(Not long ago Paul from Sydney, Australia and a dozen of his U.S. Augustinian classmates celebrated their fortieth anniversary of ordination as priests at a reunion held at the Order’s Villanova University, Pennsylvania, USA.)
The afternoon began with a get-together over drinks as we familiarised ourselves with faces and figures so different from the ones in the photo albums we had brought along.
Once this adjustment to age had been made, we found ourselves back in easy friendships that had existed in our youth.
Saint Augustine could have been describing us, both then and now, when he wrote, "When exile dejects us or any evil whatever affects us, then there are good people who not only understand the art of rejoicing with those who rejoice, but also weeping with those who weep – people who know how to speak a cheerful word and how to hold a conversation that does us good. In this way, much that is bitter is softened, much that weighs us down is lightened, and many failures are overcome. But it is really God who does this, through and in people… on the other hand, whenever one is without a friend, not a single thing in the world seems friendly to them." (Letter 130, 4)
The anniversary Mass was celebrated in a new chapel that has been built at the heart of the university campus as part of the restoration of the monastery, which has long been the motherhouse of the Villanova Province.
Through its glass walls we could see the students and their visitors walking among the multi-coloured trees of an autumn afternoon. I had been given the task of preparing the homily.
I found myself sharing with my classmates the belief that, without anyone telling us how to do it, we had created out of our Augustinian experience a model of priesthood different from the hierarchical one that generally existed elsewhere.
I believe that the Augustinian model of priesthood is fraternal rather than clerical, and that we are meant to take the words of Jesus very seriously, "You must not let yourselves be called Rabbi since you have only one Master and you are all brothers." (Matt. 23: 8)
We express this fraternal model by "travelling together" with our fellow pilgrims, offering a helping hand to those who need it, and accepting a helping hand from them when we are flagging.
Saint Augustine died in his fortieth year of priesthood, so our ruby anniversary came just in time for us to enjoy the absolute contentment of being together in unity of heart and mind with those who were ordained in our year.
Augustine wrote quite prophetically about the vocation he shares with us: "In this life, and especially in these times, there is nothing more taxiing, more arduous, more hazardous, but at the same time no greater happiness, in the eyes of God, than the office of a priest." (Letter 24, 1)
There have certainly been taxing and arduous times over the years, and the sadness at our final departure from (a parish) in northern Victoria (Australia) is proof of this.
But at the same time there is no greater happiness that the office we have been given to perform under the patronage and informed spiritual tradition of our Holy Father Augustine.
With much love,