A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to the beautiful song, “Homeward Bound” by Marta Keen. I thought about my life’s journey and what “home” has meant to me in the context of my life’s travels.
In the quiet mist morning when the moon has gone to bed,
When the sparrows stop their singing and the sky is clear and red.
When the summer’s ceased its gleaming,
When the corn is past its prime,
When adventure’s lost its meaning,
I’ll be homeward bound in time.
Bind me not to the pasture, chain me not to the plow.
Set me free to find my calling and I’ll return to you somehow.
If you find it’s me you’re missing, if you’re hoping I’ll return.
To your thoughts I’ll soon be list’ning, and in the road I’ll stop and turn.
Then the wind will set me racing as my journey nears its end.
And the path I’ll be retracing when I’m homeward bound again.
Returning home, whether physically for some of us or in spirit for others, I have found great strength and important “corrections” on the trajectory of my path in life while in the places I have called home.
As we begin a new school year at Archmere this week, we celebrate on August 28 the feast of Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo and Doctor of the Catholic Church.
He was born in 354 in Thagaste, which is now the Souk-Ahras province of Nigera. His father, Patricius, was not a Christian, but his mother, Saint Monica, was a follower of Christ. Considered a middle-class family, Augustine was intellectually gifted and a very talented student. At the same time, he enjoyed the hedonistic pleasures of Carthage, where he studied. In 372, he had a son, Adeodatus.
Augustine continued to live a life in pursuit of understanding “truth,” including the origins of good and evil in the world. This pursuit led him to join the Manichaeans sect – a group of followers who claimed that there was a scientific explanation of nature and all its mysteries. The Manichaeans also viewed the inspired writings of the Church, the books of the Bible, as contradictory. Augustine spent years studying Manichaeism until he finally found error in its beliefs that its advocates could not explain.
Upon leaving the Manichaeans, Augustine became unsettled, and the age of 29, he travelled to Rome where he was influenced by the teachings as well as the kind and welcoming demeanor of Saint Ambrose. For the next three years, Augustine studied the works of the great philosophers and Gospel writers such as Plato and Saint John.
Confessions of Augustine
Still, Augustine did not convert to Christianity. He continued to struggle with his temporal passions, what he would call in his Confessions a second will within himself:
My two wills…one carnal, one spiritual, were in conflict with one and other.
Augustine remained attached to material things and fleeting pleasures, even though he did not wish to be.
One day in 386, Augustine became upset with himself during a conversation with his life-long friend, Alypius. He went into the garden to calm himself when he heard a clid’s voice “from a nearby house” repeating the words, “Pick up and read, pick up and read.” Augustine opened the Bible to words:
Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in its lusts. (Romans 13: 13-14)
Augustine converted immediately along with Alypius. Augustine had finally found his life’s path, which called him to use his brilliant mind to teach and write, becoming a priest and Bishop.
Saint Augustine later wrote a religious rule of life that Saint Norbert would adopt for his community. Much of Augustine’s approach to living the faith and ministry is foundational to the charism of the Norbertine community.
Augustine’s life gives us all hope. His journey to finding contentment and true purpose was filled with peaks, valleys, detours, and revelations. Through it all, he had the support of his mother, Monica. She provided him with the constancy of family and home as he travelled physically and emotionally toward his moment of conversion.
This year, we welcome 135 Freshman, as well as ten new Sophomores and Juniors along with their families. We hope that they find with us the guidance and help that they need to begin to understand their own unique journeys – their pathways home.
Archmere is more than just a great academic institution. It is a community of faith that cares about each student.
We are counter-cultural.
In Dr. Richard Weissbourd’s book, The Parents We Mean to Be, the Harvard professor quotes Jerome Kagan, child psychologist and moral development scholar:
Children and parents internalize the values of their culture, and our culture has become more self-interested than it was in earlier generations. There is not a balance between responsibility and community and the self’s desires for enhancement. …We have lost a national consensus on what comprises a conscience.
We need to offer students the tools to discern, as Augustine did, their true callings – not necessarily to a life of a professed religious though that may be true for some – but a life that is spiritually grounded and meaningful.
At Archmere, we celebrate a Catholic Christian tradition formed by the charism of Saint Norbert, who was a 12th century Bishop and founder of the Norbertine community of priests, brothers, and sisters. That religious tradition helps form our community’s “conscience,” as we also welcome all of our brothers and sisters of different faiths on the spiritual path toward service to others and finding their place in the world – and eventually, finding their way home.
For now, Archmere should feel like “home.” We want all our students to feel secure in knowing that, while we demand much, we are supportive like Monica was to Augustine, through all of the successes and failures, the trials and the celebrations – everything that is part of the growth experience.