Pope Benedict XVI- Homily
Conversion and St. Augustine
Homily - Pastoral Visit to Vigevano and Pavia, Italy
H.H. Benedict XVI
Third Sunday of Easter
April 22, 2007
Brothers and Sisters,
Yesterday afternoon, I met the diocesan Community of Vigevano and
the heart of my Pastoral Visit was the
Eucharistic concelebration in Piazza Ducale;
today, I have the joy of visiting your Diocese and a culminating
moment of our encounter is also here at Holy Mass.
with affection my Brothers who are concelebrating with me: Cardinal
Dionigi Tettamanzi, Archbishop of Milan, Bishop Giovanni Giudici,
Pastor of your Diocese, Bishop emeritus Giovanni Volta, the retired
Pastor, and the other Prelates of Lombardy.
grateful to the Government Representatives and local Administrations
for their presence. I address my cordial greeting to the priests,
deacons, Religious, leaders of lay associations, the young people,
the sick and all the faithful, and I extend my thoughts to the
entire population of this ancient and noble City, and of the
the Easter Season, the Church presents to us, Sunday after Sunday,
some passages from the preaching with which, after Easter, the
Apostles, particularly Peter, invited Israel to have faith in Jesus
Christ, the Risen One, thereby founding the Church.
today's reading, the Apostles stand before the Sanhedrin - before
that institution which, having sentenced Jesus to death, could not
tolerate that this same Jesus was now beginning to be active again
through the Apostles' preaching. They could not tolerate that his
saving power was once more making itself felt and that his Name was
attracting people who believed in him as the promised Redeemer.
accused the Apostles. Their accusation is: "You want to make us
responsible for that man's blood".
however, reacted to this accusation with a brief catechesis on the
essence of Christian faith: "No, we do not want to make you
responsible for his blood. The effect of the death and Resurrection
of Jesus is quite different. God has exalted him as "Head and
Saviour' of all, and of you, too, his People of Israel". And where
will this "Head" lead us? What does this "Saviour" bring?
us, St Peter tells us, to conversion - creates for us the leeway and
opportunity to mend our ways and repent, begin again. And he offers
us forgiveness for our sins: he introduces us into the proper
relationship with God, hence, into the proper relationship of each
individual with himself or herself and with others.
brief catechesis did not only apply to the Sanhedrin. It speaks to
us all, for Jesus, the Risen One, is also alive today. And for all
generations, for all men and women, he is the "Head" who shows us
the way and the "Saviour" who straightens out our lives.
terms: "conversion" and "forgiveness of sins", which correspond to
the titles of Christ "Head", archeg˛s in Greek, and
"Saviour", are the key words of Peter's catechesis, words intended
to move our hearts too, here and now. And what do they mean?
we must take - the path that Jesus points out to us - is called
"conversion". But what is it? What must we do? In every life
conversion has its own form, because every human being is something
new and no one is merely a copy of another.
the course of history, the Lord has sent us models of conversion to
whom we can look to find guidance. We could thus look at Peter
himself to whom the Lord said at the Last Supper: "[W]hen you have
turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Lk 22: 32).
look at Paul as a great convert. The City of Pavia speaks of one of
the greatest converts in the history of the Church: St Aurelius
Augustine. He died on 28 August in 430 in the port town of Hippo, in
Africa, at that time surrounded and besieged by the Vandals.
the considerable turmoil of a turbulent history, the King of the
Longobards acquired Augustine's remains for the City of Pavia so
that today they belong to this City in a special way, and, in it and
from it, have something special to say to all of us, to humanity,
but to all of us here in particular.
book, Confessions, Augustine touchingly described the
development of his conversion which achieved its goal with Baptism,
administered to him by Bishop Ambrose in the Cathedral of Milan.
Readers of his Confessions can share in the journey
that Augustine had to make in a long inner struggle to receive at
last, at the baptismal font on the night before Easter 387, the
Sacrament which marked the great turning point in his life.
careful examination of the course of St Augustine's life enables one
to perceive that his conversion was not an event of a single moment
but, precisely, a journey. And one can see that this journey did not
end at the baptismal font.
prior to his baptism Augustine's life was a journey of conversion,
after it too, although differently, his life continued to be a
journey of conversion - until his last illness, when he had the
penitential Psalms hung on the walls so that he might have them
always before his eyes, and when he excluded himself from receiving
the Eucharist in order to go back once again over the path of his
repentance and receive salvation from Christ's hands as a gift of
can rightly speak of Augustine's "conversions", which actually
consisted of one important conversion in his quest for the Face of
Christ and then in the journeying on with him.
like to mention briefly three important landmarks in this process of
conversion, three "conversions".
first fundamental conversion was the inner march towards
Christianity, towards the "yes" of the faith and of Baptism. What
was the essential aspect of this journey?
one hand, Augustine was a son of his time, deeply conditioned by the
customs and passions prevalent then as well as by all the questions
and problems that beset any young man. He lived like all the others,
yet with a difference: he continued to be a person constantly
seeking. He was never satisfied with life as it presented itself and
as so many people lived it.
question of the truth tormented him ceaselessly. He longed to
discover truth. He wanted to succeed in knowing what man is; where
we ourselves come from, where we are going and how we can find true
desired to find the life that was right and not merely to live
blindly, without meaning or purpose.
Passion for truth is the true key phrase of his life. Passion for
the truth truly guided him.
a further peculiarity: anything that did not bear Christ's Name did
not suffice for him. Love for this Name, he tells us, he had tasted
from his mother's milk (cf. Confessions, 3, 4, 8). And he
always believed - sometimes rather vaguely, at other times, more
clearly - that God exists and takes care of us (cf. Confessions,
6, 5, 8).
truly know this God and to become really familiar with this Jesus
Christ and reach the point of saying "yes" to him with all its
consequences - this was the great interior struggle of his youthful
Augustine tells us that through Platonic philosophy he learned and
recognized that "in the beginning was the Word" - the Logos,
creative reason. But philosophy, which showed him that the beginning
of all things was creative reason, did not show him any path on
which to reach it; this Logos remained remote and intangible.
through faith in the Church did he later find the second essential
truth: the Word, the Logos, was made flesh.
touches us and we touch him. The humility of God's Incarnation -
this is the important step - must be equalled by the humility of our
faith, which lays down its self-important pride and bows upon
entering the community of Christ's Body; which lives with the Church
and through her alone can enter into concrete and bodily communion
with the living God.
I do not
have to say how deeply all this concerns us: to remain seekers; to
refuse to be satisfied with what everyone else says and does; to
keep our gaze fixed on the eternal God and on Jesus Christ; to learn
the humility of faith in the corporeal Church of Jesus Christ, of
the Logos Incarnate.
Augustine described his second conversion at the end of the
10th book of his Confessions with the words: "Terrified by my
sins and the pile of my misery, I had racked my heart and had
meditated, taking flight to live in solitude. But you forbade me and
comforted me, saying: "That is why Christ died for all, so that
those who live should not live for themselves, but for him who died
for them' (II Cor 5: 15)"; Confessions, 10, 43, 70).
happened? After his baptism, Augustine had decided to return to
Africa and with some of his friends had founded a small monastery
there. His life was then to be totally dedicated to conversation
with God and reflection on and contemplation of the beauty and truth
of his Word.
Thus, he spent three happy years in which he believed he had
achieved the goal of his life; in that period, a series of valuable
philosophical and theological works came into being.
four years after his baptism, he went to the port town of Hippo to
meet a friend whom he desired to win over for his monastery. But he
was recognized at the Sunday liturgy in the cathedral in which he
not by chance that the Bishop of the city, a man of Greek origin who
was not fluent in Latin and found preaching rather a struggle, said
in his homily that he was hoping to find a priest to whom he could
entrust the task of preaching.
instantly grabbed hold of Augustine and forced him forward to be
ordained a priest to serve the city.
Immediately after his forced ordination, Augustine wrote to Bishop
Valerius: "I was constrained... to accept second place at the helm,
when as yet I knew not how to handle an oar.... And from this
derived the tears which some of my brethren perceived me shedding in
the city at the time of my ordination" (cf. Letter 21, 1ff.).
Augustine's beautiful dream of a contemplative life had vanished. As
a result, his life had fundamentally changed. He could now no longer
dedicate himself solely to meditation in solitude. He had to live
with Christ for everyone. He had to express his sublime knowledge
and thoughts in the thoughts and language of the simple people in
his city. The great philosophical work of an entire lifetime, of
which he had dreamed, was to remain unwritten.
however, we have been given something far more precious: the Gospel
translated into the language of everyday life and of his sufferings.
were now part of his daily life, which he described as the
following: "reprimanding the undisciplined, comforting the
faint-hearted, supporting the weak, refuting opponents...
encouraging the negligent, soothing the quarrelsome, helping the
needy, liberating the oppressed, expressing approval to the good,
tolerating the wicked and loving all" (Sermon 340, 3).
"Continuously preaching, arguing, rebuking, building God's house,
having to manage for everyone - who would not shrink from such a
heavy burden?" (Sermon 339, 4).
the second conversion which this man, struggling and suffering, was
constantly obliged to make: to be available to everyone, time and
again, and not for his own perfection; time and again, to lay down
his life with Christ so that others might find him, true Life.
there was a third, decisive phase in the journey of conversion
of St Augustine. After his Ordination to the priesthood he had
requested a vacation period to study the Sacred Scriptures in
first series of homilies, after this pause for reflection, were on
the Sermon on the Mount; he explained the way to an upright life,
"the perfect life", pointed out by Christ in a new way. He presented
it as a pilgrimage to the holy mountain of the Word of God. In these
homilies it is possible to further perceive all the enthusiasm of
faith newly discovered and lived; his firm conviction that the
baptized, in living totally in accordance with Christ's message, can
precisely be "perfect" in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount.
Approximately 20 years later, Augustine wrote a book called the
Retractations, in which he critically reviewed all the works he
had thus far written, adding corrections wherever he had in the
meantime learned something new.
regard to the ideal of perfection in his homilies on the Sermon on
the Mount, he noted: "In the meantime, I have understood that one
alone is truly perfect and that the words of the Sermon on the Mount
are totally fulfilled in one alone: Jesus Christ himself.
whole Church, on the other hand - all of us, including the Apostles
- must pray every day: forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those
who trespass against us" (cf. Retract. I 19, 1-3).
Augustine had learned a further degree of humility - not only the
humility of integrating his great thought into the humble faith of
the Church, not only the humility of translating his great knowledge
into the simplicity of announcement, but also the humility of
recognizing that he himself and the entire pilgrim Church needed and
continually need the merciful goodness of a God who forgives every
he added, liken ourselves to Christ, the only Perfect One, to the
greatest possible extent when we become, like him, people of mercy.
now thank God for the great light that shines out from St
Augustine's wisdom and humility and pray the Lord to give to us all,
day after day, the conversion we need, and thus lead us toward true
Look at the One they
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