Tag Archives: St. Augustine

With quiet promptings the Holy Spirit transforms us

June 6, 2014



Photo/Hickory Hardscrabble  Licensed Under Creative Commons

Photo/Hickory Hardscrabble Licensed Under Creative Commons

Tongues of fire and door-rattling wind shook the Apostles up at Pentecost I’m sure. When I pray to the Holy Spirit I also sometimes expect dramatic action. Mostly what I want is for the Spirit to instantly transform me—to give me a clear vision for my vocation or life’s purpose, to make me bolder or better at prayer, and overall to make me act and feel holier.I wait for the Lord to come with a powerful show of force as the prophet Elijah might have been expecting:

Then the Lord said, “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.” A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord—but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire—but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak … (I Kings 19:11-13 NAB)

Often while I’m waiting for wind and earthquakes, the Holy Spirit comes with small quiet whispers that nonetheless coax me out of my comfort zone. Sometimes I say yes to what the Spirit asks. Little things like, ‘ask that crabby co-worker how his day is going’ or ‘say something nice to the cashier’ or simply ‘smile at the lady pushing her cart in the produce section.’  

Some promptings are scary

Other times out of fear and irritation I swat at the Holy Spirit’s suggestions like flies at a picnic. Little promptings that make me uncomfortable such as inviting a neighbor to a church event, sharing about my faith with non-practicing family members or defending Church teaching when it’s attacked.

When I do respond to these scary suggestions, the situations often turn out differently than I expect–and somehow I’m different. I think the Spirit quietly goes about transforming us as we let Him guide us. Maybe He’s doing with these small whispers exactly what we wish He’d do with one spiritual earthquake. That doesn’t mean He doesn’t ever make an earthquake, strong wind or fire happen in our lives.  

Elijah recognized the Lord in a small noise. We need to listen for those quiet promptings, too.

I believe the Holy Spirit gives us His gifts through these promptings.  As the Church teaches, Confirmation increases the gifts of the Holy Spirit we receive at Baptism, gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. (CCC 1830)  But I wonder if are gradually learning to use these gifts as we rise to the challenges the Holy Spirit gives us.

He is transforming us

As we listen for the Holy Spirit’s whispers and try to act on them, we can trust that He is transforming us and  making us holy in the way He knows is best for us. St. Augustine reveals this trust in his famous prayer:

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.

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How can this be God’s will?

May 9, 2012


It's hard to see how a loving God could allow suffering and setbacks. But we don't always see the whole picture. Photo/ Ben Sutherland. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Have you ever prayed to do God’s will, really hoping that He will do your will? Then when things turn out worse than you planned, you question how a good God could will such a lousy turn of events? Or do you ever wonder why God would allow things that are both terrible and random to happen to innocent people?

The classic question is, how can an all-knowing, all powerful God allow suffering, crime, disasters and all the other evil of the world?  Throughout history the greatest minds have pondered this problem. I certainly don’t claim to have all the answers in a short blogpost but we can find some insights by looking at two facets of God’s will, which account for everything that happens.

Ordaining Will

This is the “active” will of God, who wants only what is good and holy. It’s God’s plan for all of creation and each person. God’s ordaining will is outside our free will; only He has influence over it.  Examples of God’s ordaining will are found in:

  •  Scripture,
  • The Ten Commandments as given to Moses,
  • The Precepts of the Church,
  • The duties of our state in life,
  • Obedience to lawful authority—civil, family and church, and
  • The New Commandment, as given by Jesus to love one another.

Permissive Will

We often want God’s ordaining will to line up with our own will but most of us are a little more apprehensive about what He’s going to allow. Under His permissive will, God operates in accordance with our free will, the laws of Nature that He established and the actions of angels and demons.

In his blog, Glenn Dallaire talks about how God allows but doesn’t will physical and mental illnesses, accidents, natural disasters, the bad effects of our sinful free will choices and those of the angels and demons, along with their influences and effects upon us.

It’s impossible for God to will evil because as St. Thomas Aquinas writes, God wills his own goodness. When He does allow evil He seeks to draw good from everything.   According to St. Thomas:

God therefore neither wills evil to be done, nor wills it not to be done, but wills to permit evil to be done; and this is a good.

It might seem contradictory that God wills our punishment but in itself that punishment is a good with evil attached to it. This can work the other way, too. Someone doing evil can accidentally bring about good without intending it. The good isn’t intrinsic to the action but it contributes to the beauty and perfection of the universe. One example is when a person is martyred for the faith. This evil action has at least one good result: the martyred person becomes a saint.

We may like some aspects of God’s will in our lives better than others but it doesn’t really matter if they’re the result of His ordaining or permitting will because God’s seen everything that happens to us beforehand, has pondered how we would benefit from it and has approved of it.

St. Augustine summed it up this way:

 “Nothing is done, unless the Almighty wills it to be done, either by permitting it, or by actually doing it.”

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Saint Monica – Mother, Wife, and Widow

August 26, 2011


St. Monica with young Augustine

St. Monica with young Augustine at St. Patrick in Mauston WI

St. Monica is most remembered as the mother of St. Augustine, and her feast day is August 27, the day before her son’s feast day on August 28

Monica was born in 332 in Tagaste, North Africa, in the region of modern-day Algeria.  She was born into a Christian family and raised as a devout and pious believer.

Monica had an arranged marriage.  While she was still a young lady, her parents chose her husband for her, Patricius, a pagan.  He was basically a good man, but he had a bad temper, drank heavily, was prone to tantrums, and was unfaithful in marriage.  Monica’s home life was further aggravated by the fact that her mother-in-law lived with them, and she was both emotionally and verbally abusive to Monica with her scorn and deriding comments.

Despite the ill treatment that Monica received, she persevered in prayer for both of them.  She did her best to be a good wife.  She completed her household tasks and she tried to be as kind and pleasant as possible to her husband, even if he did not reciprocate.  She longed for his conversion and the day that they would both be able to go to church together.  Because Monica was so patient, cheerful, and charitable, Patricius was touched by the sincerity of her love, softened his resistance, converted a year before his death, and was baptized in 371 a short while before he passed away.  Remarkably, Monica’s mother-in-law also converted and was baptized.

Monica and Patricius had three children and Augustine was their eldest.  He was born in 354 but was not baptized as an infant.   Monica tried to raise her firstborn in the Catholic faith and he became a catechumen as a teenager, but his father’s influence prevailed, he rejected Christianity and became an adherent of the Manichean heresy.   Meanwhile, he also slipped into reckless, immoral living, frequented the baths, had a mistress and a son out of wedlock.  Monica was so distraught that she threw her son out of the house for a time.  It was in 370 with many tears that she began her campaign of prayer and fasting for her son’s conversion.

Augustine was brilliant and a tremendous orator.  He studied secular philosophy, but he could see that some aspects were deeply flawed.  In his desire for truth and meaning, and wanting to be a master of rhetoric, he moved to Rome in 383.  His mother objected, but followed him.  After an illness Augustine moved north to Milan, and Monica was not far behind.  It was there that Augustine listened to the preaching of Bishop Ambrose, and through his mother’s prayerful intercession, the Holy Spirit softened his heart, he reconsidered his former way of life, took instructions from Ambrose, and was baptized on Easter, 387, with his mother Monica present.  Her son became a Catholic Christian, and eventually a priest, bishop, and Doctor of the Church.

Monica stormed heaven for seventeen years, and she is an outstanding model of piety and prayerful perseverance.  Sometime later in 387 Monica died in Ostia, Italy, before she was ever able to return to African, and she is now entombed at the Church of St. Augustine in Rome.  She is the patron saint of mothers, wives, parents with difficult children, troubled marriages, widows, and alcoholics.

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How do we get to heaven?

August 20, 2011



Tackling this question is a little like trying to transfer the ocean into a small hole on the beach, to borrow an image from St. Augustine.

As Catholics we believe we reach heaven through God’s grace but also that we have to cooperate with that grace.  St. Paul writes that we “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil. 2:12)  This and other scriptures are interpreted differently, depending on who’s taking up the question.  My goal with this post is simply to present very basic Catholic teaching on the subject.

Getting to heaven is about grace, which we can’t earn and which comes from the love and mercy of God. According to the Catechism, “The grace of the Holy Spirit has the power to justify us, that is, to cleanse us from our sins and to communicate to us ‘the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ’ and through Baptism.” (CCC 1987)

Grace makes salvation from sin possible because we believe in God’s revelation and promises, fear God’s judgment, hope in His mercy, trust that God will be merciful to us for Christ’s sake, begin to love God as the source of justice and detest our sins.

The grace to respond

We do have to do something, though. The Catechism says we must give our free response to the gift of grace, even though we need grace just to respond, as the Council of Trent concluded:

“…whereby, without any merits existing on their parts, they are called; that so they, who by sins were alienated from God, may be disposed through His quickening and assisting grace, to convert themselves to their own justification, by freely assenting to and co-operating with that said grace: in such sort that, while God touches the heart of man by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, forasmuch as he is also able to reject it; yet is he not able, by his own free will, without the grace of God, to move himself unto justice in His sight.”

Along with making a response to grace through faith, Scripture tells us that in order to be saved, we must be baptized (Mk. 16:16), we must receive Christ’s true body and blood (John 6:54) and we must obey the commandments (Matt. 19:17 The sacraments are visible assurances that God is providing us with the grace to keep going.

Our call as Christians is to the “fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity. All are called to holiness: ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’” (CCC 2013)

Becoming holy

In short, we have to work at becoming holy. The good works that spring from God’s grace are evidence that we’re cooperating with that grace. Faith alone won’t save us; we have to persevere in doing good, as Christ said in his description of final judgment in Matt. 25:31-46.  In this parable, he calls us to charity: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

St. Augustine sums it up well:

Indeed we also work, but we are only collaborating with God who works, for His mercy has gone before us. It has gone before us so that we may be healed, and follows us so that once healed, we may be given life; it goes before us so that we may be called, and follows us so that we may be glorified; it goes before us so that we may live devoutly, and follows us so that we may always live with God: for without Him we can do nothing. (CCC 2001)

As far as I can tell, there is no stairway to heaven—nor is there an escalator. The Catholic Church teaches that we get there by God’s grace, as well as by the works we do through that grace. Established by Christ, she is our best guide.

Salvation comes from God alone; but because we receive the life of faith through the Church, she is our mother: “We believe the Church as the mother of our new birth, and not in the Church as if she were the author of our salvation. Because she is our mother, she is also our teacher in the faith.” (CCC 169)


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Church has its reasons . . . for all the questions we have

February 1, 2011


When I was in high school, I discovered that our church had its own way of doing things that didn’t always make a lot of sense to my adolescent mind. As a college student, I even left the church for a while.

A few years later, however, I came back. And, with my new faith, I started to see that behind each of the Catholic Church’s rules and teachings, which before seemed arcane or confusing to me, there were clear reasons — not just isolated explanations to individual questions, but pieces that fit into a pattern for life in Christ.

Through my own reading and pestering of priests and others, I found many of the reasons I’d been looking for. But by then I had new questions. I realized the more I learn about this church, the more there is to learn. That was the motivation for this blog. I figure, if I’m wondering about some aspect of church teaching or practice, somebody else might want to know, too. And you could be thinking about questions I haven’t started to consider.

“Faith and Reasons” works from the idea that the church offers good reasons for what it teaches. If you’re looking for answers, you can submit questions about the Catholic Church, as long as they’re succinct and related specifically to teaching and practice — from why we make the sign of the cross, for example, to questions about a sacrament or a refresher on why and when we fast during Lent.

I’m not a theologian and don’t pretend to have the answers to all questions of faith. But I am a journalist with experience looking for answers. I’ll do the research, consulting authentic sources such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as well as connecting with priests, religious, professors and other experts in the Twin Cities and beyond.

St. Augustine said, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”

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