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St. Augustine, Bishop and Doctor – August 28th
Readings: 1 Jn 4:7-16; Mt 23:8-12.
1/ Reading I: 1 John 4:7-21 7 Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God; for God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No man has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the Day of Judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. 19 We love, because he first loved us. 20 If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.
2/ Gospel: Matthew 23:8-12 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. 11 He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; 12 whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
I. THEME: God is the truth and the most perfect love.
To understand today readings, we should know a sketch about St. Augustine’s life. Augustine is the smart person and very good in reasoning. Though he was born by Monica, a devout Catholic mother, Augustine didn’t use Scripture to find God. He gave up his faith to chase after the Manicheanism heresy. He was in love with Greco-Roman philosophy, especially Neoplatonism of Plotinus; he had an eloquent tongue. He thought he can use his wisdom and reason to find the truths.
Augustine was wrong, he couldn’t find out the truths by himself; he must rely on God’s help to understand about Him, as he confessed, “Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so. I entered, then, and with the vision of my spirit, such as it was, I saw the immutable light far above my spiritual ken and transcending my mind: not this common light which every carnal eye can see, nor any light of the same order; but greater, as though this common light were shining much more powerfully, far more brightly, and so extensively as to fill the universe. The light I saw was not the common light at all, but something different, utterly different, from all those things.” Like St. Thomas, Augustine called God’s help is “the immutable light.” This light shines and guides the soul to understand God’s truths. Without this light, human beings can’t fathom God. God can act directly on human intellect because He creates them.
Augustine also confessed that he sought a way to gain the strength which he needed to enjoy God; but he couldn’t find it until he embraced Christ, the mediator between God and man, the Blessed God forever. Christ himself revealed, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life; no one can come to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). He is the Word become flesh, God’s wisdom which God used to create all things. He can provide us, His children the milk of wisdom.
After experienced God’s sweetness and peace, Augustine painfully confessed these words, “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 unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”
1/ Reading I: God is love.
1.1/ God loved us first: The author of the First Letter of John reveals for us many important things about the divine love (agape):
(1) Love originates from God: God creates the world and everything in it out of love for people. If He hates anything, that thing shall not be existed. All kinds of love originate from God, such as: the love between husband and wife, between parents and children, between brothers and sisters or between friends.
(2) Whoever loves, that person is born by God: God creates people according to His image (selem) and likeness (demut) (Gen 1:26; 5:1-3). People like God the most because they know how to love. The author of the Johannine First Letter confirms, “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.”
(3) The ways God expresses His love: God expresses His love by many ways in the world and the history; but according to the author, the most beautiful way was when He sacrificed His Only Son, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.”
(4) God loves us first: It isn’t that we love God first; but it is God who loves us first. He loves people though people have nothing to be loved. He loves people even when they are still sinners. The author states, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.”
1.2/ We must love each other: As stated above, the characteristic which makes people to be like God the most is to love. They know how to respond to God’s love and to love each other. The author commanded his faithful, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” The reciprocal of this love is emphasized in the Fourth Gospel, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love” (Jn 15:9). “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn 13:34).
There are many kinds of love in life, such as: the romantic love between a man and a woman, the spousal love between a husband and a wife, the fraternal love between brothers and sisters or those who share a common goal, the human compassion for those who are suffering. Pope Benedict, in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, # 10-11, thinks all kinds of love originate from God; but all these kinds of love are imperfect in comparison with the divine love because they still have the selfish element in them. The most perfect love which people need to reach is the divine love; because with this love, people can love others as God loves them. When people possess this love, they can meet Jesus’ challenges as in chapter five of the Gospel according to St. Matthew, such as: to love enemies, to do good deeds or to pray for those who persecute them.
2/ Gospel: “Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ.”
2.1/ The limited value of human knowledge: A Vietnamese proverb says, “Talking can make people to think, but practicing can draw them to do it.” This proverb means that talking can show people the truth, but practicing what one talked can attract people to do the truth. The perfect leaders are the ones who know how to use both their words and deeds to motivate others to do what they want. However, if one can’t find such leaders, the leaders in words also have their limited effect as Jesus accepted the limit of the scribes and the Pharisees’ teachings.
2.2/ The absolute values of God’s knowledge and love: Jesus accused the scribes and the Pharisees the followings:
(1) They are both lawmakers and judges to punish those who violate the law. They promulgated so many unnecessary laws, such as: washing hands before eating and paying tax for growing mint leaves, etc. Jesus accused them that “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.”
(2) They do good deeds in front of people: All the religious deeds they do, not because of God but for people to see and to praise them. Though wearing phylacteries and tassels during prayer are obligatory to remind them that they must continually remember that God is their only One (phylacteries, Exo 13:16, x/c Deut 6:8, 11:18; tassels: Num 15:37-41, Deut 22:12); but they expanded their phylacteries bigger and their tassels longer to attract people’s attention.
(3) They love places of honor at banquets and seats of honor in synagogues: At banquets, they expect the most important seats; for example, to seat on the right or on the left of the host or in the same table with important persons. In Jewish synagogues, the front seats are preserved for the elders and the important people. They want these seats to show people that they are important and for others to pay attention to what they wear and the things they do.
(4) They like to be greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ The scribes and the Pharisees want people to treat them as the primary citizens, more than parents of people. They explained that the parents of people are physical benefactors (giving them a body) while they are spiritual benefactor, and spiritual is more important than physical.
Why did Jesus prevent his disciples to call other “Rabbi, father or leader?” Jesus intended to remind his disciple not to idolize anyone as their god, except God only. Jesus didn’t prohibit to call our earthly father as “father;” but don’t consider them as equal to God. Lastly, Jesus taught his disciples about the standard of God’s judging of value: “The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– Augustine’s life must be the experienced lesson for us, especially the young, to know: Don’t expect to find God’s truths outside of the Scripture. In other words, if we want to know eternal truths, we must learn Scripture.
– If we want to reach God, we must come through Christ. A life of prayer and in close union with Christ shall help us to fathom about God, as St. Thomas Aquinas declared, “I learned the most from Christ’s cross.”
– Don’t be foolish to idolize anyone except God. He is the One who has the absolute power over all things and who loves us the most.