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Homily at the Eucharist Memorial
of blessed Augustine Kazotic.
August 3rd

Fr. Richard Schenk, O.P. 

   bleu line

Our Dominican brother, bl. Augustine Kazotic (ca. 1260?1323), was not only the first Croation to be officially beatified in a papal process, but this Parisian?trained scholastic was also one of the first great theologians of Croatia. And to celebrate him, please allow me the chance to try my own hand at the type of scholastic question common in his time. Maybe I'll make it into the Kaeppeli of the fourth millenium: a question disputed at the General Chapter of Providence by a certain frater Ricardus. And so let it be asked:

Whether blessed Augustine Kazotic should be venerated in the Dominican Order as a patron of interreligious dialogue?

Videtur quod non. And it seems not.

First, because popular piety has pushed the dialectical method altogether too far, when choosing its patron saints: what with St. Florian, drowned in the river Inn, being declared patron of voluntary fire departments, or St. Lawrence, tortured by fire on a grill, being venerated as the patron saint of cooks. We might just as well expect St. Kilian to be made patron of marriage?counselors, as his vita shows many parallels to the story of John the Baptist which we will hear in tomorrow's Gospel. But as Aristotle says, sometimes …it is necessary to stop". To venerate blessed Augustine as the Dominican patron of interreligious dialogue would seem not to stop, but to continue this dialectical process. For when bl. Augustine Kazotic, already bishop of Zagreb, was refused permission by the temporal rulers to return home to Croatia from an embassy to Avignon, and after four years of just waiting around at the papal court in Avignon, schmoozing with church prelates and enjoying the pleasures of Southern France (something which many a less saintly Dominican might have seen as quite nearly the ideal of human existence), Augustine requested that he be given some other work. He was made bishop of Lucera in southern Italy, a place where Sarascenes and Christians lived uneasily side by side. He had been there barely a year, when he was killed by a Sarascene fanatic. Therefore, it seems that we should avoid naming him the Dominican patron of interreligious dialogue, so as not to overdo the dialectic.

Item. It seems that bl. Augustine should be venerated as a patron of the preferential option for the poor. Not only did bl. Augustine devote much energy to the common good, improving, for example, public sanatation for all the people of Zagreb, not only did bl. Augustine attend especially to the needs and lives of the lower clergy and the common faithful of his diocese, but it was his role in a Croatian episcopate making its option for the poor which led to his exile. Therefore, we should name him the Dominican patron of the fundamental option rather than the patron of interreligious dialogue.

Item. It seems that bl. Augustine should be seen as a model not of interreligious, but of intercultural dialogue and of the need to learn classical and vernacular languages. For the Croatian friar and bishop worked productively not only in the schools, but also in the pastoral settings of France and Italy, for which he needed those languages. Therefore he should be venerated as a patron of language study, for which the Dominicans of today seem to rely almost exclusively on divine inspiration.

Sed contra: The days of unleavened bread precede the days of the paschal feast, as today's first reading tells us. Allegorically, this means that, just as Atonement precedes Jubilee, so the asceticism of intrareligious self?critique must precede the feast of harmony in interreligious dialogue. But bl. Augustine showed in interreligious dialogue a readiness for the atonement of self?critique as a preparation for the Jubilee of mutual understanding. Ergo, bl. Augustine Kazotic should indeed be venerated as a Dominican patron of interreligious dialogue.

Respondeo dicendum, Let me answer by stating what most needs to be said. We pursue interreligious dialogue not just in order to give to others, say, parallel to the proclamation of the gospel or maybe with an eye towards the temporal enrichment of other religions, say, in their engagement for human rights; but also in order to receive from others.

Now reception is two?fold: we receive insight into under?developed potentiaVies of our own by looking, say, at the meditation practices or at the social solidarity of others, but we also receive insight into all?too?developed flaws of our own by seeing these same deficiencies in others. Here it is not a matter of getting closer, but of putting a little more distance between us. The speck in the eye of our brothers and sisters in other religions can at times make us aware of the plank pressing against our own foreheads, as when we are helped by looking at the weaknesses of other religions to criticize the remains of stoicism or of an ahistoric spiritualism within Christianity itself.

Bl. Augustine's most innovative work was a study "On the Practice of Baptizing Pictures and on Other Superstitions". In the tradition of the prophet Hosea, who perhaps even trivilalized the religions of others in order to hold up to Israel a mirror of its own idolatry and to move Israel towards the monotheism which was calling it, bl. Augustine wrote of superstitions, sorcery, fortune-telling, desecrations of holy places and other holy things, and of much more, all foreign to the genuine truth of Christianity but, sadly, all too present to its de facto reality in his own time. Self?critique is here a first fruit of interreligious dialogue and a good basis for its continuation. In this sense, bl. Augustine could well be venerated as a Dominican patron of interreligious dialogue.

From this is clear the answer to the objections:

Ad primum: There is nothing wrong in principle with dialectic. For as a friar of another mendicant order once said in a Commentary on St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians, the Gospel, like the Cross, is a promissio sub signo contrario. Nevertheless, the consensus of Parisian masters says that we are saved not by the sufferings of Christ but by his charity in the midst of those sufferings. So, too, interreligious dialogue is a matter neither of winning, nor of losing, but of the love for those whom we engage in discussion. But this is the love which marked the life of bl. Augustine. Thus, he is a fitting patron not just for Croatia and the former Jugoslavia, but for religious dialogue throughout the world.

Ad secundum: There is no contradiction between the preferential option for the poor and interreligious dialogue. Rather, it is one of the criteria for measuring and comparing the relative perfection of two religions that they avoid instumentalization through the temporal powers of this world, including unjust movements in both state and wider society. Religions must be asked if they have lent their voices to the voiceless, affirming most (choosing an option) where the divinely willed ordo has been most deeply wounded. But bl. Augustine displayed both perfections, dialogue and option. Therefore, etc.

Ad ultimum: There is no contradiction between the acquired virtues of multicultural skills, including languages, and the infused gifts which primarily make for the conversion of the listeners. For how will they believe if they do not hear? And how will they hear if there is no preacher? But bl. Augustine Kazotic, by learning the languages and customs of three peoples, Croatia, France, and Italy, was able to help each of them.

Therefore, let us ask on today's feast the help of bl. Augustine for Croatia, for the former Jugoslavia, and for the Order's mission of interreligious dialogue as well. Amen.

Richard Schenk OP, Berkeley puce


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