By ZENIT Staff

OSTIA, Italy, NOV. 16, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The “emptiness of ideologies” prompted St. Augustine to seek the Truth of Christ, says Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made that observation Sunday during a concluding event for celebrations marking the 1,650th anniversary of the birth of the great philosopher and theologian.

During a solemn Mass in the Basilica of St. Aurea in Ostia, a city near Rome, the cardinal spoke about the “two obstacles” on the path to Augustine’s conversion: “the spirit of independence and his intellectual pride, which led him initially to follow Manichaeism, a ‘material’ religion.”

“Augustine experienced freedom profoundly to the point that he became its slave, as the prodigal son, who ended up by taking care of pigs and eating pods,” Cardinal Ratzinger said in his homily. “If we are honest with ourselves, we cannot deny that that parable fully reflects our existential condition. Authentic freedom lies only in friendship with the Lord.”

“Words like eternal love and wisdom are not fashionable today. Augustine, who lived in an age very similar to our own, went so far as to describe wisdom as a ‘foreign word.’”

The cardinal continued: “Experiencing the great emptiness of the ideologies of his time, Augustine felt a great thirst for that Truth that opens the way to Life. He understood that no one is able to reach God by his own efforts and he discovered in the end that Christ is the true Wisdom.”

“Christianity is not moralism, but rather a gift of the love of God,” Cardinal Ratzinger explained, summarizing the thought of Augustine, who lived from the years 354 to 430.

At the end of the Mass, the saint’s relics were displayed in the basilica. Augustine spent about six months in Ostia, where he lived his most intense mystical experiences, together with his mother, St. Monica. He wrote about his ecstasies in Book IX of his “Confessions.”

In virtue of that experience, St. Augustine was proclaimed “patron before God of the city of Ostia,” by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, in a decree dated Feb 21.

For the anniversary of the saint’s birth, his relics were brought to Rome for the first time. Last week, prayer meetings were held in various places in the city. John Paul II received St. Augustine’s relics on Thursday in his private chapel.

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