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St. Augustine of Canterbury

An Italian Benedictine monk who became the “Apostle of the English,� Saint Augustine of Canterbury is honored by the Catholic Church on May 27.Under the direction of Pope Saint Gregory the Great, Augustine founded the famous See of Canterbury and preached the Catholic faith to the country's Anglo-Saxon pagans during the late sixth and early seventh centuries.He is not be confused with the earlier St. Augustine of Hippo, the famous author of the “Confessions� and “City of God.�Augustine's date of birth cannot be established, nor are any details of his early life known. Most likely born in Rome, to a noble family, he entered monastic life as a young man. The community he joined had been recently founded by a Benedictine monk named Gregory, who would go on to become Pope and eventually be known as St. Gregory the Great. The friendship between Gregory and Augustine had great historical consequences, as it was the Pope who would eventually send his fellow monk to evangelize England.Around 595, five years into his 14-year pontificate, Pope Gregory set to work on a plan for the conversion of the English people. The Catholic faith had already been preached and accepted among England's original Celtic inhabitants, in earlier times; but from the mid-fifth century onward, the country was dominated by Anglo-Saxon invaders who did not accept Christianity, and were not converted by the small number of isolated Celtic Christian holdouts. Thus, England largely had to be evangelized anew.For this task the Pope chose a group of around forty monks – including Augustine, who was to represent the delegation and communicate on its behalf. Though he was not explicitly chosen as its leader at that time, that was the role he ended up taking on with Gregory’s support. The group left for England in June 596, but some of the missionaries lost their nerve after hearing fearsome reports about the Anglo-Saxons. Augustine ended up returning to Rome, where he got further advice and support from the Pope.Persuaded to continue on their way, the missionary-monks reached their port of departure and set sail for England in spring of 597. After arriving they gained an audience with King Ethelbert of Kent, a pagan ruler whose Frankish wife Queen Bertha was a Christian. Speaking with the king through an interpreter, Augustine gave a powerful and straightforward presentation of the Gospel message, speaking of Christ’s redemption of the world and his offer of eternal life.Ethelbert would later convert, and eventually even be canonized as a saint. But his initial response to Augustine’s preaching was only mildly positive: he would receive the missionaries with hospitality, and permit them to evangelize without any restriction. Despite his early ambivalence, however, the king became a generous patron of the monks. They made their home in Canterbury, after dramatically entering the city in procession with the Cross and an image of Christ.The Canterbury community lived according to the Rule of St. Benedict, as they had in Italy, but they also preached in the surrounding area in accordance with their mission. Augustine and his companions succeeded in converting King Ethelbert himself, while Queen Bertha also became more zealous in her practice of the faith after her husband’s baptism. Augustine traveled to Gaul, where he was consecrated as a bishop for the English Church. By Christmas of 597, over ten thousand people were actively seeking baptism from the missionaries.Through his written correspondence, Pope Gregory continued to guide the work of Augustine – the first Archbishop of Canterbury – and the other Catholic missionaries. The great Pope, and the “Apostle of England,� would both die during the same year, 604.Though Augustine had not managed to sort out some disagreements with the native Celtic bishops, he had given the faith a firm foothold among the Anglo-Saxons. Canterbury would continue on for centuries as the ranking see of English Catholicism, until its fall into schism during the 16th century.

How can I keep them singing?

There are many ways my husband and I differ, but perhaps the most significant is that I come from a family prone to spontaneous outbursts of song while he comes from a family prone to subtle nods as they listen to the car radio together.

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Flint’s holy water

In the spring of 2016, as a graduate student at Michigan State University, I spent some time in Flint interviewing residents and business owners on how they were dealing with the lead crisis. I attended Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church  in Flint and was heartbroken to see the drinking fountains and faucets covered with signs saying not to use them. No one living in the church’s rectory could use tap water, either. The holy water bowls were empty, but the hallway was full of donated bottled water for parishioners to take home.

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How to talk to your children about Jesus’ death

“Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” blares from the Echo Dot sitting on our kitchen counter. We listen to it so much, my 3-year-old daughter Dahlia perfectly mimics the announcement of it in that sing-songy computer voice of Alexa’s. “‘Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer’ by Gene Autry,” they report in unison, with the first syllable in Autry drawn out as though Alexa might be a little Southern. It’s the 11th time we’ve listened to “Rudolph” today, which would be fine but for the fact that it’s March and we’re in the middle of Lent.

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A Catholic celebrates Persian new year

I observe two new year celebrations in three months. First, I celebrate New Year’s Day on January 1. Every year, I watch the ball drop at midnight on television, sing “Auld Lang Syne” with family and friends, and sleep in late the next day after celebrating the night before.

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When will we learn?

A couple of years ago, I taught Dave Cullen’s book Columbine (Twelve) to college freshmen, most of whom weren’t even born when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris gunned down 13 of their fellow high school students on April 20, 1999. My students were largely ignorant of the shooting with little understanding of how profoundly that day shaped their high school experience. They were surprised to learn that only 1 in 5 high schools had security cameras before 1999. Today, 3 in 5 do.

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Keeping faith despite the worst kind of sins

I felt welcome at Michigan State University right away. My journalism professors gave me the tools I needed to succeed in my profession, and I made some great friends. I even found a nice Catholic church within walking distance from campus—St. John Church and Student Center, part of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in the Lansing diocese. I loved going to Mass every weekend to mentally unwind from my hectic graduate school schedule.

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How to add empathy to your library

School lunchrooms all smell and look the same, the overripe aroma of hundreds of lunches barely contained by cream-colored walls just this side of salmon. Every table is a petri dish despite the wipe-and-spray done by careless seventh graders more interested in squirting the back of each other’s pants than sanitizing eating surfaces.

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Nostalgia: The past in present tense

I love nostalgia even though it’s painful. The word has Greek roots in both the words “homecoming” and “pain.” Every time I go home to my parents’ house, I am hit with shades of it when I open a musty closet, run my fingers along untouched bookshelves, or rummage through dresser drawers that still contain small Mass books and buttons from when my brothers, sister, and I were little. A lot of people spend New Year’s thinking about what they will do in the year to come. I spent it thinking about what we did in years past.

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25 days of Advent in action

If your kids are anything like mine, Advent has less to do with preparing for the arrival of baby Jesus and more to do with the studied preparation of Christmas lists. In an effort to combat an increasingly present-hungry holiday focus, a few years ago we started a Jesse Tree. Every morning, we added a new ornament to our Jesse Tree and read that day’s Bible story, which took us from creation to the birth of Christ.

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