28 August 2023

Homily - 28 August 2023 - The Solemnity of Saint Augustine of Hippo

Dear brothers and sisters,

It is indeed right and just that tonight we have gathered to rejoice in the gift of so great a patron as Saint Augustine of Hippo. It is fitting that we have gathered at the altar to render thanks to God for so great an intercessor as Saint Augustine of Hippo. But what does it mean to have a patron and intercessor in heaven, especially one like the Doctor of Grace?

A statue of St. Augustine with a kukui nut and maile lei, Hawaiian signs of affection.

Much of our society is so dominated by a materialistic mindset to the extent that when we think of patronage, we probably only think of patronizing a business. While it may not be common now, it was once common for shopkeepers to thank customers for their patronage. This understanding of patron began shortly before the nineteenth century, but would have been quite unknown for most of the last two and half millennia or more.

Our English word patron comes from the Latin patronus, meaning defender or protector, which comes from pater, meaning father. Historically, a patron was one who defended and protected someone as a father would defend and protect his child. It is in this sense that the Church adopted the word in reference to the saints of God and their relationship with the Church on earth.

Consequently, it became customary to choose a heavenly patron based on a shared aspect of life. Such patronage is founded in Christian love. As Saint John reminds us, “Beloved let us love one another, because love is of God” (I John 4:7). Loving one another requires that we look after one another’s good and strive to bring about what is good for each other. This mission of love does not end with physical death, but becomes even more important for the Saints who look upon the Face of God; they love those whom God loves.

Saint Augustine became the patron of brewers because he enjoyed partying as a young man; he became the patron of printers and theologians because of his voluminous spiritual and theological writings as an older man. His patronage, however, does not stop there; he is also the patron of several cities, either because of the presence of his relics or because they bear his name. What is more, he is our patron, as well.

After the Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal throughout the Roman Empire in a.d. 313, churches were built over the tombs of the martyrs and therefore received the names of those whose tombs they marked. This practice spread beyond the tombs of the martyrs to the tombs of other early Christians who had a reputation of holiness. As the number of Christians increased and more churches were needed, these, too, were named after the saints, even if they were not built over their tombs.

In 1875, our parish and church were dedicated first of all to God, but also to Saint Augustine of Hippo, who lived a most remarkable life of sin, but also an extraordinarily holy life after his heartfelt conversion. Because of his association with our church and parish, Saint Augustine has a particular fatherly care for us as our heavenly defender and protector. His patronage over us is something we too often overlook and under appreciate.

While we may not be brewers, printers, or theologians, we can nevertheless relate to Saint Augustine because he is not that different from us. He fell into a life of sin and resisted the call to repentance because he enjoyed his sinful way of life. More importantly, though, he knew the joy that comes from repentance and being raised up again by the Lord Jesus. Like us, Saint Augustine searched for truth and found it in Christ. He felt overwhelmed by his many duties. And he knew the beauty of a life lived for others and for God. In all of this, he is a man like us who knows well what our lives are like. He is a perfect patron for us precisely because he is very much like us. We do well, then, to call upon his intercession in every aspect of our daily lives.

Saint Augustine himself frequently called upon the intercession of the saints, especially the martyrs, and asked them to pray for him to God. Among his many writings, we find these words: “At the Lord’s table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps.”[1] As a loving father desires to look after the needs his children, so does Saint Augustine desire to look after us with a love that imitates the goodness of God (cf. I John 4:11).

I urge you, then, dear brothers and sisters, to turn to Saint Augustine in all of your daily needs. Ask his prayers in the midst of your troubles. When you are in doubt, ask him to help you see the truth. When you are sorrowing, ask him to comfort you and assure you of the goodness of God. Ask him to share with you his love of the Scriptures. Above all, ask him to help you meditate on the mysteries of God and teach you the wisdom of what he has learned (cf. Sirach 39:7-8). If you do, Saint Augustine will teach you how to live in love and will lead you to look upon the Face of God, who is love itself (cf. I John 4:8, 12). Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Homilies on John, 84.

27 August 2023

Homily - 26 August 2023 - The TWenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

 Dear brothers and sisters,

Throughout the course of the liturgical year, the Church celebrates the life of the Savior and organizes the year around his life. The year begins with the anticipation of his return in glory at the end of all things and with the joy of his first coming at Bethlehem in the season of Advent; it ends with the celebration of his universal and cosmic kingship, almost as if with two identical spiritual bookends. In between these we commemorate his Birth, Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension in the seasons of Christmas, Lent, and Easter. Throughout the rest of the year we celebrate other events in his life and ministry, particularly his healings and his teaching. All of this is done to enable us to experience his life in its fullness.

But because the Saints of God have been inserted into the Mystical Body of Christ and are inseparable from their Head, the Church rightly commemorates these holy men and women throughout the liturgical year, usually on the anniversaries of their earthly deaths. The Church does this in the midst of her celebration of the various events and aspects in the life of the Lord Jesus because they are part of his Body. Ordinarily, today would be one such day, the memorial of Saint Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo. Why, then, do we not commemorate Saint Monica in today’s celebration of the Holy Mass?

The answer has to do with the rankings assigned to the different liturgical celebrations, ranging from memorials both optional and obligatory, feasts, and solemnities, first of the saints and then of the Lord. Sundays are always observed as solemnities and so trump every day except other solemnities that outrank them, such as the Solemnity of Christmas. Before we consider solemnities, let us first return to Saint Monica (she is too import to simply skip over).

Follower of Master of Guillebert de Mets, Saint Augustine and Saint Monica
From a Book of Hours, MS M 357, fol. 194r

Sometime about the year 332, Monica was born in the north African city of Thagaste, in what is today Souk Ahras, Algeria. She married Patricius, who was a pagan, a member of the city senate, and together they had three children: Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua. Monica was a Christian but Patricius would not consent to have the children baptized, which caused her some distress.

When Augustine was seventeen, he left home to study rhetoric at Madauros. He later moved to Carthage, then to Rome, and later to Milan where his life irrevocably change, both for his own benefit and for ours. While in Carthage, he abandoned the Christian faith Monica had taught him and began to follow a dualistic philosophy that effectively taught there exists a battle between a good god and an evil god. Monica became even more distraught when Augustine habitually took up a concubine with whom he cohabited for many years, with whom he had a son, Adeodatus.

Year after year, Monica poured out her heart to God, begging for the conversion of her son to the life of faith. She followed Augustine everywhere, becoming something of the epitome of the overbearing mother. She asked many people for help in bringing her Son out of his sinful way of life, including the Bishop of Milan whom she implored to meet with her son and talk him out of his sinfulness. The bishop refused, knowing Augustine was not yet ready for such a conversion. But, as Augustine tells us,

She pressed him with more begging and with floods of tears, asking him to see me and debate with me. He was now irritated and a little vexed and said, “Go away from me; as you live, it cannot be that the son of these tears should perish.” In her conversations with me she often used to recall that she had taken these words as if they sounded from heaven.[1]

For seventeen years, Monica’s tears flowed freely on behalf of her son and her prayers were at last answered. Augustine sent his concubine away, received baptism, and afterwards lived a holy life, becoming one of the greatest and most important saints the Church has known. Monica died at the Roman port of Ostia in 387.


Whenever we turn to the example of Saint Monica, we are reminded of


How many difficulties there are also today in family relations and how many mothers are in anguish at seeing their children setting out on wrong paths! Monica, a woman whose faith was wise and sound, invites them not to lose heart but to persevere in their mission as wives and mothers, keeping firm their trust in God and clinging with perseverance to prayer.[2]


However painful these situations may be, Saint Monica reminds us there is always hope that the children of many tears should not perish. Mothers, particularly, can always look to Saint Monica for an example of living the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love in the most difficult of circumstances.


The Church remembers her son and our patron the day after she remembers Saint Monica. For most of the Church, the liturgical commemoration of a Saint is a memorial, but because he is our patron his day here rises to a solemnity. What does this mean for us here at St. Augustine’s Parish?


In our society today, we tend to associate solemnities with somberness and sobriety. While the origin of the word solemn is uncertain, it seems to be connected with the Proto-Indo-European word sol, meaning “well-kept.” In Latin, solemn took on the characteristics of an annual, formal, religious ceremony.

Liturgically speaking, when we observe a solemnity the finest appointments that a church has should be used, from altar cloths and candlesticks to chalices and books. When the commemoration of a saint is raised to a solemnity, a second reading is added. Six candlesticks can be used instead of two or four. Flowers may adorn the sanctuary. A higher level of music can be employed. In short, whatever can be done to keep the day well should be done. This ought to be true both within the physical body of the church building, as well as within the spiritual body of our lives. To keep a solemnity well is to live the day differently than other days. The medieval Church knew this; we have regrettably forgotten it.

If we consider the true purpose of a festive communal celebration, as should happen on a solemnity, we know 

the feast also echoes man's vital needs, and is deeply rooted in his longing for the transcendent. The feast, with its manifestations of joy and rejoicing, is an affirmation of the value of life and creation. The feast is also an expression of integral freedom and of man's tendency towards true happiness, with its interruption of daily routine, formal conventions, and of the need to earn a living… As a social moment, the feast is an occasion to strengthen family relations and to make new contacts.[3]

We can, perhaps, summarize this basic mindset behind the true understanding of celebration more simply:

To celebrate a feast is to allow man to participate in God's lordship over creation, and in His active "rest," rather than in any form of laziness. It is an expression of simple joy, rather than unlimited selfishness. It is an expression of true liberty rather than an occasion for ambiguous amusement which creates new and more subtle forms of enslavement.[4]

Both Saint Monica and Saint Augustine found this expression of true liberty and of simple joy here on earth by remaining close to the Lord. May their examples and intercession help us to find it here, as well, so we might eternally enjoy its fullness with them before the Face of God. Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, III.xii.21.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 27 August 2006.

[3] Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, 232.

[4] Ibid., 233.

13 August 2023

Homily - 13 August 2023 - The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)

Commissioning of New Lay Directors for Great River Teens Encounter Christ

Dear brothers and sisters,

When we encountered Elijah in the first reading, we find him in a desperate situation in danger of death (cf. I Kings 19:10). How did he get into this state of affairs?

He was a mighty prophet in the ninth century before the Birth of Jesus Christ. Elijah was a strong proponent of the worship of YHWH, of the God who freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt through great signs and wonders as he led them through the prophet Moses. Elijah worked many mighty deeds in the power of the Lord, he multiplied bread, and fiercely fought against the priests of the false god Baal, killing four hundred and fifty of them to eradicate the worship of the false god from among the Israelites (cf. I Kings 18:40). He did so to call the Israelites back to the worship of the one true God, but many of the Israelites preferred worshipping the false god and now sought Elijah to kill him in revenge.

In a certain sense, we are all Elijah because his name means, “My God is YHWH;” the Lord is indeed our God, as well, and we must do what we can to combat the false gods of our own day and call people back to the worship of the Crucified and Risen Lord.

In this regard, it is important for us to note that Elijah was a prophet. A prophet is not so much one who predicts future as much as one who speaks on behalf of God. Elijah was not of the tribe of Levi, nor was he a descendant of Aaron, which is to say he was neither a Levite nor a priest. He was what we would call a layman and yet he was able to powerfully act in the Lord’s name.

To name someone as being a member of the laity is, in one sense, a negative descriptor: “The term laity is here understood to mean all the faithful except those in holy orders and those in the state of religious life specially approved by the Church.”[1]

In another sense, however, to name someone as being a member of the laity is a positive descriptor: “These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.”[2]

When it comes to the distinction of clergy and laity, we must remember that “there exists among all the Christian faithful a true equality regarding dignity and action by which they all cooperate in the building up of the Body of Christ according to each one’s own condition and function.”[3] Clergy and laity are to work together for the building up of the Kingdom of God.

For nearly sixty years, the Church has emphasized the vital role the laity have in the proclamation of the Gospel and the sanctification of the world. She has taught that lay men and women

…seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.[4]

Your involvement in Great River Teens Encounter Christ is one way among many that you seek to fulfill your baptismal calling to carry out the prophetic task of helping everyone experience the merciful love of Christ Jesus.

We face different obstacles today in this mission than Elijah did, but this does not mean the obstacles we face are any less difficult. The primary false gods of this age are self-absorption and autonomy, both of which give way to a variety of other false gods. These are all difficult to tear down, but they must be torn down if you and I and others are to walk upon the stormy waters of this life on our way to Jesus (cf. Matthew 14:29). We must block out the cacophony of the false gods of this age if we are to hear Jesus say, “Take courage, it is; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).

Sometimes it seems we may well lose the battle against the false gods our contemporaries – and sometimes ourselves - worship, that we are simply fighting what J.R.R. Tolkien called “the long defeat.”[5] When this seems to be the case, the Lord always provides a sign of “final victory.”[6] We see these signs on TEC weekends in the conversions worked in the hearts of the candidates and team members alike, but such signs are also seen in the world – for those with eyes to see them.

In recent days on the island of Maui wildfires have killed at least 93 people and consumed at least 2,200 buildings; Lahaina town is gone. One building, however, stands in the midst of the charred rubble of the ancient city of chiefs: the  church of Maria Lanakila. Its title means Mary of Victory. The Lord gives us these signs of final victory so that the struggle against the long defeat may not depress us; he continually calls out to us, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”

As we strive, then, to tear down false idols to help others make their way to Jesus, let us not be afraid to step out of the comfortable boats of our lives. May we stretch out our hands to Jesus in the confidence that he will save us from final defeat and grant us his salvation (cf. Matthew 14:31; Psalm 85:8). Amen.

[1] Lumen Gentium, 31.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Canon 208.

[4] Lumen Gentium, 31.

[5] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, II.7.

[6] Ibid., Letter 195.

12 August 2023

An easy way to help the people of Lahaina and all of Maui

Many of you will know that I have been visiting the Hawaiian islands a couple of times a year for the last sixteen or so years. I have been blessed and honored to make many friendships during the course of these visits, particularly with many Catholics of Hawaiian descent.

If you’d like to make a financial contribution to assist those on the island of Maui who have suffered so much due to the horrors of the recent wildfires that killed at least 80 people and destroyed more than 2,200 buildings, you may send a donation marked for Maui or Hawaii to:

St. Augustine Parish
320 N. Saratoga
Ashland, Illinois 62612
I will send your collective donation to friends with EPIC Ministries on the island of of Oahu who are spearheading efforts to assist those affected by this great tragedy on Maui. EPIC Ministries has close contacts on Maui who can see to it that your donation will do the most good possible. As but one example, 100% of your gift will go to alleviate the needs of the people on Maui.

06 August 2023

Homily - The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord - 6 August 2023

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today, above the mountain whose name means “the coming light,” the voice of the Father commanded the trio of Apostles Peter, James, and John to listen to the Son of God (cf. Matthew 17:5).[1]

Listening, then, is the proper attitude of the disciple, but not only that: in chapter 8, Matthew shows us Jesus speaking to the sea in a threatening way, and the sea calms down; immediately afterwards he intimates to the demon to leave the two possessed and move into the swine, and they obey. Nothing resists the Word but man's freedom: later (Matthew 12:41-42), Jesus rebukes scribes and Pharisees who ask for a sign, reminding them that the inhabitants of Nineveh were converted not because they saw signs but because they heard the word of Jonah; and so the Queen of the South, with the word of Solomon.[2]


Listening is the proper attitude of the disciple of Jesus because he first listens to the Father. He intentionally goes away from the crowd, from the distractions of daily living, to pray, to listen to the Father.


Because Jesus listens to his Father, his physical, earthly appearance changes before the Apostles to reveal his “majesty”: “his face shone like the sun and his clothes because white as light” (II Peter1:16; Matthew 17:2). He was revealed to them as the one who “received dominion, glory, and kingship,” the one whom “all peoples, nations, and languages serve” (Daniel 7:14).

Detail, The Transfiguration, The Voyages of Jean de Mandeville, MS NAF 4515, f. 34r

Jesus took those three chosen Apostles with him to teach them the importance of listening to God and to show them its profound and sublime importance by his own example.


Then we could say that transfiguration is nothing other than what happens to the one who listens: the encounter with the Father, the filial relationship with Him, cannot fail to transform life and make it become, slowly, what everyone's life is called to be: a place of God's presence, a temple of His Spirit and His Glory.[3]


But what is it that the Lord says to us? What is it that leads to our transformation in glory?


Let us think again about Peter, James, and John. They were the three prominent Apostles, as we see in the times Jesus takes them with him away from the rest of the Twelve. Those three were present to see the Lord Jesus transfigured in majesty, yes, but they were also present to see the Lord in his agony at Gethsemane, when he asked that the cup of his suffering might pass him by.


Therefore, it is a question of two very different situations: In the one case, James, with the other two disciples, experiences the Lord’s glory, sees him speaking with Moses and Elijah, sees the divine splendor revealed in Jesus; in the other, he finds himself before suffering and humiliation; he sees with his own eyes how the Son of God humbles himself, becoming obedient unto death… [They] had to discern how the Messiah, awaited by the Jewish people as a victor, was in reality not only surrounded by honor and glory, but also by sufferings and weakness. The glory of Christ was realized precisely on the cross, in taking part in our sufferings.[4]


In this we see that Jesus does not call us to live our best life, to live lives of comfort and ease; no, he calls us to follow after him, to take up our crosses and unite our sufferings to his own (cf. Luke 9:23).

Too many people today think this acceptance of suffering seems rather absurd, foolish and maybe even stupid. But as Saint Peter tells us today, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty” (II Peter 1:16). The glory of the Cross comes not from man but from God; it is a glory that the wisdom of this world cannot understand.

Before I attempted to go away on vacation and retreat, to listen to the Father myself, I pleaded with you not to go elsewhere for the fulfillment of Holy Mass. I stressed with you the importance of worshiping the Lord together, in one community. I reminded you that this parish does not and cannot revolve around me, that I will not be among you forever, that the parish existed before me and will exist long after me. Eighty-nine of you were present that day to hear my plea, yet my words seem to have fallen on many deaf ears. That next Sunday sixty-seven of you gathered here and sixty-three the following Sunday. When I returned last Sunday – after many stressful difficulties – only forty-six of you were here. It was – if I may be honest with – disappointing, disheartening, and frustrating.


Because it looked like I might not actually have been able to get back to Ashland in time for Mass last weekend, I arranged for another priest to be on stand-by, if will. I finally arrived at the Quincy airport at 10:00 p.m. last Saturday night. After a twenty-minute drive to the parish where I stay in the Gem City, I finally fell asleep some time at 11:00 p.m. Then I rose very early Sunday morning to drive back to Ashland through a dense fog to prepare for Mass with you. I could have taken the easy way out and said to the other priest, “I’m exhausted and just want to sleep in; please cover that Mass for me.” But I didn’t; I embraced the cross as it came to me because the Christian life is not about comfort; it is about union with Christ Jesus who suffered willingly for us.


It is noticeable when one of us is not present at Sunday Mass and the presence of each other helps us to grow in holiness by reminding us we are not alone in the desire to draw closer to God. This does not mean we cannot take a vacation or honor family commitments elsewhere; rather, it means we should – whenever possible and whatever the difficulty – strive to join the parish each Sunday and holyday.


May we never be afraid or hesitant to accept the cross as it comes to us. Let us instead accept it and embrace it together as one family until we are all transformed fully into the likeness of the Son of God. Amen.

[1] Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent, 3. In Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Volume I: General Prologue, Sundays from Septuagesima to Pentecost. Paul Spilsbury, trans. (Padua: Edizioni Messagero Padova, 2007), 102.

[2] Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Homily, 6 August 2023.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, General Wednesday Audience, 21 June 2006.