Stubbornness and Mercy

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Bible reading: Ps 51.1-6

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

 

Lent is a special time in our spiritual journey – a time to think more deeply about life, calling and suffering in light of the work of Christ over two thousand years ago.  Once again, we hear the words of the psalmist, : "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me" (Ps 51:3).  Lent allows us to reflect upon our failures, sins, and shortcomings, but above all on God’s mercy as he reaches out to us – much like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.

Mercy is a word of special significance to Augustine, who put in writing the story of his conversion and the grace that God showed him. He compiled them in his Confessions, a collection of ponderings on matters of the divine and the human, on the world, time, and eternity. Permeated by passionate devotion, Augustine’s Confessions still appeal strongly to today’s reader.

Augustine:

"Accept the sacrifice of my confessions offered to you by the power of this tongue of mine which you have fashioned and aroused to confess to your name; bring healing to all my bones and let them exclaim, Lord, who is like you?

A person who confesses to you is not informing you about what goes on within him, for a closed heart does not shut you out, nor is your hand pushed away by human stubbornness; you melt it when you choose, whether by showing mercy or by enforcing your claim, and from your fiery heat no one can hide."

We can by stubborn but God can break through. Lent can be a time of opening our souls in order to help God in softening our hearts.

“Soften my heart, Lord
Soften my heart
From all indifference
Set me apart
To feel your compassion
To weep with your tears
Come soften my heart, O Lord
Soften my heart.”


Augustine was born at Tagaste in north Africa on 13 November 354. Today the area is part of Algeria, and Tagaste is now named Souk-Ahras. His father was a pagan. His mother, Monica, was a dedicated Christian.  He had a brother and a sister, Navigius and Perpetua.  At school he was introduced to Latin, and to books in Latin which fascinated him. He decided that wanted to become a public speaker.

In adolescence he mixed with unruly friends He liked to brag, to tease, and to be destructive. At the age of seventeen, he fell in love with a woman. He lived with her and they had a son. But Augustine was not at peace with himself. He felt restless – he lacked something. He searched everywhere for the answer. He travelled from city to city, working as a school teacher.

From Africa he went to Italy .First he went to Rome and then in 383 to Milan. He joined various religious movements, but he did not found the answer he was seeking.

Monica worried about her son. She prayed continually for Augustine’s conversion. She wanted him to find peace with God. She came across from Africa to seek him out. She coaxed him to separate from his long-time partner who was the mother of Adeodatus, their son.

In Milan, he attended the sermons of the bishop, Ambrose. At first he listened simply out of curiosity. Soon he sensed that he had to change his life if he wanted peace of mind and the truth. But he found it difficult to change. He kept putting it off. He kept saying, "Maybe tomorrow, tomorrow." "Make me chaste, but not yet."

One day in September 386, he finally made the decision. He was sitting in a garden with his friend, Alypius. He heard a child’s sing-song voice saying over and over, "Take and read, take and read." He read Romans 13:13 and he said, "The scales fell off my eyes!" He asked himself, "Why not now? Why not this very hour put an end to my sins?"

With his son Adeodatus and his friend Alypius, Augustine began preparation for baptism. And so at Easter 387 in Milan, Augustine was baptised at the age of 33 years.

He decided to move back to North Africa. While he and Monica awaited a ship at Ostia near Rome, they prayed wonderfully together. Monica told him that her life’s work was now done. She said that she was ready for death. She caught a sudden fever and died at Ostia in his arms. Saddened, he went back to his family’s old house in North Africa. He wanted to live a quiet life of study and religious reading. His friends gathered around him, and they formed a community. The community members prayed, discussed and sought wisdom. Here Augustine produced his first important writings. Augustine wanted to stay there for the rest of his life, But people knew his brilliance and wanted his talents used publicly.

At the age of thirty-six in 391, only three years after his baptism, Augustine was pressed by the people to become their priest. Five years later he was pressed into becoming the bishop of Hippo, today near Algeria’s border with Tunisia.

As a bishop he preached, and soon was famous for his preaching. Many of his sermons were written down by scribes, and still exist today. Because of his brilliance, he was also asked to write about Christianity. Sometimes he was dictating paragraphs for two different books to two different scribes in the one writing session. His most famous book is "The Confessions" (written in about 400). It begins by telling of his own 33-year journey to baptism. He spent 30 years on an important book, "The City of God". As a writer, he was prolific, persuasive, and a brilliant stylist.  He wrote about 113 books during his life. Over 6,000,000 words that he wrote still exist today. He became a Christian teacher for the entire Western world. His writings also greatly influenced Western culture and education.  He has been called the greatest mind in the post-Apostolic Church.