By Lisa Rosenlund,
Saint Brendan Parish Manager
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about prayer in the Augustinian tradition.
The Augustinian prayer tradition was born out of the teachings of Saint Augustine of Hippo, who lived from 354 to 391 in North Africa. His family was of mixed religions, but his mother, Monica, had the greatest influence. She modeled Psalm 34’s directive to “bless the Lord at all times,” by praying to God twice a day, in the morning and evening, often for her son’s salvation.
Monica’s prayers were answered and, after having a son with his concubine of fifteen years, Augustine was ordained a priest at age 37, and ultimately became a bishop. He is known mainly through his writings, in particular, his Confessions, which detailed the earlier part of his life, and his Rule of Life, which was composed for the members of Augustine’s religious community.
Although small groups of people followed Saint Augustine’s teachings after his death, especially his Rule of Life, the Order of Saint Augustine was not established in the Catholic Church until the mid-1200s, when Pope Innocent IV called for the unification of groups of Tuscan hermits who were living by the Rule. The Augustinian Order can now be found in over fifty countries.
Several notable saints and martyrs have come out of the Order, including Rita of Cascia, Clare of Montefalco, Thomas of Villanova, and John Stone of England. However, the influence of Saint Augustine’s teachings reaches far beyond the Order and includes other contemplative religious communities, as well as groups of lay people who follow the Rule as their guide.
In the Rule, Saint Augustine advises his followers to be diligent about praying at the appointed time, to create a sacred space for prayer, and to make sure that the words spoken or sung are at the same time contemplated in the heart. According to Augustine, “[f]ormal prayer can never be separated from ordinary daily occupations,” but rather should reflect the twofold commandment to love God and neighbor, “the tongue confessing, the hands at work” (283, 292). In his view, the happy life is a balanced life, a peaceful medium between excess and want, not “so leisured as to take no thought . . . for the interest of his neighbor, nor so active as to feel no need for the contemplation of God” (285).
Prayer in the Augustinian tradition seeks detachment from external objects and things that, though beautiful and good, distract us from this peaceful center of repose, “the peace that knows no evening” (284). Augustinian prayer is an inward spiritual journey to the core that remains, which is God. In Augustine’s own beautiful and memorable words after his empty search for outward success, happiness, contentment, fame and fortune, “Lo, you were within, but I outside, seeking there for you” (286). This Lent, imitate Saint Augustine and seek the Lord within.
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