Saturday, August 28, 2010

Augustine and the Avuncular Role in a Youth's Conversion

Who converted Saint Augustine to the Catholic Faith? 

Well, God did, of course  But who else was an instrument of divine intervention in that process?  Certainly Augustine' mother, Saint Monica ranks high.  Yet, after he wandered away from his mother's instructions and tearful prayers, seemingly forever, there were others whom God would place in his path.

The word "avuncular" means to act like an uncle.  Acting like an uncle means having a close personal relationship with a young person, a relationship of trust, of counsel, of influence.  Many cultures throughout history have recognized that, when young people reach a certain age, they become resistant to the advice and direction of their parents, not so much because their parents are giving bad advice or guiding them in the wrong direction, but because, well, they're parents!  At that point, wise mothers and fathers have sought to bring others into their children's lives, whether it be uncles, aunts, godparents, "compadres," "madrinas," and so on.  Among Augustine's "compadres" was quite a godly father indeed: Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who baptized him.

Yesterday afternoon I attended a summer scrimmage match between the University of Saint Thomas football team, whom I am honored to serve as Chaplain, and the team from Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minnesota.  (Hmm, Saint Thomas Aquinas versus Martin Luther ... now there's an idea for a future blog posting.)  I was in the stands next to a Lutheran woman whose son is a newly arriving freshman with the Tommies.  I introduced myself and, in the course of the conversation, mentioned to her that I would be leading a weekly Bible Study with some members of the the team on Sunday nights this fall.  She smiled, shook her head and noted that, unfortunately, she didn't think that her son would be interested.  I responded by telling her that this didn't surprise me.  Nevertheless, I have seen how the new players are often surprised to learn that some of their biggest, best, and "baddest" senior teammates are also very serious about their Christian faith, and not at all ashamed to let others know about it.  The mom's eyes brightened and she commented, "Actually, that really would make a difference for my son."

If you are a parent who despairs of your recalcitrant son or daughter ever returning to the Faith, don't give up.  Pray, and keep on praying!  And don't forget to pray for the Lord to bring someone into their lives who will speak the truth to them.  Yes, the same, Catholic truth that you've spoken to them time after time throughout their childhood, but truth that, in this timely moment, might pierce their hearts   --  hearts that are "restless until they rest in Thee"  --  spoken by a godly friend, a Catholic teammate, a teacher, a pastor, an "uncle" in the truest sense of the word.

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