Today we honour the memory of a very human saint, Augustine of Canterbury, who can rightly be called the ‘Apostle to the English’.
Christian merchants and traders brought Christianity to Britain as early as the 1st century, but the faith never got established until Augustine’s arrival in 595. He brought the necessary structures needed for the faith to flourish.
Augustine and his community of forty Benedictine monks had undoubtedly heard stories of the ferocious Anglo-Saxons and the treacherous waters of the English Channel. And before they even left Italy, Augustine had second thoughts about his mission and promptly made a U-turn back to Rome. Pope Gregory the Great assured him and the other monks that their fears were groundless, and the Pope told Augustine to finish the job he had started.
And so, the monks landed in Kent and constructed a church and monastery in Canterbury. Augustine was consecrated England’s first bishop, and by 597, thousands of people were coming to Canterbury to actively seek baptism.
It’s highly unlikely that any of us will receive a summons from the Pope telling us to go and evangelize nations and regions, and yet all of us have received the commission of Our Lord himself to go and make disciples of all nations. All of the baptized have the vocation of labouring for the spread of the Gospel, we are all called to be missionaries.
We also live in a society and culture much like that which Augustine found when he first arrived in England: vestiges of the Christian faith mingled with pagan elements.
In a letter to Augustine, Pope Gregory wrote: “He who would climb to a lofty height must go by small steps, not leaps and bounds.”
The task of evangelization might seem like a lofty mountain, and in spite of great enthusiasm on our part, there will often be that temptation to return home out of fear with our task incomplete. Being human, we like to see instant results, but we can do much more by taking small, seemingly insignificant steps, as we imitate Christ in all our attitudes and choices.
Through the prayerful intercession and holy example of Saint Augustine of Canterbury may we be faithful to all the Lord calls us to for the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
Saint Augustine of Canterbury, pray for us.