Augustine of Hippo: Goodness and Forgiveness

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Augustine of Hippo: Goodness and Forgiveness

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. Romans 6:14

“The Lord grant you the grace to observe these precepts with love as lovers of spiritual beauty, exuding the fragrance of Christ by the goodness of your lives; you are no longer slaves under the law, but a people living in freedom under grace. These precepts should be read to you once a week, so that you will see yourselves in this little book as in a mirror and not neglect anything through forgetfulness. When you find yourselves doing what has been written here, thank the Lord, the giver of all good gifts. However, if anyone of you realizes that he has failed on a specific point, let him be sorry for the past, safeguard the future, and continue to pray for his offences to be forgiven, and that he not be led into temptation.”

Augustine of Hippo in The Rule of St. Augustine 8.1-2. The text of the rule is adapted from George Lawless’ translation in Augustine of Hippo and His Monastic Rule (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), included in Constitutions of the Order of Preachers (Dublin: Dominican Publications, 2012).

This is the last day looking at The Rule of St. Augustine. I hope you have enjoyed it.

Following God’s design for life and living produces goodness (a.k.a. generosity). We don’t have to try to be generous, it happens.

For Augustine, this conclusion to his rule aims to remind people that grace enables us to follow it. In so doing, God will bless with gifts.

They are to be enjoyed and shared. And our offences are to be forgiven. God help us be generous people of forgiveness.

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Augustine of Hippo: Pocketed on the Sly

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Acts 5:3-4

“Whenever anyone brings anything to sons or relations who reside in the monastery, an article of clothing, or anything else that is considered necessary, the gift is not to be pocketed on the sly but given to the superior as common property, so that it can be given to whoever needs it.”

Augustine of Hippo in The Rule of St. Augustine 5.3. The text of the rule is adapted from George Lawless’ translation in Augustine of Hippo and His Monastic Rule (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), included in Constitutions of the Order of Preachers (Dublin: Dominican Publications, 2012).

God sees everything. When He saw the sin on the sly of Ananias and Sapphira, He acted swiftly to send the church a message. I think most have missed it the message and continue to pocket on the sly.

I am not saying I am perfect here. Goodness, I will log in as chief of sinners. What’s key here is that keeping possessions for ourselves is not God’s design or desire. He knows whatever we hold on to gets a hold on to us.

So, Augustine urged everyone who followed his rule to see everything, including gifts, as common property. Every good and perfect gift comes from God for our enjoyment and sharing, not our keeping.

Giving is possible coupled with keeping, but it’s not generosity, in the biblical sense of the word. Generosity only happens when we serve as conduits of material and spiritual blessings.

God, forgive me for pocketing on the sly and teach me to see everything as common because You own it all. Amen. 

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Augustine of Hippo: Single Storeroom and Single Wardrobe

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Matthew 6:25

“Keep your clothes in one place under the care of one or two, or as many people as may be needed to air them out and prevent damage from moths. Just as a single storeroom furnishes your food, so a single wardrobe should supply your clothing. Pay as little attention as possible to the clothes you receive as the season requires. Whether each of you receives what he had turned in or what was worn by someone else is of little concern, so long as no one is denied what he needs.

If arguments and grumbling occur among you, and someone complains that he has received worse clothing than previously and that it is beneath his dignity to be dressed in clothes which another brother was wearing, you thereby demonstrate to yourselves how deficient you are in the holy and interior clothing of the heart, arguing as you do about clothes for the body. Even though one caters to your weakness and you receive the same clothing, you are to keep the clothes you are not wearing at the present time in one place under common supervision.

In this way, let no one work for himself alone; all your work shall be for the common purpose, with greater zeal and more concentrated effort than if each one worked for his private purpose. The Scriptures tell us: ‘Love is not self-seeking.’ We understand this to mean: the common good takes precedence over the individual good, the individual good yields to the common good. Here again, you will know the extent of your progress as you enlarge your concern for the common interest instead of your own private interest; enduring love will govern all matters pertaining to the fleeting necessities of life.”

Augustine of Hippo in The Rule of St. Augustine 5.1-2. The text of the rule is adapted from George Lawless’ translation in Augustine of Hippo and His Monastic Rule (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), included in Constitutions of the Order of Preachers (Dublin: Dominican Publications, 2012).

I hope you are enjoying this exploration of the Rule of St. Augustine. Today he offers us a glimpse into contentment with basic food and clothing that demonstrates obedience to our Lord.

Jesus told us not to worry about what we eat or drink or what we wear. The Apostle Paul echoed him saying: But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 1 Timothy 6:8

So Augustine sets forth that people should be content with any clothes, even those worn previously by others in a “single wardrobe” just like a “single storeroom” of food should be sufficient.

And notice that we should give care to steward the clothing we have, lest moths eat it, while avoiding any grumbling. Why do this? Our earning is not about caring for our needs only but the Christian community.

Let us adopt this mindset, so that our hearts remain in love and aim at generosity rather than advancing our private interests which cause us to be consumed with the necessities of life.

God, help us care for others ahead of ourselves empowered by your enduring love. Amen.

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Augustine of Hippo: Go Together

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place where He Himself intended to go. Luke 10:1

“Do not allow your clothing to attract attention; seek to please not by the clothes you wear, but by the life you live. Whenever you leave the house, go together; wherever you are going, stay together. In your walk, posture, all external comportment, do nothing to offend anyone who sees you. Act in a manner worthy of your holy profession.”

Augustine of Hippo in The Rule of St. Augustine 4.1-3. The text of the rule is adapted from George Lawless’ translation in Augustine of Hippo and His Monastic Rule (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), included in Constitutions of the Order of Preachers (Dublin: Dominican Publications, 2012).

As we go, we must focus on going together and adorning ourselves with good deeds. This counsel from Augustine fits in line with the explicit instructions of Jesus in today’s Scripture.

The world focuses on pleasing people with fancy or fine clothing. Sadly, this perspective has found its way into the Church. It’s a matter of the heart and reveals whom we are seeking to please.

This also may mean not to have shabby clothing either that might attract negative attention. Simple living that makes margin for generosity calls for simple clothing.

And notice the reason why we must “go together” with keen attention to our comportment according to Jesus. We must go where He is leading and then He will show up. Notice the faith required on our part.

Friends, whatever God is calling you to do today. Dress simply, travel light, go together, and trust that God will show up in a powerful way. But each of us must take the first steps in obedience.

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Augustine of Hippo: It is better to need less than to have more.

You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. Ezekiel 34:3-4

“Sick people necessarily take less food so as not to aggravate their condition. During convalescence they are to receive such care as will quickly restore their health, even if they come from the lowest level of poverty in the world. Recent illness has afflicted them with the same frailty which the wealthy possess from their previous manner of life. When sick people have fully recovered, they should return to their happier ways, which are all the more fitting for God’s servants to the extent that they have fewer needs. Food formerly necessary to remedy their illness should not become a pleasure which enslaves them. They should consider themselves richer since they are now more robust in putting up with privations. For it is better to need less than to have more.”

Augustine of Hippo in The Rule of St. Augustine 3.5. The text of the rule is adapted from George Lawless’ translation in Augustine of Hippo and His Monastic Rule (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), included in Constitutions of the Order of Preachers (Dublin: Dominican Publications, 2012).

This timely section of the Rule of St. Augustine sets out the care of sick people. On my break which ends today, one of the matters I have been praying about is the role of those who are healthy during the current COVID crisis toward those who are sick.

We must not miss the message here. Augustine wants those who are healthy not to become enslaved by the pleasure of food but give thanks for their good health and share the abundance they have with those who suffer. Notice the reason why.

“It is better to need less than to have more.” Soak in that idea for awhile.

When we need less we show that we are finding meaning not in pleasures, possessions, or power, but in the person of Christ. When we need less we show that we are not dependent on things but on God who supplies them for enjoyment and sharing.

With this counsel, Augustine is not trying to rob the healthy but to restore the sick. Will we?

God, show us what this looks like for each of us, and for the sick around us. Amen.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom, Patsy Hoag, my wife, Jenni Hoag, and all the other mother’s out there who have sacrificed to serve their children both at times of sickness as well as health.

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Augustine of Hippo: Associate

Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Romans 12:16

“Those who enjoyed some measure of worldly success ought not to belittle their brothers who come to this holy society from a condition of poverty. They should endeavour to boast about the fellowship of poor brothers, rather than the social standing of rich relations. They are not to think well of themselves if they have contributed to the common life from their wealth. Sharing their possessions with the monastery ought not to become a greater source of pride than if they enjoyed these goods in the world.

As a matter of fact, every other vice produces evil deeds with a view to doing evil, but pride sets a trap for good deeds as well with a view to destroying them. What benefit is there in giving generously to the poor and becoming poor oneself, if the pitiful soul is more inclined to pride by rejecting riches than by possessing them? Live then, all of you, in harmony and concord; honor God mutually in each other; you have become His temples.”

Augustine of Hippo in The Rule of St. Augustine 1.7-8. The text of the rule is adapted from George Lawless’ translation in Augustine of Hippo and His Monastic Rule (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), included in Constitutions of the Order of Preachers (Dublin: Dominican Publications, 2012).

In the early church and today, wealth and social standing lead to pride which can destroy good deeds. Each of us must watch out for this. We are all equals in the “holy society” of followers of Jesus.

Augustine wanted those around him to avoid becoming prideful for contributions to common life and Christian community by living in harmony with others and honoring God in each other realizing we have become God’s temples.

Think of the practical implications of this.

God wants His light and love to be made know through us. That gets snuffed out when we are stuck up or thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to for our service, our contributions, or anything we bring to the proverbial table.

The only path to take was charted by Paul in His letter to the church in Rome.

Harmony is found through association with others realizing we may have different backgrounds but we are all on the same plane before God. We are all in need of the same love and care.

We are not temples for ourselves but His temples. Remembering this is the only way for our ongoing generosity to glorify God or in plain terms for our good deeds to remain good.

God, help us honor you mutually in each other so that our good deeds gloryify you. Amen.

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Augustine of Hippo: One

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. Acts 4:32

“The chief motivation for your sharing life together is to live harmoniously in the house and to have one heart and one soul seeking God. Do not call anything your own; possess everything in common. Your superior ought to provide each of you with food and clothing, not on an equal basis to all, because all do not enjoy the same health, but to each one in proportion to his need. For you read in the Acts of the Apostles: ‘They possessed everything in common’, and ‘distribution was made to each in proportion to each one’s need.’ Those who owned anything in the world should freely consent to possess everything in common in the monastery.”

Augustine of Hippo in The Rule of St. Augustine 1.2-4. The text of the rule is adapted from George Lawless’ translation in Augustine of Hippo and His Monastic Rule (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987), included in Constitutions of the Order of Preachers (Dublin: Dominican Publications, 2012).

The Rule of St. Augustine had eight sections. We will explore them in the coming days.

Notice the opening portion of the rule explains why possessions were to be held in common. It was to follow the example of the early church in Acts to maintain oneness of heart and mind in seeking after God.

Stuff distracts us and those around us from connecting to each other and to God.

This should inspire each of us to determine what portion we need and to resolve to share the rest. By this way, each of us maintains a posture of dependence on God and interdependence with each other as a community of stewards under spiritual authority.

We’ve strayed from this pattern! What if we chose to live this way? 

Jesus said the road would be narrow and few would take it. If we can’t find other stewards living this way, rather than follow cultural patterns, let us start a group where we are. It started with Augustine in Hippo, it depends on us where we are.

God, help us be one and not let possessions separate us from each other or you. Amen.

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Randy Bury: Prayer for Living Generously

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

God,

Without You, I have nothing. Every good and perfect gift comes from You — but sometimes, I view the gifts You’ve given me as something I deserve. Sometimes I am tempted to hoard my wealth, time, and resources instead of sharing them with others. Ultimately, I know that I am blessed to be a blessing — so please help me wisely steward the gifts You’ve entrusted to me. Turn me into someone who lives — and gives — generously.

Amen.

Thanks to faithful Daily Meditations reader Randy Bury for sharing this prayer with me. I could not locate the author, so I am thanking him for sharing it. And that’s really what generosity is all about.

Randy was blessed by a gift and did not let the gift stop with him. That’s our temptation, to store rather than share blessings of all kinds. What have you received recently as a gift that you could also share?

And let us consider the implications of the Scripture to our generosity as well. The “Father of the heavenly lights” as James describes our good God provides us abundantly all that is good and perfect.

But what does light do? It casts shadows. It is ever changing. And yet, He is not. He is consistently good and perfect to us. This is the basis for all enjoyment and sharing: our Father is abundantly generous.

Father, make us generous as you are generous!

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Henri Nouwen: Creative Energy

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20

“Silence means rest, rest of body and mind in which we become available for Him whose heart is greater than ours. That is very threatening; it is like giving up control over our actions and thoughts, allowing something creative to happen not by us but to us. Is it so amazing that we are so often tired and exhausted, trying to be masters of ourselves, wanting to grasp the ultimate meaning of our existence, struggling with our identity?

Silence is that moment in which we not only stop the discussion with others but also the inner discussions with ourselves, in which we can breathe in freely and accept our identity as a gift. “Not I live, but He lives in me.” It is in this silence that the Spirit of God can pray in us and continue creative work in us… Without silence…the creative energy of our life will float away and leave us alone, cold, and tired. Without silence we will lose our center and become the victim of the many who constantly demand our attention.”

Henri Nouwen in You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living (New York: Convergent, 2017) 136.

Part of taking a break is sitting in silence, making sure you are centered, and remembering where any creative energy comes from. It’s not rooted in what we do but who we are in Christ. From there, our lives can become generous and abundant gifts.

I am just starting to feel rested, both physically and emotionally. I’ve been asking God in silence to fill me with compassion and wisdom for service, and He reminds me that I must seek only His will and life and everything else I need will be there in abundance.

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Fyodor Dostoevsky: Active Love

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:18

“In Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, a wealthy woman asks an elderly monk how she can know if God exists. He tells her no explanation or argument can achieve this, only the practice of “active love.” She then confesses that something she dreams about a life of loving service to others. At such times she thinks perhaps she will become a Sister of Mercy, live in holy poverty, and serve the poor in the humblest way. But then it crosses her mind how ungrateful some of the people she would serve are likely to be. They would probably complain that the soup she served wasn’t hot enough or that the bread wasn’t fresh enough or the bed was too hard. She confesses that she couldn’t bear such ingratitude — and so her dreams about serving other vanish, and once again she finds herself wondering if there is a God.

To this the wise monk responds, “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as though on the stage. But active love is labour and fortitude, and for some people too, perhaps, a complete science. But I predict that just when you see with horror that in spite of all your efforts you are getting farther from your goal instead of nearer to it — at that very moment I predict that you will reach it and behold clearly the miraculous power of the Lord who has been all the time loving and mysteriously guiding you.”

Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov (Planet PDF ebook) 110-111 as recounted in part by Peter Scazzero in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014) 165.

As I reflect during a time of resting, I resonate very much with the notion that we can easily fall into the trap of loving in dreams rather than loving in action. Or as I have heard others put it, we must serve people not as we desire but according to their real needs. It’s not easy as it sounds.

It’s filled with empathy and compassion. Love in action is only possible with God’s help. And it is also the pathway to show the living God to a lost and broken world.

As you think about your generosity today, sit with God and consider what it would look like to put yourself and all the resources you steward to work in a manner that aims to serve the real needs of people around you. As God leads you, step into that space.

God will show up in a a powerful way. He will be with you and in you and in the work.

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