned treatise on the Most Holy Trinity, known as ‘De Trinitate’, it was told that as the saint wandered on the seashore looking for inspiration on what to write on this most mysterious and difficult of the divine aspects to be explained, St. Augustine saw a young boy trying to pour water from the sea using a scallop shell into a hole in the sand.

When St. Augustine approached and asked the young boy, the boy said that he wanted to empty the entire ocean into that small hole in the sand. When St. Augustine said that such thing is impossible as the ocean is so vast while the hole in the sand is so small, the young boy, whom in truth was God in disguise, spoke to him, that it was thus the same for the mysteries of God, the concept of the Holy Trinity and others that are just so infinitely great and far beyond the ability of our small human minds to fully appreciate, symbolically shown through the action of trying to empty the ocean, representing the fullness of God’s mysteries, into the small hole, representing our minds and human wisdom.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, through what we have heard in our Scripture readings today therefore, all of us are called to reflect on our own lives and our faith. Have we placed our faith and trust in God as we move along in life, or have we instead put our trust more in our own strength and wisdom, in our own limited perception and understanding of things around us? More often than not, we falter in our journey of life and faith because we did not trust enough in God.

Let us all pray therefore for the grace to listen to God and His will, and pray that we will always be strengthened in faith so that we may trust Him more and more, and follow Him ever more faithfully, as St. Augustine had done. And as St. Augustine himself had discovered, let us all find our true joy and satisfaction in life in God, and not in other pleasures of the world, that may be joyful, but are temporary, false and are mere distractions preventing us to find the true joy in God. May God bless us always, and guide us, now and forevermore. Amen.

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