St. Augustine in a piggery (Part 2 of Up, Down in CDO)-A A +A
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
UP: Cagayanons who reflect on the patron saint honored with a feast today.
DOWN: The increasingly secularized celebration of saints? feast days, when these special days are supposed to remind us of the Christian witness of saints.
Jesus is, of course, our greatest model in the Godly way to live, but we need ordinary mortals too, both among the living and among those who are now in heaven, to inspire us.
We can give a living testimony of how God works in our lives in the present time, but the journey is ongoing; the struggle is not a done and finished fight yet.
To see how the struggle may end in an upward conclusion, we turn to those who also struggled before us and have already finished the good fight, the saints.
UP: People who understand the term ?saint? to mean all who go to heaven.
DOWN: People who insist that ?saint? only denotes the living followers of Jesus, as used in Acts of the Apostles. They disregard the usage of “saints” in Revelation which clearly denotes also those in heaven who act fully aware and concerned with the faithful living on earth.
UP: People who understand that the canonization of a saint is not the invention of a mythic icon. The canonization of a saint is merely the recognition of a person?s being in heaven, and this is not the product of guesswork or presumption.
There is a process of ascertainment, the topping of which is a petition that gets granted after someone asks the ?candidate? for canonization to help pray for it to our Lord.
The prayer request is the sort that needs a miracle, such as terminal cancer getting immediately, completely and permanently reversed with no scientific explanation, right after the prayer request.
DOWN: People who say that the acknowledgement of saints is exclusively a Catholic idiosyncrasy. Not at all. At most burials, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, the dead is declared as already living in heaven, but with no due consideration to Christ?s judgment of the person. Canonization is a process that does not take away the judgment that exclusively belongs to Christ; it is a recognition of his judgment.
UP: A researched understanding of St. Augustine, the patron saint of Cagayan de Oro. A friend of mine who undertook a writing project on the life of St. Augustine was shocked to discover that Augustine?s main struggle in life did not have much to do with womanizing, as taught to us in our school days. ?He lived in a sinful relationship with a woman outside matrimony,? one of the nuns in St. Theresa?s College told us.
But in the course of her research, this friend of mine found out that in the Roman days in the 5th century, only men and women of equal rank married in the way we understand marriage. People of unequal rank in terms of social and economic status just lived together, and it was known as a common law marriage.
So why should Augustine?s sexual relationship be shocking? After all, he was married in the common law sense. This was the only way for him since the unnamed woman with whom he lived steadily and with whom he had a son was of a lower social status. There is no mention of a church marriage. Naturally! Augustine was not even a baptized Christian at this stage of his life.
Did the nuns and priests in my youth, and also those in the present time who continue to say Gus was a big sinner because he lived-in with a woman, imply that sex was not sinful only if it was engaged in by baptized Christians who married in church? Funny.
Even in the extremely conservative early days of the church, such a snooty pronouncement was not stated as a teaching with regard to Christians who lived together in a common law union.
Today we have church canon law which has an answer to every question. Canon law was not yet in existence in the early years or, at the very least, was in the state of nascency.
And so when the question regarding so many common law marriages was raised in the church?s Council of Toledo, how does one deal with them in relation to the church?s sacramental life?, the answer was, if the couples were faithful to one another, they could receive the Holy Eucharist.
How on earth Gus got depicted as a sinner because of his sexual union in a time when laws regarding marriage were not crystal clear to the church, is beyond me, especially when one bears in mind that the poor guy wasn?t even a Christian at that time!
Augustine?s famous womanizing is a myth, especially because his autobiographical work, Confessions, does not show extraordinary evidences of his being a wanton ?babaero.?
What my friend could detect was Augustine?s exaggeration of his so-called lustfulness, such as having ?dirty thoughts? about a long-haired girl standing in front of him in church.
He wrote pages and pages about this venial sin which may not even be a sin at all. Goodness gracious, I?m sure 99 percent of the men, and the women too, in Xavier Chapel where I go to Mass have these ?dirty thoughts? at least once in 5 minutes around the clock, including the hour spent at Mass!
How come nobody is pronouncing them the greatest, most lustful of sinners, a title given exclusively to poor Gus?
Seriously, why did Augustine as writer exaggerate his ?lustfulness?? According to my friend, we must consider the main reason why Augustine wrote Confessions in the first place. This work was not written with an intention to publish it, the way we think today of almost anything we write, even if what we believe is a literary masterpiece may actually be garbage.
His intention was to help his friend and fellow-bishop, Alypius, whose ministry was lackluster. (We get a sense of their close friendship from Augustine?s cute mini-biographical anecdotes about Alypius within Confessions.) Alypius needed a powerful conversion story to ignite some “inspiration” and initiate a genuine turnabout of morals in his diocese.
And what better way to do this than by talking about the well-known genius and ascetic, Aurelius Agustinus, who was formerly not of the Christian faith and whose conversion to it was still the talk of the town?
What better way than by focusing on his sins of lust though these were not really of scandalous magnitude? Yet they resonated with Alypius?s flock and could be underscored or made bigger, to resonate better.
?What truly was Augustine?s real, major conflict, the heresy of Gnosticism and Manichaeism versus the Christian faith, was not so important to the flock, and so it seemed to be given less importance by the writer. I say seemed because if you organize the jumble of verbiage and read between the lines, the faith struggle is greater.?
?Nowadays when the matter of what to believe in is at stake, I think the church should put Augustine?s struggle in its proper perspective. He would emerge as a far greater model. It is understandable though why the less-important aspect of his struggle is popularized by the church: Augustine is hard to understand and harder to explain. For instance, the influence of Manichaeism, which lingered in his attitude for a long time is tricky to discuss today: One of its teachings is that the best way to end evil is to stop having children. Isn?t this sweet to advocates of contraception and abortion??
?Augustine is dark and complex, Thomas Aquinas was also a genius, but there was a litheness to him even though he was supposed to look like an ox. St. Augustine was very thin but he comes to us heavy.?
(Honestly, all that I can remember of Aquinas is that he had a huge tummy and his desk had to be cut inward to accommodate it. Maybe this is just a joke? Joke or not, everytime I indulge in gluttony, I think of Thomas Aquinas.)
My friend continues: Augustine?s biggest struggle was what to believe in. He was misled away from Christianity by the Manichean religion. He responded to the cult chiefly because it seemed to answer his intellectualizing. Why was there evil in the world? He wondered about this after he and his friends threw rotten pears at pigs in a piggery for no reason at all. Manichaeism, which was rooted in Gnosticism, seemed to have the best answer in his teens and early adulthood.
?But by the time he wrote Confessions, he was already a deep believer and follower of Jesus Christ, and so he no longer had anything to prove to himself, so much so that he was only conscious of giving of himself for the furtherance of the Faith and the Church, even at the cost of depicting himself as a terrible person prior to his conversion. He is called ?Doctor of the Church,? which sounds neat and nice. In reality, reaching that point took an arduous journey.?
Augustine?s journey began with a senseless experience at a piggery. He searched for an explanation in a roundabout way, and found himself returning to his roots, to his mother Monica and to her Christian faith.
To me, Gus is a relevant model today, not for the stereotyped and exaggerated, funny reasons, but for being an analytical thinker.
Imagine, something as ordinary as the squealing of pigs could trigger the flow of his thinking juices and move him to give his life a direction! We can imitate him, beginning today when we dash to the lechon table: What are we celebrating?
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 28, 2013.