CACINA

Carry the gospel with you

Posted in christian, Christianity, inspirational, religion, scripture by Mike on August 28, 2012

Gospel reading of the day:

Matthew 23:23-26

Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. But these you should have done, without neglecting the others. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.”

Reflection on the gospel reading: Religion that is spiritual has been the underlying theme of the gospel readings for several days. Nowadays, we hear a lot about people who do not consider themselves to be religious but still think of themselves as being spiritual: they do not subscribe to any ritualism or organized religious discipline but they still strive after a sense of connectedness with the world of spirit, whether those connections are with invisible reality or other people. In general, spiritual–but not religious–people are repelled at what they see as straining at a gnat and swallowing the camel: that is, they are put off by the devout who are preoccupied with petty ritualistic and legalistic rigors, but fail at introspection, compassion, and faithfulness.

I don’t think Jesus would be insensitive to the plight of spiritual but not religious people. Jesus doesn’t hold back on his expression of disgust at scrupulous religion which is only skin deep. But Jesus in this gospel passage does not counsel abandonment of the exterior practices. I think it’s because Jesus understood that we are what we do. A spirituality which is disembodied, that is, a spirituality which does not include outward physical actions, is hard to maintain. There is no unmediated experience of the divine, and as embodied beings we need to cultivate an embodied spirituality. It is worth noting that Jesus does not condemn a heartfelt attention to the rigors of religious practice. But what he does ask of us is that whatever our external practices, we pay the greatest heed to the demands of justice, love, and integrity. Religious activities without interiority are lifeless, but spiritual intentions not realized in physical signs are phantasms.

Saint of the day: Augustine, one of the most influential thinkers in the entire history of the Church, was born at Tagaste, North Africa, on November 13, 354. His father, Patricius, a city official was not a Christian, though his mother, Monica, was a woman of strong Christian faith. (She eventually led her husband to be baptized, and he died in about 371.)

Though Augustine received a Christian upbringing, he led a wild life as a youth and young man. Augustine gives an account of his spiritual development in the first nine Books of the Confessions, a work that has engrossed readers for 1,600 years and are as fresh and immediate today as when they were written.

As a nineteen-year old student at Carthage, he espoused the Manichaean heresy, a form of Gnosticism founded in Persia in the late third century, which claimed to be a religion of reason as contrasted with Christianity, a religion of faith. Manichaeism aimed to synthesize all known religions. Its basic dualistic tenet espoused two equal and opposed Principles (“gods”) in the universe: Good (Light/Spirit) and Evil (Darkness/Matter).

After nearly ten years as a Manichaean, Augustine, who taught in Milan, visited Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, became a regular attendant at his preaching, and through his influence became convinced that Catholic teachings are true, and that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. Still, he found himself conflicted between his desire for spiritual truth and physical release.

An interview with Simplicianus, spiritual father of St. Ambrose, who told Augustine the story of the conversion of the celebrated neo-Platonic rhetorician, Victorinus, and later, a chance visit by a Christian, Ponticianus, who told him of other conversions, led Augustine to a crisis:

I was greatly disturbed in spirit, angry at myself with a turbulent indignation because I had not entered thy will and covenant, O my God, while all my bones cried out to me to enter, extolling it to the skies. The way therein is not by ships or chariots or feet–indeed it was not as far as I had come from the house to the place where we were seated. For to go along that road and indeed to reach the goal is nothing else but the will to go. But it must be a strong and single will, not staggering and swaying about this way and that–a changeable, twisting, fluctuating will, wrestling with itself while one part falls as another rises. (Confessions, Book VIII.8.19)

I was … weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which–coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, “Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.”[260] Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. …

So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book [Paul’s letter to the Romans] when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”[Romans 13:13] I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away. (Confessions, Book IX.29)

Augustine was thirty-three when he was moved to act on his convictions in that garden at Milan in September 386. A few weeks later, during the autumn “vintage” holiday, Augustine, resigned his professorship at Milan, resolving to devote himself to the pursuit of true philosophy, now inseparable from Christianity. After a vacation at Cassisiacum, Augustine returned to Milan with Monica, Adeodatus (his son) , and his friends, where the new converts were baptized. Soon after, while preparing to return to North Africa with her sons and grandson, Monica died at Ostia, near Rome. (A moving account of her final days is found in Confessions Book IX, 8-12)

Augustine returned to Africa in August 388, and, with the objective of living a life of poverty and prayer, he sold his property and gave the proceeds to the poor. Although he did not think of becoming a priest, during a visit to Hippo, as he was praying in the church, people suddenly gathered around him and persuaded the bishop of Hippo, Valerius, to ordain Augustine. He was ordained in 391, and in Tagaste, established a monastery, and preached against Manichaeism with great success. When he was forty-two, he became coadjutor bishop of Hippo, where he was bishop for 34 years.

During his years as bishop, Augustine combated the Manichaean heresy, strongly affirming free will and expounding on the problem of evil; he struggled against the Donatist heresy that attacked the divine institution and hierarchical nature of the Church. In later years, he would confront the Pelagian heresy that denied the doctrine of original sin and the effects of grace; and the heresy of Arianism, which denied that the Son is of the same substance as the Father.

Augustine died August 28, 430 at the age of seventy-five. His perennial contribution to and influence on Catholic doctrine and thought and on Christian belief and piety is incalculable, and his many theological and philosophical works, especially the Confessions and the City of God have continued to captivate and inspire mankind for more than the better part of two millenniums.

Spiritual reading: Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile. (Mother Teresa)

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