What do St. Monica's in Rome, Wrigley Field, and the Feasts of St. Monica & Augustine Have in Common?

Homily for St. Monica/St. Augustine Mass

St. Jude Catholic Church, New Lenox, Illinois

St. Jude Catholic Church, New Lenox, Illinois

Given by the Very Reverend Bernard C. Scianna, O.S.A., Ph.D., Prior Provincial of the Midwest Augustinians, at St. Jude Parish, New Lenox, Illinois, on August 27, 2014

Happy Feast Days!  St. Monica, our Spiritual Grandmother…and Our Holy Father, St. Augustine, Our Spiritual Founder!  Happy to be here at St. Jude’s, and we thank Pastor Fr. Don Lewandowski, the Augustinian Community here, and the Affiliates and Staff who are coordinating our dinner this evening.

A moment on the rooftop of St. Monica's in Rome

This summer, I was part of leading a pilgrimage group to the Augustinian shrines of Italy:  Cascia, Tolentino, Montefalco, Gennezano, and of course, Santa Monica, our Headquarters in Rome!  After having Mass with the group in the College Chapel where a vestment like this [points to vestment worn at Mass] was worn and the story of the relationship between Monica and Augustine was told.  We went onto the roof for a drink and appetizers when my mother called me over.  She told me that she had never heard the story of Monica and Augustine told so beautifully.  (Jokingly) It was told by Tom McCarthy and not by me, so it was beautiful, but it was longer than it needed to be.  She wanted to know if we could get a vestment like that for me so that every time I would wear it, I too would remember her at the altar.  Oh, I know we are talking about a relationship with mother and son, but my dad was there, too… and my mom told him to give me the money for the vestment!  The whole scene was so touching!  So there is the moment on the roof of St. Monica and part of the relationship between Mother and Son:  Monica and Augustine and my mother and me.

A Concert at Wrigley Field

So what about the concert at Wrigley Field?  Soon after my return from Rome, I went to the Billy Joel concert at Wrigley Field--a birthday gift from my brother Joe and his wife Dina.  As Billy Joel played one of my high school favorites, I remembered this scene on the roof of St. Monica’s with my Mom.  The song was My Life, and although I am not proud of this time in my life; I used to use the refrain of this song with my mother when I didn’t like the rules at home.  It went like this:  “I don’t want you to worry about me cause I’m alright / I don’t want you to tell me it’s time to come home / I don’t care what you say anymore, this is my life / Go ahead with your own life, leave me alone!”  Well, as you can imagine, that made her quite angry, and as I see now it was very hurtful.  But this was done by a selfish, self-centered, ego-centric, arrogant, know-it-all adolescent.  I did not like the discipline of my parents, the perceived restrictions that they put on my life, and I thought I was old enough to go it alone... boy, was I wrong!  Only in time, and with the help of my Augustinian formation did I realize how important relationships, family, community was and IS, and how fortunate I was to have parents and an extended family that cared enough to discipline me and try to show me the way to live a good life!  To paraphrase Mark Twain, I was astonished at how much my parents had learned the four years I was away at college!

Since then, and to this day, I try to tell my mom and dad how grateful I am for the direction they gave me and that I truly appreciate the ongoing support, encouragement, and love that they give to me so freely.  We have developed a wonderful friendship, and I was happy to publicly honor them at my installation ceremony this June and then have the time together on the Augustinian pilgrimage! 

The Feasts of St. Monica and St. Augustine

Augustine of Hippo

We know that Monica shed many tears and said countless prayers for Augustine as I am sure that my mom (and dad) did for me and yours did for you!  Augustine probably made his mother angry and hurt her with his arrogant and self-centered attitude.  I once “ran away” from home, but after a couple of hours, I wondered where I would get dinner, so I went back home! And my mother and father were there to welcome me back… perhaps with an extra chore or two to do!  Augustine once told Monica that he was going to the port to say goodbye to a friend... but that was a lie.  Instead, he got on a boat and left for Rome!  And once Monica found out, she followed him there!  We should be grateful for the patience, prudence, and perseverance of the Monicas in our lives, and be grateful that they don’t hold our earlier behavior against us, but they let it go and encourage us and allow us to grow!  Augustine certainly grew in wisdom and grace and humility!  And he too grew in appreciation for what his mother, Bishop Ambrose, and his friends did for him in his conversion of mind and heart on the way to God!  I pray that we will all continue to grow in wisdom, grace, and humility in our lives and our relationships and not only recognize these important people in our lives, but that we will tell them how much they mean to us and how much we love them! 

Life is too short:  do not hold on to grudges, learn to forgive, to let go of past hurts, and live a joyful life! 

"Live a Joyful Life!"

These were the final words of the homily at my ordination given by none other than Bishop John McNabb, O.S.A.  I am fortunate to have this Homily recorded on a DVD, and I listen to it every year on the anniversary of my ordination, November 13, the Birthday of St. Augustine and the Feast of All Saints of the Order!  Besides talking about the normal things like service, and giving us a kitchen dish towel (if you’ve ever been to McCarthy’s Missions you know that story) he talked about joy, and the final words were:  "LIVE A JOYFUL LIFE!This was and is still quite striking to me!  I am reminded of the Scripture passage, "The Lord loves a Cheerful Giver!”  And while there are challenges, frustrations, and problems in life, I strive to live a joyful life and to be a generous and cheerful giver!  And I encourage you to do the same! Our Holy Father Augustine referred to such joy when he said, “And this is the Happy Life:  to rejoice in You and to You because of You…  This is the Happy Life and there is no other!”  And Our Holy Father Pope Francis has recently issued his top 10 tips to a happier life--not just a happiness that is a passing emotion but a deep and profound JOY!

1.       Live and let live.  Move forward and let others do the same.  St. Augustine might say “always make progress if you want to become what you are not yet!”

2.       Be giving of yourself to others.  People need to be open and more generous towards others.  If you withdraw into yourself, you run the risk of becoming arrogant and egocentric, thinking that all things depend on you instead of God. Don’t isolate yourself.  Get involved and make a positive difference in the lives of others! Remember the Lord loves a cheerful giver!

3.       Proceed calmly in life.  The Pope, who used to teach high school literature, used an image from an Argentine novel by Ricardo Guiraldes in which the protagonist gaucho Don Segundo Sombra looks back on how he lived his life.  Reflect on your experiences and choose how you want to respond.  Stay calm in stressful situations.  Do not react, do not fly off the handle.  When you do, people only remember the manner in which you treated them, not the message.

4.       Have a healthy sense of leisure.  Fast paced life and consumerism has brought an anxiety to society.  Set time aside to rest and to play.  Turn off the TV when sit down to dinner together.  Disconnect from the cell phone and technology at times.  You have a lot to do.  Try to live with a healthy sense of balance.

5.       Sundays should be a holiday.  Days to be with your family:  rest, renew, reset, and worship, thank God! (This is a little harder for those of us who have to preach and preside on Sundays, but we should then take another day to do so!)

6.       Find innovative ways to create opportunities for young people. Invite them to be part of our community.  Get involved in their lives, and help them to discern their vocations!

7.       Respect and care for nature.  Environmental degradation is one of the biggest challenges we have.  Recycle, respect property of others, care for our common property, and realize what a beautiful place we have, and that small steps can have a big effect. 

8.       Stop being negative.  Needing to talk badly about others indicates a low self-esteem.  That means I feel so low that instead of picking myself up, I have to cut others down.  Letting go of negative things quickly is healthy.  We need to be accepting and welcoming to others, Do not let the sun set on your anger.  Forgive and let it go!  St. Augustine said, “By praising what is good in others, we ourselves become better.”

9.       Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs.  We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating.  But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: “I am talking with you in order to persuade you." NO. Each person dialogues starting with his and her own identity.  The Church grows by attracting--not proselytizing.  Be who you are, respect others, and know that you attract others by your words and actions and the values you live, not doctrine or dogma. Live the Augustinian values of Truth, Unity, and Love and others will be attracted to US! 

10.   Work for Peace.  We are living in a time of many wars and conflicts.  The call for peace must be shouted!  Peace sometimes gives the impression of being quiet and passive, but it is never quiet; peace is always proactive and dynamic.  Promote peace:  in your heart, family, community, world. Our own St. Rita of Cascia is known as the Peacemaker.  Let us follow her example! May she, who is a Messenger of Peace and Herald of Reconciliation pray for us!

May Mary, Our Mother of Good Counsel, who lived her song of joy, and gave us good advice--follow her Son—pray for us!

May St. Augustine, Our Holy Father…whose restless journey led him towards the happy life, and encourages us to always make progress—pray for us!

May St. Monica, our spiritual grandmother:  Model of Perseverance, Prudence and Patience—pray for us!