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St. Augustine’s achievements were unprecedented for his age. At a time when Christians were simple,

non-intellectual men, afraid of engaging great pagan philosophers in debates,

Augustine‘s ideas became the basis for establishing the enduring structure of Christianity

 

 

Books by St. Augusttine

 

The City of God / The Confessions

 

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Books by Rose Ure Mezu

Women in Chains: Abandonment in Love Relationships in the Fiction of Selected West African Writers (1994) / Songs of the Hearth (1993) /

Homage to My People (2004) / A History of Africana Women's Literature (2004)

 Black Nationalists: Reconsidering Du Bois, Garvey, Booker T. & Nkrumah (1999) Chinua Achebe: The Man and His Works (2006)

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Of St. Augustine the African Restless Heart and Search for Peace

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) – Feast Day - August 28

By Dr. Rose Ure Mezu

O Catholic Church, true mother of Christians, you are right in teaching that God should be adored with an entirely chaste and pure heart. You unite all brothers and sisters to one another in a bond of religion that is stronger and closer than ties of blood.—St. Augustine

The great heights reached by men and kept, was not achieved by sudden flight; they while the others slept toiled upwards in the night—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in “The Ladder of St. Augustine”

 

Every year, I look forward to August 27, and 28 when the feast days of St. Monica and St. Augustine – mother and son – are celebrated respectively.  For me, these two Africans make a wonderful team and family role models: the mother who converted her erring, rebellious and immoral son, and the son, who made his mother a saint: While dying, she said to Augustine, “One thing only do I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be."  Thenceforth, Monica’s name enters into the lectionary of saints remembered on God’s altars during daily mass.  Another mother-son team is St. Helena and Emperor Constantine.  Helena was said to have gone to Jerusalem and discovered the true Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified.  She converted her son, who on winning a definitive victory with the Cross as emblem, made Christianity the Imperial state religion. And thus, Christendom came into existence.

As I say always to modern youth, Augustine, born November 13, 354 in Tagaste (present-day Algeria in North Africa), is the ideal role model for the very hip and wild, very restless and rebellious, very indolent and loose-living youth of every age.  Descended from a Berber lineage, he was the playboy of his period. Name whatever is socially dysfunctional, he had done it, except murder. Growing up, Augustine belonged to a street gang that kept neighbors sleepless, wreaked mayhem on neighborhood properties, throwing stones, stealing fruits – pears – not out of necessity but for sheer wantonness to commit an illicit and criminal act, and their nightly carousing centuries later become eerily similar to the actions of the youthful Francis of Assisi, just as Francis’s conversion and love for God will be equally as epochal as Augustine’s.  As a more moral adult, Augustine would come to realize that freedom to do whatever one wishes is no freedom at all. Augustine’s bad examples and morals caused his mother Monica to temporarily chase him away from the house to safeguard the younger children – Navigius and a girl, Perpetua, who will later be the head of a Convent of nuns.  She would bring him back following a dream that assured her Augustine would convert to become a great Christian.

Raised a Christian, Augustine would grow up to join every ideological group but his mother’s Christian community.  Today, he could be called a Cafeteria believer of new-fangled ideas. For nine years, Augustine was the star devotee of the Manichean religion with its dualism of light (that dwelt in peace), and darkness that embodies constant conflict within itself.  The most striking principle of Manichaean doctrine is its dualism.  Mani, the founder postulated two natures that existed from the beginning: light and darkness.

The realm of light lived in peace, while the realm of darkness was in constant conflict with itself. The universe is the temporary result of an attack from the realm of darkness on the realm of light, and was created by the Living Spirit, an emanation of the light realm, out of the mixture of light and darkness Augustine of Hippo).

A key belief in Manichaeism is that there is no omnipotent good power. What this claim does is to address a theoretical part of the problem of evil by denying the infinite perfection of God, postulating the equality of the binary concepts of good and evil—a direct contradiction of the Christian doctrine of the omnipotence and perfection of God. For the Manicheans,

The human person is seen as a battleground for these powers: the good part is the soul (which is composed of light) and the bad part is the body (composed of dark earth). The soul defines the person and is incorruptible, but the soul is under the domination of a foreign power, which addressed the practical part of The Problem of Evil. Humans are said to be able to be saved from this power (matter) if they come to know who they are and identify themselves with their soul  (Augustine of Hippo).

That human salvation rests only in human hands is a denial of the existence of God.  While in Milan and then Rome where he set up a school of Rhetoric, Augustine proceeded to promote the Manichean belief system.  But to counter her son’s destructive spiritual self-entrapment, Monica’s sole recourse was to Bishop Ambrose of Milan.  Eventually, the hypocrisy of the Manichean leadership and the shallowness of their philosophies cost them the membership of the intellectually restless and dynamic Augustine.

Augustine approached the concupiscence of the flesh with matchless zeal. At sixteen, Augustine moved to Carthage where he was plagued by what he would later term “wretched sin.” In the most vivid terms, Augustine describes his struggles with lustful desires:

There seethed all around me a cauldron of lawless loves. I loved not yet, yet I loved to love, and out of a deep-seated want, I hated myself for wanting not. I sought what I might love, in love with loving, and I hated safety. . . . To love then, and to be beloved, was sweet to me; but more, when I obtained to enjoy the person I loved. I defiled, therefore, the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscence, and I beclouded its brightness with the hell of lustfulness (my emphasis).

Augustine already had a child out of wedlock by age eighteen.  Later, he allowed his mother to arrange marriage to a society woman of his own class, and abandoned his concubine of many years.  Because he had to wait two years for his fiancée to come of age, the ever lustful Augustine took up with another woman:

Continual effort was made to have me married. I wooed, I was promised, chiefly through my mother's pains . . .  and a maiden asked in marriage, two years under the fit age; and, as pleasing, was waited for. (The Confessions 5: 13)

In fact, Augustine believed it was impossible to live even for a day without a woman. He is the man who longed to change but kept procrastinating, "Lord, Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet - [da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo” (Confessions, viii. vii: 17).  But Augustine had a lot to learn.  His struggle against fleshly lust would be a long drawn out effort. Through it all, Monica kept at her son.  In Chapter Two of The Confessions, Augustine acknowledges:

 

For she [my mother] wished, and I remember in private with great anxiety warned me, "not to commit fornication; but especially never to defile another man's wife." These seemed to me womanish advices, which I should blush to obey. But they were Thine, and I knew it not . . . and ran headlong with such blindness, that amongst my equals I was ashamed of a less shamelessness, when I heard them boast of their flagitiousness, yea, and the more boasting, the more they were degraded: and I took pleasure, not only in the pleasure of the deed, but in the praise. . . . Behold with what companions I walked the streets of Babylon, and wallowed in the mire thereof, as if in a bed of spices and precious ointments.

 His mother’s pursuit of her wayward son and prayerful campaign for Augustine’s conversion were unrelenting.  She had already elicited the support of St. Ambrose, by popular acclamation made Bishop of Milan, who is a more experienced rhetorician than Augustine and whom Augustine admired and sought to emulate.  Ambrose’s response to Monica with regard to her constant anguish over her son’s behaviors is memorable, “Cease from worrying me, Woman.  It is not possible that the son of so many tears / prayers can ever be lost.”  All that the poor mother really desired was for Augustine to straighten his lifestyle, marry conventionally and live a good Christian life.  It speaks to the power of the persevering prayers of a mother that Monica’s dearest wish would soon come true.

At last, by chance, while in a garden in Milan, Augustine overhears a children's song. "Tolle, lege," the song urged, "Take up and read" (Confessions, Book VIII, Chapter 12). Augustine picked up the Bible and found a passage from Saint Paul's epistle to the Romans that addresses his greatest flaw -- lust:

Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof  (Epistle to the Romans 13:13).

The positive result of Monica’s tears and prayers went beyond her wildest dreams. In 386 A.D., Augustine at Thirty-two years, converted to Christianity, renounced immorality completely, embraced chastity even though this would remain a lifetime struggle, and being celibate meant that he gave up ideas about marriage completely.  On Easter Vigil of 387 A.D., along with his son Adeodatus  (a name which, according  to J. Fersuson and Garry Wills, is a Latinization of the Berber name Iatanbaal (Given by God), Augustine was baptized by Bishop Ambrose of Milan.  His mother Monica lived to see him baptized and ordained priest.  She fell sick and died in Ostia, near Rome in 387 A.D. on her way back to Africa. In 388 A.D., he would return to his native town, Tagaste. 

Augustine sold his inheritance, giving the proceeds to the poor, keeping only the family house which he converted into a monastery, bringing along his friends and his son.  Just as he with his charisma and great leadership skills had misled so many of his friends into popular heresies, he rallied his friends and devotees together into the service of his newfound Love – the God of grace. His mistress of fifteen years also checked herself into a convent and died there.  Augustine’s son did not live long.  Augustine now without family lived to become the Bishop of Hippo.  Shedding like an old garment, previous desires and seductions, Augustine remained utterly satisfied with possessing the Lord to whom he confesses:

For thou convertedst me unto Thyself, so that I sought neither wife, nor any hope of this world, standing in that rule of faith in the same way that you had revealed me to her [my mother] so many years before.. . .  And Thou didst convert her mourning into joy, much more plentiful than she had desired, and in a much more precious and purer way than she erst required, by having grandchildren of my body. (The Confessiones 8 12: 30).

He had established Augustinian monastic rules, and spent the rest of his Christian lifetime fighting Manichean doctrine and other heresies. Even during his difficult youth, he had remained a brilliant student and scholar. Influenced by Horace’s Dialogues, Plotinus, Platonism and Neo-Platonism, he put his formidable intellectual and literary abilities to the service of the Church against which he had fought in his misguided youth.  He in turn as an old Bishop was engaged in a lengthy controversy with a younger and more resilient Bishop Julian, an associate Pelagius, a preacher who believed that rather than grace, one can by virtue and ascetic living alone find salvation.  Invoking papal authority, Augustine’s teaching on grace prevailed.  But by this time, barbarians from Germany, crossing Roman Gaul and Spain and entered Africa were besieging his city, Hippo.  He prayed that the city not fall while he lived. God granted him his wish for Hippo was captured after Augustine’s death on August 28, 430.A.D. at the age of seventy-six.  

For the ability to clean up his act, and turn his life around, St. Augustine has no compeer.   The great Augustinian lesson for our pleasure-loving society, especially to young people, is that anyone can decide to come out of any addiction, without recourse to expensive therapy. Augustine went deep within his being to summon up a trinity that could help him overcome his addictions – the trinity of self-knowledge: “I Am, and Know, and Will: I Am Knowing and Willing: and I Know myself to Be, and to Will: and I Will to Be, and to Know” (The Confessions 13: 12). Augustine demonstrates adequately that all that is needed is the Will to Act, to Change and to Transcend self-indulging proclivities. And thus, readers truly identify with Augustine’s heartfelt prayer for strength:

God, oh Lord, grant me the power to overcome sin. For this is what you gave to us when you granted us free choice of will.  If I choose wrongly, then I shall be justly punished for it. Is that not true, my Lord, of whom I indebted for my temporal existence? Thank you, Lord, for granting me the power to will my self not to sin (Free Choice of the Will, Book One, my emphasis)

Arising from lustfulness, Rape becomes one of the most striking examples of social problems tackled by Augustine which must resonate with 21st Century communities. Augustine makes a distinction between the sexual act itself, and the emotions that naturally accompany it. Rape victims should feel no guilt, Augustine believes, because the evil is not in them, but in the perpetrators. Augustine understood the attendant psychological trauma that rape victims can experience. To the pious virgins raped when Rome was sacked following the disintegration of the Roman Empire, Augustine writes, "Truth, another's lust cannot pollute thee." Chastity is "a virtue of the mind, and is not lost by rape, but is lost only by the intention of sin, even if unperformed."  As has been stated earlier, Augustine's sexual experiences impelled him to consider lust to be one of the most grievous sins, and a serious obstacle to the virtuous life, capable of wreaking havoc on innocent people.

St. Augustine’s achievements were unprecedented for his age, and perhaps for all time. Winning the highest academic prize for Rhetoric by age Thirty – 384 A.D. - he became a familiar favorite at the Imperial court, but tension and dissatisfaction were setting in. One day, as he rode in his carriage to deliver a grand speech before the emperor, he saw a wretched beggar and envied the beggar his unencumbered existence. It is right that we should wonder how many academics of today who, able to establish their own schools, to achieve the distinction of being an Imperial poet laureate and speak, say before the Emperor of the great Roman Empire – today’s equivalent of the President of the United States of America - would have the courage and moral strength to relinquish so much worldly honor and retire penniless into a monastery.  But Augustine was soon to make an indelible mark in another direction. At a time when Christians were simple, non-intellectual men, afraid of engaging great pagan philosophers in debates, Augustine‘s ideas became the basis for establishing an enduring structure of Christian Church as we know it today. 

My 2005 essay, “Pope John Paul II: A Life with a Mission, A Mission of Grace and Moral Strength” had earlier stated the above ideas:

And after all, at an age when Christians lacked intellectuals amongst them, the great St. Augustine of Hippo (Algeria), son of St. Monica was the earliest philosopher / theologian to employ his stupendous intellectual gifts of knowledge of Greek and Roman literatures and philosophies to re-interpret the teachings of Christ, the Epistles and the Old Testament, thus welding together the old and the new in honor of the Christ (Pope John Paul II).

St. Augustine stood astride the last days of the Roman Empire and the entry of Western Europe into the medieval age, compiling all the motifs of Latin-rite Christianity from Tertullian to Ambrose. He re-Christianized Greco-Roman philosophies and literatures, revisiting them in the light of the Holy Scriptures and thus, became an apologist for the Catholic Christian Church – The City of God (De civitate Dei), The Confessions (The Confessiones, 397 A.D.).  He wrote more than a hundred titles, numerous sermons, interpreting Holy Scriptures as they touched and moved his heart, soul and mind.

Augustine’s The Confessions is reputedly more than the first classic Western autobiography. It denotes a deliberate and conscious crafting of the memoir of a life in which Augustine, selected and highlighted crucial incidents and events of his life, and in his self-analytical, lyrical and romantic style, re-examines these episodes applying his theology of Grace so as to celebrate the mysterious actions of God's boundless grace. His Confessions confess the many stages of his belief in God, of his sins and his redemption. Augustine can truly be styled the father of Psychology and Psychoanalysis.

Throughout the middle Age, the influence of St. Augustine was powerful and pervasive in medieval religious thoughts. He explained infant baptism, good versus evil, the doctrine of original sin, and the doctrine of Predestination is attributed to him. In France, this doctrine would later lead to Jansenism and a schism in the Church. Augustine sought to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity, but at last had to humbly accept the inefficacy of the intellect viz-a-viz apprehending the mystery of God’s Triune existence and the crucial role of Faith in human salvation history (Seek not the things that are too sublime for you, and search not into things beyond thy ability Sirach 3: 22). 

And so, he queries humbly, “Which of us can comprehend the Almighty Trinity? and yet which speaks not of It, if indeed it be It? Rare is the soul, which while it speaks of It, knows what it speaks of” (The Confessions 13: 11).  Those Biblical descriptions of a person of intellect seeking to know Truth, but infused with so much grace that s/he becomes obedient to God can be applied to Augustine: And who shall know thy thought, except You give wisdom, and send your Holy Spirit from above (Wisdom 9: 18).

While Augustine could not fully apprehend with human intellectual knowledge (Logos) the mystery of the Holy Trinity, he speaks of another trinity which he can understand because it is within him:  “To Be, to Know, and to Will.” (The Confessions 13: 12).   At the end, Augustine, the radical neo-Platonist posits that human odyssey is nothing but a journey in search of God, who is the sum total of the highest good “most excellent and most good,” greatest beauty “radiant and resplendent,” deepest wisdom and purest Love.  Augustine exclaims in wonder, “I sought for You outside while all the time you were within me.” Romancing God, Augustine regrets spurning God’s love for so long, “Late have I loved Thee, O, Beauty, so Ancient and yet so New!” Seeking God in created things did not satisfy this neo-Platonist lover, and he humbly confesses the attainment of the real goal of his search:

You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.  (The Confessions 1)

 

Frustrated humanity, seeking after various pleasures should remember the odyssey of Augustine. While reading The City of God, and especially The Confessions, along with a spell-binding fictional biography of St. Augustine by Louis de Wohl titled The Restless Flame (1997), I, a indigenous African with good knowledge of traditional African religious values, eagerly sought to find explanation for why this African who while in Milan and Rome felt homesick for the tropical, sun-kissed land of his birth, felt the stings of discrimination for his brown skin, and did not at all identify with Europeans, why it is that Augustine would become the central figure to follow the Jew, Paul of Tarsus in firmly establishing the temporal structure of  the Christian faith.  The explanation would be found in the abundance of theological proofs, metaphysical intuition, the passion, the fervor of Augustine’s spiritual ascents which enclothe his emphasis on Faith and Grace. 

For St. Augustine, God is a concept to be apprehended only by God’s unmerited grace and faith: God is a non-material Being - Supreme and Sovereign, is beyond color, beyond race, beyond ethnic or class prejudices, and only speaks of infinity of virtues and values.  Thus, just as St. Augustine the African recognized in St. Ambrose an embodiment of the dignity of Christian learning, the role of Faith and Grace in human salvation history, and the majesty of the authority of the Christian Scriptures, I would also always take comfort in these stalwart converts to Catholicism: St. Paul of Tarsus, St. Augustine, Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1890; Apologia Pro Vita Sua– 1864), the great intellectual Doctor and convert from Anglicanism; in St (Sir) Thomas Moore (1478-1535),  Humanist, lawyer, writer, philosopher Lord Chancellor for Henry VIII’s England, author of Utopia  (1516), who willingly went to his death rather than compromise his faith, as well as in these women saints of formidable intellect and robust, indomitable faith such as Teresa of Avila and philosopher intellectual Edith Stein (canonized in 1987 and renamed St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), and recently in John Paul II, the Great  (Pope John Paul II).

If these remarkable people can reconcile their great learning with Faith in Christ, if they can learn to be humble, subsume their formidable talents into accepting the mystery of Grace and Faith in human redemption,  how much less would I protest, I of lesser intellectual fiber. 

And so, for me, St. Augustine’s The Confessions  becomes the allegory of Everyman and humanity’s a return to a life of grace, search for Truth. For all ages, Augustine says to created humans that True happiness does not lie in material possessions, nor in the pleasures and seductions of sex, but that there is a deeper, richer dimension to human existence, for only in God can the restless heart find true peace.  In the present culture of  unbridled decadence and  hedonism, St. Augustine makes it possible for us to know that we can change our lifestyle, no matter how difficult our circumstance, no matter how enticing and beckoning our pleasures. He indeed makes it manly to be passionate about loving God for his writing style is replete with so much lyricism and outpourings of sentiments. He makes it okay to know we can turn from evil no matter how deeply entrenched we are, and never go back to its seductions.

Thus, every reader can truly find something to identify with in reading the writings of St. Augustine. For making the God of Grace and God’s sovereign grace the central themes of all his writings, St. Augustine, this multi-faceted African Genius - spell-binding speaker, Professor of Rhetoric and literature, philosopher and theologian, fascinating poet, and mystic, who left a large body of work of enormous range and incredible depth - has been aptly styled Doctor Gratiae – Doctor of Grace by the Roman Catholic Church.

Like St. Paul of Tarsus, Augustine remains a central figure in Christian theology and in the history of Western philosophical thoughts.  And praise goes to the God of Grace who would always go outside the saved fold and bestow His redemptive grace on people who can be considered wicked, demonic and undeserving. This God of mercy is able to recognize the vigor, passionate zeal and determination of these errant souls who devoted so much of their talent to the wrong cause, and conscript them, cause them to re-channel the same energy and zeal to work for the Right Cause.  In the process, both St. Paul and St. Augustine suffered much more existential pain than they had inflicted on God’s people. They have become providential tools to advance God’s inscrutable designs. And to think that all of Augustine’s sanctity and immortality came to be because of a mother’s deep, energetic and unflagging love for her son!

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Monica did not leave any memoirs or a body of writing, but her son Augustine in The Confessions made the cause for her canonization.  Married to Patricius, a pagan Roman official, Monica, born in 322 A.D., was descended from the Berber – indigenous natives of the present Maghreb region of North Africa. Monica is said to be a Berber name derived from the Libyan deity Mon worshipped in the neighboring town of Thibilis.

This mother, undaunted by difficulties and failures, pursued her oldest, very a gifted child who had a disorderly nature and who engaged in riotous behavior.  That the mother did not give up on Augustine has made Monica to become for all ages the super mum par excellence.  It took her years of tears, prayers of intercession, chasing Augustine from town to town, meddling in his affairs, arranging marriage for him, and invoking the aid of the saintly intellectual Bishop Ambrose of Milan to finish her job of saving her son.    (photo left) "St Augustine and Monica" (1846), by Ary Scheffer

One appreciates how spectacularly independent Monica must have been in that age to travel from Africa to Carthage, to Milan, To Rome and back again in pursuit of her son.  In Milan, she would rent a villa and set up house, entertain and get to know the people that matter to her son. For her reward, Monica had the gift of seeing Augustine baptized; and rather than the conventional Christian marriage that she hoped for, she got the unexpected bonus of seeing him put his affairs in order, take firm charge of his destiny, set his heart and soul towards love and service for God as priest and monk. 

In 387, Monica became mortally sick in Ostia, outside Rome, on her way back to Tagaste, Algeria.  Her son queried:” why die here?  I thought you want to be buried beside your husband in Africa?”  Monica’s humorous answer demonstrates her heightened spiritual advancement: "Lay this body anywhere, and take no trouble over it. I know that on the last day, God will know where to pick up my body to reunite it with my soul.”  Having completed her mission, Monica’s time was up. And she had seen with her own eyes the proof that implicit Trust in God yields unprecedented and boundless benefits.

My mother Bessie Chiege Iwuji Okeke   (Chiege, Woman of Splendor) always spoke out her affinity with Monica.  With an only son, who was considered rascally and unruly, my mother was inspired and encouraged by St. Monica’s example of prayer, tears, exhortation and perseverance. Her son, my brother, as an adolescent was a star soccer goal keeper who came and went as he fancied.  Rather than concentrate on book knowledge which for Nigeria of the period was the key to success in a colonial world, he played football at all times.  Schools were eager to have him on their team. Apparently, the youthful Augustine encountered the same censure from his parents for playing the same sport—football:

our sole delight was play; and for this we were punished by those who yet themselves were doing the like. But elder folks' idleness is called "business"; that of boys, being really the same, is punished by those elders; and none commiserates either boys or men. For will any of sound discretion approve of my being beaten as a boy, because, by playing a ball, I made less progress in studies? (The Confessions 1: 15, my emphasis).

Some radiance of his fame fell on me also for senior girls courted me at school as they vied to befriend him.  In an effort to make him switch from playing ball to books homework, my Father played the heavy but my mum took the softer, more prayerful Monican approach.  Perhaps, because he did not exactly have the multi-dimensional rascality of Augustine, my only brother turned out tolerably through my mother’s prayers. And so, through my mother, I have always loved Monica, the strong, independent woman, the super Christian mother, the compassionate wife.  Monica gives hope to all women with problem children.  She teaches mothers how not to despair, but to go on saying and doing the right things regardless of temporary setbacks, or unpopularity with their children.  I always cherished the verbalized picture of Monica and Augustine together in a garden at last discoursing on God.  How happy this must have made her!:

And so the two of us, all alone, were enjoying a very pleasant conversation, "forgetting the past and pushing on to what is ahead.” We were asking one another in the presence of the Truth—for you are the Truth—what it would be like to share the eternal life enjoyed by the saints, which "eye has not seen, nor ear heard, which has not even entered into the heart of man." We desired with all our hearts to drink from the streams of your heavenly fountain, the fountain of life.

Equally, St. Monica teaches wives how to live with, and manage abusive husbands; her example says that one can cultivate patience and prudence, hold back the cutting word when tempers are heated and an explosion imminent; reprimanding later might just do the trick.  Patricius was also unfaithful to Monica, but she had compassion and must have forgiven him his weakness. Fellow women would ask her how she did it, how she managed to live with this volatile, quarrelsome husband who contended in public with practically everyone.  Her response was that she let anger cool off, never responding at the heat of the moment but later on, she would bring up issues that needed to be discussed when her husband would be in a less bellicose mood.

Indeed, two people can not be crazy at the same time. A beloved daughter had used the same means to hold her own marriage together. In these days of easy divorces, hypocrisy and quick judgment on moral failings, what a lesson on the qualities of love, forgiveness, compassion and prudence needed to keep a family together in peace and love.

For radical feminism and issues in Women / family Studies, Monica’s inclination towards temperance and loving forbearance might read like subservience, passivity and suffering in silence, yet again, it depends on one’s objectives.  Every woman knows what she wants out of a marriage – equality in the capacity to do battle or, a shrewdly intelligent approach to a difficult situation?  Monica appreciated that her husband co-operated with her, made personal sacrifices to help educate their gifted son, Augustine. For Monica, it was domestic peace, love and stability of home-life for her children that mattered. In the last analysis, Feminism is all about intelligent personal choices.  She chose to live peacefully with her irascible husband, prudently got her way eventually, and helped to encourage him towards his own redemption – which was her ultimate goal.  Through her prayers, her pagan husband converted to Catholicism just before he died in 371 A.D. From a Latin-rite Catholic viewpoint, Monica, this woman of strength and spiritual splendor, demonstrates so well the efficacy of Prayers of Intercession.

Regarding her son, the great Augustine, Monica’s achievements were spectacular and Augustine testifies to his mother’s phenomenal accomplishments.  Many decades after her death, he still loved his mother and mourned for her:

My mother said, "Son, as far as I am concerned, nothing in this life now gives me any pleasure. I do not know why I am still here, since I have no further hopes in this world. I did have one reason for wanting to live a little longer: to see you become a Catholic Christian before I died. God has lavished his gifts on me in that respect, for I know that you have even renounced earthly happiness to be his servant. So what am I doing here?"

By writing her into sainthood, he fulfills her dying wish: “One thing only do I ask of you, that you remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be." Monica made her son Christ’s brainy warrior and Augustine’s pen and testimony keep the mother remembered for ever for Monica’s relics can be found in a chapel to the left side of the high altar in the Church of St. Augustine in Rome.  Thus, Monica, positively a classic case of “‘If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy’ - Mother knows best” becomes a woman “for all seasons.”  What a marvelous example of how a family should live co-operatively in love in difficult times such as our days.

Works Cited:

Confessions of St. Augustine. Translated. John K. Ryan. N.Y.: Doubleday, 1960.

“Augustine of Hippo.” Wikipedia.

de Wohl, Louis. The Restless Flame: A Novel about St. Augustine. N.Y: J.B.Lippincott, 1971.

The Holy Bible.  Douay Rheims American Version, 1899. BibleGateway

Mezu, Rose Ure. “Chiege, Woman of Splendor."  In ChickenBones: A Journal. Web Host: Rudy Lewis. (In Songs of the Hearth. MD: Black Academy Press, 1993.)

Mezu, Rose Ure. “Pope John Paul II: A Life with a Mission, A Mission of Grace and Moral Strength.” In ChickenBones: A Journal. Web Host: Rudy Lewis.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

posted 31 August 2007

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#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter

Non-fiction

#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice.

"Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The Persistence of the Color Line

Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency

By Randall Kennedy

Among the best things about The Persistence of the Color Line is watching Mr. Kennedy hash through the positions about Mr. Obama staked out by black commentators on the left and right, from Stanley Crouch and Cornel West to Juan Williams and Tavis Smiley. He can be pointed. Noting the way Mr. Smiley consistently “voiced skepticism regarding whether blacks should back Obama” . . .

The finest chapter in The Persistence of the Color Line is so resonant, and so personal, it could nearly be the basis for a book of its own. That chapter is titled “Reverend Wright and My Father: Reflections on Blacks and Patriotism.”  Recalling some of the criticisms of America’s past made by Mr. Obama’s former pastor, Mr. Kennedy writes with feeling about his own father, who put each of his three of his children through Princeton but who “never forgave American society for its racist mistreatment of him and those whom he most loved.” 

His father distrusted the police, who had frequently called him “boy,” and rejected patriotism. Mr. Kennedy’s father “relished Muhammad Ali’s quip that the Vietcong had never called him ‘nigger.’ ” The author places his father, and Mr. Wright, in sympathetic historical light.

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The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered.

Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong.Jamie Byng, Guardian

Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)  / Gil Scott-Heron & His Music  Gil Scott Heron Blue Collar  Remember Gil Scott- Heron

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Mandela’s Way: Fifteen Lessons on Life, Love, and Courage

By Rick Stengel

Richard Stengel, the editor of Time magazine, has distilled countless hours of intimate conver­sation with Mandela into fifteen essential life lessons. For nearly three years, including the critical period when Mandela moved South Africa toward the first democratic elections in its history, Stengel collaborated with Mandela on his autobiography and traveled with him everywhere. Eating with him, watching him campaign, hearing him think out loud, Stengel came to know all the different sides of this complex man and became a cherished friend and colleague.  In Mandela’s Way, Stengel recounts the moments in which “the grandfather of South Africa” was tested and shares the wisdom he learned: why courage is more than the absence of fear, why we should keep our rivals close, why the answer is not always either/or but often “both,” how important it is for each of us to find something away from the world that gives us pleasure and satisfaction—our own garden.

Woven into these life lessons are remarkable stories—of Mandela’s child­hood as the protégé of a tribal king, of his early days as a freedom fighter, of the twenty-seven-year imprison­ment that could not break him, and of his new and fulfilling marriage at the age of eighty.

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Mighty Be Our Powers

How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War

By Leymah Gbowee

As a young woman, Leymah Gbowee was broken by the Liberian civil war, a brutal conflict that tore apart her life and claimed the lives of countless relatives and friends. Years of fighting destroyed her country—and shattered Gbowee’s girlhood hopes and dreams. As a young mother trapped in a nightmare of domestic abuse, she found the courage to turn her bitterness into action, propelled by her realization that it is women who suffer most during conflicts—and that the power of women working together can create an unstoppable force. In 2003, the passionate and charismatic Gbowee helped organize and then led the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a coalition of Christian and Muslim women who sat in public protest, confronting Liberia’s ruthless president and rebel warlords, and even held a sex strike. With an army of women, Gbowee helped lead her nation to peace—in the process emerging as an international leader who changed history.

Mighty Be Our Powers is the gripping chronicle of a journey from hopelessness to empowerment that will touch all who dream of a better world.Beast Books 

Pray the Devil Back to Hell   / Leymah Gbowee Wins 2011 Nobel Peace Prize  / Nobel Peace Prize Winners

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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My First Coup d'Etat

And Other True Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa

By John Dramani Mahama

Though the colonies of sub-Saharan Africa began to claim independence in the late 1950s and ’60s, autocratic and capricious leadership soon caused initial hope to fade, and Africa descended into its “lost decades,” a period of stagnation and despondency from which much of the continent has yet to recover. Mahama, vice president of the Republic of Ghana, grew up alongside his nascent country and experienced this roller-coaster of fortunes. In this memoir, Mahama, the son of a member of parliament, recounts how affairs of state became real in his young mind on the day in 1966 when no one came to collect him from boarding school—the government had been overthrown, his father arrested, and his house confiscated.

In fluid, unpretentious style, Mahama unspools Ghana’s recent history via entertaining and enlightening personal anecdotes: spying on his uncle impersonating a deity in order to cajole offerings of soup from the villagers hints at the power of religion; discussions with his schoolmates about confronting a bully form the nucleus of his political awakening. As he writes: “The key to Africa’s survival has always been . . . in the story of its people, the paradoxical simplicity and complexity of our lives.” The book draws to a close as the author’s professional life begins.Publishers Weekly

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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