To the Margins!

May 27, 2015

Today, we celebrate the feast day of St. Augustine of Cantebury - the "Apostle to the English." Over time, the English came to refer to Augustine as "Austin," so if you come across that name in English literature, know that they are referring to the first bishop of Cantebury, rather than the Doctor of the Church from Hippo.

 

Augustine lived in the sixth century, and he had been the prior of a monastery in Rome. He was a close friend of Pope Gregory, who at one time hosted a delegation from the "land of the Angles," far away in the north. By that time, the Roman Empire had fallen in the West and forsaken their holdings on the frontiers like the British Isles. During Roman control, Christianity had come to Britain; however, as the invading Saxons took over, people began reverting to paganism. At an audience with Pope Gregory, a small group of boys from England sang for the Holy Father. He was so impressed with them that he exclaimed, "Non sunt 'Angli,' sed 'angeli.'" (These are not "Angles" [English] but 'angels'!) HEaring that the boys' homeland had forsaken Christianity, Gregory committed to send his friend Augustine and some companions to "re-evangelize" that land.

 

At first, Augustine and his friends were hesitant to go, and they even considered turning back for fear. However, they went, and they encountered the king's wife, Bertha, who was herself a Christian. Augustine was able to sway the king to Christ, and he was given several tracts of land on which to establish churches. From those beginnings, Christianity took firm hold again among the English.

 

Augustine's story reflects well the tale of our era. He was being sent to a "post-Christian" world, and he was tasked with the job of evangelization. He felt all the fear and hesitancy that many (even priests) feel when asked to "go to the margins" and share Jesus even there. However, had he not gone, he would not be "Saint" Augustine - and he certainly would not have been Augustine "of Cantebury!"

 

Here we are today - in what many would claim is a "post-Christian" world. Our call as disciples is exactly the same: evangelize! We feel, perhaps, the same fear, doubt, and hesitancy; however, the call is no less urgent. Pope Gregory was saddened that the boys who held such innocence and promise would return to a land that did not know Jesus, so he sent his friend to them. Pope Francis calls us today to head out - to the margins - to share our life-giving relationship with Jesus with our world. Is it scary? Yes. Is it possible? Absolutely.

 

Our willingness to go out could be the opportunity to empower more "angels" in our world!

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