Pope Francis celebrates Saint Augustine

2013-08-28 Vatican Radio

(Vatican Radio) Together with Augustinians from throughout the world, Pope Francis celebrated the Feast of Saint Augustine, which falls on August 28th.

The Pope lead the celebration of Mass at the Church of Saint Augustine in Rome. The occasion also marks the opening of the Order’s 184th General Chapter.

As the Prior of the Augustinians, Father Robert Prevost explains, ninety friars from various countries, who constitute the membership of the Chapter, will gather in the succeeding days and weeks to discuss the state of the Order, decide questions of special importance, formulate a programme for the next six years, and elect a new Prior General and the members of his Council.

But first he tells us why Augustinian spirituality is relevant to today’s society…

Listen to Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni’s interview…

Throughout his life, Father Prevost says, Saint Augustine continued to search for God and wrote about it in a way that was understandable to people of his time, and in which in many ways is still understandable for people who are searching today: “he made very clear how important it is for people to use the intellect, to use the God-given gift of being able to think: the gift of reason, and at the same time he was a man of heart, a man who knew what it meant to feel deeply, to feel compassion, to live passionately and to be able share both the struggles and the joys that he experienced”. Struggles and joys that he recounts in his book ‘The Confessions’. “Precisely in the struggle of humanity God is present, God wants to be found, God makes himself a part of our human lives”. Augustine – Father Prevost says - continues to be a man of our times.

And explain the importance of the General Chapter that opens today, Father Prevost says that one of the elements of the consecrated life is when the friars gather in Chapters: “we make decisions in a style that is born out of a dialogue of listening, of working and planning together” with a view towards the future. In this particular Chapter – he points out – “our 184th General Chapter since the juridical institution of the Order – men of the Order will be gathering together to reflect upon the reality of the Order today, to evaluate different things that have been going on in the Order in recent times”; and to plan for the future: “where do we want to go from here?”.

This particular Chapter is important - Father Prevost points out – because we are living a very particular time in the Church: “2013 will be remembered for many years to come for the very courageous decision of Pope Benedict to step down, and for the prophetic leadership that Pope Francis is already offering for the whole Church and for the world. This Chapter takes place within that context and I am sure we will be reflecting upon those ecclesial events and understanding that a General Chapter is also a Church event”.

And referring to Pope Francis who is the first Jesuit Pope in history, Father Prevost talks about the similarities that exist between the Augustinian Order and the Jesuit Order pointing out that they are both institutes of consecrated life: “we are all religious who profess the same vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, so there are some elements of our lives that are very similar”. But he points out there also elements that are quite different, and he explains that Augustinians place more emphasis on the value of fraternity and community life, whist the Jesuits put more emphasis on the apostolic dimension. Both orders he says are dedicated to education.

And the Prior General goes on to talk about Augustinians in the world today, what kind of missions they are mainly committed to, in what parts of the world they are most present, how the Order is structured and how many Augustinians there are in the world today, and he comes to the end of his second six-year term in office, he also explains what the duties of the Prior General are.

On September 28th Pope Francis will ascend the steep steps that lead to the Church of Saint Augustine very close to Rome’s famous Piazza Navona, to celebrate the opening Eucharist of the General Chapter . Thus, Father Prevost speaks of the Church which contains many art treasures and points out that the Church itself has a long history in the Order as up until the late 19th century it is where the General Curia of the Order was located. He points out that it is also the Church where the tomb of Saint Monica is found, “and many people have devotion to Saint Monica, including Pope Francis who used to frequent the Church when he was Cardinal Bergoglio who would come to the Church to pray to Saint Monica who is the mother of Saint Augustine and whose feast falls on the 27th August”.

Father Prevost then speaks about the importance of the cultural aspect within Augustinian spirituality; he speaks of the ancient library that stands next to the Church: “the first public library in Rome, founded by an Augustinian and its work continues today – “so there is that cultural element side by side with the religious element which are two aspects of what Augustinian life is about and what we believe Church life should be about”.

Speaking about Pope Francis, Father Prevost highlights his dedication to expressing the dimension of the Gospel that focuses on “that special closeness, that care, that love, that mercy that God has for all of us,” and especially for the poor and the marginalized. He says this takes nothing away from what has been said and done until this moment. He points out that as Augustinians “we feel filled with gratitude for all that Pope Francis is doing, and at the same time challenged, and on some very deep levels because of what the Pope is saying in general to priests and religious; of how we all need to look for ways to live simpler lives, to be closer to the people and especially to the poor, to reach out to those who are suffering, to be that ‘merciful, loving and compassionate face of God’ to the people who are longing for consolation, pardon, mercy”.

“Pope Francis is calling us to be more authentic, more faithful, more dedicated to living this life that we have professed…”