Peter Kreeft: St. Augustine ‘Is a Man for Our Times’

Philosopher Peter Kreeft has published 75 books on the Catholic faith. In his writing and his teaching (he is a professor at Boston College), he often revisits the works of classic philosophers and thinkers, such as Socrates, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Augustine and C.S. Lewis, introducing their inexorable logic to a new generation.

In I Burned for Your Peace: Augustine’s Confessions Unpacked, Kreeft explores timeless questions and leads his readers into a deeper understanding of the saint and his God.

Kreeft spoke recently with the Register about his most recent work, which looks at some of the “big ideas” found in the fifth-century writing of St. Augustine of Hippo.


There are so many vital works from Catholic intellectuals throughout the ages — from St. Thomas Aquinas to St. John of the Cross and St. John Paul II. Why do you consider Augustine’s Confessions the most beloved book in the world next to the Bible?

Well, first of all, polls support that. Augustine’s Confessions has been the single most read, reread and quoted post-biblical Christian book ever written. But, secondly, the reason the book is held in such high esteem is Augustine himself.

Historically, Augustine has probably influenced Christians more than anyone else outside of the Bible. Psychologically, he is a complete, compound and compassionate human being. He combines a compassionate heart and a great mind — and he’s a saint! He used the burning light (his mind) and his heart to get through to God. Augustine shows us the errors and truth — the byways, not just the main ways.

I would say that Augustine’s Confessions is actually the single most compelling and attractive and fascinating book ever written by a saint. It is, to the books of the saints, what A Man for All Seasons is to movies about saints — it’s No. 1. And that’s mainly because of the incredible conversation between brilliant thought and genuine love and passion, agony as well as ecstasy. His heart and his head are both at work.


What is the chief reason for Augustine’s broad appeal? Why does his message resonate with both Protestants and Catholics, with both men and women?

He’s a mirror. In reading Augustine’s story, we recognize ourselves. He shows us who we are or who we can be — our heads and our hearts; our sins and our virtues; our darkness and our light; our mistakes and our truth. He asks the questions that everyone asks: “How can I possibly conceive God? How can I find him?”


Augustine was one of the most prolific writers in the history of Christianity. Why do you consider his Confessions his most important work?

It’s important because it attracts people to a life of sanctity. It’s important because it has helped to shape the public history of Western Civilization — although for that, it’s not as important as City of God, which almost singlehandedly created the Middle Ages. But City of God is about 1,000 pages, so Confessions — with just over 300 pages — is much more accessible.


There are many nuggets or truths offered by Augustine in Confessions. Is there a single message that stands above all the others?

If you could state the theme in a single sentence, it would be the sentence on the first page of Confessions, which has been quoted more than any other: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”


Is that message — as profound and as universal as it may be — becoming less and less relevant in a world that seems to focus more each day on itself and less on God?

No, I think exactly the opposite is true: The more lost you are, the more relevant is a road map. So Augustine is a man for our times — not only because he shows us the twistings and turnings of the dark and crooked mind, but because he shows us the way out of sin and debauchery: the way back to God. Augustine is also extremely relevant in the modern world because he was a sex addict [before his conversion].


Augustine knew what it was like to push God away — to hold him at bay — while he experienced the attractions of the world. The danger inherent in this is that one may fall too much in love with the world and never know the joy of falling in love with God. What would Augustine say to those today who have fallen too much in love with this world?

The first thing he’d say is: “Be totally honest.” Experience — even the experience of sin — is a teacher. The world promises what it can’t deliver. What it promises is freedom, and what it delivers is addiction and slavery. Whether we’re talking about pride or lust or greed or any of the sins, they’re all addictive.


A recent CARA study reveals that children as young as 10 years old are leaving the faith, being drawn into the secular culture. The 500th anniversary of the Reformation is being celebrated around the world. Given that, may I ask you to reflect on your own conversion?

Well, first, I don’t buy that [about children being drawn into the culture]. What I mean is that the facts are there — children and adults are really being drawn away from their faith — but the explanation is wrong. The so-called “war” between science and religion is a fake war, which has absolutely no casualties. There is no study in the Christian world that supports that hypothesis. The real reason that people leave the faith is personal.

As for my own conversion story, I was motivated by facts, by truth. As an undergraduate at Calvin College, I read the Early Church Fathers. My goal had been to persuade myself that I was in the right church; but the continuity, the historical case, the seamless web of Catholic doctrine was overwhelming.

The best professor I had during my years at Calvin College taught philosophy. We became good friends, and I confided to him that I was thinking of becoming a Catholic. It turned out that he had almost converted when he was my age; and he was most sympathetic.


You point out that what Augustine confesses is, most fundamentally, God and his grandeur, not just himself and his badness. Isn’t Christianity’s journey a metaphor for the Christian pilgrimage from love of self to love of God, from the city of the world to the city of God?

Yes. What attracts most people to Augustine is the hope of redemption from a life of despair to a life of meaning. He’s not just conventionally confessing his faith in God; the reader senses that he’s truly standing in the presence of that God.

There’s a line in which Augustine says, “Don’t leave — read this book! Have your ear to my heart.” His heart is absolutely, fanatically in love with God. Augustine is like Job: His wildness gets him into a lot of suffering, but his restless heart — that famous line — is the key to the story. He doesn’t give up. He doesn’t substitute a smartphone for a real encounter with God.


You offer a template for the reading and appreciation of your book — one that encourages individual thought and consideration on the part of the reader. Have you used this template effectively in any other venue? In a class, perhaps?

Definitely. I’m a bridge builder because great books are written for ordinary people, despite our obstacles. If you can get in dialogue — Augustine is in dialogue with God — it’s an exciting thing, to read this book. Confessions is not just a research tool full of dusty old facts; you encounter a real person.


What is your next project? What can we look forward to in the months and years ahead?

Well, first let me also recommend a movie on Augustine put out by Ignatius Press, called Restless Heart. I’m skeptical of most religious movies, but this is truly excellent.

I’ve got a book coming out from Ignatius Press: Ecumenical Pensees: How Protestants and Catholics Can Learn from Each Other Without Compromising.

And at long last, a four-volume History of World Philosophy will be coming out, published by St. Augustine Press.


What question have I not asked that you would like to answer? What would you like to say about Augustine that you would like everyone to hear?

One thing I can tell you about my conversion that differs from some people’s experience: Typically, when Jews convert to Christianity, they’ll describe themselves as “completed Jews.” But when I converted, I didn’t become any less evangelical, but more.

When Augustine is depicted in art, he is always shown with a heart on fire in one hand and a Bible in the other. That image aptly describes the urgency of his search for God.

But, most importantly, read Augustine’s book. You’ll fall in love with him; he will change your life.

(c) Kathy Schiffer | Link


Pope’s Morning Homily: ‘Never Converse With the Devil

Never converse with the devil, who seduces and ruins lives.

According to Vatican Radio, Pope Francis stressed this to faithful during his daily morning Mass at Casa Santa Marta, drawing from today’s readings, which continued reflecting on the end of the world, as discussed in the Book of Revelations.

Seducer, Liar, Trickster

The Pontiff noted how in today’s reading the angel seizes the serpent, chains it up and throws it into the abyss, which is then locked and sealed, and stressed that the serpent or devil is thrown into the abyss “so that it would no longer lead the nations astray” because it is the seducer.

“He is a liar and what’s more is the father of lies, he generates lies and is a trickster. He makes you believe that if you eat this apple you will be like a God. He sells it to you like this and you buy it and in the end he tricks you, deceives you and ruins your life.

“‘But father, what can we do to avoid being deceived by the devil?’ Jesus teaches us: never converse with the devil. One does not converse with him. What did Jesus do with the devil?  He chased him away, he asked his name but did not hold a dialogue with him.”

How to Defend Oneself

Pope Francis went on to explain how when Jesus was in the wilderness, he defended himself when replying to the devil by using the Word of God and the Word of the Bible.

Thus, the Argentine Pope stressed, we must never converse with this liar and trickster who seeks our ruin and who for this reason will be thrown into the abyss.

The Holy Father also described how today’s reading shows how the Lord will judge the great and the lowly “according to their deeds,” with the damned being thrown into the pool of fire. Francis described this as the “second death.”

Not a Torture Chamber

“Eternal damnation is not a torture chamber,” he said. “That’s a description of this second death: it is a death. And those who will not be received in the Kingdom of God, it’s because they have not drawn close to the Lord. These are the people who journeyed along their own path, distancing themselves from the Lord and passing in front of the Lord but then choosing to walk away from Him.”

What eternal damnation is, he explained, is “continually distancing oneself from God.”

“It is the worst pain, an unsatisfied heart, a heart that was created to find God but which, out of arrogance and self-confidence, distances itself from God.”

Distancing oneself from God Who gives happiness and Who loves us so much, the Pontiff admonished, is the “fire,” and the road to eternal damnation.

Pointing out how the reading’s final image ends with a vision of hope, Francis noted that if with humility, we open our hearts, we will have joy, salvation, and will receive Jesus’ forgiveness.

“Hope is what opens our hearts to the encounter with Jesus. This is what awaits us: the encounter with Jesus. It’s beautiful, very beautiful,” Pope Francis said, concluding, “He asks us only to be humble and say ‘Lord.’ It’s enough to say that word and He will do the rest.”


You were chosen to be a saint

by  Fr. Steve Grunow

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of All Saints. The Saints are the great heroes of our Faith. The Church describes a Saint as a person of “heroic virtue”.   This means that while many Christians might be willing to settle for lackluster accomplishments as disciples, the Saints engage their relationship with the Lord Jesus vigorous creativity and absolute dedication. Most often, the work of the Saints will go unnoticed and unseen. Saints are not celebrities, and those Saints who capture the attention of the world, view that renown as the imposition of a cross.

Most Saints will disappear into the mission of the Church.

In heaven, we will know the profound impact thousands of hidden Saints had on our lives, but here on earth, as I said, most of the Saints move about and work among us, and do so for the most part unnoticed and unseen.

The work of the Saints is not completed with their deaths. The Saints know better than most Christians that life here in this world is not merely an end in itself, but a means by which God prepares us for a greater and more important mission in heaven. No one who is in Heaven is indolent. Heaven is not a place of indifference to this world but one of interaction and intercession. This means that the Saints continue their mission as disciples of the Lord Jesus, supporting and sustaining the Church, acting to help and support all the baptized.

The first scripture for today’s Mass of All Saints is an excerpt from the New Testament Book of Revelation. The Book of Revelation is one of the most mysterious, complex, and misunderstood books of the Bible. It is a theological commentary on events from the past, present and future and it communicates important spiritual insights through fantastic images and symbols. The common impression is that the Book of Revelation is about the end of the world, and as such people are often terrified by its content.

But, properly understood, the Book of Revelation is not simply frightening, but reassuring, as it foresees the victory of God in Christ over all the dark powers, worldly and otherworldly that oppose him.

The Book of Revelation is not simply about the end of the world, but the beginning of a new world in which the great enemies of God, and therefore the enemies of humanity are defeated by the power of God in Christ. These enemies are sin, death and the devil.

The conflict between the dark powers of sin, death and the devil has consequences for the Church as it engages her mission in the world. The Church is opposed as Christ was opposed. The Church suffers as Christ suffered. And in all this, the Saints are on the front lines of the battle.

The Book of Revelation displays all that I just described in symbolic or metaphorical terms. What you heard about was a vast assembly of people from all over the world, clothed in white, who proclaim the coming victory of God in Christ. Who are these people? The text tells us- they are Christians whose heroism was revealed in their willingness to be killed rather than renounce their Christian Faith or cooperate with the dark powers.

Thus, our first scripture for today is about a particular kind of Saint- the martyr. We live even right now in an age of martyrs as multitudes of Christians in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are persecuted and killed because they are disciples of the Lord Jesus. We might think that the greatest challenge to the Church today is whether or not we should conform to secular values, but far more important than this is the brutal fact that for millions of Christians, professing and practicing the Christian Faith can cost you not just your livelihood, but also your very life.

On this day when the Church celebrates the Saints, it would be good for us to remember, that what is demanded of us as followers of the Lord Jesus is often times far less than what it demanded of others.

We are not compelled by circumstances to die for our Faith in Christ, but are we willing to live for it? If our sacrifice is not to be that of a martyr, what is the sacrifice we will offer?

Our second scripture is a brief passage from the First Letter of John, in which the evangelist articulates an important insight about our identity as Christians. We are not as Christians merely members of a faith-based social club, an ethnic or cultural association, political action committee, or supporters of a 501C3 non-for-profit initiative. In the words of Pope Francis, the Church is not an “NGO”- a non-governmental social service organization.

What are we then? The evangelist John tells us- we are the children of God.

This means that God has made us in Christ his beloved children, and just as children are an expression of their parents love, so too Christians are meant to be for the world an expression of God in Christ’s love.

Being a child of God, means aspiring to be like the One who is revealed to be God’s only beloved Son- Jesus Christ. Being a child of God is not just some privileged title, but a responsibility, an identity, a mission that a Christian accepts. The Christian, as a child of God, is meant to be an expression to others of Christ himself. Thus, when a Christian is baptized, he or she is proclaimed to be what is termed an “alter Christus”, that literally means “another Christ”.

The Saints are expressions of Christ-likeness par excellence. The Saints “re-present” Christ to us and through the Saints Christ acts and introduces himself to us. Saints are not just nice, friendly people who do good things for society, but they are Christians who aspiring to serve Christ as disciples, are given the gift of becoming ever more and more like him.

And that observation brings me to an important clarification: when a Christian is baptized, what is happening to that person is not just inclusion into a community. No!

What happens when a Christian is baptized is that person is chosen as Christ to be like him- a person is chosen by Christ to be a Saint. The realization of your life as a Christian is not simply that you become a member of a faith based club or matriculate through faith-based institutions, but that you become a Saint. That’s what Baptism is all about, indeed, that’s what the Sacraments are about, indeed what the whole life of the Church is about. Being a Christian is about being chosen by Christ to be a Saint. “You have not chosen Christ, he has chosen you!” You will never begin to understand what the Christian life is all about until you understand this universal summons to holiness, this summons to be a Christian, which is God in Christ choosing you to be a Saint!

Finally, in his Gospel, the Lord Jesus presents what are known as “The Beatitudes”- a proclamation of those who are truly blessed by God and who enjoy God’s favor.

In worldly terms the blessing of God, the favor of God is many times construed in categories of worldly success or exemption from the harder facts of human existence. Some consider God’s blessing to being the recipient of prosperity and wealth, talent and good looks, power and prestige. God’s favor happens, according to some, when they are exempt from having to suffer or to struggle. Christ the Lord upends these kinds of expectations, and declares that the blessing of God and the favor of God is given, not to those who have the most, but those who have the least; not to those whom the world esteems as successful, but to those who seem to the world to have failed; not to those who have power, but to those who seem to have no power at all; not to those whom the world considers to be significant or influential, but to those who go mostly unnoticed and unappreciated.

In other words, in his Beatitudes, God in Christ announces a revolution!

Blessing is not getting what we want, but having the opportunity to give to others what they truly need. God’s favor is not an exemption from the hard facts of life, but God’s favor is found within the hard facts of life.

The Saints will exemplify in their lives the Beatitudes of the Lord Jesus, their blessing and favor will look like the strange blessing and favor that the Lord Jesus describes. The Saints will not only exemplify the Beatitudes in the decisions they make about the way they live, but also in whom they will seek to serve and choose to associate with. The Saints will seek the company of the kinds of people that Christ describes in his Beatitudes.

Consider the decisions you have made about your life. Have these decisions made you a person whose life looks like the life described in the Beatitudes? Consider the people with whom you associate and whom you esteem. Are these people like the people described in the Beatitudes?

And in our answers to these questions is the challenge for all of us would be saints, saints in the making- do our decisions make of us men and women of the Beatitudes? How many of the people that we seek the company of and consider to be our friends look and live like the kinds of people Christ describes as being truly deserving of his blessing and favor?


Pope tells faithful to always trust in God’s mercy

Pope Francis on Wednesday told the faithful not to be afraid in times of discouragement, poverty or difficulty because we can rely on God and He will provide solace.

The Pope was speaking to the pilgrims gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the weekly general audience.

Reflecting on the Gospel passage by Matthew in which  Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest”, today – Pope Francis said –  we hear the Lord calling the discouraged, the poor and the little ones to himself, and telling them they can always rely on God.

And he invited all believers – especially those who feel most powerless – to trust in God’s mercy, to open their hearts to Him, even if they feel unworthy, and they will be filled with the joy of forgiveness.

The Pope referred again and again to the Holy Year of Mercy and said pilgrims around the world have been crossing the threshold of a Holy Door of mercy – be it in a hospital, in a prison or anywhere – in the search for conversion, for friendship with Jesus, for the comfort that only He can provide.

He expressed his disapproval for those pastors of the Church who become ‘princes’ and distanced from their people and from the poor. “That – the Pope said: “is not the spirit of Jesus”.

Pointing out that in approaching the Lord’s inexhaustible mercy, we will discover his “easy yoke”: Jesus – he said – who bears the burdens and needs of humanity shows us the way to salvation; by participating in his sufferings and by learning from his service to the poor, we come to know the will of God for us.

So, Pope Francis concluded:

“When we are tired or despondent, let us not be afraid, let us come to Christ, trust in him, rest in him and joyously serve him.

Pope Francis surprise visit in Rome: “transform deserts”

(Vatican Radio)  “We must not be afraid to go into the desert and to transform it into a forest:” that’s what Pope Francis told hundreds of people on a surprise visit to an Earth Day Italy and Focolari Movement event in a Rome park Sunday.

In the more than hour-long visit, the Pope listened to testimonials from members of the many volunteer social and environmental organizations participating in “Village for Earth” and “Mariapolis,” a four day event in Rome’s Villa Borghese park.

The idea behind these gatherings, which take place in many countries throughout the world, is the invitation “to do to others what we would like to be done to us.” Many of the 3,500 people participating in the Rome event are involved in networks of social solidarity, interreligious dialogue, and organizations which care for the environment.

Turn deserts of our cities, the lives of others, into forests

Pope Francis arrived just before 5:00 pm, but set aside his prepared remarks, preferring to speak off the cuff.  He told  those present “you transform deserts into forests!”  “There are many deserts in the cities,” the Pope continued, “deserts in people’s lives who don’t have a future, because there’s always – I’ll underline a word here – always there are prejudices, fears.  These people live and die in the desert of the cities.  You perform a miracle with your work of changing the desert into a forest: go forward that way.”

“The desert is ugly, both the desert in the heart of all of us, as well as the desert in the city, in the peripheries, which is also an ugly thing.  There’s also a desert that’s in the gated neighborhoods…it’s ugly, but the desert is there too.  We must not be afraid to go to the desert to transform it into a forest, where there’s exuberant life, and to go dry the many tears so that everyone can smile.”

Pope Francis urged them to not be discouraged by failures and challenges: “You must not be afraid of life or afraid of conflicts.”

Conflict is a risk but also an opportunity

Conflict, he said, “is a risk, but it’s also an opportunity.” Citing the parable of the Levite and the priest who walked past the man who had stumbled along the path, the Pope said, they took the “path of not seeing and not getting involved.”

“We can react to conflict as something from which we distance ourselves,” he observed.  But, “whoever doesn’t take risks, can never get close to reality.  To know reality, to know it in one’s heart, it’s necessary to get close.”  Taking  the example of prison ministry, the Pope added that getting close is “a risk, but it’s also an opportunity: for me, and for the person whom I approach.  For me, and for the community I approach.”

“Never, never, never, turn away in order not to see conflict,” stressed the Pope.  “Conflict has to be faced, evils have to be faced, in order to resolve them.”

Pope Francis then challenged those present to do some homework: “look at the faces of people when you go into the street – they are worried, everyone is closed in on themselves; they lack a smile.  In other words, they lack tenderness, social friendship… they lack social friendship.”

A lack of “social friendship” brings hatred and war

“Where there isn’t social friendship,” he said, “there’s always hatred and war. We are living a piecemeal Third World War, everywhere.  Look at the geographic map of the world, and you’ll see.”

“Social friendship has to do with forgiveness,” he added.  “Many times, that’s done by getting close:  I approach this problem, this conflict, this difficulty, as we heard is done by these great young people in the places where there’s gambling, and so many people there lose everything, everything, everything…”

He mentioned the work of those who minister to people affected by gamblingand remembered his own pastoral work in Buenos Aires where he “saw elderly people who went  to the bank to get their pensions and then headed immediately for the casino.”

Social friendship, he added, “has to do with gratuity [giving freely of oneself], and one has to learn the wisdom of gratuity, learn it with play…with sport, with art, with the joy of being together, with getting close.”

Counter the god of money with gratuity, forgiveness

Today, “it seems that if you don’t pay you can’t live,” the Pope noted. “The man and woman that God created to be the center of the world…at the center of the economy,” “are thrown out and instead, we have at the center at the center a god, the god of money”

Gratuity, giving freely of oneself, and forgiveness are the antidotes to such a negative world – as is a constructive, rather than destructive, mindset.   And, “with forgiveness,” he said, “regret and resentment fall away.”

But how to achieve such a forest in the desert?  “Simply [by possessing] the awareness that we all have something in common, we’re all human,” concluded Pope Francis.  “And in this humanity, we can get close to each other to work together” regardless of our background or religion the Pope affirmed.

“Let’s all go forward to work together, respecting each other, respecting!” he added.  “I see this miracle: the miracle of a desert that becomes a forest.  Thanks for everything you do!”


Francis’ message to seminarians: If the priesthood’s not for you, seek another path

The seminary is not a refuge for those who have “psychological problems” or lack the courage “to get on in life”. The seminary is a place where one develops their vocation, gaining an in depth understanding of the Gospel, Confession, the Eucharist and prayer. This was the advice Pope Francis gave members of the Pontifical Leonine College of Anagni – particularly seminarians – in an audience held today in the Clementine Hall in the Vatican Apostolic Palace. It was an opportunity for the Pope to give some frank advice to those preparing for the priesthood at the institute founded by Leo XIII in 1897. The Pontifical Leonine College of Anagni trains future priests of the Italian region of Lazio: “If you are not willing to follow this path with these attitudes and these experiences, – and I say this from the heart, without meaning to offend anyone – it is better to have the courage to seek another.”

“Dear seminarians, what you are preparing for is not a profession, you are not training to work in a business or a bureaucratic organization,” Francis said. “We have so many priests who have gone half way … it’s sad that they did not manage to go the whole way; they have something of the employee in them, something of the bureaucrat in them and this is not good for the Church. Please be careful you don’t fall into this! You are becoming pastors in the image of Jesus, the good pastor. Your aim is to resemble him and act on behalf of him amidst his flock, letting his sheep graze.” Francis presented the four “pillars” of seminary learning: “spiritual, intellectual, community and apostolic”. He reiterated what he had said to religious superiors general during a discussion published by Italian Jesuit periodical Civiltà Cattolica last January: “The four pillars must interact from your very first day as novices; they must never follow a structured sequence.”

“We respond to this vocation in the same way as the Virgin Mary does to the angel: “How is this possible?” Becoming “good shepherds” in the image of Jesus “is something very great and we are so small.” “Yes, it is true, it is too great; but it is not our work! It is the work of the Holy Spirit, with our collaboration,” Francis said in his address to the College, adding spontaneous comments here and there to his prepared speech. “It is about humbly giving oneself, like clay that is to be moulded, letting God the potter work the clay with fire and water, with the Word and the Holy Spirit.” It is true that “at the beginning intentions are not completely righteous, and it is hard for them to be so”: All of us have had moments when our intentions were not completely righteous but in time this changes with everyday conversion. Think of the apostles! Think of James and John. One of them wanted to be prime minister and the other a minister of the economy because it was a more important role. The apostles’ mind was elsewhere but the Lord patiently corrected their intention and in the end the intention of their preaching and martyrdom was incredibly righteous.”

Being good shepherds means “meditating on the Gospel every day to pass its message on through one’s life and preaching.” It also means experiencing God’s mercy through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.” “It is vital to always go to confession so you can become generous and merciful ministers because you will feel God’s mercy upon you, encouraging you to become generous and merciful ministers.” It means feeding on faith and love of the Eucharist in order to provide nourishment to the Christian people.” “It means being men of prayer so as to become the voice of Christ that praises the Father and constantly intercedes for their brothers.” If you are not willing to follow this path, with these attitudes and these experiences, – and I say this from the heart, without meaning to offend anyone – it is better to have the courage to seek another. There are many ways, in the Church, to bear Christian witness and there are many paths that lead to the sainthood. Following in Christ’s ministry allows no place for mediocrity, who always leads to using the holy people of God to one’s own advantage. Woe to bad shepherds who feed themselves and not their flock! – the prophets said,” Francis added, quoting Ezekiel. “Augustine quotes this prophetic phrase in the De pastoribus, which I advise you to read and meditate on. Woe to bad shepherds because the seminary is not a refuge for the many shortcomings we may have; it is not a refuge for psychological problems or a refuge for those who do not have the courage to go on in life and see the seminary as a place that will defend them. No, that is not what it is. If that is what your seminary was it would become a mortgage for the Church! No, the seminary is there for people to move forward, along this path and when we hear the prophets exclaim the word “Woe” it should lead you to reflect seriously on your future. Pius XI once said it was better to lose a vocation than to risk accepting a candidate who is not sure. He was a mountain climber, he knew about this things.”

The Pope ended his address by entrusting seminarians to the Virgin Mary. “Russian mystics used to say that in moments of spiritual upheaval we must take refuge under the cape of the Holy Mother of God,” Francis said. So we must go out “wearing Mary’s cape.” The seminarians came to Rome on foot from the town of Anagni. The Pope described their pilgrimage as a beautiful symbol of the journey they are called to undertake in Christ’s love.


Feast Day of St. John Baptist de La Salle



Today, April 7, we celebrate the feast day of Saint John Baptist de la Salle (1651-1719), patron saint of teachers. Pope Pius XII declared, in his proclamation of the patronage of Saint John Baptist, “The saying of Saint Bonaventure that they only are true educators who can kindle in the hearts of their students the vision of beauty, illuminate it with the light of truth, and form it to virtue’ is particularly appropriate at the present time when the education of the young is not only frequently at variance with the principles of true moral training, but is often godless and irreligious, and thus harmful in the extreme.

For this reason, the Church cherishes with a great affection those whose duty it is to educate the young, all the more so as the welfare and development of the Christian commonwealth depend on them in no small measure. A man of outstanding holiness and remarkable genius, JOHN BAPTIST DE LA SALLE, once educated the young, and still, through the Institute founded by him, continues to do so according to excellent principles and methods.”

Saint John Baptist de la Salle is remembered for his complete dedication to the will of the Lord in his life, even when it ran counter to his plans and expectations, even his comfort and enjoyment. Born into a privileged life, with many things going for him—including wealth, status, education, charm and good looks—Saint John had the world at his fingertips. He chose the priesthood, both he and his family expecting a comfortable and influential appointment within the Church.

But the Lord had other plans for Saint John. John’s heart became inflamed with love for the education of “wayward” boys—those who had no schooling, those in trouble with the law, the crumbs that society had attempted to sweep under the proverbial carpet. Saint John found himself constructing schools and surrounded by these “morally inferior” students, which was both unnerving and uncomfortable for him. Despite his distaste for the work he was doing, Saint John recognized the call of the Lord, and through himself into the work. He created several schools in Raven, where he was stationed, giving up a privileged position within the Church to continue his work.

In his own words:
“I had imagined that the care which I assumed of the schools and the masters would amount only to a marginal involvement committing me to no more than providing for the subsistence of the masters and assuring that they acquitted themselves of their tasks with piety and devotedness … Indeed, if I had ever thought that the care I was taking of the schoolmasters out of pure charity would ever have made it my duty to live with them, I would have dropped the whole project. … God, who guides all things with wisdom and serenity, whose way it is not to force the inclinations of persons, willed to commit me entirely to the development of the schools. He did this in an imperceptible way and over a long period of time so that one commitment led to another in a way that I did not foresee in the beginning.”

Saint John Baptist subsequently created a religious order, The Brothers of the Christian School (the de la Salle Brothers), dedicated to building schools and sustaining the religious and educational instruction of youth. The community grew rapidly, as did the number of schools built and staffed. Saint John instituted progressive changes in instructional methods, which many secular and religious educators resisted. For example, Saint John began teaching students in the vernacular languages of their regions, rather than instructing in Latin. He introduced the “simultaneous method” of teaching, still used today—where students of equal age and ability are grouped together, taught from one text, and under the instruction of one teacher. The schools his order created were free, open to all (regardless of class, race, or origin), and were made to be enjoyable for students. He promoted the idea of “universal education”—one we believe without question today. As the reputation of his schools grew, so, too, did their enrollment.

Recognizing the plight of poor girls, Saint John Baptist subsequently became the spiritual director of the Sisters of the Holy Infant, an order dedicated to serving that community. In this way, he further extended the construct of “universal education” to women—an uncommon (and unpopular) idea at the time.

While his instructional style was based in the scientific method, Saint John Baptist was primarily a moral theologian, and religious and moral instruction was central to the teachings of his schools. His treatise, “A Method of Mental Prayer,” is still used today.

Saint John Baptist lived an austere life, residing with his brothers, and observing the rules of austerity he created for the order. Far from the life of luxury, comfort, and privilege he imagined as a youth, Saint John remained focused on his calling, the will of the Lord in his life, until the very end. Saint John worked tirelessly until his death, on Good Friday in 1719. Throughout his life, he met with constant opposition to his calling, his teaching methods, and the love and care he bestowed on the “undesirable” youth he served. Worn out by this opposition, he succumbed to illness surrounded by his brothers.

The de la Salle brothers continue to educate today, throughout the world, teaching in primary and secondary schools, universities and technical colleges. Many of the techniques developed and promoted by Saint John continue to be used in classrooms—both religious and secular.

Saint John Baptist’s life reminds us of our competing priorities– how often our own plans and hopes for our life conflict or challenge the call of the Lord to do greater things for His glory.  We are inspired to obedience, even when we find the call challenging, distasteful, or unexpected.  Saint John Baptist de la Salle demonstrated throughout his life unwavering faith in the Lord, despite earthly opposition and difficulty.  Through his faith and obedience he revolutionized the way that educational instruction– likely including that which we receieved– was delivered throughout the world.  What can we accomplish through obedience to our gracious Lord?

Day 97 of 365
Prayer Intentions: Obedience to the will of God; For all those involved in education.
Requested Intentions: For a friend’s daughter, seeking medical treatment for a blood disorder (D); For the grace and conversion of a loved one (Z); For a beloved son’s return to the faith (A); For the improved health and recovery of a mother (G); For health, blessings, and protection (K); For an improvement in a difficult employment situation (T); For a family member’s recovery from surgery (D); For the victims of an automobile accident (D); For peace of mind and health (J); For the love of a romantic partner (S).