BEFORE THE CROSS | Look back over the summer and see how God guides us in our messes

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

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The calendar turns from August to September this week. That means the season changes to fall in a few weeks. Interestingly, we also close out our readings from the Gospel of Matthew this week; next week we begin to read from Luke. How should we handle these transitions?

The Feast of St. Augustine, which we celebrate on August 28, gives us a clue.

One of St. Augustine's great works is his Confessions — the title of his autobiography. As he reflects on his life, he confesses his sins and failings, and confesses how God's grace brought him to repentance and conversion.

That pattern gives us a great way to approach the transitions this week. St. Augustine looked back at his whole life, noting points of failure and points of grace. St. Ignatius of Loyola recommended that we examine every day this way. I suggest that we do something between these extremes: look back over the whole summer with an eye toward the things that humbled us, and the blessings for which we should give thanks

Augustine is an important theologian of both sin and grace. He knew from experience how free will, under the weight of sin, leads to slavery and produces rotten fruit. He also knew firsthand how free will, under the reign of grace, leads to true freedom and produces good fruit.

For example, Augustine shares a story about how he and his friends stole pears from a neighbor. When he thinks back, he's amazed that he didn't even want the pears. He stole them because he enjoyed the feeling of power that came from doing something he knew was wrong. Most of us can identify — not with the particular example, but with the experience of doing sinful things for no good reason.

But a great refrain of the Confessions is,"Though I did not know it, O Lord, you were leading me at that time." Augustine's wandering professional career, romantic relations, and religious affiliations gave him a profile similar to millennial "nones" of today. But, looking back through all of the turmoil, he saw God's guiding hand.

God staying with Augustine in the midst of his mess and bringing him a place of deeper grace gives us hope for our messy lives. Looking back over the summer at how God has been with us through our ups and downs gives us hope for others, as we help them with whatever is messy in their lives. When we recognize the patterns of grace and mess in our lives, it helps us do what Augustine did in the Confessions: tell the story of our life in a way that gives hope to others.

We're in transition this week. Let's pause to look back over the summer. What humbled us, and how did God bless us? As we see both with greater clarity we'll learn how to manage our transitions, and help other people with their transitions, with greater grace. 

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