27 May – St Augustine of Canterbury
Christianity in Britain started early, but was largely submerged by the pagan Anglo-Saxon invasions of the fifth and sixth centuries. It remained alive only in the far west, which remained British because it was too remote and inaccessible for the invaders to attack.
It is said that Pope Gregory the Great saw some fair-haired Anglo-Saxon slaves exposed for sale in a market in Rome. He asked where they were from, and when he was told, replied non Angli, sed angeli – “not Angles, but angels,” and determined to secure their evangelization.
Whatever the truth of that story, it is certain that Gregory did organise a party of thirty monks to travel to south-eastern England and spread the Gospel there, and chose as their leader Augustine, prior of the monastery of St Andrew in Rome. They landed in 597, and were welcomed by the king of Kent, Ethelbert, who became a Christian along with many of his subjects. A second wave of missionaries arrived in 601. Augustine went to Arles, in France, where he was consecrated archbishop of the English, and then returned to Canterbury to set up his see. The mission prospered, and he founded two more sees, at London and at Rochester in Kent.
The evangelization of the country was planned in close agreement with Pope Gregory, and took care to respect existing traditions. Pagan temples and holy places were not to be destroyed, but to be converted to Christian use; and pagan feasts were to be superseded by Christian ones. This is consistent with the pattern of evangelization throughout the first millennium, which saw Christianity as a fulfilment of what went before, rather than a contradiction of it. Even in Rome itself, temples of Juno had a tendency to become churches dedicated to Our Lady. (It is only with the Spanish colonial evangelizations of the mid-second millennium that the policy of making a clean break with the past began: a policy that works faster but whose effects are not always permanent).
In the far west of Britain, where British bishops had survived the pagan invasions – or where they had fled to escape them – Augustine was less successful in establishing his authority. The traditions of the Celtic church were different from the Roman ones, and bishops who had guided their people for generations were not about to submit to a jumped-up missionary from overseas. It took several generations for the whole of Great Britain to become Christian and for the English and British liturgical traditions to be reconciled.
Augustine died at Canterbury on 26 May 604 or 605.
Sirach 36:1, 4-5A, 10-17
Have mercy on us, Master, Lord of all, and look on us,
cast the fear of yourself over every nation.
Let them acknowledge you, just as we have acknowledged
that there is no God but you, Lord.
Send new portents, do fresh wonders,
win glory for your hand and your right arm.
Gather together all the tribes of Jacob,
restore them their inheritance as in the beginning.
Have mercy, Lord, on the people who have invoked your name,
on Israel whom you have treated as a first-born.
Show compassion on your holy city,
on Jerusalem the place of your rest.
Fill Zion with songs of your praise,
and your sanctuary with your glory.
Bear witness to those you created in the beginning,
and bring about what has been prophesied in your name.
Give those who wait for you their reward,
and let your prophets be proved worthy of belief.
Grant, Lord, the prayer of your servants,
in accordance with Aaron’s blessing on your people,
so that all the earth’s inhabitants may acknowledge
that you are the Lord, the everlasting God.
The disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; Jesus was walking on ahead of them; they were in a daze, and those who followed were apprehensive. Once more taking the Twelve aside he began to tell them what was going to happen to him: ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the pagans, who will mock him and spit at him and scourge him and put him to death; and after three days he will rise again.’
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him. ‘Master,’ they said to him ‘we want you to do us a favour.’ He said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’ ‘You do not know what you are asking’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I must drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I must be baptised you shall be baptised, but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.’
When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the pagans their so-called rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. This is not to happen among you. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
“Jesus was walking on ahead of them; they were in a daze, and those who followed were apprehensive.”
The background to today’s reading is the journey that Jesus makes to Jerusalem. By this time, Jesus had already predicted his death twice to his disciples, but they had always been confused about what he was referring to in the past. Now as they make their way to Jerusalem, the awful realization begins to dawn on them that this wasn’t a victory march, it was more like a lamb going to its slaughter. They become afraid, yet Jesus walks ahead of them, back straight, ready to meet what he has long foretold, what he has long known.
Fear can be totally paralyzing when we know what lies ahead. Be it fear of pain, public speaking, or punishment… we do not know if we can handle the dreaded episode that is to come. Our nerves get the better of us and make us lose sight of the goal. Knowing all this, Jesus still forges ahead, being a model of courage for his disciples. Imagine if he had faltered now, his sheep would have scattered. And here Jesus stoically declares the third prediction of His own death.
Would we not be amazed, if we had been there with the disciples at this point, that a man who is certain of his impending death was so unfazed by it, to the point where he was making haste to the place of his persecution? How could he separate his mind from the fear? Probably because Jesus understood the higher purpose of his sacrifice i.e. the salvation of mankind whom He loves. His eye is fixed on his goal. Secondly, Jesus is strengthened in knowing that God is with him every step of the way. Isaiah says in 41:10 “Do not fear, for I am with you… I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
We should take inspiration from Jesus in facing our own personal trials. We cannot erase the fear, for even Jesus sweated blood in his agony at the Mount of Olives, near the hour of his time. But God has promised help in our weakness to strengthen us. Let us lift up our trials to God, so that He can take our fear away.
(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)
Prayer: Lord, my fear overwhelms me most of the time in the face of my trials. I pray for the strength to help me to overcome it. Help me stay focused on the path that lies ahead of me.
Thanksgiving: Lord, thank you for being my strength and my courage. You are my salvation indeed, and you lift me up to lighten my burden. Thank you Lord, for always being there with me.