CNA STAFF, Aug 23, 2009 (CNA) - This week Catholics will honor the lives of St. Monica and her son, St. Augustine. Through trust and persistent prayer of his mother, St. Augustine converted and became one of the most influential thinkers of the Church.
August 27 marks the feast day of St. Monica. Born of Christian parents in Tagaste, North Africa in 333, Monica’s life can never be separated from that of her son, the great St. Augustine, convert, bishop, and doctor of the Church. What we know of her for the most part is the account that Augustine gives of her in his Confessions.
We are told but little of her childhood. She was married early in life to a man named Patritius who held an official position in Tagaste. He was a pagan, though like so many at that period, his religion was no more than a name; his temper was violent and his habits appeared to be immoral.
There was, of course, a gulf between husband and wife; her almsgiving and her habits of prayer annoyed him, but it is said that he always held her in a sort of reverence. By Monica’s sweetness and patience, she began a successful apostolate amongst the wives and mothers of her native town; they knew that she suffered as they did, and her words and example had a proportionate effect.
The couple had three children, Augustine the eldest, Navigius the second, and a daughter, Perpetua. Monica had been unable to secure baptism for her children, and was greatly grieved when Augustine fell ill; in her distress she besought Patritius to allow him to be baptized; he agreed, but on the boy's recovery withdrew his consent.
All Monica's anxiety now centered on Augustine; he was wayward and, as he himself tells us, lazy. He was sent to Madaura to school and Monica seems to have literally wrestled with God for the soul of her son.
During this time, Monica did receive a great consolation as her husband converted to Christianity shortly before his death.
Augustine then went to study at Carthage. He had become a Manichean, news which caused Monica to kick him out of her house. She went tearfully to the bishop to ask him to help and he responded famously, "the child of those tears shall never perish."
One night, Augustine left for Rome and Monica followed him the whole way and met St. Ambrose who was able to see the conversion of her son and his baptism after 17 years of tears and prayer.
Monica died at Ostia, near Rome in 387.
One day following St. Monica’s feast, the Church honors St. Augustine. Augustine was born at the town of Tagaste (now Souk-Ahras, in modern day Algeria) on November 13, 354 and grew to become one the most significant and influential thinkers in the history of the Catholic Church. His teachings were the foundation of Christian doctrine for a millennium.
The story of his life, up until his conversion, is written in the autobiographical Confessions, the most intimate and well-known glimpse into an individual's soul ever written, as well as a fascinating philosophical, theological, mystical, poetic and literary work.
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 - thinking that he wasn't necessarily leaving Christ, of whose name he acknowledges "I kept it in the recesses of my heart; and all that presented itself to me without that Divine name, though it might be elegant, well written, and even replete with truth, did not altogether carry me away" (Confessions, I, iv).
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. But he also discovered and fell in love with philosophy at the age of 19, a love he pursued with great vehemence.
He was attracted to Manichaeanism at this time, after its devotees had promised him that they had scientific answers to the mystery of nature, could disprove the Scriptures, and could explain the problem of evil. Augustine became a follower for nine years, learning all there was to learn in it before rejecting it as incoherent and fraudulent.
He went to Rome and then Milan in 386 where he met Saint 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, Saint Monica, died with the knowledge that all she had hoped for in this world had been fulfilled.
He returned to Africa, to his hometown of Tagaste, "having now cast off from himself the cares of the world, he lived for God with those who accompanied him, in fasting, prayers, and good works, meditating on the law of the Lord by day and by night."
On a visit to Hippo he was proclaimed priest and then bishop against his will. He later accepted it as the will of God and spent the rest of his life as the pastor of the North African town, from where he spent much time refuting the writings of heretics.
Augustine also wrote, The City of God, against the pagans who charged that the fall of the Roman empire, which was taking place at the hands of the Vandals.
On August 28, 430, as Hippo was under siege by the Vandals, Augustine died, at the age of 76. His legacy continues to deeply shape the face of the Church to this day.
Gastonia, N.C., Aug 23, 2009 (CNA) - Some were simply curious to learn more. Some already knew they have a calling to serve.
“I wanted to come and meet the priests, to see how they work, what they do,” said 15-year-old Billy Stocker, a parishioner of Queen of the Apostles in Belmont.
Billy was among the 60 male high school and college students who gathered with the bishop, priests and seminarians of the Diocese of Charlotte for a Day of Discernment at St. Michael the Archangel Church in Gastonia, N.C. on Aug. 5.
The daylong event allowed the young men to interact and ask questions of the clergy and seminarians to discern what God is asking of their lives and to explore their possible callings to the priesthood.
In addition to attending Mass celebrated by Bishop Peter J. Jugis, the young men spent the day in prayer, Eucharistic adoration and talks with the priests and seminarians.
The day also included sports, games and a panel discussion with a question-and-answer session about life in the priesthood and seminary.
Billy said he has always had a calling toward the priesthood.
“I want to help people and help people get closer to God,” he said.
“Discernment day allows young Catholic men to realize that the call to the priesthood is a real possibility for them,” said Father Christopher Gober, pastor of St. Lucien Church in Spruce Pine and St. Bernadette Mission in Linville and vocations director for the Diocese of Charlotte.
“The day gives them a context to see other men are thinking about it as well,” he said.
“They realize they aren’t the only ones thinking about a calling to the priesthood,” said Father Benjamin Roberts, parochial vicar of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Greensboro.
Father Roberts, who was ordained in June, has attended every discernment day since 2005 and was on hand to talk to the participants about life as a newly ordained priest.
“It’s been wonderful … more amazing than I thought it would be,” he said.
Discernment day, said Father Gober, allows young men to see “that the priesthood is a joyful life.”
“I’ve been thinking about the priesthood for a year,” said 19-year-old Josh Herman, a parishioner of St. Dorothy Church in Lincolnton.
“I wanted to come and get a better understanding of what I may be getting myself into,” he said with a smile.
“The joy,” said Father Roberts, “is seeing young men come to discernment day and then enter the seminary a few years later.”
Wendell Sawyer was one of those young men. The 20-year-old attended last year’s discernment day and is now attending St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Pennsylvania.
“All the signs pointed to the priesthood,” he said. “Discernment day jolts people out of their comfortable surroundings and makes them think about the priesthood more seriously.”
Bishop of Charlotte, Peter Jugis said he believed there were some future priests in the recent group.
“I was happy to spend the day with these young people who are exploring the idea of a call to the priesthood,” said the bishop.
“Every day I pray a rosary specifically for our seminarians, and for all the young people of our diocese who are exploring the idea of priesthood or religious life,” he said.
Printed with permission from The Catholic News & Herald, newspaper for the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C.
Washington D.C., Aug 23, 2009 (CNA) - Responding to President Barack Obama’s efforts to rally sympathetic religious groups to back his proposed health care legislation, pro-life groups have organized prayer campaigns and issued protests of the proposal’s “abortion mandate.”
During a Wednesday teleconference sponsored by the left-leaning religious organizations Catholics United, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and Faith in Public Life, both White House Director of Domestic Policy Melody Barnes and President Obama denied that the health care bill would allow for federally funded abortions.
Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), charged that Obama "brazenly misrepresented the abortion-related component of the health care legislation that his congressional allies and staff have crafted.”
The NRLC said that the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Capps-Waxman Amendment explicitly authorizes the government plan to cover all elective abortions.
In response to the situation Fr. Frank Pavone, National Director of Priests for Life, has announced an effort to build the “largest prayer group in history” by promoting membership in a “Pray to End Abortion” cause on the social network site Facebook.
At present the effort has posted a special prayer regarding the health care reform debate.
The prayer, addressing Jesus as the “Divine Physician,” intercedes for elected officials and asks that they have both “the humility to know that they are servants, not masters” and also “the wisdom to realize that every life has equal value.”
“Let every reform in our public policy be based on the reform of our hearts and minds,” the prayer concludes.
The prayer site is accessible at http://www.ProLifePrayers.org
The group Concerned Women for America has joined the large coalition known as Stop the Abortion Mandate, which opposes the coverage of abortion in proposed federal health care legislation.
Wendy Wright, President of Concerned Women for America, claimed that “liberal religious leaders” of a dwindling population are siding with the dwindling numbers of those who support the “Obama/Reid/Pelosi government takeover of health care” that she says would require Americans to fund abortions.
Wright noted liberal Evangelical leader and Obama supporter Rev. Jim Wallis’ July 22 statement in which he said that the prohibition on federal abortion funding should be maintained.
“This last-minute rally for legislation that includes taxpayer funding for abortion and special privileges for abortionists to have access to school children (with Planned Parenthood in position to run school-based clinics) reveals that liberal religious leaders and Obama are not sincere in their claim to 'reduce abortions' and 'find common ground',” she charged.
“The vast majority of Americans, even those who call themselves pro-choice, do not want to fund abortions because they know that what the government funds, we get more of," she said.
The Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) was also critical of the health care legislation.
"Nationalized health care is a recipe for disaster, for our country, for the unborn and for the elderly. The Party of Death cannot be trusted with such profound life decisions," C-FAM told CNA in an e-mail.
Madison, Wis., Aug 23, 2009 (CNA) - The bishops of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC) have issued a statement to the state’s Catholic faithful expressing their “deep concern” about a state provision that requires providers of health insurance include contraceptive services. The rule will force Catholic dioceses and other agencies to pay for a “gravely immoral” service, the conference says.
A provision in the new state budget mandates the coverage as a “benefit.”
Signatories of the August 20 WCC letter were Bishop of Green Bay David L. Ricken, Bishop of Madison Robert C. Morlino, Bishop of La Crosse Jerome E. Listecki, Bishop of Superior Peter F. Christensen and Bishop William P. Callahan, the Administrator for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“This mandate will compel Catholic dioceses, parishes, and other agencies that buy health insurance to pay for a medical service that Catholic teaching holds to be gravely immoral,” the Wisconsin bishops explained. “Contraception prevents the full and reciprocal self-giving that is essential to Christian marriage and diminishes the role of God, the giver of life, within marriage.”
The statement explained that only dioceses or agencies that are self-insured, such as the dioceses of La Crosse and Superior, will not be covered by the mandate.
“As Catholic teachers and pastors, we strongly object to this blatant insensitivity to our moral values and legal rights,” the bishops continued, noting that most other states provide accommodations for those whose religious or moral values are compromised by such mandates.
The bishops charged that the state government’s mandate violates constitutional rights as well as religious values, citing the right of conscience established in the Wisconsin Constitution. Religious freedom also includes the ability to publicly witness to one’s values in what one does and in what one declines to do, they explained.
“Nowhere does the Constitution say that the right of conscience is protected except in matters related to human reproduction,” their statement said. “Whatever course we pursue in this matter, we want all Catholics in Wisconsin to know that we will also continue to affirm and communicate the teachings of our faith.”
The bishops of the WCC also objected that the mandate was not a matter of open debate and “due deliberation.”
Acknowledging that many Catholics find Catholic teaching on contraception “difficult to accept or live out in practice,” the bishops emphasized that the immorality of artificial contraception is not a “Catholic issue.”
“Rather, the prohibition of artificial contraception is a principle of the natural moral law, which is inscribed in the mind and heart of all human beings,” the statement said. “The bond between husband and wife, in their inseparable love-making and life creating Vocation, is evident to human reason itself – another powerful consideration which should lead our legislators to take very seriously our conviction.”
The WCC statement suggested that this truth is not recognized because the “fashionable proposition” that there is no objective truth renders human reason “directionless.”
“We commit ourselves to continue listening to your objections and to explaining the Church’s understanding of human sexuality in such a manner that you may discover a greater understanding and appreciation of this teaching and the reasons for it,” the Wisconsin bishops pledged.
They added that Catholic teaching only seems overly restrictive of human freedom and in reality serves a “greater freedom” for both individuals and society.
“Our faith always challenges us,” the bishops said in conclusion. “We are measured by how we respond to those challenges. We ask for your support and prayers as we respond to this one.”
Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Aug 23, 2009 (CNA) -
Before Sunday’s Angelus prayer with pilgrims in the courtyard of Castel Gandolfo, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about today’s Gospel, in which Jesus' teaching about his presence in the Eucharist is met with resistance from the Jews and his own disciples. Followers of Christ must respond to his challenging teachings with lifelong commitment instead of trying to adapt his teachings to the fashions of the times, the Pope said.
"The fourth Evangelist,” Pope Benedict explained, “relates the reaction of the people and disciples, shocked by the words of the Lord to the point that many, after having followed him until then, exclaim, ‘This saying is hard, who can accept it?'”
Benedict XVI continued reading, reciting, “And from that moment on ‘many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.'”
The Pope then noted, “Jesus, however, does not lessen his claim. Indeed, he directly addresses the twelve saying, 'Will you also go away?’”
"This provocative question,” the Pope taught, “is not only addressed to listeners of the time, but to believers and men of every age. Even today, many are shocked by the paradox of the Christian faith.”
Because “Jesus’ teaching seems too hard, too difficult to accept and put into practice,” Pope Benedict observed that, “As a result there are those who reject and abandon Christ, those who attempt to adapt his teachings to the fashions of the times distorting its meaning and value.”
“Will you also go away?' This unsettling provocation resounds in our hearts and awaits a response from each one of us. Jesus in fact is not contented by a merely superficial or formal belonging, an initial and enthusiastic adhesion is not enough for Him. On the contrary, we must take part in 'his thinking and his will' throughout our entire life,” the Holy Father said.
Drawing his words to a close, the Pope said, “Faith is God's gift to man and is, at the same time, man’s free and total trusting of himself to God.” “Docile faith, listening to the word of the Lord, that lamp for our feet, light for our path…We ask the Virgin Mary to keep alive in us this faith steeped in love, which has made her, a humble maiden of Nazareth, Mother of God and mother and model for all believers,” he prayed.
After the Marian prayer, the Pope greeted participants of the lay movement Communion and Liberation, who are gathering for their 30th annual Friendship Among Peoples meeting, which opened today in Rimini, Italy. Commenting on this year's theme, “Knowledge Is Always An Event,” he referred to his recent encyclical “Caritas in Veritate”: “'Learning is not only a material act, because…In all knowledge and in every act of love the human soul experiences something ‘over and above,’ which seems very much like a gift that we receive, or a height to which we are raised.”