T. Shawn Tracy, O.S.A.Feast of Saint Augustine - August 28, 2007
Homily by T. Shawn Tracy, O.S.A.

Acts 2:42-47
Ps 84:2-6,11
II Tim 4:1-8
John 10:7-18

Question the beauty of the earth, the beauty of the sea,
the beauty of the wide air around you, the beauty of the sky.
Question the order of the stars, the sun whose brightness lights the day,
the moon whose splendor softens the gloom of night.
Question the living creatures that move in the waters,
that roam upon the earth, that fly through the air;
the spirit that lies hidden, the matter that is manifest;
the visible things that are ruled, the invisible that rule them.
Question all these! They will answer you, “Behold and see, we are beautiful.”
Their beauty is their confession of God. Who made these beautiful changing things, if not One who is beautiful?

If Augustine were alive today, he would be shocked at the condition of the modern world. In particular, the ecological crisis facing twenty first century humankind would be incomprehensible to him.

Augustine was a man of North Africa, a desert man who lived with scarcity in the close precincts of the Roman Empire and the advantages of the beautiful and spacious Mediterranean Sea.

The Gospel sequence for the feast of Augustine sings a fitting tribute to the man and his spirit:

“Rapt in loving contemplation, with new eyes you saw creation, bathed with glory from above. Deep you drank from Wisdom’s fountain, high you climbed the mystic’s mountain to the vision of God’s love.”

Augustine, surrounded as he was by the sands, stone and gushing streams of his people’s land, was steeped in the religious imagery and creation-conscious poetry of Hebrew scripture and the Psalms. Psalm 84, today’s ritual response, offers the believer the image of the “nest,” a dwelling place for God’s own house. This nest is a metaphor for the human heart’s yearning and pining for communion with the Holy.

Yet with Augustine’s profound influence on the thinking consciousness of the Western world, and his superb sense of the God within creation, how is it at all comprehensible that there should be such abuse in the way nations treat this earth of ours. There is very little sense of the sacredness, of this nest, our home.

You see, Augustine put strong emphasis on the immanence of God in creation – and in the human heart – as a dwelling place for the Divine. For Augustine, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit brought the believer into the circle of God’s loving presence, a living, breathing and holy image of God.

And this sense of divine life flowing like springs of refreshing water within the worshiping church was easily extended into the world of nature. For the Wisdom of God was present in the mystery of creation. It could be sensed instinctively by the hungering and thirsting searchers/ seekers who longed for union with the risen and cosmic Christ.

Why do governments and neighborhoods treat this planet as though we own it – rather than as stewards of the earth given to us by God to share in justice with one another?

I believe it is because we have lost that sense of immanence so revered by Augustine in his wisdom and his teaching. We do not sense the mystery of the divine in creation. God is not thought to dwell within and among us. God’s beauty is foreign, imperceptible, separated from creation, ethereal and for all practical purposes non-existent.

Listen to Augustine on the beauty of the visible world:

Some people read books in order to discover God.
But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things.
Look above you! Look below you! Note it; read it.
God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink;
Instead he set before your eyes the things that he had made.
Can you ask for a louder voice than that?
Why, heaven and earth shout to you: “GOD MADE ME.’ (May Sermon 126, 6)

Look at today’s Gospel. It was chosen with Augustine in mind – and it suggests his deep love of creation by the imagery it presents. How could Jesus have cared about the shepherds, their sheep, their meadows and fields, not sense the power and presence of their Creator, the ‘heavenly Father.’ And Augustine the homilist and ecstatic theologian who shepherded his flock had to sense that too!

So let the life of Augustine and the scriptures that so filled him with intelligent faith move you as well. Make decisions on your environment. Don’t waste a thing. Clean up your act. Enjoy the beauty!

The repercussions of not realizing the God within us shows itself in our attitude to the planet we live in. If the Lord of creation cannot be perceived in the experience of earth and its beauty, than it is easy to see this earth as a material object that can be possessed, abused, separated from the Devine and abandoned.

So it has happened. Humankind treats the earth as though we own it! It is not God’s earth – and we are not really stewards of it: we are its lord and master: we own it! And we have been doing to it whatever we wanted with no sense of the sacrilege that this way of life conveys.

See today’s Gospel. Jesus uses the metaphor of the Good Shepherd, the gate that the sheep pass through and the pasture where they spend their lives. His sensitivity to nature and to its creatures is evident in the poetry of his examples. But he contrasts the robbers with the true caretaker of the sheep. One steals and does not care, the other does.

Thus we abuse the resources of the earth. Our need for oil to push the economies of the West leads to war, death, devastation and chaos. We have no sense of spiritual responsibility in the midst of our ambitions and materialistic appetites. We use the earth; we use others!

So on this feast I urge each of us to ponder the mystery of creation. Rediscover the ancient roots of a living faith that places God at the center of life as we live it, breathe it, sense it, and appreciate it.

Plant and work your garden. Ride that bicycle into the distant horizon – both for charity and for pleasure. Hike the trails of hills and mountains. Breathe in the air of sea and shore. Fly the kite with your kid. Sense the wonder of the divine in all of it. Give thanks for the opportunity to serve – and conserve. This is your nest – God’s nest – and you are a sparrow finding your home friendly, loving and holy!

Happy Feast of St. Augustine.