Confession: Common things I say

Recently, Sr Teresa Aletheia asked for a quote for me on the topic of Confession. I had returned from World Youth Day, and was a month behind preparing for the new school year, I could only come up with a sentence.

It is important to bear these things in mind:

  1. The Sacrament of Penance may be therapeutic, but it is not a counseling session.

Although I am open to give practical advice, or helpful perspective, I believe the grace of God that they receive in that Sacrament is more important than anything that I can say. I also believe that people would be happy for there to be advice or perspective that is not merely practical, but explicitly  spiritual. Finally, bearing in mind, that many people don’t want or need any advice whatsoever (often this is how I feel going to the Sacrament), I merely need the grace that the Sacrament offers.

  1. People may need moral clarity, but it is not primarily a catechetical session.

I have had a difficult time with older priests assuming that I am paralyzed with guilt over sins. Catholic guilt is not something I suffer from. In fact, I wish my contrition was deeper and more heartfelt. I don’t think a person needs to be explained that they did not in fact sin according to the theological moral criterion and definition of sin. The peace that forgiveness grant’s is more important. That doesn’t mean that the questions of a penitent ought to be disregarded.

  1. People are not forced into the Confessional these days.

Involved Catholics gripe that there is not enough talk of sin in the pulpit. I am sure there are some who would want to know that I am scolding & castigating every last sinner who comes in. The fact is, nowadays, there are no social pressures to go to Confession. Whether or not there should be is another question. What that means, is that whoever shows up, has done so freely, set aside time from their busy life, because they know what they did is wrong, and they know that they need the help of God and the Church. They don’t need moral lessons, they need God’s grace.

  1. Catholics are not encouraged to grow spiritually

I find that most of their regular sins are their own personal spiritual plateau. Faith Formation ends at 14 for most Catholics. Catholics have mistaken holy darkness for atheism or agnosticism. Sometimes a one-on-one session with a Priest is an opportunity to teach them that God’s plan for them is satisfying beyond their wildest dreams.

Now when they show up, I keep these things in mind, and it informs the advice that I give them. As I have advised often, I find that there are a things that I turn to often. People think that they are so alone and unique in their sins and struggles.

  1. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an Encounter with Christ and his mercy.

I know I can get legal minded, and I do encounter this with others as well. This is how relationships are made whole, by communication, by apologizing, by receiving forgiveness. It is personal, not just legal. Sometimes the remorse of the sin, or the preoccupation with the ritual can make people forget that Christ stands at the center of this.

  1. Strategies are not as effective as God’s grace.

I get a Confession of a sin, followed by a lengthy explanation of what they are doing to work on that sin. Maybe they are used to priests scolding them, or challenging them to think about ways to overcome that. Any strategy we make to overcome sin is entirely ineffective if we are not praying, not going to confession, not receiving the sacraments. I often find that the practical advice is inadequate. The most that I often do is ask them to find a mentor or few friends who can help with advice and accountability.

  1. Read the Scriptures

I know Catholics suck at reading or studying the Scriptures. I am not comfortable giving this out as a penance to many people, because many people look at the bible like operating a complicated and elite piece of machinery. I remind them that the Psalms are a good source of prayer, and the Gospels are how we can know about Jesus. This is also very dangerous. It can provoke them to love God and others more.

  1. The Holy Spirit seems to be working in their life

I can’t count how many times, someone enters Confession, after having to traverse many internal challenges. I really admire so many people boldly crying out to Christ in their brokenness. I am moved. As they are their wallowing, imagining that God wants to lunge and hurl condemnations, that the opposite is very true. The courage that to show up is probably an indication of the Spirit’s guidance in their life.

When Penance time comes around I usually assign a few non-traditional penances

  1. Read the Sunday Bible Readings

Every once and a while, I find that someone wants more. They have no legitimate mentors in their life to steer them in the direction of mature faith. One simple thing anyone can do is spend some time in prayer with the Readings for Mass. I started doing this my Senior Year of High School, now it’s my job to do it.

  1. Gratitude List

If someone doubts, they need to see evidence of God’s loving activity in their life. If someone sins, they need to see evidence that God will care for their needs. A gratitude list is a practical way for anyone to look with their eyes, and read aloud, the good things God does for them. Then they can thank them in a Litany. I tell them, as a penance, that they are required to do this once within 3 days, and that I encourage them to do it regularly 1-2x/week. This is very much rooted in Augustine’s Confessions: Writing down exactly how God has been good and generous in your life.

  1. Jesus Prayer

This is one of the ancient practices of our faith. Catholics are trained to see encountering God as a tedious, and often emotionally exhausting exercise, instead of seeing Christ as the source of all our new life. I find, over and over, Catholics are astounded that we have had this simple quiet meditation prayer for centuries, and that they are only hearing about it now.

  1. Offer a Mass Intention / Offer a Holy Hour

I save this one for Catholics that I have indication to believe that they are involved in their faith. I charge them to offer a Mass intention or a Holy Hour (it depends on the circumstances), in reparation for their sins, and in reparation for others who have struggled with the same sin. Sometimes I hear confessions before Mass, or during a Holy Hour. I also trust that they might be happy to bring their bibles, rosaries, and prayer books to adoration, and be set.

 

The Needs of the People of God Never End: Crisis Mode & Burn Out

UntitledLet me start off by saying that I have not burnt out, I am not unhappy, I am not miserable, I am not depressed, I am not in bad shape overall. Crisis Mode is acknowledging an impending crisis and taking prudent measures, rather than being haplessly swept into it.

The irony is that I am going to have to curtail my ministerial service over the next several months, coinciding with Lent when people typically give things up. It will be summed up in a few areas: The ministry assigned to me by my superiors, my current family situation, and the gratuitous ministries that I have chosen to limit. Things will not get better magically, but they will ease up on me by summer. Let it be clear that I owe it to everyone I will ever serve to commit to the summer vacation I am currently planning.

Pray for your priests!

This is obvious. Even for those devout Catholics who do seriously care about your priests, and would jump at a chance to help them, and support them in any way, my experience is that the majority of Catholics expect their priests to be impervious to pain, suffering & stress. That, and the needs of the People of God never end. Sometimes people will expect the priests to drop everything that they are doing to minister to them, even drop solitary prayer… Yet, all people still expect all their priests to spend a considerable amount of time in daily prayer.

Since I am a Young Priest, or merely a priest without grey hair, belly, wrinkles, or balding head, I have been in demand. This is not due to any excellence on my part, as for lack of viable alternatives. For instance, I go to various youth ministries or young adult gatherings scheduled on Thursdays, Fridays, or Saturdays when Pastors are at their busiest. On campus, when there is a need specifically for a priest, I am not likely the first (or second) person that is requested.

The work of a Religious Priest, particularly one in a High School was very different before the Council. I often find myself jealous for priests of that era. They could spend all week in front of a crowd of teenage boys, then spend their Sunday mornings facing an alter, offering, and tabernacle. They did lesson plans all week, and weren’t expected to have a homily every Sunday. It is impossible for me to not feel incredibly worn out to be expected to stand in front of an assembly of Catholics, who often imagine that my entire priestly ministry is their exclusive right, and not the students that I have been assigned to serve. I rarely go to Parishes for Sunday Masses.

700+ teenage boys under my Pastoral Care

This ministry is important to me! It really is! Even though the needs of the People of God never end, If I gave myself half-heartedly to fifteen different ministries, where’s the value in that! I have been committed to giving myself whole-heartedly to one particular ministry. Any other ministry I do ought to not interfere with this one.

Catholic High School ministry is a real priestly ministry. Because I am not presiding at several Sunday masses, several baptisms, marriages, quinceneras, etc., it does not mean that I don’t have a full priestly ministry. It boggles the minds of many young Catholics that I am not saying several Sunday Masses in several parishes every Sunday. Each month I coordinate a retreat, that includes: planning, training leaders (many of whom are teenage boys who need a lot of coaxing), cajoling faculty members into participating, booking sites, booking buses, booking catering, chasing down students who don’t hand in permission slips and retreat related reflections. This involves more yelling at kids then I ever imagined my priestly ministry would require, and I think this is because everyone expects the young priest to be more like a sports coach than a spiritual sage. I merely remind people that their pastor keeps the Sabbath Holy on a weekday, I do it on a Sunday.

But let me conclude by saying that I really enjoy doing this. Working with these kids is really meaningful for me. I want it to be clear that I am grateful to be where I am at. Despite their being a full work load, NOT AN INORDINATELY OR DISPROPORTIONATELY HIGH WORK LOAD, this is totally worth every minute. This ministry, all by itself, will probably not burn me out.

My dad’s health crisis and family situation

If you look back to these posts in October & November, you can get some details about this, and maybe see how this has been a psychologically exhausting issue for me. My dad got West Nile Virus in September, recovered from the infection in October, bedridden for a couple months, recovered a bit in November, but since Thanksgiving has shown minimal recovery. Let me make it clear, West Nile Virus infection does not cause permanent physical damage.

My dad has taken a long time to physically recover, such that he will take a really long time to recover. It could be six months, it could be a year. At least he is recovering. This has confronted our family with several very difficult financial decisions. One small mosquito bite has altered the course of my family forever, and there is no return to the way things were before any of this.

For myself, it is a challenge to drive up to LA from SD every weekend when I am free. It is a challenge to spend more time running errands for him than actually spending time with him. It is a challenge to have to get a few voice mails from him every day.

I am sure that people might wonder if I could request a reassignment to something closer and less demanding. Yet, I am filling a position in an institution, and if I leave, the lay administration at school will have to hire someone. I cannot get a substitute for several months. Besides, this would still be quitting, and that is hardly good discernment. A lot of the challenges my family faces will ease up by the time the next school year starts, so I even think it would be incredibly imprudent to just run away and start a whole new stressful transition in life.

Other Ministries

Immediately before all of this happened, I was committed to hearing confessions for a large youth group. I lost track of this. A month ago, I got a request to attend a small bachelor party retreat in a small rental cabin, the groom to be was more a friends friend than my own. All week long my dad was calling me asking me when I was going to visit, and I hadn’t been up in several weeks. I know is seems selfless for me to answer the need that someone has for a priest. Is it not also very selfish and egotistical of me, to pretend to be an invulnerable superhero, who neglects his sick father and students who he has been assigned to minister to?

First Fridays, I assist a young adult ministry. Adoration, Confessions, Benediction, Mass, Praise & Worship, Social & Talk are included. Typically I take Confessions, and concelebrating Mass. I preside a few times a year. Unlike Parishes on a Sunday, this has been the only regular ministry outside of school I find consistently refreshing. Practically, Fridays are the time I can finally drive up to LA to help my dad. Although I might be able to show up at some point over the next few months, I am no longer in a position for them to rely on me. There are a few other reasons.

All Catholic Young Adult Events are off the list. sometimes exhausting, because, even if I go, I am placed on a pedestal, while simultaneously being expected to serve. I can only go to these sorts of things to serve, and never to receive or be refreshed, what a way to end a long day of serving 700 adolescents! One time I remember being asked to give a blessing at the end, only to turn around to find a short line of people in attendance asking for their own special blessing. I am tempted to remind them not to mistake my youth for actual genuine holiness.

Women are another reason. Priests who have abandoned their ministry for a woman have actually hit a crisis, perhaps like the crisis I have. Sometimes I am exhausted at these young adult things because of the looks I get from them. I do remind myself that this shallow affection isn’t for me personally, but for what I do or what I wear. I would rather withdraw than pretend that no risk exists. There are several women I know and trust that would protectively give a talking to to any immature desperate girl who tried to take advantage of me at this time. Since I am not actually required to be here by holy obedience, I don’t see why I would be imprudent in that regard.

Unfortunately, I may also have to limit my activity on this blog.

I do live in a Religious Community, and having them has provided me with much of my sanity. How good and how pleasant it is! Also, I have several awesome friends who have been good to me during this time. Since I really like what I do, and want to have many years serving the people of God, it is urgent that I be mature in this regard. I am sure there are many other priests out there much holier than I am, many priests who are much better at it than I have been in my 19 months, who could do more than I can.

Sisterhood, Reality TV about young discerners

Be sure to check out the show on LifeTime: mylifetime.com/shows/the-sisterhood-becoming-nuns

Be sure to check out the show on LifeTime: mylifetime.com/shows/the-sisterhood-becoming-nuns

The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns is a reality show on Lifetime candidly chronicling 5 20-something women discerning a call to Religious Life. I joined the Augustinians in my early 20’s, and thought I could attest to the validity of what these women go through in the course of the series. However, there were only two noticeable differences that I will comment on briefly. However, instead of commenting overall what seems true for almost anyone, I would rather comment on what I have related to in one way or another discussing each of the Sisters, and what they are going through.

“God or the Girl” Reality Show about Priesthood Discerners?

But first, a reminder of why this show is effective from the outset. A couple of years ago, there was an awful reality show about young men discerning a call to the priesthood (not religious life). At no time were they together. At no time were they actually put in situations of serving others or showing compassion or charity to others. One of the guys had to make a pilgrimage (Traveling across the country with no money and little resources, dependent on the generosity of others). Another had to drag a cross around in a literal imitation of Christ’s Passion (I mean really?) Dramatic demonstrations of “devotion,” are much more difficult to test commitment for attitudes and motivations than placing someone in service of inconvenient and needy people. Instead of challenges rooted in the Gospel, they were giving challenges that looked good for reality television with competitions and tests of faith. None of it entailed actual discernment. Besides, choosing Consecrated Life as a vocation is not a dichotomy between God or the girl, it is choosing your fullest self, even if romance and marriage are not part of it. None of the young men applied to seminaries after. I was impressed, because this show actually gave the young women challenges that are rooted in the Gospel, but are practical for Religious Life. I am also convinced that the producers received input from the Sisters of the convents that hosted the girls

Personal Difference One: Age

I joined the Augustinians at 22, and lived in a community of Friars that included elderly retired Friars, Friars in full time ministry, and one other pre-novice / postulant who was 19. The young man left within a few months, and I didn’t have people my age to share my journey with. The following year of Novitiate had me move across country, except I had 3 other men in novitiate with me, and only one was younger (that did not, in any way mean we got along). Nowadays I can’t count on one hand the 20-somethings in our Order across the country, and I’m not in my 20’s. I also had two good friends join the Order as I was completing formation.

Personal Difference Two: Cellphones

When I joined, I never used text messages, and smartphones weren’t the standard phone. Facebook wasn’t around. You might have made a call when you had time, and I didn’t use every night to make or receive phone calls. I never had my phone confiscated. In my first year, I was encouraged to visit my dad when I could. In my second year (in WI), I couldn’t but called him briefly at least once a week (mostly to tell him I was alive and wasn’t miserable). On the flipside, from about 16-26 many young men have an overwhelming desire to establish themselves independently, while many young women have an overwhelming desire to bond deeply with the important people in their lives. It is not that women cannot, or never want to establish themselves independently, it is that on average men more often mature by independence followed by bonding, while women do so with bonding and then independence.

Stacey, 26 NY: Sharing Your Life

When I look at young men who visit and discern with us, a major question I have is “Would I want to live with him?” We are not merely looking for people to staff our institutions, we are looking for people to share our life with. I have indicated to our Vocation Director, when we have a visitor/discerner, who would be awful to live with. One thought I have with Stacey is that she would be the person who easily passes this test. She is receptive, attentive to others, while also being lighthearted and serious. I had noticed that in someway she wasn’t being provoked by the producers to talk about issues as much, and she stood out as someone who was really present to the moment, present to the other young women, and present to the people she served in the ministry settings. Were she to have a vocation, any convent would easily be blessed to have her.

Christie, 27, CA: Intentionality & Prayer

I met this girl at a party once. She didn’t talk about Jesus visions. In fact, they played this up with her at the beginning. I do not find it unusual. I did a study on Medieval Christian Spirituality, and found something: While Male Saints tended to write systematically on Spiritual Theology, Female Saints tended to write vividly, descriptively, imaginatively and sensuously. I believe it is much more normal for men, and especially women, than this program let’s on, to experience Jesus in a personal way. In her case, it is often romantic. What I am struck by her is her focus on prayer and intentionality. She wants to spend more time in the chapel and in prayer. Often, Catholics use the busy-ness of ministry as a way to escape the vulnerability that intimate prayer requires. I have been there. But on the flipside, I have also had plenty of times, where I felt like the odd man out wanting there to be more prayer (ie suggesting repeatedly to have more Adoration, or Quiet Prayer in the Chapel as a community). I think that the producers have had a challenge portraying her as the crazy woman with the visions, because in social situations she is actually one of the most fun and well-rounded of the bunch. If she does seem like she could be more balanced (more structured common prayer), I believe that she could experience that naturally in any formation program. Again, I could easily say that she would be a blessing to any convent.

Eseni, 23, NY: Being Broken

Eseni joins this series as one of the most conflicted, in that she is currently in a relationship. I don’t think you could be accepted into any formation program if you left a significant relationship that far in the air as she did. Since she is doing a discernment program that is much different, and I don’t see her as problematic. Further, even though she often comments about trying to reconnect with God and her faith, she has also been haunted by the idea of becoming a Sister for a very long time. If you look over my tips on Discernment, I would say that she has good reason to do a deliberate discernment program as such. Whether or not she stays, it is clear her boyfriend may never understand this calling, as there are people who will never understand it. Were I to encourage her personally, I think she should open her heart to the adventure, instead of getting trapped inn expectations. For myself, I wasn’t in love with someone before I joined, but have fallen in love a few times since then. I suppose I will fall in love again. Married people fall in love with other people sometimes. Falling in love is always a reminder to make a choice with God’s guidance rather than being a slave to whims and feelings. I can also personally relate to Eseni, because she is quite aware of her brokenness, I can’t count the many times I have had to put aside my feelings of brokenness and unworthiness in order to discern. I can also relate to having a person (or in my case several), were anticipating me leaving, or giving me the ultimatum of choosing a friendship with them or my vocation.

Augies

Augustinians in formation ~2007. You can find me on the left with my arms crossed.

Francesca, 21, NJ: The Importance of Spiritual Mentors

Francesca is the youngest, and obviously the most emotionally volatile. I guess I was closer to her age when I joined then some of the other women on this show. She is made to stand out, probably by the producers, for wanting to run away, for wanting to call her family. Unfortunately, she is portrayed perhaps too unfavorably on the show. When you are in formation for religious life, you should meet regularly with mentors, a Prior, a Formation Director, a Spiritual Director. These people are there not to give you easy answers, but to help you process the difficult decision you have to make, as well as your own Spiritual & Ministerial Growth. Finally, opening up to members of your community can help you cement bonds. I remember I had a few times I would visit family during Summer or Christmas, and would get caught up in the drama of some of my old friends. Often, I felt as if I was the only student / seminarian who had to deal with the kind of stuff that I was, so it was difficult for me to reach out for understanding. Maybe Francesca has a lot to learn, and some maturing to do, but much of that is because she is still young, so I wouldn’t be too hard on her. I can appreciate her struggle. I imagine the cameras following her around, as well as taking the risk of appearing amount to a lot of pressure for any 21 year old girl. She is the kind of person who would probably benefit from a check-in each week by Superiors for the first couple months, (ie, one on one time for her to be able to process). I also think that her family has had their share of challenges, and is understandably tight knit. Maybe her vocation would actually flourish if she had a few visits from her mother during the beginning of her formation, were she to have a calling. Of course, I come from the Augustinian background, where Augustine’s Rule permits that each person’s needs are addressed particularly, depending on where they come from. Some other religious communities would disagree with this approach.

Claire, 26, IL: Loving Other People

Claire comes from a homeschool family in Joliet, IL. I assisted with an Augustinian Parish near Joliet, and could have run into her at some young adult gatherings in Joliet that I attended. (At least I don’t recall). She seems to have had a rigorous faith formation, and in some ways has never come across the challenges that have shaped the other young women on the show. In some ways, it appears that the producers picked up on this early, and have been digging into her for comments about the other young women. In religious life, we often use our opinions of other people to distract ourselves from what God is calling us to. Sometimes I would rather be persnickety because some other brother is failing to live up to our ideal in Religious Life than do so myself. Sometimes I would rather make a judgment about another than about myself. I remember during my novitiate, I sat across from the computer room. I made a decent effort to avoid internet use during the day (I was literally sending hand-written letters to friends, as well as reading a lot of awesome books). I struggled, because I had a clear view of the other student Friars entering the computer room with frequency. I also struggled because I was the only student who took up a hobby, or who exercised each afternoon, instead of watching all the Harry Potter movies. I was also perceived as too blunt by my classmates that year (even in comments that were not about them). So I can relate. I just remember learning that I also had to be a contributor to community life, toward it’s delight and enjoyment. Certainly, loving my brothers could be a higher penance than fasting or abstinence, but that I was also to be involved in the delight and flourishing of others (rather than mere toleration). Yet, as the show progresses, the more she immerses herself in the life and service of the sisters, it lessens her noticing the flaws of others.

*** UPDATED: Spoilers ahead for those who have seen the whole series ***

As I said, Reality Shows are often more competitive, and so the dynamic is about stirring conflict and controversy. I believe that the producers didn’t go as far as normal shows, and I believe that the girls sincerely did not attempt to go at it this way. That doesn’t stop it from happening. I am seriously convinced that the Producers took the Sisters at each of the convents, and their wisdom and input, very seriously. I believe that they set the agenda for the girls, and the Producers accepted it.

Some people might balk at the young women speaking candidly about their sex lives on national television. Some Catholics might find it unnecessary, or disgusting that they would. I have found that sexualized images of nuns are a problem on tumblr. I also find it off that in our pornographic culture, people generally feel entitled to that sort of information. Whether or not there were cameras rolling, they would have talked about this stuff. Whether or not the producers had a say, it probably would have happened. It is one of those sad states in our culture. However, their conversations rotated around their past, not about their future. One has no reason to believe that any of them think that a Consecrated Sister should subvert her own Vows of Chastity. I think it also gave one of the girls an opportunity to talk about Chastity as redemptive.

When the girls conclude the discernment program, they end up better off. Some of the girls take their discernment to the next level. Only one walks away from discerning religious life, and she is ends in a better position for herself then when she started. One of them invites some of the sisters over to meet her family. It is very important for anyone discerning religious life to make sure their family is connected. All the parents assume that entering a convent means that their daughter WILL NEVER, IN A MILLIONS YEARS ASSOCIATE WITH THEM. If they actually got to know the Sisters, they would feel happier with them and more at ease.

Reading & Studying Augustine: Why confessions may not always be the best place to start

Yesterday, I wrote about Augustine’s Confessions, today I want to write about the rest of his works. This post is especially written for anybody who has picked up the Confessions, and found it too confusing to continue. This is also for people who are interested in the Church Fathers, or particularly Augustine, but are somewhat at a loss from where to start (or go) after the Confessions. If you look at the bottom you can see which works are easier to read, and which are more challenging.

Augustine was incredibly popular in his day. Today, he is exiled from popular devotion, and left for those fancy inte-mallectuals over there. You don’t find Augustine statuettes or prayer cards in the Cathedral giftshop or your grandma’s purse. Despite his renown in his day, he is relatively untapped.

Despite reverence for Augustine among young Catholics, they dare not his literary corpus that includes a Spiritual Autobiography, the Confessions & the Retractions, Theological Books:  Trinity & City of God; Polemical Works: Against Heresies, Donatists, Pelagians, Arians, Manichees etc; 270 Letters; Pastoral Works; Many Exegetical Works on the New Testament, Commentaries on John’s Writings, and the Psalms, and 400+ Sermons.

They imagine a Monolithic Intellectual Bishop that smashed heretics to smithereens.  They look up his works, and don’t know where to start. They are allured to this succinct poetic quote. They feel drawn, they read the Confessions, their head spins, they never finish.

Augustine’s Confessions are not esoteric writing for spiritual elite, intellectually superior, or well-lettered persons, but the Confessions are not for everyone. Augustine wrote his Confessions for detractors, because he had nothing to hide. On the flipside, his Confessions were written at a time when printed works were not widely available. Therefore, it is unlikely that Augustine imagined that the Confessions would or should become his most widely distributed work.

What is behind this discrepancy of Augustine

There is an unusual discrepancy between the modern unapproachable Augustine and the popular Augustine of his time. Augustine was seized by the people to become their bishop. Before becoming bishop, Augustine would take the long way travelling between towns. He was attempting to avoid towns that he knew would make him bishop. Keep in mind, this was all before Augustine was a priest. Augustine’s intended to develop a new form of monasticism based on friendship and charity, not by becoming a clergyman, and not by asceticism and remoteness to the cities. Augustine was popular to an illiterate Church, how can he be so unknown to today’s literate Church?

It is clear that Augustine was renown for his preaching and speaking, not for his writing? Augustine has 400+ Sermons intact today. A Sermon, an Exposition on the Psalm, a Homily on a passage from the Gospel of John is packed with practical and spiritual advice that I am sure his flock cherished. Christians of Augustine’s time were not generally interested in the self-disclosure of the Confessions, as the meaning of the Scriptures for their own lives. They did not go to Augustine to hear him talk about himself, they came to Augustine to hear him talk about Christ, God’s revelation to humankind. In Augustine’s day, the starting point and ending point on Augustine’s literary works were only his works dealing with Scripture.

Browse any bookstore shelf, and you can find the Confessions & The City of God. If you are studying theology, or in part of a bookclub, or have a decent short commentary, I don’t recommend the City of God or the Trinity. I also don’t recommend them, because there are so many other better places to start. Augustine’s Sermons & Scriptural Works have not been widely available in English.

Augustine’s Works in English

An internet search of Augustine will lead you to New Advent’s archives of his writings. It is free. However, you will not find any commentaries on Augustine’s works. You get what you pay for, and you may not understand what you are reading. I do recommend taking a look over it. I especially recommend that if you have read the Confessions, and didn’t like it, to read a Sermon here, so you can see the difference. Not only is reading long term on the computer a problem for most people, but the translations of Augustine here tends to be more than a century old.

Catholic University of America Press, for almost a century, has endeavored to translate the Church Fathers into English. Most of Augustine’s works, in this series, were translated between 70 and 40 years ago. These are serious translations principally aimed at Patrology students and scholars. All Hardcover (only) starting at $35+. Missing in this series are most of Augustine’s Sermons and his commentary on the Psalms, but you may still find some of his exegetical works including the Homilies on John’s Gospel and Epistles. It should be clear that these are a reputable source for Augustine’s works, and I highly recommend them. However, I think that there is another more accessible (and complete) Augustine series available.

The Augustine Heritage Institute has set out to complete translations into English of the entire literary corpus of Augustine into an accessible and contemporary style. The Augustine Heritage Institute consists of Augustinians, and other international English speaking scholars on Augustine. The majority of his works are currently only available in hardcover, but many works that are worth looking at are also available in paperback, and a few in Kindle.

It is in this series that you find the Confessions endorsed by Augustinians: Maria Boulding’s English translation. The most recent publishing consists of Augustine’s Exegesis on the New Testament, to which I highly recommend. The City of God has been published in the past two years in Paperback and Kindle. A series of Writings dealing On Christian Belief is available in Paperback, and contains many shorter treatises on the faith that people will find accessible, particularly the Enchiridion (Handbook) on Faith Hope & Love.

You can find all five volumes of the Commentary on the Psalms in Paperback, as well as the currently available First Volume on Augustine’s Homilies on the Gospel of John. Augustine’s Homily on the Epistle of John is available in a slim volume, as well as on Kindle. Although the complete set of Sermons are only available in Hardcover, a single volume Essential Sermons is available in Paperback and Kindle.

So far, New City Press has yet to publish an anthology of Augustine’s entire corpus. There is a Vintage Classics anthology “Late Have I Loved Thee,” on Augustine’s writings on Love. There you will find some of his Sermons, Letters, Commentaries on the Psalms and Scriptures, which could be some of the best places to start. I do, however, find that the translations more convoluted then New City Press.

So, I have classified them below, from Beginner to Intermediate, to Advanced. I have placed The Confessions on intermediate, because I don’t think it is the best departure for Augustine studies for everyone. I have exclusively relied on New City Press editions of Augustine. I have placed Amazon links for print, and kindle where available.

Beginner

Works for beginners require a basic understanding of Sacred Scripture. Even reading the short introductions in most Catholic Bibles will suffice.

These selections are generally shorter. A Sermon might be a few pages. A Commentary on a Psalm may also be a few pages (or several). These would not require a long term commitment. Some of these consist of shorter treatises of Augustine.

Deeper study into Church History, Ancient Philosophy, Theology & Scripture will illumine more, but much can be received without a study of these.

Essential Sermons
|    Paperback    |    Kindle    |

Expositions on the Psalms
|    I Paperback    |    II Paperback     |    III Paperback    |    IV Paperback    |    V Paperback    |    VI Paperback  |

Homilies on the First Epistle of John
|    Paperback    |    Kindle    |

Enchiridion on Faith, Hope & Love (The Augustine Catechism)  Also available in On Christian Belief
|    Paperback    |    Kindle    |

On Christian Belief
|    Paperback    |

Intermediate

I would recommend that these works be studied after reading the short Introductions & Commentaries, or other writings / studies on these works. I also think that some initial study of Theology, Church History, and/or Ancient Philosophy should be a prerequisite.

Confessions
|    Paperback    |    Kindle    |    Study Edition    |

New Testament I & II
|    Paperback    |

Homilies on the Gospel of John I
|    Paperback    |

Marriage & Virginity
|    Paperback    |

On Genesis
|    Paperback    |

Advanced

I would not recommend reading these without becoming more familiar with Theology or Ancient Philosophy.  Neither would I recommend reading these without having first explored the commentaries from these books, or other articles about these works. 

Teaching Christianity
|    Paperback    |    Kindle    |

The City of God
|    Vol I Paperback    |    Vol I Kindle    |    Vol II Paperback    |    Vol II Kindle    |

Selected Works on Grace & Pellagianism
|    Paperback    |

The Trinity  
|    Paperback    |    Kindle    |

BONUS: If Beginner is too intimidating!

These are links to a few devotional type books. None of them actually cover an entire literary piece of Augustine, perhaps they are daily reflections. They would also help familiarize people with Augustine.

Day by Day with Saint Augustine by Fr Donald Burt, OSA

15 Days of Prayer with Saint Augustine by Fr Jaime Garcia, OSA

Augustine of Hippo by Fr Thomas Martin, OSA

Augustine Day by Day

Daily Meditations with Saint Augustine

What if the Bishop didn’t have to make the rounds in Confirmation Season?

confirmationPray for Bishop Cirrilo Flores, of San Diego. He had a stroke immediately before Easter, and has been unable to preside at Liturgical Functions. He has, probably to the sorrow and shock of many Catholics, been unable to preside at the Confirmation Masses of many teenagers, probably making many adult Catholics wondering or feeling that the validity of the ceremony is in question. I decided to revive this post from a few years ago that I never published.

I have written previously on my opinion that the Roman Catholic Church ought to restore the Order of the Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist. In this case, I wanted to invite people to imagine what the Church would be like if the Bishops weren’t still required to do Confirmations at all the Parishes.

In our current setup, a Bishop makes the rounds in Confirmation Season: Between the Second Week of Easter, and Pentecost (Sometimes it’s pushed all the way at the beginning of Lent). It is the ideal for many to have the Bishop Confirm the students at Pentecost. Since it is impossible for the Bishop to be present in every parish on this high Solemnity, we make this concession to have him, or an Auxiliary Bishop near the Solemnity of Pentecost. Our current situation, which we hold up as an ideal is merely a concession.

Currently, many people feel as if Confirmation is essentially and exclusively conferred by one’s Bishop. Pastorally, the Bishop is responsible for all the Sacraments in the Diocese, by having the annual Chrism Mass, we recognize our Communion with the Bishop. During the Eucharistic Prayers, we recall our Communion with the Universal Church signified by our Bishop. On the contrary, there are so many ways that we recognize our unity in the Church, through our Bishop, in our Liturgy. Most of our deep convictions about this Sacrament are misguided sentiments.

The Bishop delegates his priests for the Sacraments on Easter, and it would not be a stretch for him to do so for the rest of the year. Further, we can also see that we have more ancient customs in our Liturgical Tradition that typically have the priest conferring Confirmation. And considering we also have the ancient Liturgical custom of Priests (especially in the East) conferring the Sacrament of Confirmation, I think it is worth discussing.

Should we have an approach where young people receive the Sacrament of Confirmation prior to First Communion, a properly ordered Initiation, many people, I am sure will feel that we lost a significant Tradition of having the Bishop present at a Parish celebration. Many people, mistakenly believe that Confirmation is tied to adolescence/adulthood, when it is indeed a more modern concession, a modern and unnecessary concession.[1]

Should a Bishop be in a situation where he is no longer tied down intensely during one part of the year making the Confirmation rounds, he will be freer to make more significant Pastoral visits at Parish celebrations. I would like to Imagine this: When a parish celebrates their anniversary, their annual Festival (should it not coincide with their anniversary), or the Feast of their Patron, the Bishop’s presence at any of these celebrations would be more significant for the entire Parish Community, rather then a significant event exclusively for the teens being Confirmed each year (and many of their family members who may not even be regular mass-attendees). Indeed, Many of them will disappear immediately after their Confirmation to either never return, or perhaps return with wedding or baptism demands.

That is to say, in a Church, where the Bishop is no longer pressured or required to attend every parish Confirmation celebration, will find himself immensely freed up pastorally to attend a variety of Parish Celebrations across the diocese in which he serves. I don’t know that people perceive the Bishop merely in terms of a status symbol[2] or a sacramentary dispenser, or rather as a Shepherd. Not having the Bishop at most Confirmations, I believe, focuses people’s attention on the Bishop as the Shepherd. As much as the memory of the Auxiliary Bishop’s presence at my own Confirmation is meaningful, the persistent Pastoral Presence of Bishops over the years, somehow seems as if it could be even more meaningful.

  1. People literally say that Confirmation is when “You, as an adult, CONFIRM the faith of your Baptism.” This is, however a reverse of the actual theology of this Sacrament. Confirmation is conferred, and we receive it. It is not us that Confirm, it is Christ through the Minister in the Spirit. Our reception of the Sacrament is important, however Confirmation doesn’t refer to our decision as such. Sacraments are all primarily gifts from Christ through the Church
  2. Sometimes we fall into the temptation to presume that one Catholic’s confirmation is more powerful if conferred by a higher bishop. We forget it is the same Christ in the Pope, in the Archbishop, & in the Priest that confirms. It is the Action of Christ.

The Digital Augustine Library

This summer, Brandon Vogt on his blog the Thin Veil, created a list on his blog “Building a Catholic eBook Library on the Cheap.” He could have easily included his book, The Church and New Media on that list. Well I downloaded it immediately on Kindle, and finally finished it, it is a good read for those interested.

However, I wrote this, in response, because for serious readers of Saint Augustine of Hippo, you are going to want to spend a few extra dollars on a better translation of his famous works. The fact is, there are public domain translations of Augustine’s Confessions on the cheap. However, there are better translations available at $9.99, which would be worth the extra money.

The Augustine Heritage Institute has published Augustine’s writings on New City Press, in some of the best contemporary translations available. American Augustinian scholars of Augustine, like John Rotelle OSA and George Lawless OSA, as well as English speaking scholars like Maria Boulding OSB, Edmund Hill OP, Boniface Ramsey OP, and many others have been publishing several of Augustine’s works on New City Press.

A few of these works from Augustine on New City Press have already come out on Kindle, and I believe more books will be released on Kindle. So I decided to compile a list of these works, and update it in the future when more of these works have become available in eBook format.


Essential Sermons


The Confessions


Homilies on the First Letter of Saint John


The Trinity


The City of God Vol. I
 (Books 1-10)


The City of God Vol. II
 (Books 11-22)

The Augustine Catechism – The Enchidirion on Faith Hope and Love


Trilogy on Faith and Happiness


The Revisions (Retractationes) $29.14

You can find a more printed editions of Augustine’s Writings, as well as an introduction & recommendation in a recent post: Reading & Studying Augustine (08.27.14)

 

**UPDATED** August 30, 2014