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Saint Augustine on true worship and the ecclesial heart

Detail from “Saint Augustine” (1645-50) by Philippe de Champaigne (1602–1674). {WikiArt.org]

As I was reading Augustine’s discussion of true worship in the City of God this past week, I was struck by how naturally Augustine holds together things that contemporary Catholic culture has divided. Let me illustrate this by posing a question: If Augustine were alive today would he be a traditionalist, a charismatic, or a social justice warrior? The question sounds ridiculous, even embarrassing, when asked of a man like Augustine. He would have rejected the premise. Yet, contemporary Catholic culture has comfortably settled into just these unnatural camps.

At the risk of overgeneralizing, I want to drive the point home with a few more questions. Why is it that traditionalist fight for beauty and reverence in the liturgy, but don’t fight as hard for the poor? Why is it that the charismatics listen to the Holy Spirit, pray spontaneously for people, and receive spiritual gifts, but are also strangely wedded to Protestant praise music? Why is it that the leaders in social justice are immersed in the lives of the most vulnerable, but often play fast and loose with doctrine and liturgy? Why is it that so few Catholics can integrate the best of these three factions? Indeed, we should ask what it means that we live in a context where they need to be integrated at all, rather than simply being of a piece.

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