Homily: Parish Secretaries Conference, August, 2018

Parish Secretaries Mass
28th August, 2018

Memorial of Saint Augustine
Bishop and Doctor

2 Thess 2:1-17; Ps 96:10-13; Heb 4:12; Matt 23:23-26

I am pleased to be with you today and to hear with you the challenges we have just heard in today’s gospel, where Jesus speaks against the religious leaders of His time. Jesus criticized the scribes and Pharisees primarily for their self-interest and social climbing. Now, he shifted his ire to a series of woes concerning their rulings on the Law.

He chided them for their rigidity over mercy when they made legal judgments that drove widows further into poverty, only to be covered over by lengthy prayers. When they had lifestyle entanglements that drew both themselves and their followers away from faith in the Kingdom.

Notice Jesus did not condemn the scribes and Pharisees for making rulings, but for the overarching importance of those legal findings. Court opinions and precedences neither comprised nor defined faith; they were only a means to an end, a deepening relationship with God. If they got in the way of trust, they and their authors were useless. I guess that this tells us simply that Faith lost in the details is no faith at all.

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Augustine, a Doctor of the Church and one of the most important theological writers of the 4th and 5th century.

Augustine, though being brought up in early childhood as a Christian, lived a dissolute life of revelry and sin, and soon drifted away from the Church. He went to study in Carthage and became well-known in the city for his brilliant mind and rhetorical skills and sought a career as an orator or lawyer.

Augustine went on to Rome and then Milan in 386 where he met St. Ambrose, the bishop and Doctor of the Church, whose sermons inspired him to look for the truth he had always sought, in the faith he had rejected. He received baptism and soon after, his mother, St. Monica, died with the knowledge that all she had hoped for in this world had been fulfilled.

Many of us have probably heard some of his more famous quotes. One in particular is quite striking: “Our heart is restless until it rests in you.” These words are taken from one of Augustine’s most well known writings, the Confessions, in which Augustine discusses his long journey towards Christ and his conversion to Christianity.

These are powerful words. They direct us toward Christ in a simple way that speaks to everyone, for everyone has a restless heart. Pope Francis tells us that Augustine is speaking of three types of restlessness: “the restlessness of spiritual seeking, the restlessness of the encounter with God, the restlessness of love.” This restlessness, whether we recognize it or not, is a desire to know God and to have a deeper relationship with Him. None of this is easy, but God is always there for us. He is waiting with open arms, just as he waited for Augustine in his conversion to Christianity, so that we might rest in Him.

Augustine is giving us an important model of faith to follow, one of deep personal reflection, one that teaches us how to reflect and why we should reflect. Why? Because in reflection, we find God, in reflection, we find rest.

However, Augustine is very clear about how reflection works. He says, “What I know of myself I know only because you shed light on me.” Reflection is not solitary: we have to reflect with God. It is a prayer.

We have all been told repeatedly that prayer is an integral aspect of our everyday lives, but prayer does not always have to be recited from the back of a holy card. These types of prayers are amazing and so helpful in directing our lives, but some of the most beautiful prayer is when we reflect with God, when we open up ourselves to Him and just talk to Him and listen to Him in our hearts. Who better to show us the importance of reflection than our Mother? Remember what St Luke tells us: “And Mary kept all this things, reflecting on them in her heart”.

Augustine and Mary are both powerful examples to us. They were holy people, but they were human. They faced struggles in their lives and in their faith. Their hearts were restless in their journeys toward the Lord. But through their example, through their lives, through personal reflection with the Lord, they show us how to find rest in Him.

Just as he did with the Pharisees and with Augustine, Jesus challenges us to change our ways of life, to change from the inside out! This is a hard challenge. We need to change in so many ways. Perhaps we could ask Jesus to help us first of all, to want to change, even if we cannot see the ways in which we should.

Jesus reserves some of his harshest criticism for those who lay heavy burdens on others. The scribes and Pharisees, in their misguided zeal for the letter of the law, have completely lost sight of the two great commandments on which all of the law rests – to love the Lord our God with all out heart and all our soul and all our might, and to love our neighbour as ourself.

Very often it takes one person to see and to state what is going wrong and to reset the priorities. Jesus does this again and again in his dealings with “sinners”: people whose behaviour runs contrary to the Jewish Law. He heals and he forgives sins where Pharisees and others rush to condemn and even destroy.

We find out how to be a follower of Jesus by watching him in the gospel, by hearing his word, and by living a life of love and compassion as best we can. We learn from how to relate to others by how he does this himself.

Just as the Pharisees did, every religion can get lost in the visible signs of it. Shows of piety can lead to the self rather than to God. All in our religion should come from the life of Jesus and return to him. Just as Augustine found Jesus is there to teach us.

May I take this opportunity to express my thanks and the gratitude of all those whom you serve in the Diocese of Sandhurst as Parish Secretaries. Your work is much appreciated and we value you greatly. May God bless you, as you continue in his service with compassion and love?