Theologian don’t have a G.O.A.T. designation. (That’s “Greatest of All Time” for those who aren’t as hip as yours truly.) But if we did, Augustine of Hippo would probably get my vote. Sure, he’s not as systematic as Thomas Aquinas, but he more than makes up for it with humanity and passion, the way you can feel him throw himself so completely into the quest for God in his sermons and treatises. If you read Augustine’s sermons out loud, you can feel the power of his rhetoric. I’ve had many a conversation with the saint as I worked on my dissertation.
So it was quite a thrill–like visiting Graceland, or Disney World before it went woke–to spend an afternoon at the tomb of St. Augustine in Pavia last week. You might reasonably wonder how the North African theologian’s bones ended up in a smallish city in the north of Italy. Pavia, today sensible and pleasant, was the capital of the Kingdom of the Lombards in the 8th century. After his death, Augustine’s relics had been hustled out of Hippo to save them from the Vandals (today the tribe would be called the Mostly Peaceful Protesters) who lay siege to Hippo as its bishop lay dying. The saint’s body ended up in Sardinia, which, like much of the Mediterranean coastline in the Middle Ages, was subject to vicious Saracen raiding. For safekeeping, Liutprand, King of the Lombards–who is buried in the same church–had the bones brought to Pavia. There they reside in the church of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro.
With more than 900 churches, as I’ve noted before, if you’re looking for church-related curiosities, there’s no place like Rome. A friend recently pointed out an oddity that seemed to take the cake. Atop a church between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona is what seems to be a stag with a cross between its antlers, which looks suspiciously like it was taken straight from… a Jägermeister bottle.
My recent pleasure reading has included Glenn Arbery’s Boundaries of Eden from Wiseblood Books. Always nice to discover another Catholic writer. Here’s a part I liked…
Why should there be providence with respect to Braxton Forrest, anyway? Hardest of all to imagine was that God Almighty, with the whole universe to look after, cared anything about the peccadilloes of a middle-aged literature professor. The apparent absurdity of it had to be balanced against the overwhelmingly convincing sense of an inner witness, an exacting (if often ignored) conscience, a kind of co-knowing whose ground lay deeper than his own conscious mind. So yes. Acceptance of providence brought him to see himself differently. It even brought him, if only occasionally, to the Gospels, where he did not encounter the sweet, naïve, androgynous new version of the fierce Old Testament God that he expected, but the Old Testament God incarnate, the fierce, severe, enigmatic otherness of a man whose absolute authority overflowed any apparent warrant for it….
The feast of Pentecost holds a special place in my heart because I presided at my first Mass on Pentecost Sunday. This year is the fifth anniversary of my ordination, so, for kicks, I dug up my homily from that Mass and thought I’d repost it here. A lot has happened since that day, yet in some ways it still feels like yesterday…
I’ll begin with homework. Today’s first reading from Acts 2 tells the story of Pentecost, but it’s just the beginning of the story of Pentecost. So on your i-Phones on the drive home, pull up Acts of the Apostles and read all of chapter 2. (Unless you’re driving.)
Now, since in my 22 years of formal education I have noted that occasionally students don’t do their homework, I will go ahead and tell you what happens in Acts 2. The part we heard this morning takes place after Jesus had risen from the dead, appeared to his disciples for 40 days, and then ascended into heaven. One thing I don’t think we realize when we talk about Easter is how disoriented the disciples were even after Jesus rose from the dead. The Resurrection doesn’t immediately bring understanding to the disciples. If you read all of John 20, the chapter from which today’s Gospel is taken (extra credit), you’ll note that even after the Resurrection there’s still disbelief, confusion, and fear. Mary Magdalene meets Jesus but mistakes him for a gardener. Then, when she realizes who it is, she won’t let go of him—to the point that Jesus has to tell her, “Stop holding on to me.” After the horror of the crucifixion, we can understand why the disciples would be fearful and why Mary Magdalene wouldn’t want to let Jesus go. But Jesus says he has to go to do something necessary for the disciples. He promises that when he has ascended to the Father, he, with the Father, will send the Holy Spirit to the disciples.