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ST AUGUSTINE’S REGRET

Looking for Extra Oil
August 28, 2020
An Open Letter to John the Baptist
August 29, 2020

Homily for 28 August 2020, Friday of the 21st Week in OT, Matthew 25:1-13

Yesterday we commemorated the mother, Monica. Today we celebrate the son, Augustine. Yesterday I also told you how Augustine kept postponing his conversion because he looked at the Christian God as a Great “Kill Joy”. His constant reply to God’s Call was “Not now, Lord; I’m still busy enjoying my life.”
But when he finally got converted and responded to God’s call, he went through such an ecstatic religious experience and realized, that far from being a Great Killjoy, God was in fact the source of the most profound kind of joy that humankind can ever imagine. If there was a real killjoy, it was none other than Augustine himself, for exchanging the profound for the shallow, the real for the fake. And so when he reflected on the experience, he could not keep himself from regretting the postponements that he had done. In less flattering words, what Augustine really said to himself in his Confessions can be paraphrased this way, “What a stupid fool I have been. Why did I discover the joy of God’s love only now?”
The part where he expressed this is perhaps one of the most quoted and also one of the most beautiful and most intimate pieces ever written by St Augustine. I hope you don’t mind that I quote him at length. He said,
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new! Late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my ugliness I indulged in all the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me far from my Creator, and yet, if you had not caused them to exist, they would not have existed at all. You called, you shouted and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed on me your fragrance, I drew in my breath and now I long for you. I tasted you, but I hunger and thirst all the more for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain your peace.”
Earlier, Augustine had a high regard for his own wisdom. After his conversion, he would candidly admit how stupid he was.
We hear basically the same thing in our first reading today where Paul speaks in paradoxes again. I hope you still remember the reflection on PARADOX which I shared to you several weeks ago. You see, even in the time of Paul, there were already people who called the idea of a Crucified God in Jesus Christ “stupid.” Paul should know, because he was in fact one of them, before his own conversion. Later he would say, “The stupidity of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
What kind of God is He who would allow himself to be nailed on the cross by mere human beings? You might think it was said only by “someone you know”. A lot of other people have said the same thing. Both Augustine and Paul, before conversion regarded the Cross as weakness and as inconsistent with the concept of an Omnipotent God. To use Paul’s words again, it is “a stumbling block to the Jews and stupidity for the Gentiles; but to those who are being saved, it is the power and the wisdom of God.”
I think this is the reason why in Catholic Christianity, when we use the cross as a symbol, it always goes with the image of Christ on it. Why? Because without Christ, the cross is nothing but a brutal and cruel means of torture and punishment, a symbol of people’s capacity to be inhuman to their fellow human beings. We don’t display a bare cross in a Church because we do not wish to glorify cruelty and suffering as such.
When we venerate the Cross with Christ on it, it is no longer about suffering and death but about LOVE. It becomes a symbol of God’s unconditional love, God’s radical love, God’s redeeming love. It stands for the God who does not give up even on the worst sinners. It is a statement that defies the typical notion of retribution that presupposes that God saves only the good and punishes sinners in perpetual fire. The cross is in fact about a God who is willing to go down to hell in order to build a bridge of mercy through which even sinners can cross over after being purified by the crucible of fire.
This radical love, this redeeming love, this unconditional love is also symbolic of the oil in the lamp that will never burn out. They are the lamps of the wise virgins in today’s Gospel. The lamps of the foolish cannot last because they are fueled by the oil of unforgiveness, of merciless justice, of conditional love.
To love with the love of Christ is to burn without fear of extinction. You want your lamp to be kept burning even in the darkest of night? You make sure it is fueled only by the oil that never runs out, the love that is ready to give up everything for his beloved.

 

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